Achievements overshadowed by failures

by Brian Vogt | August 31st, 2006 | |Subscribe


In today’s Washington Post, PSA board member, John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, wrote a useful analysis of how, despite several successes in the war against jihadists, we must recognize that new thinking is needed in order to deal with the many challenges ahead of us. 

I strongly agree with Lehman that the first thing that we need to change is the way that we talk about the so called “war on terror”.  Although many may say that modifying the language we use is trivial compared to the actual problems we are facing, I would argue that our language greatly contributes to the situation that we find outselves in now.  It was the language of a “war on terror” that led us down the path of military action in places like Iraq.  This “war on terror” frame both gives our government broad authority to ignore civil liberties and it also eliminates the possibilities for political solutions.  This overemphasis on a military approach has left the Israeli army the loser and Hezbollah the winner in the recent Lebanon conflict.  We now see in the run up to the November elections that the Bush administration continues to integrate Iraq into its overall war on terror theme.  According to recent polling, it seems that the American people are now seeing through this charade.  This approach, however, was incredibly useful in the 2002 and 2004 elections.  Time will tell whether or not it continues to be so this year.  However, the unfortunate consequence is that the language we use, although powerful in a political sense, often leads us to poor policy choices.  (more…)

Take My Intelligence Committee, PLEASE

by David Isenberg | August 30th, 2006 | |Subscribe

As the old saying goes, just how stupid do they think we are? Apparently, very much so, if a new congressional committee report is any indication.

One might think that after all the post-mortems on politicization of intelligence leading up to the US invasion of Iraq, members of the US Congress might have learned a few things about not rushing in where angels fear to tread. But for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is any example foolishness seems to be its raison d’être.

Last Wednesday, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the committee, released a report, Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States. The not very subtle implication was that those who don’t agree Iran is a threat are fools. This is exactly the same sort of tactic that the White House was using in 2002 and 2003 when Vice President Dick Cheney was talking about mushroom clouds rising into the sky due to an Iraqi nuclear weapon.

The New York Times, which pretty much accepted the White House spin on Iraq, recognized the new report for what it is. It editorialized:

The last thing this country needs as it heads into this election season is another attempt to push the intelligence agencies to hype their conclusions about the threat from a Middle Eastern state. That’s what happened in 2002, when the administration engineered a deeply flawed document on Iraq that reshaped intelligence to fit President [George W] Bush’s policy. And history appeared to be repeating itself … when the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, released a garishly illustrated and luridly written document that is ostensibly dedicated to “helping the American people understand” that Iran’s fundamentalist regime and its nuclear ambitions pose a strategic threat to the United States.

Hoekstra is hardly a disinterested party in this. Earlier this year, citing an army report that units had dug up corroded canisters of chemical agent dating back decades, he and Senator Rick Santorum insisted that weapons of mass destruction had indeed been found in Iraq – a claim that not even Cheney or Defense Secretary Rumsfeld supported.
Nor is the report’s primary author disinterested either. The media has reported that Frederick Fleitz, who did his apprenticeship on politicization under US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, when the latter was under secretary of state for arms control and nonproliferation, and became his principal aide and chief enforcer while on loan from the CIA, primarily drafted the report. (more…)

9-11 Plus 5

by Seth Green | August 29th, 2006 | |Subscribe

As the fifth anniversary of September 11th approaches, I can’t help but look back with regret at the decline in legitimacy and good will that the United States has suffered in the last five years. I wrote a magazine piece back in 2003 about how going abroad just after the September 11 attacks, I could not have found a more supportive and friendly environment. But within a year much of that sentiment had vanished.


I wrote: “From the dining hall to the classroom, my peers from around the world displayed constant sympathy in the aftermath of that horrific September morning. Several times, strangers in the streets of London heard my accent and stopped me to express their grief. Everyone I met, from Parisians to Pakistanis, seemed to be a New Yorker at heart. Over the year that followed, that immense goodwill vanished. Instead of being seen as a defensive ally protecting the world against terror, the U.S. came to be viewed as the aggressor.”


Now it’s four years later and U.S.-Islamic relations continue to deteriorate at a rapid pace. Recent polls reveal that 90% of residents in predominantly Muslim countries view the U.S. as the primary threat to their country. A Gallup Poll earlier this month also found that four in ten Americans asked to “honestly” assess themselves said they have “at least some feelings of prejudice against Muslims.”

But we at Americans for Informed Democracy are not taking this increasing divide for granted. Along with the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution and the Elliott School of International Affairs, we’re hosting a 9-11 Plus 5 conference that will assemble 300 young leaders from around the Muslim world to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9-11 and to develop a blueprint for long-term engagement between the U.S. and the Muslim world. See for more information.

Rep. Lantos, American Politics, and Aid to Lebanon

by Eugene Gholz | August 28th, 2006 | |Subscribe

I’ve blogged before about my skepticism about the effectiveness of foreign aid, especially to conflict-ridden countries: sending money often breeds conflict over who gets it, and parties to the conflict can use the money to fight harder.  And in my last post, I questioned whether post-conflict reconstruction is a good strategy for building friendships, because the local politics of infrastructure investment are complex, fraught with over-promising and under-performance, and impossible for foreigners to understand and manipulate.

So one might infer that I would be pleased to hear that Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) has placed a hold on the bill that would give $236 million in aid to Lebanon (for the story from Beirut, see the Daily Star; for the counterpart story from Jerusalem, see the Jerusalem Post).  But there are big problems with what Lantos has done.  M. J. Rosenberg at the TPM Cafe says he’s “speechless” in response, but I have a few comments to offer. (more…)

Forging a Bipartisan Foreign Policy Consensus

by Christopher Preble | August 25th, 2006 | |Subscribe

More evidence pours in of the public’s frustration with U.S. foreign policy.

The primary irritant is the Iraq war, which, according to a poll taken last week by the New York Times and CBS News, a majority of Americans (51 to 44 percent) now see as separate from the war on terrorism. And the war is a distraction from the U.S. efforts against terrorists who want to attack targets within the U.S., according to 52 percent of Americans in a new CNN poll.

Not surprisingly, 53 percent in the NYT/CBS poll believe that it was mistake to go to war in the first place, up from 48 percent in July. Other polls place the “not worth it” figure closer to 60 percent.

And there is growing support for an end to the U.S. military mission in Iraq. In a CNN poll conducted in the first week of August, 61 percent of respondents believed that some or all U.S. troops should be withdrawn before the end of this year. A narrow majority (52 percent) in a Gallup/USA Today poll taken in late July believed that all U.S. troops should be out of Iraq by August 2007. (See for a good compilation of recent polls on Iraq.)

And yet the president seems impervious to public opinion (even if, increasingly, other Republicans are not). He told reporters on Tuesday that there will no change in his overarching policy toward Iraq. He’s largely abandoned the good news spin, and now warns that things could be worse. There will be no timeline for troop withdrawal. U.S. military personnel will remain in Iraq until the conditions improve. And, as we have been waiting for conditions to improve for over three years now, it is not unreasonable to assume that there will be U.S. troops in Iraq for many years to come.

How well is our system of government prepared to deal with this state of affairs, in which the public opposes a major foreign policy initiative, but has little if any recourse for changing direction? Not well, it would seem, given that the prospects for fashioning a bipartisan foreign policy are often impeded by those on either side of the aisle who are focused first and foremost on scoring cheap political points for the next election. And there is always a next election.

If you’re one of the frustrated many, you might be interested in a roundtable discussion that I am chairing at the annual American Political Science Association (APSA) meeting being held next week in Philadelphia. The panel is titled “Beyond Liberal and Conservative: Forging a Bipartisan Foreign Policy Consensus” and will include Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation (and author of the popular weblog The Washington Note), Peter Feaver of Duke University, Michael Desch from the George H.W. Bush School of Government at Texas A&M, and Seyom Brown of Brandeis University. 

Here is the panel description from the APSA program:

Traditional ideological labels no longer capture essential truths about the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Some liberals supported the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, while some conservatives were staunchly opposed. Likewise, some conservatives supported the Clinton administration’s interventions in the Balkans in the mid- to late 1990s, while some liberals voiced doubts. Are ideological labels still relevant to the conduct of foreign policy? Is it possible for liberals and conservatives to get beyond their differences in the domestic realm, and work together towards creating a durable foreign policy framework? What approaches might bridge the ideological divide, and enable policymakers to construct a truly bipartisan foreign policy agenda?

If you do stop by, be sure to say hello. The panel will be held in the Loews Hotel, Commonwealth B, at 8 am on Saturday, Sept. 2nd (a bit early, I’ll admit — but I didn’t pick the time). And for those of you unable to join us in person, I’ll take good notes and report back on our findings in a few weeks.



Conspiracy Theories

by Benjamin Rhodes | August 22nd, 2006 | |Subscribe

A recent poll by Scripps-Howard found that 33% of Americans believe that the U.S. government either perpetrated 9/11, or allowed it to happen to enable the country to go to war.

What is going on? The theories are absurd – the World Trade Center was dynamited, a missile hit the Pentagon, the government trained the hijackers, etc. They are also easily debunked. Not only by the 9/11 Commission, but also by an exhausitve study by the National Institute on Standards and Technology, and any invetsigative report that bothers to look into the claims of conspiracy theorists (for instance, this one).

They are also insulting. Tell someone who was in the Pentagon, who saw a plane, who nearly died because of jet fuel inhilation, that they were actually hit by a missile. Or tell a family member who received a phone call from someone on board American 77 that this plane didn’t exist, or that it was somehow mysteriously landed in a field where the government executed everyone. It is a mark of these conspiracy theorists that they hold the government to a 100% level of truth – a level that is sometimes simply unreachable. Yet they themselves have no evidence for their own alternative theories.

It is one thing for people with some pyschological need – or simply far too much time on their hands – to indulge these fantasies. But clearly reasonable people are taking the bait. In some circles, it appears to be the intellectually trendy, thing to do. Yes, the Bush Administration bears some blame – for not always telling the truth, for its penchant for secrecy, for initially blocking a full inquiry into pre-9/11 failings. But leaping from that to the denegration of 9/11, the victims of 9/11, and the countless dedicated public servants who defend our national security is a bridge too far.

It’s pieces like this one in Vanity Fair that disturb me. This should not be treated as a charming pop culture phenomenon. People with questions about how 9/11 happened, or about what more the government could have done to stop it, should be vigorous participants in the debate – they should question the government, hold it to account, and point out questions that need answers. But people should ask questions that are just as tough to those who leap to wild and utterly unproven conclusions that the U.S. government carried out the 9/11 attacks – because those claims are corrosive, and wrong.

Preparation of the Iranian Battlefield

by David Isenberg | August 18th, 2006 | |Subscribe

As the smoke and dust of the Lebanese battlefield hopefully begin to settle let us turn, in the spirit of Dicken’s ghost of Christmas future, to the battlefield that may yet be, Iran. News from that front has overshadowed by the fighting in Lebanon and the daily carnage in Iraq- what Bush administration flaks call “sectarian violence” and what those in the real world call civil war.

But the past week or so has seen some noteworthy events that should give us pause. For example, consider Seymour Hersh’s recent New Yorker article on how the United States was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s attack on Lebanon. He writes that, President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could also serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations. This particular passage is noteworthy:

The United States and Israel have shared intelligence and enjoyed close military cooperation for decades, but early this spring, according to a former senior intelligence official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air Force—under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities—began consulting with their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force.

“The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully,” the former senior intelligence official said. “Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? It’s not Congo—it’s Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, ‘Let’s concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.’ ” The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he said.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.” (more…)

Restoring America’s Image

by Seth Green | August 18th, 2006 | |Subscribe

I am a principal with the Truman National Security Project, an effort by a group of visionary young leaders to put out a national security policy that is strong, smart, and values based. Rachel Kleinfeld and Matthew Spence are the geniuses behind this effort and have worked hard to put out a national security worldview of the September 11th generation—a worldview described in this piece in last month’s Blueprint magazine.

While I often agree with the Truman Project’s writings, I disagreed with their most recent newsletter talking about the meaning of the London bombings. “In the wake of the foiled London bomb plot,” they wrote, “there can be no doubt that we are fighting a war that will last a generation. It is a war that requires commitment and preparation at home to enable us to defend our nation and fight our enemy to the finish.” They go on to say: “It calls for a focus on beating an ideology that lodges within citizens of our closest allies—not a military-led strategy that is creating a weak state in the heart of the Middle East. And it requires a renewal of our dedication to ensure that in fighting our enemies, we do not sacrifice the very values we love and are fighting for.”

I agree with their reasoning that this is about a fight for ideas and not just about military strength, but I am therefore concerned with their “generational war” analogy. I think there is a danger in using a “generational war” analogy to respond to the threat posed by fanatic terrorists because I think the war framework emphasizes to most Americans that force alone can be the answer. I agree that this is a generational fight and that it relies as much on ideas and diplomacy as force. I also agree that eliminating our current enemy is only part of the protection we need – we also need to restore America’s image and good name in the world and create an environment where future enemies are less likely to take root and gain refuge. But I’m afraid the more we talk about every issue we confront in the world in the terms of “war,” the more likely people around the world are going to continue to see us a threat to peace and the less likely they will be to join us in what I really believe could be a common fight against terror.

Reconstruction Politics

by Eugene Gholz | August 16th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Major newspapers ran front-page stories today on the reconstruction of Lebanon. The New York Times and the Washington Post both emphasized details of Hezbollah’s efforts, while the Wall Street Journal mainly emphasized the Lebanese government’s official reconstruction investment. In each case, much of the story was about who would get political credit for taking care of Lebanon’s people — within Lebanon, would reconstruction strengthen weak government institutions or help Hezbollah’s informal government? outside Lebanon, would reconstruction help Iran or the United States? That political competition is surely important for many reasons. So far, the Lebanese government and Hezbollah seem to be cooperating although perhaps not coordinating their efforts, and maybe the “two parallel lines” of effort (to cite the Post‘s translation from Hezbollah leader Nasrallah’s speech after the cease fire) can help relax internal tensions that some people fear could renew the Lebanese civil war.

On the other hand, the Post also quoted a fighter from a rival (weaker) militia, Amal. The gist of what he said was that others (besides Hezbollah) helped the people displaced by Hezbollah’s fight while the war was going on, but now it’s time for Hezbollah to pay up. That is, at least some people in other groups expect Hezbollah to take care of fixing all the war damage, because Hezbollah owes the rest of Lebanon. That sounds to me like a recipe for dissatisfaction: when the government taxes other parts of Lebanon to pay for reconstruction, or concentrates its spending of new aid money in some parts of Lebanon (say, the war-damaged south) without giving a share to other groups, some people might start to complain about how Hezbollah gets “preferential treatment.” And if Hezbollah is not quick to compensate its political rivals, they may get upset. Even hoping for compensation seems forlorn: Hezbollah is probably less likely to happily “pay” Amal or to spend its Iranian money in Amal-controlled territory than the old American political machines were to spend civic funds on patronage for their partisan rivals. There’s still plenty of potential for division in Lebanon.

And in fact that’s the main problem with all post-conflict reconstruction: local politics. Local politics are likely to undermine the Lebanese effort, just as they have undone the American funding of Iraqi reconstruction. (more…)

Lieberman Lamont aftermath

by Brian Vogt | August 15th, 2006 | |Subscribe

It seems that the dust has settled somewhat from last week’s political events in Connecticut.  I’d like to follow up on Tori’s earlier post primary examination.  One thing that I feel strongly about is that this election was not about partisanship vs bipartisanship, though Joe Lieberman tends to be casting it as such.  Lieberman argues that a vote for Joe is a vote for bipartisan cooperation on the tough foreign policy issues of our time.  A vote for Lamont, on the other hand, is a vote for the partisan hackery that has become so prevalent in politics today.  I argued in my previous post on this issue that for me, my support of Lamont was primarily about Lieberman’s continuous support of an extremely unpopular war.  A nationwide Zogby poll taken after the Connecticut primary confirms that the dominating issue is Iraq and on that Democrats are fairly united – they want candidates that increasingly move us towards a decrease in troops in the country.  

Although many have tried to place a greater significance on the primary in Connecticut, I don’t think that the result necessarily is revolutionary.  It was, after all, an election that solely involved Democrats.  I find it difficult to use such results as a sign of how general elections will go in the rest of the country.  Of course, polling tells us that increasingly independents and Republicans are fed up with Iraq, but we didn’t need the Connecticut primary to tell us that.  The unfortunate thing about this conflict is that more than any other war, it falls down primarily on partisan lines.  This was confirmed by a recent New York Times article that compared public opinion on Iraq with that of previous wars.    (more…)

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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.