(Photo is from Fox News)
I made the optimistic comment in my last post that President Bush’s actions leading up to the State of the Union suggested he might be ready to make a real course correction. And while it’s true his policy has changed in some regard, he seems to continue to promote the same vision of the world that got us into this mess. And that vision is one that emphasizes fear without hope, enemies without friends. The clip below from the State of the Union should illustrate what I mean:
“The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that is the case, America is still a Nation at war. In the minds of the terrorists, this war began well before Sept. 11, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past 5 years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats … instruct with bullets and bombs … and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent. Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: ‘We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse.’ And Usama bin Laden declared: ‘Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us.’ ”
Bush goes into depth about all of this evil and does not tell Americans anything about the overwhelming majority of people in the Arab and Muslim world who reject this ideology and who we need to engage to build a better, safer world. Even as some policies are changing and the administration appears to be indirectly engaging Iran and Syria, the black-and-white, good-versus-evil frame of dividing up whole sections of our world continues.
Last week Across the Aisle blogger Christopher Preble had an excellent op ed in the Baltimore Sun. Chris argued that despite the apparent bipartisan consensus on the need to increase the size of the military, if the overwhelming threat to the US is terrorism, this increase does little to counteract that threat. Moreover, increasing the US military might actually lead us too quickly to turn to the military to solve our national security problems. Chris also blogged about this recently here. This argument is very appealing to me. However, I’m also aware that many others feel strongly that the active duty military must be enlarged. So, I took a look at their arguments. My final conclusion is that this is not a black or white issue. I tend to come out somewhere in the gray.
Some have argued that we need to increase our military manpower while at the same time decreasing Cold War era high cost defense projects. I tend to agree that it make sense to get rid of these costly projects. Larry Korb, Peter Ogden, and Fred Kagan argue that here. This seems to be a worthy tradeoff to me. However, I’d also like to see any increase in military manpower to be matched with a similar increase in State Department funding, development assistance, alliance building, intelligence gathering etc. In essence it seems to make sense that these are equally, if not more, important elements in the struggle against terrorism. (more…)
I may have been premature in my last post, when I posited that Democrats were developing a spine when it comes to opposing the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. For en example of careful hedging see this from Late Edition on CNN
WOLF BLITZER: Here in Washington, Senator Jay Rockefeller. He’s the new chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee. He disagrees with the president.
I want you to listen to this exchange I had earlier in the week with Vice President Cheney.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are moving forward. We are moving forward. The Congress has the control over the purse strings. They have the right, obviously, if they want, to cut off funding, but in terms of this effort, the president’s made his decision. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Are you going to go ahead with the so- called purse strings? Because that’s really the only binding way you can reverse what the president is planning on doing? Is that right?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Wolf, it’s a mistake to underestimate the power of a resolution.
There are few people I have more respect for today than Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel. Senator Hagel has proven that he can rise above partisan divide to do what he feels is right in spite of partisan politics. The Vietnam War veteran stated yesterday in the Senate foreign relations committee:
”There is no strategy. This is a ping-pong game with American lives. These young men and women that we put in Anbar province, in Iraq, in Baghdad are not beans. They’re real lives. And we better be damn sure we know what we’re doing – all of us – before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder… I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this. What do you believe? What are you willing to support? What do you think? Why were you elected? If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes.”
The issue of our strategy in Iraq and whether or not to escalate our involvement in the Iraqi civil war and put more American lives at risk is a fundamental question for our country, a question on which all of our representatives must vote their conscience, no matter what the political consequences. There are many good reasons to have a two party system, but I deeply hope that our leaders can overcome the pressures of partisanship to make the right call for the country.
Last week a new Intelligence Science Board study (sponsored by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity) indicated that there is no credible scientific evidence to back up the use of controversial interrogation techniques/torture in the fight against terrorism.
Additionally some of the Study participants suggested that torture could actually undermine intelligence gathering. These findings contradict the rhetoric of many Administration officials and their allies outside government who have argued in favor of torture.
To be clear even if torture was a net positive in the intelligence procuring business I would be against its use both because it is in violation of international law/ core norms and frankly because this country cannot be a global leader if it tortures people – simply put using and justifying torture defines a nation. I also strongly believe that the use of torture creates many enemies for the torturing country. Karen Hughes, in her public diplomacy role at State, seems to echo this perspective. In a recent FT interview she noted that “The toughest thing I’ve told the president is that he needed to improve the detainee policy…I felt it was important it was understood that was how we were being seen in the world.”
At this juncture, it seems that the wisest course of action for the Congress is to create an Independent Bipartisan Commission on Torture and U.S. Interrogation Policy; it is past time that the U.S. comprehensively address the scandals of Abu Gharib and beyond.
Such a Commission should be tasked with bringing together a broad range of experts able to collectively comprehend the totality of the issue, its consequences and necessary policy prescriptions. The experts would be drawn from the intelligence, foreign policy, law enforcement, military, veterans, legal and human rights community. Additional members could include representatives of the faith community, theologians, cultural specialists and historians.
Crucially the Commission would publicly air the findings of the Intelligence Science Board that torture is ineffective thereby ensuring that the country as a whole can move forward together with an understanding that an “end to torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment” policy is both the morally correct thing to do AND is the best counter-terror approach for the U.S. to take.
I strongly believe that this is an issue where we can build bipartisan support. Maybe Powell could chair the Commission?
I know it’s probably a delusion but if I didn’t know better I’d almost swear, after viewing the talk shows this weekend, that the Democrats are developing a backbone. Yes, I know I must be dreaming.
Still, let’s go to the videotape. First up, LATE EDITION CNN with Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
WOLF BLITZER: Are you ready, Senator Leahy, to give the president’s plan a chance to succeed?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: No, and the reason I’m not is because all his other plans have failed. There’s no reason why this one is suddenly going to succeed. We’ve heard everything from the shock and awe, Vice President Cheney saying we’d be welcomed as liberators.
If there is one thing that unites such disparate politicians, not to mention 2008 presidential contenders, as Hillary Clinton, John McCain, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney, Tommy Thompson, and others it is this timeworn cliché, America should support its troops.
But, speaking of clichés one of the oldest, when it comes to politicians and troops is this one; “Nothing is too good for our boys so that what we’ll give them. Nothing.” So in that regard, speaking as both a citizen and a veteran I’d like to make this suggestion: put your money where your mouth is. Talk is cheap but action is another matter altogether.
In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I am not an altogether dispassionate observer on this issue. In a century now past, I did veterans advocacy on behalf of Vietnam era veterans. I saw men and women wounded both physically and emotionally from their service. Compared to the need we helped far too few of them but I thought that at least never again would America fail to step up to the plate when it came time to help those who had served their country with their blood, limbs, and minds.
Well, some things never change. We may, at least rhetorically, pay better lip service to helping physically and mentally wounded troops try to readjust back to civilian life but the resources are lacking.
In that regard let’s tale a look at a little noted paper released this month by the J.F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Authored by lecturer in public policy Linda Bilmes it analyzes the long-term needs of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the consequences of these needs. Among its conclusions: (more…)
The new approach of the White House on issues from Middle East peace to civil liberties is encouraging, but we are still left waiting for a promise from the Bush administration that it is committed to restoring America’s role as a defender of freedom and a respected leader in the world. Two big stories hit the news this week. The first is that Condi is seeking to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians after years of the U.S. abandoning its historic leadership on this issue. And the second is that the Bush administration will now allow an independent court to oversee its wiretapping program. These stories point clearly to a change in administration perspective on two of the most important – and, to date, most failed – aspects of the Bush presidency.
And, yet, despite these dramatic changes there’s no master narrative being told. No one in the White House is telling us how this all connects – or, more importantly, how it reflects a fundamental shift in the way America wins the war on terror. The Bush strategy until recently has been to say that security is all about hard power. The Israeli-Palestinian issue has not been a priority because it’s not seen as a critical issue in building better, safer relationship with the Muslim world. The Bush philosophy has been that the fanatics are finite and unresponsive to political events and so the best way to be safe is to tap Americans’ phones without warrant. Now, the administration is realizing that’s its strategy of abandoning global leadership and domestic freedoms has actually made us less safe and finally we’re seeing a re-shifting of policy towards restoring the basic ingredients of U.S. global leadership abroad and freedom at home.
The president should be shouting about these changes from the mountaintops – and telling how they connect to a new vision for the war on terror – rather than presenting these issues as separate stories and downplaying the tremendous mistakes he’s made. The biggest issue for the U.S. today is that we’re seen as a country led by an arrogant President who is careless toward the world and unwilling to admit failure. Arguably even larger than Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, America is at odds with the world because Bush’s leadership is seen as intentionally ambivalent and stubborn toward the international community. President Bush owes more than a change in policy – he owes an apology to the American people and to the world for undermining our security with a failed a strategy in defeating terrorism. He needs to say he’s been dangerously wrong and announce a new vision for winning the fight against terror. The State of the Union next week would be a great opportunity.
The “Pottery Barn Principle” has tremedous informal influence in the on-going debate about what to do in Iraq. The quick summary is incredibly evocative: “you broke it, you bought it” applies in international affairs, just as it does at Pottery Barn and other stores. So the U.S. “owns” the Iraq problem and can’t leave until stability and happiness return to the land.
Of course, the principle is rarely enforced at stores like Pottery Barn. Nice stores understand in advance that they have fragile displays, with glasses stacked in precarious poses to make them look nice for potential customers. So the owners and managers expect some glasses to break from time to time. And the stores focus on making the unfortunate customer who accidentally bumps into the wine glass display while backing away to get a different perspective on the beautiful $800 console table feel comfortable enough to come back to the store — or perhaps even to buy the console table that very day. Other customers don’t turn and stare and clap and otherwise humiliate the unfortunate, clumsy person, as they would do in a high school cafeteria. Nice stores are much more grown up and understanding.
Yet the analogy still holds strange power in the foreign policy debate. Many Americans really have a deep streak of responsibility. The U.S. “owes” something to Cambodia, to Guatemala, to the Philippines. As a country, we don’t always act on our guilt, but sometimes we do, and there’s a deep reservoir of support that prioritizes efforts to improve the lives of people that the U.S. had something to do with harming over efforts simply to help people. Many Americans want to do good in the world, and that matters; the impulse to do good tinged with the guilt of having done ill in the past matters even more.
But how much sense does that make? Even in the moral framework, I think it’s tough to make the case for the pottery barn principle. (more…)
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Yesterday I listened to Jim Lehrer’s one on one interview with President Bush. I was simply amazed at the President’s answers. You can listen to an audio transcript and see a text transcript here. Despite my revulsion at Bush’s Iraq policy, I’ve always felt that Bush is a pretty gifted politician. He has always had a real skill connecting with regular people. Also, his unwillingness to waver in the face of overwhelming opposition is interpreted by many as a positive trait. At least he sticks to his guns, right? Well, that may be appropriate for a sheriff in the wild west. It doesn’t work for complex foreign policy issues. I accept that Bush has certainly thought a lot about Iraq. What is tragic is that his answers seem to reflect a jingoistic oversimplistic view of the situation. He may have a deeper understanding of it. However, this interview gave me the impression of a man who is grasping at straws trying to gain any traction on a rapidly sinking policy proposal.
Here Bush is asked about recent deaths in Iraq:
MR. LEHRER: Just today, another 35 people were killed in bombings; 80 over the weekend.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah, there is a difference between – look, death is terrible – but remember, some of these bombings are done by al-Qaida and their affiliates, all trying to create doubt and concern and create these death squads or encourage these death squads to roam neighborhoods….
It amazed me that Bush continues to link the specter of Al Qaeda to the current situation in Iraq. While I agree that Al Qaeda is a factor in the country, from what I’ve seen recently the bulk of the killing is a result of sectarian conflict. Even if we got rid of Al Qaeda in Iraq, we’d still have an enormous mess on our hands. Bush once again plays to the fears of Americans by portraying this as a fight against Al Qaeda. It’s the same strategy he used in the 2004 presidential campaign even after it had been proved that no link existed by between Al Qaeda and 9/11. What’s sad is that this fear rhetoric continues today. (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.