I Don’t Like a Policy. So Whom Should I Sue? (!)

by Eugene Gholz | May 31st, 2007 | |Subscribe

The Partnership for a Secure America formed to confront (and hopefully counteract) problems in the American foreign policy debate. We don’t have enough civil discussion of important foreign policy issues. Sometimes we have partisan shouting matches; sometimes the name-calling actually masks bipartisan consensus on the underlying issue, preventing Americans from thinking through alternative policies that might better serve the national interest.

Normally, blog-writers here complain about shrill politicians — for good reason. But this morning on NPR, I heard a new facet of the nasty, “gotcha” style of foreign policy debate in the U.S. The ACLU is upset (justifiably, IMHO) that the U.S. might facilitate torture of suspects in the War on Terror through the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” where suspects are transferred between countries, without judicial process, often to countries with poor human rights practices (i.e., to places where interrogation may involve torture). This practice may or may not have benefits in preventing terror, but it’s hard to have a reasoned policy debate about extraordinary rendition in an environment of secrecy and name-calling. So the ACLU is looking around for some way to impose accountability.

Again, I’m all in favor of accountability for bad policies in the War on Terror. The ACLU has a good history of asking questions, lobbying, suing, and otherwise injecting important issues into American policy debates. Today, the ACLU perhaps has a beef with the CIA or perhaps with the Bush Administration policy-makers who authorize and support the CIA’s actions. There may be aspects of rendition that make sense — aspects that do not lead to torture. If the U.S. wants to defend this policy, leaders need to make that clear and to take steps to give the public (including the international public) confidence that the policy is not and will not be abused. The ACLU should ask questions.

But this morning, the ACLU asked questions of someone else. Of Boeing (actually, one of its subsidiaries). The ACLU previously participated in a law suit against the CIA, one that is currently under appeal. Temporarily stymied on that avenue, though, they grabbed for another possible villain. Big corporations are rarely popular, so why not go after Boeing? At least it keeps the issue in the public eye. (more…)

The real cost of gasoline

by Brian Vogt | May 30th, 2007 | |Subscribe


I appreciated Matt Rojansky’s post the other day that expressed skepticism about presidential candidates (and others) who rely primarily on technological solutions to our oil dependency.  This technological solution to this public policy issue is certainly one component of the solution.  However, without getting the economics right, I fear that new technology will only inch us along to the ultimate solution. 

What we need are bold bipartisan solutions.  Instead what we get are feeble proposals that ask no one to sacrifice.  Everyone agrees that the energy challenges we face are immense and that the infrastructure and lifestyle that we have to today that has been built up over decades can not be maintained.  Few politicians – Democrats and Republicans – have the political courage to actually propose solutions that are commensurate with the challenges we are facing both in terms of energy supply and environmental degradation. 

Robert Samuelson had a very useful op-ed today in the Washington Post on this issue that is worth a look.

Technological solutions are great and they certainly will be part of the solution.  However, if the market is construed in a way that doesn’t promote usage of those new technologies, then they just sit on the shelf or are used primarily by enthusiasts and environmentalists.  While it’s great for us to buy hybrids because we feel that they will benefit the environment, the plain truth is that if we simply rely on peoples’ goodwill and environmental awareness to decrease our consumption and increase conservation, we’ll barely make a dent in the enormous problem that we are facing.   (more…)

Brownback’s False Idol

by Matthew Rojansky | May 24th, 2007 | |Subscribe

On Tuesday, I attended the Set America Free Coalition’s first in a series of energy policy events featuring 2008 presidential candidates.  The speaker was Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  After profusely, effusively (and a little awkwardly) thanking his hosts for giving him the time for a genuine “policy speech,” Brownback launched into a reasonable, if not groundbreaking, oratory advocating a range incremental steps toward energy independence for North America over the next 15 years.  His best turn of phrase was probably when he called for US dependence on the Midwest rather than the Mideast for our energy.  It’s one of his campaign speech staples.
In addition to extensive facts and figures, Brownback’s talk featured a number of logical and political word games endemic to this genre of “I have a plan to fix energy insecurity in 10-15 years” pitches.  His official energy policy platform calls for increased US ethanol production based on boosting agricultural output in Midwestern states like Kansas (of course), increasing domestic petroleum exploration and production, and expanding use and production of biofuels.  In other words, Brownback—like many of his competitors for the nomination from both parties—thinks our salvation lies in converting food crops and agricultural waste into clean and abundant vehicle fuel.  And that’s pretty much where his plan ends.

Naturally, finding the technology to achieve the miraculous conversion of biomass into gas at a viable price and scale is the key to Brownback’s energy security solution.  Conveniently, he did not get much into the substance of how, whether or how soon that technology will work.  He’s not alone.  Politicians these days toss all their (and our) hopes onto the technological bandwagon for two simple reasons: (1) neither they nor we understand or are expected to understand the technologies (especially when they haven’t been invented yet!), and (2) it is a lot easier to predict a technological revolution than to call for costly, concerted action to change our national infrastructure or our cherished, fuel-burning way of life.  In addition, industries doing energy R&D want government dollars, and politicians are happy to promise those dollars as long as doing so relieves public pressure to undertake tougher legislative solutions.  Meanwhile, we’re all temporarily forgiven for driving polluting cars while we wait for the technological panacea that won’t cost us a penny extra but will save the environment and rid us of our oil addiction. (more…)

About that IAEA report

by David Isenberg | May 23rd, 2007 | |Subscribe

Okay, today the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program. And yes, Iran is testing its uranium enrichment cascades and still hasn’t responded to longstanding IAEA requests for information on various subjects. No doubt we’ll hear all about those points in the morning papers.

But how many of them will mention this point (p. 2) from the IAEA report:

In the light of the increasing number of installed centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP),3 on 22 March 2007, Iran agreed to a modified safeguards approach for that facility which includes, in addition to a monthly interim inspection and design information verification visit, a combination of, inter alia, unannounced inspections and containment and surveillance measures (GOV/INF/2007/10). The first unannounced inspection was carried out on 13 May 2007.

And now back to your regularly scheduled mainstream media version of reality.

Lebanon Unravelling?

by Raj Purohit | May 22nd, 2007 | |Subscribe

I’m not sure if we can say that definitively right now but the violence in recent days between the Lebanese army and the Fatah al-Islam group in and around Palestinian refugee camps is really worrying. The BBC has followed the story closely and has sought to provide some useful background information. What seems certain is that without outside assistance Lebanon may be heading towards another summer of violence.

The Second Surge

by David Isenberg | May 22nd, 2007 | |Subscribe

Courtesy of Hearst Newspapers we have this:

The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year, an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders showed Monday.

This “second surge” of troops in Iraq, which is being executed by extending tours for brigades already there and by deploying more units, could boost the number of combat troops to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year. When support troops are included, the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 — the most ever — by the end of the year. 

The first surge was prominently proclaimed by Bush in a nationally televised address Jan. 10, when he ordered five additional combat brigades to join 15 brigades already in Iraq.

If the Pentagon overlaps arriving and departing combat brigades, the number of combat soldiers could rise from 52,500 in early January to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year. 

Taken together, the steps could put elements of as many as 28 combat brigades in Iraq by Christmas, according to an analysis of deployment orders by Hearst Newspapers. 


The troop escalation coincides with the time frame when Army Gen. David Petraeus, the overall U.S. commander, has promised his verdict on whether the initial troop surge is working, whether additional troops are needed or whether U.S. troops should begin phased withdrawal.

Whose Government Is It, Anyway?

by Eugene Gholz | May 21st, 2007 | |Subscribe

Iraq’s post-Saddam government has never reflected Iraqi political will, despite all of the proud (often American) claims in the wake of Iraqi elections. In the background, everyone always understands that even if the large deployment of American soldiers to Iraq can’t “cause stability” there, it surely could depose whatever government claims to rule from the Green Zone. But that’s not the extent of the lack of Iraqi sovereignty. In the foreground, the U.S. never allowed the Iraqi governments to reflect the vote totals from the Iraqi elections: we orchestrated governments more to our tastes, first by forcing the Iraqis to let Sunni groups participate even though they had boycotted the elections and later by extending negotiations to form a government for months after the elections in which Sunnis did participate.

Now the U.S. wants particular policies enacted in Iraq — key “benchmarks” — and so we are apparently quietly threatening to replace the current Iraqi leadership (people that we put in charge!) with what we hope will be more pliable Iraqi politicians. Check out today’s coverage in the Los Angeles Times.

Makes you wonder why we think anyone in Iraq would pay attention to “their” leaders in government. It seems to me that the best representation an Iraqi can hope for is from a neighborhood militia or tribal group. Should we really be surprised that Iraqis are cynical about the government in the Green Zone? And that the “national” politicians in Iraq focus more on getting invited to diplomatic conferences than on trying to build local political support with effective policy solutions or compromises?

Newt Gingrich Dreams of Victory

by David Isenberg | May 21st, 2007 | |Subscribe

Former Republican congressman and house speaker, and possible presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich has long fancied himself a bit of a futurist in the Alvin Toffler mode. He has long cozied up to the tech industry and may be the only congressman to attend science fiction conventions. It is safe to say that he is, in the Delphi oracle futurist sense of the word, a dreamer.  And if any further evidence is needed, consider this excerpt from his appearance on Meet The Press this past weekend:

RUSSERT: But, specifically, how would you want the war in Iraq militarily?    

GINGRICH: First of all, you would empower General Petraeus, you’d pass the supplemental immediately, you’d give him the money; second, you would encourage the Iraqis to triple the size of their regular army; third, you would encourage the development of a military tribunal system to lock people up, the way Abraham Lincoln would have done it; fourth, you would establish a nationwide ID card with biometrics so you can actually track everybody in the country; fifth, you would make sure that the State Department actually staffed the embassy with people in favor of winning the war, and you actually had fully equipped intelligence and economic development teams; sixth, you would say to the Iranians, “If you don’t cut off everything you’re doing we’ll begin to bring enormous pressure to bear with you, if necessary, blockading the flow of gasoline into Iran, which has to import 40 percent of its gasoline because it only has one refinery in the entire country.  

As Sen. Chris Dodd, the other guest on the show noted: 

DODD: What you’re suggesting, first, is terribly naive to assume that all of these things are going to happen with a government that even, to this day, can’t even leave the green zone to get out and function.  

Our Republic is Broken when it Takes a Czar to Make Policy Work

by Matthew Rojansky | May 18th, 2007 | |Subscribe

President Bush has not yet officially announced his selection of Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, currently head of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Iraq and Afghanistan “War Czar.”  Instead, White House officials have leaked the information as Bush’s political team, we presume, scrambles to line up Senate endorsement for the appointment. 

But whether Lute sails through Senate and—much more important—media scrutiny in the coming weeks is far less important than what he can actually do with the newly created office of Special Assistant to the President and deputy National Security Advisor.  As David Isenberg has noted, we already have a war czar: Steve Hadley, the National Security Advisor.  If Hadley’s job description does not include managing the single biggest foreign and security policy challenge the US faces, then he’s got the wrong title.

In all likelihood, Bush will not expand on what his Press Secretary, Tony Snow, has already offered as Lute’s job description:

[N]ow it is [Lute’s] job to work in a coordinating role to try to look at everything that’s going on under the auspices of the executive branch. Now, you mentioned State and Defense, when in fact, the portfolio is a lot broader. It includes Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, and others. You have people from many, many departments and agencies within the federal government that work on different aspects of this…

How many times have people been in the field where somebody says, here is a problem we have, I write notes and it never gets up to the top? Well, part of his job is to cut through that, and to make sure that people in the field are getting the kind of support and resources they need to get the job done. (more…)

Whither US Strategy? – Look to the Middle Powers

by Michael Kraig | May 18th, 2007 | |Subscribe

As pointed out by Isenberg (see “So What’s New?”, posted today), the Democrats are still floundering.  There are all sorts of tactical, but I would also point out a much larger, macro-level, foundational ill that keeps the Loyal Opposition from offering more viable alternatives: a bipartisan buy-in to a National Security Strategy that still, in essence, harkens back to the Cold War.

The script, in this regard, is pretty simple:

1) Most or all really bad transnational problems (like terrorism) can be linked back to an enemy state, who equips, guides, trains, and otherwise supports such nasty players;

2) There is broad international agreement on who that enemy state is (or states in plural);

3) The enemy is monolithic, which naturally leads to a “bloc” approach to security: the US finds regional friends/allies to put bases in, give financial perks and aid, sell weapons, trade with, and so forth; the enemy bars its gates with an Iron (or Iran) Curtain; (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.