Secrecy Means Not Having to Say You’re Sorry

by David Isenberg | June 29th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Given the continuing debate – not to mention laughter – over Vice President Dick Cheney’s new, fourth branch of government, or at least the one which exists in his own mind, which he created to escape oversight by the Information Security Oversight Office, I would be remiss if I did not note the newly published book, Nation of Secrets:Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life by investigative reporter Ted Gup. 

In his appropriatetely titled Chapter 3, National Insecurity, Part II: Secrecy Means Not Having to Say You’re Sorry he starts off on page 73 with a June 15, 2004 quote by one J. William Leonard, who just happens to be the director of the Information Security Oversight Office:

Left to its own, the system will likely corrode and lose its overall effectiveness, placing in jeopardy all information cloaked in its protective measures. This, of course, has more than theoretical consequences in time of war; especially with respect to the resulting damage to the common defense should such information be subject to unauthorized disclosure…Unfortunately, I have lately found some to use war as an excuse to disregard the basics of the security classification system.

Talking Points Memo notes that six months ago, the National Archives asked the Justice Department for its opinion on Dick Cheney’s “fourth branch” theory.  They’re still waiting. Congressmen Waxman and Conyers want to know why.

Bush Must Embrace ISG

by Jonathan Wallace | June 27th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Last week, the US House of Representatives voted to reconvene the Iraq Study Group to provide an independent assessment of the Iraq War in September. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) and passed by a vote of 355-69, was added to a $34.2 billion bill that funds State Department operations and foreign aid. With the Bush Administration already preparing the ground for when progress from the troop surge is smaller than expected, they should welcome the reconstituted ISG as a platform for launching many of the policy plans that were proposed back in December. The proposals include: changing the U.S. military role to training Iraq army troops, engaging Iran and Syria, addressing Arab-Israeli peace in a broader Middle East initiative, and pulling combat troops out by early 2008. These recommendations could be used to show that the administration is considering more than just throwing troops at the problem. It could also provide valuable political cover for Republican moderates who seem to be abandoning the President on his Iraq policy.

The ISG recommendation would be useful for many reasons. The first is that it has bipartisan support. When it was created, the Group was praised by both sides of the aisle. Two weeks ago, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House that would implement the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations which has 52 co-sponsors, almost split evenly between the two parties. If the Bush Administration were to embrace the ISG plan, it would certainly be met with praise on Capitol Hill, something that has been sorely lacking from our Iraq policy lately.

The recommendations made by the Iraq Study group also included a plan that most of the combat troops in Iraq could begin to leave by the end of March 2008. Obviously that date would have to be pushed back a little because of the delay in implementation, but it would provide the American public what it has wanted for months, a way to start bringing our soldiers home from Iraq. Almost 60 percent of Americans, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, want to start reducing the number of troops we have in Iraq. The ISG plan would allow that to happen, while also ramping up training for Iraqi military forces. Because of this, when American forces do withdraw from Iraq, the Iraqi forces would be stronger and better equipped to handle the ongoing security problems in the country. Therefore, the American public would get what they clamor for and it would avoid a calamitous security vacuum.

One of the more controversial recommendations from the ISG involved engaging Syria and Iran directly in talks about the security situation in Iraq. The Bush administration has begun talking to Iran and Syria, but must keep the channels of dialogue open and consistent. By engaging these two countries directly and most important, respectfully, we can encourage them to be responsible stake holders in the conflict. At the very least, through honest and open dialogue, we can better gauge what their expectations and interests are for Iraq and respond accordingly. Finally, constructive engagement on Iraq can be used as a foundation to begin discussions on other issues such as a freeze on nuclear activity in Iran or peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.

It is obvious that the troop surge has not lived up to the expectations of the Bush administration or the general public. President Bush is now seeing more and more members of his own party abandon him on Capitol Hill. He needs to do what he failed to do in January and accept the ISG recommendations. When the report was originally released, Bush remarked that he wanted Congress to work with his administration to find “common ground”. What he missed, however, was that the common ground has existed in the form of the Baker-Hamilton report. It is time for the President to embrace the ISG report and move this country’s Iraq policy forward in a way that both parties and the American public can support.

The End is Coming

by David Isenberg | June 27th, 2007 | |Subscribe

I am sorry not to have posted this weekend review earlier, but I was at the always fascinating Carnegie Nonproliferation conference the last two days.

There was not actually all that much on war and peace issues this weekend. Perhaps the usual suspects were busy starting the summer vacations. Still, these two excerpts are noteworthy:

First, there was Senator Edward Kennedy on This Week On ABC: 

KENNEDY: We’ll have the Defense Authorization Bill on the floor of the United States Senate after we deal with the immigration bill. It will be the first order of business after the July break. And the president’s going to get a timetable again, and we’re going to keep at it until we’re successful. And I think we’re going to pick up increasing support. I can’t give you when the final time will be when we’ll have the majority, but it’s coming. It’ll get there. We got there at the time of Vietnam. It took too long. We got there in the Contra war and that took too long. And we’re going to get there on Iraq.


Memo to Vladimir Putin: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

by Matthew Rojansky | June 26th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Russia today is rich and powerful.  That’s the message from Vladimir Putin anyway.

In reality, whether Russia is rich depends on how you ask the question.  It is among the poorest countries in Europe based on per capita GDP, yet it has the world’s second highest number of billionaires (after the US), and its government is awash in windfall revenue from high oil prices.  In fact, Russia’s “Stabilization Fund,” an account set up to absorb “excess liquidity” from the recent plateau in world oil prices, is now estimated at well over $100 billion.  So, certainly some in Russia, including the government, are very, very rich.


Fatally Flawed Approach to Foreign Policy

by Raj Purohit | June 21st, 2007 | |Subscribe

Detached from reality….surely that is the only explanation for the conduct of the member of Congress and/or their staffer when they added language to the House Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that would limit economic aid to some countries supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC) .

Yes you did read that correctly. At a time when the U.S. image in the world is seemingly at an all time low; at a time when we have profound foreign policy/national security challenges to face from Iraq to Climate Change to Darfur, a member of Congress decided to win political points with a few dead-enders who think we can still afford to bash globally embraced international institutions like the ICC.

Forgive me for saying that the responsible (or should I say irresponsible) individual seems to be living in a time warp! We are not living in the 1990’s when it was “the economy stupid” and the ICC existed only on paper.

I could spend the entire morning writing about why the United States has nothing to fear from the ICC; that the ICC in fact embodies core U.S. legal values and traditions; that it is supported by all of our close democratic allies and has, by its actions, shown that it is oriented towards the prosecution of war criminals from the DRC to Darfur. It would also be easy to spend several hours systematically illustrating the massive foreign policy and national security costs associated with the fatally flawed BIA policy pursued by our government in recent years. But I’m not going to take either approach.

The information required to make a national security and foreign policy case for constructive engagement with the ICC and a reversal of the BIA policy exists and has been, and continues to be, widely disseminated on Capitol Hill.

The problem here is not a lack of information, it is a lack of awareness, a disregard for the consequences of ones actions, and it is, frankly, a reckless approach to foreign policy that is harmful both to the United States and the international community. Let us hope that the U.S. Senate can save the House of Representatives from itself…..again.

Rule of Law v a dictator and the U.S.?

by Raj Purohit | June 21st, 2007 | |Subscribe

General/President Musharraf has, at least since 9/11, been viewed as an American stooge by Pakistanis of all political persuasions and at today’s rally in support of Pakistan’s suspended chief justice the demonstrators visually represented this sentiment.

They did so by burning an American flag at the rally.

While such an act increases the odds of the demonstration being covered on CNN and provokes a negative reaction in the U.S., it is unfortunately not an unusual or surprising occurrence. What was unusual and surprising about this particular flag burning was the identity of the demonstrators and the message they were seeking to convey.

The 5,000 strong rally was made up of lawyers (Pakistan’s legal system is an English influenced common law tradition), human rights activists (who tend to be western trained with a profound belief in international human rights law) and the opposition (they are focused on securing democratic elections and adherence to the rule of law).

A group of lawyers burned the U.S. flag to protest what they believe is U.S. support for a military dictator at the expense of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Think about that for a minute….it should give each of us pause and reason to reflect on the U.S. image in the world.

Frankly, it is past time that those who influence U.S. foreign policy take a hard look at our approach to Pakistan and recognize that we have ended up on the wrong side of the political conflict in that country.

The U.S. must demand that the Musharraf regime stop undermining the courts, press and civil society. It must also seek a timetable for free and fair elections that are open to all parties and their leaders.

When the U.S. is, with justification, perceived to be supportive of a military dictator by the bastions of liberal society – lawyers, human rights activists, democracy promoters, the press and judges – something has gone horribly wrong with our foreign policy. It is time for a change.

Building One Voice for the Future of Israel-Palestine

by Seth Green | June 20th, 2007 | |Subscribe

“I’m voting for Israel!” I heard that statement again and again as I traveled through my old neighborhood in South Florida before the 2004 elections. I would have thought “voting for Israel” meant “voting for John Kerry” because what Israel needed most then and now was a trusting friend who would engage the region and take a new strategy in Iraq. But somehow voting for Israel for many in my community meant voting for George Bush. Never mind, Bush’s colossal failure in Iraq, his conflating of Islam and fascism, and his lack of direction whatsoever in solving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Bush was willing to talk tough on Israel’s behalf. He was willing to threaten Iran (at least rhetorically). And he was willing to call Israel’s leader a “man of peace” even at his least peaceful moments. Despite all this, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch went through the synagogues in my area preaching that Bush was good for Israel. 


The recent events in the Middle East have laid bare that Bush’s policy of talking tough and doing nothing is precisely the opposite of what the region needs. Our tough talk has strengthened extremes in the region at the same time as our do nothing policy has given these fringe groups total freedom to build up their military might. We now find ourselves with Hamas in control of Gaza, a prospect unthinkable at the end of the Clinton years. What we need to do as a country is strengthen the moderates in both Israel and Palestine and that’s why our organization is joining with OneVoice Movement to hold a major rally on September 9, 2007. We plan to “echo” demonstrations by moderates in both Israel and Palestine and to garner international support both at the grassroots and policy-making levels for immediate negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian governments leading to a two-state solution and an end to the occupation. 


The kickoff ECHO event will be simultaneous with the massive mobilizations that OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine will lead in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and other urban centers in the region.  On September 9th, in Washington, DC, American students will gather together to rally at the National Mall after activists fill the streets of Israel and Palestine to “echo” that message in the U.S. Capitol, demanding that their leaders take notice and put pressure on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to heed the call of the moderate majorities on both sides for a two-state solution and an end to occupation and terror. Click here to learn more

The microdot at the end of the tunnel

by David Isenberg | June 19th, 2007 | |Subscribe

In late 1967, General Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged General William C. Westmoreland, the commander of US forces in Vietnam, to release optimistic estimates of the United States’ military position in Vietnam.  The North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong were portrayed to the press as being on the ropes.
Then, in December, after these estimates came out, National Security Adviser Walter W. Rostow said “I see light at the end of the tunnel.” in a televised speech, despite the fact that the White House knew that the Viet Cong were preparing a major offensive.  Sure enough, the Tet Offensive was soon launched, showing that the war would not be over for a long, long time.
I thought of that this past weekend as I mulled the resignation of JCS Chairman Chairman Peter Pace, whose departure was hardly voluntary, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced June 9 he would not be renominated for a customary second term. Pace disclosed last Friday that he had turned down an offer to voluntarily retire rather than be forced out.
One wonders how much, if anything has really been learned on the critical importance of ruthless honesty since Vietnam. One of the supposed lessons was the absolute moral imperative for the uniformed leadership to speak truth to civilian power. The reforms to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1980s when the JCS chair was given more power, was precisely to prevent the traditional lowest common denominator speak no evil spectacle of military service parochialism and logrolling that all the services engaged in order to keep budgets high and keep a seat at the policymaking table. (more…)

Truth? We don’t need no stinking truth!

by David Isenberg | June 18th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Pardon my lengthiness but there was quite a bit of interesting, nay, must read, commentary on the talk shows this weekend. One or two of them are worth reading in full, such as the interview on Fox News Sunday. But lets go to the transcript for these bits as Gen. David Petraeus, top U.S. military commander in Iraq, does his best to tread the fine line between reality and spin.

WALLACE: General, the Pentagon issued its quarterly report this week, and it indicated that there has been no measurable progress so far. Let’s take a look. The Pentagon said the total number of weekly attacks on Iraqi civilians, Iraqi forces, and U.S. forces actually went up from the last month before the surge to the first three months of the surge, and the Pentagon report concluded the aggregate level of violence in Iraq remained relatively unchanged during this reporting period. General, why shouldn’t we back home view that as disappointing?

PETRAEUS: Well, the aggregate level is about the same. We actually have borne the brunt of much more of that, as have Iraq security forces, and civilians a good bit less. In fact, one of the metrics that we track, which is sectarian murders and executions in Baghdad, went down by months. It was down to about a third — by the end of April, it was down to about a third of where it was back in January. It did come back up, as we announced, in the month of May, a little less than half. That is trending back down again.

The fact is that as we go on the offensive, the enemy is going to respond. That is what has happened. Car bombs have been coming steadily down and, as I mentioned, sectarian executions in Baghdad in particular have come down. So again, certainly it is a mix, and that is what I’ve tried to convey with my assessment, that we’re ahead in some areas and we need to do some serious work in others. (more…)

Bipartisan Consensus (?) Gone Wrong on Trade

by Eugene Gholz | June 15th, 2007 | |Subscribe

This week, there’s been a sudden flurry of questioning the economic value of free trade — on many fronts. Hillary Clinton came out against the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Senators renewed their bipartisan effort to bludgeon China about the value of the Yuan — this time by calling China a “currency manipulator” to trigger sanctions rather than by proposing a tariff to directly “compensate” for the manipulation. And one of my colleagues on this blog, Matthew Rojansky, was shocked to discover that some people think that aiming for energy independence (that is, avoiding all trade in energy) is not a smart goal.

Dan Drezner has a useful (if a bit ascerbic) post countering these arguments, especially focusing on China. His main point is that the U.S. benefits from many imports, whether it’s efficiently produced goods or capital that keeps interest rates low (pointedly right now, capital that we borrow from China). The argument that trade benefits consumers and investors in the U.S. is well-known but needs reiterating from time to time.

Why? Because it’s also well-known that trade does not benefit everyone. In the U.S., trade hurts certain import-competing business, and it hurts labor (especially workers without particularly scarce, hard-to-obtain skills). Critics of free trade like Scott Paul at the Huffington Post focus on those who are hurt, arguing that presidential candidates (specifically Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and John Edwards but also, he hopes and expects, Republicans, for whom he might cite positions on the immigration reform bill) are “witnessing the toll those [free trade] agreements are taking on America, and they are courageous enough to say it’s time to change course.”

But the free trade agreements are not taking a toll on America. (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.