It’s International Law, Stupid(s)

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

In tonight’s Democratic presidential debate, Tim Russert asked each of the candidates a simple question: if Iran develops a nuclear weapon and Israel considers its security threatened, would Israel be justified in attacking Iran to destroy its weapons capability?

Senator Hilary Clinton talked combatively about Syria, classified intelligence, and why we shouldn’t answer hypotheticals. Senator Barack Obama tried to “back up a bit” and gave just about the same answer, though he might have scored a few points with the AIPAC crowd by dubbing the US Israel’s “stalwart ally.” And Senator John Edwards didn’t have much at all to say. He seemed pretty well out of his depth on a life-and-death foreign policy matter in the Middle East where the answer wasn’t simply “bring the troops home.”

Clearly, not one of the three leading contenders got it anywhere near right. Gov. Bill Richardson, the distant fourth place candidate, came the closest. He at least mentioned that Israel might have some say in the matter, and that it probably had a right to defend itself.


Pakistan – Democracy and Education

by Raj Purohit | September 25th, 2007 | |Subscribe

I somehow missed Sameer Lalwani’s post at TWN earlier in the week on Bhutto. Sameer takes a few minutes to essentially contrast the PPP record with that of the current military government. His analysis of the current situation in Pakistan and the skepticism he shows for PPP/civilian rule does not strike me as being particularly accurate or well founded and I fear it displayed some of the broad brush stroke approach to U.S.-Pakistan policy that has plagued Washington in recent years.

By way of illustration – Sameer takes issue with the way that the PPP representatives use the madrassas “boogeyman” when they describe the “drastic resurgence of political madrassas” under the military government.

Sameer writes:

“Because madrassas are an effective boogeyman (though their significance has been challenged), the PPP’s lobbyists don’t hesitate to deploy it. But the madrassa boogeyman has been continually invoked and found to be quite dubious, again with a look at the data as some World Bank and Harvard scholars sought to do. The degree of hyperbole is shocking given that the data shows madrassas only constitute 1% of enrollment in Pakistan and no evidence of dramatic increase in recent years. Moreover, madrassas are a byproduct of an institutional deficit — that is the government’s inability to provide good universal education — and this is something that pre-dates military rule.”

Now we know that Madrassa’s are a boogeyman because they are seen as places where young kids are indoctrinated into fundamentalism. Sameer seems to take issue with the PPP critique that madrassas have boomed in recent years by noting both that their data may be flawed and that the government’s inability to provide good universal education (a problem predating military rule) is the real problem.

Well that is an apples to oranges comparison. In my mind, Sameer’s suggestion that the lack of good universal education is the real problem (I’m guessing because if there was UE kids wouldn’t go to madrassas) skips over a couple of key points.

First, madrassas are also social centers for orphaned/poor kids and the most militant ones are usually well funded by their patrons in the Middle East. These madrassas will always be able to compete with Pakistani schools because of their funding stream. Secondly, while madrassas are only a small part of the over all system, the past few years has seen the entire Pakistani education system develop an increased religious tenor – and that is a direct consequence of the decisions made by the military government.

Fundamentalism always thrives in Pakistan during military rule and it is that broader issue that needs to drive the debate in Pakistan and Washington, DC.

I  really hope that Sameer, who is a terrific writer, and others start to look at the situation in Pakistan in a holistic and three dimensional way – the solution to Pakistan’s problems can be found neither in the form of the current military dictator not the flawed head of the PPP. A key component of any effort to rebuild Pakistani society is the creation of political space via the reestablishment of democracy coupled with the broadest range of checks and balances possible.

Tempest In A Teapot

by David Isenberg | September 24th, 2007 | |Subscribe

This weekend Sen., and presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton (D-NY) made the rounds of the shows. One should give the Senator credit for having rehearsed her lines and gotten her stock responses done. It was so well rehearsed one could believe, if you didn’t know better, that her answers were spontaneous.

And rehearsed or not, some of what she said, was spot on. Take, for example, the tempest in a teapot that Republicans are trying to inflate into something bigger; namely, the ad that supposedly impugned the integrity of Gen. David Petraeus. Here is what she said on Fox News Sunday: 

CHRIS WALLACE: Senator, you have refused to criticize the ad about “General Betray Us.” In fact, this week you voted against a Senate resolution denouncing it. President Bush said that you and other Democrats are more afraid, his word, afraid, of irritating the left wing and MoveOn that you are about insulting the American military. Does he have a point?
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): No, he doesn’t. But I think it’s clear. I don’t condone attacks on anyone who has served our country with distinction and with honor. And I have been very vocal in my support of and admiration for General Petraeus. I did vote for a resolution that made it clear that I do not condone and do condemn attacks on any American, impugning their patriotism, and that includes people like Senator Max Cleland and Senator John Kerry. I think we need to call a halt to any kind of attacks from wherever they come that would go after anyone based on their service to America. But you know, this is not a debate about an ad..
This is a debate about how we end the war in Iraq. That’s the debate that I want to be participating in. And I think a lot of people on the other side don’t want us to have that debate..

The host, Chris Wallace, trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, persisted: (more…)

Blackwater Is Not The Issue

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

Once again a tragedy involving Blackwater private security contractors happened in Iraq. This time however, unlike 2004, when four of them were killed at Fallujah while escorting a convoy delivering kitchen equipment, they allegedly were the assailants, who, during the course of a firefight in Baghdad while escorting clients, somehow killed at least 11 Iraqi civilians and wounded at least 13 more.

This reminds me that in my third entry for this blog I wrote back in May 2006:

To date much of the discussion of contractors on the battlefield and war zones has been sensationalistic and not particularly helpful. Either contractors are just patriots helping out their former comrades, as most of them are former military themselves or they are just war profiteering moneygrubbers, who trample on human rights. Neither view is correct.

So I would like to suggest that the time is right for Congress to take one modest step by forming its own caucus on the issue. Surely, if we can have causes devoted to Alzheimer’s, textiles, and alcohol fuels we can have one devoted to an industry deals with an enduring reality of international affairs, namely who gets to use force and under what circumstances.

In light of the current media frenzy over the Blackwater incident I’ve been thinking about this. (more…)

Fed Up With Bad Economic Policy

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

It was a wild day on Wall Street Tuesday as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke cut interest rates by a surprising .5%. While traders cheered the news, those concerned with the long-term health of the American economy and our security should not have been so pleased. The American dollar is in the global tank and we are losing our competitiveness as we continue to under-save the rest of the industrialized world by leaps and bounds. Our debt as a country and as individuals is unconscionably high and our credit market is partly to blame for this problem. Over the last few years, American citizens and our government alike have taken on obscene amounts of debt.

The sub-prime mess was an awakening to Wall Street and Main Street alike that risky mortgages and re-financing are trouble for both the borrower and the lender. If we are going to have a thriving economy, people need to live within their real means – and not the “means” they invent on paper for no doc loans. This is an important lesson and a first step toward getting the country back on track.

All of the attention to the sub-prime markets over the last month was finally bringing needed attention to resolving this crisis. The U.S. government was beginning to discuss policy alternatives to deal with the situation. Finally, it appeared that the Bush administration and Congress might work together on comprehensive legislation to help those who are at risk of foreclosure and eviction – and, more importantly, to create a set of regulations to avoid this level of easy credit in the future.

While government policy has a role to play, the Fed’s intervention on Tuesday is not the answer to what has been a colossal failure of both the government and markets to properly regulate credit and balance risk. By giving investors a short-term bail-out on Tuesday, the Fed is encouraging a moral hazard. And that decision only makes it less likely that Wall Street and Main Street will take seriously this opportunity to rethink our savings and loans balance. We need to get back to being a country of savers and spenders rather than borrowers and spenders. In the long-run, this is essential to our economic health and security.

With great power comes great responsibility

by Brian Vogt | September 18th, 2007 | |Subscribe


PSA Advisory Board member Sandy Berger and Eric Schwartz had a compelling op-ed recently in the Boston Globe on September 5th that I believe deserves more attention.  Berger and Schwartz argue that due to America’s foreign policy attention being focused primarily on Iraq, other competing powers are gaining the upper hand in important regions around the world.  In some developing countries America is losing influence as Russia and China pick up the slack with new infrastructure development projects and other types of support.  In national security terms the short term loss of influence in countries such as East Timor may not be the most pressing item on the US foreign policy agenda.  However, we must not forget that once upon a time Afghanistan also ceased to be a priority as Soviet troops departed, only to resurge as an Al Qaeda stronghold.  Seemingly insignificant backwater countries can have tremendous impact on the US at the hands of a few determined extremists. 

What is concerning is that in the Bush administration’s proposed 2008 budget the USAID foreign assistance component has been slashed by 31%.  Granted, some of this money has been funneled into the State Department’s economic assistance fund.  Nevertheless, this is no time to be pulling back on our engagement in the developing world. 

Berger and Schwartz raise the issue of China gaining ground in the developing world as it exercises its newfound wealth and global influence.  Although framing this relationship in adversarial terms can make sense, we may also want to consider how China might be brought into the global community as a responsible citizen.  I see this as one of our major foreign policy challenges. 

The jury is still out in terms of what type of foreign policy China intends.  My belief is that China’s foreign policy will be governed primarily by its interest in expanding both the markets for its products and for raw materials and energy.  Instability and conflict are bad for business, which leads me to conclude that although its foreign policy is focused primarily on its economic interests, it is not in the business of empire building.  Certainly this is the story that the Chinese are spinning for Western audiences so as to reduce their anxiety about China’s emergence.  Although a healthy dose of skepticism is always warranted, I tend to believe that narrative. 

See this explanation of China’s foreign policy on its US embassy web site

Maintaining world peace. China does not participate in the arms race, nor does it seek military expansion. China resolutely opposes hegemonism, power politics, aggression and expansion in whatever form, as well as encroachments perpetrated by one country on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another, or interference in the internal affairs of another nation under the pretext of ethnic, religious or human rights issues.

Clearly for China sovereignty and economic self interest supersede “pretext” concerns such as human rights. (more…)

To reduce or not to reduce: That is the question

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

Hmm, so maybe that much talked about news last week where supposedly Secretary of Defense Gates was calling for deeper reductions of American troops from Iraq than Gen. Petraeus or President Bush is less than meets the eyes:

Here he is on Fox News Sunday:  

CHRIS WALLACE: You made news Friday when you said that you hope we can get down to 100,000 troops by the end of 2008. What would it take? What would the situation on the ground have to be for that to happen?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: Well, first of all, what didn’t get covered was the fact that I indicated very strongly that that developed very much on what happened on the ground. And that if we were to continue draw downs it would be because the situation in Iraq had continued to improve dramatically. The key here, it seems to me, is what kind of conditions we will have in Iraq in March when General Petraeus makes his reevaluation.   

WALLACE: Now, you made it very clear that this was your personal view about the 100,000 troops. But you’re also a pretty careful guy. Fair to say that the president also shares this hope that if things continue you could get down to 100,000 by the end of the year?

GATES: I didn’t actually use the number. Somebody else, one of the people who asked the question jumped to that number. (more…)

Get the partisanship out. No excuses.

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

Last night, in a focus group convened as part of PSA and Saga’s effort to “forge the bipartisan message” on preventing nuclear terror, I had the privilege of speaking frankly with a group of voters from all sides of the political spectrum. Actually, I did a lot more listening than talking, and what I heard leaves me more convinced than ever that PSA’s call for rational, centrist compromise is indispensable to an effective national security and foreign policy. It was clear that American voters blame both Democrats and Republicans for their failure to come together and get the job done. Amidst deep skepticism about Iraq, the concept of a “war on terror,” and almost any other pithy policy sound bite associated with the current administration, one message came through loud and clear: Get partisanship out of national security policy. No excuses.


“Return on Success”

by Matthew Rojansky | September 14th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Like many Americans, I watched President Bush’s speech last night and wondered why he felt it necessary or appropriate to address the American people. We all knew long before the speech, and even long before General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker went up to Capitol Hill, that there would be no significant change of course in Iraq. At best, we might have expected some genuine contrition had the “surge” proven an outright failure, but no major change in policy, and certainly no meaningful timetable for troop withdrawal.

Nor could the President’s speech have pacified or reassured a jittery nation, winning another year or just a few months more patience with a long, tough fight, but one that would eventually result in victory and greater security for this country. As the President has himself acknowledged, he no longer has the credibility to ask such things of Americans, or of the Congress, including loyal members of his own party. Former Bush supporters and staunch Republicans are without a doubt among the two-thirds of Americans who do not believe the Iraq War can ever be won.


While we focus on Iraq – more bad news from Pakistan

by Raj Purohit | September 12th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Two pieces of bad news coming out of Pakistan in recent days, one involving the political situation and the other on the security front.

Politically, the Musharraf government made a significant strategic error when they decided to deport former PM Nawaz Sharif when he returned to the country despite the fact that the Pakistani Supreme Court has ruled that he can return. Musharraf would have been better off letting Sharif back but is now reinforcing Sharif’s position as a key democratic opposition figure. The Bush Administration needs to be vocal and condemn this move. Sharif will have influence in Pakistan going forward and is close to some key religious figures, he needs to feel that he has support in the West.

On the security side a large number of Pakistani soldiers have been captured by Taliban in the area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The lack of central government control more evident by the day and a change in the status quo will require real cooperation between the two neighbors. Again, this is something the Bush Administration needs to push very hard.

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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.