More panic please

by David Isenberg | November 28th, 2007 | |Subscribe

It strikes me that the fate of the world might at least merit a second post on the same topic so let’s think a bit more about why we should be panicking, or at least far more concerned than we are at present, regarding the environmental state of the world in general, and climate change in particular.

Two weeks ago, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented its latest synthesis report, which contained its sternest warning yet about the need to immediately tackle climate change. “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment,” said IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri.

Consider some excerpts from the report

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level

Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the global surface temperature (since 1850).

Rising sea level is consistent with warming (Figure SPM.1). Global average sea level has risen since 1961 at an  average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3]mm/yr and since 1993 at 3.1 [2.4 to 3.8]mm/yr, with contributions from thermal  expansion, melting glaciers and ice caps, and the polar ice sheets

There is very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.

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A Step in the Right Direction

by Brian Vogt | November 26th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Regular readers of my column will agree that there are few times when I applaud this president.  I still believe that much of this administration’s disastrous foreign policy will take years, and maybe decades to clean up.  With that said, I do believe that there are actually some signs of hope.  The issue where I believe president Bush deserves at least some credit and  and further support is the upcoming Arab Israeli summit taking place in Annapolis this Tuesday.  I was further encouraged by the recent announcement by Syria that it would join in the talks.  It plays an important role due to its relationship with Hamas.  The fact that the Bush administration is finally coming around to the thinking that it is important to talk both with your friends and with your enemies is certainly a step in the right direction. 

President Bush and the neocons came into office with the desire to reform the Middle East through force.  The neocons predicted that a victory in Iraq would serve as a strong foothold for US interests and for democracy in the region.  Clearly this has not happened.  While there is no magic bullet to solving the Middle East’s conflicts which are fueled by religious differences, historical animosities, and oil, I believe that making progress in identifying and implementing a viable two state solution in the region is one of the most important contributions the US can make to the future of the Middle East. 

Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel, had an interesting take on things in an NPR interview, when he argued that in fact that it is precisely because of the rise of Shia Iran that more of the actors in the region are willing to come to the table to negotiate.  Although certainly not the predicted outcome of America’s misadventure in Iraq, it is important that we take advantage of this situation to bring the key actors to the table.  Condoleeza Rice, has made it her mission to do so.  Now that the neocons, who had regularly sidelined Powell’s efforts to reengage with the process, are weakened, Rice has been given much more latitude and support from the President.  I still question the degree to which the President is personally committed to the process.  However, I believe he must be given credit for allowing Rice to take on this issue.  The degree to which he personally engages remains to be seen.  He’s not a natural negotiator on such issues, but I’m encouraged that he has now acknowledged the importance of the US playing an integral role in this process.  Even if he plays a more figurehead role and lets Rice do the heavy lifting, that’s better than the situation we were in during the past several years.  (more…)

Things are getting better, so they say

by David Isenberg | November 26th, 2007 | |Subscribe

So, the surge seems to be working, at least in some ways.  Or so many American pundits think. If you are, say, an Iraqi, you see things a bit differently. Consider what was on the talk shows this weekend. On CNN’s Late Edition there was this:

WOLF BLITZER: Just a short while ago, I spoke with Iraq’s former prime minister Ayad Allawi. He joined me from Amman, Jordan.
 
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
 
BLITZER: Prime Minister Allawi, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to “Late Edition.”
 
Let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening in Iraq right now, and I’ll put some numbers up on the screen. In terms of Iraqi civilian deaths, it looks like the trend is positive. Back in June, more than 1,100 civilians were killed. In October, it went down to 565; in November, so far, 324, a dramatic decrease.
 
As far as U.S. military troop casualties, deaths back in June, it was over 100; in October, it went down to 38; in November so far, 31.
 
It looks like these trends are positive. Is the so-called military surge now working?

That is sixty four million dollar question. But perhaps the answer is not as simple as we hope. (more…)

Thank You for Your Service. Now Draft Me.

by Matthew Rojansky | November 20th, 2007 | |Subscribe

As we Americans join family and friends to give thanks this week, I’d like to offer some food for thought on the theme of appreciating sacrifice: It is practically a rule among politicians these days to preface any comment about US military (mis)adventures abroad by paying lip service to the sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform. In fact, I have little doubt that the vast majority of Americans, our leaders included, genuinely respect and wish to honor the service of those few among us who actually swear the oath, don the uniform, and put themselves in harm’s way to serve our national defense.

But I believe we’ve reached a saturation point of appreciation. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have been serving so long, so hard and so often, and are therefore stretched so thin, that repetition of the same hackneyed line, “we thank you for your service,” seems empty, and perhaps even cynical. After all, what have we—Americans at home, in business, in government, and in the voting booth—given or done to lend substantive meaning to those six words? (more…)

Bush’s Middle East Juggling Act

by Jonathan Wallace | November 17th, 2007 | |Subscribe

The Bush administration is seeking a breakthrough in Israel-Palestinian negotiations during their conference in Annapolis later this month. Secretary Rice is shuttling back and forth to the Middle East in order to get all the relevant parties involved and moving towards a final peace negotiation. President Bush and Secretary Rice have gambled that this last-ditch, all out effort will result in an agreement that they can both leave as a legacy after their term expires in fourteen months. However, it is becoming plain that the other parties involved may not be ready to move at the quickened pace that the Bush administration is looking for.

Recent fighting between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza strip shows that they are still not ready to cooperate in dealing with Israel. Because of this, the United States is going to have to perform an elaborate juggling act involving all of the players at the Annapolis conference. In order to accomplish the goals that Secretary Rice has set for this meeting, US diplomats will have to mediate a peace between Hamas and Fatah, between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and the Arab/Muslim world. The conflict between Hamas and Fatah could ruin any agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis. If Hamas feels sidelined by the process, they could relish the role of spoiler and truly test the patience of the Israeli leadership. Indeed, the same perspective could be attributed to Iran. Should Iran feel marginalized by what they feel is a Saudi-led process towards normalization with Israel, they too could work to unleash violence in the Palestinian territories and Israel through one of their proxy groups. Therefore it is necessary to include Hamas and Iran in the strategic calculus during the Annapolis process and beyond. However, this may be beyond the capabilities and sensibilities of the United States, the Sunni Arab countries, and Israel. Getting all these moving part working in the same direction while preventing spoilers may be a task of Sysiphisian proportions.

Even if it were possible, this high-wire diplomatic act will be too tough to accomplish in the next two months. Indeed it will probably be too much for the Bush administration to accomplish in its last fourteen months in office. It is therefore vital that the United States, the Palestinian Authority, and everyone else involved reduce the expectations for the Annapolis conference. Should the expected progress be slow in materializing, there could be violent repercussions, similar to the second intifada which followed President Clinton’s failed attempt in 2000. However, with a longer-term view, the victories may be easier to imagine. A continued diplomatic initiative may be able to unravel these problems over time and present a more reasonable environment for a two-state solution. It is looking more likely that immediate answers to the Middle East will be impossible to grasp. I know it’s difficult to preach patience to those who live in a cycle of fear and violence (on both sides), but the quick fix will prove elusive, even with the renewed commitment of the Bush administration.

Why Aren’t We Panicking?

by David Isenberg | November 14th, 2007 | |Subscribe

After reading the new report on global climate change just released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security one might be inclined to ask, am I afraid? But afraid is such an insufficient word. A better question is, am I panicked? And if your answer is no, then you need to ask why not?

While warnings, projections, and predictions about the planet’s environmental future are hardly novel, most writings limit themselves to the actual physical consequences resulting from global warming. And by now we should have heard them often enough to be able to cite them in our sleep, i.e., mass migrations, flooding of costal cities, fighting over resources, adverse impact on agriculture, desertification, collapse of ocean fisheries, et cetera.

Still, as someone who regularly reads the latest reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  I have to say that this new report, The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change does a great job of making you shudder.

Now normally, I’m not one for fearmongering. In fact, much of what is wrong with our foreign policy today is based on exaggerating threats, i.e., Iran may develop nuclear weapons so we must bomb them now or Al-Qaeda wants to attack America so we must fight a global war on terrorism.

But the issue of climate change is different. Bush and Cheney might still disagree, albeit privately, but we’re now at the point where we no longer have an excuse. Climate change is happening now. We can’t say it might be a problem for a future generation, such as our children or our grandchildren. The fact is that it is already a problem for us. It will be a bigger problem for our children; and an even bigger problem for our grandchildren.  And this is under the best case scenario. We are already living in the “age of consequences.” And so far our reaction to it is laughably inadequate. (more…)

In Honor (Veterans’ Day)

by Chip and Jamie | November 13th, 2007 | |Subscribe

As co-chairs of the Partnership for a Secure America, it is only fitting that we recognize the role that US troops have played in securing our freedom throughout the history of our young country. As we think about what to write, we feel some of what President Lincoln must have felt as he addressed his constituents at Gettysburg:

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

Nothing that we could write here will honor our veterans more than what they have already done. But perhaps, in our own way, we can encourage readers to pay tribute to veterans by thoughtfully exercising the rights that US troops have fought to preserve over the decades. Among the greatest of these is the right to choose the leaders of our cities, states and country. No privilege that we enjoy is more deeply rooted in the democratic foundation upon which our country proudly stands. Nor is there any better, more direct way in which we, as citizens, can shape the security of this country. Most of us will never see a battlefield, but that does not mean that we do not have an important role to play in shoring up the rights that we enjoy for future generations.

National Security and Veterans Affairs are only two of many important issues at stake. We urge you to thoughtfully approach your right to vote for our nation’s next president by familiarizing yourself with each candidate’s record and position. Above all else, that is how we can honor the legacy of our veterans.

We have listed below links to some of the candidates’ statements and videos in recognition of Veterans Day.

http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/11/12/462678.aspx (Veterans Day videos for Clinton, McCain, Romney and Thompson)

http://youtube.com/watch?v=5zcdfERGqJU (Huckabee speech honoring Veterans)

http://www.barackobama.com/2007/11/11/obama_statement_honoring_our_v.php (Obama statement on our veterans)

Bush and the Democracy Agenda

by Seth Green | November 13th, 2007 | |Subscribe

For years, we’ve said that our image in the Muslim world was largely going to come down to whether we could bring real democracy to Iraq. That has been a difficult task and while the exact outcome is still unknown it looks increasingly unlikely that America will be able to deliver the results it promised the Iraqi people before the invasion.

But the past two weeks have given America a unique chance to make a real difference in the hearts and minds of the Muslim world outside of Iraq. Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country in a crossroads on its pathway to democracy and how the U.S. acts at this critical juncture will be remembered for a long time to come. It’s therefore unfortunate that President Bush has responded to the crisis in Pakistan with Katrina-style absence and incompetence.

It took days after the emergency rule was issued for President Bush to make a public statement demonstrating concern. Three days late, President Bush did finally make a forceful statement asking Musharraf to take off his uniform, but only days later and before any real progress was made, Secretary of State Rice was on This Week saying “Pakistan is a country that has a come a long way from 1999, and the military coup has come a long way from 2001 when it pledged to root out extremism.” Rice’s meager criticism of Pakistan was that “it is not a perfect situation.” How’s that for diplomatic understatement? President Bush apparently agrees with Rice, telling reporters on Saturday of the “positive steps” taken by the President and calling Musharraf an “indispensable” ally against extremists. To me, the President’s words sounded a lot like “you’re doing a heck of a job Brownie.”

And the comparison between the handling of emergency rule in Pakistan and the recovery effort after Katrina may be apt for an even more important reason: how it makes us feel about the U.S. government. Just as President Bush’s response to Katrina confirmed all of our worst fears about his government – that it was isolated, incompetent, and uncaring about the American working class – so the administration’s current response (or lack thereof) to what is happening in Pakistan may confirm the worst fears of the Muslim world.  It may confirm to them that America is not really seeking to promote democracy in the Muslim world, but instead is an occupying force, that is willing to promote democracy only in so far as it serves our very short-term interests. That would be yet another tragedy for American power, because what we need now more than ever in Iraq is trust and partnership to solve a challenge that has no military solution.

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My enemy’s enemy shouldn’t always be my friend

by Brian Vogt | November 8th, 2007 | |Subscribe

The outlook is looking increasingly gloomy for democracy in Pakistan.  Our erstwhile ally in the war on terror, General Musharraf is looking worse by the day.   After he took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, many Pakistanis were hopeful about the future.   They were happy to be rid of a corrupt leader and willing to take a chance on Musharraf.  Polls indicate, however, that they have soured on his leadership.  And it’s not surprising why.  After having regularly promised free and fair elections, Pakistan’s electoral efforts have fallen short.   Musharraf’s seems to have a messiah complex and his justifications for his actions seem increasingly weak.  Moreover, Musharraf’s alliance with the US has also hurt him with the Pakistani public that is increasingly skeptical of the war on terror.  For the Pakistani public the “war on terror” is just considered a convenient excuse for further autocratic rule. 

The New York Times reported that Musharraf caught word that the Supreme Court was about to issue a unanimous decision invalidating his recent election.  Of course, Musharraf wasn’t about to let that meddling court have its way.  He had learned his lesson in his tussle earlier this year with the Chief Justice.  He therefore dismissed the court and we’re left today with an increasingly isolated and unpopular leader who justifies his continued abrogation of the constitution on the spurious grounds that it is necessary to combat terrorist elements.  Sound familiar?   I wonder if in a one on one meetings with President Bush, they exchanged notes on using the “terrorist”  threat to bypass constitutional controls on power.    

Of course, the U.S. is in a bind here.  President Bush has publicly declared that democratic governance is the long term answer to overcoming violent extremism.  It can give hope and dignity to oppressed people around the world who might otherwise choose terrorism.  I agree that certainly it is a component of the solution - a very long term solution.  However, this long term solution comes into conflict with our short term dilemma that Pakistan is ground zero on the war on terror.  After 9/11 Musharraf signed onto the coalition of the willing and has been rewarded handsomely in terms of massive infusions of aid.  The results of Musharraf’s alliance have been mixed.  Certainly Pakistan’s assistance has led to the arrest and detention of high value targets and Pakistan’s support of our Afghanistan mission has been important.  However, at the same time, Pakistan’s inability to control its own territory and reign in the Al Qaeda elements in the country have made many wonder whether we are getting our money’s worth. 

It’s really a question here of short term vs long term interests.  Unfortunately, in the past we too often have tended to focus on short term results and ignore the potential blowback from those actions.  Just think back to the struggle in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s.  Back then the US backed the mujahideen which, after the end of the Afghanistan conflict, led to the formation of Al Qaeda.  The U.S. followed the old maxim, my enemy’s enemy is my friend.  That sort of short term thinking contributed to the development of Al Qaeda and the foreign policy quagmire we find ourselves in now.  (more…)

Less is More?

by Christopher Preble | November 7th, 2007 | |Subscribe

U.S. foreign policy is badly out of whack. There is a growing recognition that we’re trying to do too much with too little. The strains on our military personnel, and even on our diplomats, are on display for all to see. (For example, here and here, respectively.) Meanwhile, our persistent nation-building troubles are the subject of dozens of books and articles, including Christopher Coyne’s forthcoming After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy.

Many commentators would solve the problem by spending more – on the military, on the State Department, and on foreign aid, but also on entirely new institutions, including de facto (and in some cases, de jure) colonial offices. The logic is straightforward: If there is a mismatch between means and ends, expand the means.

Three recent articles apply exactly the opposite approach: If we’re doing too much, maybe we should do less.

This sentiment comes through most clearly in Justine Rosenthal’s lead column in the current issue of The National Interest. She begins with a simple proposition:

AMERICA USED to be the world’s relief pitcher. The secret weapon trotted out in the ninth inning to shore up the win. With all this talk of great-power fatigue, the end of the American era, the squandering of U.S. power and resources, maybe it’s time to return to truer and more tried methods. Taking a breather and solidifying our position as global leader—not giving it away by acting as the much-resented world policeman—may serve the United States well.

Over at TNI’s distant half-cousin (and now rival), The American Interest, MIT’s Barry Posen delivers a definitive “Case for Restraint,” followed by more than a dozen (mostly skeptical) responses. (Kudos to Sameer Lalwani over at The Washington Note for his comments on the Posen article, and especially for his take-down of James Q. Wilson’s disappointingly facile reply.)

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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.