Partisanship and the Speed of Withdrawal

by Brian Vogt | January 31st, 2008 | |Subscribe

Jonathan Rauch had a very thought provoking article about partisanship and the Iraq war in the most recent issue of the Atlantic.  For anyone interested in the intersection of these two issues, this is a worthwhile read.  Rauch uses the historical comparisons of the Gulf War, the Vietnam War, Kosovo, the Korean war, etc to emphasize the point that the partisan divide on the Iraq war is something that is actually quite unprecedented.  When we have gone to war previously there certainly has been a partisan divide, but the Iraq war has the largest partisan divide of any war in recent history. 

What this means is that Democrats and Republicans seem to be living in completely different realities when it comes to the war.  Public opinion polling demonstrates that many Democrats who are now antiwar claimed never to have supported it, when they actually did.  A third of Republicans still believe that we found WMDs in Iraq.  Another third thinks that they were there but they just haven’t been found.  In 2006, 5 years after 9/11 and 3 years after the invasion of Iraq 65% of Republicans still believed that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.  It is clear that to a certain degree, regarding the war, Democrats and Republicans are still living in separate realities.

A January 18-22, 2008 Bloomberg/LA Times poll continued to show the partisan divide that Rauch describes in his article.  Look at these numbers:  (more…)

re: Saddam and his Interrogator

by Raj Purohit | January 28th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Last night I watched a very interesting interview with Saddam’s interrogator on 60 minutes. There were a number of very important points raised in the discussion ranging from evidence of miscalculation on the part of Saddam in the lead up to the war to the failure of U.S. analysts to understand Saddam’s motivations and why he felt he had to leave an element of doubt re: whether he had WMD’s (we of course know he did not have any weapons and Piro confirms that Saddam’s refusal to come clean were based on fears that were Iran centric – he did not want Tehran to know he did not have WMD’s). A key piece of the interview for me was when Piro discussed why the FBI did not use coercive interrogation techniques (or put another way – why they didn’t torture Saddam to get the intel they needed). His two fold answer is instructive and can be summed up – it is against FBI policy and it does not work.

Yes, George Piro (who, if this interview and comments from his boss are anything to go by, has very bright future ahead of him) understood that from an operational standpoint he could respect the values of the FBI, the Constitution and international law AND increase the chances of running a successful interrogation.

I look forward to a day when we can have a reality based conversation on torture and interrogation in Washington, DC — I think it will require the creation of an Independent Bipartisan Commission to get it done.
FYI – here is the key graft from the Piro interview:
(CBS) Piro says no coercive interrogation techniques, like sleep deprivation, heat, cold, loud noises, or water boarding were ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first. And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam,” Piro says.

Why not?

“I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach,” Piro explains.

“So how do you crack a guy like that?” Pelley asks.

“Time,” Piro says.

Months of time, during which Piro manipulated Saddam, creating a relationship based on dependency, trust and emotion. Piro alternated between acts of kindness and provocation. He would jar Saddam with video, including pictures of his fall, and the pulling down of his statues.

“I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro explains. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”

It’s the (Global Security) Economy, Stupid

by Matthew Rojansky | January 25th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Almost overnight this week, war and foreign policy crises gave way to grim economic news across newspaper headlines, in campaign stump speeches, and in the public consciousness. But, as several candidates in last night’s Florida Republican debate observed, economic and foreign policy issues are intimately linked. The state of America’s economy reflects the broader welfare of the American people, and our welfare is heavily dependent upon our security in the world. But this is a two way street: whether they acknowledge it or not, other countries benefiting from the global economy depend on America’s costly and too often solo investments in global security.

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That de-Baathification Law

by Jonathan Wallace | January 24th, 2008 | |Subscribe

A new Debaathification law approved by the Iraqi Parliament this month has been heralded as a triumph for the Bush administration’s surge strategy and a big step forward toward national political reconciliation. However, upon closer inspection, the new law does little to promote political unity between Shiites and Sunnis and may actually harden sectarian divisions at the national political level.

The new law (which has yet to be approved by the president’s advisory council) would offer compensation to former high-ranking Baathists, but bar them from returning to the Iraqi government. Though some will be allowed back into the fold, the decision-making process on whom to allow has been highly sectarian up until this point. Indeed, with the new law, it is likely to calcify the pre-existing divisions that exist on the national level. Ahmad Chalabi, our old friend from pre-invasion planning, has been put in charge of the Debaathification process and he is not in a mood to be conciliatory. Chalabi is infamous for his indifference to reconciliation and his promotion of Shiite dominance over Iraqi politics. Chalabi may use this new law in order to formalize the Shiite stranglehold on the Iraqi bureaucracy and freeze the Sunnis out of any meaningful government positions. This could have deleterious effects on public services and security initiatives in and around Baghdad for Sunni enclaves. Additionally, Sunnis may choose not to cooperate with the new law for fear of being identified as a Sunni Baathist, a close association to the brutal Saddam Hussein regime. This renders the new law both ineffectual and dangerous for national political reconciliation.

This law was supposed to be the first step towards national political reconciliation. It was supposed to be vindication for the President’s surge strategy. However, this law may actually be counterproductive to the political goals that the surge was based on. Though the increase in troops has brought better security to Iraq, it has failed to spur the political compromises that are necessary for there to be a lasting peace (or at least a semi-permanent truce). If this is the political progress that we can expect in the coming months and years, then Iraq will be a violent place for a long time. The Bush administration has pushed this new law as the beginning of important dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites at the national level. However, upon closer examination, it is merely the continuation of what we have seen for the past several years, Shiites attempting to dominate the national political scene and Sunnis refusing to cooperate with the anything coming out of the Green Zone.

Money Matters and American Security

by Seth Green | January 22nd, 2008 | |Subscribe

I have been writing for weeks that I think the greatest threat to American security is economic in nature. The mismanagement of our economy by President Bush is unparalleled in recent history. We have a dollar that is sinking faster than our legitimacy in the world. We have an economy that is even more divisive than our politics, with inequality at the highest rates since the 1920s. America is now more unequal and indebted than any moment in my lifetime. And we have a lack of regulation that is turning our current economic troubles into a long-term disaster, as our financial assets are bought up by foreign governments that could very well have motives other than profit in years to come.

Amidst all this, the administration position appears to be to beg and hope. Last week was the begging. The President went to Saudi Arabia to plead with the government there to lower their oil prices. And this week comes the hope. The Federal Reserve this morning cut interest rates by 75 basis points in the apparent hope that traders will forget the record writedowns by Wall Street and short earnings statements. But just like the economic stimulus plan, it is likely to be too little, too late.

One might ask why this is all so detrimental to our security. I think the best illustration is last week’s trip by President Bush to Saudi Arabia. He literally spent his time there begging for a cut in prices on oil and doing a sword dance with Saudi leaders. An onlooker would hardly know from Bush’s antics that this is the non-democratic country where 15 of the 19 terrorists of September 11 are from. The leaders there are despised even by many moderates in the Muslim world. And Bush is dancing with them, sword in hand. For Bush to try to promote democracy in the region while dancing around with a large sword next to his non-democratic friends from Saudi Arabia sends precisely the opposite signal we are trying to give to the region. It says we are willing to do anything, even compromise our democratic principles, for oil because our current economy is in such turmoil. And, indeed, as David Isenberg points out below, we’re even willing to sell large quantities of arms to the Saudis.

So, here’s where our increasingly unregulated and unequal economy has brought us: we’re selling non-democratic governments in the Middle East arms, while they’re buying up our banks. I’m the first to acknowledge that this is not just about economics, but we can’t begin to think clearly in our foreign policy until we get our economic house in order.

Praise the Lord; Don’t Pass the Ammo

by David Isenberg | January 21st, 2008 | |Subscribe

Yesterday the Bush administration formally announced the proposed $120 million sale of 900 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) to Saudi Arabia. It was formally notified to Congress on January 14.

This is the latest in a series of arms sales by the United States to various Persian Gulf countries that was first announced at the end of July 2007 and worth at least $20 billion to Saudi Arabia and five other Persian Gulf states, as well as new 10-year military and economic aid packages to Israel and Egypt. The other Gulf states receiving weapons are Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman; all six Gulf States make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

This is all part of what the Bush Administration calls the Gulf Security Dialog (GSD), which is supposed to be the principal security coordination mechanism between the United States and the GCC.  Part of the rationale for the sale is to reassure GCC nations that the United States stands by their side ready to face common threats.

I suppose I can see it. After all, nothing says I love you quite like sending hundreds of GPS satellite-aided inertial guidance kits to help upgrade your pokey, frumpy MK-82 or BLU-109 conventional bombs. No doubt Martha Stewart heartily approves. (more…)

Realist columnists

by Eugene Gholz | January 20th, 2008 | |Subscribe

There’s been a bit of discussion recently about the New York Times‘ addition of William Kristol to its stable of op-ed page columnists. I agree with Steve Walt’s analysis (at Salon.com) that Kristol hardly represents a major break from the views already available on the Times’ opinion page: Kristol is a widely read neo-conservative voice who already has an established platform in his magazine, The Weekly Standard, but his advocacy of American primacy — the view that American intervention around the world can make the world a better place and that Americans will be better off if we exercise our power to intervene — is the normal view among leaders of both political parties and among both liberal and conservative pundits.

Sure, they differ at the margins — setting priorities among the various places that the U.S. can meddle or debating the importance of cooperation with international organizations to build legitimacy for interventions — but the general theme is the same. And that consensus breeds complacency, whether it’s sloppy arguments in favor of intervention (note the problems in Brett Stephens‘ history in his critique of Ron Paul’s views on intervention — he misinterprets the U.S. interventions in both World War I and in the Tanker War between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s) or a stunted debate in the presidential campaign (it’s hard to find sensible discussion about Iran or terrorism, for example: do any of the candidates have a coherent view that they can explain about the level of the threat from each?).

The problem with Walt’s call for realist analysis in a leading newspaper of record — analysis that would, indeed, offer something different from the conventional wisdom — is that there are no real candidates for the job. Realists need to cut their teeth as regular contributors to the policy debate elsewhere before they can make it to the New York Times, and academics need to convince young writers to adopt their line; academics have neither the incentives nor the right skills to audition for the job themselves. The leading academics of the previous generation that Walt refers to in his column, people like Ken Waltz and Hans Morgenthau, had sensible things to say about American foreign policy, but they did not have regular gigs as columnists, either. If we can find the realists voices in the current public debate, we should all just do our best to promote their views, adding to the diversity of thought and argument. I try to do my small part through this blog and a few other outlets, but I would certainly appreciate help and recommendations from any source! And I applaud Steve Walt for doing his share, too, even if I think he’s getting a bit ahead of himself in his call forrealists with regular columns.

What Happened in the Strait of Hormuz?

by Eugene Gholz | January 20th, 2008 | |Subscribe

NPR’s “On the Media” had an interesting interview with Bill Arkin this morning about the conflicting videotapes released by the U.S. and Iran that showed different perspectives on the interaction between three U.S. Navy ships transiting the Strait of Hormuz and a set of five speedboats from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that “buzzed” the Americans early on the morning of January 6 (Gulf time). To review, the U.S. issued a press release followed by some commentary at an off-the-record briefing early on the morning of Jan. 7 (Washington time, 10 hours behind the Strait of Hormuz, meaning that some 31 hours had passed to consider what to say in Washington) explaining that Iranian speedboats had menaced the American warships by charging, pushing boxes with unknown contents overboard near the path of the American ships, and making the threatening statement that the American ships would soon “explode” over an open radio channel (see initial coverage, for example, here). The incident set the backdrop for some of President Bush’s comments about Iran — specifically, how dangerous Iran might be — during his trip to the Middle East, which immediately followed the indicent. When the tapes turned out to have been modified, and when people began to learn that Iranian boats had interacted with American warships before, talk of a conspiracy — or at least biased spinning for political ends — swept the policy world and blogosphere (see, for example, often astute and interesting analysts like Gareth Porter, here and here, and Justin Raimundo, here). Arkin’s NPR interview baldly stated that the Pentagon created the dust-up to prepare the ground for President Bush’s trip, to make it easier for him to build an anti-Iranian coalition among the Gulf States.

Arkin is an expert on technical aspects of military affairs who currently writes an online column for the Washington Post, but he has also been a well-known guy in the security studies community for a long time. What he has to say has a certain credibility, and his explanation of the controversy over “doctoring” of the videos was very clear: both the Americans and the Iranians released video of a real incident, and the audio that accompanied both tapes was real and from the morning of Jan. 6, too, but neither the American tape’s audio nor the Iranian tape’s audio matched the video — that is, on each tape, two events were mashed together for political effect. It is unlikely that the threatening audio on the American tape was a broadcast from the Iranian speedboats (it probably came from a prankster), but the peaceful radio interchange on the Iranian tape actually came from a separate interaction between the Iranian Navy and the American warships that had taken place two hours before the speedboat incident. Note that the Iranian Navy is a different organization, with different commanders and different interests, from the highly ideological and zealous Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which commanded the speedboats.

So what should we make of the incident? I was actually on a trip to the Gulf from January 4-11 precisely to do research about how to assess the potential that military conflict in the Strait of Hormuz might disrupt oil tanker traffic — a nightmare scenario often discussed in the press (including in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 incident, for example, here). Of course, I don’t have a complete picture: I didn’t see the incident, and I only met with relatively few people, but at least they were informed people interested in exactly the kind of questions bandied about in the discussion of the incident.

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NATO’s New Troubles

by Christopher Preble | January 18th, 2008 | |Subscribe

I haven’t blogged at PSA in ages, and I only have time to fire off a few lines about a recent Cato study, and an upcoming related event.

As Jordan Tama noted, there has been a flurry of news reports over the past week about an additional 3,200 U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan, followed by some public grousing by Bob Gates about the NATO allies not pulling their weight there. (And then the allies grousing back).

My colleague Stanley Kober anticipated some of this last year when he began working on a paper discussing the difficulties of the Afghan mission and suggesting that these pointed to deeper problems in the alliance. He deserves credit for prescience (and good fortune) in that the release of his paper, “Cracks in the Foundation: NATO’s New Troubles,” was quite timely.

In addition to exploring why the Afghan mission is so crucial to NATO’s continued survival, the paper also touches on the Kosovo issue (some members of the alliance are uncomfortable with recognizing a unilateral declaration of independence by the Kosovars), and how the recent strains in the alliance call into question the wisdom of yet another round of NATO expansion.

Stanley will discuss his paper at a Cato Policy Forum on January 31st, beginning at 11:00 am, with additional comments by Susan Eisenhower, Lawrence S. Kaplan, and Jeremy Shapiro. If you’d like to learn more, or register for the event, please visit the Cato web site.

Getting NATO to Commit in Afghanistan

by Jordan Tama | January 17th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Earlier this week, the Bush administration decided to send 3200 more Marines to join U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. This is a smart and long-overdue move—and one that could have been made easily a long time ago if so many of our troops weren’t deployed in Iraq.

But our effort in Afghanistan remains constrained by the unwillingness of our NATO allies to commit more troops and the unwillingness of many of those allies to allow their deployed troops to engage in difficult combat missions against the Taliban. Secretary of Defense Gates pointed to an additional problem this week, stating: “I’m worried we have [in Afghanistan] some military forces that don’t know how to do counterinsurgency operations. Most of the European forces, NATO forces, are not trained in counterinsurgency.” This blunt criticism was out of character for Gates, who usually speaks very diplomatically—unlike his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.

The comment understandably angered the Dutch government, which summoned the U.S. Ambassador in the Netherlands to explain the remarks. But Gates made a valid and important point that deserves serious consideration on both sides of the Atlantic.

Prior to 9/11 neither America nor NATO expected to be engaged in large-scale counterinsurgency warfare in the foreseeable future. But after getting bogged down in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military took a crash course on counterinsurgency fighting, culminating in the drafting of a new counterinsurgency manual and the implementation of that manual’s strategy in Iraq under General Petraeus over the past year. In Afghanistan we haven’t had enough troops to use the strategy to the same extent. And we won’t be successful in Afghanistan unless our NATO allies adopt a coherent counterinsurgency strategy and provide the troops and resources necessary to implement it. So far, they haven’t come close to doing so.

This shortcoming underscores a more general problem—while most Americans rightly view Afghanistan as a critical front in the war on terrorism, many Europeans don’t consider the Afghanistan mission to be of vital importance. It seems to me that NATO now faces a crossroads: will it be content to just muddle through in Afghanistan while keeping its principal identity as a collective defense pact, or will the alliance transform itself into a body capable of succeeding in difficult combat missions, including counterinsurgencies, far from Europe? From America’s perspective the choice is clear: we need NATO to help us fight the tough and messy wars of the 21st century.

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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.