Numbers Game

by David Isenberg | March 26th, 2008 | |Subscribe

It is always somewhat artificial, frequently absurd, and sometimes outright grotesque, whenever the media commemorates, however briefly, an anniversary of something. Some things can be more or less justified, i.e., Armistice Day, end of World War II, 911 attacks, etcetera.

But the 4000th American to die in Iraq? Give us a break. First, why is number 4000 more important than 3999 or 4001?

More importantly if we are talking about Americans why not include those who worked for private military and security contractors. They may not have been soldiers but they served their country. Bear in mind that the military deliberately involved the private sector in its logistics support via its Logistics Civil Augmentation (LOGCAP) program so KBR truck drivers are as much a part of the war effort as an Army quartermaster. If we include them we reached 4000 at least a year ago.

And if the measure of the Iraq War is casualties why do we not include Iraqis? Doubtlessly Iraqis wish that the sum total of fatalities they suffered since the U.S. invaded in 2003 was only 4000. When you figure in direct and indirect deaths, resulting from violence, disease, destroyed infrastructure their total is far beyond ten times that figure. It may even approach one hundred times that.

Let’s also not forget the military forces of other coalition nations in Iraq whose soldiers have died in Iraq. (more…)

UN Human Rights Commissioner to Leave in June

by Raj Purohit | March 24th, 2008 | |Subscribe

I noticed that Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has just announced that she will leave her position when her term ends in June. Her departure will be a real loss to the international community. As United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Arbour has been extraordinary in her courage, energy and integrity in speaking out forcefully on human rights issues.

She has consistently represented the highest ideals of the United Nations and has been a perfect example of the kind of champion the international community needs to lead discussions on global human rights challenges in the months and years ahead.

Arbour can be proud of her record – there is no doubt that she will leave a legacy of a strengthened and more wide-ranging United Nations human rights system with a stronger focus on justice and accountability as well as a more balanced approach to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Arbour never hesitated to incur the criticism of States, or other entities, by highlighting the victims of abuses and the inadequacies of legal systems everywhere. She consistently has been willing to make the case of victims and unabashedly criticize states that fail to take responsibility to protect their people.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that prior to her U.N. appointment, Arbour served as justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.  In her role as chief prosecutor, she indicted former Yugoslav and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and investigated the displacement of two million citizens. The indictment of President Milosevic was the first of a serving Head of State.  

Louise Arbour is the type of individual our next President should engage from time to time. She has a lot to offer and could provide invaluable advice on a range of critically important issues.

Guilty by association

by Brian Vogt | March 21st, 2008 | |Subscribe

It seems to me that the presidential debate has devolved into a contest of who can dig up the most controversial quote said by someone connected to one of the candidates.  This type of contest, in my opinion, breeds the sort of personal attacks that the Partnership for a Secure America was set up to counteract. Accepting these attacks as the modus operandi of politics will only create further tolerance for them when Republicans and Democrats actually govern. 

People make their decisions on political leaders based on a wide variety of factors.  These range from their stances on issues to the candidate’s professed values to simply a gut feeling that a voter has about a candidate.  When it comes to foreign policy the candidates have made their views fairly clear and there have been worthwhile debates during the primary season about their foreign policy positions.  What is concerning to me is that it seems that our political debate has degenerated into a gotcha contest where the media (and frequently an opposing campaign) attempts to dig up the most offensive quote said by someone associated with a candidate…. even better if that quote is immortalized on Youtube. 

The examples in the past several months are plentiful, especially on the Democratic side.  Back in December Bill Shaheen stepped down from Clinton’s campaign for suggesting that Obama’s drug use would be ammunition for Republican attacks.  More recently, Samantha Power stepped down from the Obama campaign after calling Clinton a monster.  Geraldine Ferraro stepped down from the Clinton campaign after arguing that Obama is such a strong candidate because he’s black.  And, of course, we’re now dealing with Obama’s association with his pastor who has become well known for some of his hateful sermons.  While the words of people associated with our candidates have taken center stage in the news, the words and policy positions of our candidates get sidelined as we, the American public, focus on this “gotcha” game.  The fact of the matter is that every political candidate has at one time or another been associated with a person with whom he/she did not agree.  Sometimes those people say offsensive or hateful things.  Sometimes they simply make mistakes.  The real test of a candidate is not whether or not he/she associated with a person who had a divergent view, but rather whether or not the candidate agrees with those views.  In every case I’ve mentioned the candidates clearly denounced the views of their controversial associates, and that, in my opinion, should have been enough.  (more…)

Race in America: Obama’s Foreign Policy Step One?

by Matthew Rojansky | March 18th, 2008 | |Subscribe

You have to hand it to Barack Obama. He is by far the best orator on the American political scene today. (A lot of credit, too, goes to his speechwriters, including Ben Rhodes, an alum of this blog.) This morning’s performance in Philadelphia was no exception. With that serene, seemingly effortless confidence we’ve come to expect, candidate Obama transformed what most observers would consider a major liability—his association with the bombastic Rev. Wright—into an apparent asset.

The argument can be generally outlined as follows: Race is too important an issue to ignore, even though one election will not solve it. While Rev. Wright can be inflammatory and impolitic, he says what black Americans say and think every day. Thus, Obama argues, we should reject Wright’s venom, while respecting his insight into the problem. America’s best hope for racial reconciliation lies in the shared belief that justice is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Bailing Out a Big Gamble

by Seth Green | March 18th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Where’s the outrage? That’s the question I kept asking as I heard that the Federal Reserve Bank had bailed out Bear Stearns by offering to take on $30 billion of its riskiest assets so JP Morgan could buy the rest of the firm on a “fire sale.” Bear Stearns was known on Wall Street for being a “survival of the fittest” type place where highly levered hedge funds gambled with the money of wealthy investors. And now that the gamblers have gone broke, the Federal government is bailing them out. Yes, that’s the same federal government too concerned with fiscal prudence to fund the S-CHIP program that insures kids have health care.

As taxpayers, you and I are literally paying the over-stretched salaries of Wall Streeters. Here’s how this works. Every time, a Wall Street firm makes an investment, they take a salary and pay their investors based on the difference between the expected value of the asset they take on and the value they paid. Over the last few years, these firms have been wildly overvaluing the worth of mortgage-backed securities. They took large bonuses on these over-sized valuations. Now, that the real value is turning out to be much less than expected, the Federal Reserve is taking on these assets by printing U.S. dollars to cover them, literally devaluing the greenbacks you and I have in our wallets to fund the past bonuses of wealthy executives.

I understand the argument that this bail-out was necessary in this single case to help insure we don’t have a much broader liquidity crisis. I’m even willing to go along that the Fed made the right move in this particular case in authorizing the bailout. But at the least, the Fed should be making a clear statement along with its generous gift of money that our country needs regulations in place in the future so this kind of extreme leverage does not happen again. And the Fed should be making clear it is not going to be there for investment banks in the future so they should watch their balance sheets more closely. Unfortunately, the Fed made the bail out without even a statement on the grotesque unfairness of what is taking place and without a statement that this should not happen again.

All this, of course, is two more blows to America’s economic security.  First, our sinking dollar only further undermines our economic might in the world. Our economy’s ability to compete with the EU and China has been hit hard – just compare our dollar to the Euro. And, second, our country’s unfairness and continuing divide between rich and poor undermines the social fabric that makes this country so great, so proud and so free. Americans say overwhelmingly today that they’re unhappy with the direction this country is headed. It is easy to see why.

Remember Iraq?

by David Isenberg | March 13th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Well, I was going to blog about the resignation of Adm. Fallon but as Raj Purohit and Eugene Gholz have already done so I think three would be a crowd so I will refrain.

Besides I think Fallon’s resignation has a lot less to do with Iran and more, as Fred Kaplan in Slate notes, to do with Iraq.

So let’s turn to Iraq and dwell on those items that may have flown below your radar.

First, and sadly, because I really, really, like the PBS show The Newshour with Jim Lehrer there was a journalistic lapse in the March 11 show when he discussed the “surge.” One of his guests was Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and more importantly, the author of the surge strategy, currently being implemented in Iraq.

Jim Lehrer never mentioned this which is inexcusable when you ask questions like this:

Mr. Kagan, to you first. You agree with the president that the surge has been successful, correct?

FREDERICK KAGAN, American Enterprise Institute: Absolutely.

What was more interesting was this comment from the other guest, Nir Rosen, a fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security, and someone who spent more than two years in Iraq reporting on the Coalition occupationand, and Iraqi sectarian violence.

But what’s really frightening is that, indeed, when that sectarian fighting will resume — and it will — there’s going to be nowhere to run to, because Syria and Jordan have closed their borders to Iraqi refugees; 11 of Iraq’s 18 governors have closed their borders to internally displaced Iraqis. So when the fighting resumes intensively, it’s going to be a slaughter.

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Admiral Fallon’s Resignation

by Eugene Gholz | March 11th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Admiral Fallon’s resignation as CENTCOM commander is pretty fresh news, and I’m sure we’ll learn more with time. For now, Fallon apparently resigned because of the appearance of disagreement with the president over the appropriate level of belligerence in U.S. policy towards Iran — or at least in his statement issued at CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, he blamed it on the appearance rather than an actual conflict over Iran policy (reported widely, including here).

The appearance of policy conflict is nothing new for ADM Fallon. Rumors have been flying more or less since the admiral moved from his billet as commander of Pacific Command (where his policy views were controversial, too, but perhaps more quietly controversial because they were over longer-range China policy rather than an ongoing war). When Fallon took his current position at the head of U.S. Central Command, people began to talk about his sharp disagreements with Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. Commander in Iraq, over both substance (on the surge) and style (Gen. Petraeus’ high-profile comments that sometimes seem to defend the Bush administration in political battles). Of course, Gen. Petraeus is extremely popular with ADM Fallon’s boss and with many other politicians. And that disagreement has been compounded, in the rumors, with an ongoing disagreement over Iran policy (perhaps principally with Vice President Chenney, if the rumors are to be believed). The Iran disagreement perhaps came to a head with the publication of a story in last week’s Esquire.

On Iran, ADM Fallon’s statement says, “I don’t believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility….” It’s easy to see through this comment: even people who think “we can live with an Iranian nuclear bomb” agree that the U.S. should prefer a non-nuclear Iran to a nuclear-armed one. So we all agree on the objectives of our policy. That statement, though, can certainly cover up intense disagreement about the means of trying to achieve that objective and about whether we’re likely to succeed.

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Implications of the Fallon Resignation?

by Raj Purohit | March 11th, 2008 | |Subscribe

The resignation of Admiral William “Fox” Fallon today rocked the military-national security world and immediately sparked questions as to the ramifications for U.S.-Iran relations. Fallon, who was the top military commander in the Middle East and the man responsible for fighting two wars tendered his resignation noting that the fallout from an article highlighting him in Esquire magazine made it impossible for him to effectively fulfill his duties.

The Esquire magazine in question noted Fallon as saying:

“This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions.”

Comments of this nature and the overall tone of the article, which suggested that Fallon was essentially the only thing standing between the Administration and war with Iran caused anger at the White House according to a senior administration official who spoke on background to ABC news.

Fallon himself used his resignation statement to minimize the distance between himself and the President:

“Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the president’s policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the Centcom region. And although I don’t believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve America’s interests there.”

It should be noted that Fallon is currently traveling in the Middle East — a strange decision some might say for someone who was getting ready to resign.

The Esquire magazine article that triggered this resignation also suggested that it might happen. This graft of the piece should perhaps be read soberly in light of today’s news:

“well-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor of a commander the White House considers to be more pliable. If that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don’t want a commander standing in their way.”

So the question is simple. How will the Fallon resignation impact U.S. policy pertaining to Iran?

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Development, Diplomacy, and Defense

by Brian Vogt | March 10th, 2008 | |Subscribe

While many folks (including myself) last week were focused on the primary results on March 4 which resulted in John McCain securing the Republican nomination and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton destined to continue campaigning for the foreseeable future, a March 5 event on Capitol Hill was overlooked by many.  This event spearheaded by the the US Center for Global Engagement’s Impact 08 project focused on a call for an increase in resources and influence provided to non military tools of US foreign policy engagement.  This initiative argues that for too long the US has overemphasized its military tools and underemphasized diplomacy and development.  Of course, for many years activists from groups such as the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker group), Pax Christi, the Center for Defense Information, and many others have advocated for such a reprioritization.  One would expect that they were the types that had signed on to such a call.  In fact, just the opposite was true.  The call to action was signed by over 50 three and four star generals and admirals.  The list can be found here.  This group is co-chaired by former Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni and former Navy Admiral Leighton Smith. 

The numbers are actually quite staggering.  We spend about 22 percent of our national budget on defense while just about one percent on diplomacy and development.  This imbalance has gotten so far out of whack that even our military leaders are stepping up to the plate and registering their disapproval.  Of course, the irony is, as many international development advocates will tell you, the American public continues to falsely believe that in fact we spend about 20% of our national budget on foreign aid.  The public reports that they would be comfortable with around 10%.  In fact, our foreign aid spending is less than 1% of the overall federal budget.    (more…)

The Value of Sanctions

by Jessica Hais | March 10th, 2008 | |Subscribe

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Two weeks ago, one senior Iranian official was quoted in Reuters, optimistically declaring that Iran was entering a “new chapter… a new time for talks without limitations or preconditions,” on matters of energy, regional security, trade relations, and nuclear power.

A few days later, it appears that chapter had ended. Last Monday, the UN Security Council approved a new round of Iranian sanctions, in response to recent IAEA reports of Tehran’s non-compliance with enrichment regulations. By Tuesday, President Ahmadinejad announced that Iran would no longer deal with the UN on issues of nuclear energy and security. In the same breath, he also severed the open-ended Iran-EU dialogue on the issue of cooperative nonproliferation strategy.

The blustery and inconsistent rhetoric emanating from Iran continues to thwart Western efforts at cooperative policymaking. However, it would be wrong to view our efforts with Iran as a zero sum game. Multilateral diplomacy is kaleidoscopic, requiring us to respect the windfall effects created by a single action.

How then do we tally the score after this latest tete a tete? Financially, Iran’s economic ministers insist that sanctions will probably not damage the national economy in terms of either trade finance or investments. A glance at Iran’s oil revenues makes this statement seem eminently plausible. At the OPEC conference in Vienna Wednesday, Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari added that the sanctions would not affect Tehran’s oil production, which is slated to rise 4.3 to 4.5 million barrels per day over the next two years.

From a policy perspective, many US news sources speculate that the politics of the NPT continue to widen the rifts between permanent UN members and the developing nations of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM). States such as South Africa, Indonesia, Libya, and Vietnam have grown increasingly unwilling to vote in favor of Iranian sanctions. The NAM effectively blocked a separate but parallel resolution written by the EU Three and brought to the IAEA against Iran this week. This week’s events highlights the deep, unresolved issues the NPT commands, and how far we remain from achieving consensus on a vision of international nuclear security.

Whether these events strengthen the US position within the UN, or within the international community more broadly is a much larger question, and it would be premature to attempt to answer it now. Certainly, it is auspicious that the EU has stepped into the US’s position of enforcer on this particular issue, and with this particular rogue state. It makes Iran unable to implicate and estrange the US in international circles on the nuclear issue.

However, we must be careful in our estimation of political victory in this context. The EU’s aggressive role in securing sanctions appears to be a direct product of their newfound fears. IAEA reports, released in late February, indicated that Iran was seeking to build a nuclear warhead, as well as developing long range missiles, easily capable of hitting Western Europe.

This knowledge is not meant to marginalize the role US Public Diplomacy plays in driving and implementing US foreign policy. It should only serve as a reminder that political alignments are ephemeral. For this reason, we must capitalize on these moments of consensus by pushing ambitiously towards larger scale policy objectives in the sphere of international nuclear nonproliferation.

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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.