Mea culpa time, all over again

by David Isenberg | May 29th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Well, as regular as the return of cliff swallows to the San Juaan Capistrano mission in California, the International Atomic Energy Agency has issued its latest quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program. 

Predictably, administration officials try to see the worst. “”I think right now the Iranians have a lot of explaining to do about the IAEA report, which essentially sees them as not cooperating on some very important dark questions that the international community has about their programmes,” said  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. 

It is true that the report states (in paragraph 23, page 4) that “Iran has not provided the agency with all the information, access to documents and access to individuals necessary to supports Iran’s statements and access to individuals necessary to support Iran’s statements.” But that is hardly a smoking gun. 

Remember that the IAEA’s investigative mandate means that every issue it looks into, which has not been settled one way or the other, must be regarded as un unresolved. But the absence of conclusive evidence does not mean that Iran is proceeding with a nuclear weapons program. It means exactly what it says; that there are issues yet to be resolved. 

In the meantime Iran is, to some substantial degree, continuing to cooperate with the IAEA, which is no small thing, considering the sheer amount of misreporting and deliberate distortion on its nuclear program. As the IAEA report states, “The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.  Iran  has  provided  the Agency with  access  to  declared  nuclear material  and  has  provided  the required  nuclear  material  accountancy  reports  in  connection  with  declared  nuclear  material  and activities.” 

One might recall that it was exactly this perverse logic, i.e., we haven’t conclusively proved the absence of a negative, that allowed the Bush administration to short circuit UN inspections of Iraq in 2002, allowing the United States to invade Iraq on a spurious weapons of mass destruction pretext in 2003.

And just as predictably the major media huffs and puffs about the alleged threat Iran presents to world peace and security. (more…)

McClellan let our country down

by Seth Green | May 28th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Where’s the courage? That’s the question I kept asking as I read the news this morning about Scott McClellan’s new book in which he calls the Iraq war a major blunder and says that we waged the war under a cloud of propaganda. As McClellan writes, “[Bush] and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war. … In this regard, he was terribly ill-served by his top advisers, especially those involved directly in national security.”

The most frustrating part of the book from the excerpts I’ve seen is that its author was literally playing the role of propagandist-in-chief. As the President’s press secretary, it was McClellan who pushed propaganda as his day job. And if he had such strong beliefs about how the President was misleading us during a time of war, why did he wait years (until a profitable book contract is signed no less) to make his opinion heard. Our nation literally lost some of our best and brightest every day during his time in office and yet he decided to postpone his moment of “courage” to “stand up” to the President until years later when the President’s approval ratings were at their lowest levels.

I marched in the demonstrations against the Iraq war. And I was called anti-American by many who said I did not care about our country. But, in fact, I was doing what I believed was right for this country that I love and cherish so deeply. What is truly anti-American is to do a job voluntarily (– press secretaries unlike our military have not made a time-specific commitment –) and believe that you are hurting our country in the process and not say a single thing for years while our nation loses our bravest young people. I understand those who supported the war. I understand those who were against it. On both sides, people did what they thought was best for this country. But for McClellan to think we were making a colossal mistake and go on pushing the propaganda anyway strikes me as the worst kind of coward.

More Bad News from Burma

by Raj Purohit | May 27th, 2008 | |Subscribe

The Generals have rolled the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi forward another year. This was a sadly predictable decision from a corrupt dictatorial government and merits an international response. I would like to see the U.S. work with the U.K. and France to push for a Security Council referral of the Burmese situation to the International Criminal Court this summer. I am under no illusions that it would be easy for the Court to detain members of the Junta but it would be another pressure point and one worth applying.

Without doubt China would be opposed and may seek to veto the referral but such a move would put them in a tough spot with the abusive nature of the Burmese government so clear to the world and with the international community trying to support China as it recovers from its own tragic natural disaster.

What do you think?

President Bush looking for a handout

by Brian Vogt | May 23rd, 2008 | |Subscribe

Bush’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia to plead for lower prices is an embarrassing reminder of the sorry state of our energy policy… and our foreign policy.  The scene is thick with irony when we see a former Texas oil man going to this oil rich nation in hopes that they might cut us a break.  The Saudis basically told him, politely, “no deal”.  It is truly a sad day when the US President must go to Saudi Arabia with his hand outstretched in the hopes that this country will take pity on the American consumer.  The reality is that it didn’t need to be this way.  We could have greatly reduced the pain that we are now experiencing with a little forward thinking a few years ago. 

Let’s consider what might have been.  In the aftermath of 9/11 the President could have chosen to rally to the country in a bipartisan manner, not to spend more, but to conserve more.  He could have brought Democrats and Republicans together to raise CAFE standards to match those of Europe… or even that of China, which is now much higher than the US.  He could have chosen to incrementally raise the gas tax, creating an incentive for the production of alternative fuels and technologies.  He could have made dramatic investments in our public transportation infrastructure to provide Americans with an alternative to our reliance on automobiles.  The Europeans are now paying about $9/gallon for fuel.  Although they’re certainly not happy about it, they are much better prepared to absorb this increase.  He could have made substantial investments in research for alternative fuels such as cellulosic ethanol.  None of these interventions would have been painless.  They would have all required sacrifice.  But, remember, in the wake of 9/11 the American public was ready to sacrifice.  However, instead of being asked to sacrifice for these long term solutions to our energy problem, our President rallied the country around the invasion of Iraq. 

But the blame doesn’t just rest on the shoulder of the President.  It’s on all of our shoulders also.  Our policy decisions (or lack thereof) reflect what policymakers view as politically feasible.  For too long policymakers have been loathe to ask the American public to sacrifice for long term gain.  For too long we’ve been told that we can rely on cheap gasoline, that we all deserve suburban homes with large yards, that we can expect cheap food imported from around the world.  Politicians haven’t acted because we haven’t required it of them.  Maintaining the status quo has been the safe political move.  Calling for sacrifice was seen as dangerous or politically foolish.  Our infrastructure and economic system that incentivizes driving is now exerting a tremendous costs.  Now we’re left with a President of a proud nation begging for handouts.  But it’s not just the President begging.  It’s all of us. 

Costs of Withdrawal from Golan

by Matthew Rojansky | May 21st, 2008 | |Subscribe

Israel and Syria have reportedly acknowledged engaging in indirect peace talks under Turkish mediation.  This could be very big news, but it raises very big questions about the feasibility and likelihood of an Israeli withdrawal, especially in light of the spectacular failure of Israel’s last two withdrawals from captured territory.

According to the Syrians, Israel has agreed to a withdrawal from the Golan to the armistice line set after the 1948 war of independence.  In effect, that would be a complete withdrawal from the Heights, since it was during the period of 1948-1967 that Syria shelled Israeli farms and villages in the Galilee from positions atop the Western Golan.  Preventing this behavior in the future, after all, was Israel’s major motivation for annexing the area and promoting settlement there after capturing it from Syria in 1967, and successfully defending it against the Syrians in 1973.  From a security standpoint, Israel would clearly only return the Golan to Syria under conditions that guaranteed the security of its northern cities against rocket attacks by Hezbollah or other militants who operate freely in Syrian controlled territory. (more…)

When National Security Meets Big Business

by Jessica Hais | May 21st, 2008 | |Subscribe

This morning, the Stimson Center hosted a small group to speak on a fascinating topic: jointly promoting US national security and commercial interests in the fields of defense and science through private-public partnerships. Experts from the Department of Energy, Boeing, The US-Russia Business Council, and others spoke on the innovative business and trade strategies United States firms and federal agencies seek to implement bilaterally and multilaterally, specifically designed to reduce the risks of global nuclear proliferation.

The talk naturally centered on US-Russia relations, given the FSU still presents a myriad of obstacles (weapons, loose fissile material, Cold War attitudes and structural obstacles) to successfully diminish the threat of nuclear terrorism. However, panelists focused on one specific and often overlooked subcomponent of the issue: human expertise. Namely, how can US firms and agencies channel the scientific expertise of Russian engineers to transform a labor force, once employed in offensive nuclear weapons production, into a civilian body capable of best contributing to Russia’s national economy? And how can we eke out the most lucrative trade policies and business relationships in the process?

Stimson’s Cooperative Nonproliferation Team, sponsoring the event, also touched on an important point related to nonproliferation strategy, and more broadly, US national security issues; namely, that our foreign policies are multifaceted, and our strategies must mirror this complexity. Issues like nuclear terrorism should be addressed by a variety of players, using a variety of tactics. The Stimson Center’s experts noted this:

“What has been….underappreciated is that the unique scientific talent of the FSU also affords potential commercial opportunities that could support US foreign policy goals by contributing to the containment of extremism, increasing stability in an oil-rich region of the world, fostering democracy and the rule of law by encouraging free enterprise, and promoting innovation in critical sectors like public health, energy, and national security. While underemployed scientific talent continues to represent a proliferation challenge to security experts, it also presents tremendous, though poorly understood, commercial opportunities that would benefit the for-profit sector and advance sustainability of our threat reduction investments.”

PSA, in tandem with other non-proliferation experts, advocacy organizations, and think tanks like the Stimson Center, continues to search for the best way to convey the continued imperative in developing and implementing a national nonproliferation strategy, as well as evolving our current international nonproliferation practices to meet the geopolitical challenges posed in 2008 and beyond.

As a follow up to PSA’s Public Discourse Project, The Partnership for a Secure America will publish critical sections of the 9/11+6 Project this June. Brian Finlay, a member of Stimson’s Cooperative Nonproliferation Project, has authored a subsection of the project, addressing the WMD threat. Stay tuned for upcoming details regarding public release of the 9/11+6 Project.

The Pressure on Berkeley

by Raj Purohit | May 19th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Many of you have probably followed the debate at the University of Berkeley re: the position of Professor John Yoo. Briefly, Yoo is deemed to be one of the chief enablers of the U.S. torture program and the author of key memos in this area. The New York Times, in an editorial, describes the memos (in part) as follows:

“The March 14, 2003, memo was written by John C. Yoo, then a lawyer for the Justice Department. He earlier helped draft a memo that redefined torture to justify repugnant, clearly illegal acts against Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

The purpose of the March 14 memo was equally insidious: to make sure that the policy makers who authorized those acts, or the subordinates who carried out the orders, were not convicted of any crime. The list of laws that Mr. Yoo’s memo sought to circumvent is long: federal laws against assault, maiming, interstate stalking, war crimes and torture; international laws against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and the Geneva Conventions.

Phillipe Sands has also weighed in strongly noting that “In our system of government, lawyers play a crucial role, as gatekeepers of legality and constitutionality. When the lawyers bend, when they fail to exercise independent and professional judgment, and when they become handmaidens to policymakers, they cross a line that raises the possibility of ethics violations and possibly even criminal violations.”

Economist/blogger/Berkeley professor J. Bradford DeLong joins the fray by asking whether it is time

“…for some appropriate arm of the university that is expert enough to have an informed view to consider the matter, and to advise me and the rest of the faculty (a) why John’s memo of March 14, 2003 does not, despite appearances, rise to the level of participating in a conspiracy to torture goatherds from Afghanistan who have been sold to the military by clan enemies falsely claiming they are members of Al Qaeda; and (b) why John’s memo of March 14, 2003, does not, despite appearances, constitute a breach of the duty of a lawyer to his clients (in this case, the majors and colonels of the U.S. army who did the torturing) of a level equivalent to that of the falsification of evidence in a scholarly work–or to say (c) that in spite of substantial evidence of participation in a conspiracy to torture innocent goatherds and to deceive the majors and colonels who were his clients and acted in reliance on his advice, the Kantorowicz freedom-of-academic-speech position still applies.”

While I would not have framed my argument in the same way as DeLong, I do feel that Berkeley has questions to answer re: Yoo. Actually, let me be more accurate as my feeling on the matter are quite clear:

1. Mr. Yoo should not teach law at Berkeley or anywhere else.

2. The California Bar Association should begin proceedings to remove his license to practice law.

I also think that he has a criminal case to answer but fear that this will have to wait until the next Administration takes office.

Finally, I find it hard to argue with the thrust of this comment by Greenwald:

“The fact that John Yoo is a Professor of Law at Berkeley and is treated as a respectable, serious expert by our media institutions, reflects the complete destruction over the last eight years of whatever moral authority the United States possessed. Comporting with long-held stereotypes of two-bit tyrannies, we’re now a country that literally exempts our highest political officials from the rule of law, and have decided that there should be no consequences when they commit serious felonies. “

Appeasement v Diplomacy – Bush v Obama…and Bush

by Raj Purohit | May 16th, 2008 | |Subscribe

When President Bush attacked presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama before the Israeli Knesset for his determination to engage America’s enemies, he triggered a fierce response from Democrats. The responses ranged from outrage at the President’s willingness to use foreign policy as a political cudgel beyond the waters edge to substantive disagreement based on the President’s foreign policy failures in the Middle East and beyond. What was missing from the early rounds of this political battle was a recognition that the President was attacking both Obama’s foreign policy and, to a large degree, his own.

Despite the President’s rhetoric and an understandable tendency to view his approach to diplomacy through the prism of Iraq, a more considered analysis of his record illustrates a significant contradiction between the President’s own language, including the recent speech in Israel, and his administration’s record.

Consider that at the very time Mr. Bush was speaking to the Knesset, his Special Advisor to Sudan, Richard Williamson, was preparing to travel to Geneva for normalization discussions with the Sudanese government, a regime that has been accused of genocide in Darfur and of acting as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The President did not seem to grasp the inconsistency of criticizing diplomacy while sending his envoy to meet with the Sudanese with the intent to end the Darfur genocide through diplomacy.

Mr. Williamson’s efforts, which have raised the hopes among many of the U.S. groups seeking to end the killing in Darfur is only the latest in a long line of situations where a President desirous of self-caricature as a cowboy, has shown a willingness to engage rogue regimes.

The Bush administration successfully practiced quiet diplomacy with the Libyan government of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi over a four-year period, leading to the normalization of relations with a country that had spent a number of years on the state sponsors of terrorism list. Issues ranging from terrorism to weapons of mass destruction were negotiated by the U.S. State Department.

The State Department has also taken the lead in negotiations with the human rights abusing regime of Kim Jong-il, and has held out the carrot of normal relations if critical issues in the nuclear weapons and terror arena are resolved.

Furthermore, even as the President was wading into the election debate, his own Defense Secretary was engaged in discussions with Iran. Mr. Gates was appointed to replace the flawed Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, in part, because of his role in the Iraq Study Group. At his confirmation hearing Mr. Gates’ noted that:

“[Regarding] any problems that we have with Iran, our first option should be diplomacy and working with our allies to try and deal with the problems that Iran is posing to us. Military conflict with Iran could be quite dramatic. And therefore, I would counsel against military action, except as a last resort and if we felt that our vital interests were threatened….”

The significant gap between the rhetoric used by President Bush and the reality of his administration’s actions should not be a surprise. The administration is staffed with professionals such as Gates who are committed to securing the U.S. national interest. These individuals are able to carry out important work in the shadows well away from the political glare. Unfortunately they have to do so without the benefit of the President’s bully pulpit; the President seems comfortable with his officials using diplomacy but, for political reasons, he does not want to support such efforts publicly.

The problem with such a divide is that it forces America’s best diplomats, individuals such as chief North Korea advisor Christopher Hill, to work with one hand tied behind their back.

And that seems to be the core of the argument between the President and Senator Obama. The President seems willing to limit White House support for American diplomatic efforts in order to ensure that he is perceived domestically, for political purposes, to be a unilateralist.

In complete contrast, Senator Obama seems to believe that the U.S. President must use the White House to drive diplomatic initiatives because it is good policy. The presumptive Democratic nominee is of course betting that the American public rewards him for his smart policy in the political arena; ironically the man he is looking to replace seems intent on highlighting his mistakes and hiding his successes.





Let me count the ways

by David Isenberg | May 14th, 2008 | |Subscribe

How many ways can one shaft America’s veterans? Let me count the ways. 

First, when on active duty send them to fight in a war that need never have been fought. Second, after deploying them to a combat zone increase the odds of their being wounded or killed by providing inadequate or non-existent equipment such as lack of properly armored vehicles or no body armor. Third, increase the odds against them by failing to promptly recognize new threats such as improvised explosive devices. Fourth, after they have been wounded give them a lack of proper facilities in which to recover, as evidenced by the Walter Reed scandal. Fifth, be inexplicably slow to recognize or screen for, let alone treat, neurological injuries from bomb blasts, which have become the war’s signature injury. Sixth, due to an inadequate military mental health system, fail to recognize increased suicidal tendencies on the part of returning veterans. These, by the way, are not all the ways I could list. 

And, if all that isn’t enough to screw veterans who just want to get on with their life and rejoin the society they fought for, one can always screw them over by providing inadequate educational benefits. 

Which brings us to what should be a bipartisan no-brainer, but sadly, isn’t. As Henny Youngman would say, take my GI Bill, please. That venerable institution, dating back to the WWII era has been modified numerous times over the years.

When I did my undergraduate work at the end of 70s and early 80s it was very helpful, but hardly sufficient. Since then, its relative contribution, as a percentage of overall educational costs has declined.

If a veteran is lucky he or she may get enough to cover about 60% of the costs of the average four-year public college. Currently, active-duty members who have continuously served for at least two years, and who forfeit $1,200 of their pay in one year, are entitled to receive $1,101 a month as a full-time student for up to 36 months, which is equivalent to four academic years. (more…)

Why is McCain Giving Voice to Hamas?

by Seth Green | May 14th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Wow, McCain has a lot of chutzpah! That’s what I’ve been thinking recently as I’ve heard McCain repeatedly tell audiences from the campaign trail to Jon Stewart that voters should beware of Obama’s endorsement by a Hamas advisor. It is true that a Hamas adviser did express support for Obama. But it’s also true that Obama has absolutely denounced Hamas and their endorsement. Nevertheless, John McCain enjoys insinuating that Hamas knows Obama would be friendly to them. McCain recently defended his decision to raise this issue by saying: “It’s indicative of how some of our enemies view America. And I guarantee you, they’re not going to endorse me.”

I find McCain’s behavior disturbing on many levels. For starters, why should he be giving voice at all to Hamas? I find it offensive that we are going to allow a Hamas leader to play any role whatsoever in our electoral process. Does McCain want us to make up our minds on this election based on the views of a terrorist?

Second, why in the world would we trust that a Hamas leader is saying what he actually believes? Perhaps he is saying he supports Obama because he wants McCain to win the election and thinks such an endorsement will help McCain. After all, he could not possibly think his support would help Obama.

Finally, it seems obvious to me that Obama is actually Hamas’ worst nightmare. Obama will end the war in Iraq. He will rebuild America’s relationship with the international community. And he will move the U.S. off dependence on oil. These combined policy changes will undermine Hamas’ recruitment tools and the governments that support them. At the same time, Obama will strengthen our alliance with Israel.

John McCain promised us a better politics. But from quoting Hamas to endorsing a foolish gas tax holiday, he has not delivered. I’m still waiting for the straight talk.

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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.