Are We All Neocons?

by John Eden | September 29th, 2008 | |Subscribe


Robert Kagan

The question isn’t as silly as it seems at first blush – in fact, there’s a case to be made, if ultimately rejected.  Some intellectual leaders of the neoconservative movement, notably Robert Kagan, believe that neoconservatism is of a piece with values that have long been part of the American lexicon – moralism, idealism, exceptionalism, militarism, and the political will to impose these values on the rest of the world from time to time in the service of democracy and freedom.  As Kagan presents the neconservative movement, there is a deep continuity between America’s past and present approaches to foreign policy, and so, in an important sense there is nothing (fundamentally) new in neoconservatism.  Put simply, neoconservatism is good ole’ fashioned American values, albeit expressed in modern foreign policy.  And so, he reasons, we are all neocons (even if we won’t admit it).

So that’s what the high priest of neoconservatism preaches, but is Kagan right?  Consider, dear friends, the Bush Administration’s approach to Iraq and the “War on Terror.”  Neocons do not favor intervening to curb violence and spread democracy everywhere, but rather insist on taking action primarily in the Middle East, where, as Professor Ronald Steel of the University of Southern California astutely observes, a perfect storm of interests formed – the need to obtain control of vital commodities, the desire to further insinuate American power in a strategically critical part of the world, and the temptation of a cheap and easy victory.  The neocons, in other words, are not motivated primarily by defending liberal principles and traditions.  Instead, they feel compelled to act only when a narrow range of economic and political interests coalesce.  This is precisely why neocons have been consistently uninterested in intervening to protect “freedom” in places like Chile and El Salvador, resource-poor locales unable to enhance the geostrategic position of the United States.


A Scorecard for the Presidential Debate

by Matthew Rojansky | September 26th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Given the prospect of a trillion-dollar-plus government bailout package for Wall Street, tonight’s Presidential debate is likely to stray from the official theme of national security and foreign policy.  But, as Senators McCain and Obama have each suggested, America’s economic future is closely linked to our national security, our international standing, and our competitiveness in the global marketplace.  For that reason, any conversation about putting the US economy back on track will raise some serious questions about the next President’s national security and foreign policy agenda.

The Partnership for a Secure America’s distinguished bipartisan Advisory Board issued a statement asking Senators Obama and McCain five critical questions about foreign policy challenges that will require cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in January of 2009.  The statement begins: “As Democrats and Republicans, we believe that the next President of the United States must initiate a new era of US global leadership based on bipartisanship at home and cooperative engagement abroad.”


The recklessness of John McCain

by Seth Green | September 25th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Last week, John McCain was saying that our economy was fundamentally strong. Now, he’s in such a panic he’s ready to suspend his presidential campaign just over a month before citizens go to vote. Watching McCain handle the economic crisis, it scares me to think about how he would deal as commander in chief with hot-button issues of war and peace.

The problem is that McCain seems willing to do anything to act like a “maverick,” even in situations where we need a steady and smart hand. When every economist was saying we were in trouble, he said we were doing well and Wall Street needed no regulation. Then, literally hours later, after his advisors got a hold of him, he said we were in crisis and proposed massive changes, including firing the head of the SEC and building a new regulatory apparatus to deal with unchecked corporate greed. There was no thought process to get him from one side of the debate to the other – he just seemed to jump from one unusual position to another on the opposite end of the spectrum thinking these unusual positions would show how he’s different. Indeed, his views are different – recklessly different than the mainstream. Now, he’s suspending his presidential campaign because he thinks we are in such turmoil that a 2-hour debate would dislodge our economy. Is this the stable leader we want with his hand on the red button? (more…)

All’s Not Quiet on the Western Front

by David Isenberg | September 24th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Surely I am not the only one to notice this, but for some inexplicable reason nobody seems to be paying attention to events in South Asia, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For anyone keeping score the U.S. has suffered some noticeable reverses on the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) playing field recently.

In Afghanistan, rising anger over an increasing number of civilian casualties caused by American airstrikes has increased American concerns about losing the support of its people, its government and other nations for the mission there.

So much so in fact, that last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Kabul expressed his “sincere condolences” and promised speedier compensation and investigation after such casualties.

There are, tragically, far too many. Thus far 2008 is on pace to be the deadliest for civilians since the Taliban were toppled by the American-led invasion in 2001. More than 1,445 civilians have been killed so far in 2008, and slightly more than half of those deaths, tallied by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, are attributed to insurgent forces.

While the Taliban is responsible for more civilian deaths (55 percent of the total) than NATO, the actions of international forces and allies have sparked the most criticism from Afghans. The number of civilians killed by pro-government forces jumped by 21 percent in 2008, and air strikes were responsible for two-thirds of these. Last month up to 96 civilians were killed in the western province of Herat, sparking protests around the country. Earlier in the summer, American ordnance hit a wedding party in eastern Afghanistan, killing 47 civilians. In both cases US officials denied that such a large number of civilians were killed.

Secretary Gates accepted a proposal from Afghan officials to establish a permanent joint investigative group to determine the facts surrounding civilian casualties more quickly.

The senior American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, said that he had tightened the rules affecting when NATO troops could use lethal force

He also noted that the insurgent attacks in the country have increased 30% from last year. The number of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in 2008, at 122, has already exceeded the 117 fatalities in 2007.

Over the last three months, insurgents have exacted the most punishing casualty tolls on Western forces since the Afghan war began nearly seven years ago. Numbers of foreign troops killed have exceeded U.S. military deaths in Iraq. In June, the Taliban orchestrated a spectacular prison break here that set hundreds of insurgents free. A multi-pronged assault on a remote, just-established U.S. outpost killed nine Americans in July. In August, an ambush killed 10 French troops.

He said Tuesday first time that he needed three combat brigades, which could amount to some 15,000 more combat and support troops, in addition to the one extra battalion and one extra brigade that President Bush had already ordered to arrive here by early next year.

So we can look forward to Surge II, in Afghanistan. The problem, as Fred Kaplan ably pointed out in Slate is that Afghanistan is not remotely like Iraq. As he noted: (more…)

Powerful symbolism for the next president

by Brian Vogt | September 22nd, 2008 | |Subscribe

Last week an important discussion took place involving a bipartisan roster of former Secretaries of State:  Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, and Colin Powell.  These well known foreign policy authorities from both sides of the aisle were asked what foreign policy advice they would provide to the next president – Democrat or Republican. 

Of course, not surprisingly, the former top diplomats argued that America must regain its position of leadership and respect in the international community.  Democrats and Republicans can both agree that America’s standing in the world has decreased significantly since 9/11.  There can also be broad agreement that America’s ability to influence other countries is related to the degree to which other countries respect its decisions and see it as a responsible partner in the international community. 

There was fairly broad agreement that there were several gestures that could be made that could dramatically demonstrate that America had indeed turned a new leaf:  close Guantanamo and explicitly forbid torture in all circumstances.  (more…)

Welcome to Embassy Tehran (more or less)

by Michael Landweber | September 19th, 2008 | |Subscribe

The time has come to start talking to Iran. This is not a particularly new recommendation since it has become a common talking point in Washington for everyone from former Secretaries of State on down to your run-of-the-mill think tanker.

But here’s something you won’t hear often.

The Bush Administration is in a perfect position to start this ball rolling.

I’m not suggesting a heart-to-heart between Bush (or the next President) and Ahmadinejad. There is certainly nothing to be gained by giving that man more airtime. He’s going to wring far more out of that than he deserves out of the press next week when he and Bush don’t meet at the UN.

I was thinking of something more along the lines of a thirty-something U.S. foreign service officer chatting up his counterpart in the Iranian Ministry of Agriculture about the upcoming World Food Program meetings in Rome. This example may seem facetious, but diplomats on the ground would be the first small step toward what is needed with Iran: contact, dialogue and, ultimately, diplomacy.


America – Pull up Your Pants!

by Jamie Metzl | September 18th, 2008 | |Subscribe

I fear that I sound like a crotchety old guy when I say that it seems to me that America’s standards are rapidly deteriorating and that we need far better leadership to get us out of our funk.

If our economy is a high-end service economy, we should be mortified by the tumult in our financial markets brought about by excessive greed, unbelievably poor and lax regulation, and a system that increasingly socializes risk even as profits are privatized. It is amazing that an administration that came to power calling for deregulation, and put many officials in power who are openly disdainful of regulation, will end up leaving a legacy of nationalization of key industries.

If we are an industrial economy, then we should all be terrified by the current strike at Boeing, which is threatening to derail the phenomenally dramatic turnaround in that company’s fortunes stemming from their successful gamble on the 787 Dreamliner. But why, many ask, should the workers not be doing what some claim to be extorting the company at its moment of greatest opportunity and vulnerability when workers across the United States feel that CEOs even from failing companies are getting enormous salaries when the average worker is getting squeezed?


Meanwhile, back in the real world

by David Isenberg | September 12th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Ahem! There are actually important things worth paying attention to besides the presidential race. Call me a curmudgeon if you want but let me direct your attention to Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Tuesday it was reported that President Bush has accepted the recommendation of his senior civilian and military advisers to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq by 8,000 in the early months of next year. Specifically:

General Petraeus has reported that security conditions have improved enough to withdraw all five surge brigades by the end of July. That means that by July 31st, the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq will be down by 25 percent from last year.

Well, it is nice to know that President Bush does actually listen to his senior military advisers. Because, as Bob Woodward’s new book makes clear that hasn’t always been the case.

In fact, as this Washington Post excerpt details, in the past President Bush not only did not listen to his senior military commander in Iraq, he undercut him by establishing a back channel around him to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Note to President Bush’s publicity flaks: if you are going to have a president in office who tries to depict himself as the űber commander in chief of the armed forces he should at least make a pretense of following proper civil-military relations. If you don’t’ have confidence in your general you fire him, you don’t leave him twiddling his fingers in the Green Zone.

Of course, if you are the Wall Street Journal you spin that into some sort of day profile of courage where Bush becomes the modern equivalent of Abraham Lincoln.

How significant is this announcement? Not much. That would leave 138,000 troops behind — more than were deployed in Iraq before his January 2007 “surge.” It means bringing back one Marine unit, one Army combat brigade, and additional support personnel.

More importantly, it misses a more fundamental point: that the surge has failed to achieve its central objective of advancing Iraq’s political transition and encouraging power-sharing deals among Iraq’s competing factions. (more…)

We’re not winning

by Brian Vogt | September 11th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Just yesterday a new bipartisan report was released on whether or not we are winning the war on terror. The simple answer this report provides is: No! Although some progress has been made, if you look at the empirical evidence, we are losing the war on terror. Interestingly, so far in the presidential campaigns, this question has fallen from the center stage that it had in the 2004 campaign. The fact that this report addressed the question in both a bipartisan and a quantitative manner will hopefully serve to break through the partisan campaign talking points that are bound to emerge if this issue does indeed gain more prominence in this year’s campaign. On this anniversay of September 11th, we must not only remember those who have lost their lives, but also we must examine whether or not our efforts at protecting Americans during the past seven years and have made us safer. Unfortunately, the answer is no.

Bipartisanship, Public Affairs Education, and the State Department Budget

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

Last night, as part of the launch of its new master’s degree program in global policy studies, the LBJ School of Public Affairs hosted former Secretary of State Madeline Albright for a discussion of foreign policy issues facing the United States (you can see a webcast here). The discussion covered a range of issues, and Secretary Albright highlighted a number of points that she raises in various of her recent books, notably including her new one, styled as a memo to the new president. Not surprisingly, her answers to questions tended to fall back on now-well-known Democratic foreign policy positions, and although she made a show of trying to stay above the political fray, her positions in the election are so well-rehearsed that electoral politics of course slipped into the discussion. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, even if a few of us weren’t so sure we agreed with everything she was saying and, more important, were a bit uncomfortable with a borderline-partisan launch event for a non-partisan educational program.

Public affairs programs tend to lean liberal. Many students are attracted to the field because they want a leg up in careers that try to transform the world for the better. Their whole reason to get into this business is anti-conservative, because they don’t like what they see and they are optimistic about their ability to make the world a better place. There’s definitely a place for their idealism, but public affairs education should temper it with realism. And at UT, many of us on the faculty — even liberal-leaning faculty members, I think — try to do that.

A diversity of political viewpoints is really useful in the classroom, too. We wouldn’t want only liberals (or only conservatives) in the incoming class. Fortunately, we have enough diversity, even though its safe to say that more students and faculty at the LBJ School are Democrats than Republicans, and more are liberals than conservatives. That’s probably the case in Washington policy debates, both inside government (among permanent staffers — there’s certainly little diversity among political appointees, for obvious, good reasons) and in the “policy community.” That pluralism helps us make better policy choices, when we have civilized discussions about ends and means. (more…)

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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.