Pork is making us less safe

by Brian Vogt | July 31st, 2009 | |Subscribe

The Washington Post reported yesterday some disturbing news regarding the $636 billion defense appropriation bill that just passed.  Despite significant efforts by some lawmakers to bring some modicum of restraint to the appropriations process, the bill has emerged heavily laden with pork. It’s chock full of programs that the department of defense has said that it doesn’t need but that some representatives insist on including.

This comes after a significant victory against such pork barrel spending.  There has been much discussion in the past couple weeks about the inclusion of over $1.75 billion to support an expansion of the F-22 program.  As David Isenberg explained last week, this was a defense program that the DoD didn’t want.  Rather, its congressional supporters in states where parts of the F-22 were manufactured lobbied hard to spend money on a weapon system that most experts agreed was a cold war relic that wasn’t particularly useful for today’s counterinsurgency conflicts.  Thankfully, the Obama administration and most congressional representatives held strong against a concerted lobbying campaign to keep pouring money into this costly program.

This pork barrel spending has been the modus operandi of the defense industry and elected representatives for decades and in this case, it makes our country less safe.  Money poured into big ticket acquisitions of questionable strategic value crowd out defense expenditures that are truly needed.   It’s a bipartisan problem deep in need of a bipartisan solution.  (more…)

Stop Playing the Blame Game on Climate Change

by Daniel Cassman | July 29th, 2009 | |Subscribe

During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India last week, Indian environmental minister Jairam Ramesh expressed India’s views on climate change policy: “There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have been among the lowest emitters per capita, face to actually reduce emissions.” Other less-developed countries (LDCs) have similar, though perhaps less aggressive, attitudes. The problem is, developing countries now make up a significant portion of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (China emits the most carbon dioxide of any country, and India is fourth). While it’s true that LDCs still emit greenhouse gases at much lower per capita rates than developed nations, a successful policy to combat climate change will require their cooperation.

The arguments about whose responsibility it is to curb climate change are well-worn by this point, but they still threaten to thwart meaningful international collaboration. Developed nations point out that the LDCs will soon account for a large majority of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. LDCs shoot back that industrialized nations created the climate change problem and that it’s only fair that LDCs also get a chance to modernize their economies without environmental restrictions. Both sides have valid points. But the developing world’s unwillingness to address the problem will have devastating consequences that will harm LDCs far worse than the developed world.


Winning over the Muslim world

by Brian Vogt | July 28th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Last week the Pew Global Attitudes Project released its 2009 poll results on the US image in the world.  This year’s results showed a dramatic change since last year’s poll.  With Obama’s election, views of the US by people around the world have improved dramatically.  Considering that during the presidential campaign, Obama was receiving a tremendous outpouring of support from around the world, this result is not altogether surprising.  Amidst this good news, however, the poll indicates that there remain real reasons for concern, particularly amongst those in the Muslim world.  Although Obama’s election has certainly improved the view of the US by many around the world, many of those whose opinions count most in America’s struggle against terrorism have not been won over by Obama’s persona nor his oratory skills.  They are waiting for concrete changes in US policy.

Certainly there is much to celebrate in this poll, particularly regarding America’s relations with its traditional friends and allies.  In Britain positive views of the US increased from 53 to 69 percent.  In France, there was a 33 percentage point increase to 75 percent favorability.  And in Germany favorable ratings of the US increased from 31 to 64 percent.  In Germany and France more people expressed support for Obama than for Angela Merkel or Nicolas Sarkozy.  Although America’s foreign policy interests are impacted by a variety of factors, certainly having a favorable public in allied countries should not be underestimated.

Admittedly, however, getting Europeans to like Americans should be considered low hanging fruit.  My guess is that few Europeans would report that the US foreign policy of the past several years has impacted them on a personal level.  Rather, their disdain for the Bush administration had more to do with the symbolic “ugly American” that it represented – the swaggering American cowboy quick to pull his pistol rather than resort to more “civilized” discourse.  So, it’s not surprising that when the symbolic ugly American exits the stage, approval ratings rebound.

Considering that our experience with the Iraq war has demonstrated that the go-it-alone approach to US foreign policy is seriously flawed, having the Europeans on board is certainly a welcome change.  Unfortunately, however, it’s not enough. (more…)

Walking the Diplomatic Tightrope in Honduras

by John Prandato | July 22nd, 2009 | |Subscribe

(AP Photo/Fernando Antonio)

Three months ago, at the conclusion of the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, anti-American leftist leaders across Latin America were optimistically embracing President Obama’s commitment to a new “spirit of cooperation” with the region. But soon after the onset of the Honduran political crisis, what was heralded as a “renewed partnership of the Americas” appeared to be quickly unraveling. Less than an hour after the Honduran army descended on the presidential residency and whisked Manuel Zelaya away to Costa Rica in his pajamas, Hugo Chávez was already accusing the “Yankee empire” of having a hand in the ouster. Later that same day, Obama issued the following statement:

“I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

Obama’s response was carefully worded. In calling for all actors to adhere to democratic norms and the rule of law, he made thinly veiled indictments of both the ousted president and the de facto government. But the administration’s main objective must be to ensure the security and wellbeing of the Honduran people – who are now faced with restricted trade, suspended aid, and deepening isolation – and that goal will be most easily reached through compromise. The precision of Obama’s language has made his position on two aspects of the crisis very clear – that both sides are partially at fault and that the conflict must conclude with a peacefully negotiated agreement. (more…)

Giving us that old time military-industrial congressional pork barrel

by David Isenberg | July 21st, 2009 | |Subscribe

The more things change the more they stay the same; as in the military-industrial congressional pork barrel. As evidence one need only look at the current debate over Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ decision to stop producing the F-22 fighter. Gates and President Obama have threatened to veto Congress’ entire 2010 defense spending bill if it contains a single F-22 over the 187 now authorized.

This should not be a hard decision. After all, how often does the Pentagon actually try to kill a program it does not need? Keeping unnecessary weapons in the military budget is usually par for the course, thanks to the influence of weapons manufacturers and senators and congressmen who receive credit in their home states and districts for managing to save some jobs for constituents. Usually the Pentagon goes along because it is more trouble to fight it than it is worth.

But on the rare occasion that the Pentagon does not want weapons that it did not ask for it is clear that something stinks to the high heavens; higher even than the F-22 can fly.

Gates’ decision was in response to votes by the House and Senate armed services committees last month to spend $369 million to $1.75 billion more to keep the F-22 production line open were propelled by mixed messages from the Air Force; including a quiet campaign for the plane that includes snazzy new Lockheed videos for key lawmakers and intense political support from states where the F-22’s components are made. The full House ratified the vote on June 25.

But, contrary to the claims made by the various legislators on the Lockheed Martin payroll there are many excellent reasons to kill it. As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, the F-22 -22, has recently required more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces, confidential Pentagon test results show. The aircraft’s radar-absorbing metallic skin is the principal cause of its maintenance While most aircraft fleets become easier and less costly to repair as they mature, key maintenance trends for the F-22 have been negative in recent years, and on average from October last year to this May, just 55 percent of the deployed F-22 fleet has been available to fulfill missions guarding U.S. airspace, the Defense Department acknowledged.

The F-22 was created for a world that no longer exists. It was designed during the early 1980s to ensure long-term American military dominance of the skies andconceived to win dogfights with advanced Soviet fighters that Russia is still trying to develop. (more…)

Politico covers the Congressional Fellowship Program

by PSA Staff | July 20th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Here at PSA we’ve been working hard to create a program for Congressional staff that adds value in the oftentimes crowded programmatic environment of Washington, D.C. The PSA Congressional Fellowship Program aims to bring together House and Senate staffers from both parties to socialize, debate, and learn together with the goal of enhancing bipartisanship in their daily jobs. The most recent event with the Summer 2009 Fellows was a dinner with 9/11 Commission Chairman and former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, and Politico sent a reporter to cover the event. The resulting article, “Bipartisanship, in three courses”, published this morning, highlights many of the most important aspects of what we do at PSA.

“Whereas members of Congress at least have the opportunity to work together if they choose to do so,” the reporter writes, “staffers are rarely forced to remove their partisan blinders. Until now.” She quotes PSA Fellows Pablo Duran of Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-NM) office and Brandon Andrews of Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-OK) office lamenting the rarity of meeting staff from across the aisle. “‘I don’t know that anyone makes a concerted effort to not do it,’ Andrews said. ‘I just think it doesn’t happen, because people travel in different circles.’”

We will be visiting the White House to meet with President Obama’s chief national security speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, this week and going on a weekend Retreat after that. It’s been an exciting summer so far, and we appreciate Politico’s interest in the work we do here at PSA.

For those who are interested in applying to be a Fellow in the Fall 2009 session, information can be found on our website here.

Palin’s solution: ignore the problem

by Brian Vogt | July 16th, 2009 | |Subscribe

The nation can’t seem to get enough of Sarah Palin.  Many social conservatives adore her just as many liberals seem to be giddy over her repeated missteps.  Whether one loves her or hates her, there’s no question that she draws much attention whenever she speaks.  So, like many others, I was quite interested to read her recent op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing the proposed cap and trade plan to deal with energy and global warming.

Perhaps as one of the defacto figureheads of the Republican party, this would provide an opportunity for her to present some new ideas on these vexing problems.  The reality is that there’s no free lunch when it comes to energy and the environment.  All solutions have costs and will involve some pain.  Unfortunately, rather than addressing these tradeoffs constructively, Palin chose instead to just ignore the problem.  This is not to say that she was all wrong.  She raised some important points.  It’s just that her proposed solutions are the exact opposite of what needs to be done.

Probably the most concerning aspect of Palin’s piece is its glaring omission of any serious thinking about how to deal with the environmental impact of our energy usage.  The cap and trade program addresses two interrelated issues:  energy and environment.  While Palin seems eager to speak about utilizing domestic sources of energy, she says virtually nothing about how to deal with emissions.  I was struck by Palin’s dismissal of the cap and trade program.  She wrote, “It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.”

Yes, there will likely be some short term financial costs to this effort.  However, I’m not sure how ignoring global warming can be considered good long term planning.  It seems to me that dramatically altering our environment such that coastal regions are flooded and the nation’s agricultural output is significantly altered could be considered “permanent damage.” (more…)

What Have We Become?

by Edwina Chin and John Eden | July 15th, 2009 | |Subscribe

In a recent article in Harper’s Magazine, Luke Mitchell observes that we are still using torture at Guantanamo Bay. Contrary to the notion that Obama’s ascendancy to the White House marked an end to torture, the U.S. government still allows – and even mandates – certain kinds of torture in Gitmo. These practices include prolonged isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, and even force feeding. According to Mitchell, right now at least thirty men are being force fed at Guantanamo.

Force feeding is a ghastly act, an act designed not to preserve life but rather to break the human spirit. In many instances feeding tubes are inserted through the nostrils to facilitate delivering “nutrients.” Binyam Mohamed, a British resident recently released from Guantanamo, claims that he has seen detainees beaten into submission by SWAT teams if they refuse to eat the food provided to them. Ahmed Ghapour, an attorney with the human rights group Reprieve, claims that detainees at Guantanamo have at times been forced to eat food laced with laxatives. Artificially amplify the speed with which the human body “processes” food, and voila, the aggregate amount of pain imposed by force feeding is increased. A lovely way to apply Machiavellian teachings to the war on terror, wouldn’t you say?

Mitchell offers a helpful prism through which to refract these facts: While Obama and the Democrats have publicly condemned a “lawless” approach to torture, they have “not rejected torture itself.” But how can this be? Was it not Candidate Obama that promised us, in terms laden with no moral or linguistic ambiguity, that he would put an end to the Reign of Bush, and in doing so dispose with torture as a tool of national security? (more…)

Making sense out of SENSE

by Joel Meyer | July 10th, 2009 | |Subscribe

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the SENSE simulation (Strategic Economic Needs and Security Exercise) at the U.S. Institute of Peace over the last three days. SENSE is a simulation exercise meant to train leaders in reconstruction in a post-conflict country, in this case the made-up country of Akrona. Originally created to help implement the Dayton Peace Accords, it has been updated since then and used to train Iraqi leaders, among other places. The values of experiential learning are immeasurable, and in the Congressional Fellowship Program here at PSA, we have the Fellows participate in a two-hour NSC Deputies Committee simulation exercise.

The SENSE simulation is unique in the breadth of stakeholders included in the scenario. I played a parliamentarian (one of six), but there was also a president with a cabinet of ministers covering all the major governance areas, a central bank, international donors, international and local NGO’s, private domestic firms and a multi-national corporation.

SENSE is also unique in that it uses computers to process the decisions of these many actors to constantly update the status of Akrona. Depending on your role, you are able to update certain elements of the simulation based on the decisions you make, and you can track the decisions made by other players. For instance, while I was sitting at a parliament computer yesterday, I was quite pleased to see the Minister of Finance cut spending in the civil budget and start paying down the national debt. (more…)

Kerry Should Invite Gretchen Peters to Afghanistan Hearing

by Raj Purohit | July 10th, 2009 | |Subscribe

I was pleased to see that Sen. Kerry has decided to hold hearings on Afghanistan in the late summer or early fall. We are in the middle of a pivotal summer in Afghanistan with the US troop surge taking place in the build up to to critical Afghan Presidential elections in August. I am currently trying to dig into different aspects of the Afghanistan situation including getting a better sense of the relationship between drugs, corruption and the Taliban. As part of that process I have just finished reading a terrific book by Gretchen Peters, journalist and friend of Ahmed Rashid, titled Seeds of Terror. Peters, who I have not met, makes a strong case that the drug trade is the key to the resurgence of the Taliban. I would like to see Sen. Kerry invite her, along with other smart regional experts like Ahmed Rashid, to ensure that the debate at the SFRC hearing is as wide ranging as possible.

Are there other experts, with recent on the ground South Asia experience, who you think would add to such a hearing?

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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.