Earlier this week, President Obama signed into law the $680 billion FY 2010 Defense Authorization Bill, the largest such budget since the end of World War II. If you missed that aspect of the story, you weren’t alone. Many news stories chose instead to focus on the hate crime provisions tacked onto the bill.
I’ve often quarreled with the inclusion of superfluous legislative riders, and the hate crime provision is more superfluous than most. (Indeed, as my Cato colleague David Rittgers has pointed out, it might be worse than superfluous.)
But I want to focus on the president’s failure to halt the inexorable growth in military spending. His capitulation on a number of spending programs — even as he complains of rampant waste and abuse within the Pentagon — signals to American taxpayers that they should expect more of the same. It sends an equally harmful message to our friends and allies around the world: stand back, we’ll take care of it.
You see, most of the money we spend on our military is not geared to defending the United States. Rather, it encourages other countries to free-ride on the U.S. military instead of taking prudent steps to defend themselves.
President Obama said when he took office that Afghanistan would be his number one foreign affairs priority. It may become his nemesis. President Obama has said that he is not going to make new commitments until he is sure that the plan is the correct one. In this, he is correct. Gen. McChrystal has pointed out that we need firm, long-lasting commitment to win.
None of the bewildering array of clocks that deal with Afghanistan seems to tick slowly enough for victory. A long time frame is needed. However, more than half of the American people no longer wish us to be there. The same is true in many other countries.
A failure in Afghanistan could ignite Pakistan in ways that none of us wishes to see. Pakistan is a tinderbox of social discontent, regional resentment and fundamentalist activity. It is also bankrupt, has a weak government and possesses a nuclear arsenal that it already nearly used against India. Its military plays both sides of the war against fundamentalism and struggles to be preeminent in running the country. We cannot allow an Islamist takeover in Pakistan.
During the first few years after 2001, the Taliban withdrew and optimism encouraged a “light-foot approach,” a belief that only a little needed to be done. Very wrong. And Washington did little to get rid of the warlords it had allied with out of expediency. Wrong again. Washington diverted its attention and its resources to Iraq, and Afghanistan has paid the price. Now things are much worse and will cost much more to repair.
Just about a week ago a bipartisan breakthrough happened on climate change legislation. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Kerry (D-MA) came up with a bipartisan blueprint that could be a model for what could emerge out of Congress this year. There certainly were compromises made by both sides and the end result is a set of reforms that, if taken as a whole, could achieve broad bipartisan support.
The quest for bipartisan consensus on this issue has been highlighted by many groups including the Partnership for a Secure America which recently released a statement that emphasized that, “We must transcend the political issues that divide us – by party and by region – to devise a unified American strategy that can endure and succeed.” It was signed by 32 prominent Democrats and Republicans.
Many Democrats may be dismayed at the thought of compromise considering that they hold the presidency and majorities in both the House and Senate. However, with such a major change to the US economy, they’d be smart to ensure that what passes is not just a Democratic bill. In my mind the compromises proposed by Kerry and Graham are ones I can live with. It also mirrored some of the compromises suggested by Senator Lieberman (CT) in an event held by PSA. (more…)
With the possible exception of Georgia-US-Russia, no US relationship in the former Soviet region is more fraught today than the US-Russia-Ukraine triangle. At a time when Washington and Moscow have variously committed to a relationship reset, a new operating system, and a rerun of the Clinton-Yeltsin strategic partnership, it is disappointing how little substance has followed rhetoric. Meanwhile, Central and Eastern Europe are still reeling from the US Administration’s abrupt and ill-timed reversal on missile defense deployment, and Team Obama is eager for opportunities to demonstrate its commitment to the new Europe, which received no shortage of love from the Bush Administration.
We’re now 9 months into the Obama administration and, on a number of fronts, I think our country is more secure. Most of all, Obama has set a new tone in our relations with the world. But I continue to see our greatest source of our insecurity — our economy — as suffering from a failure of governmental leadership.
By now, everyone knows the story that got us into the current economic crisis. Primed by cheap capital and lax regulation, Wall Street took out huge sums of debt and gambled on everything from stocks to subprime mortgages. This bubble economy proved incredibly profitable for Wall Street and its executives took home tens of billions of dollars in bonuses. Then, the bubble burst. But instead of having Wall Street bear the brunt of this cost, a decision was made that its banks were “too big too fail” and so the government bailed them out.
As I wrote back in March of 2008, I’m not necessarily against the original bailout, but it should have been accompanied by a “new contract with Wall Street” where banks were regulated so they could never again be “to big too fail.” My point was that if the government’s thesis was right, that some banks were too big to fail, then we had a terrible set of market incentives. Banks would come to realize that they were immune from bankruptcy because the government would be there to bail them out. This would lead to a dangerous market system where banks got all the profits from gambling and society absorbed all the losses.
I hoped that the Obama administration would clean up this growing moral hazard on Wall Street, but we are unfortunately seeing more of the same. Obama’s central plan has been to make capital incredibly cheap for large banks so that they get credit flowing again. While the credit markets have admittedly improved, this cheap capital has also added to the risk-taking and the bigness of these banks. In other words, we’ve made the moral hazard worse. The recent profits by Goldman show that it has returned to its high-risk business. No one can fault Goldman for taking risk and making money–that’s capitalism. The problem is that they’re taking this risk with the government’s highly subsidized capital and implicit guarantee in the case of failure.
Well before Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Americans were speculating on whether his ascendancy to the highest office in the land would help to improve the United States’ tarnished reputation in the world.
The early indications were encouraging, but largely anecdotal. The Pew Research Center provided data from surveys taken in May and June, and found a mixed picture: attitudes toward the United States were most improved in Western Europe, East Asia, and Africa (Nigeria and Kenya), but barely changed in the several predominantly Muslim countries, including U.S. allies Turkey and Pakistan.
The more relevant question is whether we should care. International relations is not a popularity contest. In the classical formulation, nation-states pursue policies that they believe will advance their interests. Sometimes these policies backfire. Sometimes they fail. But, all other factors being equal, we should assume that policies are directed from within, and not much influenced by without.
A recent study published by the American Political Science Association makes a reasonably convincing case that Americans should care about U.S. “standing” not purely for the sake of feeling good about ourselves, but also because improved standing is likely to contribute to more effective foreign policy. “Diminished standing may make it harder for the United States to get things done in world politics,” the report explains. In this context, the report continues, we should “think of standing…as the foreign-policy equivalent of ‘political capital.’” If we have a stored reserve of such capital, we can deploy this to mobilize international support. At a minimum, this will convince other countries to go along with us; in ideal cases, we might obtain their active support. (more…)
President Obama is in something of a pickle. Federal courts have ordered that 21 photos of American soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan must be released to the public. The Obama Administration has asked the Supreme Court to step in to prevent the release of these photos, but Congress has an even surer way of keeping them away from the public’s scornful gaze. Congress is considering a new law that would give the Secretary of Defense the sole and exclusive right to determine whether these photographs will ever be released to the American people. And it gets worse: Mr. Obama supports this insane and unconstitutional measure.
Let’s address, with measured haste, the obvious: Obama has taken a hypocritical position on the release of these photographs. He campaigned under the much lauded and little understood banner of “change,” a vague yet noble set of aspirations that is clearly at odds with the stance he has taken on releasing these records of human abuse. “But has our President changed his mind for a good reason?,” you earnestly ask. Well, Obama has apparently accepted the Pentagon’s view that releasing these photos would put American troops in unnecessary danger and serve as an effective recruiting tool for Muslim extremists.
So there it is, the Obama Administration’s view in a nutshell: We can’t talk have a long, hard look at these photos because that would mean “unnecessary danger” for our beloved troops. (more…)
As expanded negotiations over Iran’s contested nuclear program (including direct U.S. participation for the first time on October 1) get under way, Russia’s participation is seen as key. After the US change of plans on the anti-ballistic missile shield in Europe, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev said at the UN in New York that “sanctions are seldom productive but they are sometimes inevitable.” His comment made headlines and instilled cautious optimism in Washington. Is the Kremlin changing its mind about Iran and will Russia’s cooperation help resolve the nuclear issue? (more…)
Last week John Kerry had a compelling op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that examined many of the issues being debated about a potential troop increase in Afghanistan. Even though I believe that a long term commitment to Afghanistan will help keep America safer, I agree with Kerry that now is the time for a vigorous debate that considers all the options. When we consider sending our men and women into harms way, it is our duty to ensure that it is done as a last resort. We must closely examine the other possible courses of action and evaluate their likelihood of success. Now is the time to have that debate.
So far, unlike the health care debate, the discussion about Afghanistan has been relatively civil and has not broken down along partisan lines. Democrats and Republicans are divided within their own parties as to the appropriate next steps. If we are to risk more American lives, I’m confident that we can all agree on one paramount goal – keeping Americans safe from attack. There are different approaches, however, to achieving this goal.
The debate now seems to be coming down to a question of whether or not we should concern ourselves with the Taliban as well as Al Qaeda. There are credible arguments on either side. Those who say that we should be focused only on Al Qaeda argue that the Taliban don’t seek to attack the United States. They pose no imminent threat. Those on the other side argue that Taliban control of much of Afghanistan provides a safe haven for Al Qaeda. Using recent history as my guide, I tend to come down on the side of the latter. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the Taliban seized control of the country and allowed Al Qaeda free reign. There is a high probability that if the Taliban were able to regain control of the country, they would once again provide sanctuary to Al Qaeda. (more…)
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Just back from serving as an election monitor in Afghanistan, I became distressed at how much the Karzai government’s mishandling of the electoral process and rampant corruption are undermining its own legitimacy and that of the overall international effort. I began to daydream about Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaking directly to the American people to take responsibility for his government’s failings and seek support for strong U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. This is what he said:
My Dear American Friends,
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for all you have sacrificed to help my country. You liberated Afghanistan from the brutal rule of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. We are delighted to have them gone.
Afghanistan is far from America, and few Americans knew much about my native land before the terrible events of September 11, 2001 brought our fates together. I know that no American can forget the tragedy of that day, just as no Afghan can forget the string of tragedies over the past thirty years that have turned our proud country to rubble.
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.