Rules of Engagement

by Brian Vogt | June 29th, 2010 | |Subscribe

With the dismissal of General McChrystal and the appointment of General Petraeus to lead the effort in Afghanistan, there has been much speculation about how this change might affect the conduct of the war.  There has been a consistent message from many American troops in Afghanistan – the rules of engagement are putting them at risk and they must be changed.  It is important that such concerns of the troops be examined.  They are bravely risking their lives every day.  However, at the same time, we must recognize that the broader principle of civilian protection will not change under Petraeus.  Because civilian protection is a key component of Petraeus’s counterinsurgency doctrine, if we were to toss this out the door, it would undermine the entire Afghan strategy.

This is not to say that the manner in which civilian protection is carried out shouldn’t be reviewed and modified.  I was encouraged by Petraeus’s comment today in his Senate hearing when he said,

….I am keenly aware of concerns by some of our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive. They should know that I will look very hard at this issue. (more…)

30 Top National Security Leaders Come Out in Support of New START Treaty

by PSA Staff | June 24th, 2010 | |Subscribe

This morning, a bipartisan group of 30 top national security leaders issued a statement in support of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The statement, whose signatory list includes ten former Senators, four former Secretaries of Defense, and four former Secretaries of State, calls START “a necessary and appropriate step toward safeguarding our national security” that “enhances stability, transparency and predictability between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.” Both Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) read from the statement in today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on START. The statement also appeared as an advertisement in today’s Politico.


Nuclear arms control is a critical pillar of America’s national security. Negotiated agreements to reduce the threat posed by the Cold War nuclear arms race have always enjoyed strong bipartisan support in the U.S.

Reconceiving the BP Debacle

by John Eden | June 17th, 2010 | |Subscribe

British Petroleum has finally figured out how to get under the skin of the American Commander in Chief. President Obama, clearly irritated by BP’s lackluster cleanup efforts, has suggested that the British oil giant place in escrow funds sufficient to compensate those American citizens affected by the spill. (BP has just agreed to put 20 billion into an escrow account.) As a political decision, this is both a necessary and shrewd move on Obama’s part. But the underlying geopolitical realities that this oil spill has brought to the surface cannot be understood unless one thinks a bit more carefully – and creatively – about what the BP debacle really is, and what President Obama’s initial failure to take charge really means.

On the surface, the oil spill in the Gulf is an ecological disaster. On this understanding of what the spill is, the main problem is that gigantic plumes of oil – a precious natural resource – are quickly and relentlessly destroying the environment. As BP’s rogue oil eagerly escapes its underwater prison, our wetlands and diverse wildlife expire ahead-of-schedule and unnecessarily. The theory, then, is one of environmental catastrophe, and the dramatis personae are as vanilla as the theory: Barack Obama, beleaguered American President keen to end the crisis; Tony Hayward, the incompetent CEO of BP who makes for an easy target for the world’s politicians, pundits and public intellectuals; the American public, at once enraged and confused; and the shareholders of BP, hiding in the shadows, hoping that the cost of this crisis will not fall on their backs.

A better theory – more powerful and descriptively accurate – is available. This is no mere ecological disaster, but is, correctly understood, an attack on our political, economic, and cultural infrastructure caused by no single individual or institution but enabled by many. It is now well known that a number of indicators pointed toward the possibility of a spill of this magnitude. And yet BP and the relevant U.S. regulators did nothing. (more…)

We all played a role in the oil spill

by Brian Vogt | June 16th, 2010 | |Subscribe

As the oil continues to flow in the Gulf, everyone is looking to place blame.  And, there’s certainly much to go around.  The number one target, of course, is BP.  With the details that are coming out about profits being prioritized over safety, BP should certainly be held responsible and be required to fully compensate those whose livelihoods have been destroyed.  Recent reports have surfaced that demonstrated the complete lack of preparedness of oil companies to deal with such disasters. They must ensure that the natural ecosystem is restored.   The Mineral Management Service that was in bed with the industries it was supposedly regulating should also be held to account.  However, in this massive hunt for culprits, we seem to be forgetting about another guilty party – all of us.

Yes, we’re all complicit in this oil spill.  Not directly, of course, but indirectly we’ve all played a role.  For decades we’ve been unwilling to wean ourselves off of our addiction to petroleum.  We’ve been unwilling to consider paying for the environmental damage caused by our use of oil.  We’ve been unwilling to consider the true cost of our our consumption.  At the same time, America’s sons and daughters are fighting in far away lands, in part to feed this addiction.

This disaster should be a wake up call.  And some leaders are talking about the opportunity to change course away from oil.  However, there continues to be a knee jerk reaction amongst many that, despite this enormous disaster, continue to encourage us to stay the course.  Just look at this recent Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing any effort that might be launched after this horrific oil spill to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. (more…)

Drones: Unlawful Response to Unlawful Combatants?

by Volha Charnysh | June 9th, 2010 | |Subscribe

In a room full of computer screens, a US civilian with a joystick on the console kills a man thousands of miles away. Having aced a course on drones with ferocious names like Reaper, Hunter, and Tigershark, he is competent to take down a target — a dangerous terrorist, a drug lord connected with the Taliban, a farmer planting IEDs, or, accidentally, an innocent civilian, as the drones are liable to targeting errors. The drones often save American lives and tax dollars at the expense of the lives of innocent civilians: just last month, an air strike mistake led to 23 civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

However, instead of addressing the targeting failures or keeping the drones in the combat zone, the United States sometimes dismisses problems by defining its enemies as “unlawful combatants” and keeping the drone operations secret. If Washington continues to excuse itself from the rule of law in this manner, the use of armed unmanned vehicles may create more problems than it solves.

Last week, a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones outside of war zones because the use of drones undermined global constraints on the use of military force.  The report stressed that the drone technology is changing the rules of conflict and undermining the foundations of humanitarian behavior in war. Here are just some grounds on which the US use of drones could be challenged. (more…)

Was it good for the Jews? No!

by David Isenberg | June 8th, 2010 | |Subscribe

As a sign of how bad a mistake Israel made when its commandos boarded the Gaza bound ship Mavi Marmara on May 31 consider what Slate columnist Christopher Hitchens, a former liberal who moved rightward after 9/11 wrote yesterday:

The near-incredible stupidity of the Israeli airborne descent on the good ship Mavi Marmara, by troops well-enough equipped to shoot when panicked but not well-enough prepared to contain or subdue a preplanned riot, has now generated much more coverage and comment than Erdogan’s cynical recent decision to become a partner in the nuclear maneuvers of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Israeli self-pity over Gaza—”You fire rockets at us! And after all we’ve done for you!”—may be incredibly unappetizing. An occupation that should never have been allowed in the first place was protracted until it became obviously unbearable for all concerned and then turned into a scuttle. The misery and shame of that history cannot be effaced by mere withdrawal or healed by the delivery of aid. It can only really be canceled by a good-faith agreement to create a Palestinian state.

Sad to say we have been down this road before with Israel. It does something wrong, countries and people object, and the pro-Israel crowd opens up the spin spigots, i.e., people who criticize Israel don’t understand that it is at war, that people who criticize are naïve leftists and terrorist travelers, or just plain old anti-Jewish bigots.  (more…)

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.