Robert McFarlane is a PSA Advisory Board member and served as President Reagan’s national security adviser. The original article appeared in The Washington Times.
The means of coercing Iran
How would the prospects for stability in the Middle East be affected if Iran were to succeed in its effort to become a nuclear power? In what ways might we expect Iran to behave differently?
The behavior of the Soviet Union in the late 1970s is instructive on this point. Despite signing the 1972 SALT I Agreement with the United States, which put restraints on strategic nuclear forces, the USSR soon began to violate several of its tenets and to establish an advantage in ICBM warheads. Before long it had established a comfortable margin of superiority over the United States. Then, secure against any plausible threat, it became more willing to take risks to expand its influence in various parts of the world. We recall well those years from ‘75 to ‘80 in which the Kremlin’s support for so-called wars of national liberation enabled them to exert a prevailing influence in country after country — Angola, then Ethiopia, South Yemen, Mozambique, Afghanistan (following an invasion by more than 100,000 troops), and ultimately, Nicaragua. Not until the early ‘80s, as the United States restored its will to oppose Soviet expansion, did the Kremlin change course.
In a world full of national security challenges, none demands more urgent focus than the conundrum that is Pakistan. For at least a decade, Pakistan has consistently been one of the top three national security worries for the United States with issues ranging from being a center of nuclear proliferation to its inability to prevent its territory from serving as a sanctuary for the Taliban/Al Qaeda alliance launching attacks against US troops in Afghanistan.
The recent killing of Osama Bin Ladin revealed at best, a Pakistani regime either unwilling or unable to be an effective ally in our ongoing battle against Al Qaeda. Troubling questions need to be answered. What did Pakistani officials know about Bin Ladin’s presence and when did they know it? How effectively have Pakistani national security officials used $20 Billion in US aid to combat Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Why is the main debate in Pakistan today focusing on the US “violation” of their sovereignty in attacking Bin Ladin instead of on their own failure to find him? Is Pakistan worthy of the designation of major non-NATO ally and the steady stream of financial assistance provided by the American people?
To answer these questions and fashion a long term and sustainable approach to relations with Pakistan, Congress should authorize and the President should support the creation of a “Commission on US-Pakistan Relations”. Precedents are available for quickly moving forward with just such an effort. (more…)
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…)
Over the past few days I have noticed another spike in media talking heads suggesting that the Obama administration will find it tough to roll back the Bush admin torture/interrogation policies. The case they are making is that it is these policies that have kept us safe over the last few years.
I wish that someone would respond by reminding these media types that last year the Washington Post ran an op-ed from a US interrogator in Iraq who made clear that when his team went against the grain and did not use torture they got the intel that led to the discovery of Zarqawi. He also notes that Abu Gharib and Gitmo caused foreign fighters to flood to Iraq and calculates the number of US troop casualties caused by this flocking of foreign fighters.
“I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
See here for more details from that piece. (more…)
The New America Foundation hosted a seminar last Friday on US counterterrorism policy. The seminar was jointly sponsored by the Better World Campaign, an advocacy branch of the United Nations Foundation, and the Center for Global Counterterrorism Cooperation, a nonpartisan research group working to improve internationally coordinated responses to evolving terrorist threats. Experts contracted by the two groups unveiled a paper they had produced, offering strategies for improving international cooperation on counterterrorism policy, which could enhance perceptions of the US abroad while promoting America’s own national security agenda.
In terms of proscriptive policy, the paper did not break new ground. Much of the advice echoes that of prominent US homeland security figures such as Michael Chertoff, as well as the leading presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain. The authors offered suggestions for ways in which the US could re-engage the UN and other multilateral bodies in creating and implementing counterterrorist policies, while providing sound justification for such re-engagement strategies. As a thesis, they offered the following:
“A robust military and effective covert intelligence gathering capabilities must remain at the cutting edge of our efforts to capture and defeat terrorists. Focusing on these measures alone, however, is not sufficient to address a multifaceted and adapting global threat. International cooperation on a broader range of approaches using a wide array of tools deserves greater attention and resources to improve collective efforts to address emerging threats. To protect America against another major terrorist attack, the new Administration will have to make strengthening international cooperation, including reasserting American leadership in the UN… a top priority.”
The suggestions offered by the group focused on creating human levers, strategically placed in the US government, to implement this ambitious campaign of international cooperation. Authors mentioned creating a white house “czar” for international counterterrorism policy, appointing a diplomat as the State Department’s Counterterrorism Coordinator, enduring ambassadorial level leadership on counterterrorism at the UN, and calling for the establishment of a global anti-terrorism organization.
These people, the authors argued, would be more effective, expedient instruments of change than using a resource-shifting strategy. Their reasoning is pragmatic, if pessimistic, given the difficulty (as 9/11 continues to recede in our minds) of convincing Congress to shift federal appropriations from well funded agencies with have neither the time nor manpower for such projects (such as DOD), towards more relevant would-be actors, such as the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau.
One cannot logically argue against the justification the authors provided. Multilateral bodies such as the UN could accomplish many things the US cannot, working unilaterally or bilaterally. For instance, the UN can implement legal frameworks for cooperative counterterrorism policy. It can enable technical cooperation between countries, working as both informational and operational hub. It can assist states in capacity building, and reduces the burden or onus for any one country in fighting the war on terror. Perhaps most importantly, it can transcend the political realities that ground the US time and again in multinational enterprises, by engaging with non-traditional allies.
All of the experts were well aware a new President will not necessarily find this proposal any more palatable than the current Administration. However, their point is that pessimism cannot keep us from lobbying for what we believe is the best course of US action. Their paper concludes: “While no American President should ever put alliances and international cooperation before the security of the American people, failure to provide the leadership needed today to strengthen counterterrorism alliances around the world…undermines the security of the United States.”
The upshot of Wednesday’s open letter from six PSA Advisory Board members and two other distinguished former officials to President Bush and Secretary Rice is to urge them to think hard if they’re going to bet the farm on Middle East peace at Annapolis next month. According to the authors, if the upcoming summit fails, there will be “devastating consequences” for the US and the region. In fact, Annapolis represents a dangerously big gamble on a very long shot for lasting peace.
The pressure on the Administration to call for a new round of top-level Middle East peace talks is substantial. A few of the main drivers are: (1) that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group correctly identified Israeli-Palestinian peace as a potential linchpin of a larger Middle East settlement, which could calm Iraq while effectively containing Iran; (2) that any serious conversation with Arab or Muslim leaders about the US role in the Middle East invariably includes a diatribe against our support for the “Israeli occupation;” (3) that the longer Palestinians live without a single, sovereign, responsible government, the more their political life comes to resemble Iraq’s civil war; and (4) that the Israelis themselves have for the first time put partitioning Jerusalem on the table.
Last week, the US House of Representatives voted to reconvene the Iraq Study Group to provide an independent assessment of the Iraq War in September. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) and passed by a vote of 355-69, was added to a $34.2 billion bill that funds State Department operations and foreign aid. With the Bush Administration already preparing the ground for when progress from the troop surge is smaller than expected, they should welcome the reconstituted ISG as a platform for launching many of the policy plans that were proposed back in December. The proposals include: changing the U.S. military role to training Iraq army troops, engaging Iran and Syria, addressing Arab-Israeli peace in a broader Middle East initiative, and pulling combat troops out by early 2008. These recommendations could be used to show that the administration is considering more than just throwing troops at the problem. It could also provide valuable political cover for Republican moderates who seem to be abandoning the President on his Iraq policy.
The ISG recommendation would be useful for many reasons. The first is that it has bipartisan support. When it was created, the Group was praised by both sides of the aisle. Two weeks ago, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House that would implement the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations which has 52 co-sponsors, almost split evenly between the two parties. If the Bush Administration were to embrace the ISG plan, it would certainly be met with praise on Capitol Hill, something that has been sorely lacking from our Iraq policy lately.
The recommendations made by the Iraq Study group also included a plan that most of the combat troops in Iraq could begin to leave by the end of March 2008. Obviously that date would have to be pushed back a little because of the delay in implementation, but it would provide the American public what it has wanted for months, a way to start bringing our soldiers home from Iraq. Almost 60 percent of Americans, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, want to start reducing the number of troops we have in Iraq. The ISG plan would allow that to happen, while also ramping up training for Iraqi military forces. Because of this, when American forces do withdraw from Iraq, the Iraqi forces would be stronger and better equipped to handle the ongoing security problems in the country. Therefore, the American public would get what they clamor for and it would avoid a calamitous security vacuum.
One of the more controversial recommendations from the ISG involved engaging Syria and Iran directly in talks about the security situation in Iraq. The Bush administration has begun talking to Iran and Syria, but must keep the channels of dialogue open and consistent. By engaging these two countries directly and most important, respectfully, we can encourage them to be responsible stake holders in the conflict. At the very least, through honest and open dialogue, we can better gauge what their expectations and interests are for Iraq and respond accordingly. Finally, constructive engagement on Iraq can be used as a foundation to begin discussions on other issues such as a freeze on nuclear activity in Iran or peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.
It is obvious that the troop surge has not lived up to the expectations of the Bush administration or the general public. President Bush is now seeing more and more members of his own party abandon him on Capitol Hill. He needs to do what he failed to do in January and accept the ISG recommendations. When the report was originally released, Bush remarked that he wanted Congress to work with his administration to find “common ground”. What he missed, however, was that the common ground has existed in the form of the Baker-Hamilton report. It is time for the President to embrace the ISG report and move this country’s Iraq policy forward in a way that both parties and the American public can support.
In a recent Foreign Policy article, “Why Hawks Win,” Nobel laureate Princeton Professor Daniel Kahneman and Harvard graduate student Jonathan Renshon argue that certain inherent human psychological traits bias us in favor of armed conflict and against negotiated compromise.
Among several tenets of social psychology, the authors cite the understanding of loss aversion imbedded in prospect theory, a formula pioneered by Prof. Kahneman and his fellow Nobel laureate, Stanford’s Amos Tversky. Prospect theory holds that human beings assign greater weight to losses than to numerically equal gains. So, on average, we will be more upset to lose ten dollars than we are happy to gain ten dollars. What’s more, we’re risk averse: We don’t like the possibility of losing and we’ll actually spend money to eliminate the risk—-often more than the estimated monetary value of the risk itself (for example we’ll pay $100 a year to insure $1000 against only a 5% chance of total loss).
Neither risk aversion nor loss aversion is a totally new insight, but the authors reconcile the two to suggest that risk may actually be preferable to certainty when the latter involves certain loss. In other words, rather than be sure to lose, say, $500, most people would prefer a scenario offering a 10% chance of losing nothing, even at the cost of a 90% chance of losing $600. Although a purely rational calculation shows the latter option to be more costly (an estimated loss of $540), loss aversion overcomes risk aversion to favor rolling the dice most of the time.
On the international political stage, Kahneman and Renshon argue, this bias causes decision makers to favor more costly military solutions over less costly diplomatic compromises. They cite the example of the Iraq “surge” as a case where a negotiated pull out would amount to an admission of loss, whereas the cost of sending in more troops, even when top generals doubt their ability to effect change, is offset by the slight chance of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The implication, of course, is that a purely rational calculation would put the cost of the surge well above that of a negotiated withdrawal.
Kahneman and Renshon cite two other broad social psychological theories to explain the human bias toward armed conflict, but I’ll offer just a few observations on their application of loss aversion to international relations (IR): (more…)
Hmmm, maybe Chuck Hagel should run for president. This weekend he said some rarely voiced truths that desperately need to be heard. Consider this excerpt from ABC’s This Week:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Iraq. You mentioned the House Democrats passed their bill. Their version of the Iraq war funding bill this week which imposed benchmarks on the Iraqi government but also set a deadline for the removal of all U.S. combat forces. Can you sign on to that? … So combining legislation, what kind of conditions are you going to try to impose?
HAGEL: It will be binding legislation, and it will be focused on deployment, redeployment, training, equipment. What we’re doing to our force structure in this country is disastrous.
We essentially are ruining our National Guard. We are destroying our Army. We’re destroying our Marine Corps.
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One thing that I find interesting watching the politics of the Iraq war is that the anger against this war is not nearly as real as it was before the war even started. If you look back to the moments before this war, there was an unprecedented activism around this war. As someone who marched (with Pro-America, Anti-War signs) in the demonstrations before the war, I can tell you that I have never seen such intense opposition to a policy in my life to date. And yet now that the war has gone far worse than even its critics worried, and the country has clearly united against stay the course, there are hardly any protests. Where did the anger go?
My question is one that I feel very personally because my own vociferous anger over this war has somehow declined even as the urgency for change has increased. I think for me a lot of it has to do with the fact that you feel like you are speaking to deaf ears. Even after our initial protests — and indeed even after the election and the Iraq study group — it is not clear that this democratically elected president really sees himself as much as a democratic leader as a stalwart commander-in-chief. He is “the decider” and somehow his strategy seems to work — tell people you’re the decider and they will believe you and quiet down.
Hopefully, if the President continues to sidestep the ISG report, he may be faced with protests like those that proceeded this war. Of course, these protests would recognize the bravery and courage of our troops. And that’s precisely why we would be out there — to say that their bravery and courage deserves a commander in chief at the top with a coherent plan for victory.
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.