Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years, and PSA Advisory Board member. This article was originally published in the Alexandria Echo Press
Commentary: Tired of budget shenanigans? Here’s an answer
With the formal release of President Obama’s budget, the pieces are finally in place for a reprise of the Washington drama we’ve all come to know. There will be high-stakes negotiations, lines in the sand, and enough intrigue to keep Beltway insiders riveted by every piece of breaking news.
The rest of us, though, are already worn out. In repeated conversations with ordinary people, I’ve been struck by the immense frustration I’ve encountered. They’re tired of brinksmanship and constant fiscal crisis. They’re fed up with accusations, spin, fear mongering, and intransigence. They’ve had it with a complex, opaque process when the outline of a solution — controlling spending and entitlements, raising revenues to meet the country’s obligations, and investing in economic growth — seems evident. Above all, they’re weary of a government that appears addicted to crisis. Why, they wonder, can we not pass a budget in an orderly, rational way?
Samuel R. Berger, former national security advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, is a PSA Advisory Board Member.
March 19, 2013|Foreign Policy
What Obama Must Do In Israel
This week, when Air Force One lands in Tel Aviv, the newly reelected American president and the Israeli prime minister with a new government will turn the page on a new chapter in their relationship. And they will discuss how to manage the strategic challenges we both face in ways that protect our respective interests.
Much has been made and said about the personal relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Some of it is even true: It has been far from tension-free, and is very much in need of a reboot. But I also think that too much has been said about it, as if the bilateral relationship could be reduced to their personal rapport — as if the strategic dimension of the two countries’ ties were either anecdotal or purely a function of personal chemistry.
Don’t look now, but foreign policy is back on this year’s election agenda.
While Election 2012 is still very much about the economy, foreign policy issues are increasingly making a comeback. And as the conversation focuses more on Iran, foreign policy is emerging not because of a lack of news about the economy, but rather because of the increasing connection between the two topics.
The tensions between the U.S. and Iran illustrate the linkage. In response to the European oil boycott, Iran recently announced that it was cutting off exports to Britain and France, which, in part, drove oil benchmarks to a nine-month high of nearly $123 a barrel. This, in turn, “could prove worrisome for U.S. drivers since many U.S. refineries use imported oil to produce gas”. Gas prices are already rising across the country – currently the national average is above $3.50 a gallon – and many worry that gas prices could rise beyond $4 a gallon by the summer. There are even concerns that gas could spike to $5 a gallon if tensions surge.
Col Bryan Bearden, USAF, is an instructor of National Security, Joint Warfare and Leadership and Ethics at the Marine Corps War College.
The great debt-ceiling fight of 2011 produced partisan politics at its finest. It also produced a congressional Super Committee tasked to identify $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by late 2011. With this daunting task at hand, where does one think the Super Committee will go pursue budget cuts? One answer is the U.S. government department that has a $680 billion budget. Thus, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has his top captains scouring the department for cuts – anywhere.
Rather than addressing the Department of Defense (DOD) economic condition with relatively small budget cuts as it has done over the past several years, the DOD and the nation would better be served by going after first order assumptions. Specifically, asking the hard question: Are the military Services really a joint force and, if so, can the DOD nix expensive duplication of the tools of warfare? Can Secretary Panetta go beyond merely cutting programs that are deemed outdated or ineffective, and look deeper into the fundamental questions about Service core competencies, missions and responsibilities?
Many commentators have recently noted the United States’ failure to anticipate the ongoing “Arab Spring” and, more importantly, seeming inability to shape events on the ground. The United States, critics claim, has lost much of its influence in the Middle East and been reduced to spectator status as events unfold.
While the validity of this criticism is debatable, there is no doubt that the United States will have to engage new and unfamiliar Middle Eastern actors. Secular political parties, Islamist groups, military leaders and technologically-savvy youth will all try to define their visions for the future and shape post-revolutionary states. The process is likely to be chaotic, even violent, with no guarantee that the end result will match U.S. interests.
Now is the time for the United States to assert its leadership. President Obama needs to take the initiative and harness the power of the entire free world. The United States, the European Union, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, India and all other democratic powers should quickly forge a common declaration to present to Arab revolutionaries. (more…)
“Virtually all serious observers of national security affairs now recognize the current structure of the national security system militates against unified problem-solving when the problem is a multiagency issue. The question is what to do about it.”
Counter-proliferation, counterinsurgency, food security, energy policy – all examples of complex and multifaceted issues that increasingly dominate America’s security priorities and starkly highlight the chronic limitations of the U.S. national security structure. The Project on National Security Reform and others stress the critical need for a Goldwater-Nichols Act of national security to take on the colossal and outdated bureaucracy built around the security challenges of the post WWII period. (more…)
Now that direct peace talks have officially collapsed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to take unilateral steps towards statehood, including appealing to the United Nations. His hope is to achieve independence by the end of 2011. So far, the United States has been wary of any unilateral actions, preferring a comprehensive peace deal. To help achieve a negotiated peace, however, President Obama must dramatically increase security assistance to the Palestinian Authority and exert significant pressure on the Netanyahu administration.
President Abbas is dangerously close to being labeled a failure. The Palestinian Authority has effectively lost control of the Gaza Strip since Hamas’ takeover in 2007. In the West Bank, Israel continues to build settlements on disputed lands and has nearly completed its security barrier. The Palestinian economy is weak and dependent on freedom of movement allowed by Israeli security forces. Peace negotiations, meanwhile, have little prospects for success given Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. At the age of 75 and with no clear successor, Abbas could use a unilateral declaration of independence as a means to overcome the current deadlock and establish a legacy as the father of a nation.
Yet President Abbas understands this approach is fraught with peril. Israel has made it clear that it will not recognize a Palestinian state without a negotiated peace deal. Should Abbas unilaterally declare independence, Israel has threatened to formally annex large parts of the West Bank and annul past peace agreements. Given its near complete control over the Palestinian economy, Israel could effectively prevent any independent state from becoming viable. Abbas knows unilateral independence will make him the father of a failed state and an alternative path for progress must be found. (more…)
Kay King, Vice President of Washington Initiatives at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently released a report entitled Congress and National Security arguing Congress’s increasing inability to effectively address major domestic and international challenges has severe ramifications for U.S. national security.
King points to contributing factors which have led to a decline in Congressional effectiveness, including amplified partisanship, abuse of rules and procedures, outdated committee structures, decreased expertise, and competition with domestic programs. She specifically addresses how the toxic partisan atmosphere has contributed significantly to Congress’s mixed performance on its national security responsibilities:
…the nation’s political landscape has been realigning since the 1970’s, ushering in deep partisanship, severe polarization, a combative 24/7 media, and diminished civility. Over time, this environment has given lawmakers greater incentive to advance personal and partisan agendas by any means, including the manipulation of congressional rules and procedures. It has politicized the national security arena that, while never immune to partisanship, more often than not used to bring out the “country first” instincts in lawmakers. It has also driven foreign policy and defense matters, short of crises, off the national agenda, marginalizing important issues like trade. Combining this increasingly toxic political climate with an institutional stalemate in the face of mounting global challenges and it is not surprising that Congress has struggled for years to play a consistent and constructive role as a partner to as well as check and balance on the executive branch on international issues.
King then goes on to recommend reform in five critical areas: prompt and inclusive action on budgets and legislation, timely and knowledgeable advice and consent on treaties and nominees, realistic and effective oversight, closing the expertise gap, and bolstering the congressional-executive branch partnership on national security policy.
The entire report can be found here.
Kenya captured headlines in December 2007 when the former beacon of stability and growth in East Africa descended into political and social chaos after elections heightened ethnic and tribal divisions. Yet despite over 1,300 deaths, 300,000 displaced, and fears of a second Rwanda, Kenya has pulled back from the brink with the creation of a fragile power-sharing government between the two major rival parties, facilitated by the collaborative efforts of multiple stakeholders locally, nationally, and internationally.
Today, Kenyans return to the polls for the first time since the post-election violence to usher in a new constitution and drastic political and judicial reforms. As Kenya takes a step in a positive direction, its trajectory from violence and complete institutional breakdown to slow but constructive change should be an opportunity for the international community and United States to evaluate the potential and limitations of preventive diplomacy as a concrete foreign policy tool.
International involvement in Kenya did not involve boots on the ground, but focused on rigorous negotiations and external economic and political pressure from international institutions and countries. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, the African Union, and others were all key in the process, threatening punitive measures and pushing both sides towards compromise. (more…)
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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…)
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.