Archive for the ‘Continuity in US foreign policy’ Category

“The result could be the end of the post-1945 Pax Americana”


Max Boot, echoing William Inboden, writes about the similarities between Trump and Obama, “It is hard to imagine two presidents more dissimilar than Barack Obama, the cerebral and elegant liberal law professor, and Donald Trump, the brash populist and reality TV star. But if Trump’s campaign pronouncements are anything to judge by, his foreign policy may be more in sync with President Obama’s than either man would care to admit. And not in a good way: Trump shares with Obama a desire to pull back from the world but lacks Obama’s calm, deliberative style and respect for international institutions. A Trump presidency is inherently unpredictable — no one knows how much of his overblown rhetoric to take seriously — but if he does even half the things he suggested on the campaign trail, the result could be the end of the post-1945 Pax Americana”.

Boot goes on to note “One of Trump’s top priorities is to improve relations with Vladimir Putin. In a post-election phone call, Trump told the Russian dictator that “he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.” Sound familiar? Obama spoke in virtually identical terms when he took office in 2009. Hence his failed “reset” of relations with Moscow. This was part of Obama’s larger rejection of what he saw as the moralizing, interventionist approach of the George W. Bush administration. (Obama also thought that Dmitry Medvedev, then Russia’s president, would be a more accommodating partner than Putin, who remained as prime minister.) During the 2008 campaign, Obama made a big point of saying that he would talk to any foreign leaders without any preconditions — a stance that his primary challenger, Hillary Clinton, criticized as naive. In office, Obama has re-established relations with the Castros in Cuba and Myanmar’s junta, reached a nuclear deal with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Iran, and did little to back up his calls for Bashar al-Assad to leave office. Instead of enforcing his “red line” with Syria, Obama agreed to a Russian-orchestrated deal under which Assad was supposed to give up his chemical weapons (a pledge the Syrian despot has not fully carried out). Obama has also refused to take any military action to stop Assad’s assaults on civilians, notwithstanding his creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board. Obama has often expressed his admiration for George H.W. Bush, and he has largely governed as an amoral realpolitiker who has put American interests, as he defines them, above the promotion of American values. Far from proselytizing for freedom and democracy, Obama has given a series of speeches in venues including Cairo and the Laotian capital of Vientiane — speeches that, to critics, have sounded like apologies for past American misconduct. (Obama’s aides have claimed he was merely “reckoning with history.”) When Iranian protesters took to the streets in the 2009 Green Revolution, Obama did not express support because he feared that doing so would interfere with his attempts to engage with the Iranian regime”.

Boot contends that “On only a few occasions has Obama allowed idealistic considerations to gain the upper hand in his cold-blooded foreign policy — and never for long. He did intervene in Libya to help topple Muammar al-Qaddafi — an intervention Trump supported at the time but now criticizes — but he did little to try to shape post-Qaddafi Libya and gives every indication of regretting his initial intervention. He also called for Hosni Mubarak to step down as Egypt’s ruler during the Arab Spring but did not oppose the subsequent military coup that ousted an elected Muslim Brotherhood government and installed the regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It is obvious that human rights promotion, while not dismissed entirely, has not been an animating principle of the president’s foreign policy. More broadly, Obama has given every indication that he does not see America as an exemplar but rather a deeply flawed nation whose forays abroad often have harmful consequences. In a 2009 press conference, Obama dismissed the idea that America is “uniquely qualified to lead the world,” saying, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” That doesn’t mean that Obama hates America, as the cruder right-wing attacks have had it. In the very same press conference, he went on to say: “Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.” Thus Obama sees the United States as imperfect but virtuous as long as it acts in concert with others — something that it has not always done”.

The piece argues that “Trump, who has a far more jaundiced view of America than Obama does. In a revealing July 20 interview with the New York Times, Trump dismissed concerns about the massive violations of civil liberties being committed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime in Turkey: “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.” In a similar vein, Trump dismissed concerns that Putin kills journalists: “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too.” This is the kind of moral relativism that Republicans once denounced but now accept from the president-elect. As with Obama, Trump’s refusal to see America as a country with a mission leads him to look askance upon interventions abroad. Like Obama, he eschews nation-building and expresses a preference to work with foreign rulers regardless of their lack of democratic legitimacy. Trump reiterated to the Wall Street Journal after his election that he plans to end support for Syrian rebels and align with Russia in Syria: “My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS.” And never mind that Iran, Russia, and Assad are all committing war crimes. Trump’s approach is quite different from what Clinton advocated during the campaign; she called for no-fly zones and safe zones. But it’s not so different from Obama’s current policy, which provides a modicum of aid to the Syrian rebels but tacitly concedes that Assad will stay in power”.

It concludes “This is not to suggest that Trump’s worldview is identical to Obama’s. One of their big divisions is over international institutions. Obama negotiated an international accord to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases; Trump has said global warming is a Chinese hoax and called for pulling out of the Paris agreement. Obama negotiated a nuclear accord with Iran; Trump promises to renegotiate it, calling it a “disgraceful deal” and an “embarrassment to our country.” Obama is a free-trader who negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); Trump is a protectionist who vows to withdraw from the TPP, rip up NAFTA, and impose tariffs. Obama has been supportive of NATO, working to expand the forces that the alliance deploys in Eastern Europe and the Baltics to guard against Russian aggression; Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and questioned the need to station U.S. troops to defend countries that don’t pay enough for the privilege. In sum, Obama is a believer in international organizations and international law; Trump is not. It is hard to imagine Trump saying, as Obama did: “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” In turn, it is hard to imagine Obama ever threatening to bomb the “shit” out of another country, to steal its oil, or to torture detainees — all of which would constitute war crimes”.

He ends “In the terms coined by Walter Russell Mead, Obama is a Jeffersonian, while Trump is a Jacksonian: The former believes that the United States should perfect its own democracy and go “not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” whereas the latter believes that “the United States should not seek out foreign quarrels” but that it should clobber anyone who messes with it. What unites Jeffersonians and Jacksonians, in spite of their substantial differences, is that both support quasi-isolationism — or, if you prefer, noninterventionism — unless severely provoked. Obama has been intent on pulling the United States back from the Middle East. The result of his withdrawal of troops from Iraq and his failure to get more actively involved in ending the Syrian civil war has been to create a vacuum of power that has been filled by the likes of the Islamic State and Hezbollah. Undaunted, Trump has said he wants not only to continue the pullback from the Middle East (he wants to subcontract American policy in Syria to Putin) but also to retreat from Europe and East Asia. He has suggested that he may lift sanctions on Russia and pull U.S. troops out of countries (from Germany to Japan) if he feels they are not paying enough for American protection. It is quite possible, then, that Trump’s foreign policy would represent an intensification rather than a repudiation of Obama’s “lead from behind” approach. American power survived eight years of an Obama presidency, albeit in diminished form. If the president-elect governs the way he campaigned (which, admittedly, is not necessarily a safe assumption), there is good cause to wonder whether U.S. ascendancy will survive four to eight years of Trumpism. The post-American age may be arriving sooner than imagined, ushered in by a president with an “America First” foreign policy”.


“Trump and Obama share much more than either would care to admit”


William Inboden writes that Trump’s “foreign policy” mirrors that of President Obama.

He opens, “One of the enduring fascinations of American history is how a presidential candidate can campaign as a fierce critic of his predecessor, only then to embrace the main features of his predecessor’s foreign policy once in office. Such was the case with Eisenhower’s adoption of Truman’s Cold War strategic framework, or how President Obama adopted most of George W. Bush’s counterterrorism architecture. With Donald Trump’s recent elaboration of his beliefs on national security policy before the Washington Post editorial board, the substantive similarities between his views and Obama’s are inescapable”.

Inboden goes on to write “Before Trump gave his interview, I made some similar, admittedly provocative, points about these echoes of Obama when speaking last week on a panel at last week’s International Studies Association conference. Reading the transcript of Trump’s discussion with the Post editors alongside President Obama’s much-noted recent interview with the Atlantic reveals some markedly similar convictions and policy preferences between them”.

Inboden goes on to note that despite obvious differences in tone and style, there are “many similar beliefs and positions that Trump and Obama both hold are bracing. Consider: Both are very leery of American involvement in the Syrian civil war, or the Middle East more broadly; Both see Russia as an important partner in the fight against the Islamic State and in restoring regional order in the Middle East, and neither favours taking strong measures against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; Both have called for more even-handedness and balance by the United States on Israeli-Palestinian matters, instead of America’s traditional full-throated support for Israel; Both downplay the promotion of democracy and human rights; Both are skeptical of many traditional U.S. allies and alliances, and are very explicit in demanding that U.S. allies do much more burden-sharing”.

Inboden contends that “Both are less enthusiastic about free trade then their White House predecessors of both parties (admittedly, Obama came around to promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but this was only after he had earlier expressed significant reservations about it, voiced skepticism about NAFTA, and delayed and renegotiated the FTAs with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama); Both support the diplomatic and economic opening to Cuba; Both are very skeptical of stability operations and nation-building efforts. In his May 2012 declaration that the “goal that I set — to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild — is within reach,” and announcement of America’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Obama called instead to “focus on nation building here at home.” Trump repeated Obama’s call almost verbatim, which in Trump-speak was rendered as “I don’t think we should be nation building anymore…I just think we have to rebuild our country.” Obama supporters and Trump supporters, who otherwise share almost nothing except mutual disdain, will no doubt not welcome this analysis. But in national security policy, substance matters more than style, and on substance Trump and Obama share much more than either would care to admit. Indeed, for all of their other differences and reciprocal dislike of each other, the candidate who is most aligned with President Obama’s foreign policy, and who as president would be most likely to continue the main outlines of the Obama Doctrine, is Donald Trump”.

Cruz misreads Reagan


A report examines the “strategy” of Ted Cruz (R-TX), “Tuesday evening’s GOP debate witnessed a sharp exchange between candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz on U.S. policy toward dictatorships in the Middle East and North Africa. Where Rubio restated his support for regime change in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, Cruz suggested leaving anti-Islamist dictators well alone. “We need to learn from history,” said Cruz, “If we topple Assad, the result will be ISIS will take over Syria, and it will worsen U.S. national security interests. And … instead of being a Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter … we ought to hunt down our enemies and kill ISIS rather than creating opportunities for ISIS to take control of new countries.” The discussion did nothing to resolve what has become a significant fault line over foreign policy within the Republican Party”.

The article continues “Indeed, this wasn’t the first time Cruz has outlined his vision of an “America First” strategy. His debate remarks echoed the foreign policy speech he delivered at the Heritage Foundation on Dec. 10 — a speech that offers the most complete portrait to date of Cruz’s strategic worldview and, as such, deserves more scrutiny than it has received. True to his style in domestic politics, Cruz’s foreign policy rhetoric seems at first glance to belong to a mainstream tradition, only to reveal political intentions that, in the context of American history, are more marginal and troubling”.

Yet it should be noted that many of the same criticisms were levelled at President Bush who was firmly within the mainstream of the US foreign policy tradition. After the election, in the unlikely event if there is a President Cruz, the actions of a Cruz administration will be within the confines foreign policy tradition of the US.

The writer adds “To Cruz’s audience, Kirkpatrick’s credentials as a Reaganite conservative are impeccable. Kirkpatrick’s most famous work is her 1979 Commentary article, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” which Cruz cited in his Heritage Foundation speech. It offers a bleak analysis of world affairs and of human nature. It takes issue with the Enlightenment notion that history is heading in the direction of “reason, science, education, and progress,” and chides those naïve Americans, such as Jimmy Carter, who subscribe to the fanciful “doctrine of modernization” that “predicts progress (in the form of modernization for all societies) and a happy ending (in the form of a world community of developed, autonomous nations).” History has no direction, cautions Kirkpatrick, and the United States needs to focus less on perfecting imperfect but reliable allies (as it had disastrously attempted to do with Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran and Anastasio Somoza García of Nicaragua) and more on the global threat posed by communism”.

The author contends that “There are three reasons why Cruz might have identified Kirkpatrick as a lodestar. First, Kirkpatrick, the first woman to ever to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was a significant influence on the foreign policies of President Reagan — particularly in his support for brutal anti-communist military dictatorships in Latin America — and this connection, in the eyes of today’s Republican Party, automatically confers privileged status. For anyone with serious ambitions in either major party, indeed, invoking Reagan’s wisdom is like pinning an American flag badge to your lapel — you do it without a second thought. Second, Kirkpatrick was inspired to write the article by the supposed failings of President Jimmy Carter, whom she lambasted in the article as weak-willed and sanctimonious, which makes for a nice analogical fit — scratch Carter and replace with Obama. The third reason more directly concerns the substance of Kirkpatrick’s views. Cruz seems to believe Kirkpatrick’s clear-eyed realism offers guidance for the troubles facing the United States today. Rather than take morally charged leaps into the unknown (read: the Iraq War or Libyan War), Cruz is suggesting we follow Kirkpatrick’s advice in supporting unpleasant “authoritarian” leaders. With more than a few intellectual contortions, Kirkpatrick’s references to Somoza and the Shah could be scratched and replaced with Bashar al-Assad and Muammar al-Qaddafi”.

The writer goes on to argue “In the sum, the core of Cruz’s message is this: I’m a literate, tough-minded heir to Ronald Reagan and I see the world as it is. But Cruz’s preferred self-image relies on a highly distorted reflection. Begin with the fact that Reagan was highly selective in how he applied Kirkpatrick’s ideas. In Guatemala and El Salvador, for example, the administration supported murderous right-wing, but reliably anti-communist, dictatorships perpetrating awful crimes against their people. (Guatemala’s then leader, Efraín Ríos Montt, is to be retried for genocide in January.) But in the Philippines, Reagan eventually came round to the idea of pressuring the autocratic Ferdinand Marcos to step down from power, repudiating a key element of Kirkpatrick’s thesis. Indeed, Marcos once offered an after-dinner toast to Kirkpatrick that quoted verbatim from “Dictatorships and Double Standards” — for all the good it did him”.

Controversially he writes “Kirkpatrick’s ideas remain far from the mainstream of either political party in the United States. She was a civilisational pessimist who wanted her nation to ruthlessly follow its core interests, not act upon universal values. In this sense, she shared a similarity with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose support for anti-communist strongmen mirrored her own”.

This is simply not true. The Hamiltonian and Jacksonian schools both adhere to an intensely realist view of the world with power and interests key to US actions. Of course that is not to say these are the only schools of the tradition. Others, notably the Wilsonian school can also be incorporated into an administration’s foreign policy with Bush 41, 43 and Clinton all being recent examples of this mix.

The author adds correctly, “Reagan accomplished something in his second term that Kirkpatrick thought impossible: He formed a close working relationship with a Marxist-Leninist who implemented policies — Glasnost and Perestroika — that served to mellow a “radical totalitarian” regime. Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union, was the very thing that Kirkpatrick’s theory held as implausible. When Cruz said in his speech, “we could do worse, in my opinion, than adopting the Reagan-Kirkpatrick philosophy today,” he neglected to note the massive gulf that separated the two”.

He ends “After all, Syrians struggling to survive a hellish civil war in which Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State are the principal antagonists do not “learn to cope … in the miserable roles they are destined to fill.” They flee and they die. And contrary to Kirkpatrick’s world-weary claim, places like Syria, whatever else is true about them, most certainly “create refugees.”

Obama tries to close Gitmo unilaterally


A piece from Foreign Policy argues that the closure of Gitmo will stretch presidential power, “In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama accused President George W. Bush’s administration of a “clear abuse of power” for claiming sweeping authority for the executive branch to effectively ignore Congress. Obama promised he would be a different kind of president, one who would not copy his predecessor’s use of executive orders to impose by fiat what he could not do legislatively or copy Bush’s frequent signing of statements to implement only the parts of different bills that he wanted to. But in his final 14 months as president, Obama is weighing just those types of unilateral steps to realize his long-sought goal of closing the Guantánamo Bay prison, which would mean flying detainees to military or civilian prisons in the continental United States. The president would make the move even though Congress has passed an array of bills over the past seven years that expressly forbid him to transfer detainees from the detention center to the American mainland”.

The report goes on to make the point “The White House is expected to unveil its long-delayed plan to close the Guantánamo prison on Friday, a package that will include options for transferring the remaining detainees to high-security prisons in Colorado, Kansas, or South Carolina and an assessments of the related costs and logistics. With Congress firmly opposed to closing the prison, a unilateral move by Obama offers the only realistic way for him to shutter the controversial facility before his term expires. But it would set up the biggest test yet of his view of presidential authority, which took a hit on Monday when a federal appeals court blocked executive orders designed to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation”.

The piece notes “It would also pose a serious political threat to Obama and his fellow Democrats less than a year before Americans go to the polls. Unlike executive action on immigration reform or gun control, there is little public enthusiasm for moving detainees from the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to a prison in an American state. A unilateral order by Obama would inflame the political right and spark a potentially damaging confrontation with the Republican majority in Congress. Even lawmakers in Obama’s own party are wary of a decision that could undermine Congress’s role as a check on presidential power”.

Despite political sense and military advice, “Obama, however, has long held a deep personal conviction on the issue, dating back to his days as a senator. He has argued repeatedly that the prison at Guantánamo provides fodder for extremist propaganda, damages relations with allies, and violates America’s values. His view was echoed by Bush himself in his second term, who said he wanted to close the prison, though he never took steps to shutter the facility. Since Obama took office, the administration has gradually cut the number of detainees by more than half, from 242 to 112. Of those, 53 are cleared to be transferred to other countries, while the rest are either due to be tried before military commissions or held indefinitely without charge. With the Pentagon dragging its feet on shifting detainees to foreign nations, there is no chance the 53 men will be out of Guantánamo when Obama’s term ends in 2017″.

Pointedly “The White House says it will continue to seek a deal with Congress, but spokesman Josh Earnest has refused to rule out executive action to resolve the future of the prison. “I certainly wouldn’t take off the table the ability of the president to use whatever authority is available to him to try to move closer to accomplishing this goal,” he told reporters last week. Current and former officials acknowledge that administration lawyers have long discussed the constitutional grounds for such executive action on Guantánamo. If Obama goes ahead with the unilateral move, two officials told Foreign Policy that it would be months before any detainees were physically moved out of Cuba”.

The report mentions that “Obama’s use of executive authority on Guantánamo wouldn’t in itself be a new thing; the president has increasingly tried to enact his agenda through executive orders after growing frustrated with congressional inaction. In the case of immigration, climate change, and gun control, Obama issued orders after citing Congress’s failure to pass proposed legislation. But on Guantánamo, Obama would be going a step further, overriding laws that specifically bar him from transferring detainees from Guantánamo”.

Interestingly the article notes that “Experts are divided over whether Obama actually has the constitutional authority to take action on Guantánamo. Opponents can point to a 2009 opinion by Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who wrote that “to the extent Congress wants to place judicially enforceable restrictions on Executive transfers of Guantanamo or other wartime detainees, it has that power.” But some legal scholars, including Ingrid Wuerth, a professor of law at Vanderbilt University, take a broader view of presidential authority when it comes to detainees”.

The piece mentions that “Congressional Republicans and other opponents of housing detainees on the U.S. mainland could try to fight the executive order in the courts, which was the tactic used against Obama’s action on immigration. But it’s unclear what group or individual would meet the legal criteria for filing a lawsuit, as they would have to argue they were directly injured by the executive action, experts said. In the fight over immigration, the case was brought by Texas and 25 other states. Sen. John McCain, a Republican who has favored closing the prison, believes the president has no authority to shut down the facility unilaterally, his office said. Asked by reporters how Congress would respond to an executive order, McCain said: “Go to court. All we can do is go to court.” A group that has campaigned against the transfer of Guantánamo detainees, 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, hinted at a possible legal response if the administration tried to take action. Asked if it would file a lawsuit to block a possible executive order, the group’s co-founder, Tim Sumner, told FP: “We will not sit by idly if the administration attempts to fulfill a foolish campaign promise. For now, that is all we will say.”

Crucially the piece ends “The legal question of whether Congress can specify — through laws authorizing government spending — where detainees can be held by the U.S. military is largely unchartered legal territory, experts said. Instead of the courts, the battle over Guantánamo and presidential authority might end up playing out in the political arena, with Congress leveraging the power of the purse to try to force the White House to back off. A trio of Republican lawmakers, Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), from the three states with prisons assessed by the Pentagon as possible sites to transfer the detainees, has vowed to head off any unilateral move by the administration”.

Importantly the article notes that “To limit the political backlash over Guantánamo’s closure during the 2016 presidential campaign, Obama could wait to move the detainees out of the base in Cuba until after the November election, one former Pentagon official said. Democratic candidates running for office would not be forced to take a stand on the issue. Under that scenario, Obama would issue an executive order that would move the detainees from the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo to a base in the United States, with only American military personnel involved in the transfer. The detainees would be held at a military prison, such as the facilities at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas or in Charleston, South Carolina. Upon arriving on the mainland, the detainees would likely have more success arguing for their right to a speedy trial under U.S. law, as they would no longer dwell in the legal limbo associated with Guantánamo, some experts said. At that point, with pending cases from dozens of detainees in federal courts, rescinding the executive order could become extremely difficult, particularly if state agencies had no role or jurisdiction over an action handled exclusively by the U.S. military, officials said”.

The piece concludes “As president, Obama’s signing statements and policies have sometimes resembled Bush’s approach to presidential power relative to Congress. He has invoked commander-in-chief authorities to justify the widespread use of lethal drone strikes abroad and the secrecy surrounding them, despite criticism that in many cases the individuals targeted did not represent an “imminent threat” to the United States. By attempting to put the Guantánamo prison to rest, Obama would be reinforcing an unintended legacy of his presidency — expanding the boundaries of presidential power. During Obama’s first term in office, administration officials debated whether the president had the authority to override legislation regarding the prosecution of Guantánamo detainees in civilian federal courts in the United States, according to a new book by New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency”.

2016, a foreign policy election?


An interesting article has suggested that the ever larger number of GOP presidential candidates will not win the election by being too hawkish.

The piece opens “Jeb Bush is finally throwing his hat in the GOP race today, looking to win over American voters with a muscular foreign-policy agenda that contrasts with President Barack Obama’s hesitant engagement. Indeed, Republicans are salivating at polls indicating Americans may be recovering from the shadow the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cast over activist engagement by Washington in the world. The GOP senses an opening to regain foreign policy as a solid conservative electoral advantage, and a wedge issue for the upcoming presidential contest. Republican candidates for the party’s presidential nomination are out-hawking each other on the stump as the campaign gets underway: With the exception of Rand Paul, all the Republican candidates would repudiate the Iranian nuclear deal, would counter Russian aggression more forcefully, give more support to Israel, and exterminate the Islamic State. And even Rand Paul has been trying to stake out less isolationist ground”.

As has been stated here before, the fundamentals of US foreign policy do not change. Even President Obama, who has tested this to its limits, has in some ways carried on from President Bush. Others have noted that had Romney won the 2012 election his foreign policy would be little different in reality. The same can be said for the current GOP contenders. Aside from the lunatic fringe that is Rand Paul, most will talk tough but their actions on the Iran deal will almost certainly change. There is some reason to believe that things will change in Ukraine or Syria but even then there is a strong chance that any new administration might decide it is not worth it and continue more or less with Obama’s strategy, however flawed.

The author goes on to argue that “But there are several reasons to think Republicans are overstating the strength of foreign policy as a winning electoral issue in 2016. But first, here are some reasons Republicans justifiably think foreign policy could be a political winner. Some 55 percent of Americans believe President Barack Obama isn’t tough enough on foreign policy; a whopping 9 in 10 Republicans think so. Obama’s anguished consideration of whether to enforce his red line against Syria’s use of chemical weapons was deeply unpopular. While the difficulties associated with sustaining public support for long and inconclusive wars — even when they are well-run and make progress — are always present in democratic societies, about half of Americans consider it a mistake to have withdrawn all our troops from Iraq, and 66 percent support sending more American troops to train and advise the Iraqi military”.

The writer adds “It does not appear Americans avert their eyes from emergent threats: 67 percent view the Islamic State as the major threat to the United States. Americans are cleareyed about the changing nature of Russia, too: Concern about Vladimir Putin’s intentions has increased six-fold since 2011. And Americans are willing to put their country on the line for others: Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 6 in 10 Americans now believe Ukraine should become a member of NATO — and nearly the same proportion believe the United States should use military force to defend its NATO allies, a significantly higher proportion than in other NATO countries”.

Interestingly he argues “There are reasons, however, to doubt that dissatisfaction with the president’s hesitant policies will translate into political advantage for Republicans in 2016. First, the level of dissatisfaction with the president’s foreign policy isn’t markedly increasing: It was at 54 percent seven months ago. The good news for Republicans is that’s a big number; the bad news is that it isn’t getting bigger. And Americans are still wary about getting too involved overseas; only 31 percent believe the United States does too little to solve the world’s problems. While that’s down from 51 percent last fall, it has stabilized, so a full third of Americans are unlikely to support greater activism”.

Thankfully he notes that “some of the policies Republican presidential candidates are hitting hardest actually have pretty solid public support. More Americans approve than disapprove of the Iranian nuclear deal; yet every Republican candidate has asserted they will repudiate the agreement. And 63 percent of Americans support stronger ties to Cuba, which again puts Republican candidates at odds with public attitudes. Third, strong negative attitudes persist about the Iraq War, and Republicans own that one. Fifty-nine percent of Americans think the war in Iraq was a mistake, and 55 percent oppose putting ground troops in Iraq. Meanwhile, half of Americans express concern that the United States could get too involved in the Middle East, which suggests there is still concern about the practicality of conservative solutions. Conservatives will need to show they have strategies that are achievable — at costs the American people judge commensurate with the gains”.

Crucially he writes “Perhaps most importantly, Republican candidates have not yet outlined a strategy for dealing with the national security problems on which they are making political hay. Many candidates are allowing themselves to be drawn into debating troop levels for Iraq without explaining either the political objective that military force would achieve, the many non-military elements necessary for any strategy to succeed, or where this problem should fit in our national priorities. Republicans rightly criticize Obama for not having a strategy — but that also means the public will rightly expect them to have one. Criticizing the president’s failures makes for good stump speeches now, but not for long — and Reagan-esque platitudes about strong American leadership will not be enough”.

He ends “Finally, there is the broader question of whether the American public will actually cast its ballots on the basis of foreign policy. Traditionally, foreign policy tends to be a gateway issue: Presidential aspirants need to win the public’s trust as a credible, potential commander in chief. Having satisfied that standard, the public tends to vote on domestic issues. Republicans are more likely to pick up votes with their economic programs than foreign policy, even in 2016. On current form, Republican presidential candidates look to be overstating foreign policy and understating how critical voters are likely to be of activist foreign policy as an electoral draw for 2016”.


Jeb, just like George?


A piece in Foreign Policy compares Jeb Bush campaign for president to that of his brother.

He opens, “Jeb Bush knows exactly what to say about President Barack Obama, who he derides as weak when it comes to the Islamic State, naive when it comes to Vladimir Putin, and incompetent when it comes to Ebola. Figuring out what to say about Obama’s predecessor, Bush’s older brother George, will be a lot more complicated. Surprising virtually no one from either party, Bush, a popular former governor of Florida, announced on Facebook Tuesday that he would ‘actively explore’ a campaign for president”.

He goes on to write that “If Bush and Clinton wind up facing off in 2016, the race will be portrayed as a clash of dynasties, with the brother of one president fighting the wife of another”.

He adds that the crucial point however is that Clinton left office at a time of peace. He adds that “Clinton would need to figure out how to defend or distance herself from President Barack Obama, not from her husband”.

Yet this is only partially true. It was Clinton who reregulated much of the economic system that played a fundamental part in the financial crisis that still haunts the world today, he left Haiti in a mess and failed to do anything about Islamist terrorism. This obviously overlooks the mass murder he allowed happen in Rwanda which the author glosses over.

The piece continues turning to the GOP, “Jeb Bush, by contrast, would need to grapple with the legacy of his older brother’s record, since the decisions George W. Bush made in office — invading Iraq, signing off on the CIA’s use of torture, failing to grasp the true nature of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his willingness to use force against his neighbors — are still reverberating more than six years after he left office, with many Republicans increasingly questioning those choices. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, for instance, is polling well largely because GOP voters support his views on keeping the U.S. from getting enmeshed in new foreign conflicts abroad”.

This is more partisan than anything else. It selectively takes the most divisive parts of the legacy of President Bush and at the same time ignores that issues that would beset a Clinton campaign. He writes  that Jeb would “grapple with the legacy of his older brother” but that that logic George HW Bush would grapple with the legacy of his father, Senator Prescott Bush.  Secondly, Iraq works both ways, President Clinton did nothing about al-Qaeda during his time in office and while President Bush may have dealt with terrorism too much, Clinton did little or nothing on the issue until history again came knocking in 2001. On the specific issue of torture that has been roundly condemned Clinton was part of an administration that promised to close the detention centre in Cuba but for unclear reasons it remains open. This argument also ignores the positive legacy of President Bush. Why is a legacy only a bad thing? Would Jeb not reap the rewards, by this logic, of the humanitarian legacy of his brother? It is Rand Paul that poses the greatest threat to America rather than a Bush or Clinton presidency. It should come as no surprise the Paul’s siren call is popular on foreign policy but when the world comes knocking it is certain Paul would be forced to deal with reality.

He goes on to make the argument that “Bush is playing it safe. When it comes to the Islamic State, for instance, Bush has blasted Obama’s strategy for combating the militants without saying what he would do differently — or weighing in on the hot-button debate over whether to send in American ground troops. He has yet to weigh in the torture report or specify what he do to prevent Putin from further meddling in eastern Ukraine. There are unpredictable issues that are certain to pop up and force Bush to talk about his brother’s position and articulate his own. Take the Obama administration’s surprise deal Wednesday to free former USAID contractor Alan Gross in exchange for several Cuban intelligence agents held in the U.S. since 2001. George W. Bush drew a firm line with Cuba, introducing new restrictions on travel and cash transfers”.

Interestingly he notes “Jeb Bush’s origin story is well known. A political natural known for intellect, calm demeanor, and long record of public service, Jeb was the one his parents always thought would run for president. Bush had spent extensive time abroad, living in Venezuela from 1977 to 1979, and making multiple visits to Israel, including a private trip with his immediate family in 2007. Bush’s wife is Mexican, and he speaks fluent Spanish, both traits likely to appeal to at least portions of the Hispanic community”.

He goes on to write “Jeb Bush would first to have to get his party’s nomination, no easy task given that his foreign policy views are squarely in the mainstream, establishment wing of the party at a time when much of the GOP base seems more excited by Paul and Texas Republican Ted Cruz, who has called for a cautious approach to fighting the Islamic State and staked out a more hard-line position on illegal immigration than the former Florida governor. Bush began articulating his foreign policy vision this spring, one premised on the idea that Obama is a weak president willing to shirk America’s traditional responsibilities as a superpower”.

Naturally, Jeb would not radically re-alter US foreign policy but would stay within the mainstream of the tradition. He would, if he were elected, keep within this tradition but would probably overturn some of the specific policies of President Obama on Iraq/Syria.

The writer goes on to mention “Bush offered his most expansive and direct attack on the Obama administration during a wide-ranging interview in September with the Washington Post. While Bush supported Obama’s decision this year to intensify the campaign against the Islamic State (IS), he took issue with Obama’s alleged failure to bring Europe fully into the fight, an allusion to the fact that the vast bulk of Western airstrikes against the militants in Iraq and Syria have been carried out by the U.S. Like many, Bush also used the hysteria over Ebola’s spread to the United States to slam the president’s response in October”.

He ends “As the rate heats up, Jeb Bush may benefit from one unexpected dynamic: a continued improvement in public views of his brother, who left office in 2008 with a 35 percent approval rating. According to a Gallup poll released Monday, 49 percent of Americans now have a favorable image of him, versus 46 percent with an unfavorable view. The 49 percent includes 84 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of Democrats; both of those figures are up by more than 10 points since 2009. This marks the first time since 2005 that a majority of Americans, albeit a slim one, support the former president. That suggests the Bush name may not be the blessing it once was, but it may not be quite as much of a curse either”.

Hillary on Bill and Barack


In an interesting article Dr Stephen Walt argues that Hillary Clinton has criticised both Obama and her husband’s foreign policy, “the surprising thing about Hillary Clinton’s lengthy interview with the Atlantic was not her subtle dissing of the president whom she served for four years. If you’ve been watching her for the past 20 years, her willingness to shape-shift when needed is not news. Nor was it surprising that she took decidedly hawkish positions on some big issues, as that mindset has been her calling card ever since she started running for office herself”.

Walt’s position on the current recent events however mean that anyone who advocates for anything less than isolationism is a “hawk“.

He does make the interesting point that “the surprising — even ironic — aspect of the interview was that Hillary was also implicitly dissing the basic approach to foreign policy that her own husband had followed in his eight years as president. While Clinton was careful to praise Obama’s thoughtfulness and raw smarts, her overall message was that he has been too cautious in using American power to address various problems. As she notes at one point, subtly positioning herself between Obama and George W. Bush: ‘when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward.’ Yet if we compare Barack Obama’s basic approach to foreign policy with Bill Clinton’s, the similarities are in fact striking. Both Obama and Clinton were committed to maintaining U.S. ‘global leadership.’ Both favoured spreading democracy where possible, but turned a blind eye toward various dictatorships when circumstances seemed to require it. Both sought to engage a rising China, while hedging against a future rivalry. (Obama did more of the latter, of course, because there is now more to hedge against). Both tried to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but both failed miserably because they refused to take on Israel’s supporters at home. Both presidents made on-again, off-again efforts to improve U.S. relations with Iran”.

Walt goes on with the comparison but he writes “most importantly, both Clinton and Obama were highly risk-averse regarding the use of American military power. Clinton pulled U.S. forces out of Somalia after the infamous ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident, and did not try to halt the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He sent U.S. peacekeepers into the Balkans with great reluctance, and declined to use ground troopsduring the 1999 war in Kosovo. Instead, Clinton preferred to use air power and/or economic sanctions, whether he was sending cruise missiles into Sudan or Afghanistan or having the Air Force patrol ‘no-fly zones’ and conducting occasional punitive raids in Iraq. Both Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were fond of describing the United States as the ‘indispensable nation,’ but they ran U.S. foreign policy in as cheap and risk-free a manner as possible”.

Walt adds “Ditto Barack Obama. Like Clinton, a defining feature of Obama’s foreign policy has been a reluctance to commit ground troops or take on ambitious new social engineering projects, especially in the Arab and Islamic world. The sole exception was the 2009 Afghan surge, but even that dubious move was heavily circumscribed and its notable lack of success may have taught the neophyte president a lesson. Since then, he’s used drones, Special Forces, and airpower in a surprising number of places, but has mostly kept U.S. boots off the ground”.

Yet the problem is that it is Obama’s belated realisation that action in Syria should that he announced should have been taken. Now Iraq and the rest of the Middle East is feeling the consequences of his lack of action and “foreign policy on the cheap”.

Walt makes the remark that “Viewed in this light, the real aberration is not Obama but rather George W. Bush, especially during his first term. Thrown for a loop by 9/11 and under the spell of Dick Cheney and the neocons, Bush rashly decided on a bold and risky campaign to transform the Middle East at the point of a gun. It was a fool’s errand, as we now know, and a dramatic departure from the caution that characterized the Clinton and Obama presidencies”.

This reading is only correct if one ignores the 11th September attacks and their gravity both for  US security and the general significance for the world in general. At the same time Walt is only correct if he ignores the long line of continuity between the actions of all the post Cold War presidents, as Walt himself admits “as the Obama administration gets ready for its final lap, what is most striking is the continuity in America’s basic approach to the world over the past twenty years (to repeat: it is the period 2001-2004 that is the real outlier). Somehow, ‘change you can believe in’ has become ‘change you can barely detect.’ No matter how hard he tries, Obama can’t seem to get out of the Middle East maelstrom”.

He concludes, “To return to former Secretary of State Clinton’s recent interview: it’s clear many readers were alarmed by the hawkish views she expressed on certain issues and some now fear that her election in 2016 would bring neoconservatism back in from the cold. Although the endorsement she received from the Weekly Standard should worry her (seriously, how many disastrous policies has one magazine managed to endorse over the years?) I’m not actually that concerned. For if one reads the interview carefully (and not just interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg’s hawkish gloss), it’s clear Clinton understands George W. Bush blew it big-time, and that repeating his mistakes will doom the next president as well. What’s less clear is why she didn’t openly embrace the more prudent policies that both her husband and her former boss championed. My guess: she was just reacting to the president’s favorability ratings and pandering to the usual suspects, which is what anyone running for office is likely to do these days. I don’t know if she will run, if she’ll win the Democratic nomination, or if she’ll triumph in the general election. But if she is elected, the safe bet is that she’ll just be business-as-usual in foreign policy. She won’t promise change — as Barack Obama did — and for the reasons noted above, she not going to deliver it either”.

The future of drones


An article in Foreign Affairs by Sarah Kreps and Micah Zenko covers the role drones will have in the future.

They start the piece “So far, the United States has had a relative monopoly over the use of such drones, but it cannot count on maintaining that for much longer. Other states are quickly catching up. And although these new weapons will not transform the international system as fundamentally as did the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, they could still be used in ways that are highly destabilsing and deadly. Countries will not be deterred from launching drone attacks simply because an adversary has drones in its arsenal, too. If anything, the inherent advantages of drones — most of all, not placing pilots or ground forces at risk of being killed or captured — have lowered the threshold for the use of force. Spurred by the United States’ example, other countries are likely to threaten or conduct drone strikes in ways that are harmful to U.S. interests, whether by provoking regional adversaries or targeting domestic enemies”.

Encouragingly they go on to argue “Fortunately for the United States, it still has the ability to shape how and whether the use of drones will spread and whether these threatening scenarios will come to pass. Countries adopt new military capabilities based on how other states have — or have not — already used them and on their perceived effectiveness. Therefore, as other countries develop their own drone technology, they could follow Washington’s lead. John Brennan, director of the CIA and chief architect of the Obama administration’s drone policy, acknowledged as much in a speech in April 2012: ‘If we want other nations to use these technologies responsibly, we must use them responsibly.’ Yet so far, the Obama administration has ignored its own advice, failing to develop a comprehensive strategy to limit the proliferation of armed drones and promote their responsible use. The longer the United States delays, the less influence it will have to shape the rules of the game. Without U.S. leadership, it will be extremely difficult to get an international coalition to agree on a credible arrangement governing the use of armed drones”.

Interestingly they write that “Such an arrangement would not necessarily require new treaties or international laws; rather, it would necessitate a more broadly accepted understanding of which existing laws apply and when and a faithful and transparent adherence to them. It would also require updating the multilateral regime that was originally designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Taken together, these measures would help minimise the spread of the most capable and lethal drones to countries that are the most conflict-prone and increase the likelihood that emerging drone powers would adopt policies that reduce the prospects for violent confrontations”.

They write that “Compare the relative caution with which the Clinton administration approached al Qaeda with the steady spike in the use of drones against the group since 9/11. In the 1990s, the U.S. military presented the White House with a number of plans to kill Osama bin Laden, including using long-range bombers, AC-130 gunships, U.S. special operations forces, and non-Taliban tribal groups. But the Clinton administration reasoned that they all posed too many risks to U.S. personnel, noncombatants, and diplomatic relations with neighbouring states. Without the availability of armed drone technology, in August 1998, Washington resorted to two very limited strikes, firing some 70 cruise missiles at a training camp in Afghanistan and some 13 cruise missiles at a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (none of which killed any al Qaeda leaders)”.
This is all correct but the writers overlook the fact that the way President Clinton and Presidents Obama and Bush view the War on Terror is very different. Clinton, during his time in office, used the legal system, with the police and courts, to justify his actions. Instead, President Bush and President Obama both view it as a war that must be won.

They do mention that “Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, by contrast, have shown far less restraint in their use of violent force against suspected members of al Qaeda and other groups, sending armed drones to launch strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen. Beyond reducing the risk to pilots, drones offer other attractive benefits. Predator and Reaper drones can now hover over a target for up to 14 hours without refueling. Since armed drones attach missiles to a surveillance platform, they offer an unmatched responsiveness when time-sensitive targets appear. Moreover, drones can detect when noncombatants enter the blast radius, enabling drone-fired missiles to be diverted at the last moment to avoid civilian casualties. The general public has also recognised these benefits: a Gallup poll conducted last March found that roughly two-thirds of Americans approved of drone strikes on suspected terrorists abroad, unless the target was a U.S. citisen”.

Turning to other countries they note “Understanding just how many countries currently maintain their own drones is difficult, since these programs are invariably shrouded in secrecy and misinformation. Some countries hide the existence of their drones in order to maintain a surprise capability; others, hoping to raise their prestige, boast about drones that are not yet operational. To date, only the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom are believed to have used armed drones. The U.S. drone program has the greatest reach. Since 2008, the United States has conducted more than 1,000 drone strikes in Afghanistan. From 2008 to 2012, the United States conducted 48 drone strikes in Iraq; in 2011, it launched at least 145 drone strikes in Libya. The use of armed drones in more traditional conflicts has been far less controversial, even if it is more prevalent, than their use off the battlefield. Nonetheless, Washington has conducted almost 400 drones strikes in Pakistan, over 100 in Yemen, around 18 in Somalia, and at least one (in 2006) in the Philippines. Israel and the United Kingdom, meanwhile, have also deployed armed drones, although in far smaller numbers. As of July 2013, the British military had launched 299 drone strikes in Afghanistan. Israeli drones conducted an estimated 42 strike missions in the 2008–9 Gaza conflict, according to a joint investigation by Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations”.

They mention that “In 2004, only 41 states had drones of any kind, armed or unarmed. But by 2011, that number had reached 76, according to the last reliable public estimate by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. According to a 2005 report by the Teal Group, an aerospace and defence industry consulting firm, it was projected that the United States would account for 90 percent of all drone expenditures worldwide over the coming decade; according to 2013 projections, that figure stood at 64 percent. For now, in addition to Israel and the United Kingdom, China and Iran appear to be the only other countries with operationally deployed armed drones (based on the evidence of public demonstrations, such as military parades and air shows)”.

The authors write that India, Pakistan, Turkey have drones with Australia, Japan, and Singapore developing surveillance drones. They argue that more countries should have drones, given their advantages, but the fact that they are so expensive to build and develop explains this. They mention “Drone technology is also more complex than it may appear. There is a qualitative difference between the rudimentary unmanned aircraft used as far back as World War II — and even the unarmed Predators that flew in the Balkans in the mid-1990s — and the armed drones that the United States deploys over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere today. These advanced drones require far more than a pilot at a base in the Horn of Africa or the Nevada desert to make them effective. They need actionable intelligence, sophisticated communications, access to satellite bandwidth, and complex systems engineering — all assets presently beyond the reach of most states. It is no coincidence that the countries that possess advanced drones have also already mastered other complex military technologies, such as nuclear weapons and satellite communications. But even some states that have developed such technologies are having difficulties with drones. Russia, for example, has seen its drone efforts derailed by sharp reductions in aerospace funding and a long-declining aerospace industry. France and Italy have also been unable to pursue their own programs and have had to settle for an unarmed variant of the U.S.-made Reaper, which France has been using for reconnaissance missions in Mali”.

They add that another factor in the slow development of the technology is cost, “budgets are a final factor. The worldwide civilian and military drone market, which researchers predict will reach $8.4 billion by 2018, accounts for only a fraction of global defense spending, which estimates say will hit $1.9 trillion by the end of 2017. But drones’ costs are still prohibitive at a time when austerity dominates military spending decisions in most countries. Unless they discover unforeseen threats that require the use of armed drones, most states will not reallocate precious defense dollars to unmanned systems anytime soon”.

They go on to argue “The fact that drones heighten the potential for miscalculation and military escalation is especially worrisome in maritime disputes. The CIA has identified 430 bilateral maritime boundaries, most of which are not defined by formal agreements between states. In the East China and South China seas, nationalist sentiments and the discovery of untapped oil and gas reserves have already made armed conflict over disputed borders among the littoral states more likely. And that prospect would only increase if these countries deployed drones in the area, which they would likely do more aggressively than if they were deploying piloted aircraft. Even the spread of unarmed surveillance drones could increase the chances of more lethal attacks by other types of weapons. Beginning in February 2013, U.S. drones flying out of Niger provided targeting intelligence in the form of raw video feeds to manned French aircraft hunting suspected Islamist militant groups in Mali. This intelligence led to 60 airstrikes by French planes in one week alone in March 2013”.

The piece then turns to the subject of accountability, “Given drones’ allure, proliferation, and security implications, the key question is what Washington and other governments can do to mitigate the worst consequences of drones’ growing popularity. The answer is a combination of unilateral and multilateral actions. As the only country to have used drones extensively, the United States must take the lead in regulating their use and export. So far, the United States has kept its exports of armed drones to a minimum (much to the chagrin of the defense industry), sending them only to the United Kingdom. Washington should maintain such restraint. It should also revisit its own targeted-killing policies, lest other countries follow the United States’ example. The U.S. government has articulated its drone policy to the public only in an ad hoc manner. Behind closed doors, the White House reportedly oversees targeting decisions in a regular review process that includes the Pentagon, the State Department, and other agencies, but it ignores bigger strategic questions about the impact that unilateral measures on the part of the United States to restrain its own drone use could have on other states. A separate, independent review panel should be formed to answer these questions, and an unclassified version of the findings should be made available to the public”.

The writers call for Congress to “take a more active role by holding extensive hearings on drones’ unique use in counterterrorism and other strikes. These hearings should continue to scrutinise the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which the Obama administration has cited as its legal justification for drone strikes on suspected terrorists, including the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. But they should also focus on how drones are used in disputed areas and across borders and against publicly undefined targets, such as militants and criminals — the most common and the most dangerous scenarios. The United States should also come clean about how it has used armed drones, which could prompt Israel and the United Kingdom to do the same”.

They end the piece “Until now, the United States has ignored the many holes in its own policy on the possession and use of drones and in the international regime that seeks to limit drone exports because filling them would require restricting its own behavior. Obama and members of Congress, determined to prevent a terrorist attack on their watch, have overlooked the fact that tying one’s own hands now when it comes to drone use can pay security dividends down the road. The Obama administration must abandon its post-9/11 mindset, which is fixated on thwarting terrorism at all costs. For too long, using drones has seemed to be an easy way to satisfy the desire for absolute security. But with drones’ dangers and disadvantages becoming more obvious all the time, Washington must recognize that its reliance on drones is far more complicated than previously assumed — and must act to make sure that the consequences of that reliance do not spin out of control”.

They conclude “When ballistic missiles proliferated in the 1980s and 1990s, the United States recognized that their unprecedented ability to swiftly deliver enormous destruction represented a new and unique threat. So Washington took concerted efforts to control their proliferation and use through export regulations, bilateral discussions, multilateral and indirect talks, and prohibitions to prevent missile transfers. Armed drones today may not be quite as destabilising as ballistic missiles seemed then, but their dangers will grow as more countries acquire the ability to use them. Not taking measures now to mitigate their spread will only undermine the United States’ long-term interests”.

The non-existent pivot?


An article argues that the Obama pivot to Asia is almost non existent with dangerous consequences. He opens, “The joke about the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” is that the only people who don’t believe it is happening are in Asia. All over the world, America’s friends and allies feel the ebbing of attention from their regions and problems. But they mistakenly believe that this reduction has resulted in greater attention elsewhere. So Iraq understands that President Barack Obama is indifferent to the violence that continues to burn in their country, but they assume he is increasing engagement in Afghanistan. Afghans understand that Obama is indifferent to the war still raging in their country, but assume he must be deeply involved in ensuring a peaceful transition of power in some other country America cares about more. Europeans see a president walking back from missile defense deployments and the Budapest Memorandum, which commits the United States to the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine, and believe that he has chosen to focus on Asia”.

This arguement has been debunked by Stephen Walt recently.

The writer goes on to mention, “Tom Donilon, however, refuses to accept reality. In a wildly implausible op-ed in theWashington Post on the eve of Obama’s current Asia trip, he argued that the pivot is alive and well. His opening argument that the administration is pivoting to Asia? ‘Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first trip in office was to Asia, something no secretary of state had done since 1961.’ Not only does it actually suggest how little the pivot has achieved, since a trip five years ago is considered a signal achievement, but travel is the wrong metric for determining foreign-policy success”.

He goes on to argue that the description given by Donilon shows the shortcomings of Obama’s foreign policy, the first he argues perhaps fairly is self importance “The Obama White House promotes this fact as evidence of its superior understanding of the international order: No one else saw this coming! As Shadow Government‘s Asia hands have often pointed out, much of the Obama administration’s pivot is actually carrying through on decisions made during George W. Bush’s administration, such as shifting a greater proportion of the U.S. fleet to the Pacific. This Asia strategy is a continuation of its predecessor’s, while claiming to be a departure of monumental significance”.

The second he argues is talking rather than listening “If the Obama White House had done its due diligence, it would have known that Asian governments were some of the Bush administration’s biggest supporters — and continue to be. The Obama White House might also have checked with America’s Asian allies about whether this “grand strategic concept” would be beneficial. Most governments fear it goads China and may force the country into confrontation”. Among the Asian countries in which the Pew Research Center conducted polling in 2013, the median rate of favourable views of the United States was 64 percent, but the rate was 58 percent for favorable views of China. Even in Australia, a long-standing ally of the United States, 40 percent of people polled think it’s more important to have strong relations with the United States than China — but 33 percent think the opposite. Governments in Asia don’t want to have to choose between their main economic partner and their main security provider, and they wish the Obama administration hadn’t put them in that position”.

He goes on to argue suproiosly that Obama has not paid close attention to allies, “Donilon claims the United States is “modernising its alliances” in Asia, but even that phrasing suggests its alliances are currently unsatisfactory. Getting South Korea and Japan to cooperate on defence policy — they won’t hold joint exercises, for example — or on how to counter China would be a major modernisation of America’s alliances in Asia. Donilon recognises that, but his tepid recommendation that “the president should follow up on his recent efforts to mitigate long-standing tensions between the two countries” will hardly persuade countries that have seen their relations worsen during the Obama presidency. Asian allies know the Obama White House isn’t going to solve their problems”.

He ends the piece “Countries with small margins for error and dependence on the protection of others — like America’s allies in Asia — tend to have very sensitive antennas to the potential for abandonment. The Obama White House may think that its fecklessness on Syria has no consequence or that its downward negotiation of what constitutes an end to Iranian nuclear weapons programs has no downside. The administration seems genuinely to believe that the president proudly insisting that “I don’t bluff” is adequate to reassure countries nervous about America’s willingness to make good on promises. It isn’t. The pivot to Asia is one more instance of the Obama White House patting itself on the back while America’s allies fret about the country’s lack of seriousness”.


“The durability of Kagan’s hypotheses”


Even in an era of austerity, Kagan remains relevant in pointing out Washington’s greater comfort with hard power. Indeed, since President Obama took office, the withdrawal from Iraq has been the exception and not the rule that guides his willingness to use military statecraft. Beyond Libya, his administration will have more troops in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2013 than at the beginning of 2009. He has increased the use of drones and special forces in Pakistan and the Persian Gulf region, used naval power to combat Somali pirates, sent special forces to Uganda to help weaken the Lord’s Resistance Army, and announced plans for a new base in Australia as part of the strategic “pivot” to the Pacific Rim. The continuity in American uses of military power despite the changes of administration demonstrates the durability of Kagan’s hypotheses”.

Obama-Bush continuity


An excellent blog post by Peter Feaver at the Shadow Government site argues that there are far more similarities between President Bush and President Obama.

Feaver writes “The eerie parallels between the way the politics of President Obama’s first year of his second term played out and the political dynamics of President Bush’s first year of his second term are what prompted me to make the Katrina analogy in a recent discussion with a New York Times reporter (which I gather produced “an email and Twitter explosion” — my apologies to the intrepid reporter at the center of the explosion). Of course, I am hardly the only or the first to see the Katrina-Obamacare parallels (see another careful discussion here), but it is one that is particularly vivid for me because I lived through that crucial period in the Bush administration”.

He goes on to add “The parallel just got a bit more apt: According to the most recent CBS poll, Obama’s approval rating at this point in his tenure is right where Bush’s rating (in the separate Gallup poll) was at the same point. Of course, the mix of issues that brought each president to this political point is not an exact repeat, but the mixes sure rhyme: questions of competence, questions of candor, questions of how a White House could take its eye off the ball on an issue it had identified as central, etc. This last parallel points to the Iraq comparative, which I think is an even more apt one than Katrina. I wonder if there are additional insights to be gleaned from the parallel. President Bush’s approval rating recovered a bit a few weeks after it hit this low, following on a major communications push the White House undertook. The push included the release of the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq and a series of major speeches outlining the president’s strategy in Iraq. (Full disclosure: At the time, I got more credit than I deserved for this initiative.)”

He continues somewhat controversially disucssing Obamacare, “the Obama White House believes it has a communications problem, not a policy problem. Yes, the White House acknowledges that the website is a problem, but mainly because it is making it hard for people to get the full benefit of the policy. So while the president tinkers around the edges of the policy, his effort has mainly been in the area of communications: selling harder the original policy. And if the administration couples the communications push with some improvement in the form of getting the website up and running — or if intense spinningdesigned to make the Iranian nuclear deal seem better than it really is gives the administration a tactical success that offers a respite from the drumbeat of criticism — it could reverse the public approval slide much the way President Bush’s big push on Iraq reversed his slide in late 2005. But if the critics are right and the real problem with Obamacare is the policy, specifically the internal contradictions of the policy and the intrinsic unpopularity of a massively complex redistributionist policy, then Obama might experience only a short-lived respite on the political front”.

He ends the piece “As the Iraq surge proved, even a politically strapped president still can do some very consequential things, particularly on foreign policy. So it is too soon to write Obama’s obituary. It is entirely possible that one or more of his most important policy decisions will be made in the months and years to come. In other words, perhaps President Obama has in him another “surge,” defined as the pursuit of a controversial but consequential foreign policy gambit. We may even be seeing the outlines of that now with the Iran nuclear issue — whether it yields a lasting diplomatic solution, failed negotiations leading to war, or failed negotiations leading to an Iranian nuclear arsenal”.

Continuity in Syria


Dr Tim Lynch argues the continuity of US foreign policy in Syria. He opens his piece, “A civilian can die as painfully from shrapnel wounds as from a nerve agent. Why does a chemical attack initiate a western military reprisal and conventional arms, which have killed far more people in Syria since 2011, just more diplomatic hand-wringing? Stephen Walt posed this question. He surely has a point. How Assad puts down the insurrection he faces should not alter US calculations of its own national interests”.

Dr Lynch goes on to write “Assad could continue to target opponents with supposedly morally acceptable weapons and ‘the international community’ would remain quiescent. Obama is reacting, albeit cautiously, not because inaction will facilitate Russo-Chinese interests but because Assad has been especially reprehensible. George W. Bush was widely and often wildly derided for predicating his invasion of Iraq in 2003 on Saddam’s dodgy WMD arsenal. Did he have one? Did he not? Let’s be sure either way and remove him. Saddam’s use of poison gas against the inhabitants of Halabja was cited in the build up to war as a reason to remove him. Obama, assuming he authorises attacks on Damascus in some form, is using a similar WMD pretext but on the basis of a much more constrained use of them”.

He ends his piece, “President Obama’s pretext is supposedly more humanitarian, though very late given its asserted inspiration. Saddam had spent at least 12 years (1991-2003) destroying his opponents and the good liberals of New York, London and Melbourne turned out to protest his proposed removal. Some of the largest demonstrations in world history contended for the maintenance of one of the world’s worst regimes. If Obama and Cameron do succeed in igniting some kind of coalition of the willing in order to punish Assad for crimes mild compared to Saddam Hussein the reaction is likely to be more muted. And yet, Obama is set to continue a trend begun by his predecessors. Bush Sr, Clinton and Bush Jr all made war on governments they accused of war crimes against Muslim populations. Kuwait 1991, Kosovo 1999, Iraq 2003, Libya 2011 and Syria 2013 have a common cause and represent the continuity of US foreign policy”.

The case for drones


An article has appeared in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs. In it, Daniel Byman writes a piece, “Why Drones Work”. He opens noting Despite President Barack Obama’s recent call to reduce the United States’ reliance on drones, they will likely remain his administration’s weapon of choice. Whereas President George W. Bush oversaw fewer than 50 drone strikes during his tenure, Obama has signed off on over 400 of them in the last four years, making the program the centerpiece of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. The drones have done their job remarkably well: by killing key leaders and denying terrorists sanctuaries in Pakistan, Yemen, and, to a lesser degree, Somalia, drones have devastated al Qaeda and associated anti-American militant groups. And they have done so at little financial cost, at no risk to U.S. forces, and with fewer civilian casualties than many alternative methods would have caused”.

He argues that “drone warfare is here to stay, and it is likely to expand in the years to come as other countries’ capabilities catch up with those of the United States. But Washington must continue to improve its drone policy, spelling out clearer rules for extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings so that tyrannical regimes will have a harder time pointing to the U.S. drone program to justify attacks against political opponents. At the same time, even as it solidifies the drone program, Washington must remain mindful of the built-in limits of low-cost, unmanned interventions”.

He goes on to write “The Obama administration relies on drones for one simple reason: they work. According to data compiled by the New America Foundation, since Obama has been in the White House, U.S. drones have killed an estimated 3,300 al Qaeda, Taliban, and other jihadist operatives in Pakistan and Yemen. That number includes over 50 senior leaders of al Qaeda and the Taliban — top figures who are not easily replaced. In 2010, Osama bin Laden warned his chief aide, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who was later killed by a drone strike in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 2011, that when experienced leaders are eliminated, the result is “the rise of lower leaders who are not as experienced as the former leaders” and who are prone to errors and miscalculations. And drones also hurt terrorist organizations when they eliminate operatives who are lower down on the food chain but who boast special skills: passport forgers, bomb makers, recruiters, and fundraisers. Drones have also undercut terrorists’ ability to communicate and to train new recruits. In order to avoid attracting drones, al Qaeda and Taliban operatives try to avoid using electronic devices or gathering in large numbers. A tip sheet found among jihadists in Mali advised militants to “maintain complete silence of all wireless contacts” and “avoid gathering in open areas.” Leaders, however, cannot give orders when they are incommunicado, and training on a large scale is nearly impossible when a drone strike could wipe out an entire group of new recruits. Drones have turned al Qaeda’s command and training structures into a liability, forcing the group to choose between having no leaders and risking dead leaders”.

He fights back against the point made by some that “in war zones or unstable countries, such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, arresting militants is highly dangerous and, even if successful, often inefficient. In those three countries, the government exerts little or no control over remote areas, which means that it is highly dangerous to go after militants hiding out there. Worse yet, in Pakistan and Yemen, the governments have at times cooperated with militants. If the United States regularly sent in special operations forces to hunt down terrorists there, sympathetic officials could easily tip off the jihadists, likely leading to firefights, U.S. casualties, and possibly the deaths of the suspects and innocent civilians. Of course, it was a Navy SEAL team and not a drone strike that finally got bin Laden, but in many cases in which the United States needs to capture or eliminate an enemy, raids are too risky and costly. And even if a raid results in a successful capture, it begets another problem: what to do with the detainee. Prosecuting detainees in a federal or military court is difficult because often the intelligence against terrorists is inadmissible or using it risks jeopardizing sources and methods. And given the fact that the United States is trying to close, rather than expand, the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay”.
Byman goes on to rightly dismiss “critics of the drone program, such as Ben Emmerson, the UN’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, have questioned the lethal approach, arguing for more focus on the factors that might contribute to extremism and terrorism, such as poverty, unemployment, and authoritarianism. Such a strategy is appealing in principle, but it is far from clear how Washington could execute it. Individuals join anti-American terrorist groups for many reasons, ranging from outrage over U.S. support for Israel to anger at their own government’s cooperation with the United States. Some people simply join up because their neighbors are doing so. Slashing unemployment in Yemen, bringing democracy to Saudi Arabia, and building a functioning government in Somalia are laudable goals, but they are not politically or financially possible for the United States, and even if achieved, they still might not reduce the allure of jihad”.

Byman then goes on to support drones as a result of the unpalatable alternatives, “First among them is an unacceptably high level of civilian casualties. Admittedly, drones have killed innocents. But the real debate is over how many and whether alternative approaches are any better. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that in 2011 alone, nearly 900 noncombatants, including almost 200 children, were killed by U.S. drone strikes. Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic also cites high numbers of civilian deaths, as does the Pakistani organization Pakistan Body Count. Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation oversees a database of drone casualties culled from U.S. sources and international media reports. He estimates that between 150 and 500 civilians have been killed by drones during Obama’s administration”.

He then mentions how America has begun “launching ‘signature strikes,’ which target not specific individuals but instead groups engaged in suspicious activities. This approach makes it even more difficult to distinguish between combatants and civilians and verify body counts of each. Still, as one U.S. official told The New York Times last year, ‘Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbours don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs.’ Of course, not everyone accepts this reasoning. Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, who runs Pakistan Body Count, says that ‘neither [the United States] nor Pakistan releases any detailed information about the victims . . . so [although the United States] likes to call everybody Taliban, I call everybody civilians.'”

Of course the problem with the point made by Usmani is that it is too broad. In the same way that John Brennan’s claim that there was one year of no civilian deaths, his claim that “everybody” were civilians is patently false. Byman goes on to add depth to this point when he willingly admits, “The truth is that all the public numbers are unreliable. Who constitutes a civilian is often unclear”, he adds later that “although the New America Foundation has come under fire for relying heavily on unverifiable information provided by anonymous U.S. officials, reports from local Pakistani organisations, and the Western organisations that rely on them, are no better: their numbers are frequently doctored by the Pakistani government or by militant groups. After a strike in Pakistan, militants often cordon off the area, remove their dead, and admit only local reporters sympathetic to their cause or decide on a body count themselves. The U.S. media often then draw on such faulty reporting to give the illusion of having used multiple sources. As a result, statistics on civilians killed by drones are often inflated. One of the few truly independent on-the-ground reporting efforts, conducted by the Associated Press last year, concluded that the strikes ‘are killing far fewer civilians than many in [Pakistan] are led to believe.'”

He contiunes on the same point, “even the most unfavourable estimates of drone casualties reveal that the ratio of civilian to militant deaths — about one to three, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism — is lower than it would be for other forms of strikes. Bombings by F-16s or Tomahawk cruise missile salvos, for example, pack a much more deadly payload. In December 2009, the United States fired Tomahawks at a suspected terrorist training camp in Yemen, and over 30 people were killed in the blast”.

He makes the valid point that “drones have earned the backing, albeit secret, of foreign governments. In order to maintain popular support, politicians in Pakistan and Yemen routinely rail against the U.S. drone campaign. In reality, however, the governments of both countries have supported it. During the Bush and Obama administrations, Pakistan has even periodically hosted U.S. drone facilities and has been told about strikes in advance. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan until 2008, was not worried about the drone program’s negative publicity: ‘In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time,’ he reportedly remarked. Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, also at times allowed drone strikes in his country and even covered for them by telling the public that they were conducted by the Yemeni air force. When the United States’ involvement was leaked in 2002, however, relations between the two countries soured. Still, Saleh later let the drone program resume in Yemen, and his replacement, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has publicly praised drones, saying that ‘they pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re aiming at.’ As officials in both Pakistan and Yemen realize, U.S. drone strikes help their governments by targeting common enemies. A memo released by the antisecrecy website WikiLeaks revealed that Pakistan’s army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, privately asked U.S. military leaders in 2008 for ‘continuous Predator coverage’ over antigovernment militants”.

He argues cogently that “Pakistan is reluctant to make its approval public. First of all, the country’s inability to fight terrorists on its own soil is a humiliation for Pakistan’s politically powerful armed forces and intelligence service. In addition, although drones kill some of the government’s enemies, they have also targeted pro-government groups that are hostile to the United States, such as the Haqqani network and the Taliban, which Pakistan has supported since its birth in the early 1990s. Even more important, the Pakistani public is vehemently opposed to U.S. drone strikes”.

As to the argument levelled by some that drone strikes are shortsighted, he writes “Many surveys of public opinion related to drones are conducted by anti-drone organisations, which results in biased samples. Other surveys exclude those who are unaware of the drone program and thus overstate the importance of those who are angered by it. In addition, many Pakistanis do not realise that the drones often target the very militants who are wreaking havoc on their country. And for most Pakistanis and Yemenis, the most important problems they struggle with are corruption, weak representative institutions, and poor economic growth; the drone program is only a small part of their overall anger, most of which is directed toward their own governments”.

Byman continues noting that “The Obama administration claims that Awlaki was actively involved in plots against the United States and that the strike against him was legal under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress passed three days after 9/11 and which gives the president broad authority to use force against terrorist groups linked to the 9/11 attacks. Yet with the war on terrorism almost 12 years old and bin Laden dead, critics, such as the Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks, have begun questioning whether the AUMF still justifies drone strikes today”.

He goes on to write later on in the piece that “The administration contends that the discussions held within the executive branch and the extensive vetting of evidence constitute a form of due process. Meanwhile, as the legal scholar Benjamin Wittes has pointed out, both Congress and the federal courts have repeatedly reaffirmed the validity of the AUMF since 2001. The U.S. government argues that given how secretly terrorists operate, it is not always possible to use other means to stop an individual overseas from planning attacks on U.S. forces or allies. As a result, the imminence of a threat should be assessed based on the individual’s propensity for violence and the likelihood of being able to stop him in the future”.

Pointing to the use of drones in the future, he argues that “The spread of drones cannot be stopped, but the United States can still influence how they are used. The coming proliferation means that Washington needs to set forth a clear policy now on extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings of terrorists — and stick to it. Fortunately, Obama has begun to discuss what constitutes a legitimate drone strike. But the definition remains murky, and this murkiness will undermine the president’s ability to denounce other countries’ behaviour should they start using drones or other means to hunt down enemies. By keeping its policy secret, Washington also makes it easier for critics to claim that the United States is wantonly slaughtering innocents. More transparency would make it harder for countries such as Pakistan to make outlandish claims about what the United States is doing. Drones actually protect many Pakistanis, and Washington should emphasise this fact”.

He ends the piece on a warning, “Washington cannot and should not directly involve itself in every fight. The Obama administration should spell out those cases in which the AUMF does not apply and recognize the risks of carrying out so-called goodwill kills on behalf of foreign governments. Helping French and Malian forces defeat jihadists in Mali by providing logistical support, for example, is smart policy, but sending U.S. drones there is not. In places where terrorists are actively plotting against the United States, however, drones give Washington the ability to limit its military commitments abroad while keeping Americans safe. Afghanistan, for example, could again become a Taliban-run haven for terrorists after U.S. forces depart next year”.


“Resembles the second-term posture”


An interesting article has been published in the Washington Post. It makes the point that the wire tapping system under President Bush that caused such furor, has reappeared, although without even the acknowlegement of obtaining a judicial decision. On a separate note it was been noted that President Obama promoted the man blamed for the controversy under President Bush as head of the FBI.

The piece opens, “For four years, President Obama’s approach to counterterrorism has been defined by his embrace of paramilitary power — the drones and the commando teams whose ruthless pursuit of al-Qaeda helped cripple the terrorist network through a global targeted killing campaign. Months into his second term, however, Obama faces a rash of disclosures that have revealed the extent to which his administration also has relied on a less conspicuous capability — a massive electronic surveillance net cast within the United States that appears to have gathered data on almost anyone with a computer or phone”.

The article adds that the recent, “disclosures punctured that veil, adding new pressure on Obama to defend his administration’s counterterrorism policies and the secrecy surrounding them. It is a position that in some ways resembles the second-term posture of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In his first public comments on the controversy, Obama emphasized the congressional and judicial oversight of the surveillance programs. He also stressed their effectiveness. ‘I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs,’ Obama said Friday. But he said the value in disrupting terrorism outweighed any ‘modest encroachments on privacy. . . . You know, net, it was worth us doing.’ Beyond the familiar ring of that rationale, U.S. officials, civil liberties groups and security experts said the revelations show that, as much as Obama has sought to distance himself from the counterterrorism policies of his predecessor, he has embraced and in some cases expanded controversial programs that originated under Bush”.

The article mentions “The comments were triggered by a pair of disclosures about the operations of the NSA, the highly secretive agency responsible for eavesdropping on electronic communications around the globe. The NSA is barred from spying on Americans. But a classified court order published by the Guardian newspaper showed that the NSA had been given authority by a special court to collect calling data on millions of Americans from a subsidiary of the Verizon telecommunications company”, later on in the article the author notes that “The Washington Post then disclosed classified documents describing a separate program code-named PRISM that indicated the NSA has established access to the servers of companies including Microsoft, Google and Apple. The access would enable the U.S. government to extract audio, video, e-mails and other content, though Obama said no e-mails of U.S. citizens or residents are examined”.

The fact that President Obama has carried on the policies of President Bush shows that they are not only effective but do great harm to terrorist cells operating in the United States and beyond. Indeed, what is more surprising is the number of people who thought that President Obama would roll back of the policies of President Bush

A different outlook


After the appointment of Dr Susan Rice to be the next National Security Adviser some have written the she will be the opposite to her predecessor’s low key style.

James Traub writes that this style of Rice may bring out President Obama’s more “hawkish” side in foreign policy.  He writes that ” I asked a foreign policy analyst who is close to the White House if he thought the change in personnel portended a change in policy. “Sure,” he said, sardonically. “Susan will bring her magic wand and solve every problem in the world through intervention.” He was mocking not Rice herself, but naïve activists who imagine that a more idealistic national security advisor will forge a more idealistic approach to the world. More than four years in, Barack Obama has figured out what kind of foreign-policy president he wants to be — less the visionary of the 2008 campaign than the faithful steward of national interests who closes out the ruinous misadventures of the post-9/11 era and husbands, rather than recklessly spends, America’s limited resources. And it is reasonable to assume that this strategic recoupment will necessarily define Rice’s tenure, whatever her personal convictions”.

Traub goes on to highlight the differences between, “Rice and Donilon are more obviously dissimilar. Donilon is a political insider with a deep regard for process, a man committed more to the neutral principle of ensuring that all voices are heard than to any specific policy outcome. He is a cautious man who wins the plauditsof foreign-policy realists for helping Obama steer clear of reckless entanglements, in Syria and elsewhere. Rice is a foreign-policy professional with deep convictions and a blithe self-assurance about her own judgments. She is a morally driven figure who makes those same realists uncomfortable. Michele Flournoy, the former under secretary of defense, says that Rice ‘may be more willing to take action in support of our values than many others would be who are more realpolitik.’ The distinction is meaningful, but easily overdrawn. I once asked Rice if she considered herself idealistic, and she bridled. ‘`Idealistic’ to me connotes believing in things or wanting things that are not achievable,’ she said. She would accept ‘principled,’ but she was fine with ‘pragmatic.'”

He adds that “She will wave no magic wands of intervention. Yes, she pushed the president to intervene in Libya; but she has not done so with Syria. She did not, intriguingly, join Hillary and former CIA director David Petraeus and others in urging the president last year to arm the rebels”.

Traub goes on to say the real difference between Donilon and Rice is in their outlook, “spent much of the eight years between Democratic administrations at the Brookings Institution writing about the connection between weak and failing states and American national security — and, yes, humanitarian intervention. The one issue she made her own as ambassador to the U.N. was nation-building and peacekeeping in Africa. Both Rice and Kerry, in short, care deeply about the kind of intractable and generally unrewarding — and morally urgent — problems which have absorbed the energies of American statesmen since the end of the Cold War”.

He ends the piece “The Barack Obama we have come to know over the last four years is a deeply cautious man with an acute awareness of how noble-sounding missions can miscarry disastrously. And the economic failure he inherited has compelled him to argue for “nation-building at home” rather than abroad. But he is a complex man with an ambitious sense of his nation’s destiny, and his own. Tom Donilon reinforced one side of Obama. Perhaps Susan Rice will reinforce the other”.

The wrong speech?


After Micah Zenko’s recent article arguing that President Obama’s speech was confused, Aaron David Miller argues that Obama should not have given the speech at all.

Miller opens his piece, “He gave one in May 2009 in which he vowed to take a different approach on national security than his predecessor, only to morph into a more disciplined version of George W. Bush; he gave another in Cairo that June where he promised a major reset on the Middle East that turned into the same-old, same-old. But on this one, it’s just not clear to me who the president was trying to convince, unless of course this was about his legacy and how he wants to be remembered. Closing Gitmo has taken on a new urgency because of the ongoing hunger strike and the reality that Obama’s window for fulfilling this campaign promise is closing. But the practical problems involved in closing the prison haven’t been resolved in Congress, or with other governments who might be persuaded to repatriate prisoners. As for the foreign audiences, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia, this speech won’t buy the president much”.

He also argues that the speech raised expectations, “There’s a good chance that the NDU speech, like the Cairo speech in March 2009, will unnecessarily raise expectations for the Obama administration — without much reason to believe that it can fulfill them. But unlike the Cairo speech, which was given while hopes for Obama were still very high, this one comes at a point in his presidency when the bloom is off the rose, particularly in the Middle East. Already the New York Times in one column described the address as ‘an ambitious vision — one that eschews muscle-bound foreign policy, dominated by the military and intelligence services, in favor of energetic diplomacy, foreign aid and a more nuanced response to terrorism’ and in another as ‘a pivot in counterterrorism policy ….nearly two years in the making.’  That’s all well and good — if the White House can deliver. But the odds are long indeed”.

He goes on to add that the policies of the United States are what is at issue, “The list of the Arab world’s grievances go on and on: America is blamed for supporting the authoritarian Arab kings, blindly backing Israel, not talking to Hamas, not intervening militarily in Syria, intervening militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, according to Egyptian liberals, for supporting Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. And that’s even before we discuss the small but determined minority of Muslims who do, in fact, hate us because of who we are — not just because of what we do. No nuanced modulation of our approach on drone strikes or the closure of Gitmo is going to change any of that”.

Yet, as has been warned here before, the dangers of democracy/populism in foreign policy. Not only that but the list of demands by those in the Middle East, and large swathes of the European left are wholly contradictory wanting America to be more involved in Syria and less involved in Israel. It would be far better if US policy were explained to those in the Middle East rather than them wishing it would change, or worse, welcoming the “rise” of China.

He ends the article “our success against al Qaeda doesn’t mean we can call off the struggle against those who want to do catastrophic harm to America. All it means is that we’re winning that war.  And it is a war. The most important task of a president is to protect the homeland, and to safeguard our individual liberties while he does it. And while we’re much safer from externally planned attacks, we’re still not safe. Those who want to harm us have unlimited time, and the angry, broken, dysfunctional region in which they live will continue to provide them with ample resources. Let’s do everything we can — within reason — to address what ails the greater Middle East, drain the swamp, and defuse the anger. But let’s also not forget that America’s enemies think not in terms of administrations but generations. They are fighting the long war — and we must, without sacrificing our values and liberties, fight that war too. Nobody, including Barack Obama, can possibly know where we’re situated in that struggle — or where we’re going”.

Reforming the drone programme


In light of the announcement that President Obama is to reform the drone programme, with the new policies. The New York Times mentions, “As part of the shift in approach, the administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged for the first time that it had killed four American citizens in drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, arguing that its actions were justified by the danger to the United States. Mr. Obama approved providing new information to Congress and the public about the rules governing his attacks on Al Qaeda and its allies. A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not over”.

The article adds, “Lethal force will be used only against targets who pose ‘a continuing, imminent threat to Americans’ and cannot feasibly be captured, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter to Congress, suggesting that threats to a partner like Afghanistan or Yemen alone would not be enough to justify being targeted. The standard could signal an end to ‘signature strikes,’ or attacks on groups of unknown men based only on their presumed status as members of Al Qaeda or some other enemy group — an approach that administration critics say has resulted in many civilian casualties. In effect, this appears to be a step away from the less restricted use of force allowed in war zones and toward the more limited use of force for self-defense allowed outside of armed conflict”.

An piece in the Washington Post mentions “Far from repudiating the controversial use of drones against terrorist targets, Obama defended the tactic as effective, legal and life-saving. But he acknowledged that threat levels have fallen to levels not seen since before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, requiring new criteria for the use of lethal force”. Interestingly the article adds that “even while declaring that “this war, like all wars, must end,” Obama made clear that other pieces of the nation’s counterterrorism apparatus will remain in place, including targeted killings with drones. He made no mention of ending the CIA’s involvement in the drone campaign. Obama’s remarks followed a pledge in his State of the Union address in January to make his counterterrorism policies — particularly about drones — more transparent and accountable to Congress and the American public”.

Several commentators have voiced their views on the subject. Rosa Brooks who has spoken about the benefits of drones but also the supposedly difficult legal implications has written in a piece in Foreign Policy that opens noting “The single most important point he made was this: The drone and special operations war should not and will not last forever — and we need to find concrete ways to bring it to an end, not expand it. Specifically, the president pledged to engage Congress to refine and ultimately repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and said expressly that he will not sign any laws that seek to expand the existing mandate to use force. He acknowledged that the threat posed by terrorist groups today — not just the threat posed by ‘core’ al Qaeda, but by terrorists in general — is, while real, not on the 9/11 scale. Today, he said, the threat is more like what it was throughout the 80s and 90s. He also — for the first time, I think — directly acknowledged the deeper rule-of-law concerns underlying the debate about targeted killing. He took a firm stand against the “all terrorists must be eliminated by force” school of thought, stating that ‘not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation-states.'”

However, Brooks seems to imply that President Obama was part of the kill all terrorists “school of thought”, something which is patently false and wildly oversimplistic as he and many others have long sought to improve nations like Iraq and Afghanistan. This more than anything else will be the victory that America fought for, if these countries were a little less corrupt, better governed and better educated. The wars the involved these nations with America were brought on by there lack of any kind of meaningful reforms that improved the lives of the average citizens.

Brooks goes on to write “In today’s speech, the president didn’t address what constitutes an ‘associated force,’ but in some ways it doesn’t matter. He implied that although we remain in an armed conflict with al Qaeda and its associates, the rules governing use of force will, outside of Afghanistan, be the rules associated not with the law of armed conflict but with the international law on self-defense. If that is the case, defining ‘associates’ doesn’t matter that much, because — as the president indicated today — the policy is that mere membership in a group affiliated with al Qaeda or the Taliban is not sufficient to make a person targetable. The focus shifts to ‘imminent’ threat. I don’t know if this is a change from previous policy or simply the first clear statement of existing policy, but it’s an important clarification. In his speech, the president agreed that we will strike only those who “pose a continuing and imminent threat.” A fact sheet distributed today by the White House was more explicit”.

Noted CIA field agent, Philip Mudd offers a staunch defence of the drone programme, not in response to Brooks but rather from a strictly operational point of view. He argues that “The impact of armed drones during the decade-plus of this intense global counterterrorism campaign is hard to overestimate: Without operational commanders and visionary leaders, terror groups decay into locally focused threats, or disappear altogether. Targeted strikes against al Qaeda leaders and commanders in the years immediately after 9/11 deprived the group of the time and stability required to plot a major strike”.

He makes the vital point “So-called signature strikes — in which target selection is based not on identification of an individual but instead on patterns of behavior or unique characteristics that identify a group — accelerated this decline for simple reasons. Targeting leadership degrades a small percentage of a diffuse terror group, but developing the tactical intelligence required to locate an individual precisely enough to stage a pinpoint strike, in a no-man’s land half a world away, is time-consuming and difficult. And it’s not a perfect science; the leaders of groups learn over time how to operate more securely. Furthermore, these leaders represent only a fraction of the threat: Osama bin Laden might have been the public face of al Qaeda, but he was supported by a web of document-forgers, bombmakers, couriers, trainers, ideologues, and others. They made up the bulk of al Qaeda and propelled the apparatus that planned the murder of innocents. Bin Laden was the revolutionary leader, but it was the troops who executed his vision. Signature strikes have pulled out these lower-level threads of al Qaeda’s apparatus — and that of its global affiliates — rapidly enough that the deaths of top leaders are now more than matched by the destruction of the complex support structure below them”.

He goes on to argue persuasively that “rough lines of communication and fuzzy networks that cross continents and groups. They are hard to map cleanly, in other words. Signature strikes take out whole swaths of these network sub-tiers rapidly — so rapidly that the groups cannot replicate lost players and their hard-won experience. The tempo of the strikes, in other words, adds sand to the gears of terror organizations, destroying their operational capability faster than the groups can recover”.

In a different piece James Traub correctly points out “Men and women on the street of the Islamic world often say that they feel helpless in the face of American power — but in President Barack Obama’s decision to restrict the use of drones they won a victory which the administration’s domestic critics could never have achieved. As Obama pointed out in his speech, drones do an incredibly effective job of killing America’s adversaries, do not violate the laws of war, and — a fact he didn’t adduce — enjoy the overwhelming support of the American people. Obama was reacting to public opinion — but less in the United States than in Pakistan or Yemen”.

He adds making the vital point and failed logic of Obama’s reasoning,”What Obama said in his speech was that the reduced threat from al Qaeda — thanks in part to the use of drone warfare — means that the United States no longer needs to incur this cost”.

Traub goes on to add a layer of historical analogy to his argument, “In the past, America has deployed weapons whose effect on civilian populations has been immeasurably greater than even the highest estimate of collateral damage caused by drone strikes, whether carpet bombing in World War II or napalm in Vietnam (or, of course, the atomic bombs dropped on Japan). Some Americans recoiled from the moral horror of these devices, but presidents did not think to end or limit their use for strategic reasons”.

He then goes on to write that this era is over, by citing the usual increasingly interconnected argument. Yet, like many other new developments this has been overstated.

He then notes “The three studies he cites estimate civilian deaths at 5 percent, 7 percent, and 23 percent of the total. According to a report from the New America Foundation, the civilian death rate has declined sharply since 2008 and is now very close to zero. Drones work; and yet Pakistanis hate them. A 2012 poll of Pakistanis found that only 17 percent of respondents would support drone strikes even if carried out with their government’s cooperation. The same poll found that disapproval of U.S. policies has grown every year since Barack Obama became president, a finding that may have something to do with the steady growth of drone strikes, at least until the last year”, but adds later that Pakistan is a democracy, yet one successful(ish) election does not make the country a democracy, it has a legion of other problems that have been documented here before.

Traub ends the piece arguing that Pakistan both complains publicly about drone strikes but at the same time allows them to take place. He ends the piece “are indispensable weapons whose eerie effectiveness infuriates people, and thus harms U.S. national interests. President Obama has found that he can’t live with them and can’t live without them. Now he has tried to split the difference”.

Clinton’s legacy at State


An article examines the legacy of Hillary Clinton as secretary of State.

The article opens noting that President Obama said that Clinton was “‘one of the finest secretaries of state we’ve had.'”, the piece goes onto note that Obama’s “Lincolnesque effort to create a team of rivals had paid off, thanks largely to Clinton’s own efforts at reconciliation. During her four years in office, Clinton, displaying impressive humility and self-discipline for an ambitious politician, managed to put one of the fiercest presidential primary battles in U.S. history behind her”.

The author by contrast argues that “By any standard measure of diplomacy, Clinton will be remembered as a highly competent secretary of state, but not a great one. Despite her considerable star power around the world, her popularity at home, and her reputation for being on the right side of most issues, she left office without a signature doctrine, strategy, or diplomatic triumph. It is a stretch to include Clinton in the company of John Quincy Adams, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and Henry Kissinger”.

He acknowledges her new record set by traveling to 112 countries but adds that an administration that wanted to emphasis soft power, at least in public, she did well.  He argues that “her most lasting legacy will likely be the way that she thrust soft diplomacy to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. By speaking out about Internet freedom, women’s rights, public health, and economic issues everywhere she went, Clinton sought to transcend traditional government-to-government contacts. She set out to create — or at least dramatically expand in scope — a new kind of people-to-people diplomacy, one designed to extend Washington’s influence in an Internet-driven world in which popular uprisings”. One such memorable occasion was when she gave a highly publicised speech supporting gay rights.

He rightly contrasts this by noting that she “often played the realist hawk in an administration that started with overconfidence about its president’s transformational powers. In 2009, she allied with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to press for a 30,000-troop surge to address the chaos in Afghanistan, even though the president’s instincts were for a far smaller escalation. Later that year, when Obama had nothing to show for offering an outstretched hand to Tehran (a policy that Clinton had encouraged), she prodded the president into imposing unprecedentedly severe sanctions on Iran. In 2011, she corralled a troupe of advisers, including Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to convince Obama to support a NATO-led intervention in Libya. And it was Clinton’s State Department that was mainly responsible for the administration’s attempt at a strategic “pivot” to Asia, designed largely to counter China’s growing influence”.

He also writes that it was Clinton who “led the way with a historic trip that brought long-isolated Myanmar (also called Burma) into the fold of American partners”.

Her legacy, at least in terms of soft power is as he says, uncertain, “The outcome of the Arab Spring appears to be increasingly Islamist and anti-American, and among the legacies Clinton bequeathed to her successor, John Kerry, is a resurgent jihadist movement in the Arab world”. He credits her for helping US image, especially in Europe but the dangers of this have been warned of here before.

He again praised her for, stressing “that diplomacy and economic development must go hand in hand. She preached that helping partner countries achieve social stability — built on progress on health, food security, and women’s rights — would create stronger alliances and new paths to solving traditional foreign policy problems”.

Interestingly he writes that “A test case for whether the Clinton model of diplomacy can work going forward may be the current turmoil in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak’s successor, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, appears to be wavering in his commitment to democracy. Although Washington deals mainly with Morsi’s government and the Egyptian military, the State Department has fostered ties between nongovernmental organisations in the United States and Egypt that focus on education and development”.

He chastises her noting “although Clinton excelled at soft diplomacy, she shied away from the kind of hard diplomacy that traditionalists identify with foreign policy greatness. One thinks of Adams’ authorship of the Monroe Doctrine and the Transcontinental Treaty with Spain, Acheson’s aggressive championing of containment, Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy between the Arabs and the Israelis and his clever exploitation of the Sino-Soviet split. Some critics have interpreted Clinton’s more modest agenda as stemming from political caution. In a recent assessment, the journalist David Rohde quoted a State Department official who suggested that Clinton’s hesitation to get personally involved in conflicts was related to her future presidential ambitions”.

This is perhaps unfair. It oversimplifies Monroe, Acheson and Kissinger and simplifies Clinton. Secondly, these men were living in simpler times, ie the Cold War, and as a result of the (reasonably) obvious bipolarity in the world there was clarity in the world. Regrettably this is not the case currently.

However, his specific point that Clinton, “happily agreed to leave key negotiations in crisis spots to special envoys, charging George Mitchell with overseeing the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio and relying on Richard Holbrooke to bring about a political settlement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She rarely stepped in as each of them failed to make much headway”.

He then discusses the notion that “Zbigniew Brzezinski, the dean of the Democratic national security establishment, criticized the administration’s foreign policy for being ‘improvisational.’ To be fair, the improvisation was sometimes effective. In one case, Obama and Clinton barged into a meeting at the 2009 global climate change talks in Copenhagen and forced the Chinese president to agree to a nonbinding pact under which rich and poor countries alike pledged to curb their carbon emissions. And last year, Clinton displayed cleverness and agility in negotiating the release of the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng”, but he adds fairly that “The administration failed to anticipate the increasingly Islamist bent of the countries whose regimes were ousted in the Arab Spring, and it has been slow in formulating a coordinated response to the abuses against democracy by Morsi and other Islamist leaders. Instead, Obama appears to be approaching Morsi in much the same realpolitik way he once dealt with Mubarak”.

He mentions the personal distance between the two, “Her distance from Obama, by most accounts, was a source of frustration and disappointment for Clinton, especially at the beginning of her tenure. She likely felt shortchanged by the difference between her original job description and the reality that emerged. In the fall of 2008, when Obama surprised Clinton by asking her to take the job, he told her that he had his hands full with the collapsing economy and needed someone of her global stature to take care of foreign policy. The implication was that Clinton would be the dominant figure. But that never happened. Early in Obama’s first term, a senior aide to Clinton told me that “the biggest issue still unresolved in the Obama administration is, can there be more than one star?” The answer, it soon became clear, was no; the only star was going to be Obama himself”. He adds that things were not helped by Vice-President Biden who served for decades as a senator and for many years as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

He ends the piece “Slow and steady progress is not necessarily the stuff of greatness. But it is valuable nonetheless, and it may be what, in the end, the world will remember most about Clinton’s tenure as the country’s top diplomat”.

How many wars?


The answer might seem obvious: one, at least since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. But Harvard’s Linda Bilmes and UCLA’s Michael Intriligator argue that it’s at least four”.

Temporary co-operation


An article in Foreign Affairs discusses the relationship between America and the International Criminal Court.

David Kaye writes that “the Brookings Institution hosted what would have been unthinkable a decade ago: a fulsome discussion, at times an outright lovefest, between officials from the U.S. government and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the ICC, lauded Washington for bolstering the court’s efforts to bring war criminals to justice. In turn, Stephen Rapp, the U.S. war crimes ambassador, declared,  “Every one of the situations in which arrest warrants have been issued [by the ICC] merit the support of the United States.” For the first time, the United States is not only cooperating with the ICC but encouraging cooperation and information-sharing with the court, which is based in The Hague”.

Kaye goes on to mention further instances of US-ICC co-operation “In March, Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo wanted by the ICC since 2006 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, surrendered to the U.S. embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. Despite the Rwandan government’s opposition to the ICC, U.S. officials quickly transferred Ntaganda into ICC custody. Less than two weeks later, Washington announced an expansion of the Rewards for Justice program, offering up to five million dollars for information that leads to the arrest, transfer, and conviction of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and others wanted for arrest by the ICC”.

Yet at the same time Kaye writes that the US Government’s normal posture is one of outright hostility, “although the United States is not a party to the ICC’s charter, the Rome Statute, it is arguably doing as much as, if not more than, member states are doing to bolster the work of the court. The Obama administration’s support stands in stark contrast to the high-profile assault that the George W. Bush administration waged against the ICC from 2001 to 2005. At the prodding of John Bolton, who served as undersecretary of state and then as U.S. ambassador to the UN, Washington denounced the Rome Statute and, by threatening to cut off military assistance, secured so-called Article 98 agreements from dozens of governments, promising that they would never send U.S. citizens to the ICC. At the same time, Congress passed the American Service-Members’ Protection Act, which prohibits cooperation with and funding of the court”.

Kaye then mentions that the Bush-ICC relationship softened in 2005 with “In 2005, Bush did not veto the UN Security Council’s referral of the Darfur conflict to the court. In addition, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opened channels of communication with ICC officials. Publicly, however, Washington maintained an arm’s-length relationship”.

He then writes that President Obama has had good relations with the ICC, “The Obama administration has not only walked back Bush-era policies but has actively sought out opportunities to help the court. U.S. officials enthusiastically attend the ICC’s annual meetings of its member states and no longer seek Article 98 agreements. They speak in support of the court at the UN Security Council. In February 2011, Washington voted with a unanimous UN Security Council to refer the worsening situation in Libya to the ICC. The same year, Obama sent 100 U.S. military advisers to central Africa to train local troops tracking down Kony and other members of the LRA wanted by the ICC. Even more remarkable, the administration’s embrace of the court has been met with little, if any, resistance from Congress”.

The piece ends noting that while there are benefits to America joining the ICC, “as it would afford Washington an opportunity to populate the court with American judges and prosecutors who could shape the development of international criminal law and exercise influence over the ICC’s actions. However, even ardent ICC supporters recognize that seeking ratification would be the wrong move at this time. Congress is unlikely to support joining an institution that hypothetically could investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens. And Congress is generally skeptical of international obligations; it recently rejected the UN Disabilities Convention, even though it was modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. To quash the agreement, Senate Republicans, echoing a long-held conservative attitude toward treaties, raised unfounded fears that the convention would allow UN bureaucrats to violate U.S. sovereignty. If senators blocked even this relatively uncontroversial international agreement, there is little chance that they would sign off on a global criminal court”.

It finishes, “even without a ratification effort, certain developments could rekindle congressional opposition of the ICC. For example, if Palestinian leaders renew their request for an ICC investigation into Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza, including into settlement activity, Congress will almost certainly pressure the administration to walk back its support of the court. A court investigation into alleged crimes committed by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, an ICC member state, would spark similar opposition”.

What Kaye is describing is nothing new. America will always attempt to work with international organisations when it suits its interests and values however, when either or sometimes both, of these are being threatened, America will rightly walk away.

Too efficient?


Reports mention “Despite White House assurances that its lethal drone policy merely targets “senior operational leaders” of al Qaeda and its associates, a new McClatchy report finds that the majority of drone targets in Pakistan include a mix of unidentified ‘extremists’ and lower-level Afghan and Pakistani militants. The blockbuster report is based on copies of ‘top-secret U.S. intelligence reports’ obtained by reporter Jonathan Landay and includes data on drone strikes in Pakistan in a 12-month period ending in September 2011″.

With unabashed glee Micah Zenko writes in a separate, though related, article, “It turns out that the Obama administration has not been honest about who the CIA has been targeting with drones in Pakistan. Jonathan Landay, national security reporter at McClatchy Newspapers, has provided the first analysis of drone-strike victims that is based upon internal, top-secret U.S. intelligence reports. It is the most important reporting on U.S. drone strikes to date because Landay, using U.S. government assessments, plainly demonstrates that the claim repeatedly made by President Obama and his senior aides — that targeted killings are limited only to officials, members, and affiliates of al Qaeda who pose an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland — is false”.

Zenko goes on to write “Senior officials and agencies have emphasized this point over and over because it is essential to the legal foundations on which the strikes are ultimately based: the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and the U.N. Charter’s right to self-defense. A Department of Justice white paper said that the United States can target a ‘senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force’ who ‘poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.’ Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration targets ‘specific senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda and associated forces,’ and Harold Koh, the senior State Department legal adviser dubbed them ‘high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.’ Obama said during a Google+ Hangout in January 2012: ‘These strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and going after al-Qaeda suspects.’ Finally, Obama claimed in September: ‘Our goal has been to focus on al Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America.'”

Ultimately, this is unimportant. The fact that the drone strikes are being carried out on any al-Qaeda operatives whether high level or not, is what is important. America is facing a very dangerous enemy and to pretend otherwise would be reckless. As is well known Pakistan has done its utmost to hinder, slow and stop all US actions in Afghanistan out of a supposed, and ultimately warped “national interest”.  Indeed what would be far more worrying is that if the administration was overly selective in picking targets to strike.

Zenko goes on to add “Landay’s reporting primarily covers the most intensive period of CIA drone strikes, from September 2010 to September 2011. ‘[T]he documents reveal estimates of deaths and injuries; locations of militant bases and compounds; the identities of some of those targeted or killed; the movements of targets from village to village or compound to compound; and, to a limited degree, the rationale for unleashing missiles,’ he writes”. Zenko then quotes directly from the report, “Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals”.

Surely this is the whole point of drones? Yes the administration “lied” which it never should have done but instead of praising it for weakening other groups that wish to destroy America Zenko is in effect, saying that drones are too effective and protecting America. This shows just how strange the position he is trying to argue really is.

He then writes “This scope of targeting complicates the Obama administration’s claim that only those al Qaeda members who are an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland can be killed. In reality, starting in the summer of 2008, when President Bush first authorized signature strikes in Pakistan, the vast majority of drone-strike victims were from groups focused on establishing some form of Sharia law, attacking Pakistani security forces, and destabilizing Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban and attacking U.S. servicemembers”.

He ends the article, “Landay also writes that “the reports estimated there was a single civilian casualty, an individual killed in an April 22, 2011, strike in North Waziristan.” This should finally demolish John Brennan’s claim in June 2011 that “For the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.” As I noted previously, either Brennan did not receive the information in these top-secret documents (an implausible notion given his central role in managing the targeted killings program), or he was being dishonest”.

It is however Zenko that is being dishonest, or at the very least naive. Drone strikes are not perfect and sadly some innocent civilians have, obviously, died. However the question that must be asked is what is the alternative? Sending dozens, or hundreds of US troops into harm’s way with uncertain results?

The article closes ,”The Obama administration has a fundamental choice to make if it is serious about reforming its targeted-killing program: Either target who officials claim they are targeting, or change their justifications to match the actual practice. If they unable or unwilling to do this, then other White House efforts toward drone-strike reform or transparency will be met with skepticism”.

Exaggerating the differences


The highly regarded Norm Ornstein has written about the retirement of Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). He contends that “smart” foreign policy will suffer as a result.

He opens the piece “In 1947, Senator Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican from Michigan, famously declared that ‘politics stops at the water’s edge’ as he became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Vandenberg was not just talking; he was a critical player in helping Harry Truman shepherd the Marshall Plan through a Republican Congress” and goes on to  note that “even then, Vandenberg’s comment was at best a shaky aphorism. He himself had been a strong isolationist going into the fierce debate over America’s entry into the Second World War. He had bitterly opposed the extension of the draft in 1941, a bill that barely passed and was signed by Franklin Roosevelt months before Pearl Harbour. Although he converted back to internationalism after December 1941, Vandenberg was not uniformly followed by his colleagues”.

Ornstein however exaggerates the differences by focusing too narrowly on a what is admittedly important events in Vadenberg’s career. Ornstein goes on to argue “No one epitomized the intensification of partisan politics more than Tom DeLay (R-TX), who during his tenure as House Majority Whip bitterly opposed Bill Clinton on all fronts, including foreign policy. When a congressional leader says things like ‘You can support the troops but not the president’ or ‘I cannot support a failed foreign policy,’ one can safely say the political atmosphere is not very Vanderbergian. That was in the Clinton years; tribalism, of course, has for the most part gotten worse in the Bush and Obama presidencies”.

Yet while impossible to confirm DeLay and his colleagues would probably not have acted much differently from President Clinton if they were held the executive branch and to pretend so is to miss a central plank in US foreign policy. What Ornstein thesis is based on is simply political posturing. That is not to say he is wrong when it comes to domestic matter where there is cause for real concern at the almost non-existent level of co-operation between the two parties.

He goes on to argue that Levin “is a straight-shooter who does not demagogue or posture for narrow political considerations. He can be, and has been, sharply critical of presidential actions on foreign and defense policy, but he has done so within reasonable bounds of propriety. On foreign and defense policy, Levin has managed to build alliances across party lines without alienating his adversaries, whether on worldview or partisan dimensions. In other words, he is a proud inheritor of the Vandenberg tradition, and the anti-DeLay”. Surely the fact that Levin can forge a consensus says more about the substance of foreign policy than the details which Ornstein seems to think will be irreparably damaged with Levin leaving.

While this is not the case what will be damaged is the ever diminishing ability to compromise on domestic issues which will hurt the US further, something it can ill afford.

Iraq, ten years on


Today marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the War in Iraq on the same day as “More than a dozen car bombs and suicide blasts tore through Shi’ite Muslim districts in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and other areas on Tuesday, killing nearly 60 people on the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein”. Peter Feaver discusses the myths that have persisted to this day.

The first myth that Feaver discusses is that of the Bush administration claimed Iraq was behind the 11 September attacks. Feaver writes, “In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration did explore the possibility that Hussein might have collaborated with al Qaeda on the attacks. Vice President Dick Cheney (along with some officials in the secretary of defense’s office) in particular believed this hypothesis had some merit, and in the early months gave considerable weight to some tantalizing evidence that seemed to support it. However, by the fall of 2002 when the administration was in fact selling the policy of confronting Hussein, the question of a specific link to 9/11 was abandoned and Cheney instead emphasized the larger possibility of collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda. We now know that those fears were reasonable and supported by the evidence captured in Iraq after the invasion.  This has been documented extensively through the work of the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC), which examined the captured files of the Hussein regime. A 2012 International Studies Association panel sponsored by the CRRC on ‘Saddam and Terrorism’ was devoted to this topic and spent quite a bit of time demonstrating how those who insist that there were no links whatsoever simply rely on a poorly worded sentence referencing ‘no smoking gun’ of a ‘direct connection’ in the executive summary of the 2007 ‘Iraqi Perspectives Project – Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Documents’ report and ignore the evidence of links and attempted connections uncovered in the report itself as well as subsequent work by the project”.

The second point he writes is about the administration forcing democracy on Iraq. He argues “The administration was, in the end, committed to using force to defend the democratization project in Iraq but this myth has the logical sequence out of order. The correct sequence, as Leffler and myriad memoirs and contemporaneous reporting demonstrate, is this: (1) Bush was committed to confronting Iraq because of the changed risk calculus brought about by 9/11, which heightened our sensitivity to the nexus of WMD and terrorism (believing that state sponsors of terrorism who had WMD would be a likely pathway by which terrorist networks like al Qaeda could secure WMD); (2) Bush was also committed not to making the mistake of Desert Storm, namely stopping the war with Hussein still in power and concluded that confronting Hussein must end with either full capitulation by Hussein or regime change through war; (3) given regime change, the best option for the new Iraq was one based on pluralism and representative government rather than a “man on horseback” new dictator to take Hussein’s place”.

The third point he debunks is that the war was for oil and was more about protecting Israel and the profits of Halliburton than anything else, “some of them were endorsed by mainstream figures such as President Obama himself. All of them seem impervious to argument, evidence, and reason. The absence of evidence is taken as proof of the strength of the conspiracy. Contrary evidence — eg., that Israel was more concerned about the threat from Iran than the threat from Iraq — is dismissed”.

The fourth point Feaver mentions is that of the “neocons”, something that has been discussed here before. Feaver writes ” What Frank Harvey calls the “neoconism” myth — that the Iraq war was forced upon the country by a cabal of neoconservatives, who by virtue of their political skill and ruthless disregard for truth were able to ‘manipulate the preferences'” of the key people who would not have been for the war otherwise. Feaver, having set the question answers it thus, “Harvey painstakingly reconstructs the decision process in 2002 and documents all of the ways that the Bush administration took steps contrary to the “neoconism” thesis — eg., working through the United Nations and seeking Congressional authorization rather than adopting the unilateralist/executive-only approach many Iraq hawks were urging. (Leffler makes similar points in his lecture). Harvey goes on to make an intriguing case that had Al Gore won the election in 2000, he would have likely authorized the Iraq war just as Bush did”.

The fifth point that Feaver discusses mentions the theory that President Bush lied about the reason behind going to war, Feaver writes “I have addressed this myth before. It is a staple of the anti-Iraq/anti-Bush commentary — and not just of the pseudonymous trolls in blog comment sections. John Mearsheimer, one of the most influential security studies academics, has written a book built around the claim that leaders regularly lie and that Bush in particular lied about Iraq. Mearsheimer claims “four key lies,” each one carefully rebutted by Mel Leffler”.

Feaver ends the piece “All of these myths add up to the uber-myth: That the arguments made in favour of the Iraq war were all wrong and the arguments made against the Iraq war were all right. Sometimes this is recast as “those who supported the Iraq war were always wrong and those who opposed the Iraq war were always right.” Of course, many of the arguments made in favor of the Iraq war were wrong.  Hussein had not yet made by 2002 the progress in reviving his WMD programs that most intelligence services thought he had made. Many specific claims about specific WMD programs turned out to be not true”.

Preemption vs prevention


A fascinating article on President Obama’s agreement with the doctrine of the preemptive war doctrine was been published.

He starts the piece “‘preemption,’ the notion of striking first so as to thwart an adversary’s own impending attack. The most egregious misuse of the term arose in President George W. Bush’s 2002 national security strategy, which sought to expand its meaning to encompass the use of force against any who might one day pose a threat. Thus was the attempt made to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq as ‘preemptive.’ But the attack on Iraq was not preemptive. In the strategic lexicon, the kind of action taken against Iraq is called “preventive war,” which is about attacking before a threat becomes imminent. Moral philosopher Michael Walzer has parsed these matters neatly, noting that preemption focuses closely on the need to take action in a current crisis; preventive war has to do with worries about the future consequences of inaction. Generally, ethicists are open to the need to be able to take preemptive action. But the very concept of waging preventive war gets their backs up. It looks a little too much like naked aggression”.

While “naked aggression” is not to be encouraged to be so virulently against preventive war is too simplistic. The authors draws makes too great a distinction between preemptive war and preventive war when they are in fact two sides of the same coin. As he says preemption seems to be accepted the concept of preventive war seems to be a no go area, despite the fact there there is little that really separates the two concepts.

He goes on to write “Even more troubling than the facts that Americans are gone from Iraq, al Qaeda is back, and the killing has continued, is that President Obama has taken the same approach to preemption as his predecessor. He has ramped up the global drone war on terror with a many-fold increase in strikes on suspects. We are told that this is done with great care, and that the targets are being selected strictly on the basis of the imminence of the threats posed. But this is hardly believable, as scarcely a shred of evidence has been presented to the public in support of the notion that the victims of these attacks were on their way to hit American (or other) targets. Further, the frequent use of ‘signature strikes,’ hitting at sites simply on the basis of intelligence profiles suggesting they’re populated by troublemakers, is highly problematic”.

The author makes the mistake the everything that is not seen by the public therefore discounts it. On the contrary governments generally are wise not to shown too much of this often highly sensitive information to the public, for fear that their reaction would be unmerited and only cause further alarm. Therefore, to say that barely a “shred of evidence” has been released to the public and then go on to say that as a result of this lack of information the drone campaign must be either unnecessary or be overextending itself makes no sense.

He then makes the point that these tactics have been extended to the realm of cyberwar, “Another Obama administration application of preemption is emerging in cyberspace. Last fall, then-Secretary of Defense Panetta, in a major policy speech, explicitly spoke to the possibility of mounting preemptive attacks. For the most part, his qualifying “ifs” (if a cyber attack is perceived as imminent, and if it is likely to do great damage) suggest a degree of caution. But there has also been language in the administration discourse about striking first on the basis of “emergence of a concrete threat” that begins to move this policy more in the direction of using preventive force than just taking preemptive action”.

“No reason to give it up now”


In a counter article to Barry Posen’s piece “Pull Back”, Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth have written a counter response entitled, “Lean Forward: In Defence of American Engagement”.

The authors write “The details of U.S. foreign policy have differed from administration to administration, including the emphasis placed on democracy promotion and humanitarian goals, but for over 60 years, every president has agreed on the fundamental decision to remain deeply engaged in the world, even as the rationale for that strategy has shifted. During the Cold War, the United States’ security commitments to Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East served primarily to prevent Soviet encroachment into the world’s wealthiest and most resource-rich regions. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the aim has become to make these same regions more secure, and thus less threatening to the United States, and to use these security partnerships to foster the cooperation necessary for a stable and open international order. Now, more than ever, Washington might be tempted to abandon this grand strategy and pull back from the world. The rise of China is chipping away at the United States’ preponderance of power, a budget crisis has put defense spending on the chopping block, and two long wars have left the U.S. military and public exhausted”.

They write that those who favour a “globally engaged grand strategy wastes money by subsidizing the defense of well-off allies and generates resentment among foreign populations and governments. A more modest posture, they contend, would put an end to allies’ free-riding and defuse anti-American sentiment” are wrong and that “advocates of retrenchment overstate the costs of the current grand strategy and understate its benefits. In fact, the budgetary savings of lowering the United States’ international profile are debatable, and there is little evidence to suggest that an internationally engaged America provokes other countries to balance against it, becomes overextended, or gets dragged into unnecessary wars”.

They go on to make the valid point that “Calculating the savings of switching grand strategies, however, is not so simple, because it depends on the expenditures the current strategy demands and the amount required for its replacement — numbers that are hard to pin down. If the United States revoked all its security guarantees, brought home all its troops, shrank every branch of the military, and slashed its nuclear arsenal, it would save around $900 billion over ten years, according to Benjamin Friedman and Justin Logan of the Cato Institute. But few advocates of retrenchment endorse such a radical reduction; instead, most call for “restraint,” an “offshore balancing” strategy, or an “over the horizon” military posture. The savings these approaches would yield are less clear, since they depend on which security commitments Washington would abandon outright and how much it would cost to keep the remaining ones”. The authors go on to make the point that the cost of this engaged strategy and consequent defence budget is falling to 3% of GDP by 2017 from its current level of 4.5%.

The article adds “Indeed, it’s hard to see how the current grand strategy could generate true counterbalancing. Unlike past hegemons, the United States is geographically isolated, which means that it is far less threatening to other major states and that it faces no contiguous great-power rivals that could step up to the task of balancing against it. Moreover, any competitor would have a hard time matching the U.S. military. Not only is the United States so far ahead militarily in both quantitative and qualitative terms, but its security guarantees also give it the leverage to prevent allies from giving military technology to potential U.S. rivals”.

The piece goes on to argue that no nation balanced against the United States, even during the supposedly unilateral Bush administration, on the concept of soft balancing the authors note that people “have resorted to what scholars call ‘soft balancing,’ using international institutions and norms to constrain Washington. Setting aside the fact that soft balancing is a slippery concept and difficult to distinguish from everyday diplomatic competition, it is wrong to say that the practice only harms the United States. Arguably, as the global leader, the United States benefits from employing soft-balancing-style leverage more than any other country. After all, today’s rules and institutions came about under its auspices and largely reflect its interests, and so they are in fact tailor-made for soft balancing by the United States itself. In 2011, for example, Washington coordinated action with several Southeast Asian states to oppose Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea by pointing to established international law and norms”.

They then go on to rightly to dismiss the notion of imperial overstretch, “Another argument for retrenchment holds that the United States will fall prey to the same fate as past hegemons and accelerate its own decline. In order to keep its ambitious strategy in place, the logic goes, the country will have to divert resources away from more productive purposes — infrastructure, education, scientific research, and so on — that are necessary to keep its economy competitive. Allies, meanwhile, can get away with lower military expenditures and grow faster than they otherwise would. The historical evidence for this phenomenon is thin; for the most part, past superpowers lost their leadership not because they pursued hegemony but because other major powers balanced against them — a prospect that is not in the cards today”. They go on to write “there is no reason to believe that the pursuit of global leadership saps economic growth. Instead, most studies by economists find no clear relationship between military expenditures and economic decline”

They cleverly go on to make the point that “if it instead merely moved its forces over the horizon, as is more commonly proposed by advocates of retrenchment, whatever temptations there were to intervene would not disappear. The bigger problem with the idea that a forward posture distorts conceptions of the national interest, however, is that it rests on just one case: Iraq. That war is an outlier in terms of both its high costs (it accounts for some two-thirds of the casualties and budget costs of all U.S. wars since 1990) and the degree to which the United States shouldered them alone. In the Persian Gulf War and the interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya, U.S. allies bore more of the burden, controlling for the size of their economies and populations. Besides, the Iraq war was not an inevitable consequence of pursuing the United States’ existing grand strategy; many scholars and policymakers who prefer an engaged America strongly opposed the war. Likewise, continuing the current grand strategy in no way condemns the United States to more wars like it. Consider how the country, after it lost in Vietnam, waged the rest of the Cold War with proxies and highly limited interventions. Iraq has generated a similar reluctance to undertake large expeditionary operations — what the political scientist John Mueller has dubbed “the Iraq syndrome.” Those contending that the United States’ grand strategy ineluctably leads the country into temptation need to present much more evidence before their case can be convincing”.

The writers go on to link economic and military power, “Preoccupied with security issues, critics of the current grand strategy miss one of its most important benefits: sustaining an open global economy and a favorable place for the United States within it. To be sure, the sheer size of its output would guarantee the United States a major role in the global economy whatever grand strategy it adopted. Yet the country’s military dominance undergirds its economic leadership. In addition to protecting the world economy from instability, its military commitments and naval superiority help secure the sea-lanes and other shipping corridors that allow trade to flow freely and cheaply. Were the United States to pull back from the world, the task of securing the global commons would get much harder”.

They conclude, “A grand strategy of actively managing global security and promoting the liberal economic order has served the United States exceptionally well for the past six decades, and there is no reason to give it up now. The country’s globe-spanning posture is the devil we know, and a world with a disengaged America is the devil we don’t know”.

Bad for everyone


In last month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, Barry Posen writes an article “Pull Back“, arguing for a less “interventionist” United States.

He opens the piece “Despite a decade of costly and indecisive warfare and mounting fiscal pressures, the long-standing consensus among American policymakers about U.S. grand strategy has remained remarkably intact. As the presidential campaign made clear, Republicans and Democrats may quibble over foreign policy at the margins, but they agree on the big picture: that the United States should dominate the world militarily, economically, and politically, as it has since the final years of the Cold War, a strategy of liberal hegemony”.

The war on terror may have been costly, but to say it was “indecisive” is risible. Terrorist networks are no longer as powerful as they were in 2001 and this is thanks to both President Bush and President Obama. What Posen does correctly point out is that there is little difference between Democrats and the GOP in this area.

Posen goes on to write “the U.S. government has expanded its sprawling Cold War-era network of security commitments and military bases. It has reinforced its existing alliances, adding new members to NATO and enhancing its security agreement with Japan. In the Persian Gulf, it has sought to protect the flow of oil with a full panoply of air, sea, and land forces, a goal that consumes at least 15 percent of the U.S. defense budget. Washington has put China on a watch list, ringing it in with a network of alliances, less formal relationships, and military bases. The United States’ activism has entailed a long list of ambitious foreign policy projects. Washington has tried to rescue failing states, intervening militarily in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya, variously attempting to defend human rights, suppress undesirable nationalist movements, and install democratic regimes. It has also tried to contain so-called rogue states that oppose the United States, such as Iran, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, North Korea, and, to a lesser degree, Syria. After 9/11, the struggle against al Qaeda and its allies dominated the agenda, but the George W. Bush administration defined this enterprise broadly and led the country into the painful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although the United States has long sought to discourage the spread of nuclear weapons, the prospect of nuclear-armed terrorists has added urgency to this objective, leading to constant tension with Iran and North Korea”.

What Posen and others like him do not answer sufficiently well, if at all, is who would take over this role if America were to disengage with the world? Posen continues, “This undisciplined, expensive, and bloody strategy has done untold harm to U.S. national security. It makes enemies almost as fast as it slays them, discourages allies from paying for their own defense, and convinces powerful states to band together and oppose Washington’s plans, further raising the costs of carrying out its foreign policy. During the 1990s, these consequences were manageable because the United States enjoyed such a favorable power position and chose its wars carefully. Over the last decade, however, the country’s relative power has deteriorated, and policymakers have made dreadful choices concerning which wars to fight and how to fight them”.

What Posen and others like him fail to see, and ackownledge is that US national security and US grand strategy are one and the same. America does what is does, firstly because it can, secondly becuase it wants to and thirdly because it is in its interests. Posen is not the first to make what is an unnatural differentation between the two strands that come together and benefit both the world as well as America itself. As to the unverified claim that America “makes enemies almost as fast as it slays them” this makes little real sense and to this day America’s only real enemies, i.e. those who wish it genuine harm, are numbered in the single digits. The rest of the world either knows and accepts that America is here to stay, in more or less its current form. However, Posen’s point about the problem of freeriders is undeniably true and gives little incentive for others to pay for their own security. Yet, is this the best he can come up with? This problem while a nusiance of the current international order is hardly its ultimate flaw. Lastly, the notion that America “chose its wars carefully” seems to say the least, bizarre. President Clinton had numerous warnings about terrorist extremism and did nothing. At the same time as making this point he seems, in the previous paragraph, to accept that Clinton’s other wars were largely beneficial, “defend human rights, suppress undesirable nationalist movements, and install democratic regimes”.

Amidst all the inaccuacies and falsehoods Posen rightly states “the Pentagon has come to depend on continuous infusions of cash simply to retain its current force structure — levels of spending that the Great Recession and the United States’ ballooning debt have rendered unsustainable”. This poses an extremely serious risk to America, and by extentsion, the world if it a long term solution is not found.  He goes on to note that America is rich, safe and well armed yet far more controversially he says “instead of relying on these inherent advantages for its security, the United States has acted with a profound sense of insecurity, adopting an unnecessarily militarized and forward-leaning foreign policy”.

Again the stark differences are revealed. America takes an expansionist view of the world, that all events are interlinked in this increasingly globalised world. This is in the world that America operates in, the only realistic attitude to take. Anything else would be naive and foolish. He cites “examples” of how this expansionist reading of realist doctrine has been recieved. He notes that “China and Russia regularly use the rules of liberal international institutions to delegitimize the United States’ actions. In the UN Security Council, they wielded their veto power to deny the West resolutions supporting the bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and more recently, they have slowed the effort to isolate Syria”. Yet if this is the best the Posen can come up with getting US actions delegitimised than so be it. Again Posen seems to be of two minds, “a country as large and as active as the United States intensifies these responses”. If America only “intensifies” these reponses then surely it would be better for America to act rather than stop something that, according to Posen would only be less “intense”.

Posen ends the piece arguing “Washington should not retreat into isolationism but refocus its efforts on its three biggest security challenges: preventing a powerful rival from upending the global balance of power, fighting terrorists, and limiting nuclear proliferation. These challenges are not new, but the United States must develop more carefully calculated and discriminating policies to address them”. He goes on to argue that Asian countries should balance against China, despite the fact that China has acted aggressively towards them and without America they are fractious and weak.

On the second point regarding terrorism he argues “it was partly the U.S. military’s presence in Saudi Arabia that radicalized Osama bin Laden and his followers in the first place”. This is true but wrong. US bases were in Saudi Arabia but now they are gone and America is still fighting the same terrorists. Posen is attempting to paint al-Qaeda as a group that can be negotiated with, when it fact it has no such desire. Only the destruction of America, to pretent otherwise is nothing short of dangerous. Posen does however make the valid point that “trying to reform other societies by force is too costly, the United States must fight terrorism with carefully applied force, rather than through wholesale nation-building efforts such as that in Afghanistan”.

Besides from the already stated problems with free-riding Posen’s argument is really isolationism in disguise. It would be bad for America, and bad for the world. In short, bad for everyone.

Better than Bush?


There has been much discussion on the legal framework for drone warfare saying it is too weak and too strong. David Cole writes that the Obama despite the criticism from the left about drone, Obama is still better than President Bush.

He opens the piece thus, “Justice Department ‘white paper’ purporting to justify the remote-controlled drone killing of an American citizen without charges or trial raised anew the question whether President Obama’s counterterrorism policy is more a continuation than a refutation of his predecessor’s controversial and much-criticized approach. Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times that President Obama has ’embraced some of Mr. Bush’s approach to counterterrorism.’ Notre Dame Law School Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell compared Obama’s authorization of drone strikes to the Bush administration’s secret memos authorizing the CIA to subject terror suspects to waterboarding and other abusive interrogation tactics”.

Cole goes on to argue “claims that Obama is channeling Bush are grossly exaggerated. While both chose to use military as well as law enforcement measures to respond to the threat posed by al Qaeda, there is a world of difference between the approach Bush took to war powers and that taken by President Obama. Where Bush treated the law as an inconvenient obstacle to be thrust aside in the name of security, Obama has sought to pursue al Qaeda within the framework of the laws of war. Many of Obama’s policy choices deserve criticism, to be sure. And his reliance on secrecy is particularly disturbing. But to paint the two leaders with the same brush is to miss the difference between a leader who seeks to evade the law, and one who seeks to abide by it”.

Yet it is not just Obama’s closeness to Bush but other actions where the future president attempted to differentiate himself from Bush failed. This is seen most vividly in the misguded attempts of the administration to close Guantanamo Bay camp. A decision that was eventually reversed. Another was the military tribunals that he said he would close only to reverse that decision also.

He mentions “Both relied on secret Justice Department memos that redefined terms in ways that defy common sense. Where the torture memo said that only pain of the intensity associated with ‘organ failure or death’ constituted torture, the drone memo argues that the United States can kill in self-defense even where no attack is underway or being planned, radically redefining the traditional requirement of an ‘imminent’ attack as only George Orwell could have. Where the torture memo claimed that ‘enhanced interrogation’ was not barred by a federal law against torture, the drone memo argues that killing an American in Yemen with a drone does not violate a federal statute that prohibits killing an American abroad. Both memos were secret until leaked to the press”.

Cole goes on to write “President Lincoln authorized the killing of hundreds of thousands of Confederate soldiers, but no one claims that violated due process. If an American were fighting with al Qaeda on the battlefield against us, few would contend that due process bars our soldiers from shooting back at him. There is no dispute that the taking of an American’s life must comport with due process, but there are significant questions about what due process requires in a war setting”.

Panetta on drones


My view is that we are engaged in a war on terrorism that started when al-Qaida attacked this country and killed 3,000 innocent people in the Trade Towers and almost 200 people here at the Pentagon — that was an act of war. We have an obligation and responsibility to go after those who attacked our country. And that is what we have done. We have gone after the leadership of al-Qaida that was involved in that brutal attack, and we’ve done everything we can to try to make sure they would never again be able to develop the kind of plans that were involved in 9/11. We have been successful at that. We’ve used whatever technology and weapons to go after our enemy — an enemy that has total disregard for innocent people”.

Too many rights


Noted legal scholars John Yoo and Robert Delahunty have together written a rebuttal to those who think that President Obama’s legal basis for the drone war is too vague.

They open noting that under the highly possible scenario of a terrorist base with US citizens present and training, “Under the laws of war, the U.S. military unit can surprise the instructors and recruits with snipers and artillery as well as shooting at closer quarters. But under President Barack Obama’s half-hearted approach to terrorism, revealed in Tuesday’s leaked Justice Department memo, military units on the ground or drones in the air would have to pause and seek guidance from multiple bureaucrats. Instead of having the traditional authority to kill the enemy and destroy their resources, American soldiers and agents have entered a legal netherworld of Obama’s creation”.

They go on to write “The speed and decisiveness of U.S. counterterrorism operations will suffer, even as the administration withdraws from Iraq and now Afghanistan, and gives up the intelligence networks there”. They go on to add that “For the first time in the history of American arms, presidential advisers will sit and weigh the ‘due process’ rights of enemy soldiers, judge whether they pose an ‘imminent’ threat, or decide if capture ‘becomes feasible.'” Yet the point must be made that there is no clear definition of these terms and therefore the executive has the role in defining these terms which in turn mean that action is certain to be far quicker than the authors say.

They move away from partisan rehetoric when they correctly note “To be clear, the memo, technically a “white paper,” is correct in affirming that the United States is at war with al Qaeda. That conclusion rests on the actions of two presidents over four terms, Congress over the past decade, the Supreme Court, the U.N. Security Council, and NATO. It cannot be seriously disputed — although some liberal critics cling to the belief that al Qaeda is simply a criminal conspiracy, not a true belligerent, and that only law-enforcement actions, not military ones, may be taken against it. Given that the United States is at war, it follows that it may legitimately use lethal force against enemy combatants, regardless of their nationality.  Enemy soldiers, even when not engaged in active hostilities, are legitimate targets during war”.

The authors go on to give a slew of historical comparisons arguing that the President Obama has not claimed new authority, “Despite claims that the president is asserting a radically new and menacing authority, Obama’s decision to target al Qaeda operatives who are U.S. nationals is by no means unprecedented. The fact is that American presidents (and state governors) have lawfully deployed military force against citizens in insurrection, rebellion, or war against the United States from the beginning of the nation. In 1787, the very year in which the Constitution was framed, the governor of Massachusetts deployed the state militia to put down Shay’s Rebellion. President George Washington personally led federalized militia troops into western Pennsylvania to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794”.

They go on to argue that fundamentally the memo gives terrorists too many rights, “Where the white paper commits serious error is in positing that the ‘due process’ clause of the Fifth Amendment applies to al Qaeda operatives at large. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), the Supreme Court ruled that once suspected enemy combatants had been captured and detained, some measure of ‘process’ was owed to them. But the court’s decision applied to enemy combatants only after their capture, but not before it”.

The piece ends, “Some liberal critics of the white paper object to the fact that it allows senior executive branch officials to decide who appears on targeting lists, without the possibility of judicial review. That criticism is misplaced for several reasons. First, the Federal District Court correctly held in the Awlaki case that targeting decisions presented a “political question.” In other words, the federal courts lacked the competence to decide which targets to select”.

It concludes “the white paper is an odd hybrid of sound and unsound analysis. Although it is broadly correct in its conclusions, its account of constitutional law is flawed and its effect on U.S. counterterrorism operations could cause serious damage”.



Micah Zenko juxtaposes some lines in President Obama second inaugural address calling for nation building at home, with the fact that US soldiers are returning from long wars.

He lists the “war like” posture of the administration, “the acknowledgement by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta regarding drones, ‘We’ve done that in Pakistan. We’re doing it in Yemen and elsewhere. I think the reality is its going to be a continuing tool of national defense in the future’; the announcement that the U.S. military would provide intelligence, transportation, and refueling support for the French intervention in Mali; the signing of a U.S.-Niger status of forces agreement that will likely include a drone base for surveillance missions, although U.S. officials ‘have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point’; the forthcoming expansion (perhaps quintupling) of U.S. Cyber Command, including ‘combat mission forces’ for offensive cyberattacks”. However, it should be said that Obama is not taking these decisions all by himself. America’s enemies are forcing him to protect America and its interests, which it does in a variety, and increasingly diverse number of ways.

He goes on to list a host of other recent events, when taken together all point to a bellicose president. Zenko writes that “Using lethal force against other countries — and developing and sustaining the capabilities to do so in perpetuity — are the distinguishing features of a country at war. As Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, Jr. remarked in November, ‘We remain a nation at war.’ In January, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Ted Koppel that even after 2014″.

Yet, the problem that Zenko and others like him fail to address is what is the alternative to this supposed “permanent war”.  America, like most, democracies, has ADD when it comes to any long term threats. This, coupled with the increasing intolerance of citizens (especially in Europe) of deaths of soldiers on any battlefield leaves the government restrained in what it can do to protect its own citizens.

Zenko goes on to write “perhaps the enduring legacy of the Obama administration will be its sustained, rigorous effort to shape and define-down the idea of war. Consider in March 2011, during the NATO-led intervention in Libya, when a reporter asked White House spokesperson Jay Carney, ‘What is this military action?…Is it a war?’ He replied, ‘It is a time-limited, scope-limited military action, in concert with our international partners.'” He goes on to add that “White House senior counterterrorism adviser John Brennan defended drone strikes in April 2012 by comparing them to ‘deploying large armies abroad’ and ‘large, intrusive military deployments.’ Soon afterward, when Carney was asked if the Obama administration relied on the same ‘loose definition of the declaration of war that President Bush did’ in its use of drone strikes, he noted: ‘Using some of these tools is preferable when you are concerned about civilian casualties than, say, launching a full-scale invasion by land.'”

To pretend the America is not under attack would be foolish. To say that it should not defend itself in a simple and cost effective way, even more so.

A legal basis


Reports from the BBC note that “The legal basis for using drone strikes to kill US citizens has been disclosed in a leaked justice department memo. US officials can authorise the killing of Americans abroad if they are leaders of al-Qaeda or its allies, according to the document obtained by NBC News. Lethal force is lawful if they are judged to pose an ‘imminent threat’ and their capture is not feasible, it adds. US drone strikes against militant suspects in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan are deeply controversial”.

The administration has gone on to defend the use of drones “defended the guidelines for targeting Americans in drone strikes as ‘fully consistent’ with the Constitution. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said it is President Obama’s responsibility to protect U.S. citizens ‘first and foremost.'” The news report goes on to say that “Carney said strikes against Americans overseas are sometimes ‘necessary to mitigate ongoing attacks.’ The operations are ‘fully consistent with our Constitution,’ he said”.

Related reports note that “Lawmakers went on the offensive shortly after details of the memo became public, demanding Department of Justice (DOJ) officials disclose additional information on the specific legal arguments justifying unmanned drone strikes against Americans.  The DOJ memo, first reported by NBC News, outlined the criteria U.S. military or intelligence officials must follow before it can launch a targeted drone strike against terror suspects — even if those suspects happen to be American citizens”.

Peter Feaver writes that “The Obama Administration has embraced the Bush doctrine, or at least the preemption part of the Bush doctrine”. Feaver goes on to write “the Obama Administration bases its policy on an expansive interpretation of the laws of war, which allow countries to act to head off imminent attack. In particular, according to the reporter who broke the story, the Obama Administration bases its legal reasoning by interpreting ‘imminence’ in a flexible way”. He adds “This should sound familiar to anyone who has debated American foreign policy for the past decade, for precisely that sort of logic undergirded the Bush Administration’s preemption doctrine.  Here is the relevant section from Bush’s 2006 National Security Strategy“.

Rosa Brooks, has argued that the document gives the administration too much power. In the piece Brooks goes on to write about the “shadow war” despite the fact that she is writing about the war that is meant to be unknown. She goes on in a similar vein, mentioning “we now know a little bit more than we used to about the Obama administration’s legal rationale for this shadow war. Monday night, NBC News released a 2011 Justice Department white paper on the question of whether U.S. citizens overseas can be targeted. In the process of examining that question, the paper also offers the most detailed legal theory we’ve yet seen for the shadow war more generally”.

She goes on to say that she will examine the claims made by the paper adding “In and of themselves, each appears uncontroversial — but the sum of the parts amounts to a recipe for legally sanctioned error and abuse”. This sentence of Brooks’ in particular is a cause for concern. There will be error but the point which she doesn’t seem to get is that drones do more far more good than harm to US/world interests in dealing with a continuing terrorist threat.
She argues “When the ‘enemy’ (not just a few of the enemy, but all of the enemy) wears no uniform and appears on no traditional battlefield — when there’s substantial disagreement about what it means to be a ‘combatant,’ a ‘belligerent,’ or to ‘participate in hostilities’ — stating the legal principle that even U.S. citizens can be targeted if they join the enemy in a war against the United States tells us nothing whatsoever”. On the one hand she seems to accept that the nature of warfare has changed but equally wants to deny the fact when prosecuting the very same war.
In the next point she argues that the administration is abusing the power of self defence given to it under natural law, and the UN. She writes that “what constitutes an ‘imminent’ threat? Traditionally, both international law and domestic criminal law understand that term narrowly: to be ‘imminent,’ a threat cannot be distant or speculative. To the Justice Department, however, ‘distant and speculative’ are apparently perfectly consistent with ‘imminent'”. Again she acknowledges that the nature of warfare has changed but refuses to follow logic and accept the consequences of this.
She goes on to write in a similar vein that “although the DOJ paper notes that the use of force to prevent imminent threats of violent attacks must comply with general law of war principles of necessity, proportionality, humanity, and discrimination, it offers no guidance on how to determine if a use of force is ‘necessary.'” Yet the use of force is necessary when intelligence agencies advise the president when it is necessary. It is therefore up to the president, as she well knows. Generally, when dealing with issues of national security it is usually better to be safe than sorry. Naturally there are times when this cliche/maxim is useless in these matters but otherwise it is a safe judgement.
Brooks goes on to criticise the administrations document for its admittedly circular logic, “If the state doesn’t consent to a U.S. strike but ‘an informed, high level official’ of the U.S. government believes an individual in the non-consenting state poses an imminent threat of violent attack, then — by definition! — the foreign sovereign state can be deemed ‘unwilling or unable’ to suppress the threat itself, in which case, you guessed it, the use of force is also acceptable”.
What Brooks and her colleagues fail to answer is what is their alternative? Limiting the actions of the US government in its duties to protect itself?

“Differences at the margin”


James Truab writes a piece arguing that Biden, Kerry, and Hagel are too similar in their views. He opens the piece noting that in 2008, “Senators Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel found themselves standing on a remote and snowbound mountain road in the vast wilderness of Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. They had been flying back from an army outpost to Bagram Air Base when a snowstorm forced their helicopter to make an emergency landing”, Traub goes on to write that this delay was noted by news agencies at the time. Traub goes on to mention that “Hagel told me about the trip in a 2009 conversation. He also told me that he and Biden had traveled all over the world together, that nobody knew national security like Biden did and that the vice president was dead right about the futility of an ambitious counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. Oh, and on the 2008 trip, which had also included India and Pakistan, Biden and Kerry had concluded that the United States had to make a large-scale aid commitment to Pakistan — the origin of the legislation ultimately known as Kerry-Lugar-Berman”.

Yet Traub goes on to make an interesting point, “Obama’s national security team will be lead by an old boys club whose members have traveled, advised, and pooled ideas with each other for years. The fourth member of the club, national security advisor Tom Donilon, said to me a few years back that he could hardly remember a time when he didn’t know Biden. Donilon’s new deputy, Antony Blinken, is Biden’s former chief foreign policy aide. Biden once told me that he was one of Kerry’s few good friends in the Senate, and saw himself as Kerry’s ‘interlocutor’ with the White House”. Traub goes on to mention that “Strategic thinking had been missing from the White House, Hagel said, since the administration of the first George Bush”, yet this is not the case. The now (in) famous 2002 National Security Strategy was the very basis for the war that President Obama is waging.

The author goes on to state that “The first thing that needs to be said is that the identity and views of Obama’s chief advisors will not change the president’s obvious wish to narrow the scope of American foreign policy: to withdraw from existing military entanglements and avoid new ones, so as to save his political capital for the epochal battles to come over taxes, entitlements, immigration, and gun control”. This however is in the wrong order, Obama will spend the first two years, at most, on domestic issues before moving to concentrate on foreign affairs as the 2014 mid terms take place and more serious talk of his successor as president talks place.

Traub adds in the piece “The collective voice of The Team of Buddies could still tip the balance. And in many ways it will be a collective voice. Not only Hagel, but also Kerry, told me that he thought Biden was right on Afghanistan — though Kerry said that he felt that he should not publicly oppose Obama, at that early moment in his tenure, on a supreme question of war and peace. All three, that is, have enough experience of the world to be wary of grand schemes, and to be inclined to choose the more modest of proffered alternatives. All three are classic ‘realists’ in their regard for prudence”. It was Kerry who said most recently in his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone. American foreign policy is also defined by food security, energy security, humanitarian assistance, the fight against disease and the push for development”.

Traub continues with the crucial point “The differences among them strike me as temperamental rather than ideological”. He ends the piece on the fundamental point, “Kerry might be inclined to leave more troops there than either Biden or Hagel. And unlike those two, Kerry also supported the intervention in Libya. Kerry seems to have more of his foreign-policy idealism left intact than Biden does, or than Hagel ever had. It is easier to imagine him calling for a significant American role in a future Mali-type engagement than Biden or Hagel. Still, these are differences at the margin”.

Hagel assessed


As the Hagel nomination seems to have run into troubled waters, though in all reality he will be confirmed, it has been reported that Brent “Scowcroft joined with several other former officials in both parties to sign a letter in support of Hagel las month on the letterhead of the “Bipartisan Group,” a loose association of former officials that includes Hagel. The Cable reported that horse racing gambler Bill Benter paid to have that letter advertised in Politico‘s Playbook newsletter. But the Bipartisan Group has no further plans to act on behalf of Hagel and is not working directly with the Obama administration on the Hagel defense effort”.

Dr Stephen Walt mentions that “as I noted a week or so ago, I don’t think Hagel’s appointment implies any shift in policy direction. It’s been clear for quite some time what the general thrust of Obama’s national security policy is going to be: trimming defence, pivoting to Asia, rejecting preventive war with Iran, and striving to rebuild at home. To the extent that he used the sword overseas, it was through limited, surgical means like special forces and drones and not big U.S. deployments”. Yet what Walt does not mention is Iran where Obama views the country, rightly, as a threat, both to American interests and allies, to say nothing of regional stability.

Tom Hicks writes “The significance of the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary is not that he is the first Vietnam vet to be tapped, but rather that he is the first combat-veteran enlisted man ever to be picked. (Like Forrest Gump, he served in the 9th Infantry Division.) I think that is nice. But I don’t think it particularly will help him with the job. I worry more about the lack of diversity in the backgrounds of the members of the Obama cabinet. Too many former members of Congress, too few people who know much about the real world”.

It has been argued that Chuck Hagel biggest task at the Department of Defence will be the pivot to “Asia”. It has been written that “Hagel may be a former grunt, but his most important task as America’s next secretary of defense — should his nomination pass the Senate — could be a trying job for a landlubber: executing the military component of the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia. It’s a mission that will require an appreciation for the finer points of maritime strategy, a deft diplomatic touch, and an expansive worldview”. Naturally, just because Hagel served in the US Army does not disqualify him from running DoD, but it does mean, at least initially, that he may have to defer to senior civil servants until he has some idea of what is required of the pivot.

Holmes goes on to define the pivot noting, “I define a pivot as a foreign-policy enterprise that combines elements of geography, strategy, and diplomacy to mount a sustained presence in some distant and potentially contested overseas theatre  In military terms, pivoting means building up preponderant armed might in East and South Asia in concert with friends and allies to accomplish strategic and political goals. Pivoting is a matter of strategic mass, strategic maneuver, and alliance relations. It also means setting priorities. American leaders must be prepared to relegate secondary theatres to secondary status, lest they scatter finite resources hither and yon. Dispersal thins out military power at any spot on the map, perhaps leaving U.S. commanders at a local disadvantage against weaker foes. Armed forces that try to do everything, everywhere, at the same time end up doing little anywhere”.

Holmes then makes the very valid point that “United States first pivoted from North America to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, turning its eyes from the continental interior to the maritime near abroad. Let’s call this turnabout Pivot 1.0. This was the age of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), when Washington appointed itself the protector of American republics’ independence of European imperial rule. In principle, the republic forbade Europeans to expand their holdings anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. In practice, U.S. leaders confined their energies to the Caribbean basin. They were thinking geostrategically, and they set priorities. Once dug, a canal across the Isthmus of Panama would shorten sea voyages between Atlantic and Pacific by thousands of miles, sparing mariners the journey around Tierra del Fuego — the odyssey the Pacific-based battleship USS Oregon underwent to get into the fight off Cuba in 1898″.

He further blosters his argument when he argues “Victory over Spain in 1898 furnished strategic mobility in the form of an island base network to support naval operations in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Policy energy, strategic mass, strategic maneuver — these were the struts supporting America’s first foreign-policy pivot. But if Pivot 1.0 swiveled U.S. attention to the Caribbean, it also ushered in Pivot 1.5. Adm. George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron crushed the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War, handing the United States an offshore outpost in the Far East. Washington scooped up islands such as Hawaii and Guam — islands suitable for naval stations — in the aftermath of war. America had established a bridgehead off the China coast, complete with island stepping-stones to reach it. It just needed a Central American canal to expedite access from the North American east coast to the Pacific Ocean, and thence to the riches of Asia. America’s Pacific strategy remained in limbo until the Panama Canal opened in late 1914, completing the arc of Pivot 2.0”. He then mentions “Huntington, the great political scientist, contended that U.S. maritime strategy entered a “transoceanic” phase following World War II, fixing American attentions on events deep within Eurasia while empowering U.S. forces to act from forward bases scattered around the rimlands. Call Huntington’s transoceanic strategy Pivot 2.5 if you like. But it was another variation on the same theme”.

Finally, President Obama’s choice of the non-Democrat Hagel has been defended, “President Clinton appointed a Republican senator, William Cohen, to succeed Democratic defense intellectual William Perry as secretary of defense late in his second term. But George W. Bush kept on Clinton appointee George Tenet as his first CIA director. Likewise, right after his election, Richard Nixon offered the post of secretary of defense to Democratic Senator Henry Jackson, and the man who was eventually confirmed as secretary, Melvin Laird, kept on many Democrats, including Paul Warnke, when he took over the Pentagon. Reagan appointed former Jackson staffer Richard Perle, former Carter Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz, and Democratic heavyweight Paul Nitze to key posts on his national security team”. The piece ends rightly dismissing the criticism levelled against Hagel, “Tom Coburn (R-OK), Dan Coats (R-IN), and John Cornyn (R-TX) — said they would not vote for him. Coburn says Hagel does not have the experience to manage a large organization like the Pentagon. Leaving aside the fact that Hagel has held many private and public sector management positions, does this mean that Coburn would have voted against two of the more successful secretaries of defense who came directly from the House, namely Republicans Melvin Laird and Dick Cheney? Coats contends that Hagel has shown much disrespect for the military. Really? He disrespects it so much that he volunteered to serve in combat, was awarded two Purple Hearts, and coauthored the 9/11 GI Bill over the opposition of the Bush administration. (Coats, by the way, was turned down for the secretary of defense post by George W. Bush after he was interviewed for the job.) Does this mean that Coats would have voted against Caspar Weinberger and Leon Panetta, who both tried to slash defense spending while running OMB? Cornyn says he cannot vote for Hagel because of his problem with Israel. What problem? According to several retired ambassadors, flag officers, former national security advisors, a former Republican secretary of defense, and former senators from both parties, no one has been more steadfast in supporting America’s commitment to Israel than Hagel. And would Cornyn have voted against James Baker, who had a problem with Israel’s settlement expansion and cut off loan guarantees to the country?”

Some other names


An article from the end of last year has noted that of all the talk about who should succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of Defence some names just have not been mentioned.

The piece opens, cleverly, with the job spec, “the president’s priorities argue for a technically proficient executive that can intimidate the Department into compliance and the Congress into restraining spending and hobby horses — a description neither Hagel nor the other preferred candidates fit. If the president is simply looking to put the Pentagon into the hands of someone who shares his views on foreign policy, Chuck Hagel would achieve that aim, and with the sublime collateral damage of continuing Republican feuding. But it is unlikely to buy the White House congressional support on defense policy — and that’s crucial, given what the White House actually wants to achieve in the coming four years”.

He goes on to write “Moreover, the president doesn’t need a defence strategy. Like it or not, he has one: winding down the wars and minimizing foreign entanglements, killing suspected terrorists by remote means, and training the military forces of other countries to handle their own problems. It is consistent with his broader national security strategy of investing in American domestic strength and rebalancing spending away from defense. If the president’s strategy were actually implemented by the Defense Department, it would mean a genuinely revolutionary reduction in DOD spending and redistribution of spending among the military services, greatly to the advantage of the Navy and detriment of the active-duty Army”, yet both of these are exactly what President Bush did during his term in office. The Iraq drawdown that took place under President Obama was agreed by President Bush, the killing of terrorists remotely also began under Bush, though the technology was young, Obama has dramatically ramped up the programme. Similarly the revised DoD was begun under the “neo-con” (whatever that means) Donald Rumsfeld.

The author writes “Mostly what the president wants is all quiet on the defense front while he fights other battles, and that means a secretary of defense who can cut defense spending by at least $25 billion a year without a rebellion from either Congress or the military or activist groups like MOAA while also hedging against a catastrophic breakthrough in military capabilities by our potential adversaries”.

He mentions “Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford. Running the only Big Three car company that didn’t take a bailout should endear him to conservatives. He successfully negotiated unions to reduced labour costs with a finesse that will be essential to reining in military entitlement programs, and he sold off nostalgia brands that no longer made sense for the company”. He adds that Mulally “he knows the defense business, having run Boeing”. If President Obama takes the step Mulally would be following in the footsteps of  Robert McNamara, but what DoD really needs is a technocrat. Mulally despite knowing the “defence business” would not be suited. Mulally’s job is to make money, that is not DoD’s job. He would be an good choice to manage the DoD budget however.

The next name that is suggested in the piece is that of Paul Kaminski, who he writes, served as “former undersecretary for acquisition and technology under Secretary Perry. He has advanced degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from both MIT and Stanford, a military career distinguished by pushing forward technological innovations, and private-sector work experience in high-tech companies. He wrote a hugely perceptive study of emergent technologies, arguing for changes in our export controls that would allow us to capitalize on the work of foreign companies in crucial sectors of the next generation of innovations. If anyone can fix our procurement system and throw the red flag on underperforming or ill-aligned programs, it’s Kaminski”. While Kaminski meets more of the requirements to hold a role such as that of secretary of Defence, to promote him so rapidly, to say nothing of the length of time since he last served in a DoD role would lead to the assumption that he would be a perfect replacement for Ashton Carter who is expected to leave should he not be chosen by Obama to take over from Panetta.

He mentions other names but perhaps the most sensible is that of John Hamre who has been mentioned for senior positions previously. Hamre serves as the “director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and current chairman of the Defense Policy Board. Hamre is a Republican from South Dakota who was deputy secretary in the Clinton Administration. He is a superb intellect who dispenses difficult ideas with the grace of a genial Lutheran pastor handing tuna casserole around — and he comes by it honestly, since he studied at Harvard Divinity School in addition to receiving a PhD from SAIS. Hamre was also ruthlessly effective as comptroller in ‘cutting off the oxygen’ to those who wouldn’t implement the secretary’s priorities while still acting as a generous mentor to a legion of young government officials. He has Capitol Hill chops not only from a decade as a SASC staffer but also from the Congressional Budget Office”.

Of all the names suggested here Hamre’s seems most suited to the role, along with Kaminski to serve as his deputy, should Ashton Carter not get the role and thus, understandably, wish to resign after a suitable period has elapsed.

Hagel runs into trouble


First there was the talk that Chuck Hagel was anti-Israeli but it has been reported that “The attacks against Chuck Hagel for his views on Israel may be giving the White House pause — or perhaps it is just the shooting in Connecticut and the fiscal cliff negotiations that have delayed an announcement on new Cabinet appointments, including for Pentagon chief. But the delay has given time for the criticisms against Hagel to take form. And now a number of Hagel’s friends are pushing back. Several former high-level diplomats have written an open letter defending the former senator against what some have called a smear campaign on his views on Israel. Hagel would be an ‘impeccable choice’ for SecDef, they say”.

Secondly the Hagel rumour has meant that “Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups have begun to raise questions about comments that Hagel, who remains on the extremely short list for Pentagon chief, made in 1998 about an ‘openly, aggressively gay’ man who was nominated to be ambassador to Luxembourg and his fitness to represent the U.S. Chad Griffin, president of the HRC, said that ‘Senator Hagel’s unacceptable comments about gay people, coupled with his consistent anti-LGBT record in Congress, raise serious questions about where he stands on [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] equality today,’ according to a report in the WaPo”.

The same article mentions “If the delay in announcing Obama’s nominee for Pentagon chief is because Hagel really was just a trial balloon, then the president could move ahead with nominating the Pentagon’s No. 2 — Ash Carter — or former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy. In that case, the better money is on Carter, says Thompson. ‘If Hagel is not available, just elevate Ash Carter to the top job,’ he told Situation Report. ‘You could do a lot worse than Ash Carter for the secretary of defense. He is a smart guy, he’s easy to get along with, and he’s a Bill Perry protégé.’ Then, Thompson and others say, Flournoy could slide into Carter’s old job as No. 2 — or as a service secretary. With Susan Rice out of the running for State, there will be a push to make sure Obama’s national security team is gender inclusive”. Of course, such arguments are totally moronic and imply that more gender balance would mean fewer wars and greater global harmony.

Others have written that “With a little prodding, Sen. John Kerry once reluctantly showed me his childhood passport. It was tattooed with border crossing stamps from almost all the Western European countries. From 1951 to 1954, his father Richard Kerry, a career Foreign Service officer, worked as an attorney for what was then calledthe Bureau of United Nations in the State Department. But when John was 10 years old, Richard Kerry was assigned to Berlin to serve as legal advisor at the U.S. mission in the divided German city. From that Cold War outpost base, young John was taken sailing by his father across the vast fjords of Norway. He wandered the beaches of Normandy collecting shell casings from D-Day. He studied history and learned languages in a Swiss boarding school among the sons and daughters of other American diplomats”. The piece goes on “By the time Kerry enlisted to serve in the Vietnam war in 1966, he was 6 foot four and conversant in five languages. Like his father, he was attracted to the world of diplomacy. Because he was a student at Yale University, he perhaps could have finagled out of the draft. But Kerry was raised to be a public servant”.

Brinkley goes on to chart Kerry’s career, “Kerry has been on the Foreign Relations Committee since 1985. His orientation tilts toward the art of diplomacy even as he understands war in personal ways. He has championed free trade, supported U.S. intervention in Kosovo and Bosnia, partnered with Sen. Bill Frist to write and pass the first global AIDS bill (which President George W. Bush turned into PEPFAR), fought against the trafficking of persons, led relentless investigations into Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega’s involvement in illegal narcotics that laid the predicate for the invasion of Panama and Noriega’s arrest, exposed the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) for illegal money laundering that funded global criminal activities including Osama bin Laden’s former base in Sudan, and earned his spurs on global climate change as Al Gore labeled him ‘the Senate’s best environmentalist.’ If there is such a thing as a Kerry Doctrine, it is a clear-eyed willingness to pursue engagement and test the intentions of other countries, even present and former enemies or difficult partners on the world stage.”

Yet, rightly Brinkley mentions bluntly, “On Iran, he is a hawk”. Despite the problem with the term “dove” in general, the concept is well understood.  He ends the piece “Kerry would be a great pick to lead the State Department at this specific moment in time. Just as he learned everything he could about Southeast Asia from the 1960s to the 1990s, Kerry has amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of the Middle East — often putting him ahead of his potential future boss on the region’s urgent crises. He was the first senator to call for President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to step down, pressed the administration to create a no-fly zone in Libya to topple Muammar al-Qaddafi, and has been a sharp critic of Syria’s murdering of its own citizens, having meticulously tested Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to change his ways in 2009 and come away unimpressed”.

“Erring on the side of caution”


After Susan Rice has thankfully, withdrawn her candidacy to become the next secretary of State, attention has turned to Chuck Hagel who in all likelihood will take over from Leon Panetta at the Department of Defence. In a sign of bi-partisanship members of the House on the left and right have called for defence cuts.

Some have mentioned that “If reports that President Obama will pick Chuck Hagel to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are true, it will be one more sign that he may use his second term to rein in America’s global military presence after an expansion that dates back to September 11, 2001. Hagel’s views on the limits of American power support a defense retrenchment that seems increasingly likely”. Baron goes on to write that “And, perhaps most surprisingly, two weeks ago the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson, delivered a speech in Britain making the administration’s case that the war on terrorism could soon become a matter of law enforcement, not military action. Johnson predicted that a ‘tipping point’ was coming where enough al Qaeda leaders had been killed or captured that pursuing terrorists ‘should no longer be considered an armed conflict.’ ”

Baron goes on to note that “Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, believes the United States should use force only when absolutely necessary. And his insistence on never repeating a military intervention like the Iraq war is one of the things for which he has become best known. In an op-ed for the Washington Post in 2006, Hagel opposed President George W. Bush’s coming troop surge and called for an immediate shift toward withdrawal”, yet the troop surge was widely regarded as a success. Indeed, it was so successful that the strategy has been tried in Afghanistan with mixed results. The piece ends noting Hagel’s supposedly isolationist views. Though as ever, little substantive will change, thankfully. Dr Walt also praises the suspected move by President Obama but does so in a highly partisan article that lacks nuance.

Jacob Heilbrunn, the “neo-con” obsessed realist, also praises the move that has, officially, yet to happen. He writes “With Hagel at the helm, Obama could proceed even more quickly with cutting the defense budget and retrenching abroad, while largely neutering his Republican adversaries”.

Finally a piece by James Traub argues that the danger is that President Obama will play it too safe and not be ambitious in his choices, he writes, “Kerry is more like Hillary Clinton in both temperament and worldview than any other even plausible candidate to replace her. And because Obama respects Kerry without being close to him, as has been true of his relationship with Clinton, foreign policy will probably continue to be formulated in the White House, and executed by the State Department”. Traub goes on to write “For Obama, 2013 will be different from 2009 because the Arab world is in tumult rather than paralysis, Europe is struggling to survive as a coherent entity, Iraq is yesterday’s news, Afghanistan is waning rather than waxing, China’s booming growth can no longer be taken for granted, and so forth. The administration has uniquely advertised its own change in posture by talking up the ‘pivot to Asia.'”

Traub continues “a national security team led by Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel would offer the prospect of stability, caution, and realism. I wonder, though, if there is a danger of some learning some lessons too well. Obama has found that the world is more intransigent than he had thought, and American influence more limited”. Yet, this supposed lack of American influence is hard to see with the world calling for US action in Syria and most of Asia rushing to the side of America as China alienates the region.

This however does not equally mean that America always get what it wants. He ends the piece noting “As George W. Bush erred on the side of recklessness, Obama is now erring on the side of caution. He should have helped to organize and equip the Syrian insurgents while the rebellion was still largely local; now the war is turning into an international jihadist cause, and thus giving the United States and other outsiders yet more reason to hesitate”.

Again Traub sees only “recklessness” by President Bush, which of course is a laughable argument it the scale of its generalisation. He goes on to draw the false conclusion that if President Obama had intervened in Syria there would not be jihadists in Syria. He ignores the fact that the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is not going on at all, with Syria being just one battle front, Bahrain being another.

The fact that Rice has withdrawn her name is positive, whoever replaces Panetta and Clinton, should have the steady nature that Kerry embodies.

An irrelevance?


There are conflicting reports that have said the Senator John Kerry (D-MA) will become the next Secretary of State, replacing Hillary Clinton. Other reports have Kerry replacing Leon Panetta.

Aaron David Miller asks does it matter who will replace Clinton? He writes “Does it really matter all that much whom the president chooses? Whether it’s John Kerry, Susan Rice, Tom Donilon, or some mystery candidate who will surprise us all, the next secretary will have to deal with Barack Obama, withholder-in-chief — a guy who dominates and doesn’t delegate big foreign-policy decisions. Maybe I’m wrong about the U.S. president’s preternatural tendency to control everything. Perhaps in his second term, a more confident Obama will empower a true loyalist — someone he really trusts, like Susan Rice — and allow him or her to run with some truly big issues. But don’t count on it”.

Miller goes on to argue that Clinton has had a number of successes, “did she own and dominate — on behalf of the president — a single issue of strategic consequence pertaining to peace or war? There were some issues that the military, CIA and White House appropriately dominated — think Afghanistan, Iraq, and the war on terrorism. But on others — Arab-Israeli peacemaking, the U.S.-Israel relationship, and the big think on Iran strategy — the White House exclusively dominated discussions where the State Department could have played a central role. The president must be the final decision-maker on foreign policy”.

He adds that “the secretary of state should become — or at least in the past became — an architect of his policies. That means crafting strategy, selling it to the president, and working together with a team of envoys and experts to implement it”. However, there is some debate as to whether this has been the case for as long as Miller seems to imply. As ever there is broad agreement on the fundamentals of how America should interact with the world. This agreement diminishes much of Miller’s arguement, though naturally, not all of it. Clinton and Obama have two different broad viewpoints, with President Obama keeping an eye on domestic issues as well as what Clinton and her successor say.

Miller goes on to write “Think about what might happen if you actually empowered the secretary of state to be America’s top diplomat. That person might then be able to think through priorities, consider how means and ends align, and develop real options on a tough issue and a strategy for how to coordinate messaging — not as a thought experiment, but with real purpose”, yet this is exactly what happened with Dr Anne-Marie Slaughter’s QDDR which received backing from Clinton and aimed to do match means to ends, set goals and evaluate what has done correctly, and badly over a four year period. The second QDDR report is due in 2014.

Obama’s cabinet 2.0


After his re-election President Obama must now decide who to have in his next Cabinet. While there is little talk over the Labour Department, Interior or HUD much of the talk revolves around the Big Four, State, Tresury, Defence and Justice.

A blog post discusses those in contention, “others close to the president are betting on Rice. One unnamed insider quoted in the Politico article said that member’s of Obama’s inner circle “think it’s going to be Susan Rice.” “If Obama wants to make her secretary,” the source said, “he’ll get her in.” The current U.N. ambassador was perhaps the frontrunner until she went on the Sunday talkshows to relay the administration’s account of the deadly Benghazi attack on Sept. 11, which later turned out to be inaccurate”.

In a seperate article well known scholars note their own choices. Realist Leslie Gleb calls for Deputy Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter to become Secretary, “The present deputy secretary is a solid manager who is better-versed in Pentagon affairs than anyone else, Democrat or Republican. He is also capable of taking defense decisions to the next level”. Gleb says Chief of Staff, Jack Lew, should become Tresury Secretary. Dennis Ross aruges for Strone Talbott, former Deputy Secretary of State to take over from Clinton and he agrees Carter should take over from Panetta. Ross also recommends Repbublican, Robert Zoellick, recently retired president of the World Bank, as Tresury Secretary. Others suggest Erskine Bowles to take Tresuary and Joe Lieberman at State.

James Traub writes that for all the talk of Senator John Kerry (D-MA), currently serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, becoming Secretary of State it should happen. He mentions “One very plugged-in friend of mine says that she’s talked to Pete Rouse, the Obama advisor now assembling lists of names for President Barack Obama’s second-term cabinet, and he says that Senator John Kerry has the short odds. But a White House correspondent responded by e-mail that, in fact, Kerry is ‘a long shot,’ since Obama won’t want to risk losing a Senate seat, that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is still the leading candidate, but that national security advisor Tom Donilon ‘REALLY wants it.’ Then, the New York Times reports that Donilon doesn’t want it, and that Rice is ‘crippled’ because GOP senators will use the confirmation hearing to torture the administration over Benghazi”.

Traub goes on to write that “let me try to answer instead the question of who it would make the most sense for him to appoint. I think the answer is pretty clearly John Kerry. Tom Donilon is a highly competent administrator who would die of impatience halfway through an interminable lunch with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Susan Rice is a pugnacious team player who, like Donilon, is more insider than outsider, and is notably deficient in that unctuous fluid which issues from the pores of professional diplomats. She would make a very good national security advisor if Donilon goes elsewhere”. He then goes on to compare favourably, Kerry to Hillary Clinton, “He is immensely solemn and judicious, like her, but, unlike her, immensely tall. He is a decorated veteran with the iron grip of the ex-athlete. His baritone voice bespeaks bottomless gravitas. The man looks and acts more like a secretary of state than anyone since George Marshall. As a casting decision, it’s a no-brainer”.

Traub goes on to make the interseting point that “Clinton has not been asked to formulate America foreign policy but rather to represent it, to talk about it, and to execute it. And she has done so almost flawlessly. If she is a conceptual thinker, she has kept her vision to herself. The big thinking in this administration comes from the Big Thinker in the White House”. However, much of the “big thinking” does not need to be done at all because there is so much agreement. Traub writes that Kerry “is an implementer, not a thinker”. He goes on to write that Kerry is a good choice because “Kerry has been the White House’s designated placater of Hamid Karzai and Pakistan’s military chief of staff, Gen. Ashraf Kayani. He visited Pakistan in the aftermath of the arrest of CIA agent Raymond Davis, and the killing of Osama bin Laden; and both times he left cooler tempers in his wake”. He notes the Kerry, has been around for so long that he “knows everyone who matters in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. If a relationship of trust confers any advantage — and I’m not convinced that it does — Kerry has that edge.” Traub goes on to describe Senator Kerry as “a world-class listener”, yet quite fairly says that “After repeated visits to Syria, for example, Kerry became convinced that President Bashar al-Assad was a man the United States could do business with”.

10 years of drones


An interesting article argues that drones will remain a tool for presidents after the elections. He opens noting that the 3 November marks the 10th anniversary “of America’s Third War — the campaign of targeted killings in non-battlefield settings that has been a defining feature of post-9/11 American military policy as much as the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan”.

He goes on to bemoan the fact that “The war is conducted by both the CIA — covert and totally unacknowledged — and by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — described without any specificity as “direct action” by the White House. Whether the CIA or JSOC is the lead executive agency, the Third War is marked by the limited transparency and accountability of U.S. officials”. Yet by saying this he fails to understand that drones are not only necessary but an excellent way of projecting American power cheaply and effectively. As others have mentioned drones have many plus points but these far outweigh whatever few negatives there are.

He goes on to write that drones “had two simple goals: preventing another attack on the U.S. homeland and capturing or killing those al Qaeda operatives responsible. Bush administration officials warned ominously that its forward-leaning counterterrorism approach mandated preventive attacks against terrorist safe havens”. Judged by these factors, drones have been exceptionally successful.

He goes on to note that “surviving al Qaeda operatives simply went elsewhere, including just across the Durand Line into the tribal areas of Pakistan”, adding that strikes began in 2004 with drones becoming more involved as the years progressed, continuing to this day. There has been much whining from the Pakistani government about its sovereignty being violated, but with leaders as corrupt and incompentent as those in Pakistan, it is in US, and world,  interests that America take these actions.

He then cites an incident in Yemen and calls implies that it was an assassination. Again however he misses the point, partly as a result of one of them being a US national and therefore committing an act of high treason, and secondly, the need for America to think more broadly about how it deals with the terrorist threat.

He does make the interesting point that “Since November 2002, there have been 400 more documented U.S. targeted killings in the non-battlefield settings of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines (where there was reportedly one). Although over 95 percent of all targeted killings have been conducted by CIAand JSOC drones, a small number have also been carried out by Air Force Special Operations Command AC-130 gunships”. He then argues that “an estimated 3,400 people have been killed — 13 percent of whom were civilians”. Yet, these figures are small and while every innocent death is a tragedy and everything must be done to reduce these deaths, the world is a dangerous place and drones are far more accurate than any ballistic missile ever could be and for that reason alone drones deserve to be supported.

He ends angrily “What was once considered an immediate response to an exceptional threat to the United States is now a permanent and institutionalized feature of U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps by November 3, 2022, policymakers and the American people will have noticed”. Even if they do it must be hoped that drones are here to stay, for the protection of all.

“Reality of 2012”


Dr Tim Lynch, who said that Rick Perry would win the GOP nomination and go one to win the presidency has written another article.

Lynch mentions a piece that argues “It seems highly unlikely that Sandy will have any effect where the election really matters, which is in the Electoral College. Remember, Americans do not have a national vote for president, we have 51 simultaneous votes in the states and the District of Columbia for electors. New York, where many residents will presumably still be without electricity next Tuesday, is a lock for President Obama. At this point the only way that the storm could hurt Obama is if it is very close election and he wins the electoral vote by states but more Americans in total vote for Romney. For example, George W. Bush received one more vote than necessary for a bare majority in the Electoral College in 2000, even though half a million more Americans voted for Al Gore than for him. In a tight race, if hundreds of thousands of reliable Democratic votes do not materialise then it is possible that Obama could win but with a lesser degree of legitimacy in the eyes of critics and less of a governing mandate. Although, this certainly did not stop Bush from pursuing his agenda”.

Lynch, in his own piece argues that “it looks like Obama. He has more routes to the 270 electoral college votes than does Romney. “Mittmentum” slowed after the presidential debates. His performance in the first one remade the Governor’s campaign but did not decisively shift the maths in his direction. President Obama has an 83 per cent chance of winning, Romney only 16. These numbers have never been less than 60:40. Those holding a candle for a Romney have a very small, flickering flame”.

Lynch goes on to write plausibly, that “For an example of going out on a limb see Michael Barone’s swing-state-by-swing-state estimate of a Romney victory and Janet Daley’s claim that there are Republicans out there who have been systematically hiding their voting intentions from pollsters – possible but very, very unlikely”. He then goes on to fairly note that “We will not remember his election as the Revolution of 2008. If anything, we are now seeing the Reality of 2012”.

Lynch then goes on to write about how President Obama lacked the executive experience needed to run the Federal Government and corrale Congress into acting in the correct way. Lynch then adds on a national security front that “given us a competent and cheaper version of the Bush Doctrine. It is one which ends wars (in Iraq), keeps Guantanamo Bay open (because it serves a national security purpose) and kills the real bad guys (Osama bin Laden most gratifyingly)”.

More interstingly Lynch writes that “in 100 years’ time academics may well recall it as one in a series of contests – perhaps the last – that pitted against each other two contrasting notions of America’s future”, and goes on to expand arguing “The first accepts that national power should be increased in proportion to the demands of fairness and equality. The second accepts the utility of such power, will extend it, but has a conscience about doing so”.

He concludes soberingly “The debt crisis facing the United States may well render 2012 the last year in which candidates could pretend that the spending patterns and expansion of government of the last forty years could continue. 2012 will presage a reality we can believe in”.

Another endorsement


In a somewhat unlikely endorsement, the Economist, has said that it is supporting President Obama for re-election. It argues “the world’s most powerful country now has a much more difficult decision to make than it faced four years ago. That is in large part because of the woeful nature of Mr Obama’s campaign. A man who once personified hope and centrism set a new low by unleashing attacks on Mitt Romney even before the first Republican primary. Yet elections are about choosing somebody to run a country. And this choice turns on two questions: how good a president has Mr Obama been, especially on the main issues of the economy and foreign policy? And can America really trust the ever-changing Mitt Romney to do a better job?”

These criteria are certainly fair and the point about Mitt Romney has been made by the Economist before. The article goes on to add that Obama “simply that he stopped it all being a lot worse. America was in a downward economic spiral when he took over, with its banks and carmakers in deep trouble and unemployment rising at the rate of 800,000 a month. His responses—an aggressive stimulus, bailing out General Motors and Chrysler, putting the banks through a sensible stress test”.

The piece goes on to note “Obama has refocused George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ more squarely on terrorists, killing Osama bin Laden, stepping up drone strikes (perhaps too liberally, see article) and retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan (in both cases too quickly for our taste). After a shaky start with China, American diplomacy has made a necessary ‘pivot’ towards Asia”. The article implies, the war in Iraq, which has been discussed here before. It is correct to point out that leaving both too soon has had, and is having, dangerous consequences. Yet it fails to see the faults in its own argument, arguing for US troops to stay in Iraq but at the same time the war was bad.

It goes on to discuss the arab revolutions noting “Obama can point to the ousting of tyrants in Egypt and Libya, but he has followed events rather than shaping them, nowhere more so than with the current carnage in Syria”. Yet it is hard to see anyone else stepping up to the plate on this issue either, for obvious reasons. The magazine goes on rightly to praise Obama from his health care reform, “Even to a newspaper with no love for big government, the fact that over 40m people had no health coverage in a country as rich as America was a scandal. ‘Obamacare’ will correct that, but Mr Obama did very little to deal with the system’s other flaw—its huge and unaffordable costs”.

Yet it then goes on to unfairly criticise him, “No administration in many decades has had such a poor appreciation of commerce. Previous Democrats, notably Bill Clinton, raised taxes, but still understood capitalism. Bashing business seems second nature to many of the people around Mr Obama”. Not only is this incorrect but Obama reflected a public mood that needed to be given a voice where it had been suppressed for so long.

The article then turns to Romney, “Obama’s shortcomings have left ample room for a pragmatic Republican, especially one who could balance the books and overhaul government. Such a candidate briefly flickered across television screens in the first presidential debate”. It goes on to argue that “Romney stuck closely to the president on almost every issue. But elsewhere he has repeatedly taken a more bellicose line. In some cases, such as Syria and Russia (see article), this newspaper would welcome a more robust position. But Mr Romney seems too ready to bomb Iran, too uncritically supportive of Israel”. Yet these positions are either the same as those held by President Obama as is the case of Israel, or, merely a politician trying to out do the man he is trying to unseat.

Where the piece does praise Romney it then quickly goes on to say “far from being the voice of fiscal prudence, Mr Romney wants to start with huge tax cuts (which will disproportionately favour the wealthy), while dramatically increasing defence spending. Together those measures would add $7 trillion to the ten-year deficit”. This omits the supposed 12 million new jobs that Romney has said he would help create but has given little or no detail as to how he would do this.


Romney on drones


I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends“.

Romney, China’s man in the White House?


A piece argues that were Romney to win the election, China would benefit. He writes, “In 2011, the United States was China’s largest trading partner. With millions of its own jobs at stake, Beijing is not only mindful of the U.S. presidential candidates’ strong views on China’s currency, but on the bigger issue of how each would direct economic policy over the next four years”.

He adds “U.S. policies — along with issues including labor, environment, market access, and intellectual property rights — will directly affect China’s development and prosperity. That in turn will influence China’s domestic stability and perhaps even its government’s legitimacy, especially as its new leadership emerges from the November Communist Party Congress, just days after the U.S. election”. He goes on to argue “Traditionally, Republicans have favored free trade, free enterprise, and less regulation — qualities more or less compatible with China’s present state economic philosophy of development, investment, trade, entrepreneurship, and efficiency — not to mention a shared concern over the economic risk of curbing climate change”. However, this is merely a perception than anything based on facts. President Obama has been pushing the Senate to ratify free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, until it finally did so in the last few months. For all of Romney’s bluster about branding China a currency manipulator, Obama made almost the same speech in April 2008 on the campaign trail, which he has not acted on while in office. So to say the GOP would get along with China because of their economic policies is false. Similarly, the Copenhagen climate talks collapsed because President Obama agreed with the other big polluters also to blame.

He goes on to write that “If Romney does win, he will likely follow in Obama’s footsteps; after all, he’d have to think not only of the U.S. economy, but of his second term. As president, Romney should understand that China can be less a competitor than an opportunity for the United States. The current U.S. economic and financial stress is primarily an outcome of globalization and U.S. overspending, especially due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Washington could blame Beijing for exacerbating the U.S. financial crisis, or it could engage with China”. Yet, this is exactly the Obama administration has been doing, while dealing with a host of other international problems.

He goes on to argue that “As America’s decade-long war in Central Asia draws to an end, China and the United States will have far less need to cooperate on the anti-terrorism front. And this redistribution of resources could cause problems”, this is certainly true but he understates the possibilitiy for disagreements. Pakistan is becoming increasingly lawless which makes it an ever greater threat to America coupled with the fact that it is loosely being backed up by China makes the potential for serious rows a very real possibility.

Yet, he then seems to reverse his argument saying that “Romney’s foreign policy would not necessarily be all that great for China either. He has promised to sell more advanced weaponry to Taiwan and would likely not care to spare much time explaining America’s Asia security policy to Beijing”. This however is exactly what President Obama has done in dealing with Taiwan. America has sold the de facto country weapons upgrades but has refused to sell it new fighter aircraft to replace its ageing air arm.

He carries on mentioning that Romney’s “blunt statements, if extrapolated into policy, would be more threatening toward Beijing. Nevertheless, because it is so direct, his rhetoric would invite less illusion and misperception, which could in the end be less misleading and less frustrating”, yet there is also a need for subtly, coupled with the fact that most of Romney’s statements have been under the glare of the media while on the campaign. As ever, little real change will occur.

Romney’s “new” foreign policy


Romney lays out his foreign policy in only his second major speech on the topic.

A real plan for Iran


Amid the recent possible options, and consequences, for how to deal with Iran, a piece discusses President Obama’s lack of threat to Iran.

It has been noted that “In Mitt Romney’s ‘Hope Is Not a Strategy’ speech at the Virginia Military Institute, the Republican challenger zeroed in on the current unrest in the Middle East as a sign that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy is not working. The most biting implication in the speech is the assertion that al Qaeda is resurgent — in other words that killing Osama bin Laden, emotionally satisfying as it was, was not the game-changer in the region that the Obama administration has implied it was”.  Yet, as ever with the party not in power, the speech was mostly bluster with little actual detail and few, if any, real differences.

The article goes on to say “of equal importance to the Republican critique of Obama is Romney’s assessment that Obama’s efforts to reverse Iran’s course toward gaining nuclear weapons have been unsuccessful”. He goes on to write that a key theme in “Romney’s foreign policy” is the message that “Obama has not been tough enough on Iran”. Of course there is no real basis for this but it makes Romney and the GOP seem more aggressive than they actually are.

He argues that “Despite the president’s regular assurance that Iran will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and that force will be used if necessary, the American people’s war fatigue in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan has made any complex, costly, or highly risky action a tough political sell back home”. While this is of course true it does not automatically transfer into President Obama, or a Romney presidency, not taking action against Iran.

He goes on to mention that “there have been multiple assertions by analysts that the likelihood of a successful strike on Iran is low”, this too is not new and has been discussed here before. He adds that ” both White House and Israeli officials assert that the two sides behind the scenes have come closer together in their views in recent days. While there may not be exact agreement on what constitutes a ‘red line’ — a sign of Iranian progress toward the development of nuclear weapons that would trigger military action — the military option being advocated by the Israelis is considerably more limited and lower risk than some of those that have been publicly debated”. However, for all its demands and bluster in attempting to bully and blackmail America into attacking Iran, its knows that the IDF will have a minor, if that, role to play should war come between America and Iran.

He goes on to mention that ” the action that participants currently see as most likely is a joint U.S.-Israeli surgical strike targeting Iranian enrichment facilities. The strike might take only “a couple of hours” in the best case”. This however should come as no surprise as ground troops are almost out of the question given the expense and logistics.

He ends “Advocates for this approach argue that not only is it likely to be more politically palatable in the United States but, were it to be successful — meaning knocking out enrichment facilities, setting the Iranian nuclear program back many years”, it would however only be a setback, albeit a large one, for Iran if this were to happen.

He concludes fairly, “it may be that the easiest way for the Obama team to defuse Romney’s critique on Iran is simply to communicate better what options they are in fact considering. It’s not the size of the threatened attack, but the likelihood that it will actually be made, that makes a military threat a useful diplomatic tool. And perhaps a political one, too”.

Where does leave it America?


In a piece in the New York Times on the exit of America from Iraq argues that “Obama asked Mr. Talabani, a consummate political survivor, to give up his post. It was Nov. 4, 2010, and the plan was for Ayad Allawi to take Mr. Talabani’s place”. It adds later that “Allawi, a secular Shiite and the leader of a bloc with broad Sunni support, the Obama administration calculated, Iraq would have a more inclusive government and would check the worrisome drift toward authoritarianism under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki”. The article goes on to tersely note that President Obama was not successful.

The author goes on to write that with all US troops out of Iraq the hard work begins. He argues that “the American goal has been to leave a stable and representative government, avoid a power vacuum that neighboring states and terrorists could exploit and maintain sufficient influence so that Iraq would be a partner or, at a minimum, not an opponent in the Middle East. But the Obama administration has fallen frustratingly short of some of those objectives”. This is putting it mildly. However, it would be unfair to soely blame President Obama for falling short of these goals.

He goes on to argue that “The attempt by Mr. Obama and his senior aides to fashion an extraordinary power-sharing arrangement between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi never materialized. Neither did an agreement that would have kept a small American force in Iraq to train the Iraqi military and patrol the country’s skies. A plan to use American civilians to train the Iraqi police has been severely cut back. The result is an Iraq that is less stable domestically and less reliable internationally than the United States had envisioned”. Yet, this is not the entire story. Maliki, as has been noted here before has been centralising power in his hands and the hands of his closest (Shia) associates. The result of this has been to heighten resentment between the (large) minority Sunni, and Kurds. The Kurds in particular have taken advantage of Maliki’s overly harsh terms with Western oil companies to offer better terms which has been accepted by a growing number, despite sanctions from Baghdad.

He goes on to argue that candidate Obama “vowed to remove all American combat brigades within 16 months”, but once elected “he adjusted the withdrawal schedule, keeping American brigades in place longer but making their primary mission to advise Iraqi forces”. The piece goes on to note “All American forces were to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, the departure date set in an agreement signed by President George W. Bush and Mr. Maliki in 2008”.

Things grew even more complicated when he mentions that US troop levels after the main drawdown Mike Mullen, the article claims pushed for 16,000 troops to remain to train Iraqi army recruits but this figure was lowered to 10,000 by the White House and again. Evenutally, “Obama settled the matter in a conference call in which he ruled out the 10,000 troop option and a smaller 7,000 variant. The talks would proceed but the size of the force the United States might keep was shrunk: the new goal would be a continuous presence of about 3,500 troops, a rotating force of up to 1,500 and half a dozen F-16’s. But there was no agreement. Some experts say that given the Iraqis’ concerns about sovereignty, and Iranian pressure, the politicians in Baghdad were simply not prepared to make the hard decisions that were needed to secure parliamentary approval. Others say the Iraqis sensed the Americans’ ambivalence and were being asked to make unpopular political decisions for a modest military benefit”.

This was a great blow to US interests in the region with the hope of moving all troops out of neighbouring Saudi Arabia into Iraq vanishing into thin air. Now it seems that the Iraqis have decided that no US troops would be stationed in the country at all. He concludes tellingly, “Without American forces to train and assist Iraqi commandos, the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq is still active in Iraq and is increasingly involved in Syria. With no American aircraft to patrol Iraqi airspace, Iraq has become a corridor for Iranian flights of military supplies to Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, American officials say. It is also a potential avenue for an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear installations, something the White House is laboring to avoid”.

The candidates on……


US-Russia relations, democracy promotion in the Arab world, defence policy, US-Pakistan relations, nuclear proliferation, China, and defence spending.

Too realist?


An article in Foreign Policy rebukes President Obama for being too much of a realist. It argues that  “One of the most striking aspects of the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign has been Barack Obama’s ability to neutralize the Republican Party’s traditional advantage on national security. Voters see Obama as a better commander in chief than Mitt Romney and have more confidence in his ability to handle foreign policy”. This is understandable mostly down to the death of bin Laden and other associates of his but also populist measures like pulling out of Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The author then goes on to categorise many of the GOP foreign policy thinkers as “isolationists”, “realists” and the dreaded “neocons“. From this he goes on to write that “The Republicans’ disarray gives Democrats a chance to occupy the pragmatic center on security and foreign policy. To do that, they should look beyond Obama’s ‘realist’ correction of his predecessor’s mistakes”. Mistakes that includes starting the six party talks on the Korean penninsula and assisting in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement as well as aid to other African countries and being the first to recognise the right to a Palestinanian state.

He interestingly goes on to writes that “Too many Democrats seem terrified that affirming the liberal internationalist tradition they invented will make them sound too much like George W. Bush. This has left them tongue-tied at precisely the moment when America needs to wage and win a battle of ideas against Islamist extremism and China’s model of autocratic capitalism”. Yet this is exactly what President Obama and President Bush and Clinton did before him.

Strangely he goes on to say “After eight years of Bush’s belligerent unilateralism, America was an overextended, war-weary and debt-burdened superpower that had alienated old friends and rattled potential foes. Obama saw his job as repairing the damage, not devising some new foreign-policy doctrine”. If he is refering to Iraq as “unilateral” then surely “uni” means one, where America was not the only nation to invade Iraq. With regards to overextending itself, Bush did what any president would have done. To pretend otherwise is ahistorical and ignores Vice-President Gore’s bellicose tone on Iraq as well as Hillary Clinton’s vote for the war in 2003 as well as Bill Clinton’s support for it that year.

The author is correct when he writes that “Obama’s surprising metamorphosis from anti-war candidate and premature Nobel laureate to warrior president has confounded the GOP’s attempts to caricature him as just another liberal softy”. Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech says much.

He goes on, in a similar vein to argue, “Likewise, the administration’s desire to ‘reset’ relations with great powers like Russia and China too often has meant hitting the mute button on disputes over human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. To autocrats, U.S. reticence on values comes across as weakness; to the people they misrule, as a betrayal of their hopes. Obama has been described as a rhetorical idealist but an operational realist”. Yet, Obama has given countless speeches, both in America and abroad promoting the freedom agenda with human rights and democracy high on the list. Just one example of this idealism is when Hillary Clinton defended gay rights.

The top 100


The 50 top Republican, and the 50 top Democrat foreign policy makers.

Romney’s foreign policy?


“Mitt Romney’s approach to foreign policy has remained so gauzy that commentators are increasingly sounding like foreign diplomats trying to parse Chinese wall posters to better understand who was up or down in Chairman Mao’s inner circle. Mitt will be pragmatic like Nixon. No, he can be like Ronald Reagan. Romney has been captured be the Bush neocons. Romney is a lightweight. No, he is a visionary.” No, it is within the mainstream of the American foreign policy tradition.