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Posts For: March 15, 2013

U.S. Intelligence, North Korea, and Iran

This week National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper delivered the 2013 “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The document reflects the latest chapter in the cautionary tale about American intelligence and diplomatic failures on the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

In the 2011 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the intelligence community told Congress “we do not know whether [North Korea] has produced nuclear weapons, but we assess it has the capability to do so.” In the 2012 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the assessment was “North Korea has produced nuclear weapons.” In the 2013 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the assessment now is that “North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the United States.” In other words, in the last two years North Korea has gone from (a) having only a nuclear weapons “capability,” to (b) having nuclear weapons, to (c) having nuclear weapons and missile programs that “pose a serious threat” to the United States.

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This week National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper delivered the 2013 “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The document reflects the latest chapter in the cautionary tale about American intelligence and diplomatic failures on the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

In the 2011 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the intelligence community told Congress “we do not know whether [North Korea] has produced nuclear weapons, but we assess it has the capability to do so.” In the 2012 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the assessment was “North Korea has produced nuclear weapons.” In the 2013 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the assessment now is that “North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the United States.” In other words, in the last two years North Korea has gone from (a) having only a nuclear weapons “capability,” to (b) having nuclear weapons, to (c) having nuclear weapons and missile programs that “pose a serious threat” to the United States.

It illustrates the fact that once nuclear capability is attained, the move to develop a weapon is a political decision, made in secret, detectable only after the fact. Waiting for intelligence about a decision to build a bomb, instead of focusing on nuclear weapons capability, sets the red line where the action can neither be timely detected nor effectively reversed. Earlier this month, the former IAEA deputy director stated that if Iran went the North Korea route, it could build a nuclear weapon in “a month or two.” He noted that “if you go back to the nuclear programs which have been revealed [elsewhere], they all came with a surprise,” and that Iran’s breakout would likely outpace the ability of the international community to respond.

Sanctions don’t get more crippling than the ones imposed on North Korea, but they continue to have no effect on its nuclear weapons program. Over the past year, North Korea conducted another nuclear test; displayed to the world a road-mobile ICBM; and placed a satellite in orbit using its own launch rocket. The 2013 Worldwide Threat Assessment states that we “do not know [North Korea’s] nuclear doctrine,” or how it plans to employ its nuclear weapons, but the intelligence community assesses–“with low confidence”–that North Korea would only use them to preserve the regime.

As the Iranian centrifuges continue to spin, and the IAEA finds its demands for effective inspections repeatedly rejected, the P5+1 negotiates with itself, offering new flexibility while Iran engages in what Dennis Ross called last week a “rope-a-dope” strategy. Yesterday, President Obama said it would take “over a year or so” for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. In light of past U.S. intelligence failures regarding Pakistan, Iraq, and North Korea, one wonders what degree of confidence U.S. intelligence has in the one-year estimate: low, moderate, high, or slam dunk.

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The Paul Doctrine in Practice

The New York Times jumps into the lingering Rand Paul vs. the Establishment storyline today, purporting to examine what Paul’s popularity portends for the future of the GOP’s foreign policy. But in truth, such stories have been able to paint this as a significant rift within the party only by utilizing the same selective vagueness that Paul himself employs when discussing political ideology. Some of this is, of course, natural and understandable–at least on Paul’s part–because a worldview must have overarching principles.

But what Paul’s foreign policy would mean in practice is incredibly unclear in the Times piece. It devotes more than a thousand words to the subject and still manages to paint an extremely and frustratingly incomplete picture. This is to Paul’s benefit. Only a selective reading of history–by both Paul and the New York Times–gives the appearance of a philosophical divide in which the two sides are more evenly balanced than they really are. For example, the Times writes:

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The New York Times jumps into the lingering Rand Paul vs. the Establishment storyline today, purporting to examine what Paul’s popularity portends for the future of the GOP’s foreign policy. But in truth, such stories have been able to paint this as a significant rift within the party only by utilizing the same selective vagueness that Paul himself employs when discussing political ideology. Some of this is, of course, natural and understandable–at least on Paul’s part–because a worldview must have overarching principles.

But what Paul’s foreign policy would mean in practice is incredibly unclear in the Times piece. It devotes more than a thousand words to the subject and still manages to paint an extremely and frustratingly incomplete picture. This is to Paul’s benefit. Only a selective reading of history–by both Paul and the New York Times–gives the appearance of a philosophical divide in which the two sides are more evenly balanced than they really are. For example, the Times writes:

Some Republicans are less worried. They view Mr. Paul’s crusade as nothing more than the usual attempt by members of the opposition party to undermine the assertive foreign policy of an incumbent president.

In the 1980s, Democrats harshly criticized President Ronald Reagan’s attempts to arm Nicaraguan rebels. During the 1990s, Republicans derisively called President Bill Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo “Clinton’s war.” In Mr. Obama’s first term, critics assailed his expansion of the war against terrorism, including the expanded use of drones.

There are two omissions in that second paragraph of ostensible examples of partisan game-playing masquerading as honest policy criticism. The first omission is of the administration of George W. Bush and his domestic political critics. Excluding Bush from this list exempts Democratic criticism of the war on terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the ranks of cynical point scoring and elevates it to something more substantial. But in fact Democrats’ behavior on Iraq was nauseating. Democratic Party leaders stomped their feet demanding action to curb Saddam Hussein’s behavior for years during the Clinton administration, at a time when it became official American policy to support regime change in Iraq. They ramped up that rhetoric when Bush became president and could be painted as vacillating at a time of choosing. And they voted overwhelmingly for the war. Then they bolted.

The second omission is in referring to Obama’s “critics” of the drone program without party affiliation. The truth is that Republicans and conservatives support the drone program. Though many on the right appreciated Paul’s filibuster and his ability to easily win a round of publicity against the president, a great deal of those supporters actually disagreed with Paul on policy. Charles Krauthammer is the latest to express this clearly, writing in his Washington Post column today that the outlandishness of Paul’s one specific example of droning Jane Fonda meant that “Paul’s performance was both theatrically brilliant and substantively irrelevant.”

In fairness to Paul, he isn’t quite as vague about how to translate his principles into action as his defenders usually are, which indicates they know the limits of the Paul doctrine, such as it is. In his major foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation, Paul spoke at length about the need to incorporate a policy of containment into America’s broader foreign policy grand strategy, and he put that recommendation in the context of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. (He deserves credit, at least, for being honest about staking out a position to the left of the one currently claimed by President Obama.) He quoted George Kennan to this effect throughout his speech.

But he also quoted Kennan approvingly in Kennan’s critique of Harry Truman’s version of containment. This is an implicit acknowledgement that, pace Paul, it was not Kennan’s vision of containment that won the Cold War–and in fact Kennan’s version of containment was immediately and frankly rejected by Truman and his advisors who helped craft the Truman Doctrine. It is also not Paul’s version of containment, then, that was successful and it is highly misleading for Paul to try to pass his own policy off as the successful Cold War strategy utilized by presidents from Truman to Reagan (and the first Bush).

Paul will have much support on the right to try and move the GOP away from Iraq-style invasion and occupation; the public is noticeably war-weary. But the public also supports military action against Iran if the alternative is letting them get the bomb. Paul also complements Reagan’s foreign policy and tries to claim its mantle. But given Paul’s support for cutting the defense budget, does anyone honestly believe that Paul would have supported the crucial Strategic Defense Initiative? More likely, he would have argued against it as a waste of money and a tactic that made war more likely.

As I’ve written before, Paul is no crank or conspiracy theorist. But there is much room between that and mainstream conservative foreign policy. So far, Paul seems to get the easy questions–and only the easy questions–right. That’s better than nothing, but not by much.

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Ted Cruz v. Dianne Feinstein

In a confrontation that has received a fair amount of attention, Republican Senator Ted Cruz pressed Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on her bill to reinstate a ban on assault weapons. Mr. Cruz argued that the starting point of the discussion should be the Constitution–and then pressed Ms. Feinstein on whether she would apply regulations to the First and Fourth Amendments (dealing with freedom of speech and the protection against unlawful search and seizure) similar to those she is seeking on the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms).

“The Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights provides that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” Cruz said–and then asked whether the First Amendment should “only apply” to certain books or the Fourth Amendment should only protect certain people from unreasonable searches. 

Senator Feinstein reacted sharply, saying, “I’m not a 6th grader. I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years I’ve been up close and personal with the Constitution. I have great respect for it.” She later said she felt “patronized” by Senator Cruz, whom she called “arrogant.”

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In a confrontation that has received a fair amount of attention, Republican Senator Ted Cruz pressed Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on her bill to reinstate a ban on assault weapons. Mr. Cruz argued that the starting point of the discussion should be the Constitution–and then pressed Ms. Feinstein on whether she would apply regulations to the First and Fourth Amendments (dealing with freedom of speech and the protection against unlawful search and seizure) similar to those she is seeking on the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms).

“The Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights provides that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” Cruz said–and then asked whether the First Amendment should “only apply” to certain books or the Fourth Amendment should only protect certain people from unreasonable searches. 

Senator Feinstein reacted sharply, saying, “I’m not a 6th grader. I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years I’ve been up close and personal with the Constitution. I have great respect for it.” She later said she felt “patronized” by Senator Cruz, whom she called “arrogant.”

Let me take these claims in reverse order. Having watched Senator Cruz from a distance, I can see why people view him as arrogant. If I were a close adviser, I would tell him so directly and counsel him to keep that tendency in check. It’s not necessary, it can be off-putting and eventually get him into trouble.

That said, I don’t think Cruz’s questions were either inappropriate or patronizing. He was pressing Senator Feinstein in the hopes of trapping her into an inconsistent application of constitutional rights. The problem is she didn’t handle the question well from a substantive point of view–and it took Senator Dick Durbin to make the obvious rejoinder, which is that our constitutional rights are not absolute.

For example, people don’t have a right, in the name of the First Amendment, to libel people, to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, to incite people to violence, and to sell child pornography at a public library (or anywhere else, for that matter).

As for the issue of firearms, the question can easily be thrown back at Senator Cruz. Does he believe in an absolute right to bear any arms at any time for any reason? What about fully automatic weapons (which are heavily restricted)? How about a rocket-propelled grenade launcher? A bazooka? An M-1 tank? Would Senator Cruz draw the line at any of these? Of course he would, and he would be right to do so. And in doing so, he would answer his own question. He would be conceding that there is no absolute right to bear arms, just like there’s no absolute right when it comes to freedom of speech. Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon, rightly pointed out in United States v. Heller that, like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It leaves room to regulate guns.

It seems to me, then, that the philosophical issue is pretty clear: in America we have a right, but not an absolute right, to bear arms. What we’re talking about is a prudential application of restrictions on guns. The debate is precisely where to draw the lines. What separates wise lawmakers from foolish ones is where and how you draw the lines.

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Obama Subsidizes Egyptian War on Women

The contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East are approaching the level of parody. For the past four years under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we were constantly told that protecting the rights of women was an integral element in U.S. foreign policy. That was laudable, yet the same State Department that touted its feminist bona fides to the press was also the champion of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. While the administration has dug in its heels on their policy of continuing to shower Mohamed Morsi’s regime with U.S. taxpayer dollars, there doesn’t seem to be any more pushback against Egypt’s policy toward women than its attempts to crush political opponents or its anti-Semitism.

An article in today’s New York Times that discusses the Brotherhood’s policies toward women illustrates the raging hypocrisy of the American stand on Egypt. There was never much doubt about the misogyny that is at the heart of the Islamist group’s worldview, but by issuing a public critique of a proposed United Nations declaration opposing violence against women, they have elevated the topic to one of international significance. The regime’s stance on women is scaring Egyptian moderates and liberals who are rapidly losing any hope that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government would usher in an era of democratic reform. But the specter of the most populous Arab state’s government moving slowly but surely toward an Iran-style theocracy is an ominous development for the rest of the region. Indeed, this makes it clear that what President Obama is doing in Egypt is nothing less than a U.S.-subsidized war on women.

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The contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East are approaching the level of parody. For the past four years under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we were constantly told that protecting the rights of women was an integral element in U.S. foreign policy. That was laudable, yet the same State Department that touted its feminist bona fides to the press was also the champion of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. While the administration has dug in its heels on their policy of continuing to shower Mohamed Morsi’s regime with U.S. taxpayer dollars, there doesn’t seem to be any more pushback against Egypt’s policy toward women than its attempts to crush political opponents or its anti-Semitism.

An article in today’s New York Times that discusses the Brotherhood’s policies toward women illustrates the raging hypocrisy of the American stand on Egypt. There was never much doubt about the misogyny that is at the heart of the Islamist group’s worldview, but by issuing a public critique of a proposed United Nations declaration opposing violence against women, they have elevated the topic to one of international significance. The regime’s stance on women is scaring Egyptian moderates and liberals who are rapidly losing any hope that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government would usher in an era of democratic reform. But the specter of the most populous Arab state’s government moving slowly but surely toward an Iran-style theocracy is an ominous development for the rest of the region. Indeed, this makes it clear that what President Obama is doing in Egypt is nothing less than a U.S.-subsidized war on women.

As the Times details, Morsi’s governing party has several bones to pick with what might otherwise be considered an anodyne resolution condemning violence against women.

According to the Brotherhood, men should not be liable to being charged with the rape of their waves or be subjected to harsh punishment if they were called to account. They also say that women should not have equal rights of inheritance or be allowed to work, travel or use contraception without their husband’s permission.

Given that the group believes women are generally at fault when they are beaten by their husbands, this is hardly a surprise.

Morsi’s official spokesperson, who is still trying to convince the Western press that the Brotherhood is a moderate organization that has no intention of subjecting the entire nation to Islamist interpretations of religious law, tried to distance the Egyptian leader from his party’s declaration. But Egyptians understand which way the wind is blowing.

That the Brotherhood would issues such a salvo against women’s rights right at the time when the regime is encountering increased resistance to its rule and with new parliamentary elections in doubt is telling. Rather than moderate their stands, they are doubling down on their effort to use their newly acquired power not just to dominate every branch of the government but to transform society in their own image.

Part of the Brotherhood’s confidence stems from their belief that there is virtually nothing they can do that would prompt President Obama to cut off the more than $2 billion in U.S. aid that the country continues to receive. The administration has bought into the idea that, as Vice President Biden claimed last week in his speech to the AIPAC conference, there is no alternative to engagement with Morsi and his crowd. But what non-Islamist Egyptians are discovering is that bolstering the regime with the hundreds of millions more in U.S. funds, such as the big check Secretary of State John Kerry brought to Cairo earlier this month, is only worsening the situation.

Unlike the Obama re-election campaign theme, the Brotherhood’s war on women is not a partisan farce aimed at demonizing opponents but a genuine wave of repression that will set back human rights in that country. That the same administration that was re-elected in part because of its pro-women policies and which trumpeted its concerns for women’s rights abroad is subsidizing a regime that oppresses women in this fashion is more than merely hypocritical. It is an indictment of a president and a State Department that have lost their moral compass.

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