Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Security Council

Russian Impunity, Obama’s Indifference

Last week, Boris Nemtsov spoke to the Foreign Policy Initiative conference on the state of human rights in Russia and the need for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Now we hear:

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was assaulted but uninjured by a group of thugs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport earlier today. Nemtsov was returning from a trip to the United States during which he called for U.S. congressional action imposing penalties on Russian officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 Forum earlier this week, Mr. Nemtsov discussed Russian Prime Minister Putin’s continuing control over much of the country’s policies and specifically called for Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin official, to be placed on a “black list and have no chance to get [a] visa to the States.” Nemtsov said that Surkov is “responsible for censorship. He’s responsible for canceling elections. He’s responsible for [an] atmosphere of hatred.” Nemtsov called it “a pity and very sad” that Surkov is the co-chairman, with National Security Council official Michael McFaul, of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. Mr. Nemtsov called the commission, one of President Obama’s initiatives under his “reset” policy toward Russia, a “bad joke.”

There could be no better example of the impunity that despotic thugs — and their henchmen — enjoy than this incident. Nemtsov related to Eli Lake the lack of concern, or even interest, that Obama displayed when presented with a human rights report. Nemtsov and his Russian adversaries are in agreement on one thing: there really is no incentive for Russia to democratize and to improve its shabby human rights record. At least not as long as the current administration demonstrates it will do virtually anything — and turn a blind eye toward anything — to preserve “reset.” (If the Russians were cagey enough, they’d ask for 20 F-35s.)

Last week, Boris Nemtsov spoke to the Foreign Policy Initiative conference on the state of human rights in Russia and the need for the U.S. to step up to the plate. Now we hear:

Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov was assaulted but uninjured by a group of thugs at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport earlier today. Nemtsov was returning from a trip to the United States during which he called for U.S. congressional action imposing penalties on Russian officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s 2010 Forum earlier this week, Mr. Nemtsov discussed Russian Prime Minister Putin’s continuing control over much of the country’s policies and specifically called for Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin official, to be placed on a “black list and have no chance to get [a] visa to the States.” Nemtsov said that Surkov is “responsible for censorship. He’s responsible for canceling elections. He’s responsible for [an] atmosphere of hatred.” Nemtsov called it “a pity and very sad” that Surkov is the co-chairman, with National Security Council official Michael McFaul, of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Civil Society Working Group. Mr. Nemtsov called the commission, one of President Obama’s initiatives under his “reset” policy toward Russia, a “bad joke.”

There could be no better example of the impunity that despotic thugs — and their henchmen — enjoy than this incident. Nemtsov related to Eli Lake the lack of concern, or even interest, that Obama displayed when presented with a human rights report. Nemtsov and his Russian adversaries are in agreement on one thing: there really is no incentive for Russia to democratize and to improve its shabby human rights record. At least not as long as the current administration demonstrates it will do virtually anything — and turn a blind eye toward anything — to preserve “reset.” (If the Russians were cagey enough, they’d ask for 20 F-35s.)

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

Read Less

The F-35 and the Israel-Obama Relationship

Commenting on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision last week to buy 20 American-made F-35 fighter jets, Elliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily said it “illuminates Israel’s continuing, vital, and enduring — albeit dependent — relationship with the United States.” That is undoubtedly true: Washington has been Israel’s principal arms supplier for over four decades, and those arms are crucial for the country’s defense.

Ironically, however, the purchase also illuminates the nadir to which the relationship has fallen under the current administration. Barack Obama’s aides have tried to divert attention from their boss’s efforts to put “daylight” between America and Israel by insisting that on the all-important issue of security, “President Obama has taken what was already a strong U.S.-Israel defense relationship, and broadened and deepened it across the board,” as Dan Shapiro of the National Security Council told the Anti-Defamation League in May.

But in reality, Washington has attached unprecedented restrictions to the F-35 sale — restrictions so severe that Israel’s defense establishment agonized for months over whether to sign the deal, and ultimately opted to buy only 20 planes instead of the 75 the Israel Air Force originally sought.

First, as Haaretz reported last month, the U.S. refused to supply a test aircraft as part of the deal for the first time in 40 years. From the Phantom in 1969 through the F-16I six years ago, every previous American sale of fighters to Israel has included an experimental aircraft that Israel can use to test new systems or weapons it is considering installing in order to upgrade the planes or adapt them to particular missions. Effectively, the paper said, this refusal means “upgrades will not be implemented during the plane’s service in the IAF.”

Second, Washington initially refused to let any Israeli systems be installed in the plane, and finally reluctantly agreed to what various Israeli reports described as “minor changes” or “a few” systems (though holding out the carrot that more might be allowed if Israel ultimately commissions more planes). This, too, is unprecedented. Previous deals have given Israel great latitude to have its own systems installed on American-made aircraft, and have also allowed other countries to install Israeli systems — with the result that “between 10 percent and 15 percent of every new F-16 made in America, for instance, consists of Israeli systems.”

The restrictions so incensed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz that he has appealed the purchase to the cabinet. His ministry says they would deal “a major blow to Israel’s defense industry” and particularly “hurt development of new Israeli missile systems.” On an issue as militarily important as purchasing new fighters, Steinitz has no chance of prevailing against Barak. But for a senior minister to publicly challenge such a deal is itself unusual.

It’s a testament to the depth of Israel’s support both in Congress and among the American people that even a hostile president only dares impair the security relationship at the margins, where he can hope it won’t be noticed. But precisely because the F-35 restrictions will fly below most Americans’ radars, they’re a telling indication of where Obama’s heart really lies.

Commenting on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision last week to buy 20 American-made F-35 fighter jets, Elliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily said it “illuminates Israel’s continuing, vital, and enduring — albeit dependent — relationship with the United States.” That is undoubtedly true: Washington has been Israel’s principal arms supplier for over four decades, and those arms are crucial for the country’s defense.

Ironically, however, the purchase also illuminates the nadir to which the relationship has fallen under the current administration. Barack Obama’s aides have tried to divert attention from their boss’s efforts to put “daylight” between America and Israel by insisting that on the all-important issue of security, “President Obama has taken what was already a strong U.S.-Israel defense relationship, and broadened and deepened it across the board,” as Dan Shapiro of the National Security Council told the Anti-Defamation League in May.

But in reality, Washington has attached unprecedented restrictions to the F-35 sale — restrictions so severe that Israel’s defense establishment agonized for months over whether to sign the deal, and ultimately opted to buy only 20 planes instead of the 75 the Israel Air Force originally sought.

First, as Haaretz reported last month, the U.S. refused to supply a test aircraft as part of the deal for the first time in 40 years. From the Phantom in 1969 through the F-16I six years ago, every previous American sale of fighters to Israel has included an experimental aircraft that Israel can use to test new systems or weapons it is considering installing in order to upgrade the planes or adapt them to particular missions. Effectively, the paper said, this refusal means “upgrades will not be implemented during the plane’s service in the IAF.”

Second, Washington initially refused to let any Israeli systems be installed in the plane, and finally reluctantly agreed to what various Israeli reports described as “minor changes” or “a few” systems (though holding out the carrot that more might be allowed if Israel ultimately commissions more planes). This, too, is unprecedented. Previous deals have given Israel great latitude to have its own systems installed on American-made aircraft, and have also allowed other countries to install Israeli systems — with the result that “between 10 percent and 15 percent of every new F-16 made in America, for instance, consists of Israeli systems.”

The restrictions so incensed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz that he has appealed the purchase to the cabinet. His ministry says they would deal “a major blow to Israel’s defense industry” and particularly “hurt development of new Israeli missile systems.” On an issue as militarily important as purchasing new fighters, Steinitz has no chance of prevailing against Barak. But for a senior minister to publicly challenge such a deal is itself unusual.

It’s a testament to the depth of Israel’s support both in Congress and among the American people that even a hostile president only dares impair the security relationship at the margins, where he can hope it won’t be noticed. But precisely because the F-35 restrictions will fly below most Americans’ radars, they’re a telling indication of where Obama’s heart really lies.

Read Less

Huffington Post Takes Down the Leveretts

I usually don’t tout Huffington Post columns, but a not-to-be missed one by Omid Memarian should be read in full. Bit by bit, Memarian chips away at the facade of intellectual credibility that Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the mullahs’ favorite mouthpieces, have erected. He begins with this:

The list of foreigners who unconditionally support the Islamic Republic of Iran is short but not unexpected: Omar Albashir of Sudan, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Khalid Mashal of Hamas, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela might be at the top. Add to this list an unlikely duo: Flynt Leverett and his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett. Notwithstanding over two decades of collective experience working for organizations and entities like the CIA, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the National Security Council, the Leveretts are today America’s most prominent, and abrasive, defenders of the Iranian regime and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though they cloak their analysis in the guise of strategic thinking and anti-war diplomacy, their writings betray a dangerous lack of understanding of Iran’s internal realities as well as an almost bigoted contempt for the Iranian people.

The particulars of the Leveretts’ misinformation campaign on behalf of the Iranian regime are then laid out in great detail. Well, it’s about time. Others have done an ample job debunking the couple, as do the Leveretts’ own words. But with this, Memarian delivers the knockout blow to the mullahs’ shills.

I usually don’t tout Huffington Post columns, but a not-to-be missed one by Omid Memarian should be read in full. Bit by bit, Memarian chips away at the facade of intellectual credibility that Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the mullahs’ favorite mouthpieces, have erected. He begins with this:

The list of foreigners who unconditionally support the Islamic Republic of Iran is short but not unexpected: Omar Albashir of Sudan, Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Khalid Mashal of Hamas, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela might be at the top. Add to this list an unlikely duo: Flynt Leverett and his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett. Notwithstanding over two decades of collective experience working for organizations and entities like the CIA, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the National Security Council, the Leveretts are today America’s most prominent, and abrasive, defenders of the Iranian regime and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though they cloak their analysis in the guise of strategic thinking and anti-war diplomacy, their writings betray a dangerous lack of understanding of Iran’s internal realities as well as an almost bigoted contempt for the Iranian people.

The particulars of the Leveretts’ misinformation campaign on behalf of the Iranian regime are then laid out in great detail. Well, it’s about time. Others have done an ample job debunking the couple, as do the Leveretts’ own words. But with this, Memarian delivers the knockout blow to the mullahs’ shills.

Read Less

Dennis Ross Joins the Obama Cult of Linkage

Prior to this administration, Dennis Ross was an experienced negotiator who tried valiantly to reach a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians at Camp David. Watching the Palestinians reject the offer of their own state and embark on the intifada impressed upon Ross, or so he wrote repeatedly, the need for Palestinians to develop institutions that would support a peace deal and to lay the groundwork with Arab states and the Palestinian public before future negotiations could succeed. He was also regarded as tough-minded on Iran, ready to impose tough sanctions and do what was necessary to prevent the regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.

He also wrote a book with David Makovsky entitled Myths, illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, which came out in 2009:

Contrary to the position of the president and other advisers, Ross writes that efforts to advance dialogue with Iran should not be connected to the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. … In the second chapter, entitled “Linkage: The Mother of All Myths,” Ross writes: “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away. This is the argument of ‘linkage.’”

Well, that’s old hat. He’s thrown in his lot with the Obama crew. Josh Rogin documents Ross’s ingestion of the Obama Kool Aid:

The National Security Council’s Dennis Ross is the latest U.S. official to link the Obama administration’s drive to secure peace between Israelis and Arabs to the overall goal of bringing greater stability to the region and combating the threat from Iran.

“In this region, pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context,” Ross said in remarks Monday evening. “Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges. … It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.” …

“Clearly one way that Iran is increasing its influence in the region is by exploiting the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ross said, echoing statements made by U.S. Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus in a report submitted to Congress back in March. …

But Ross, who is not often accused of being too hard on Israel, made similar comments Monday. “The continuation of the conflict strengthens Iran’s rejectionist partners and also Hezbollah. Iran deliberately uses the conflict to expose even the moderates in the region by stoking the fears of its populations and playing the worst most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist prejudices,” he said.

Apparently, Ross has decided to jettison his previous views and join the Obama cult of linkage. What was in 2009 a “myth” is now gospel. You wonder how it is that someone convinces himself to cast off beliefs acquired and refined over a lifetime of government service just for the sake of maintaining a post (and an invisible one at that) in an administration that may go down in history as the most destructive and incompetent Middle East policymakers in history and the gang that allowed Iran to get the bomb.

Prior to this administration, Dennis Ross was an experienced negotiator who tried valiantly to reach a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians at Camp David. Watching the Palestinians reject the offer of their own state and embark on the intifada impressed upon Ross, or so he wrote repeatedly, the need for Palestinians to develop institutions that would support a peace deal and to lay the groundwork with Arab states and the Palestinian public before future negotiations could succeed. He was also regarded as tough-minded on Iran, ready to impose tough sanctions and do what was necessary to prevent the regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.

He also wrote a book with David Makovsky entitled Myths, illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, which came out in 2009:

Contrary to the position of the president and other advisers, Ross writes that efforts to advance dialogue with Iran should not be connected to the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. … In the second chapter, entitled “Linkage: The Mother of All Myths,” Ross writes: “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away. This is the argument of ‘linkage.’”

Well, that’s old hat. He’s thrown in his lot with the Obama crew. Josh Rogin documents Ross’s ingestion of the Obama Kool Aid:

The National Security Council’s Dennis Ross is the latest U.S. official to link the Obama administration’s drive to secure peace between Israelis and Arabs to the overall goal of bringing greater stability to the region and combating the threat from Iran.

“In this region, pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context,” Ross said in remarks Monday evening. “Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges. … It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.” …

“Clearly one way that Iran is increasing its influence in the region is by exploiting the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ross said, echoing statements made by U.S. Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus in a report submitted to Congress back in March. …

But Ross, who is not often accused of being too hard on Israel, made similar comments Monday. “The continuation of the conflict strengthens Iran’s rejectionist partners and also Hezbollah. Iran deliberately uses the conflict to expose even the moderates in the region by stoking the fears of its populations and playing the worst most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist prejudices,” he said.

Apparently, Ross has decided to jettison his previous views and join the Obama cult of linkage. What was in 2009 a “myth” is now gospel. You wonder how it is that someone convinces himself to cast off beliefs acquired and refined over a lifetime of government service just for the sake of maintaining a post (and an invisible one at that) in an administration that may go down in history as the most destructive and incompetent Middle East policymakers in history and the gang that allowed Iran to get the bomb.

Read Less

Are Jews That Gullible?

Ben Smith says that he was dubious about the Obama team’s charm offensive with American Jews. After all, how could they be so foolish as to take puffery seriously and be wowed by a lunch with Elie Wiesel? Aren’t Jews, you know, supposed to be smarter than that? After all, the underlying policy hasn’t changed one iota. And in fact the administration is flaunting its anti-Israel connections.

Smith also picks up this tidbit:

Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber drew the camera flashes at the White House Correspondents dinner, but foreign policy geeks took closer note of the TPM table, where National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — probably the most powerful foreign policy staffer in the administration — was seated with the two grand old men of “realist politics,” former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Also at the table, New America’s Steve Clemons, who qualified that he and the others are “progressive realists” and added that the table also included “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr and TPM founder Josh Marshall, the host.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski have been vying for influence in the Obama White House since Obama introduced the latter in Iowa, then distanced himself from him over Israel. They’re currently central to the efforts to persuade Obama to advance his own Mideast peace plan.

McDonough, who came up on the process-oriented Hill, tends to keep his own broader views on foreign policy close to the vest.

To translate: one of the administration’s key foreign-policy hands goes to the most highly publicized event in town to hob-nob with the advisor who Obama had sworn during the campaign not to be an advisor, who has suggested that we shoot down Israeli planes if they cross Iraqi air space on the way to Iran, and who wants to impose a peace deal on Israel. And, for good measure, he sits with the purveyors of a website infamous for puff pieces on terrorists and committed to a hard-left anti-Israel line. It was an act of defiance — see who our friends are? Well, I guess we do.

So the question remains whether the Jewish community is as easily lulled into passivity as the Obama administration believes. Can a few carefully worded speeches get American Jews off their backs? After all, they’ve been so mute about the effort by Obama to undermine sanctions. And really, they were able to “condemn” Israel without being condemned in turn by the Jewish groups, which have clung so dearly to the Democratic Party. Smith shouldn’t be skeptical: American Jewish officialdom is falling over themselves to make up with the administration. Whether rank-and-file members and the larger Jewish community are as easily swayed, remains to be seen.

Ben Smith says that he was dubious about the Obama team’s charm offensive with American Jews. After all, how could they be so foolish as to take puffery seriously and be wowed by a lunch with Elie Wiesel? Aren’t Jews, you know, supposed to be smarter than that? After all, the underlying policy hasn’t changed one iota. And in fact the administration is flaunting its anti-Israel connections.

Smith also picks up this tidbit:

Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber drew the camera flashes at the White House Correspondents dinner, but foreign policy geeks took closer note of the TPM table, where National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — probably the most powerful foreign policy staffer in the administration — was seated with the two grand old men of “realist politics,” former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Also at the table, New America’s Steve Clemons, who qualified that he and the others are “progressive realists” and added that the table also included “Sex and the City” creator Darren Starr and TPM founder Josh Marshall, the host.

Scowcroft and Brzezinski have been vying for influence in the Obama White House since Obama introduced the latter in Iowa, then distanced himself from him over Israel. They’re currently central to the efforts to persuade Obama to advance his own Mideast peace plan.

McDonough, who came up on the process-oriented Hill, tends to keep his own broader views on foreign policy close to the vest.

To translate: one of the administration’s key foreign-policy hands goes to the most highly publicized event in town to hob-nob with the advisor who Obama had sworn during the campaign not to be an advisor, who has suggested that we shoot down Israeli planes if they cross Iraqi air space on the way to Iran, and who wants to impose a peace deal on Israel. And, for good measure, he sits with the purveyors of a website infamous for puff pieces on terrorists and committed to a hard-left anti-Israel line. It was an act of defiance — see who our friends are? Well, I guess we do.

So the question remains whether the Jewish community is as easily lulled into passivity as the Obama administration believes. Can a few carefully worded speeches get American Jews off their backs? After all, they’ve been so mute about the effort by Obama to undermine sanctions. And really, they were able to “condemn” Israel without being condemned in turn by the Jewish groups, which have clung so dearly to the Democratic Party. Smith shouldn’t be skeptical: American Jewish officialdom is falling over themselves to make up with the administration. Whether rank-and-file members and the larger Jewish community are as easily swayed, remains to be seen.

Read Less

What Do the Obami Believe? What Should We?

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

Read Less

Hillary Clinton: Errand Girl for Disastrous Foreign Policy

Michael Hirsh writes a lengthy piece on Hillary Clinton, confirming that she’s not much of a secretary of state. But then we knew that from the results of her handiwork — an unratifiable START treaty, a wrecked relationship with Israel, offended European allies, a Middle East “peace process” that has succeeded only in encouraging Palestinian intransigence, a failed Syrian-engagement gambit, and a dead-end Iran policy. So it’s not surprising that Hirsh focuses on her relationship with Obama — Starsky and Hutch! — and dwells on minutiae. After all, that’s what Hillary does best. The duo’s great accomplishment? Storming a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the ultimately meaningless Copenhagen global-warming conference. That’s the best Hirsch can come up with.

It’s hard to hide the problem, namely that she’s really not up to the job. Hirsh writes:

“She has no real strategic vision,” says an NSC official. “But she’ll get done what she has to do. She’s the good little Methodist girl. In the end she’ll have her list of the nine or 10 things she has to do and check them off one by one.”

Associates bridle at such condescension, and so do many White House officials, including General Jones. Clinton’s former longtime policy chief, Neera Tanden, sees nothing to apologize for: “She definitely has lists. And she really feels a sense of obligation, duty, responsibility, as part of her general outlook; perhaps it is her Methodism. It’s part of who she is.” Clinton herself ridicules the criticism. “At the end of the day, have you solved the problem or haven’t you? Have you crossed it off the list or haven’t you?”

Hmm. Do you suppose “Thwart Iran’s nuclear program” is on the list? What about “Reorient administration away from Israel”? That one gets a check mark.

Outside observers concede the obvious:

Clinton’s and Obama’s various policies do not yet add up to anything like a doctrine on America’s place in the world. Much of the first year was about “rebuilding the brand, rebuilding political capital,” says one official. And blaming George W. Bush for America’s dire situation, of course. Now, however, fewer world leaders care about the mistakes made by the previous administration. Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says he doesn’t think Clinton is of the caliber of James Baker, the George H.W. Bush secretary of state who was perhaps the last real superstar in the job. “She’s very smart,” he says. “She understands all these issues. You can have a good discussion with her on almost any [subject]. But she doesn’t pretend to be, nor is she, a strategist. When she goes to the National Security Council, she doesn’t bring that to the table.”

So what does she bring? It seems that Obama found the perfect errand girl for his bizarrely counterproductive strategy of cozying up to despots, shoving democracy promotion aside, dissing allies, and focusing on unilateral grand gestures – which suggests that no one in the administration has a workable strategy for promoting American interests and values. Obama imagines himself a great foreign-policy visionary, but the legacy he is creating is an America more estranged from allies and a Middle East on the tipping point of a deadly nuclear-arms race. Hillary might be just the enabler, but she’ll share in that legacy, which for now promises to be the most dismal of any American president’s since (maybe including) Jimmy Carter.

Michael Hirsh writes a lengthy piece on Hillary Clinton, confirming that she’s not much of a secretary of state. But then we knew that from the results of her handiwork — an unratifiable START treaty, a wrecked relationship with Israel, offended European allies, a Middle East “peace process” that has succeeded only in encouraging Palestinian intransigence, a failed Syrian-engagement gambit, and a dead-end Iran policy. So it’s not surprising that Hirsh focuses on her relationship with Obama — Starsky and Hutch! — and dwells on minutiae. After all, that’s what Hillary does best. The duo’s great accomplishment? Storming a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the ultimately meaningless Copenhagen global-warming conference. That’s the best Hirsch can come up with.

It’s hard to hide the problem, namely that she’s really not up to the job. Hirsh writes:

“She has no real strategic vision,” says an NSC official. “But she’ll get done what she has to do. She’s the good little Methodist girl. In the end she’ll have her list of the nine or 10 things she has to do and check them off one by one.”

Associates bridle at such condescension, and so do many White House officials, including General Jones. Clinton’s former longtime policy chief, Neera Tanden, sees nothing to apologize for: “She definitely has lists. And she really feels a sense of obligation, duty, responsibility, as part of her general outlook; perhaps it is her Methodism. It’s part of who she is.” Clinton herself ridicules the criticism. “At the end of the day, have you solved the problem or haven’t you? Have you crossed it off the list or haven’t you?”

Hmm. Do you suppose “Thwart Iran’s nuclear program” is on the list? What about “Reorient administration away from Israel”? That one gets a check mark.

Outside observers concede the obvious:

Clinton’s and Obama’s various policies do not yet add up to anything like a doctrine on America’s place in the world. Much of the first year was about “rebuilding the brand, rebuilding political capital,” says one official. And blaming George W. Bush for America’s dire situation, of course. Now, however, fewer world leaders care about the mistakes made by the previous administration. Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says he doesn’t think Clinton is of the caliber of James Baker, the George H.W. Bush secretary of state who was perhaps the last real superstar in the job. “She’s very smart,” he says. “She understands all these issues. You can have a good discussion with her on almost any [subject]. But she doesn’t pretend to be, nor is she, a strategist. When she goes to the National Security Council, she doesn’t bring that to the table.”

So what does she bring? It seems that Obama found the perfect errand girl for his bizarrely counterproductive strategy of cozying up to despots, shoving democracy promotion aside, dissing allies, and focusing on unilateral grand gestures – which suggests that no one in the administration has a workable strategy for promoting American interests and values. Obama imagines himself a great foreign-policy visionary, but the legacy he is creating is an America more estranged from allies and a Middle East on the tipping point of a deadly nuclear-arms race. Hillary might be just the enabler, but she’ll share in that legacy, which for now promises to be the most dismal of any American president’s since (maybe including) Jimmy Carter.

Read Less

RE: Nukes Don’t Kill People

As J.E. Dyer pointed out, the Obama nuclear policy seems caught in a 1970s time warp — a faint echo of the nuclear-freeze gang, which shied away from looking at the nature of the regimes that possessed nuclear weapons. After all, it is not Israel’s widely believed possession of nuclear weapons that has panicked the region; it is the mullahs’ potential nuclear capability that has Israel and Iran’s neighbors in a quandary.

It is this absorption with physical weapons and nuclear materials, rather than the geopolitical threats that confront us, that has led to the spectacle of the nuclear summit this week. Michael Anton, the policy director for Keep America Safe and who served in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, released a statement concerned the wildly irrelevant nuclear summit:

Attempts to secure nuclear materials and prevent their sale or transfer to, or theft by, terrorist groups are worthy efforts. Unfortunately, the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit’s non-binding communiqué and work plan is silent on the most pressing nuclear threat facing the world today—Iran.

Iran was barely addressed at the summit and once again dodged by President Obama at his concluding press conference. Yet another “serious discussion” of a sanctions regime with Russia and China—two countries with deep commercial, political and military ties with Iran—will go nowhere. The past several years have conclusively shown that Russia and China will agree to any sanctions guaranteed not to work and will water down or veto any sanctions that have real teeth.

We know what failure looks like. The prior two administrations tried a similar approach with North Korea. That country has since tested two nuclear weapons, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, and remains one of the world’s leading arms merchants to rogue states—including Iran.

As Anton points out, Obama has several times suggested that he knows his sanctions may well come up short. It’s high time someone started asking him: and then what? It’s not fair to duck it as a hypothetical question, for it is an answer we should be giving to the mullahs and to the rest of the world. We should also, of course, be laying out the consequences of the mullahs’ failure to come around. That we have not suggests there are no consequences.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is publicly speculating that perhaps in a year, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. When are we going to get around to a summit on that?

As J.E. Dyer pointed out, the Obama nuclear policy seems caught in a 1970s time warp — a faint echo of the nuclear-freeze gang, which shied away from looking at the nature of the regimes that possessed nuclear weapons. After all, it is not Israel’s widely believed possession of nuclear weapons that has panicked the region; it is the mullahs’ potential nuclear capability that has Israel and Iran’s neighbors in a quandary.

It is this absorption with physical weapons and nuclear materials, rather than the geopolitical threats that confront us, that has led to the spectacle of the nuclear summit this week. Michael Anton, the policy director for Keep America Safe and who served in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, released a statement concerned the wildly irrelevant nuclear summit:

Attempts to secure nuclear materials and prevent their sale or transfer to, or theft by, terrorist groups are worthy efforts. Unfortunately, the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit’s non-binding communiqué and work plan is silent on the most pressing nuclear threat facing the world today—Iran.

Iran was barely addressed at the summit and once again dodged by President Obama at his concluding press conference. Yet another “serious discussion” of a sanctions regime with Russia and China—two countries with deep commercial, political and military ties with Iran—will go nowhere. The past several years have conclusively shown that Russia and China will agree to any sanctions guaranteed not to work and will water down or veto any sanctions that have real teeth.

We know what failure looks like. The prior two administrations tried a similar approach with North Korea. That country has since tested two nuclear weapons, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, and remains one of the world’s leading arms merchants to rogue states—including Iran.

As Anton points out, Obama has several times suggested that he knows his sanctions may well come up short. It’s high time someone started asking him: and then what? It’s not fair to duck it as a hypothetical question, for it is an answer we should be giving to the mullahs and to the rest of the world. We should also, of course, be laying out the consequences of the mullahs’ failure to come around. That we have not suggests there are no consequences.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is publicly speculating that perhaps in a year, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. When are we going to get around to a summit on that?

Read Less

And What About the Results? (UPDATED)

Over at Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver reviews from recent Washington Post and New York Times profiles on Hillary Clinton the pluses and minuses of her tenure as secretary of state. Pluses: she plays well with others (the president, Robert Gates, the foreign service), and she helped cover up the Copenhagen debacle. (“According to the NYT, Secretary Clinton apparently deserves some credit for salvaging a fig-leaf exit strategy from the ill-fated Copenhagen conference on climate change. Whether the State Department also deserves some blame for the way Copenhagen ran off the rails, the paper does not say.”) That’s it.

The minuses: (1) “Secretary Clinton does not appear to be the key foreign policy player on any topic of importance,” and (2) “Secretary Clinton has yet to help the Obama administration forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.”

Mr. Feaver is perhaps a dry humorist. He wraps up, proclaiming, “Where the positives and negatives will ultimately net out depends on whether the Obama foreign policy begins to bear some positive fruit.” He and these accounts, of course, ignore that Clinton has utterly failed to do her job, which is to “be the key foreign policy player” and “forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.” That is the job, after all. Moreover, there are a string of foreign policy mishaps, gaffes, and misjudgments that touch every continent. (OK, not Antarctica.)

She has all the efficiency of an officious hall monitor, all the social skills one could expect of a junior foreign-service officer, and all the pals one could hope for in the elite media. What she doesn’t have is a trace of competence or the force of personality to rise above the gaggle of those who pass for “policy gurus” in this administration. Sort of like saying that except for never wanting to fight, Gen. George McClellan was a great general. Yes, except for the “doing” the job part, Clinton’s been a boffo secretary of state.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader suggests that, in fact, Feaver is using understatement to critique Clinton’s performance. Given Feaver’s work on the George W. Bush National Security Council, it is not hard to conclude that he views Clinton’s tenure as less than successful.

Over at Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver reviews from recent Washington Post and New York Times profiles on Hillary Clinton the pluses and minuses of her tenure as secretary of state. Pluses: she plays well with others (the president, Robert Gates, the foreign service), and she helped cover up the Copenhagen debacle. (“According to the NYT, Secretary Clinton apparently deserves some credit for salvaging a fig-leaf exit strategy from the ill-fated Copenhagen conference on climate change. Whether the State Department also deserves some blame for the way Copenhagen ran off the rails, the paper does not say.”) That’s it.

The minuses: (1) “Secretary Clinton does not appear to be the key foreign policy player on any topic of importance,” and (2) “Secretary Clinton has yet to help the Obama administration forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.”

Mr. Feaver is perhaps a dry humorist. He wraps up, proclaiming, “Where the positives and negatives will ultimately net out depends on whether the Obama foreign policy begins to bear some positive fruit.” He and these accounts, of course, ignore that Clinton has utterly failed to do her job, which is to “be the key foreign policy player” and “forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.” That is the job, after all. Moreover, there are a string of foreign policy mishaps, gaffes, and misjudgments that touch every continent. (OK, not Antarctica.)

She has all the efficiency of an officious hall monitor, all the social skills one could expect of a junior foreign-service officer, and all the pals one could hope for in the elite media. What she doesn’t have is a trace of competence or the force of personality to rise above the gaggle of those who pass for “policy gurus” in this administration. Sort of like saying that except for never wanting to fight, Gen. George McClellan was a great general. Yes, except for the “doing” the job part, Clinton’s been a boffo secretary of state.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader suggests that, in fact, Feaver is using understatement to critique Clinton’s performance. Given Feaver’s work on the George W. Bush National Security Council, it is not hard to conclude that he views Clinton’s tenure as less than successful.

Read Less

The Conservative Party and British National Security

In a major speech on Friday at Chatham House, David Cameron set out how the Conservative party would approach the issue of national security should it win the forthcoming general election. His theme was the value of connection — both domestically, with an emphasis on what Britain has to gain from better joined-up government, and abroad, emphasizing Britain’s need to see conflicts as a whole, and to respond to threats before they become crises.

There’s nothing that can be said against the idea that government should be better coordinated, or more forward-looking. Of course, advancing this idea while out of power is simpler than achieving it while in power. The creation of a National Security Council is not likely to persuade the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Ministry of Defense, and all the other players in Whitehall to abandon their institutional interests, just as the American NSC has palpably failed to achieve this in Washington.

Aaron Friedberg’s short, superb study of the collapse of strategic planning in the U.S. is very relevant here. It argues that the task of the NSC is to be “an aid to the collective thinking of the highest echelons of the government … [not] a mechanism for the production of operational plans.” It may be that Cameron’s vision of the role of his NSC leans a little more toward the vision of NSC as planner in chief than Friedberg would wish.

On the other hand, Cameron is clearly right to argue that the existing system in Britain treats national security as, at best, a second-order concern; that it has allowed development aid and post-conflict planning to become disconnected from the national interest or to go AWOL entirely; and that, in an age of Islamist terror, security must begin at home. If a British NSC can assist Prime Minister Cameron and his cabinet in implementing policies based on these preferences — and especially on the last one — it will be a good deal more than a step in the right direction.

For my money, the most interesting parts of Cameron’s speech – and the accompanying Green Paper that the speech launched — were those that dealt not with machinery but with attitudes. It’s always easy for politicians — especially newly elected ones — to blame the system: President Obama has done a good deal of this, especially recently. But this is not helpful: systems are always less than optimal, and, especially in a war with a determined and intelligent enemy, they are always going to fail.

Systems, in the end, matter less than leadership that acknowledges when it’s in a war and demands that responsible people take decisions and accept responsibility for them. The problem is ultimately one of culture. That was exactly the note on which Cameron ended, and while, again, it is obviously more pleasant to call for responsibility when out of office than it is to accept responsibility once in it, Cameron’s speech was a refreshing change from Gordon Brown’s determination to evade responsibility for all the errors for which, as chancellor of the exchequer and then as prime minister, he bears a central responsibility.

In a major speech on Friday at Chatham House, David Cameron set out how the Conservative party would approach the issue of national security should it win the forthcoming general election. His theme was the value of connection — both domestically, with an emphasis on what Britain has to gain from better joined-up government, and abroad, emphasizing Britain’s need to see conflicts as a whole, and to respond to threats before they become crises.

There’s nothing that can be said against the idea that government should be better coordinated, or more forward-looking. Of course, advancing this idea while out of power is simpler than achieving it while in power. The creation of a National Security Council is not likely to persuade the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the Ministry of Defense, and all the other players in Whitehall to abandon their institutional interests, just as the American NSC has palpably failed to achieve this in Washington.

Aaron Friedberg’s short, superb study of the collapse of strategic planning in the U.S. is very relevant here. It argues that the task of the NSC is to be “an aid to the collective thinking of the highest echelons of the government … [not] a mechanism for the production of operational plans.” It may be that Cameron’s vision of the role of his NSC leans a little more toward the vision of NSC as planner in chief than Friedberg would wish.

On the other hand, Cameron is clearly right to argue that the existing system in Britain treats national security as, at best, a second-order concern; that it has allowed development aid and post-conflict planning to become disconnected from the national interest or to go AWOL entirely; and that, in an age of Islamist terror, security must begin at home. If a British NSC can assist Prime Minister Cameron and his cabinet in implementing policies based on these preferences — and especially on the last one — it will be a good deal more than a step in the right direction.

For my money, the most interesting parts of Cameron’s speech – and the accompanying Green Paper that the speech launched — were those that dealt not with machinery but with attitudes. It’s always easy for politicians — especially newly elected ones — to blame the system: President Obama has done a good deal of this, especially recently. But this is not helpful: systems are always less than optimal, and, especially in a war with a determined and intelligent enemy, they are always going to fail.

Systems, in the end, matter less than leadership that acknowledges when it’s in a war and demands that responsible people take decisions and accept responsibility for them. The problem is ultimately one of culture. That was exactly the note on which Cameron ended, and while, again, it is obviously more pleasant to call for responsibility when out of office than it is to accept responsibility once in it, Cameron’s speech was a refreshing change from Gordon Brown’s determination to evade responsibility for all the errors for which, as chancellor of the exchequer and then as prime minister, he bears a central responsibility.

Read Less

Intelligence Policy

John Bolton has an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal discussing intelligence community (IC) organization. He ultimately recommends doing away with the director of National Intelligence and resubordinating the IC to the National Security Council (NSC), a proposal with some merit. He also makes the exceptional point that one of our biggest issues with intelligence is not so much collecting or analyzing it as assessing its implications.

I confess to being something of a hobby-horsewoman on the latter topic, and I am energized to see Bolton bring it up. He correctly implies that it is squarely within the purview of the president and his advisers to assess the implications of intelligence. Everyone on earth may agree that Iran has a nuclear program that could be readily adapted to the production of nuclear weapons, but only the president of the United States has been elected to decide the implications of that for the policy of his nation. Assessing these implications is inherently a political process, and that means the IC should not be performing it at all, except under policy guidance from the executive.

Intelligence cannot answer the question “Should we strike Iran now?” That is a policy question, but too often a great confusion arises on that head, abetted by the handling of intelligence itself. The “Iraqi WMD” controversy is a superb example of such confusion. No form of intelligence could have ensured that we struck Iraq at precisely the right moment to guarantee a smoking gun. The president made a policy decision; his critics, however, have argued ever since that he made an intelligence decision. Their unspoken premise is that intelligence can naturally appear in a form that obviates policy assessments and eliminates risk, and that Bush truncated some accepted process by not waiting for it to do so.

Intelligence doesn’t do that, however. Bolton is right to raise the issue of assessing policy implications, because it’s in this area that the controversy and vulnerability of the process are concentrated. Every celebrated instance of public dissatisfaction with intelligence is predicated on assumptions about the policy implications of that intelligence. Those assumptions are rarely examined in any systematic way, and presidents almost never address them or seek to shape them in the public mind.

Keeping open the national-security option of preemption, which is peculiarly reliant on intelligence, means that the question of policy implications from intelligence will recur for us in the future. The organizational correctives we apply should honor the executive’s constitutional responsibility for assessing policy implications. Bolton may be right about having the IC report to the NSC; that arrangement would in some ways mimic how the military plugs intelligence into planning and execution. At some point, however, we will have to come to grips with the persistent and legitimate possibility that, in any given situation, what we are seeing among our politicians is a disagreement on policy implications rather than on the intelligence itself. The IC is not responsible for the management or the outcomes of such disputes, and it should not be organized in a way that encourages it to participate in them.

John Bolton has an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal discussing intelligence community (IC) organization. He ultimately recommends doing away with the director of National Intelligence and resubordinating the IC to the National Security Council (NSC), a proposal with some merit. He also makes the exceptional point that one of our biggest issues with intelligence is not so much collecting or analyzing it as assessing its implications.

I confess to being something of a hobby-horsewoman on the latter topic, and I am energized to see Bolton bring it up. He correctly implies that it is squarely within the purview of the president and his advisers to assess the implications of intelligence. Everyone on earth may agree that Iran has a nuclear program that could be readily adapted to the production of nuclear weapons, but only the president of the United States has been elected to decide the implications of that for the policy of his nation. Assessing these implications is inherently a political process, and that means the IC should not be performing it at all, except under policy guidance from the executive.

Intelligence cannot answer the question “Should we strike Iran now?” That is a policy question, but too often a great confusion arises on that head, abetted by the handling of intelligence itself. The “Iraqi WMD” controversy is a superb example of such confusion. No form of intelligence could have ensured that we struck Iraq at precisely the right moment to guarantee a smoking gun. The president made a policy decision; his critics, however, have argued ever since that he made an intelligence decision. Their unspoken premise is that intelligence can naturally appear in a form that obviates policy assessments and eliminates risk, and that Bush truncated some accepted process by not waiting for it to do so.

Intelligence doesn’t do that, however. Bolton is right to raise the issue of assessing policy implications, because it’s in this area that the controversy and vulnerability of the process are concentrated. Every celebrated instance of public dissatisfaction with intelligence is predicated on assumptions about the policy implications of that intelligence. Those assumptions are rarely examined in any systematic way, and presidents almost never address them or seek to shape them in the public mind.

Keeping open the national-security option of preemption, which is peculiarly reliant on intelligence, means that the question of policy implications from intelligence will recur for us in the future. The organizational correctives we apply should honor the executive’s constitutional responsibility for assessing policy implications. Bolton may be right about having the IC report to the NSC; that arrangement would in some ways mimic how the military plugs intelligence into planning and execution. At some point, however, we will have to come to grips with the persistent and legitimate possibility that, in any given situation, what we are seeing among our politicians is a disagreement on policy implications rather than on the intelligence itself. The IC is not responsible for the management or the outcomes of such disputes, and it should not be organized in a way that encourages it to participate in them.

Read Less

Iranian Dissidents Show Courage—Can Obama Do the Same?

The unstable situation in Iran is clearly escalating, as the Islamist regime has not been able to intimidate anti-government protesters, who keep returning to the streets despite the state-sponsored violence intended to keep them quiet. Yesterday, 10 dissidents were reportedly killed, including the nephew of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, who was reportedly assassinated outside his home. Yet, despite the attempts to repress dissent, demonstrations and clashes with government forces have apparently spread from Tehran to Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil, and Orumieh.

Yet while the people of Iran are taking to the streets to show they want to oust the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad despotism, we must ask where is the voice of the leader of the free world? President Barack Obama is a noted orator but, as has been the case throughout his first year in office, his rhetorical talents have not been put to use when it comes to Iran. Obsessed with the notion that engagement with Iran’s tyrants can resolve our concerns over their drive for nuclear weapons as well as Tehran’s support for terrorist groups elsewhere in the region, Obama has consistently downplayed America’s concerns about the need for change in Iran.

Yes, the White House did issue a statement about events in Iran and rightly condemned the “unjust oppression” being conducted there. But if the administration thinks a mere quote attributed to National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer is enough, they clearly don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.

What then can the West do? Last week the editorial page of the Jerusalem Post suggested that “to signal support for the Iranian opposition, countries which value liberty should opt to indefinitely extend the vacations of their ambassadors now on home-leave for the Christmas and New Year holidays.” It’s a modest suggestion that unfortunately was not taken up by any nation, not even the United States.

Even better would be a personal statement of outrage that came directly from the mouth of Barack Obama,  followed by an announcement that on January 1, the West will begin to enact the “crippling” sanctions they have occasionally threatened throughout the year. Unfortunately the various deadlines for Iran to respond to Western entreaties to play nice on nukes have been ignored and there is little reason to believe that the administration takes this most recent date to be a signal for action. The administration’s passion for “engagement”—despite the fact that the Iranians have shown they have no interest in diplomacy other than as an effective delaying tactic—and the growing conviction among some elites that we can live with an Iranian bomb have resulted in the current stalemate that works well for Tehran.

Defenders of appeasement of Iran have told us that a strong stand will only hurt the dissidents and spur the regime to greater violence. But as recent events illustrate, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have no compunction about unleashing their thugs on their own people. With so many willing to risk death to oppose the Islamist tyranny, now is the time for Barack Obama to find both his courage and his voice. If instead he continues the current path of engagement, it will inevitably mean a delay of tough sanctions and a sign that the world doesn’t care about the blood shed in the streets of Iran. Such a double betrayal would be an especially inauspicious way to begin his second year in office.

The unstable situation in Iran is clearly escalating, as the Islamist regime has not been able to intimidate anti-government protesters, who keep returning to the streets despite the state-sponsored violence intended to keep them quiet. Yesterday, 10 dissidents were reportedly killed, including the nephew of opposition presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, who was reportedly assassinated outside his home. Yet, despite the attempts to repress dissent, demonstrations and clashes with government forces have apparently spread from Tehran to Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil, and Orumieh.

Yet while the people of Iran are taking to the streets to show they want to oust the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad despotism, we must ask where is the voice of the leader of the free world? President Barack Obama is a noted orator but, as has been the case throughout his first year in office, his rhetorical talents have not been put to use when it comes to Iran. Obsessed with the notion that engagement with Iran’s tyrants can resolve our concerns over their drive for nuclear weapons as well as Tehran’s support for terrorist groups elsewhere in the region, Obama has consistently downplayed America’s concerns about the need for change in Iran.

Yes, the White House did issue a statement about events in Iran and rightly condemned the “unjust oppression” being conducted there. But if the administration thinks a mere quote attributed to National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer is enough, they clearly don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.

What then can the West do? Last week the editorial page of the Jerusalem Post suggested that “to signal support for the Iranian opposition, countries which value liberty should opt to indefinitely extend the vacations of their ambassadors now on home-leave for the Christmas and New Year holidays.” It’s a modest suggestion that unfortunately was not taken up by any nation, not even the United States.

Even better would be a personal statement of outrage that came directly from the mouth of Barack Obama,  followed by an announcement that on January 1, the West will begin to enact the “crippling” sanctions they have occasionally threatened throughout the year. Unfortunately the various deadlines for Iran to respond to Western entreaties to play nice on nukes have been ignored and there is little reason to believe that the administration takes this most recent date to be a signal for action. The administration’s passion for “engagement”—despite the fact that the Iranians have shown they have no interest in diplomacy other than as an effective delaying tactic—and the growing conviction among some elites that we can live with an Iranian bomb have resulted in the current stalemate that works well for Tehran.

Defenders of appeasement of Iran have told us that a strong stand will only hurt the dissidents and spur the regime to greater violence. But as recent events illustrate, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have no compunction about unleashing their thugs on their own people. With so many willing to risk death to oppose the Islamist tyranny, now is the time for Barack Obama to find both his courage and his voice. If instead he continues the current path of engagement, it will inevitably mean a delay of tough sanctions and a sign that the world doesn’t care about the blood shed in the streets of Iran. Such a double betrayal would be an especially inauspicious way to begin his second year in office.

Read Less

Saber-Rattling by Proxy

Remember how liberals used to get apoplectic when members of the Bush administration said things like “all options are on the table with Iran”? This was beating the war drums, it was saber-rattling, it was exemplary of all that was wrong with the Bush administration’s approach to the world.

Of course it isn’t surprising that such accusations are not leveled at the Obama administration, which has also regularly employed the all-options-on-the-table formulation — mostly because everyone understands that it isn’t a true statement. But here is a better one: According to the Washington Post, President Obama sent two officials on an advance trip to China before his recent visit. Their message? Sign a toughly worded IAEA statement or the Israelis might attack:

If Beijing did not help the United States on this issue, the consequences could be severe, the visitors, Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Bader, both senior officials in the National Security Council, informed the Chinese.

The Chinese were told that Israel regards Iran’s nuclear program as an “existential issue and that countries that have an existential issue don’t listen to other countries,” according to a senior administration official. The implication was clear: Israel could bomb Iran.

One might go so far as to say that international affairs continues to be dominated by power and force, despite hopenchangey predictions of a new era of dialogue and cooperation. Even accomplishing something as modest as cajoling a Chinese signature on a largely meaningless IAEA statement necessitated the threat of force. “Soft power” and “smart diplomacy” didn’t quite cut it, did they?

China’s inclusion on yesterday’s IAEA statement will be hailed as a great accomplishment for the Obama administration, but it should be apparent that this victory actually represents the hastened disintegration of the administration’s preferred policy — an elegant and high-minded diplomatic campaign. The “Israel will attack” card has now been played, and quite early. What will the White House say to China and Russia when it wishes to pursue sanctions, or even a gasoline embargo? A repetition of the same threat? Wasn’t Obama’s presidency supposed to liberate us from the ugly business of making threats?

Remember how liberals used to get apoplectic when members of the Bush administration said things like “all options are on the table with Iran”? This was beating the war drums, it was saber-rattling, it was exemplary of all that was wrong with the Bush administration’s approach to the world.

Of course it isn’t surprising that such accusations are not leveled at the Obama administration, which has also regularly employed the all-options-on-the-table formulation — mostly because everyone understands that it isn’t a true statement. But here is a better one: According to the Washington Post, President Obama sent two officials on an advance trip to China before his recent visit. Their message? Sign a toughly worded IAEA statement or the Israelis might attack:

If Beijing did not help the United States on this issue, the consequences could be severe, the visitors, Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Bader, both senior officials in the National Security Council, informed the Chinese.

The Chinese were told that Israel regards Iran’s nuclear program as an “existential issue and that countries that have an existential issue don’t listen to other countries,” according to a senior administration official. The implication was clear: Israel could bomb Iran.

One might go so far as to say that international affairs continues to be dominated by power and force, despite hopenchangey predictions of a new era of dialogue and cooperation. Even accomplishing something as modest as cajoling a Chinese signature on a largely meaningless IAEA statement necessitated the threat of force. “Soft power” and “smart diplomacy” didn’t quite cut it, did they?

China’s inclusion on yesterday’s IAEA statement will be hailed as a great accomplishment for the Obama administration, but it should be apparent that this victory actually represents the hastened disintegration of the administration’s preferred policy — an elegant and high-minded diplomatic campaign. The “Israel will attack” card has now been played, and quite early. What will the White House say to China and Russia when it wishes to pursue sanctions, or even a gasoline embargo? A repetition of the same threat? Wasn’t Obama’s presidency supposed to liberate us from the ugly business of making threats?

Read Less

Secret Agent Hillary

So does a first lady play a critical foreign policy role or not?

These days, Hillary Clinton certainly wants us to think so. She claims she “helped to bring peace” to Northern Ireland, stood up to the Chinese, negotiated with Macedonians, and braved a hail of bullets in war-torn Bosnia.

So then why, when questioned in 1997 about having held an important foreign policy meeting in 1996, did her spokesman deflect inquiries to the National Security Council (whose spokesman said that foreign policy is set by the President and not by the First Lady)? Perhaps because this rare instance of Hillary’s actual foreign policy experience was problematic then and disastrous now.

Recent reports indicate that in 1996 Hillary had an agreeable conference with Muthanna Hanooti, the alleged Iraqi intelligence operative who was just indicted for bringing U.S. lawmakers to Iraq on Saddam’s dime. During this meeting they discussed easing American sanctions on Iraq.

Hanooti told the New York Sun’s Ira Stoll that Hillary was “very receptive” to weakening sanctions and she “passed a message to the State Department” urging the implementation of the oil-for-food deal. Oil-for-food was nominally intended to help Saddam feed Iraqis through oil sales. In reality it allowed Saddam and a global crime syndicate to profit under cover of UN legitimacy, while Iraqis continued to suffer.

Now, to be fair, the current indictment against Hanooti charges that his formal involvement with Saddam’s intelligence began “in or about 1999.” But clearly his sentiments were in line with Iraq’s dictator at the time he met with Hillary Clinton. Saddam’s goal was to end sanctions altogether and re-establish a formidable WMD program. At the time, the sanctions kept him too financially strapped to see his WMD dreams to completion, but allowed for him to proceed building countrywide palaces. Needy Iraqis never entered the equation.

But Hillary did. There she was, meeting with man who would later be identified as an Iraqi intelligence operative, and allegedly “receptive” to his ploy. Judging from Hillary’s Bosnia claim, her next move is obvious: She wasn’t really receptive to this pro-Saddam stance. She was onto Hanooti before anyone else; she was functioning as a top-level spy, in fact. There was a mini-camera in her brooch and a lie-detector in her purse. Just another day, I guess, in the life of Super First Lady.

So does a first lady play a critical foreign policy role or not?

These days, Hillary Clinton certainly wants us to think so. She claims she “helped to bring peace” to Northern Ireland, stood up to the Chinese, negotiated with Macedonians, and braved a hail of bullets in war-torn Bosnia.

So then why, when questioned in 1997 about having held an important foreign policy meeting in 1996, did her spokesman deflect inquiries to the National Security Council (whose spokesman said that foreign policy is set by the President and not by the First Lady)? Perhaps because this rare instance of Hillary’s actual foreign policy experience was problematic then and disastrous now.

Recent reports indicate that in 1996 Hillary had an agreeable conference with Muthanna Hanooti, the alleged Iraqi intelligence operative who was just indicted for bringing U.S. lawmakers to Iraq on Saddam’s dime. During this meeting they discussed easing American sanctions on Iraq.

Hanooti told the New York Sun’s Ira Stoll that Hillary was “very receptive” to weakening sanctions and she “passed a message to the State Department” urging the implementation of the oil-for-food deal. Oil-for-food was nominally intended to help Saddam feed Iraqis through oil sales. In reality it allowed Saddam and a global crime syndicate to profit under cover of UN legitimacy, while Iraqis continued to suffer.

Now, to be fair, the current indictment against Hanooti charges that his formal involvement with Saddam’s intelligence began “in or about 1999.” But clearly his sentiments were in line with Iraq’s dictator at the time he met with Hillary Clinton. Saddam’s goal was to end sanctions altogether and re-establish a formidable WMD program. At the time, the sanctions kept him too financially strapped to see his WMD dreams to completion, but allowed for him to proceed building countrywide palaces. Needy Iraqis never entered the equation.

But Hillary did. There she was, meeting with man who would later be identified as an Iraqi intelligence operative, and allegedly “receptive” to his ploy. Judging from Hillary’s Bosnia claim, her next move is obvious: She wasn’t really receptive to this pro-Saddam stance. She was onto Hanooti before anyone else; she was functioning as a top-level spy, in fact. There was a mini-camera in her brooch and a lie-detector in her purse. Just another day, I guess, in the life of Super First Lady.

Read Less

Spelling and “Analytic Tradecraft”

The CIA and U.S. intelligence have gotten a lot of things wrong in recent years, at great cost to our national well-being. A significant part of the problem lies in “analysis,” where data is supposed to be interpreted but is all too often misinterpreted.

Gregory F. Treverton and C. Bryan Gabbard have written a new study of “analytic tradecraft,” published by RAND, that takes up the nature of the problem and looks at some of the solutions being put in place.

Some of the approaches to improving analysis they point to are technological. For example, there is a program called GENOA -II, designed to help intelligence analysts work better in groups. Among other things, it attempts to “automate team processes,” develop “cognitive aids that allow humans and machines to ‘think together’ in real-time about complicated problems,” and find ways to “overcome the biases and limitations of the human cognitive system.”

This sounds great. But count me deeply skeptical. Here’s why.

No technological solution can be better than the people running it. Consider a very simple “cognitive aid” like a computer spell-check program. These things have been around for a long time and everyone uses them. Treverton and Gabbard are smart men, who have every interest in producing a highly professional study. Treverton has handled all of Europe for the National Security Council and served as vice chair of the National Intelligence Council, overseeing the writing of America’s National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs). Gabbard is also an accomplished person, with a wealth of experience under his belt. But even so, and even with RAND editors poring over their study before it was released, the spell-check program was not fail-safe.

The Treverton-Gabbard study has:

“intellience” and “intellence” instead of intelligence;

“builiding” instead of building;

“proceess” instead of process;

“solftware” instead of software;

“uniue” instead of unique;

“syehtsis” instead of synthesis;

“coopertive” instead of cooperative;

“poential” instead of potential.

Why should there be nine such mistakes when the technology is in place to produce, almost effortlessly, a zero-error rate? The United States is not going fall victim to a surprise attack because of some typos in a RAND study. But we will fall victim to another surprise attack if don’t focus on the fact that the problem facing our intelligence community is not technology but severe shortcomings in the selection of analysts themselves.

See the case of Michael Scheuer, the kooky head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden desk in the 1990′s, for one set of illustrations. See the case of Richard Immerman, the radical professor now in charge of analytic “integrity and standards” for the Intelligence Community, for another set of illustrations.

How many more illustrations do we need?

The CIA and U.S. intelligence have gotten a lot of things wrong in recent years, at great cost to our national well-being. A significant part of the problem lies in “analysis,” where data is supposed to be interpreted but is all too often misinterpreted.

Gregory F. Treverton and C. Bryan Gabbard have written a new study of “analytic tradecraft,” published by RAND, that takes up the nature of the problem and looks at some of the solutions being put in place.

Some of the approaches to improving analysis they point to are technological. For example, there is a program called GENOA -II, designed to help intelligence analysts work better in groups. Among other things, it attempts to “automate team processes,” develop “cognitive aids that allow humans and machines to ‘think together’ in real-time about complicated problems,” and find ways to “overcome the biases and limitations of the human cognitive system.”

This sounds great. But count me deeply skeptical. Here’s why.

No technological solution can be better than the people running it. Consider a very simple “cognitive aid” like a computer spell-check program. These things have been around for a long time and everyone uses them. Treverton and Gabbard are smart men, who have every interest in producing a highly professional study. Treverton has handled all of Europe for the National Security Council and served as vice chair of the National Intelligence Council, overseeing the writing of America’s National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs). Gabbard is also an accomplished person, with a wealth of experience under his belt. But even so, and even with RAND editors poring over their study before it was released, the spell-check program was not fail-safe.

The Treverton-Gabbard study has:

“intellience” and “intellence” instead of intelligence;

“builiding” instead of building;

“proceess” instead of process;

“solftware” instead of software;

“uniue” instead of unique;

“syehtsis” instead of synthesis;

“coopertive” instead of cooperative;

“poential” instead of potential.

Why should there be nine such mistakes when the technology is in place to produce, almost effortlessly, a zero-error rate? The United States is not going fall victim to a surprise attack because of some typos in a RAND study. But we will fall victim to another surprise attack if don’t focus on the fact that the problem facing our intelligence community is not technology but severe shortcomings in the selection of analysts themselves.

See the case of Michael Scheuer, the kooky head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden desk in the 1990′s, for one set of illustrations. See the case of Richard Immerman, the radical professor now in charge of analytic “integrity and standards” for the Intelligence Community, for another set of illustrations.

How many more illustrations do we need?

Read Less

Out of Iraq Now

Barack Obama has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Since he may well be the next President of the United States, let’s give it a respectful hearing. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on his website:

Bring Our Troops Home: Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

Hillary Clinton also has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Even though her chances of becoming President are diminishing by the day, she is still in the race, so let’s give her plan a respectful hearing, too. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on her website:

Starting Phased Redeployment within Hillary’s First Days in Office: The most important part of Hillary’s plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq’s civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary’s first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration.

Obama is promising a faster withdrawal than Hillary. although Hillary has also said, “Our message to the President is clear. It is time to begin ending this war — not next year, not next month — but today.”

For those Americans who want to end the war as rapidly as possible, should we vote for him or for her?

There can be only one answer: neither.

When the United States was contemplating the invasion, Colin Powell memorably enunciated the Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it, you own it.” Both Hillary and Obama want to walk out of the shop with the crockery in pieces and without paying. Indeed, the main issue between them is which will exit the shop faster.

This leaves Connecting the Dots with two questions: 

1.  Is there anything more shameful than their blithe indifference to the fate of the Iraqi people?

2.  Is there anything more shameful then their insouciant disregard of the iron-clad logic of events: that if the U.S. withdraws without a credible security system in place, our forces will have to fight their way back after one or another ruthless Islamic group terrorizes its way into power?

Last night I listened to Henry Kissinger speak at a dinner (honoring Norman Podhoretz for his new book) that was put on by the amazing trio running Power Line. He made one point that struck me with special force: American withdrawal from Iraq will be an unmistakable American defeat, and the consequences will not be long-term, they will be immediate and grave.

No one can predict the future, but Kissinger’s analysis and warning seems irrefutable. Is that what America wants? This election is shaping up to be even more critical than the Carter-Reagan choice of 1980. Am I correct in thinking that, of the post-war elections, only the Nixon-McGovern race in 1972 had more riding on it?

 

Barack Obama has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Since he may well be the next President of the United States, let’s give it a respectful hearing. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on his website:

Bring Our Troops Home: Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

Hillary Clinton also has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Even though her chances of becoming President are diminishing by the day, she is still in the race, so let’s give her plan a respectful hearing, too. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on her website:

Starting Phased Redeployment within Hillary’s First Days in Office: The most important part of Hillary’s plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq’s civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary’s first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration.

Obama is promising a faster withdrawal than Hillary. although Hillary has also said, “Our message to the President is clear. It is time to begin ending this war — not next year, not next month — but today.”

For those Americans who want to end the war as rapidly as possible, should we vote for him or for her?

There can be only one answer: neither.

When the United States was contemplating the invasion, Colin Powell memorably enunciated the Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it, you own it.” Both Hillary and Obama want to walk out of the shop with the crockery in pieces and without paying. Indeed, the main issue between them is which will exit the shop faster.

This leaves Connecting the Dots with two questions: 

1.  Is there anything more shameful than their blithe indifference to the fate of the Iraqi people?

2.  Is there anything more shameful then their insouciant disregard of the iron-clad logic of events: that if the U.S. withdraws without a credible security system in place, our forces will have to fight their way back after one or another ruthless Islamic group terrorizes its way into power?

Last night I listened to Henry Kissinger speak at a dinner (honoring Norman Podhoretz for his new book) that was put on by the amazing trio running Power Line. He made one point that struck me with special force: American withdrawal from Iraq will be an unmistakable American defeat, and the consequences will not be long-term, they will be immediate and grave.

No one can predict the future, but Kissinger’s analysis and warning seems irrefutable. Is that what America wants? This election is shaping up to be even more critical than the Carter-Reagan choice of 1980. Am I correct in thinking that, of the post-war elections, only the Nixon-McGovern race in 1972 had more riding on it?

 

Read Less

Iran’s Law

Saeed Jalili, the Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, visited Brussels last week, to engage in dialogue with European counterparts. Little did he know that Members of the European Parliament would be particularly keen to have a candid exchange of views on the way Iran customarily hangs people from cranes in the public square. Though he did not answer, Jalili must have taken the outrage to heart, because barely a week later, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has banned all public executions unless he personally authorizes them. He has also banned photographs and films of the executions, though not the executions themselves. This is a far cry from abiding by the moratorium on public executions called for by the UN on December 18 of last year. It is just a way to avoid embarrassment of the kind suffered by Jalili last week. According to the BBC,

Correspondents say it appears Ayatollah Shahrudi wants to lower the profile of executions as Iran has been widely criticised by Western countries and international organisations.

Since the UN moratorium, Iran has carried out 62 executions in 40 days, many of them in public, including two minors, two women and two political prisoners. More will no doubt be soon scheduled, though far from the public eye. Far from the eye, far from the heart, as they say—and the international outrage that so impedes Iran’s dialogue with Europe.

From now on, the international community will not be able to easily see the brutality of Iran’s regime as previously possible, courtesy of Iran’s official press agencies. So, before the lights go out, readers should take a look at the pictures below the jump (not for the faint of heart) and remember what Iran’s regime is truly about. (The three UNIC hangings are from a hanging on August 2, 2007 in Tehran; the hangings in the snow were public executions in Qom, on January 2.)

Read More

Saeed Jalili, the Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, visited Brussels last week, to engage in dialogue with European counterparts. Little did he know that Members of the European Parliament would be particularly keen to have a candid exchange of views on the way Iran customarily hangs people from cranes in the public square. Though he did not answer, Jalili must have taken the outrage to heart, because barely a week later, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has banned all public executions unless he personally authorizes them. He has also banned photographs and films of the executions, though not the executions themselves. This is a far cry from abiding by the moratorium on public executions called for by the UN on December 18 of last year. It is just a way to avoid embarrassment of the kind suffered by Jalili last week. According to the BBC,

Correspondents say it appears Ayatollah Shahrudi wants to lower the profile of executions as Iran has been widely criticised by Western countries and international organisations.

Since the UN moratorium, Iran has carried out 62 executions in 40 days, many of them in public, including two minors, two women and two political prisoners. More will no doubt be soon scheduled, though far from the public eye. Far from the eye, far from the heart, as they say—and the international outrage that so impedes Iran’s dialogue with Europe.

From now on, the international community will not be able to easily see the brutality of Iran’s regime as previously possible, courtesy of Iran’s official press agencies. So, before the lights go out, readers should take a look at the pictures below the jump (not for the faint of heart) and remember what Iran’s regime is truly about. (The three UNIC hangings are from a hanging on August 2, 2007 in Tehran; the hangings in the snow were public executions in Qom, on January 2.)

otto-1-final.jpg

otto-2-final.jpg

otto-3-final.jpg

otto-4-final.jpg

otto-5-final.jpg

Read Less

Now Playing: Egypt and Iran

It seems as though Iran is making new inroads with key Arab states almost every few days. Three weeks ago, I wrote that Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie had called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, while I noted on Monday that Libya—which is slowly achieving normalization with western states—had signed ten agreements with Iran and supported the Iranian nuclear position. But Iran’s ever-expanding role in the Middle East got a major boost yesterday, when Ali Larijani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was welcomed in Egypt. Fully normalized Egyptian-Iranian relations—nonexistent since Cairo signed peace with Israel in 1979—appear imminent.

To some extent, revamped Iranian-Egyptian relations have been expected for some time. In 2004, Iran renamed a street in Tehran that it had previously dedicated to Anwar Sadat assassin Khaled Islambouli—a glorified “martyr” in Iran—thus dropping a critical sticking point between the two states. But yesterday’s meeting went well beyond typical diplomatic pleasantries: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit announced his support for Iran’s nuclear activities and called for continued Egyptian-Iranian dialogue on regional issues, including Iraq and Lebanon.

Read More

It seems as though Iran is making new inroads with key Arab states almost every few days. Three weeks ago, I wrote that Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie had called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, while I noted on Monday that Libya—which is slowly achieving normalization with western states—had signed ten agreements with Iran and supported the Iranian nuclear position. But Iran’s ever-expanding role in the Middle East got a major boost yesterday, when Ali Larijani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was welcomed in Egypt. Fully normalized Egyptian-Iranian relations—nonexistent since Cairo signed peace with Israel in 1979—appear imminent.

To some extent, revamped Iranian-Egyptian relations have been expected for some time. In 2004, Iran renamed a street in Tehran that it had previously dedicated to Anwar Sadat assassin Khaled Islambouli—a glorified “martyr” in Iran—thus dropping a critical sticking point between the two states. But yesterday’s meeting went well beyond typical diplomatic pleasantries: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit announced his support for Iran’s nuclear activities and called for continued Egyptian-Iranian dialogue on regional issues, including Iraq and Lebanon.

For Egypt, these statements represent a stunning change of tune. In recent years, Egypt has been a key Arab opponent of regional Iranian ascendancy, lambasting Iranian-backed Hizballah for its actions during the 2006 Lebanon war, and supporting the Annapolis conference as an antidote to Iranian hegemony. Yet within Iran’s sphere of influence, Abul-Gheit’s comments were true crowd-pleasers, with Hizballah leader Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah gleefully declaring that improved Iranian-Egyptian relations “would help protect Muslim countries against major threats,” including those emanating from “the U.S. and the Zionist regime.” Meanwhile, Iran offered to help Egypt develop nuclear technology, crossing a major red line as far as U.S.-Egyptian relations are concerned.

The key footnote to this sudden Iranian-Egyptian engagement is the recent souring of Israeli-Egyptian relations. Last month, Israel showed U.S. officials a tape of Egyptian police officers aiding weapons smugglers crossing into Gaza, and Congress immediately threatened to withhold Egyptian military aid. Abul-Gheit first blamed the pro-Israel lobby for the impasse, then threatened “diplomatic retaliation” if Israel pursued Egypt’s alleged role in weapons smuggling further.

Of course, with President Bush set to touch down in Israel and the Palestinian territories next week, mending Israeli-Egyptian relations is the last thing with which the administration hoped to be dealing. Yet much of what Bush hopes to accomplish in the Middle East before leaving office—particularly Israeli-Palestinian peace and Iranian isolation—depends on keeping this relationship stable. The good news is that Bush will also visit Cairo. Asking the Mubarak regime to explain its recent tryst with Iran should top that agenda.

Read Less

An African Toothache

Answer honestly: what would bother you more, waking up with a toothache or waking up to read a headline in the newspaper about an ongoing malaria epidemic in Malawi causing thousands of deaths a year? 

This question came to mind at a fascinating event here in New York as part of a series called Intelligence Squared, a public forum aimed at improving the level of discourse about important public issues. On Tuesday night, in front of a full house and recorded for subsequent broadcast on NPR, six leading specialists debated the proposition: aid to Africa is doing more harm than good.

I will admit to never having had much of an interest in African affairs, and I will also confess to being one of those people who would find the toothache more bothersome than news of a malaria epidemic. So, for me, one of the achievements of this debate was that it got me thinking about a range of issues that I have given little thought to in the past, and perhaps made my hypothetical toothache feel a bit less sore.

I was helped along by the speakers. George Ayittey, an economist from Ghana who teaches at American University, offered a devastating and passionately delivered evisceration of the existing system of aid, which he argued is keeping large swaths of Africa trapped in poverty under autocratic and kleptocratic regimes. He was helped along by William Easterly of NYU, who following in the footsteps of the great P.T. Bauer, has written the most recent bible of his side: The White Man’s Burden: How the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. The writer David Rieff was also on the same three-man team, but his deeply abstract points, delivered in an academic modality (“modality,” as was apparent, is his all-time favorite word) and qualified by a sententious and irrelevant declaration that he remained a man of the Left, made him more of a drain to his side than an asset.

The defenders of aid to Africa, C. Payne Lucas, president of Africare (an aid organization), John McArthur of Columbia University’s Earth Institute (whatever that is), and Gayle Smith, director of African affairs on the National Security Council under Bill Clinton, also put on a very persuasive case that the aid picture is not entirely bleak. But it was marred by gratuitous Bush-bashing, in which they juxtaposed the billions spent fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the paucity of funds spent eradicating poverty in Africa. Revealing their left-wing tilt did not help to persuade me that their arguments focusing on the merits of aid itself were rock solid.

In the end, I came away with the view that the proposition itself, while it led to an illuminating discussion, does not make all that much sense. Like all subjects, aid to Africa is a many-sided subject and the issue cannot be decided by an easy yes or no. But I also came away with the conviction that public debate of this sort is a very valuable thing. Robert Rosenkranz, the philanthropist who has brought this Oxford-style forum from England to American shores, deserves congratulations for a genuine and original accomplishment.

Answer honestly: what would bother you more, waking up with a toothache or waking up to read a headline in the newspaper about an ongoing malaria epidemic in Malawi causing thousands of deaths a year? 

This question came to mind at a fascinating event here in New York as part of a series called Intelligence Squared, a public forum aimed at improving the level of discourse about important public issues. On Tuesday night, in front of a full house and recorded for subsequent broadcast on NPR, six leading specialists debated the proposition: aid to Africa is doing more harm than good.

I will admit to never having had much of an interest in African affairs, and I will also confess to being one of those people who would find the toothache more bothersome than news of a malaria epidemic. So, for me, one of the achievements of this debate was that it got me thinking about a range of issues that I have given little thought to in the past, and perhaps made my hypothetical toothache feel a bit less sore.

I was helped along by the speakers. George Ayittey, an economist from Ghana who teaches at American University, offered a devastating and passionately delivered evisceration of the existing system of aid, which he argued is keeping large swaths of Africa trapped in poverty under autocratic and kleptocratic regimes. He was helped along by William Easterly of NYU, who following in the footsteps of the great P.T. Bauer, has written the most recent bible of his side: The White Man’s Burden: How the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. The writer David Rieff was also on the same three-man team, but his deeply abstract points, delivered in an academic modality (“modality,” as was apparent, is his all-time favorite word) and qualified by a sententious and irrelevant declaration that he remained a man of the Left, made him more of a drain to his side than an asset.

The defenders of aid to Africa, C. Payne Lucas, president of Africare (an aid organization), John McArthur of Columbia University’s Earth Institute (whatever that is), and Gayle Smith, director of African affairs on the National Security Council under Bill Clinton, also put on a very persuasive case that the aid picture is not entirely bleak. But it was marred by gratuitous Bush-bashing, in which they juxtaposed the billions spent fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the paucity of funds spent eradicating poverty in Africa. Revealing their left-wing tilt did not help to persuade me that their arguments focusing on the merits of aid itself were rock solid.

In the end, I came away with the view that the proposition itself, while it led to an illuminating discussion, does not make all that much sense. Like all subjects, aid to Africa is a many-sided subject and the issue cannot be decided by an easy yes or no. But I also came away with the conviction that public debate of this sort is a very valuable thing. Robert Rosenkranz, the philanthropist who has brought this Oxford-style forum from England to American shores, deserves congratulations for a genuine and original accomplishment.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.