Commentary Magazine


Topic: Somalia

Yemen and the Biden Strategy

One of the most useful prisms through which to view Yemen and Somalia is that of the “Biden strategy” for the War on Terror. The strategy’s outlines are provided in this article, one of many recounting Biden’s advocacy of over-the-horizon counterterrorism during the interminable seminar on Afghanistan last year:

Biden urged the president to consider a narrow counterterrorism mission, heavy on Special Forces and Predator drone strikes, which would require far less manpower than the military was seeking. … [He] continues to argue that it may not be possible to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan at a reasonable cost.

Administration policy in Yemen and Somalia has been an even purer example of applying the Biden strategy. Team Obama has disavowed any intention of enlarging U.S. goals or the military footprint in either nation (see here and here, for example). The U.S. is there only to hunt terrorists, suppress piracy, and supply humanitarian aid, with a little military aid thrown in on the side.

Obama has so rigorously eschewed having any greater designs on the region that his administration seems to have missed some very basic geopolitical facts; e.g., that the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden lie between Yemen and Somalia and are the main path by which terrorists — and refugees — travel between their unruly shores. Yemen and Somalia function, in many ways, as a “system”; they share problems and displaced populations; and their neighbors — like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Sudan — claim equities in their turmoil. Proposing to interact with this region solely by executing drone attacks and distributing aid, as if that will immunize the U.S. against unpleasant levels of involvement, is as much a fool’s errand as it is in Central Asia.

The U.S. is already deeply embedded in the region, with our naval task force combating piracy, our joint military headquarters in Djibouti, and our Special Forces and military training activities in Yemen. Now Obama wants to increase our counterterrorism activities in Yemen, deeming it a greater source of terrorism than Pakistan. In Somalia, meanwhile, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is trying to retake the south from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terror group, the commander of U.S. Africa Command has stated — for the first time — a U.S. willingness to train Somali TFG troops directly.

The intensifying war on terrorists in Yemen is reminiscent of the U.S. posture in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s. There are, unfortunately, parallels in multiple realms. Human-rights groups are decrying the collateral damage done by U.S. strikes (like this one in December 2009). Yemen itself is rent by factional insurgencies; one of them, the Southern Movement, has ambiguous relations with al-Qaeda. The moral hazard of U.S. cooperation being exploited by the Yemeni government to go after its internal opposition cannot be discounted. Such allegations are already being made by Amnesty International and others. But the strongest parallel with Southeast Asia 50 years ago is the administration’s passion for Special Forces, military advisers, and standoff air strikes.

What happens in Yemen will not stay in Yemen: it will spill over and affect the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight terror there, but it does mean we will be unprepared for the consequences of doing so if we rely only on the Biden strategy. Perhaps the American people have let Team Obama maintain the fiction that we are executing a distant, hands-off strategy there, but regional circumstances won’t allow it much longer. Obama is inviting things to come to a head by ramping up Special Forces operations and drone attacks in Yemen, which will stretch the Biden method to the breaking point.

We are already involved in Yemen’s fate: we’ve been shooting there for years. Somalia may be next. We are backing into a problem we should be meeting head-on. Our strategy should, at the very least, recognize the limits of our ability to ignore local and regional politics when we are hunting our enemies and enforcing our policies on someone else’s territory.

One of the most useful prisms through which to view Yemen and Somalia is that of the “Biden strategy” for the War on Terror. The strategy’s outlines are provided in this article, one of many recounting Biden’s advocacy of over-the-horizon counterterrorism during the interminable seminar on Afghanistan last year:

Biden urged the president to consider a narrow counterterrorism mission, heavy on Special Forces and Predator drone strikes, which would require far less manpower than the military was seeking. … [He] continues to argue that it may not be possible to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan at a reasonable cost.

Administration policy in Yemen and Somalia has been an even purer example of applying the Biden strategy. Team Obama has disavowed any intention of enlarging U.S. goals or the military footprint in either nation (see here and here, for example). The U.S. is there only to hunt terrorists, suppress piracy, and supply humanitarian aid, with a little military aid thrown in on the side.

Obama has so rigorously eschewed having any greater designs on the region that his administration seems to have missed some very basic geopolitical facts; e.g., that the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden lie between Yemen and Somalia and are the main path by which terrorists — and refugees — travel between their unruly shores. Yemen and Somalia function, in many ways, as a “system”; they share problems and displaced populations; and their neighbors — like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Sudan — claim equities in their turmoil. Proposing to interact with this region solely by executing drone attacks and distributing aid, as if that will immunize the U.S. against unpleasant levels of involvement, is as much a fool’s errand as it is in Central Asia.

The U.S. is already deeply embedded in the region, with our naval task force combating piracy, our joint military headquarters in Djibouti, and our Special Forces and military training activities in Yemen. Now Obama wants to increase our counterterrorism activities in Yemen, deeming it a greater source of terrorism than Pakistan. In Somalia, meanwhile, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is trying to retake the south from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terror group, the commander of U.S. Africa Command has stated — for the first time — a U.S. willingness to train Somali TFG troops directly.

The intensifying war on terrorists in Yemen is reminiscent of the U.S. posture in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s. There are, unfortunately, parallels in multiple realms. Human-rights groups are decrying the collateral damage done by U.S. strikes (like this one in December 2009). Yemen itself is rent by factional insurgencies; one of them, the Southern Movement, has ambiguous relations with al-Qaeda. The moral hazard of U.S. cooperation being exploited by the Yemeni government to go after its internal opposition cannot be discounted. Such allegations are already being made by Amnesty International and others. But the strongest parallel with Southeast Asia 50 years ago is the administration’s passion for Special Forces, military advisers, and standoff air strikes.

What happens in Yemen will not stay in Yemen: it will spill over and affect the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight terror there, but it does mean we will be unprepared for the consequences of doing so if we rely only on the Biden strategy. Perhaps the American people have let Team Obama maintain the fiction that we are executing a distant, hands-off strategy there, but regional circumstances won’t allow it much longer. Obama is inviting things to come to a head by ramping up Special Forces operations and drone attacks in Yemen, which will stretch the Biden method to the breaking point.

We are already involved in Yemen’s fate: we’ve been shooting there for years. Somalia may be next. We are backing into a problem we should be meeting head-on. Our strategy should, at the very least, recognize the limits of our ability to ignore local and regional politics when we are hunting our enemies and enforcing our policies on someone else’s territory.

Read Less

He Really Doesn’t Want to Be Commander In Chief

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

Read Less

Yemen and the Shell Game of the Anti-War Camp

Both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have articles reporting that the CIA now believes that Islamist extremists based in Yemen pose a bigger threat than those from Pakistan. This will no doubt spur indignant demands to explain why we are committing more resources in Afghanistan. Similar calls were heard for years during the height of the war effort in Iraq. Back then the cry was to invest more in “Afpak” (Afghanistan-Pakistan). Now that we have sent more resources there, critics claim that the threat has moved and our war effort is ill advised.

This is starting to feel like a shell game. Some people seem to simply oppose any war we are currently fighting, using the existence of threats elsewhere as an excuse to cut back on our existing troop commitments. That would be a disastrous mistake because it would hand al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups a major victory in Afghanistan that would spur their terrorist efforts elsewhere.

In any case it should be perfectly possible to fight in Afghanistan while maintaining a light footprint in countries like Yemen and Somalia. The Special Operations Command and the CIA are reportedly planning more drone strikes and other low-visibility actions in Yemen. That seems like the right response.

It is hard to imagine that, even if we weren’t committed in Afghanistan, we would be sending tens of thousands of troops to Yemen. Certainly those who argue that Afghanistan is unimportant don’t advocate an American invasion of some other country where al-Qaeda has taken root. The reality is that we have to use different strategies in different places. We’re in Afghanistan because of 9/11 and we need to win that war. We’ve made a lesser commitment in lots of other countries because they have not (yet) been used as a base from which to attack our homeland. That seems not only a reasonable division of labor but the only politically feasible one: few in Washington of either party would support an invasion of another country unless we are actually attacked.

Both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have articles reporting that the CIA now believes that Islamist extremists based in Yemen pose a bigger threat than those from Pakistan. This will no doubt spur indignant demands to explain why we are committing more resources in Afghanistan. Similar calls were heard for years during the height of the war effort in Iraq. Back then the cry was to invest more in “Afpak” (Afghanistan-Pakistan). Now that we have sent more resources there, critics claim that the threat has moved and our war effort is ill advised.

This is starting to feel like a shell game. Some people seem to simply oppose any war we are currently fighting, using the existence of threats elsewhere as an excuse to cut back on our existing troop commitments. That would be a disastrous mistake because it would hand al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups a major victory in Afghanistan that would spur their terrorist efforts elsewhere.

In any case it should be perfectly possible to fight in Afghanistan while maintaining a light footprint in countries like Yemen and Somalia. The Special Operations Command and the CIA are reportedly planning more drone strikes and other low-visibility actions in Yemen. That seems like the right response.

It is hard to imagine that, even if we weren’t committed in Afghanistan, we would be sending tens of thousands of troops to Yemen. Certainly those who argue that Afghanistan is unimportant don’t advocate an American invasion of some other country where al-Qaeda has taken root. The reality is that we have to use different strategies in different places. We’re in Afghanistan because of 9/11 and we need to win that war. We’ve made a lesser commitment in lots of other countries because they have not (yet) been used as a base from which to attack our homeland. That seems not only a reasonable division of labor but the only politically feasible one: few in Washington of either party would support an invasion of another country unless we are actually attacked.

Read Less

The War Against Extremism

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

Read Less

New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

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China’s Naval Posture: More Good News

Iran’s best friends have wasted no time trading on their naval anti-piracy presence in the Gulf of Aden to penetrate the Mediterranean Sea. China rotated its anti-piracy task forces in July and sent the homebound flotilla to the Mediterranean for naval exercises and port visits. Although the Chinese navy has sent training ships on foreign cruises before, the Mediterranean circuit being followed by the off-station flotilla is the first deployment of its kind by operational warships.

The Chinese destroyer and frigate arrived in Egypt in late July for a five-day visit. They then conducted drills with the Italian navy last week and visited the NATO port of Taranto. The task force arrived in Piraeus, Greece, on Monday.

China’s not the only Asian nation dispatching its navy to the ports of America’s allies in the Mediterranean. Russia expanded its traditional ties there with an agreement earlier this year to conduct joint naval exercises with Greece. India’s navy conducted an unprecedented deployment to the Mediterranean and Atlantic in 2009, during which it operated with the navies of Russia, NATO, and Algeria.

The Chinese made ripples in naval circles this summer when they sent their largest warship, the amphibious assault vessel Kunlunshan, to the Gulf of Aden as the flagship of their current anti-piracy flotilla. It’s understating the case to point out that an amphibious assault ship is not the platform best suited to interdicting pirates; China’s choice in this case is a political test of what other nations will find acceptable. This isn’t the only attempt being mounted to upend the status quo, however. Japan is establishing a forward operating base in Djibouti, and a Chinese official has floated the idea of China doing the same. Iran started this trend in late 2008 with new base facilities in Eritrea on the Red Sea, ostensibly for its anti-piracy force off Somalia.

Nations don’t change their naval postures because they are content with the status quo. Nor are the world’s other navies focused on building smaller, less-capable warships for low-lethality tasks like combating piracy. The U.S. Navy’s retreat from the high seas since the end of the Cold War is having its inevitable consequences. Shedding our own most capable warships to save money, as Defense Secretary Bob Gates proposes, is the worst thing we could do.

Iran’s best friends have wasted no time trading on their naval anti-piracy presence in the Gulf of Aden to penetrate the Mediterranean Sea. China rotated its anti-piracy task forces in July and sent the homebound flotilla to the Mediterranean for naval exercises and port visits. Although the Chinese navy has sent training ships on foreign cruises before, the Mediterranean circuit being followed by the off-station flotilla is the first deployment of its kind by operational warships.

The Chinese destroyer and frigate arrived in Egypt in late July for a five-day visit. They then conducted drills with the Italian navy last week and visited the NATO port of Taranto. The task force arrived in Piraeus, Greece, on Monday.

China’s not the only Asian nation dispatching its navy to the ports of America’s allies in the Mediterranean. Russia expanded its traditional ties there with an agreement earlier this year to conduct joint naval exercises with Greece. India’s navy conducted an unprecedented deployment to the Mediterranean and Atlantic in 2009, during which it operated with the navies of Russia, NATO, and Algeria.

The Chinese made ripples in naval circles this summer when they sent their largest warship, the amphibious assault vessel Kunlunshan, to the Gulf of Aden as the flagship of their current anti-piracy flotilla. It’s understating the case to point out that an amphibious assault ship is not the platform best suited to interdicting pirates; China’s choice in this case is a political test of what other nations will find acceptable. This isn’t the only attempt being mounted to upend the status quo, however. Japan is establishing a forward operating base in Djibouti, and a Chinese official has floated the idea of China doing the same. Iran started this trend in late 2008 with new base facilities in Eritrea on the Red Sea, ostensibly for its anti-piracy force off Somalia.

Nations don’t change their naval postures because they are content with the status quo. Nor are the world’s other navies focused on building smaller, less-capable warships for low-lethality tasks like combating piracy. The U.S. Navy’s retreat from the high seas since the end of the Cold War is having its inevitable consequences. Shedding our own most capable warships to save money, as Defense Secretary Bob Gates proposes, is the worst thing we could do.

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Susan Rice Is Doing Something at the UN: Targeting Israel

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

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Why Uganda?

Yesterday’s double terrorist bombing in Kampala is both a heart wrenching tragedy and a clarifying moment. Why would Islamists target an international sporting event in Uganda? After all, we’ve been told by our most thoughtful analysts and academics that terrorism is a response to insensitive Western policy. Earlier in the same day that bombs killed scores of soccer fans, the Center for American Progress’s Larry Korb told the Washington Times, “Once you attach a religious thing, you’re basically saying somehow or other this [terrorism] is caused by the religion. Most Muslims are not that way.” Surely there is a rational explanation for yesterday’s attack that avoids our “attaching a religious thing” to it, right?

“Uganda is a major infidel country supporting the so-called government of Somalia,” said  Sheikh Yusuf Isse of the Islamist al-Shabaab group. “We know Uganda is against Islam and so we are very happy at what has happened in Kampala. That is the best news we ever heard.”

He means to tell us that the secular man-made-disaster organization al-Shabaab allegedly killed innocent sports fans because Uganda is an infidel country? This sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush’s claim that we were attacked on September 11 because of our defining freedoms. And every enlightened Westerner knows that’s just a bunch of simplistic jingoism, right?

Well, you tell me what’s more simplistic and obtuse: a nuanced policy which maintains, as Bush put it, “terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics,” or a White House-directed terrorism policy whereby the word “Islam” is literally banned for fear of being mean to those who brag of killing infidels.

Which attitude speaks more to a sense of decadent Western denial: one which acknowledges the very reasons being given by Islamists for the bombing of two bars in Africa or one in which America is assumed to earn its Islamist enemies ultimately because of its Israel policies?

The cutest part of Barack Obama’s no-Islam policy is that it’s reversed in every area outside of terrorism. NASA now exists to point out Islamic achievements. Iran is to be talked out of a nuclear weapon specifically because of the soundness of its great Islamic heritage. Obama holds an “Entrepreneurship Summit” in Washington in order to “bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.”

What a great turn it would be if our president could actually learn what Islamists are trying so hard to teach us.

Yesterday’s double terrorist bombing in Kampala is both a heart wrenching tragedy and a clarifying moment. Why would Islamists target an international sporting event in Uganda? After all, we’ve been told by our most thoughtful analysts and academics that terrorism is a response to insensitive Western policy. Earlier in the same day that bombs killed scores of soccer fans, the Center for American Progress’s Larry Korb told the Washington Times, “Once you attach a religious thing, you’re basically saying somehow or other this [terrorism] is caused by the religion. Most Muslims are not that way.” Surely there is a rational explanation for yesterday’s attack that avoids our “attaching a religious thing” to it, right?

“Uganda is a major infidel country supporting the so-called government of Somalia,” said  Sheikh Yusuf Isse of the Islamist al-Shabaab group. “We know Uganda is against Islam and so we are very happy at what has happened in Kampala. That is the best news we ever heard.”

He means to tell us that the secular man-made-disaster organization al-Shabaab allegedly killed innocent sports fans because Uganda is an infidel country? This sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush’s claim that we were attacked on September 11 because of our defining freedoms. And every enlightened Westerner knows that’s just a bunch of simplistic jingoism, right?

Well, you tell me what’s more simplistic and obtuse: a nuanced policy which maintains, as Bush put it, “terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics,” or a White House-directed terrorism policy whereby the word “Islam” is literally banned for fear of being mean to those who brag of killing infidels.

Which attitude speaks more to a sense of decadent Western denial: one which acknowledges the very reasons being given by Islamists for the bombing of two bars in Africa or one in which America is assumed to earn its Islamist enemies ultimately because of its Israel policies?

The cutest part of Barack Obama’s no-Islam policy is that it’s reversed in every area outside of terrorism. NASA now exists to point out Islamic achievements. Iran is to be talked out of a nuclear weapon specifically because of the soundness of its great Islamic heritage. Obama holds an “Entrepreneurship Summit” in Washington in order to “bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.”

What a great turn it would be if our president could actually learn what Islamists are trying so hard to teach us.

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Murders of Journalists Continue in the Philippines

The most deadly country for journalists last year was not Somalia or Iraq or Afghanistan, or even China or Russia. It was the Philippines — a democracy — where a severely lacking criminal-justice system, paired with government corruption and inefficiency, has contributed to a “culture of impunity.” Since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, 140 journalists have been killed. This month the trend continues as three more journalists have been murdered.

On June 14, radio broadcaster Desiderio “Jessie” Camangyan, 52, was hosting a local singing competition. A gunman approached him from behind and shot him. His wife and six-year-old son were in the audience to watch the bullet rip from the right side of his ear through his eyes and nose. Camangyan was known for his reporting on the illegal logging industry.

Scarcely a day later, broadcaster Joselito Agustin, 37, was riding his motorcycle with his nephew. He was shot four times and died the next morning in a local hospital. His nephew survived after taking a bullet in the leg. Agustin’s on-air commentaries often centered on corruption and lawlessness.

And on June 19, Nestor Dedolido, 50, a newspaper reporter, was murdered, shot six times while buying a pack of cigarettes. Like Camangyan and Agustin, Dedolido had criticized local politics and corruption.

To comprehend the risks Filipino journalists take, it’s worthwhile to see the scope of the violence from last year’s Maguindanao massacre. On November 23, 2009, at least 31 journalists, many of them women, were raped, brutalized, and murdered, allegedly by a militia run by a powerful political clan. A photo album here depicts some of the gruesome details, but much more nauseating coverage can be found elsewhere online.

Therefore, it is also worth mentioning the June 14 killing of Suwaib Upham, a witness to the Maguindanao massacre. Upham sought government protection, but it was never granted to him. Likewise, other witnesses to the massacre have had their homes burnt by unidentified arsonists.

Benigno Aquino, elected president in May, derives his popularity in part from the legacy of his mother, dissident-turned-president Cory Aquino, who opposed the Marcos regime and who has been considered the mother of democracy in the Philippines. Benigno Aquino could further his mother’s legacy by prosecuting those who kill journalists and stepping up efforts to prevent the murders. On the other hand, ignoring it threatens the fabric of the country’s democracy.

But the United States could also help by calling the Philippines to task. The U.S. embassy in Manila has condemned the murder of Upham. But it’s a shame that no statement can be found on its website about the Maguindanao massacre or about the recent murders of journalists. In President Obama’s next exchange with Aquino, this is one human-rights issue that should not be ignored.

The most deadly country for journalists last year was not Somalia or Iraq or Afghanistan, or even China or Russia. It was the Philippines — a democracy — where a severely lacking criminal-justice system, paired with government corruption and inefficiency, has contributed to a “culture of impunity.” Since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, 140 journalists have been killed. This month the trend continues as three more journalists have been murdered.

On June 14, radio broadcaster Desiderio “Jessie” Camangyan, 52, was hosting a local singing competition. A gunman approached him from behind and shot him. His wife and six-year-old son were in the audience to watch the bullet rip from the right side of his ear through his eyes and nose. Camangyan was known for his reporting on the illegal logging industry.

Scarcely a day later, broadcaster Joselito Agustin, 37, was riding his motorcycle with his nephew. He was shot four times and died the next morning in a local hospital. His nephew survived after taking a bullet in the leg. Agustin’s on-air commentaries often centered on corruption and lawlessness.

And on June 19, Nestor Dedolido, 50, a newspaper reporter, was murdered, shot six times while buying a pack of cigarettes. Like Camangyan and Agustin, Dedolido had criticized local politics and corruption.

To comprehend the risks Filipino journalists take, it’s worthwhile to see the scope of the violence from last year’s Maguindanao massacre. On November 23, 2009, at least 31 journalists, many of them women, were raped, brutalized, and murdered, allegedly by a militia run by a powerful political clan. A photo album here depicts some of the gruesome details, but much more nauseating coverage can be found elsewhere online.

Therefore, it is also worth mentioning the June 14 killing of Suwaib Upham, a witness to the Maguindanao massacre. Upham sought government protection, but it was never granted to him. Likewise, other witnesses to the massacre have had their homes burnt by unidentified arsonists.

Benigno Aquino, elected president in May, derives his popularity in part from the legacy of his mother, dissident-turned-president Cory Aquino, who opposed the Marcos regime and who has been considered the mother of democracy in the Philippines. Benigno Aquino could further his mother’s legacy by prosecuting those who kill journalists and stepping up efforts to prevent the murders. On the other hand, ignoring it threatens the fabric of the country’s democracy.

But the United States could also help by calling the Philippines to task. The U.S. embassy in Manila has condemned the murder of Upham. But it’s a shame that no statement can be found on its website about the Maguindanao massacre or about the recent murders of journalists. In President Obama’s next exchange with Aquino, this is one human-rights issue that should not be ignored.

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A Mineral-Rich Afghanistan: Blessing or Curse?

Reactions have been all over the place to news that a Pentagon study has found almost $1 trillion in mineral wealth in Afghanistan. Afghan officials are understandably excited. Meanwhile, Ralph Peters warns: “Assigning the battlefield a trillion-dollar value is not a prescription for reconciliation. Expect ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ scripted by Satan.”

Which side is right? For the foreseeable future, neither. Just because Afghanistan has the potential to cough up vast mineral wealth doesn’t mean that is going to happen anytime soon. There is such persuasive insecurity in many of the areas where mineral deposits have been found, and the infrastructure is so spotty, that it will take many, many years to reap any real dividend. By way of comparison, recall Iraq, which has a far longer history of exploiting its mineral wealth. Nevertheless, the exaggerated estimates of vastly increased oil output back in 2003 are still a long way from becoming reality. Only now are contracts actually being let and work is starting. Afghanistan is years away from reaching that point.

When — or more accurately if — it does get there, no one can predict what the impact of mineral riches will be. Will they spark greater violence and corruption and make government even less accountable to the people? It’s certainly possible that Afghanistan will feel the “resource curse” that has afflicted oil-rich states. But the possibility of a lucrative and legal economic base also opens up hopeful new vistas for Afghanistan. For years Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld refused requests to increase the size of the Afghan security forces because he worried they could not be self-sustaining. Now the security forces are finally being expanded, and the mineral riches give Afghanistan the potential of paying for those forces itself. Moreover, mineral money would give Afghanistan the potential of creating employment that would provide an alternative to the lure of the Taliban’s paychecks.

In the end, it is better to be self-sustaining as a nation and not a perpetual ward of the international community. Afghanistan now has the opportunity to do just that. I don’t want to dismiss the “resource curse,” which is real, but think for yourself: where has counterinsurgency been easier? In Somalia, a land without resources, or in Iraq, a land with vast oil wealth? The question answers itself.

Reactions have been all over the place to news that a Pentagon study has found almost $1 trillion in mineral wealth in Afghanistan. Afghan officials are understandably excited. Meanwhile, Ralph Peters warns: “Assigning the battlefield a trillion-dollar value is not a prescription for reconciliation. Expect ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ scripted by Satan.”

Which side is right? For the foreseeable future, neither. Just because Afghanistan has the potential to cough up vast mineral wealth doesn’t mean that is going to happen anytime soon. There is such persuasive insecurity in many of the areas where mineral deposits have been found, and the infrastructure is so spotty, that it will take many, many years to reap any real dividend. By way of comparison, recall Iraq, which has a far longer history of exploiting its mineral wealth. Nevertheless, the exaggerated estimates of vastly increased oil output back in 2003 are still a long way from becoming reality. Only now are contracts actually being let and work is starting. Afghanistan is years away from reaching that point.

When — or more accurately if — it does get there, no one can predict what the impact of mineral riches will be. Will they spark greater violence and corruption and make government even less accountable to the people? It’s certainly possible that Afghanistan will feel the “resource curse” that has afflicted oil-rich states. But the possibility of a lucrative and legal economic base also opens up hopeful new vistas for Afghanistan. For years Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld refused requests to increase the size of the Afghan security forces because he worried they could not be self-sustaining. Now the security forces are finally being expanded, and the mineral riches give Afghanistan the potential of paying for those forces itself. Moreover, mineral money would give Afghanistan the potential of creating employment that would provide an alternative to the lure of the Taliban’s paychecks.

In the end, it is better to be self-sustaining as a nation and not a perpetual ward of the international community. Afghanistan now has the opportunity to do just that. I don’t want to dismiss the “resource curse,” which is real, but think for yourself: where has counterinsurgency been easier? In Somalia, a land without resources, or in Iraq, a land with vast oil wealth? The question answers itself.

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U.S. Defense Merits Spending

Big surprise. Reason magazine, the libertarian Bible, favors cutting defense spending. But it would be hard to come up with a more unpersuasive argument if they tried. Contributor Veronica de Rugy of George Mason University, a bastion of free-market economics, writes:

Liberals often view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can’t for political reasons. … Yet such cuts have been achieved in the past. … During the last 70 years, the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent. … The biggest cuts followed World War II, with a 72 percent reduction in 1947. The last cut was in 1998. … Most of the cuts have taken place after the end of a war. But cuts were also achieved in the late 1960s and early ’70s, despite the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. Politicians explicitly debated how to cut spending without cutting security, and they still managed to get re-elected.

So let me see if I have this straight: de Rugy thinks that defense cuts in the late 1940s, early 1970s, and early 1990s are a good model to follow? In all three instances, major wars were winding down (World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War, respectively), and the political class was eager to spend a “peace dividend.” Ms. de Rugy is an economist, not a historian, but she would be well advised to study the historical record for what happened next.

In all three cases, the result was to make America less secure and to embolden our adversaries. The precipitous decline in defense spending after World War II left us ill-prepared to confront Communist aggression in Korea. The drawdown after the end of the Vietnam War led to a “hollow army” that could not stand up to Soviet aggression or the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s. And the 1990s drawdown, which included slashing a third of the Army’s active-duty strength, left the armed forces overstretched and ill-prepared to deal with a host of low-intensity conflicts, from Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, the trend has reversed, with a big increase in defense budgets, but most of the money has gone for current operations and personnel costs (including health care and pensions) – the latter line item consuming an ever-larger share of the budget since the abolition of the draft in 1973. The U.S. armed forces have not been able to acquire enough big-ticket items to replace weapons designed and bought during the Reagan years or even earlier. (B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers date back to the Eisenhower administration.) The Army has grown slightly, but it is still far below its strength at the end of the Cold War, when it had 710,000 active-duty soldiers. (Today the figure is 560,000.)

It’s true that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, but our commitments are also greater because the U.S. armed forces have to maintain peace and security across the globe – something that is increasingly hard to do when the Navy, for example, has just 286 ships (down from almost 600 ships in the Reagan years). We can certainly afford to keep spending as much on defense as we do today – or even spend more. As de Rugy notes in passing, defense spending is hardly a crippling burden, insofar as it accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget and 4.6 percent of GDP (down from 6.2 percent in the 1980s).

She seems enamored of studies that claim that great efficiencies can be achieved “by eliminating a few controversial weapons systems or by reforming the Pentagon’s supply chain, I.T., and personnel management practices.” There is little doubt that the Pentagon – one of the world’s largest bureaucracies – can be more efficiently run. But, to refer once again to the historical record, every secretary of defense since the post was created in 1947 has tried to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This may have saved a few bucks at the margins, but at the end of the day, no green-eye-shade legerdemain can produce a budgetary miracle of less spending and more defense capabilities.

The bottom line is: either we keep spending a lot for defense, or we will watch our strategic position decline. And the consequences of such a decline – as we learned in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s – will be far more costly in the end than maintaining a robust deterrent capacity to begin with.

Big surprise. Reason magazine, the libertarian Bible, favors cutting defense spending. But it would be hard to come up with a more unpersuasive argument if they tried. Contributor Veronica de Rugy of George Mason University, a bastion of free-market economics, writes:

Liberals often view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can’t for political reasons. … Yet such cuts have been achieved in the past. … During the last 70 years, the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent. … The biggest cuts followed World War II, with a 72 percent reduction in 1947. The last cut was in 1998. … Most of the cuts have taken place after the end of a war. But cuts were also achieved in the late 1960s and early ’70s, despite the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. Politicians explicitly debated how to cut spending without cutting security, and they still managed to get re-elected.

So let me see if I have this straight: de Rugy thinks that defense cuts in the late 1940s, early 1970s, and early 1990s are a good model to follow? In all three instances, major wars were winding down (World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War, respectively), and the political class was eager to spend a “peace dividend.” Ms. de Rugy is an economist, not a historian, but she would be well advised to study the historical record for what happened next.

In all three cases, the result was to make America less secure and to embolden our adversaries. The precipitous decline in defense spending after World War II left us ill-prepared to confront Communist aggression in Korea. The drawdown after the end of the Vietnam War led to a “hollow army” that could not stand up to Soviet aggression or the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s. And the 1990s drawdown, which included slashing a third of the Army’s active-duty strength, left the armed forces overstretched and ill-prepared to deal with a host of low-intensity conflicts, from Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, the trend has reversed, with a big increase in defense budgets, but most of the money has gone for current operations and personnel costs (including health care and pensions) – the latter line item consuming an ever-larger share of the budget since the abolition of the draft in 1973. The U.S. armed forces have not been able to acquire enough big-ticket items to replace weapons designed and bought during the Reagan years or even earlier. (B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers date back to the Eisenhower administration.) The Army has grown slightly, but it is still far below its strength at the end of the Cold War, when it had 710,000 active-duty soldiers. (Today the figure is 560,000.)

It’s true that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, but our commitments are also greater because the U.S. armed forces have to maintain peace and security across the globe – something that is increasingly hard to do when the Navy, for example, has just 286 ships (down from almost 600 ships in the Reagan years). We can certainly afford to keep spending as much on defense as we do today – or even spend more. As de Rugy notes in passing, defense spending is hardly a crippling burden, insofar as it accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget and 4.6 percent of GDP (down from 6.2 percent in the 1980s).

She seems enamored of studies that claim that great efficiencies can be achieved “by eliminating a few controversial weapons systems or by reforming the Pentagon’s supply chain, I.T., and personnel management practices.” There is little doubt that the Pentagon – one of the world’s largest bureaucracies – can be more efficiently run. But, to refer once again to the historical record, every secretary of defense since the post was created in 1947 has tried to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This may have saved a few bucks at the margins, but at the end of the day, no green-eye-shade legerdemain can produce a budgetary miracle of less spending and more defense capabilities.

The bottom line is: either we keep spending a lot for defense, or we will watch our strategic position decline. And the consequences of such a decline – as we learned in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s – will be far more costly in the end than maintaining a robust deterrent capacity to begin with.

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Millions for Defense, Not One Cent for Tribute

Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute has written twice in the last few weeks (here and here) on a topic integral to U.S. national security: our declining naval dominance. His point at Pajamas Media on Tuesday — that Defense Secretary Gates’s May 3 call for a smaller navy got little attention or criticism in the press — resonates with me. Americans have trouble remembering that we are, most fundamentally, a maritime trading nation. Naval power is a core element of our own national security as well as of the global stability we seek to promote. We can maintain naval dominance or we can fight to get it back, but our position and character as a nation are impossible without it.

The proximate reason for the current debate is the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. Navy, which has declined nearly 20 percent in the last decade while other navies are expanding and modernizing. China has had a very successful naval expansion program during this period. Russia and Iran have accelerated their efforts at modernization and new construction. Nations from Vietnam to India to Saudi Arabia and Algeria are making major investments in naval weapon systems.

Moreover, the navies of Russia, China, and India are operating in distant waters and cultivating their images as “power projection” forces. Russia has resumed visiting its Cold War-era haunts in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Western hemisphere. China’s navy conducted its largest and farthest-flung fleet exercise ever in March and April 2010, twice operating provocatively in a Japanese strait. India dispatched a naval task force in 2009 to conduct unprecedented joint drills with European navies in the Atlantic. All three of these navies are now operating in the international antipiracy effort off of Somalia, as are navies like Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s, which formerly kept to their own coastal waters.

Nations don’t expand their navies or the scope of their operations because they are satisfied with the status quo. Although the Somali piracy problem has been a key catalyst for unprecedented naval deployments, there is no question that the fastest-growing navies — those of China, Russia, India, and Iran — are being enlarged because their political leaders envision an alternative to U.S. maritime dominance.

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Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute has written twice in the last few weeks (here and here) on a topic integral to U.S. national security: our declining naval dominance. His point at Pajamas Media on Tuesday — that Defense Secretary Gates’s May 3 call for a smaller navy got little attention or criticism in the press — resonates with me. Americans have trouble remembering that we are, most fundamentally, a maritime trading nation. Naval power is a core element of our own national security as well as of the global stability we seek to promote. We can maintain naval dominance or we can fight to get it back, but our position and character as a nation are impossible without it.

The proximate reason for the current debate is the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. Navy, which has declined nearly 20 percent in the last decade while other navies are expanding and modernizing. China has had a very successful naval expansion program during this period. Russia and Iran have accelerated their efforts at modernization and new construction. Nations from Vietnam to India to Saudi Arabia and Algeria are making major investments in naval weapon systems.

Moreover, the navies of Russia, China, and India are operating in distant waters and cultivating their images as “power projection” forces. Russia has resumed visiting its Cold War-era haunts in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Western hemisphere. China’s navy conducted its largest and farthest-flung fleet exercise ever in March and April 2010, twice operating provocatively in a Japanese strait. India dispatched a naval task force in 2009 to conduct unprecedented joint drills with European navies in the Atlantic. All three of these navies are now operating in the international antipiracy effort off of Somalia, as are navies like Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s, which formerly kept to their own coastal waters.

Nations don’t expand their navies or the scope of their operations because they are satisfied with the status quo. Although the Somali piracy problem has been a key catalyst for unprecedented naval deployments, there is no question that the fastest-growing navies — those of China, Russia, India, and Iran — are being enlarged because their political leaders envision an alternative to U.S. maritime dominance.

As we go forward in this shifting security environment, we need to keep two conceptual touchstones in mind. One is that our dominance can wane meaningfully even if no other navy is a symmetrical rival to ours on a global scale. To confound us effectively, navies like China’s or Russia’s need only be able to enforce unilateral ukases locally, particularly in the easily threatened chokepoints through which trillions of dollars in global trade pass every year.

China, for example, would prefer to gradually establish maritime preeminence in the South China Sea until the point is reached at which the U.S. must either provoke a confrontation or accept China as the dictator of policy there. And China’s policy would not entail keeping the seaways of Southeast Asia free for all nations’ commerce, as ours has. Favoritism and political extortion would be the new norm under Chinese hegemony.

Our Pacific alliances could not survive China’s assumption of de facto maritime hegemony in Southeast Asia. And that leads to the other conceptual touchstone: the efficient use America has long made of maritime dominance and alliances in preserving our own security between the great oceans. Alliances and naval deterrence are difficult and expensive to maintain, but they are far less costly in every way than fighting repeated land wars in the Eastern hemisphere. They are particularly suited, moreover, to our national preference for consensual relations abroad rather than Roman- or colonial-style imperialism.

As Cropsey’s articles suggest, we are at present reworking our national-security strategy and force doctrine. Our choices about defense capabilities today will dictate our political responses in the future. There is no question that waste, pork, service infighting, and bureaucratic inertia make our navy cost more than it needs to, but merely shrinking it to save money is not the answer. Nor is it wise to dismantle the essential tool of maritime deterrence — a navy capable of dominating any other in the regional confrontations that several nations are currently preparing for — in favor of “down-tooling” our force to deal symmetrically with pirates. Somali piracy is the least of the maritime problems we will face in the next two to three decades. Other navies have proven effective at attacking Somali piracy head-on. But there is only one navy that can shoulder aside the challenges from nation-state rivals and keep the world’s vulnerable tradeways open to all. If we do not do it, it will not be done.

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The Short List of Representative Arab States

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Daily Star in Lebanon, offers a tour d’horizon of the “modern Arab state” — the 22 members of the Arab League:

We also have broken states (Somalia), states that disappeared and/or returned (Kuwait, South Yemen), security-dominated states (Tunisia, Syria, Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein), erratic states (Libya), pirate states (Somalia), vulnerable states (Lebanon, Palestine), privatized states in the hands of small ruling elites (most Arab states), states that carry a specific family’s name (Saudi Arabia, Jordan), tribal states (Yemen, Oman), mini-states (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain), occupied states (Palestine, Iraq to an extent), and various degrees of client and proxy states, rogue states, gangster states, and others that defy description.

Khouri has a succinct description of what is missing from the above list:

Not a single Arab country can say with any certainty that the configuration of the state, the policies and values of the government, or the perpetuation of the incumbent ruling elite have been validated by the citizenry through any kind of credible, transparent, and accountable political process.

Well, there’s one — Iraq, which since 2005 has had successive elections whose outcomes were not preordained, involving a citizenry willing to risk their lives each time to go to the polls. A representative government replacing the most horrific Arab dictator in the region is a historic achievement — even if a fragile one, all the more remarkable in light of Khouri’s description of the other Arab states.

The “state” of “Palestine,” on the other hand, has been a failed one even before it was formed. It has rejected three formal offers of a state in the last decade. Half the putative state is occupied by an Iranian proxy pledged to destroy its neighbor. The other half lacks even the pretense of an elected government: its “president” is currently in the sixth year of his four-year term; its “prime minister” is an unelected appointee chosen by the holdover president; its funding comes primarily from the U.S., the EU, and Japan, not the 21 Arab states that supposedly consider it an urgent priority.

The Obama administration believes our strategic objectives should be to (1) withdraw from Iraq next year, and (2) form a Palestinian state as soon as possible. The first goal puts at risk the one Arab state on Khouri’s list with a representative government; the second seeks to add a 22nd Arab state on the unsupported assumption that it will live in peace with itself and its neighbors, but Khouri’s list suggests that the likely outcome would be otherwise.

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Daily Star in Lebanon, offers a tour d’horizon of the “modern Arab state” — the 22 members of the Arab League:

We also have broken states (Somalia), states that disappeared and/or returned (Kuwait, South Yemen), security-dominated states (Tunisia, Syria, Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein), erratic states (Libya), pirate states (Somalia), vulnerable states (Lebanon, Palestine), privatized states in the hands of small ruling elites (most Arab states), states that carry a specific family’s name (Saudi Arabia, Jordan), tribal states (Yemen, Oman), mini-states (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain), occupied states (Palestine, Iraq to an extent), and various degrees of client and proxy states, rogue states, gangster states, and others that defy description.

Khouri has a succinct description of what is missing from the above list:

Not a single Arab country can say with any certainty that the configuration of the state, the policies and values of the government, or the perpetuation of the incumbent ruling elite have been validated by the citizenry through any kind of credible, transparent, and accountable political process.

Well, there’s one — Iraq, which since 2005 has had successive elections whose outcomes were not preordained, involving a citizenry willing to risk their lives each time to go to the polls. A representative government replacing the most horrific Arab dictator in the region is a historic achievement — even if a fragile one, all the more remarkable in light of Khouri’s description of the other Arab states.

The “state” of “Palestine,” on the other hand, has been a failed one even before it was formed. It has rejected three formal offers of a state in the last decade. Half the putative state is occupied by an Iranian proxy pledged to destroy its neighbor. The other half lacks even the pretense of an elected government: its “president” is currently in the sixth year of his four-year term; its “prime minister” is an unelected appointee chosen by the holdover president; its funding comes primarily from the U.S., the EU, and Japan, not the 21 Arab states that supposedly consider it an urgent priority.

The Obama administration believes our strategic objectives should be to (1) withdraw from Iraq next year, and (2) form a Palestinian state as soon as possible. The first goal puts at risk the one Arab state on Khouri’s list with a representative government; the second seeks to add a 22nd Arab state on the unsupported assumption that it will live in peace with itself and its neighbors, but Khouri’s list suggests that the likely outcome would be otherwise.

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Lieberman Legislation

Sen. Joe Lieberman introduced his legislation today to strip terrorists of citizenship in the same way an existing statute passed in 1940 does for those who take up arms against the U.S. in a foreign army. At a news conference today, he explained:

The bill we are introducing today – the Terrorist Expatriation Act – updates the 1940 law to account for the enemy we are fighting today.

Under the Terrorist Expatriation Act, the State Department will now also be able to revoke the citizenship of an American citizen who affiliates with a Foreign Terrorist Organization or who fights against our country.  Foreign Terrorist Organizations, as you are likely aware, are also designated by the State Department.

The same due process that applies to the existing statute will apply to those whose citizenship is revoked under our proposed amendment to the law.  The State Department will make an administrative determination that a U.S. Citizen has indicated an intent to renounce their citizenship by supporting an FTO.  That individual will then have the right to appeal that determination within the State Department and, then, to a federal district court.

He explains the context in which this would be used:

The facts are now clear.  Over the past several years, the threat from Islamist terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda has changed.  On 9/11, 19 Islamist terrorists who were trained abroad were sent here to carry out those horrific attacks.  Now, with increasing frequency, U.S. Citizens like Nidal Hassan, Abdul Hakim Muhammad, or Faisal Shahzad, who are inspired or recruited by violent Islamist ideology plan and execute attacks right here in the United States.

And with increasing frequency, westerners, including U.S. citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki, Adam Gadahn, and many young Somali-Americans are traveling abroad to join and fight for al-Qaeda or affiliated Islamist terrorist groups.  In fact, it has become a strategy of al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups over the past couple of years to recruit U.S. citizens who can train overseas and then use their American passports to re-enter the U.S. for the purposes of planning and carrying out attacks against us.  Though we are still learning details, it appears that Shahzad traveled abroad to receive terrorist training that he used to build the bombs in the car he parked in Times Square.

The legislation we are introducing today will help take that ability away from the terrorists.  For example, if a U.S. citizen travels to Somalia to train with and fight for al-Shabaab – as more than 20 young men have done over the past several years – the State Department will now have the authority to revoke their citizenship so that they cannot return here to carry out an attack.   If, in some way, they do, and are then captured, they will not enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizenship in the legal proceedings against them.

Unlike his Democratic colleagues, Lieberman got a favorable reaction from the administration. Hillary Clinton was sounding sensible:

Clinton explained that the State Department already has expatriation authority within U.S. law that permits the State Department to rescind American citizenship if someone shows some kind of allegiance to a foreign state.

U.S. citizenship is “a privilege, not a right,” Clinton said, adding that people who enter into U.S. citizenship through naturalization swear to uphold their oath to the Constitution and that those who serve foreign terrorists “are clearly in violation, in my personal opinion, of that oath which they swore when they became citizens.”

The State Department has exercised the expatriation authority in the past, she said, adding that she understands the desire from the members of Congress, and the State Department will take a hard look at this legislation.

Both Lieberman and Clinton make clear that the critics who decry efforts to strip combatants of citizenship really have a quarrel with existing law. Do those lawmakers want to repeal the 1940 statute? If not, they should explain why we don’t want a framework that has been used effectively against traditional nation-states to be updated and made relevant to the war against Islamic terrorists.

Sen. Joe Lieberman introduced his legislation today to strip terrorists of citizenship in the same way an existing statute passed in 1940 does for those who take up arms against the U.S. in a foreign army. At a news conference today, he explained:

The bill we are introducing today – the Terrorist Expatriation Act – updates the 1940 law to account for the enemy we are fighting today.

Under the Terrorist Expatriation Act, the State Department will now also be able to revoke the citizenship of an American citizen who affiliates with a Foreign Terrorist Organization or who fights against our country.  Foreign Terrorist Organizations, as you are likely aware, are also designated by the State Department.

The same due process that applies to the existing statute will apply to those whose citizenship is revoked under our proposed amendment to the law.  The State Department will make an administrative determination that a U.S. Citizen has indicated an intent to renounce their citizenship by supporting an FTO.  That individual will then have the right to appeal that determination within the State Department and, then, to a federal district court.

He explains the context in which this would be used:

The facts are now clear.  Over the past several years, the threat from Islamist terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda has changed.  On 9/11, 19 Islamist terrorists who were trained abroad were sent here to carry out those horrific attacks.  Now, with increasing frequency, U.S. Citizens like Nidal Hassan, Abdul Hakim Muhammad, or Faisal Shahzad, who are inspired or recruited by violent Islamist ideology plan and execute attacks right here in the United States.

And with increasing frequency, westerners, including U.S. citizens like Anwar al-Awlaki, Adam Gadahn, and many young Somali-Americans are traveling abroad to join and fight for al-Qaeda or affiliated Islamist terrorist groups.  In fact, it has become a strategy of al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups over the past couple of years to recruit U.S. citizens who can train overseas and then use their American passports to re-enter the U.S. for the purposes of planning and carrying out attacks against us.  Though we are still learning details, it appears that Shahzad traveled abroad to receive terrorist training that he used to build the bombs in the car he parked in Times Square.

The legislation we are introducing today will help take that ability away from the terrorists.  For example, if a U.S. citizen travels to Somalia to train with and fight for al-Shabaab – as more than 20 young men have done over the past several years – the State Department will now have the authority to revoke their citizenship so that they cannot return here to carry out an attack.   If, in some way, they do, and are then captured, they will not enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizenship in the legal proceedings against them.

Unlike his Democratic colleagues, Lieberman got a favorable reaction from the administration. Hillary Clinton was sounding sensible:

Clinton explained that the State Department already has expatriation authority within U.S. law that permits the State Department to rescind American citizenship if someone shows some kind of allegiance to a foreign state.

U.S. citizenship is “a privilege, not a right,” Clinton said, adding that people who enter into U.S. citizenship through naturalization swear to uphold their oath to the Constitution and that those who serve foreign terrorists “are clearly in violation, in my personal opinion, of that oath which they swore when they became citizens.”

The State Department has exercised the expatriation authority in the past, she said, adding that she understands the desire from the members of Congress, and the State Department will take a hard look at this legislation.

Both Lieberman and Clinton make clear that the critics who decry efforts to strip combatants of citizenship really have a quarrel with existing law. Do those lawmakers want to repeal the 1940 statute? If not, they should explain why we don’t want a framework that has been used effectively against traditional nation-states to be updated and made relevant to the war against Islamic terrorists.

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Another Cairo Speech

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

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The U.S. and Somalia: Who, Us?

NATO and the EU are trying to make their own luck in the antipiracy operations off of Somalia. In late February, almost unnoticed by the global media, the EU’s members agreed to take the fight to the pirates’ lairs ashore with a new charter to control Somali ports and to join NATO in intercepting “mother ships” before they have a chance to begin launching attacks. The EU plan for exerting control over Somali ports won’t be seen until later this month. But Danish destroyer HDMS Absalon, flagship of the current NATO task force, struck the first blow in the “early intercept” effort on February 28 when it sank a pirate mother ship shortly after its departure from a pirate haven ashore.

The NATO press release doesn’t specify which port the scuttled mother ship came from, but that factor — which pirate ports the antipiracy coalition tries to control — will almost certainly bring coalition forces into contact, and even confrontation, with the warring factions ashore. The mother ship’s port was probably north of Mogadishu; perhaps Harardhere, a well-known pirate hideout. Surveillance of that port or of the pirate ports in the northeastern region of Puntland would keep coalition forces out of the way of the fighting in the south, at least for now. But Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab insurgency seized the southern port of Kismayo in October 2009, partly because its leaders understand that if any faction is to consolidate central-government power in Somalia, doing so will entail gaining control of the ports.

A pitched confrontation is thus one concern; another is that the coalition will position itself, intentionally or otherwise, as a potential partner in pacifying and unifying Somalia — by choosing which faction to secure the ports for. We would presume today that the recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would be favored in such a case. But the potential for open-ended mission creep is obvious and disquieting.

Moving the antipiracy fight ashore was always going to present these potential pitfalls. It would be very encouraging to see signs of a comprehensive plan in Washington for dealing with consequences and “next steps,” particularly with Iran supplying insurgents in both Somalia and nearby Yemen. Unfortunately, what emerged instead last week was another instance of the Obama administration’s peculiar haplessness.

In response to reports from the New York Times and other sources, and to seeming confirmation by Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the State Department gave a special briefing on Friday to counter rumors that the U.S. is aiding the TFG in a prospective military campaign to retake the areas of Mogadishu controlled  by al-Shabaab. This could have been done without appearing to overemphasize — to a bizarre degree — how minor is the U.S. role in Somalia. But the State Department’s spokesmen earnestly disavowed, more than once, any intention to “Americanize the conflict”; swore to account for and audit all military assistance provided — indirectly, through the African Union peacekeeping force — to the TFG; and pointed out how very small, at $12 million, is the U.S. support to the TFG itself anyway.

It was a notably defensive performance. Fox’s Catherine Herridge tried to raise the issue of U.S. security interests in the region, given the ties between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in Yemen, but her question provoked only a reiteration of the intention not to “Americanize the conflict.”

The conflict, however, is already “Americanized,” in the sense of being a major factor in keeping U.S. military forces tied to the region. The chaos in Somalia is already the reason why piracy off its coast has become such a problem for global shipping. U.S. forces will be participating in the new, more preemptive operating profile of the coalition navies. And Somalia’s internal strife is a key vulnerability of our growing footprint in Yemen.

None of this implies that America must be secretly advising the TFG on military operations; but the disclaimers proffered by the State Department come off as reactionary and even perhaps a bit disingenuous. The Friday briefing was certainly a missed opportunity. Setting the record straight should involve more than a statement of what multinational processes we support: it should include a statement about the primacy of our own national interest in a unified Somalia that is not a haven for either pirates or terrorists.

The briefing did, however, send a signal about our posture. The Obama administration is so worried that people might think we’re actively involved in the problem and trying to apply leadership to it that its spokesmen seek to downplay our role. This cannot turn out well for a superpower — even a fading one. With our naval forces embarked on a preemptive antipiracy approach that will move the whole coalition a step closer to engagement ashore, that’s something we should have a very bad feeling about.

NATO and the EU are trying to make their own luck in the antipiracy operations off of Somalia. In late February, almost unnoticed by the global media, the EU’s members agreed to take the fight to the pirates’ lairs ashore with a new charter to control Somali ports and to join NATO in intercepting “mother ships” before they have a chance to begin launching attacks. The EU plan for exerting control over Somali ports won’t be seen until later this month. But Danish destroyer HDMS Absalon, flagship of the current NATO task force, struck the first blow in the “early intercept” effort on February 28 when it sank a pirate mother ship shortly after its departure from a pirate haven ashore.

The NATO press release doesn’t specify which port the scuttled mother ship came from, but that factor — which pirate ports the antipiracy coalition tries to control — will almost certainly bring coalition forces into contact, and even confrontation, with the warring factions ashore. The mother ship’s port was probably north of Mogadishu; perhaps Harardhere, a well-known pirate hideout. Surveillance of that port or of the pirate ports in the northeastern region of Puntland would keep coalition forces out of the way of the fighting in the south, at least for now. But Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab insurgency seized the southern port of Kismayo in October 2009, partly because its leaders understand that if any faction is to consolidate central-government power in Somalia, doing so will entail gaining control of the ports.

A pitched confrontation is thus one concern; another is that the coalition will position itself, intentionally or otherwise, as a potential partner in pacifying and unifying Somalia — by choosing which faction to secure the ports for. We would presume today that the recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would be favored in such a case. But the potential for open-ended mission creep is obvious and disquieting.

Moving the antipiracy fight ashore was always going to present these potential pitfalls. It would be very encouraging to see signs of a comprehensive plan in Washington for dealing with consequences and “next steps,” particularly with Iran supplying insurgents in both Somalia and nearby Yemen. Unfortunately, what emerged instead last week was another instance of the Obama administration’s peculiar haplessness.

In response to reports from the New York Times and other sources, and to seeming confirmation by Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the State Department gave a special briefing on Friday to counter rumors that the U.S. is aiding the TFG in a prospective military campaign to retake the areas of Mogadishu controlled  by al-Shabaab. This could have been done without appearing to overemphasize — to a bizarre degree — how minor is the U.S. role in Somalia. But the State Department’s spokesmen earnestly disavowed, more than once, any intention to “Americanize the conflict”; swore to account for and audit all military assistance provided — indirectly, through the African Union peacekeeping force — to the TFG; and pointed out how very small, at $12 million, is the U.S. support to the TFG itself anyway.

It was a notably defensive performance. Fox’s Catherine Herridge tried to raise the issue of U.S. security interests in the region, given the ties between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in Yemen, but her question provoked only a reiteration of the intention not to “Americanize the conflict.”

The conflict, however, is already “Americanized,” in the sense of being a major factor in keeping U.S. military forces tied to the region. The chaos in Somalia is already the reason why piracy off its coast has become such a problem for global shipping. U.S. forces will be participating in the new, more preemptive operating profile of the coalition navies. And Somalia’s internal strife is a key vulnerability of our growing footprint in Yemen.

None of this implies that America must be secretly advising the TFG on military operations; but the disclaimers proffered by the State Department come off as reactionary and even perhaps a bit disingenuous. The Friday briefing was certainly a missed opportunity. Setting the record straight should involve more than a statement of what multinational processes we support: it should include a statement about the primacy of our own national interest in a unified Somalia that is not a haven for either pirates or terrorists.

The briefing did, however, send a signal about our posture. The Obama administration is so worried that people might think we’re actively involved in the problem and trying to apply leadership to it that its spokesmen seek to downplay our role. This cannot turn out well for a superpower — even a fading one. With our naval forces embarked on a preemptive antipiracy approach that will move the whole coalition a step closer to engagement ashore, that’s something we should have a very bad feeling about.

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Another Despot, Another Leverett Bouquet

The Leveretts are branching out. After all, one can not write soley on the marvels of the University of Tehran or the sage political wisdom of Ahmadinejad. Now Flynt and Hillary Leverett are touting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At their blog they coo that, of course, al-Assad is a canny operator, fully justified in his embrace of the Iranian regime:

Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic seems increasingly strategic in character. Over the past year, key advisers to President Assad have told us as much; one of them went so far as to describe Syrian-Iranian relations with the French adjective, “intime.” If the Obama Administration is unable or unwilling to acknowledge this reality and the regional dynamics that have given rise to it, the already limited effectiveness of American diplomacy in the Middle East will be further undermined.

Now implicit in all this, of course, is the criticisim of the Obami, that they are on a fools errand trying to split up the Syria-Iran lovefest. But then perhaps if the Obami whacked Israel a little harder, that would endear Assad to us. (“For real ‘peace’, according to President Assad, Israel will need to negotiate a comprehensive settlement, including on the Palestinian track.”)

But in case you doubted their affection, if not admiration for the Syrian despot, the Leveretts throw a final smooch his way:

Bashar al-Assad has weathered the storm unleashed in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and has emerged as a masterful player of the regional game.  It is striking that many of the people who argued in 2005 that the Syrian leadership was internally conflicted and uniquely vulnerable to external pressure are now making the same arguments about the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were wrong then; they are wrong now.

One wonders what other regimes could benefit from inclusion in the Leveretts’ portfolio. Maureen Dowd seems to have cornered the market on shilling for the Saudis. But, heck, lots of despotic regimes could use this sort of help — Cuba, North Korea, Somalia, and Burma perhaps. A visit arranged and supervised by the regime, a cozy interview with the  Great Leader, nary a word on the political prisioners, a fluffy justification of the regime’s self-interested behavior, and then a fawning series of posts and speeches. Not a bad deal for the butchers of the world. And certainly a handsome arrangement for the Leveretts.

The Leveretts are branching out. After all, one can not write soley on the marvels of the University of Tehran or the sage political wisdom of Ahmadinejad. Now Flynt and Hillary Leverett are touting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At their blog they coo that, of course, al-Assad is a canny operator, fully justified in his embrace of the Iranian regime:

Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic seems increasingly strategic in character. Over the past year, key advisers to President Assad have told us as much; one of them went so far as to describe Syrian-Iranian relations with the French adjective, “intime.” If the Obama Administration is unable or unwilling to acknowledge this reality and the regional dynamics that have given rise to it, the already limited effectiveness of American diplomacy in the Middle East will be further undermined.

Now implicit in all this, of course, is the criticisim of the Obami, that they are on a fools errand trying to split up the Syria-Iran lovefest. But then perhaps if the Obami whacked Israel a little harder, that would endear Assad to us. (“For real ‘peace’, according to President Assad, Israel will need to negotiate a comprehensive settlement, including on the Palestinian track.”)

But in case you doubted their affection, if not admiration for the Syrian despot, the Leveretts throw a final smooch his way:

Bashar al-Assad has weathered the storm unleashed in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and has emerged as a masterful player of the regional game.  It is striking that many of the people who argued in 2005 that the Syrian leadership was internally conflicted and uniquely vulnerable to external pressure are now making the same arguments about the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were wrong then; they are wrong now.

One wonders what other regimes could benefit from inclusion in the Leveretts’ portfolio. Maureen Dowd seems to have cornered the market on shilling for the Saudis. But, heck, lots of despotic regimes could use this sort of help — Cuba, North Korea, Somalia, and Burma perhaps. A visit arranged and supervised by the regime, a cozy interview with the  Great Leader, nary a word on the political prisioners, a fluffy justification of the regime’s self-interested behavior, and then a fawning series of posts and speeches. Not a bad deal for the butchers of the world. And certainly a handsome arrangement for the Leveretts.

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The Need for Getting Good at Nation Building

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

Read Less

The Yemen Project

Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch have a useful think piece in the Wall Street Journal today on applying “smart power” in Yemen. Their series of excellent points culminates in the suggestion of Yemen as the venue in which to test a prototype multiagency task force designed to wield all the elements of national power — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic — in the effort to produce stability in Yemen and immunize it against use by al-Qaeda. “Despite years of talk about the need to develop this kind of capability in the State Department or elsewhere in Washington,” they point out, “it does not exist. It must be built now, and quickly.”

Kagan and Harnisch are right that the question of U.S. involvement in Yemen is not whether we will be involved but how. Their case is strong that our effort should be a multiagency one, rather than expanding from its current minimal level on the traditional model of military intervention. But however we organize it, the key to engaging with Yemen is understanding what we are walking into. Yemen’s internal battle is not being fought in a geopolitical vacuum, and our intervention there has the potential to turn very quickly into a proxy confrontation with other regional actors.

Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the most obvious one, along with Iran, which arms the Shia “Houthi” rebels against Yemen’s central government. But an increased level of U.S. effort is likely to draw in other actors, like Somalia’s radical al-Shabaab terror group, which promised last week to send fighters to Yemen in support of the Houthi rebels. This is a legitimate threat; Iran and Eritrea keep al-Shabaab armed, and maritime traffic between Somalia and Yemen is routine and very hard to interdict.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in Yemeni stability, meanwhile, is direct and proprietary. Riyadh is concerned about incursions into its territory, of course, but is equally concerned about Iran — or other outside powers — gaining influence over Yemen. Yemen’s location brings the most significant of suitors to its door: Russia and China are the two top suppliers of arms to the Saleh regime, and at the end of December, both of them capped decades of extensive involvement in Yemen with major financial assistance and cooperation agreements. We are not the only great power proposing to influence events in Yemen with monetary aid and military cooperation; in fact, we’re at the back of the line. Russia was reported a year ago to be planning to re-establish its Cold War–era naval base on Yemen’s Socotra Island and will not remain passive in the face of a U.S. policy adopted on the energetic lines proposed by Kagan and Harnisch.

Yemen is more than a poor, unstable nation that makes a natural hideout for al-Qaeda; it is, due to its location, a geostrategic prize. As the Nigerian airplane bomber demonstrated, we must increase our involvement there. This is an opportunity, not just a regrettable necessity, for both Yemen and us — if we approach it with positive objectives in mind. Succeeding there will inevitably have the effect of sidelining Iran and Russia, and we will need to be prepared for their reactions. We might even be able to achieve a limited partnership with the Russians if we avoid harboring illusions about their objectives. As Kagan and Harnisch suggest, a Yemen intervention looks like a natural fit for a high-level multiagency task force, as opposed to one centered mainly on military or intelligence activities. The “measure of effectiveness” for that task force would be its success in defining U.S. interests proactively rather than reactively, and in preparing us to deal with the interests already being actively asserted by third parties.

Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch have a useful think piece in the Wall Street Journal today on applying “smart power” in Yemen. Their series of excellent points culminates in the suggestion of Yemen as the venue in which to test a prototype multiagency task force designed to wield all the elements of national power — diplomatic, informational, military, and economic — in the effort to produce stability in Yemen and immunize it against use by al-Qaeda. “Despite years of talk about the need to develop this kind of capability in the State Department or elsewhere in Washington,” they point out, “it does not exist. It must be built now, and quickly.”

Kagan and Harnisch are right that the question of U.S. involvement in Yemen is not whether we will be involved but how. Their case is strong that our effort should be a multiagency one, rather than expanding from its current minimal level on the traditional model of military intervention. But however we organize it, the key to engaging with Yemen is understanding what we are walking into. Yemen’s internal battle is not being fought in a geopolitical vacuum, and our intervention there has the potential to turn very quickly into a proxy confrontation with other regional actors.

Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the most obvious one, along with Iran, which arms the Shia “Houthi” rebels against Yemen’s central government. But an increased level of U.S. effort is likely to draw in other actors, like Somalia’s radical al-Shabaab terror group, which promised last week to send fighters to Yemen in support of the Houthi rebels. This is a legitimate threat; Iran and Eritrea keep al-Shabaab armed, and maritime traffic between Somalia and Yemen is routine and very hard to interdict.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in Yemeni stability, meanwhile, is direct and proprietary. Riyadh is concerned about incursions into its territory, of course, but is equally concerned about Iran — or other outside powers — gaining influence over Yemen. Yemen’s location brings the most significant of suitors to its door: Russia and China are the two top suppliers of arms to the Saleh regime, and at the end of December, both of them capped decades of extensive involvement in Yemen with major financial assistance and cooperation agreements. We are not the only great power proposing to influence events in Yemen with monetary aid and military cooperation; in fact, we’re at the back of the line. Russia was reported a year ago to be planning to re-establish its Cold War–era naval base on Yemen’s Socotra Island and will not remain passive in the face of a U.S. policy adopted on the energetic lines proposed by Kagan and Harnisch.

Yemen is more than a poor, unstable nation that makes a natural hideout for al-Qaeda; it is, due to its location, a geostrategic prize. As the Nigerian airplane bomber demonstrated, we must increase our involvement there. This is an opportunity, not just a regrettable necessity, for both Yemen and us — if we approach it with positive objectives in mind. Succeeding there will inevitably have the effect of sidelining Iran and Russia, and we will need to be prepared for their reactions. We might even be able to achieve a limited partnership with the Russians if we avoid harboring illusions about their objectives. As Kagan and Harnisch suggest, a Yemen intervention looks like a natural fit for a high-level multiagency task force, as opposed to one centered mainly on military or intelligence activities. The “measure of effectiveness” for that task force would be its success in defining U.S. interests proactively rather than reactively, and in preparing us to deal with the interests already being actively asserted by third parties.

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Al-Qaeda’s Resiliency No Excuse to Abandon Afghanistan

Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown had an important report in Sunday’s Washington Post on al-Qaeda’s emerging strategy, which can be glimpsed in such plots as the Christmas Day attempted airplane bombing and the suicide bombing at the CIA base in Afghanistan. He notes that such attacks suggest that al-Qaeda is exceedingly resilient and that reports of its demise are premature:

While the United States remains preoccupied with trying to secure yesterday’s failed state — Afghanistan — al-Qaeda is busy staking out new terrain. The terrorist network sees failing states as providing opportunities to extend its reach, and it conducts local campaigns of subversion to hasten their decline. Over the past year, it has increased its activities in places such as Pakistan, Algeria, the Sahel, Somalia and, in particular, Yemen.

He’s right about al-Qaeda’s ability to fill vacuums in undergoverned countries, but I disagree with the implication that the war in Afghanistan is a distraction from the wider campaign. If we were to lose in Afghanistan, it would become tomorrow’s failed state, as well as yesterday’s, and that would constitute a massive win for al-Qaeda. Among other things, it would further destabilize Pakistan, which is already facing a horrific threat. (A new think-tank report finds that in Pakistan, “terrorist attacks killed 3,021 people and injured 7,334 in 2009. There were 87 suicide bombings amid 2,586 terrorist strikes, a 45 percent increase over the previous year.”)

The answer isn’t to give up in Afghanistan but to do better on those other battlefields where we will have to fight without benefit of large numbers of our own ground troops.

Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown had an important report in Sunday’s Washington Post on al-Qaeda’s emerging strategy, which can be glimpsed in such plots as the Christmas Day attempted airplane bombing and the suicide bombing at the CIA base in Afghanistan. He notes that such attacks suggest that al-Qaeda is exceedingly resilient and that reports of its demise are premature:

While the United States remains preoccupied with trying to secure yesterday’s failed state — Afghanistan — al-Qaeda is busy staking out new terrain. The terrorist network sees failing states as providing opportunities to extend its reach, and it conducts local campaigns of subversion to hasten their decline. Over the past year, it has increased its activities in places such as Pakistan, Algeria, the Sahel, Somalia and, in particular, Yemen.

He’s right about al-Qaeda’s ability to fill vacuums in undergoverned countries, but I disagree with the implication that the war in Afghanistan is a distraction from the wider campaign. If we were to lose in Afghanistan, it would become tomorrow’s failed state, as well as yesterday’s, and that would constitute a massive win for al-Qaeda. Among other things, it would further destabilize Pakistan, which is already facing a horrific threat. (A new think-tank report finds that in Pakistan, “terrorist attacks killed 3,021 people and injured 7,334 in 2009. There were 87 suicide bombings amid 2,586 terrorist strikes, a 45 percent increase over the previous year.”)

The answer isn’t to give up in Afghanistan but to do better on those other battlefields where we will have to fight without benefit of large numbers of our own ground troops.

Read Less




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