John Kerry on the forthcoming Bonn conference about sorting Afghanistan:
Bonn is still an opportunity for the United States to make clear that we are not abandoning Afghanistan. We have significant long-term strategic interests in the region that will be imperiled if we do not engineer a responsible transition.
Usually that's phrased the other way around: we have significant long-term strategic interests in the region that will be imperiled if we hand off Afghanistan too early. Kerry might still be saying that -- whether the stress is on "responsible" or "transition" is the determining factor. But if he means that transition is the pivot point on which U.S. interests depend, that's something that merits explanation.
Also: anyone want to finally make explicit what these "significant long-term strategic interests in the region" are? Ensuring the nuclear security (and non-proliferation) of Pakistan is one. But that's not about Afghanistan. Keeping Afghanistan from becoming an exporter of terrorism -- I can buy that, too. What am I forgetting? (Keeping in mind that Kerry is saying "significant," not "vital," which I imagine is a concession that in the grand scheme of things, Afghanistan is only important because we've been saying it is.)
In the case of President Obama, this represents a less costly and less dangerous alternative to the Bush Doctrine of perpetual war. But what happens when the Bush wars are over — as they probably will be soon — and we still have both the culture and the instruments to disabuse ourselves of anyone or anything that disagrees with us, or perhaps simply annoys us?
Important question, but resting upon dangerous assumptions. First, the Shadow Wars are probably better understood as a refinement of the Bush Doctrine, in the sense that their architects design them to preventatively take down terrorist organizations worldwide, but without all Bush's stuff about state sponsorship or the implications about invading other countries, downplaying the softer side of American power, and so forth. Donald Rumsfeld wanted Special Operations Command to run the war on terror, for instance. Obama has made a global, endless war less conspicuous -- not less global or less endless.
It's true that declining to garrison forces in Iraq (though consider me skeptical -- not outright doubtful, but I'll believe it when I see it -- on that one ) is cheaper than garrisoning them there. Same goes for drawing down in Afghanistan. It's also, at the risk of banality, still expensive to run a streamlined global war. But notice: we're talking about the upfront costs.
It's gauche these days to worry about the future blowback from the Shadow Wars, either in blood or treasure, because in the long afterglow of the bin Laden raid, they look pretty great. If, however, they result in the destabilization of nuclear Pakistan, they'll look like an epic folly and self-delusion. Faizal Shahzad didn't just say the drones were why he tried to bomb Times Square, as is constantly misreported, he cited the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, too. To the radicalized -- admittedly not the most logical interlocutors, but the crucial demographic here, because at one point they weren't radicalized -- there's hardly a distinction to be drawn between the Bush Doctrine and the Shadow Wars. And perhaps if the next Shahzad succeeds, as everyone agrees is likely, the Shadow Wars won't seem so cheap.
On the other hand, it's unlikely that the next Shahzad will kill remotely the numbers of people that al-Qaida killed on 9/11, so that's a point in defense of the strategy.
But the crucial point is that no American leader has articulated an endgame for this amorphous global war, let alone explained how the actions s/he takes gets us there. Obama has lowered a 767 from 30,000 feet to, say, 10,000 feet. But he's flying it parallel to the ground, and intimating that sometime soon, it'll land. The dangers of keeping the plane at 10,000 feet still exist -- but they diminish if the plane actually lands. When will he, or a successor, finally bring the plane in?
Few things are as offensive or aggravating as having your intelligence insulted, especially if you get the sense that the guy doing the insulting feels like he's debasing himself by the ruse. Meet Mitt Romney, as revealed by Robert Draper in the New York Times Magazine.
The Romney that Draper discovers is a man in full. Super-smart, super-competent, super-inquisitive. "Two advisers recall a meeting in the summer of 2008 at which Romney cited as a literary inspiration a book that had been on his mind," Draper recounts, "about the decline of France following the mass protests of the 1960s — and then proceeded to translate it aloud from French."
That's impressive, and for multiple reasons. Mitt Romney isn't just the sort of person who can spot-translate a book. He's the sort of person who would inquire about the sources of French declinism after the tumult of the 1960s. He's the sort of person who would do so to wonder about the lessons that experience might pose for the United States. That makes him a bright man, and, on the face of it, a rigorous thinker.
What did he do with that intellect? He churned out a 2009 campaignifesto on foreign policy called "No Apologies." Draper calls it an example of how Romney's "intellectual vigor gives ground to political calibrations." That's being so, so charitable to "No Apologies." I reviewed it when it came out, and it's beyond juvenile. For instance:
“Violent jihadist groups come in many stripes across a spectrum,” Romney writes, “from Hamas to Hezbollah, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda.” But al-Qaeda exists because it considered the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt too accommodating of the Egyptian government; Hamas has literally fought al-Qaeda attempts at penetrating the Gaza Strip; and Sunni al-Qaeda released a videotape just this weekend that derides “Rejectionist Shiite Hezbollah.” There is absolutely nothing that unites these organizations in any programmatic manner except Romney’s ignorance, and the expansion of ignorance is insufficient to topple an American superpower.
The comparison between American and Russian or Chinese global power is less obviously stupid than between that of the “violent jihadists.” But that is not saying much. The amalgamation of Wikipedia-level facts about Chinese economic and military growth and renewed Russian assertiveness “No Apology” provides does little more than demonstrate that the Chinese are modernizing and the Russians again desire a prominent global position. But the U.S.’s military advantage over the Russians and the Chinese is massive, and will remain massive for decades. In 2008 alone, the U.S. spent over $700 billion on its military. China spent $122 billion and Russia spent $70 billion. At one point in the text, Romney is forced to concede that the Council on Foreign Relations wrote that until at least 2030 there is “no evidence to support the notion that China will become a peer military competitor of the United States.”
I had, and have, a hard time squaring the Romney of "No Apologies" with the Romney who seems so competant and pragmatic -- if assembled by committee -- on domestic or economic policy. I figured that Romney would jettison the book's aggressive no-nothing-ism now that he's the only grownup left standing for the GOP nomination. But nooooooooooo.
This just doesn't smell right. The man who can spot-translate French to search for historical lessons about weighty meta-issues in civic and geopolitical culture does not also believe that diplomacy should the province of military super-viceroys. He does not also believe that there is an undifferentiated Islamist menace. He most certainly does not believe that the Russkies are coming.
But he does believe that Americans will not elect a president who can spot-translate French to search for historical lessons about weighty meta-issues in civic and geopolitical culture. And so this is what he pretends to be. All while he claims that Obama has insufficient respect for America.
The White House quietly ordered a widespread review of government counterterrorism training materials last month, following Danger Room’s reports that officials at the FBI, military and Justice Department taught their colleagues that “mainstream” Muslims embrace violence and compared the Islamic religion to the Death Star.
According to a Pentagon memorandum acquired by Danger Room, the White House’s National Security Staff in October requested “Departments and Agencies” to “provide their screening process for CVE trainers and speakers.” (.pdf) CVE refers to “Countering Violent Extremism,” the euphemism du jour for the war on terrorism. The memorandum says that “recent media attention” led to the review, and contains a single attachment to demonstration that attention: “Spencer Ackerman’s Wired.com article.”
The ongoing review will examine whether counterterrorism training material throughout the government is accurate and relevant, and will make sure the briefings given to federal field offices and local cops meets the same standards as FBI headquarters or the Pentagon.
Seeing my name on that memo was unexpected, to say the least.
Thanks to Noah Shachtman and everyone at WIRED for believing in this series.
Lisa Mullins from BBC/WGBH's "The World" radio program(me) interviewed me yesterday about what losing the Shamsi air base in Pakistan would mean for the drone war. (Which was the subject of a Danger Room piece of mine yesterday that I forgot to post here.)
Lisa is quite the canny interviewer. She is, however, not British -- or, at least, she speaks with no discernable British accent. And that obviated a plan of mine to answer questions in the accent of the guy who hosts "Top Gear," the possessor of my favorite English accent of the moment.
The contenders in the Republican presidential primary field have attacked President Barack Obama’s foreign policies. They say Obama showed weakness by not leading the allied air campaign in Libya, where the U.K and France played prominent roles, and not being tough enough on Iran to stop its nuclear-weapons efforts.
Welcome back to 2004. The Democrats knew they did not like George W. Bush. What they couldn't quite decide on was... why. Since so many of them supported the Iraq war -- mostly out of political cowardice, a few out of conviction -- it wasn't easy to fault Bush for it. But it was a political necessity in an election occuring in the shadow of 9/11. So the critique became: sure, Bush was right to invade, but he massively botched the job; I wouldn't have.
Voters saw this for what it was: a muddied non-contrast that sounded like sideline carping. John Kerry lost an election he probably should have won. (He didn't just lost because of Iraq, but Iraq didn't help.)
And so now the GOP's critique of the Libya war is: Obama shouldn't have let the U.K. and France take the lead. Welcome to the latest Incompetence Dodge -- except this time around, the GOP doesn't have the political luxury of a war waged incompetently. First the GOP called for a no-fly zone and then bashed Obama for answering the call. Obama then waged a discomfiting open-ended war that blurred the difference between stopping Gadhafi's aggression and overthrowing Gadhafi; all while limiting the U.S. commitment. It was weird. But then it worked! It worked in eight months and then it really ended. The cost to the U.S. was $1.1 billion, a wrecked Fire Scout and no human casualties.
After a decade of confusing, disastrous, inconclusive wars, it might be hard to remember what a successful war looks like. As it turns out, it looks like Libya. And the GOP is saying that it "showed weakness"? Because the U.S. didn't have to do too much? Their problem is with a... cost-effective war? Ask Moammar Gadhafi's rotting corpse if the U.S. looks weak. The average voter, if he cares about foreign policy at all, might not have wanted to get the U.S. involved in Libya. But he's going to hear that critique and think it's pathetic -- the sort of petulant tantrum a child throws when he can't figure out what's bothering him.
Bush in 2004 must have lit a cigar when he heard what Kerry was going to throw at him on Iraq. Obama might want to call him up so they can share an improbable chuckle.
The Washington Times tells us that we're getting shaken down by Pakistan:
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States on Wednesday warned against cutting off U.S. aid to his country, after a Republican presidential candidate called for an end to foreign assistance to the South Asian country where intelligence officials are suspected of supporting terrorists.
“By shutting down [U.S. aid to Pakistan], you are sending a message to people that you dont care,” Ambassador Husain Haqqani said at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
May I suggest to Amb. Haqqani -- while he still has that honorific -- that he's sending the message that something bad will happen to the U.S. if we decide we'd rather not subsidize people who help attack our soldiers? That isn't how allies talk. That's how gangsters talk. And those gangsters had better not talk that way to the people they kick up to. You fly our F-16s, remember? Sure would be a shame if a shipment of spare parts got delayed.
Meanwhile: where's the India lobby in Washington? How inept can you be? How can there not be a widespread media and lobbying campaign to raise the stakes on pro-Pakistan (or, more importantly, lukewarm/neutral) politicians? You're a giant democracy, rising global power, dynamic economy, besieged by Pakistani terrorism. They're a schizophrenic basket case nuclear quasi-state sponsor of terrorism that repays U.S. aid with dead bodies. And you're not making this case! You're not making this case at a moment of supreme political frustration with your enemy!
Pakistan has one advantage in Washington. His name is Husain Haqqani. I'll let you in on a secret. Everyone loves Husain. He's an kind, witty guy, and an expert bullshitter in an endearing way. He cultivates relationships, especially in the press, and it pays off. And Pakistan may be about to do the stupid thing and fire him. The lane is wide open for you, India lobby.
Ten months after I profiled Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy for Washingtonian, the Washington Post provides its own look at the likeliest candidate to become the U.S.' first woman defense secretary. It seems from reading the competition that I missed the real story:
She’s tall and slender with a regal manner. She often wears pearls. Soft-spoken and understated, she is described by her co-workers as brainy rather than blustery. She talks slowly, frequently stopping to think. Her careful speaking style differs wildly from that of Douglas J. Feith, who held her job during the George W. Bush administration and came under fire for his role in building the administration’s case for the invasion of Iraq.
The pearls! Dammit, I missed the pearls! And how could I forget to describe Flournoy's body? I want to apologize to my Washingtonian editor, Shane Harris, for this embarassing lack of judgment. I figured it was more important to delve deeply into Flournoy's ideas and career history, and otherwise explain why she's likely to become defense secretary someday. Of course, the pearls explain it all.
If I was a woman working in the national security field, this kind of shit would have me climbing up a clock tower with a clean rifle. Why is a woman subcabinet official getting profiled in the Post's Style section, anyway? Is it really not possible to grapple with this woman's ideas because she's wearing pearls? Really? When you start from the premise that Flournoy's going to run the Pentagon someday, shouldn't that incline you to explore whether that's, like, a good idea? I don't give a fuck what her workout regimen is. Because that tells me nothing about how she'll run the fucking Pentagon. Have you written your piece about how many crunches Leon Panetta does in the morning? I'll just wait here until you do.
One last thing. The Post makes the point that Flournoy's inspiring a lot of women defense wonks. That's certainly true; I've interviewed many of them. But perhaps the Post might consider that she's also inspired quite a lot of male defense wonks, and has built a constituency for herself within the military -- particularly within the Navy and the Marines -- because of her ideas. It's not just women. And it reveals a lot about the Post that the paper assumed it was.