Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

When Would McCain Intervene?

Matt Bai has a writeup in this Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine of McCain’s vision on foreign policy. Buckle up:

McCain considers national values, and not strategic interests, to be the guiding force in foreign policy. America exists, in McCain’s view, not simply to safeguard the prosperity and safety of those who live in it but also to spread democratic values and human rights to other parts of the planet….

[…]

[A]s we talked, I tried to draw out of him some template for knowing when military intervention made sense — an answer, essentially, to the question that has plagued policy makers confronting international crises for the last 20 years. McCain has said that the invasion of Iraq was justified, even absent the weapons of mass destruction he believed were there, because of Hussein’s affront to basic human values. Why then, I asked McCain, shouldn’t we go into Zimbabwe, where, according to that morning’s paper, allies of the despotic president, Robert Mugabe, were rounding up his political opponents and preparing to subvert the results of the country’s recent national election? How about sending soldiers into Myanmar, formerly Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest by a military junta?

“I think in the case of Zimbabwe, it’s because of our history in Africa,” McCain said thoughtfully. “Not so much the United States but the Europeans, the colonialist history in Africa. The government of South Africa has obviously not been effective, to say the least, in trying to affect the situation in Zimbabwe, and one reason is that they don’t want to be tarred with the brush of modern colonialism. So that’s a problem I think we will continue to have on the continent of Africa. If you send in Western military forces, then you risk the backlash from the people, from the legacy that was left in Africa because of the era of colonialism.”

The United States faced a similar obstacle in Myanmar, McCain went on, shaking his head sadly. “First of all, you’d have to gauge the opinion of the people over time, whether you’d be greeted as liberators or as occupiers,” McCain said. “I would be concerned about the possibility that if it were mishandled, we might see an insurgent movement.” He talked a bit about Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he called “one of the great figures of the 20th century,” but then wondered aloud if the American public would support a military intervention.

“It goes back to the Vietnam thing,” McCain told me. “I’m just not sure the American people would support a military engagement in Burma, no matter how justified the cause. And I can’t tell you exactly when it would be over. And I can’t tell you exactly what the reaction of the people there would be.”

Most American politicians, of course, would immediately dismiss the idea of sending the military into Zimbabwe or Myanmar as tangential to American interests and therefore impossible to justify. McCain didn’t make this argument. He seemed to start from a default position that moral reasons alone could justify the use of American force, and from there he considered the reasons it might not be feasible to do so. In other words, to paraphrase Robert Kennedy, while most politicians looked at injustice in a foreign land and asked, “Why intervene?” McCain seemed to look at that same injustice and ask himself, “Why not?”

Thankfully, though, the Washington Post is reporting that McCain apparently has a secret plan to win the war in Iraq by 2013.

Invade to Aid?

Should we force our way into Burma to aid cyclone victims? Since the May 3 storm, Burma’s military regime has barred most outsiders from delivering supplies and medical relief. The regime is accepting aid shipments, it appears, but lacks the capacity and maybe the will to efficiently deliver them. With people still dying – estimates so far range roughly from 40,000 to 130,000 – and another storm possibly on the way, several Western nations may push the UN Security Council to evoke the “responsibility to protect,” and authorize the use of military force to deliver the aid. National positions are still solidifying, but it appears that France, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, maybe Canada, and even Pakistan endorse this tact. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, for one, is willing to do “whatever is necessary to help the people who are suffering” in Burma.

Less importantly, Robert Kaplan takes up the call in today’s New York Times, pointing out that US Naval forces now exercising off Thailand could escort in an invasion force. Kaplan doesn’t quite come out and call for the use of force but seems to be leaning that way, as is his wont.

Kaplan does concede that things could get messy. Even if the war were quick, the government could fall, and then the invaders might wind up trying to reorganize the country, which is fraught by ethnic tensions. Kaplan is cautiously optimistic about this endeavor – he thinks the fact that Burma has suffered insurgencies for 60 years is conducive to their settlement rather than indicative of their tenacity. Personally, I think the last thing the United States needs is another occupation to manage. We should wish the Europeans luck if they’re game, but we shouldn’t encourage them.

You could argue that the best way to get the junta to open Burma’s doors is to get legal authority to knock them down. But bluffing may be a bad tactic here. The Burmese military is reputed to be paranoid about invasion. According to the Times, “One of the generals’ most enduring fears is a seaborne invasion by Western powers it refers to as ‘foreign saboteurs.’” Along with the truth of the adage, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you,” this fear indicates that threatening to break in may only cause the Burmese to double their locks. Painful as it is, diplomacy is a better route.

A Cross Between Bill Lumbergh and Robert Strange McNamara

Lumbergh

For a look through the keyhole into the bizarre world of the Rumsfeld-era DOD establishment, take a look at these documents describing the DOD military analysts/”force multipliers” program. Or better yet, listen in to some of Rumsfeld’s Roundtables, with audio available here and here. Over the slurpings and mastications of people like Jed Babbin, now editor of Human Events who was then thought to be a reliable pitcher of “softballs” designed to defend the DOD line of the day, you can hear what your half-a-trillion per year pays for. (Sounds like expensive china their forks and knives are clinking against, at least.)

The topics of conversation range from Rumsfeld likening himself to Churchill, Rumsfeld grousing about obstruction to his ideas on the Hill, Rumsfeld grousing about Moqtada al-Sadr (“he’s not a real cleric!”), and various people (including Babbin) fawning over Rumsfeld. The discussion is peppered with Pentagon-speak, good-old-boys-club outbursts of laughter, and Rumsfeldian aphorisms (“you don’t want to eat your seed corn…”) It’s a little nauseating and a little enlightening. Bill Lumbergh meets Robert McNamara.

Wisconsin Governor Defunds REAL ID

WisPolitics.com reports that Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) plans to take more than $20 million out of the state’s REAL ID account and transfer it into the state’s general fund.

Wisconsin Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R) objects:

When I shepherded the REAL ID bill through Congress 3 years ago, it was in response to one of the key recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, that ‘fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft.’ As we saw in 2001, in the hands of a terrorist, a valid ID accepted for travel in the US can be just as dangerous as a missile or bomb.

Congressman Sensenbrenner is correct to claim responsibility for REAL ID, but less accurate in other parts of his statement. The 9/11 Commission’s ‘key’ recommendation wasn’t key. (Indeed, Congress’ effort to follow the Commission’s recommendation was repealed by REAL ID.)

Nobody - not the 9/11 Commission, not Congressman Sensenbrenner, not Stewart Baker, nor anyone else - can explain the proximity between false ID and terrorist attacks, or how REAL ID cost-effectively secures the country against any threat.

Wisconsin’s governor has issued a mighty well-placed snub to the creator of the “Sensenbrenner tax.”

50 Years On, Some Common Sense

Steve Clemons posts a heartening little video of Bush père’s National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft responding to Steve’s question “What do you think about Cuba?” It’s a rare occasion for foreign policy folks to take heart and ponder whether the forces of reality may not be making progress on some issues, at least:

More common sense on Cuba here.

L-1: The Technology Company in Your Pocket

Inspired by the promotional brochure I recently came across, I’ve taken a look at L-1 Identity Solutions in a new Cato TechKnowledge. Though it has better options, L-1 and its new acquisition, Digimarc ID Systems, seem likely to continue lobbying for the REAL ID Act. My concluding line: “A corporate lobbying operation can do as much harm to liberty as any government agency or official.”

REAL ID Deadline Passes - Zero Compliance

Yesterday - Sunday, May 11, 2008 - was the statutory deadline for state compliance with the REAL ID Act. Not a single state has begun issuing nationally standardized IDs as called for by the law. Nor are they putting driver information into nationally accessible databases.

Matthew Blake of the Washington Independent has a solid recap of the situation.