Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

The EU Sides with the Thugs in Bolivia

This Sunday, the department of Santa Cruz, the richest region of Bolivia, will hold a referendum on regional autonomy. Other departments in the eastern half of the country will likely follow suit in the upcoming months. The central government in La Paz opposes the project and calls it “separatist.” Despite that, polls show that an overwhelming majority of “cruceños” will vote in favor of autonomy.

As a consequence, the ruling party has threatened to use violence against the citizens of Santa Cruz who show up to vote on Sunday. It wouldn’t be the first time. Last December, the government forced the approval of a new constitution in a Constituent Assembly while a pro-government mob outside the building prevented opposition assemblymen from attending the session. This year, something similar happened when the national Congress declared these referenda on regional autonomy illegal in a rigged session while mobs outside Parliament prevented opposition Congressmen from entering the building.

This time around, the party of president, Evo Morales, has warned about the possibility of taking thousands of its supporters to Santa Cruz to prevent the vote from taking place. The only way to accomplish this is by force.

So it’s kind of surprising that the European Union is taking sides with those who, over and over again, have used violence to suppress democratic institutions. The French ambassador in Bolivia and representative of the EU in that country has stated that the leaders of Santa Cruz who are pushing for autonomy will have to “assume the consequences” if violence erupts on Sunday. That is, the EU will blame the victims if they get beaten up by government thugs for exercising their democratic rights.

Shame on the EU.

Neocon All-Star Team Unsuccessfully Gropes at Reality

In its infinite wisdom, C-SPAN chose to commit this Hudson Institute panel to celluloid. Of course, I can’t get the dang video to work right, but I had the fortune to catch most of the panel last night on the teevee. Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Dan Senor, and Peter Rodman got the old gang back together in an effort to pretend-examine What Went Wrong in Iraq.

The line that Feith advances is that we shouldn’t have done a, y’know, occupation. Wolfowitz supports this position, expressing amazement that “the term ‘occupation’ sticks with us today, even though the occupation ended in June 2004.” These are cute semantic games, but they’re an affront to reality. So Wolfowitz turns to this move, as reported by Eli Lake:

And I do think a real failure — I assign responsibility all over the place — was not having enough reliable Iraqi troops early enough and fast enough, because I think a sensible counterinsurgency strategy would not be to flood the country with 300,000 Americans, but rather to build up Iraqi forces among the population.

This sends Abu Muqawama, the pseudonymous U.S. military veteran and proprietor of a popular counterinsurgency blog, into apoplexy. What’s a real shame is that Lake’s own question, which was excellent, didn’t elicit a serious response. Lake observed that even under close tutelage from the Americans, galling depredations had been committed by the ISF, such as torture conducted by the Ministry of Interior, etc. Why, then, if we had handed more control over sooner, wouldn’t we have expected much more of this kind of thing to have happened?

Feith’s response? I’m paraphrasing here, but it was along the lines of “I just don’t think it would have.” So presumably under the Feith-Wolfowitz plan, we invade, grab Saddam, and then just turn the reins over to “external” Iraqi leader/charlatan Ahmed Chalabi and his band of 700 supporters? Or perhaps Wolfowitz meant his remark as an “assume a can-opener” joke? Wolfowitz’s claim that “a real failure…was not having enough reliable Iraqi troops early enough and fast enough” begs the question How on Earth could we have just had enough committed Iraqi troops “early enough and fast enough”???

Wolfowitz then ups the ante with his claim that “nobody could have foreseen the insurgency,” an insurgency which he attributes almost entirely to Saddam Hussein. Reading from Feith’s new book, Wolfowitz agrees with Feith that neither of them saw “a CIA assessment stating that after their ouster, the Ba’athists would be able to organize, recruit for, finance, supply, and command and control an insurgency, let alone an alliance with foreign jihadists.” This is an absurd over-attribution of responsibility for the insurgency to that Most Unitary of Evils, Saddam Hussein. As for who could have predicted that the intractable confessional disputes may have caused problems, Feith and Wolfowitz may want to look up Paul Pillar.

These points represent just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, if Hudson had had somebody on the panel who did not fundamentally agree on the basic justice, prudence, and strategic genius behind the war, all of this could have been exposed as nonsense in front of the cameras. But that’s not how the game is played, I guess.

NCSL Calls for Repeal of REAL ID

The National Conference of State Legislatures wants the REAL ID Act gone. It supports S. 717, the Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2007, which would repeal the REAL ID Act and reinstitute a negotiated rulemaking process on identity security that was established in the 9/11-Commission-inspired Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that an organization like this would reject a behemoth of a project like building a national ID and surveillance system. The NCSL isn’t a small-government organization, and it could just as well have lobbied for billions of dollars in funding.

GAO Plan for Pakistan: Better Planning

Thursday the Government Accountability Office published a report that points out that the United States lacks a “comprehensive plan” that integrates “all elements of national power” to deal with problem of terrorism emanating from Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The report exemplifies the cult of planning that enthralls U.S. foreign policy analysts — and not just because it uses the phrase “comprehensive plan” 47 times in 25 pages.

Democratic leaders can use the report to bash President Bush, which is presumably why they requested it. But most people will merely find it useless. It is, after all, the GAO’s shtick to issue bland reports like this one, which does little other than note a lack of coordinated planning and then recommend more coordinated planning. (The report does say, to be fair, that the United States has done too little to address the cause of terrorism in northwest Pakistan, which it identifies, with bizarre confidence, as a lack of economic development.) And no one, even at Cato, can really be against better planning and coordination of government agencies to combat terrorists. Seems harmless. So what’s the problem?

The report never considers the possibility that the great minds of Washington, D.C., however well coordinated, may not contain the solution to the problems in Pakistan’s northwest hinterlands. Planning, after all, isn’t power.

I have never been, I confess, to an inter-agency planning meeting, so I can’t rule out the possibility that they’re magic. Maybe the agency representatives perform coordinated rites that reveal the wisdom to solve any problem and the power to implement their insight.

Barring that, it might have been worth devoting a sentence or two in the report to the difficulty of planning the affairs of other people’s countries. The area in question, after all, is not only beyond the control of our government but beyond the control of Pakistan’s, which we also do not control. This is not an engineering problem, like a faulty bridge. This is a problem of Pakistani politics and geography. There is not a U.S. plan that can fix that, including an invasion plan.

Growing up in Boston, I annually developed plans to fix the Red Sox’s lineup. So did my brother. My father had his own ideas. The Red Sox management never implemented any of our plans. I’m confident that the GAO would have told us that our failure stemmed from a lack of coordinated planning and suggested that we draw up a comprehensive strategy to harness all elements of Friedman power.

I am not arguing that the United States should abandon efforts to deal with terrorism in Pakistan. I am arguing that we should recognize the limits of what our policy can do. A belief that we can solve problems that we can’t may lead to costly efforts to eradicate problems rather than practical steps to manage them.

One reason Harvey Sapolsky, Chris Preble, and I wrote a paper about the lessons of the war in Iraq was irritation at the tendency of defense analysts to cast the occupation there as a failure of planning and to generate policy recommendations from that claim. Observing that planning for the occupation was poor and that the occupation went badly, the analyst would assume that the former caused the latter, and instruct the U.S. government to reform the interagency process to better plan future occupations. We argue that the United States never had much power to control Iraq’s politics, despite 100,000 to 150,000 troops in-country and the billions we spend every week. Problems of planning and coordination distract from the more important policy changes the war suggests. But the fixation on planning in Iraq at least made some sense, being that we occupied it.

The GAO report is the sort of thing Aaron Wildavsky had in mind he wrote that, “if planning is everything, maybe it’s nothing.” Phase one in my plan to save U.S. foreign policy from the cult of planning is getting policymakers to read that essay. In phase two, they apply it to foreign policy. Phase three involves converting the resulting despair into realism. In phase four (Victory), we cease our efforts to control everything that concerns us abroad. I am confident that this plan will fail.