Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Setting the Wayback Machine

Andrew Sullivan has been re-reading The War over Iraq, William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan’s pamphlet advocating for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. The first thing that leaps to mind is how utterly dismissive and contemptuous Kristol and Kaplan were of those who were sounding cautionary notes before the war. Here they are on Chuck Hagel, who voted for the war but whom Kristol and Kaplan deemed insufficiently enthusiastic about it:

“Iraq’s uncertain future, as opposed to its totalitarian present, has become the principle [sic] concern of many realists. ‘What comes after a military invasion?’ Senator Chuck Hagel would like to know. ‘Who rules Iraq? Does the United States really want to be in Baghdad, trying to police Baghdad for twenty or thirty years?’”

Kristol goes on to mock this question with his usual assurance:

“Predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are even more questionable than they were in the case of Afghanistan.

“Unlike the Taliban, Saddam has little support among any ethnic group, Sunnis included, and the Iraqi opposition is itself a multi-ethnic force… [T]he executive director of the Iraq Foundation, Rend Rahim Francke, says, ‘we will not have a civil war in Iraq. This is contrary to Iraqi history, and Iraq has not had a history of communal conflict as there has been in the Balkans or in Afghanistan…’”

(Kristol and Kaplan fail to mention, of course, that Ms. Francke was not exactly an objective observer to this phenomenon; she was a lobbyist who spent years pushing for more U.S. action to oust Saddam Hussein.) This “there’s no history of ethnic turmoil in Iraq” trope was central to Kristol’s advocacy. In an article for The American Conservative in 2006 (not online, alas), I pointed out that

KristolOn–appropriately enough–April Fool’s Day 2003, on NPR Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol informed host Terry Gross that “there’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America…that the Shi’a can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shi’a in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all.”

The whole thing would be laughable if there weren’t so many corpses over there.

Odd Phenomena

Jeffrey Goldberg looks in Matt Yglesias’ and my direction and declares that “it’s an odd phenomenon” that people care about the fact that Goldberg and James Kirchick are making false claims about what the president of Iran said. False claims that are leading people in the United States to want to go to war with Iran.

You know what else is an odd phenomenon? That Jeffrey Goldberg still hasn’t addressed the fact that he published a number of articles before the Iraq war falsely linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda that helped get 4,000 Americans killed, drive America’s reputation into the ditch, flush $600,000,000,000 down the toilet and enhance Iran’s position in the region. That’s odd.

Family Security Matters: REAL ID = National ID

A month ago, I wrote here and in a TechKnowledge article about the telling imagery that a company called L-1 Identity Solutions had used in some promotional materials. The cover of their REAL ID brochure featured an attractive woman’s face with her driver license data superimposed over it, along with her name, address, height, eye color, place of birth, political affiliation, and her race. This is where the national ID system advanced by the REAL ID Act leads.

Here’s another example. A group called Family Security Matters has reprinted on its site a blog post supporting the $80 million in grant money that the Department of Homeland Security recently announced, seeking to prop up the REAL ID Act. (I’ve written about it here and here.)

What’s interesting is not that a small advocacy group should support REAL ID, but the image they chose to illustrate their thinking: a man holding his “National Identity Card,” his fingerprint and iris images printed on it, and presumably programmed into it.

Were there ever any doubt that REAL ID was a national identity system and a step toward cradle-to-grave, government-mandated biometric tracking, Family Security Matters has helped clear that up.

TSA Background Check Includes Political Party

We’re now learning the meaning of a new policy that Americans can’t “willfully” refuse to show ID at airports. The Consumerist has a write-up of one man’s experience with IDless travel. It turns out they do a background check on you using, among other things, your political affiliation.

That’s a nice window onto what identity-based security is all about: giving the government deep access into all of our personal lives. Of course, this type of security is easy to evade, and the 9/11 plot was structured to evade it. Checking ID cannot catch someone who has no history of wrongdoing.

Identity checks at airports require law-abiding American citizens to give up their privacy, including their political affiliations, with essentially no security benefit.

Congress Confuses on Iran

Over at TPMCafe, M. J. Rosenberg points our attention to two pieces of legislation winging their way through the House and the Senate The matching pieces of legislation declare the sense of the House and the Senate that “preventing the Government of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, through all appropriate economic, political, and diplomatic means, is a matter of the highest importance to the national security of the United States and must be dealt with urgently” and call for President Bush to

initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program

Now, as Rosenberg reasonably concludes from reading the legislation, this sounds an awful lot like a blockade, which I’m pretty sure (I’m not a lawyer) qualifies as an act of war under international law. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which reportedly has been pushing the legislation through the House and Senate, replies to Rosenberg by asserting that

AIPAC supports sanctions on Iran and favors a voluntary international effort lead by the United States to stop selling Iran refined petroleum, not a blockade. Iran is highly vulnerable to such pressure. Sactions are the best way to persuade Iran to stop it’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. To suggest that AIPAC supports anything but tough economic sanctions on Iran is totally false…

I’m confused. The legislation calls for “prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran.” Now, what sort of mechanism would police such a “prohibition?” If the shipment of refined petroleum products to Iran has been “prohibited,” and a tanker sails toward it anyway, what happens? Who will be enforcing the “stringent inspection requirements on all person, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran?”

More on REAL ID Grants - DHS’ REAL ID Fervor Is Fading …

I wrote here last week about the limping DHS grant-making process for the REAL ID Act. (Summary: Good money after bad.)

Unsurprisingly, ID card maker Digimarc is touting the spending going to “its” states in a press release. I wrote about the plans of biometric technology company L-1 to acquire Digimarc’s ID card business in a recent TechKnowledge entitled “L-1: The Technology Company in Your Pocket.” (Digimarc recently received a higher offer for its ID card business from a French conglomerate. The appetite for national ID systems is certainly higher in old Europe and elsewhere around the globe than in the United States.)

Late Friday, DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker posted on DHS’ “Leadership Journal” blog about the grants. Late Friday is the time of the week when releases are least likely to get uptake - are DHS web staff trying to suppress Baker? You’d expect to see something like this on Friday morning, or the night before grants are announced.

Anyway, in his blog post, Baker tries to inflate the money available for REAL ID, claiming that this $80 million is really more like $511 million. It’s not. And if it were, it still would be only 3% of the $17 billion cost of implementing REAL ID.

Of course, Baker claims that the costs of implementing REAL ID are lower now, but that’s only because DHS assumed away much participation in the program. I suppose France could have defeated Germany buy building only 27% of the Maginot line, but it’s doubtful. That’s what a national ID card is - a Maginot line that’s easy to avoid. Baker wants us to believe that a bad security system which is also incomplete is therefore … somehow … good.

Baker’s post, like the rest of DHS’ recent efforts, is a tired effort to prop up REAL ID. He tries to skip past the issues, saying “The arguments for having secure identification speak for themselves.” They don’t, and Baker hasn’t spoken for them either.

DHS’ institutional support for REAL ID grows more and more anemic with each passing day. Witness the thoroughly lame effort of the Department to revive it by banning “willful” refusal to show ID at airports. I now find myself in the position of trying to draw attention to the corpse of REAL ID - I do so because government programs like this have to be really dead before they’re truly dead.

Giving away grants that nobody wants. Defending what can’t be defended. I would be tired too. Congress can make everyone’s life better by rescinding these grants and repealing the REAL ID Act.