Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Don’t Cry for Fox Fallon

The news that the commander of U.S. Central Command, William “Fox” Fallon, is retiring early is going to cause some panic among people concerned about war with Iran. There’s some reason to worry, but not much more than yesterday. Time will tell, but I don’t think this is about bombing Iran.

Whether Fallon got fired or resigned, it happened because he screwed up — he got caught disagreeing with administration policy in an overwrought article by Thomas Barnett in Esquire. Even before that, it was a terribly kept secret that he was out of sync with the White House on Iran, Iraq, and probably China.

I agree with Fallon on all those fronts, but he works for the president. Civilian control of the military means you can’t just go around telling everyone, off the record or no, that you dissent from the administration’s policies, and still work for them, even if those policies are dumb. It’s probably Fallon’s good sense that made it impossible for him to work for this administration.

Democrats who take his side because they dislike Bush administration policy ought to keep in mind that a president they support may be in power soon, and they’re going to have to run the military too.

The Weekly Standard on Why They Hate Us

Andrew and Adam have been fileting the Weekly Standard already today, but while I’ll happily defer to them on education policy, the Standard’s blog is advancing some honest-to-goodness foreign policy nonsense that shouldn’t go unremarked.

Here they are grousing about Obama’s claim that “the continuation of a presence in Iraq as Sen. McCain has suggested is exactly what, I think, will fan the flames of anti-American sentiment and make it more difficult for us to create a long-term and sustainable peace in the world.” Now, this is so painfully obvious as to be banal, but here’s the Standard’s response:

Never mind that farm subsidies–as in the policy Obama defended vociferously while pandering to Iowans a few months back–leave the poorest people in the world starving and without jobs.

Now, farm subsidies are truly a terrible idea. But if the Standard somehow believes that we’re hated in the Islamic world because of sugar subsidies, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell them. The list of evidence to the contrary is too long for this forum, but here’s just a start:

“American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies…Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies.”

-Defense Science Board, Report on Strategic Communication, 2004.

“All of our panelists agreed that U.S. foreign policy is the major root cause behind anti-American sentiments among Muslim populations and that this point needs to be better researched, absorbed, and acted upon by government officials.”

-Government Accountability Office, “U.S. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY: State Department Efforts to Engage Muslim Audiences Lack Certain Communication Elements and Face Significant Challenges,” May 2006.

“[Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz also estimated the U.S. cost of Iraqi ‘containment’ during 12 years of U.N. sanctions, weapons inspections and continued U.S. air patrols over the country at ‘slightly over $ 30 billion,’ but he said the price had been ‘far more than money.’ Sustained U.S. bombing of Iraq over those years, and the stationing of U.S. forces ‘in the holy land of Saudi Arabia,’ were ‘part of the containment policy that has been Osama bin Laden’s principal recruiting device, even more than the other grievances he cites,’ Wolfowitz said.

Implying that a takeover in Iraq would eliminate the need for U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, and thus reduce the appeal of terrorist groups for new members, Wolfowitz said: ‘I can’t imagine anyone here wanting to spend another $ 30 billion to be there for another 12 years to continue helping recruit terrorists.’

-Washington Post, March 2, 2003

We could go on like this for days. Farm subsidies are dumb enough on their own, we don’t need to delude ourselves into thinking they’re what’s to blame for 9/11. In fact, if the Standard and its adherents continue with this sort of fantacism, we’re going to continue avoiding the real root of our terrorism problem, which is evident enough that the above sources and anyone else paying attention can see it all too plainly.

Chastened Much?

Philip Weiss attends an event sponsored by the Middle East Forum in New York with former Cheney aide David Wurmser and reports back. Here’s a snip from the Q and A:

What are the 3 things he would tell John McCain if he were his adviser?

“Let me just bluntly answer that. One, abandon the two-state solution statement that we have right now vis a vis the Palestinians. Two—Well, let me start with number one. Number one is an open, publicly expressed regime-change strategy in Iran. Two, an open expressed regime-change strategy in Syria. 3, abandoning the two-state solution policy we’ve had frankly since the 9/11 attacks…”

One honestly has to wonder, what would it take these folks to learn from the disaster that their bizarre theories begot in Iraq? Meanwhile, today’s Washington Post lets us know (via Eric Martin) that we should keep an eye out for a new NIE on Iraq — except, despite its no doubt being chock-full of great news about how terrific things are over there, the administration apparently doesn’t want to release a version publicly.

As terrifying as each of the presidential candidates is in various ways, it’s going to be a relief when this long national nightmare is over. We deserve, at the very least, a new nightmare.

Happy Birthday, Homeland Security!

I doubt that anyone outside Joe Lieberman’s office is happy with the performance of the Department of Homeland Security, which observed its five-year anniversary this week. To mark the occasion, CQ Homeland Security (part of Congressional Quarterly) asked me and a bunch of more important people to comment on whether creating the department was wise.

The competition for most negative response turned out to be fierce (even Michael Chertoff sounds ambivalent) but I think my entry is a contender. Here’s the first part of what I wrote:

Congress made a large but typical mistake with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security five years ago. James Q. Wilson wrote in 1995 that government reorganizations are usually driven by a perception of crisis that produces a political need to do something quick and extensive. He notes that these circumstances make thoughtful planning for the change unlikely. Reorganizations, he says, are usually victims of a facile urge to clarify lines of authority and end duplication without understanding the incentives of the organizations involved. Congress and the Bush administration followed this model in creating DHS.

The collection of comments is here.

Pentagon to China: Do What We Say, Not What We Do

This week brought the publication of the annual Pentagon report, “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China.” As James Fallows will tell you, this is an important document for China threat inflators, who use the report to make all sorts of lurid claims in their efforts to drag us into a Cold War with China. The report itself, while it tends to put a scary spin on things, is relatively sober.

What most irritates me about it (along with its contribution to the overheated cyberwar rhetoric so popular this year) is the implication that China is not allowed to behave like us. Here’s the final paragraph of the executive summary:

The international community has limited knowledge of the motivations, decision-making, and key capabilities supporting China’s military modernization. China’s leaders have yet to explain in detail the purposes and objectives of the PLA’s modernizing military capabilities. For example, China continues to promulgate incomplete defense expenditure figures, and engage in actions that appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies. The lack of transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation. This situation will naturally and understandably lead to hedging against the unknown.

The briefer who presented the report to the media Monday, David Sedney, echoed this bottom line:

The real story is the continuing development, the continuing modernization, the continuing acquisition of capabilities and the corresponding and unfortunate lack of understanding, lack of transparency about the intentions of those and how they are going to be employed. What is China going to do with all that?”

Expanding and modernizing the military for unclear reasons, huh? Are the authors of this stuff completely blind to hypocrisy? The United States spends over $75 billion a year on research and development alone to modernize the military, never mind procurement. The non-war defense budget has grown 37% since Bush took office. And we are far from transparent. Do we not hide about a tenth of our regular defense spending behind a veil of secrecy? I’m confident we’re not giving the international community thorough briefings on our full surveillance capabilities. What about intentions? We’re vaguer than the Chinese. We explicitly justify our defense capabilities based on uncertainty. The Pentagon’s slogan could be, “Hey, it’s expensive, but you never know.” Will we defend Taiwan if China attacks it? Will we bomb Iran? Join in Sudan’s civil war? I study the U.S. defense establishment for a living, and I don’t know our intentions. No one does.

Maybe we should cut back on the lectures and let the Chinese run their own affairs.