Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Return of Public Diplomacy

The Heritage Foundation has released a report by Lisa Curtis titled “America’s Image Abroad: Room for Improvement.” While the title represents a triumph in terms of overcoming denial of the condition, the evasion of the central problem with “America’s image” in the article is truly remarkable.

Curtis cites the 2004 Defense Science Board report on strategic communication. Here’s what it says, in part:

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.

That’s the Defense Science Board, not Noam Chomsky. Curtis then cites a 2006 GAO report. It says, in part:

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.

Somehow those concepts don’t make their way into the Heritage paper. The fundamental problem here is that you can have the best salesman in the world plugging your product, but if the product itself stinks, nobody’s going to buy. Until we get past the governing assumption that somehow we just aren’t presenting American foreign policy in the right way, we’re bound to continue hurting ourselves.

But of course if you’d been reading Cato at Liberty, say, more than one year ago, you would have seen this all already.

Insight and Insult from National Journal

This week’s National Journal has a story (not available online) that is at once insightful and insulting. In “The Coming Storm,” Shane Harris reviews the difficulties that are anctipated when the Department of Homeland Security transitions to new leadership under a new administration. There are lots of “politicals” at DHS and not a very deep bench of talent.

Here’s the insightful: “Al Qaeda has launched attacks on the West during moments of governmental weakness: at elections and during transitions to new administrations.

The evidence for this is pretty good (if not rock solid), and it jibes with the strategy of terrorism, which is to goad a stronger opponent into self-injurious missteps. Attacking at a time of vulnerability for the political administration is more likely to induce overreaction and error.

Here’s the insulting: “A mass exodus of Homeland Security officials in late 2008 and early 2009 could leave the country vulnerable.”

This must play like the sweetest lullaby to bureaucrats in Washington — “you’re important; you’re really, really important” — but it is a bald insult to the ordinary citizens, police, firefighters, and investigators who would actually detect and prevent any attack or suffer its brunt and deal with the consequences.

The bureaucrats in Washington have very, very little to do with actual protection of the country from terrorist attack or with response to it. They are the mouthpieces who will rush to the cameras and microphones to foment hysteria. They are the FEMA directors who will bungle the response and the officials who will actively undermine restoration of services. They are not our protection, and their departure does not make us vulnerable.

In fact, their presence adds to our vulnerability. The terrorism strategy succeeds by knocking the political regime off balance. Having a large, prominent, federal protective agency gives terrorists a ripe target. If there were no prominent federal apparatus attached closely to the president — no homeland security secretary to embarass, challenge, and frighten — the strategy of terrorism would be less attractive and harder to execute.

Free the Scholars

Justin Logan discussed the “Travesty in Tehran” – the arrest and incarceration of Haleh Esfandiari – astutely yesterday. As he noted, these actions are a real provocation at a time when reduced tensions between Iran and the United States are devoutly to be hoped for. But more importantly, the unjust imprisonment of a peaceful scholar is a striking affront to human rights. The people of both Iran and the United States who want to see Iran as part of a peaceful and democratic world must deplore these actions.

And of course, to make matters worse, Esfandiari is not the only scholar currently being held by the Iranian government. The regime is also holding Kian Tajbakhsh of the Open Society Institute; journalist Parnaz Azima from the U.S.-funded Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a peace activist and founding board member at the University of California, Irvine’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding. There is no evidence that any of these people are engaged in espionage or threatening Iranian national security. Indeed, most or all of them have worked to improve relations between Iran and the United States and to turn both countries away from a collision course.

Leading human rights groups and activists have spoken out against these arrests. In a joint statement, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, the International Federation for Human Rights, and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi urged Iran to stop “harassment of dual nationals.”

To add insult to injury, Esfandiari’s husband was informed yesterday that Citibank had frozen his wife’s bank accounts “in accordance with U.S. Sanctions regulations,” which stipulate that U.S. banks are prohibited from servicing accounts for residents of Iran. A resident? She’s an involuntary resident of the notorious Evin Prison. Late in the evening, after many phone calls and the intercession of the State Department, Citibank relented and unfroze the accounts. As painful as that experience was, her husband no doubt wishes that a day’s worth of phone calls could persuade an Islamic government to admit its mistake.

REAL ID Proponents Miss Yet Another Chance

Writing in National Review Online, the Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano argues that Democrats are killing the REAL ID Act (oh, and that the administration and Senate Republicans aren’t supporting it either). This apparently is a reason to oppose comprehensive immigration law reform. Notably, Carafano passes up yet another opportunity to tell us how REAL ID would add to our nation’s protections.

In my spoken testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on REAL ID (written testimony here), I characterized the two schools of thought among supporters of REAL ID: the “Just Do It” school and the “Do-Overs” school.

Carafano is from Just Do It. Not engaging on the question whether REAL ID would actually add to our protections, he just implores for its implementation. He never explains exactly how REAL ID would secure us, or why counter-measures wouldn’t lay its alleged benefits to waste. Just Do It doesn’t even attempt making the affirmative case for spending $17 billion undermining our privacy through REAL ID.

The Do-Overs school is epitomized by consultant Janice Kephart, a terror profiteer of sorts, who is cashing in on having been a 9/11 Commission staffer. The Do-Overs school at least argues that REAL ID provides security, but somewhat fantastically.

Among their arguments: If we just had REAL ID back in 2001, maybe the fact that one or two of the 9/11 terrorists had overstayed their visas would have prevented them using a driver’s license at the airport, and they would have had to use a passport, and this would have created suspicion that there was an attack of some kind underway, and the plot would have been broken up.

Evidently, hindsight isn’t always 20/20. Had REAL ID been in place, the 9/11 attackers would have figured out that they should stay current on their visas. Had they not, using Saudi passports at the airport, they would have created no suspicion. Remember - this was before 9/11.

Another chance has passed for REAL ID proponents to make the case for its security benefit.

Presidents Say the Darnedest Things

Just when you think things can’t get any weirder, the White House has announced, per Reuters, that President Bush would like to see a US military presence in Iraq modeled on the one in South Korea. Take it away, Tony Snow:

“The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you’ve had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability.”

Readers may object that the US military has maintaned a robust presence on the Korean peninsula for half a century, and worry that such a position may not be tenable in Iraq. Not to worry, says the White House, since these bases won’t be permanent. Tony?

Snow said U.S. bases in Iraq would not necessarily be permanent because they would be there at the invitation of the host government and “the person who has done the invitation has the right to withdraw the invitation.”

As I recall, “permanence” relates to a thing or process’s enduring nature through time, not the volition of any agents contributing to its existence. Reality and The Onion creep ever closer together.

A Travesty in Tehran

I’ve been out of the office for a bit, but coming back I see that the Government of Iran has now charged Woodrow Wilson Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari with trying to foment a “velvet revolution” in Iran. It is awful news for several reasons.

First, the charges that Esfandiari was plotting to overthrow the Tehran government seem ridiculous. The notion is entirely at odds with the body of Esfandiari’s scholarly work at the Wilson Center, not exactly a hotbed of ideological bomb-throwing. (The Wilson Center chief, Lee Hamilton, tried quietly approaching President Ahmadinejad starting in February, keeping the matter out of the headlines. He has as yet received no response.) It is also worth mentioning that Esfandiari had come under some criticism from neocons and right-wingers in Washington for being too sympathetic to Tehran’s position in the bilateral relationship. The notion that she is a U.S. or Israeli spy strains credulity.

Second, her arrest gives hardliners in Washington grounds to wag their fingers in the faces of those of us (including people like Esfandiari) who favor dialogue and reduced tensions. Reuel Marc Gerecht immediately charged to the pages of the New York Times to argue that the event made clear that his view of the Islamic Republic, “suspicious, cynical, hawkish and religiously oriented,” offered the most plausible explanation. In part as a result of the Esfandiari case, it is an argument with more momentum than this analyst would like.

Third, it greatly jeopardizes U.S.-Iran relations at a time when the Bush administration is seen (grading on a curve, admittedly) as taking small steps away from confrontation with Iran and toward conciliation. Whether Esfandiari’s detention and arrest were an attempt by hardliners in Iran to scuttle rapprochement or not, the events have an effect of putting a damper on pushes from Washington to get to the negotiating table and avert a catastrophe.

But all of the political implications pale by comparison to the fact that a human being–and one who has worked tirelessly to produce outcomes that would benefit the citizens of both Iran and the United States–has been imprisoned unjustly and without even the pretense of due process. One can only hope that the leadership in Iran will come to its senses, whether out of recognition of its error or out of the realization that this sort of confrontation serves no one’s interests: the regime’s, the Iranian people’s, or the world’s.

The American Islamic Congress has set up a “Free Haleh” website here, and for further back story, read the op-ed from Esfandiari’s husband, GMU professor Shaul Bakhash.