Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Solutions Day!

Newt Gingrich has always been an irrepressible, gushing font of ideas and information: ”My name, Newt, actually comes from the Danish Knut, and there’s been a major crisis in Germany over a polar bear named Knut,” he told the crowd that had come to hear him debate global warming with Sen. John Kerry back in April. 

But now he’s seeking your input. In just two weeks, Gingrich’s group American Solutions will be hosting an online extravaganza called “Solutions Day.” You may not be interested in Solutions Day, but Solutions Day is interested in you:

On September 27, the anniversary of the Contract with America, we will have the first annual “Solutions Day.”

Solutions Day will be a day of citizen activism. It will be devoted entirely to positive solutions based on positive principles to enable us to transform government and public policy so America can win the future.

Solutions Day will feature an online workshop available to every American.

Since September 27 is a Thursday, we will repeat Solutions Day via the Internet on Saturday, September 29, so people who have to work can be involved.

Which is a smart move, lest we end up with a bunch of solutions heavily skewed toward retirees, stay-at-home moms, the unemployed, and day traders. After all, real change requires input from a broader cross-section of Americans. Real change requires the involvement of informed citizens. Real change requires…, er, real change. That’s the slogan of Gingrich’s effort: “Real Change Requires Real Change.” And it has the virtue of being true both backwards and forwards.

Solutions Day will also feature a series of workshops, like “The End of Government… As We Know It” and “Space — The Race to the Endless Frontier.” And if you miss it both times around, don’t fret: ”All events will be made available on-demand on the Internet.”

Newt being Newt though, he’s full of Big Ideas even now, two weeks before Solutions Day. He unveiled some of those ideas Monday in a war-on-terror speech at AEI.  

This isn’t your typical right-wing stemwinder. It’s classic Gingrich, chock full of chunky idea-nuggets, like peanut brittle for the mind. Here’s Gingrich framing the debate fairly:

America is currently trapped between those who advocate “staying the course” and those who would legislate surrender and defeat for America.

Here he is making clear that the debate should proceed in sober, rational terms, without hysterical fearmongering:

 We need a calm, reasoned dialogue about the genuine possibility of a second Holocaust….   

and here he is taking a long view of the threats we face: 

The Iranian dictatorship had been at war with America for 22 years before 9/11.

That last point may confuse you. For instance, the first thing I thought was: that must be embarassing for them. At war with us for over two decades and we barely notice? Then I thought, wait: if Iran’s at war with us, then why did we just topple their major regional enemy and clear the way for a country dominated by Iran’s close allies? But that just shows I’m not a foreign policy expert, let alone a genius. These things are complicated. Real change requires real change. 

And this is a speech about real change. As in those alternate-history novels he’s famous for, Gingrich presents a bold vision of “An Alternative History of the War since 9/11.” The former Speaker’s biggest ideas for ending terrorism center around continuously warning Americans that we may all be killed; among other things, he’d have us run ”highly publicized simulations of two nuclear and one biological attack each year.” 

Another key idea for Gingrich is that the U.S. should think seriously about launching wars with up to three additional countries. Risky? Sure. But as Newt puts it, “we must adopt a spirit that it is better to make mistakes of commission and then fix them than it is to avoid achievement by avoiding failure.” Just imagine how different things could have been if the Bush administration had been animated by that spirit these last six years.     

Bush and Iraq: The Story vs. the Headlines, Part II

President Bush generally got the headlines that he wanted from his speech to the nation last evening:

Alas, the country didn’t get the policy it wanted — and needed — as many of the stories behind the headlines showed. (Kudos especially to the Post’s Glenn Kessler for his “Fact Check.”)

A majority of Americans favor a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, and 55 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, would support legislation mandating that all combat forces be removed from Iraq by next spring. Given that Congress lacks the votes to force the president’s hand, it is highly unlikely that the public will get its way.

The support for a withdrawal timeline — any withdrawal timeline — is understandable. Americans want to know “how this ends.” In a FoxNews/Opinion Dynamics poll taken after Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had completed some of their congressional testimony, only 24 percent of respondents believed that the U.S. should “pull out [only] after Iraqi troops are capable of taking over.” In other words, more than 3 in 4 rejected the conditions-based withdrawal strategy that the president has advanced since the start of the war. (Remember “We’ll stay as long as necessary, and not a day longer” and “As they stand up, we’ll stand down”?) The president’s speech last night reaffirmed that we would only leave when the Iraqis were capable, a process that most experts believe will take many years.

Six in 10 Americans believe that the costs we have already paid far exceed the benefits that we will receive from invading and occupying Iraq. And they now know, as a result of the Petraeus/Crocker testimony from earlier this week, and from the president’s speech last night, that the costs of this war will continue to mount, at least through the end of the Bush presidency.

Petraeus and Iraq: The Story vs. the Headlines

Headline writers at several major newspapers have chosen to highlight Gen. David Petraeus’s proposal to reduce the number of troops in Iraq by 30,000, essentially returning the presence there to pre-surge levels.

  • “Petraeus Backs Partial Pullout,” proclaims the print edition of today’s Washington Post.
  • “Petraeus Eyes Troop Reductions,” blares the Washington Times.
  • USA Today’s lead story appeared under the slightly more qualified headline “General Plans Cut in Troops as Tension Rises over Timing.”

But these headlines obscure the true story behind Petraeus’ and Amb. Ryan Crocker’s testimony yesterday and today. Greg Jaffe and Neil King, Jr., at the Wall Street Journal do a better job of fixing on the essential unanswered question: How quickly will the pullout proceed beyond July?

Members of Congress have tried to get at this issue, but Petraeus and Crocker have – so far – deftly parried these questions. Not knowing the answer, we are forced to rely on a speculative but, I think, ultimately accurate assessment by Karen DeYoung and Tom Ricks on the front page of the Post:

“If Gen. David H. Petraeus has his way, tens of thousands of U.S troops will be in Iraq for years to come.”

Will he get his way? It will be up to the next president to decide. George Bush has already made up his mind: for as long as he is in the Oval Office, we’re staying.

You Know It’s a Dark Hour When…

…you’re having wistful fantasies about staff meetings. In all seriousness, though, there’s great news: once imprisoned by Iran, Wilson Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari is back at home in Washington–and back at work at the Wilson Center. But as she says, during her stint in Evin prison, she was indeed dreaming about being back at Wilson Center staff meetings:

I had blocked, you know, thinking about my husband, my daughter, my grandchildren, the house; I blocked all that out because that would have led me to despair. So, for eight months, or for the four months in prison, I didn’t think about it.

I dreamt of my first staff meeting at the Wilson Center. (Laughter.) I seriously did. I really did that, I said, OK, I would [not] tell anybody I’m in town … I would open the door Monday morning at 9:00, walk in to the staff meeting and everybody [would say], “She’s here!”

Full transcript of Esfandiari presser here. (.pdf)

“Why Are You Trying to Give Away the President’s Power?”

Jack “I’m Not a Civil Libertarian” Goldsmith has more on the thirst for power inside the executive branch in excerpts from the book in Slate today.

[Counsel to Vice President Cheney David] Addington once expressed his general attitude toward accommodation when he said, “We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop.” He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.

More here.

Cato Brief in NYT

One of the big cases the Supreme Court will be hearing in its upcoming term concerns the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act.  That law sought to revoke the jurisdiction of federal courts over habeas corpus lawsuits arising out of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility.  The case will not be heard by the High Court until November, but the New York Times had an article about it over the weekend quoting from the Cato brief (pdf) that I prepared.  I argue that Congress overstepped its authority by trying to withdraw the jurisdiction of federal courts over habeas corpus claims. 

More background about the case in this NYT article (reg r’d).  For more about the constitutional record of the Bush administration, read this.

Why Is the President Amplifying Enemy Propaganda?

The president’s speech yesterday was another surreal offering, but this time we got two shocking endorsements and amplifications of essential enemy propaganda points. According to George W. Bush, the reason we are in Iraq is ― in part ― to control its oil. Also, according to the president, there is a real danger that Osama bin Laden and his cohort could establish a caliphate over the swath of territory from Spain to the Phillipines. Here he is on oil, and what would happen to it if we left:

Extremists would control a key part of the world’s energy supply, could blackmail and sabotage the global economy. They could use billions of dollars of oil revenues to buy weapons and pursue their deadly ambitions.

Out of the 20-30,000 people we have in custody in Iraq, 130 of them are non-Iraqi. Can anyone imagine the gang of idiots currently slaughtering innocent Iraqis with car bombs trying to run the oil infrastructure of a country the size of Iraq? Monitoring extraction, handling the logistics of getting oil through southern Iraq out to port and then dealing with multinationals and the sophisticated financial instruments used to remunerate oil producers? Could anything be more ridiculous?

Then we went on to the other nightmare scenario: American defeat in Iraq will birth a caliphate!

These extremists hope to impose that same dark vision across the Middle East by raising up a violent and radical caliphate that spans from Spain to Indonesia… And that is why they plot to attack us again. And that is why we must stay in the fight until the fight is won.

Who is writing this stuff? Chris Preble and I have written why al Qaeda has no hope of taking over Iraq in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal, but their reestablishing the caliphate is an even more ridiculous notion. But don’t take it from me:

“I can see the whole Arab world falling into sectarian violence, so I can’t see this caliphate happening,” said London-based anthropologist Madawi al-Rasheed, referring to Sunni-Shi’ite tensions in Iraq and Lebanon.

“This is just part of (al Qaeda’s) war of slogans.”

[…]

Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi said the region had already failed to unite under the banner of Arab nationalism after World War Two.

“It didn’t work with Arab nationalism, and with pan-Islamism it is working less,” he said. “The likelihood that states would give up their sovereignty is now more remote than ever before.”

[…]

“For most of the mainstream and less mainstream political parties of political Islam, the borders of the contemporary state have been accepted,” said As’ad AbuKhalil from Lebanon, who teaches politics at the U.S. California State University.

“There is absolutely no credence to the notion that the quest for the caliphate is the overriding goal of the Islamist movement in the region.”

It’s disgraceful that the president is aping enemy propaganda, which no doubt gives people in the Islamic world the impression that we believe that al Qaeda is strong ― strong enough to have a shot at the caliphate that it gets mentioned in a presidential speech. The very idea is ridiculous. Al Qaeda is weak and should be destroyed, not revered as a world power.