Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

What Price (Restricted) Freedom?

About six months ago, I did an elegant back-of-envelope calculation about the Western Hemisphere Travel Restriction Initiative’s cost in terms of lost freedom and commerce. I came up with an estimate of about half a billion dollars (net present value).

If that estimate was a little too airy, here’s a clearer cost of WHTI: $944 million over three years. That’s the direct cost we’re paying through the State Department for the WHTI rules.

So now we’re at around $1.5 billion. Will $1.5 billion+ in damage to the United States’ people, possessions, infrastructure, and interests be averted thanks to WHTI? No. As a security measure, it’s Swiss cheese.

WHTI does more harm than good. It is a self-injurious misstep - precisely what the strategy of terrorism seeks to cause.

Evil in Qataniyah

More than 250 people were killed in four coordinated truck bombings in northern Iraq, in the villages of Qataniyah and Jazeera. The victims were adherents of the Yazidi faith, which predates Islam in the Middle East. Public radio’s “The World” interviewed Dutch scholar Philip Kreyenbroek, who has written books about Kurds and the Yazidi faith. He explained that Muslims and Christians sometimes denounce Yazidis as Satanists, claiming that they worship evil. But that’s not true, Kreyenbroek said; they don’t worship evil, they just don’t think it exists.

I wonder if they do now.

Who Will Author the Petraeus Report?

The LA Times reports that it will be the Bush White House:

Despite Bush’s repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

The president actually presaged his own views at the recent press conference. One would imagine the president’s views will feature prominently in any report authored by the White House.

THE PRESIDENT: As you know, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will be coming back to report on the findings of the success of the surge. The surge success will not only include military successes and military failures, but also political successes and political failures. And my own perspective is, is that they have made some progress, but not enough.

So the findings on the success of the surge will feature both successes and failures. And, no doubt the president will ask for more time to reach our ultimate objective of Victory.

Getting Drafty?

It’s tough to imagine that the White House was too pleased that the first public declaration of the much-touted “war czar,” Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, was to suggest that we may need to “consider” a draft to fulfill our myriad international commitments.

Fred Kaplan explores the topic more in Slate, and notes “If we want to take on the world’s problems, we may need the draft. Still want to?”

But probably the best piece about the draft I’ve seen recently isn’t even about the draft. Benjamin Friedman, a PhD candidate at MIT, had this piece in Foreign Policy magazine about expanding the Army generally–voluntarily or not. It’s really worth reading the whole thing, but here’s the gist:

[N]obody has stopped to ask an obvious question: more troops for what? Expansion of the U.S. armed services feeds the misplaced hope that military occupations and state-building can defeat terrorism and strengthen the national security of the United States. Wiser leaders would avoid these doomed missions and the troop expansion altogether and focus on what works.

[…]

The good news is that counterterrorism does not demand that Americans master the art of running foreign countries. Modern Sunni terrorism stems principally from an ideology, jihadism, not a political condition. History is rife with ungoverned states. Only one, Afghanistan, created serious danger for Americans. Even there, the problem was more that the government allied with al Qaeda than that there was no government.

True, certain civil wars have attracted terrorists, but it hardly follows that the United States should participate in these conflicts. Doing so costs blood and treasure and merely serves the narrative of jihadism, slowing its defeat by more moderate ideologies. The notion that fighting terrorism requires that we fix foreign disorder leads to an empire far more costly than the problem it is meant to solve. What the United States needs is not more troops, but more restraint in using the ones it already has.

It would be great if the debate shifted from “a draft, or no?” to “more troops or fewer missions?” Then we’d be getting somewhere.

Woolsey Makes Predictions

Former CIA Director James Woolsey has surfaced recently to declare that it’s time to get serious about bombing Iran, and predicting terror attacks on the United States this summer or fall. Woolsey made an appearance on the Newsmax website last week, noting

“I think the threat of a serious attack in the next few months is very real.” A terrorist strike with a dirty bomb or with biological weapons was “a real possibility.”

And last night, Woolsey popped in to chat with Lou Dobbs, where he made the shocking prediction that

I’m afraid within, well, at worst, a few months; at best, a few years; [the Iranians] could have a bomb.

There were some weird commonalities to these appearances, almost as if Woolsey had prepared remarks. (Both interviews, for example, featured the Woolsey riff that “the Persians invented chess. They’re good at it. Their most valuable piece, their ‘queen’ really, is their nuclear weapons program.” Both appearances also feature this: “I agree with John McCain. Force is the worst option except for one. And that is allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”)

While both of these substantive predictions are alarming, they have the benefit of being clear and falsifiable. Like the prediction Woolsey made in 1993 as the Director of Central Intelligence, for instance:

“February 24, 1993: CIA director James Woolsey says that Iran is still 8 to 10 years away from being able to produce its own nuclear weapon, but with assistance from abroad it could become a nuclear power earlier.”

God forbid we’re attacked or the Iranians get a bomb–let alone before the end of the year. What would be helpful, though, was if we had a predictions market so that we could put odds on these sorts of predictions and follow up to determine who knows what he’s talking about.

Follow the Moving Goalpost

Over on the Bloggingheads website, New Republic writer Michael Crowley asks pro-war pundit Eli Lake of the New York Sun to define “victory” in Iraq for us. Here’s Lake:

“avoiding a competitive, confessional genocide.”

Lake concedes mildly that this is a “fairly low standard.” (What would a really low standard be?) In that case, sounds like we won before we got in.

A Tragic Legacy

Bestselling author Glenn Greenwald spoke here at Cato on Tuesday on his latest book, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs.  Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency.  There was a sharp, but civil, exchange with guest commentator, Lee Casey, who has published many articles in defense of Bush administration policies.  C-SPAN was here to tape the event and it will be airing soon.  Of course, all Cato events are archived on the website, so you can watch or listen to this event at your convenience.  For a sneak preview, check out today’s podcast interview with Greenwald.

Greenwald’s blog posts can be found over at Salon.  For related Cato work on the legacy of the Bush administration, read this and this.