Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

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.

Bush, Congress, and Terrorism

Last year President Bush was able to rush the dubious Military Commission Act through the Congress.  This year he was able to rush through another surveillance measure.  In my view, the President’s legislative ‘achievements’ have little to do with persuasion.  It is about the politics of anti-terrorism legislation.  That is, if a member of Congress does not support the proposal under consideration, it means he or she is too ‘soft.’  Even though we’re about six years past 9/11 and even with the track record of Attorney General Gonzales, most legislators put their reservations aside, curl up into the fetal position and say “I am against the terrorists too,” as they vote in favor.  Last year, Senator Specter went so far as to say that he hoped the courts would strike down as unconstitutional the bill he just voted for.  Whatever one thinks about the legislative details of the Patriot Act, the Military Commission Act, or this “Protect America Act of 2007,” all friends of liberty ought to be disturbed by this political climate.  The question is: When will this vicious cycle of anti-terrorism legislation stop?  In a Giuliani administration?  In a Clinton administration?

For more on the new law, go to the Balkinization blog.  Tomorrow, Glenn Greenwald and Lee Casey will be here discussing the legacy of the Bush presidency.  Watch it online.

What Does Hillary Think about Taiwan?

In this video from Foreign Policy magazine, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar Michael Swaine talks about a conversation he had with Hillary Clinton. In it, he said, Hillary had intimated something along the lines of “it is absurd to think that the American people would support a war with China over Taiwan.” Swaine’s response, as I recall, was to say that that may be the view of the American people, but American foreign policy elites certainly would contemplate a war with China over Taiwan.

Now, you may be saying, “Logan, you sure sound sketchy on this. Is this just your recollection? How about a quote?” Well, I’d love to provide a direct quote, and that was my intention when I started this post. However, when I clicked back to the video, the anecdote from Swaine was gone. “Am I losing it?” I thought. Until I scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the page and found this:

Editor’s Note: This video has been edited since its original posting. A small portion was removed at the request of an interviewee.

So here’s a question for Senator Clinton: What did you mean by your comment to Swaine? And to Swaine: What was your interpretation of what Hillary was driving at? That she wouldn’t go to war over Taiwan? That we shouldn’t?

These are very serious questions and they deserve a place in the presidential campaign.