Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Invade to Aid?

Should we force our way into Burma to aid cyclone victims? Since the May 3 storm, Burma’s military regime has barred most outsiders from delivering supplies and medical relief. The regime is accepting aid shipments, it appears, but lacks the capacity and maybe the will to efficiently deliver them. With people still dying – estimates so far range roughly from 40,000 to 130,000 – and another storm possibly on the way, several Western nations may push the UN Security Council to evoke the “responsibility to protect,” and authorize the use of military force to deliver the aid. National positions are still solidifying, but it appears that France, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, maybe Canada, and even Pakistan endorse this tact. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, for one, is willing to do “whatever is necessary to help the people who are suffering” in Burma.

Less importantly, Robert Kaplan takes up the call in today’s New York Times, pointing out that US Naval forces now exercising off Thailand could escort in an invasion force. Kaplan doesn’t quite come out and call for the use of force but seems to be leaning that way, as is his wont.

Kaplan does concede that things could get messy. Even if the war were quick, the government could fall, and then the invaders might wind up trying to reorganize the country, which is fraught by ethnic tensions. Kaplan is cautiously optimistic about this endeavor – he thinks the fact that Burma has suffered insurgencies for 60 years is conducive to their settlement rather than indicative of their tenacity. Personally, I think the last thing the United States needs is another occupation to manage. We should wish the Europeans luck if they’re game, but we shouldn’t encourage them.

You could argue that the best way to get the junta to open Burma’s doors is to get legal authority to knock them down. But bluffing may be a bad tactic here. The Burmese military is reputed to be paranoid about invasion. According to the Times, “One of the generals’ most enduring fears is a seaborne invasion by Western powers it refers to as ‘foreign saboteurs.’” Along with the truth of the adage, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you,” this fear indicates that threatening to break in may only cause the Burmese to double their locks. Painful as it is, diplomacy is a better route.

A Cross Between Bill Lumbergh and Robert Strange McNamara

Lumbergh

For a look through the keyhole into the bizarre world of the Rumsfeld-era DOD establishment, take a look at these documents describing the DOD military analysts/”force multipliers” program. Or better yet, listen in to some of Rumsfeld’s Roundtables, with audio available here and here. Over the slurpings and mastications of people like Jed Babbin, now editor of Human Events who was then thought to be a reliable pitcher of “softballs” designed to defend the DOD line of the day, you can hear what your half-a-trillion per year pays for. (Sounds like expensive china their forks and knives are clinking against, at least.)

The topics of conversation range from Rumsfeld likening himself to Churchill, Rumsfeld grousing about obstruction to his ideas on the Hill, Rumsfeld grousing about Moqtada al-Sadr (“he’s not a real cleric!”), and various people (including Babbin) fawning over Rumsfeld. The discussion is peppered with Pentagon-speak, good-old-boys-club outbursts of laughter, and Rumsfeldian aphorisms (“you don’t want to eat your seed corn…”) It’s a little nauseating and a little enlightening. Bill Lumbergh meets Robert McNamara.

Wisconsin Governor Defunds REAL ID

WisPolitics.com reports that Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) plans to take more than $20 million out of the state’s REAL ID account and transfer it into the state’s general fund.

Wisconsin Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R) objects:

When I shepherded the REAL ID bill through Congress 3 years ago, it was in response to one of the key recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, that ‘fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft.’ As we saw in 2001, in the hands of a terrorist, a valid ID accepted for travel in the US can be just as dangerous as a missile or bomb.

Congressman Sensenbrenner is correct to claim responsibility for REAL ID, but less accurate in other parts of his statement. The 9/11 Commission’s ‘key’ recommendation wasn’t key. (Indeed, Congress’ effort to follow the Commission’s recommendation was repealed by REAL ID.)

Nobody - not the 9/11 Commission, not Congressman Sensenbrenner, not Stewart Baker, nor anyone else - can explain the proximity between false ID and terrorist attacks, or how REAL ID cost-effectively secures the country against any threat.

Wisconsin’s governor has issued a mighty well-placed snub to the creator of the “Sensenbrenner tax.”

50 Years On, Some Common Sense

Steve Clemons posts a heartening little video of Bush père’s National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft responding to Steve’s question “What do you think about Cuba?” It’s a rare occasion for foreign policy folks to take heart and ponder whether the forces of reality may not be making progress on some issues, at least:

More common sense on Cuba here.

L-1: The Technology Company in Your Pocket

Inspired by the promotional brochure I recently came across, I’ve taken a look at L-1 Identity Solutions in a new Cato TechKnowledge. Though it has better options, L-1 and its new acquisition, Digimarc ID Systems, seem likely to continue lobbying for the REAL ID Act. My concluding line: “A corporate lobbying operation can do as much harm to liberty as any government agency or official.”

REAL ID Deadline Passes - Zero Compliance

Yesterday - Sunday, May 11, 2008 - was the statutory deadline for state compliance with the REAL ID Act. Not a single state has begun issuing nationally standardized IDs as called for by the law. Nor are they putting driver information into nationally accessible databases.

Matthew Blake of the Washington Independent has a solid recap of the situation.

Cracking Down on Legal Permanent Residents, Pt. II

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a legal permanent resident who was arrested because he shared a common name with a suspected illegal immigrant. It illustrated how the E-Verify program would foul things for legal workers, a prominent subject of this paper.

Here’s another story of legal permanent resident mistreatment. This illustrates how overblown terror fears can cloud officials’ judgments and foul things for … well, everyone.

It seems that a woman in Florida asked her relatives in Monterrey, Mexico to ship her the birth certificates of two relatives who want to apply for their Mexican passports at the consulate in South Miami. At the behest of U.S. Customs and Border Security, the envelope is being held by the United Parcel Service in Louisville, Kentucky until she identifies herself further.

Asked to explain, a CBP spokeswoman in Washington asserted the U.S. government’s right to examine everything entering or exiting the country and said, “Identity documents are of concern to CBP because of their potential use by terrorists.”

This is a terrific example of poorly generated suspicion. In our paper on predictive data mining, Jeff Jonas and I wrote about how suspicion is properly generated in the absence of specific leads: “[T]here must be a pattern that fits terrorism planning … and the actions of investigated persons must fit that pattern while not fitting any common pattern of lawful behavior.”

False identities and forged documents have been used by terrorists, but with little purpose or effect. There just isn’t a proximate relationship between false identification and successful attacks. But obviously some terrorists have believed that they need false or fraudulently-gotten IDs. So there is a weak but plausible relationship between shipping identity documents and terrorism planning.

But that doesn’t end the inquiry. We have to ask a second question: Does shipping identity documents fit any common pattern of lawful behavior? Yes it does, such as the example here: legal permanent residents seeking to apply for home-country passports at consulates in the U.S. There are probably dozens of other reasons for shipping identity documents as well. CBP’s suspicion of this woman and her documents is not well founded.

One is reminded of the cases where photographers have been harassed or arrested for photographing buildings and monuments. Yes, photography of big things is potentially consistent with terrorism planning! Oh, but it’s also consistent with having an interest in architecture, having an interest in photography, taking a vacation, working as a photographer for a newspaper, and so on, and so on …

This woman should get her documents without further delay.