Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

What Are We Supposed to Do?

John Quiggin posts that Glenn Reynolds no longer claims to be a libertarian. Quiggin argues that “the idea that a relaxed attitude to sex and drugs and support for economic policies that favour your own social class (note that “shmibertarians” happily square their anti-tax line with support for higher taxes on the poor) can trump the authoritarian implications of militarism, from Gitmo to collusion in government lies, is now pretty much dead.”

To which most of my Cato colleagues — one could probably count on one hand the exceptions and still have enough fingers left to smoke a cigarette — would say “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” The same number of people who would differ with that might give a fig what Glenn Reynolds’ reason is today for why George Bush is a heroic figure. But then, curiously, Quiggin goes on to argue that

The implications go further I think. Given that the Republicans are now definitively the war party (not that the Democrats have yet become the peace party, but that’s another story), it’s hard to see how libertarian Republicans can survive, any more than Dixiecrats survived Nixon’s Southern strategy. The recent decision by RedState to ban Ron Paul supporters is a pretty clear indication of how real Republicans think about this. This has big implications for a thinktank like Cato, which has opposed the war (but very sotto voce — a visitor to their website would be hard pressed to tell that there even was a war) while remaining within the Republican tent.

Emphasis and gnashing teeth mine. To this my (two, now three) colleagues in the foreign policy program at Cato and I would reply, “Have you read any of our work on foreign policy?” I’m sorry there was nothing on our front page yesterday about the war, but to say we’ve been sotto voce and that one would be hard pressed to tell, after looking at our foreign policy work, that “there even was a war” just shows that Mr. Quiggin may need a tutorial on how to use the intertubes.

Here’s our latest call (the first one was issued in 2004, as I recall) for immediately beginning to withdraw, having all U.S. troops out in six months. Here’s my boss Chris Preble assaulting two pro-war liberals in the pages of The National Interest. Humbly, here I am arguing that while getting out is going to be bad, that opponents have ridiculously inflated the costs to better make the case for staying. And factor into that roughly a gazillion conferences, panels, forums, interviews, talk radio and TV appearances, blog posts, talks with Capitol Hill folks, and sundry other think-tankery.

Now, we’re not posting articles every day about the Iraq war, it’s true. To be totally candid, I have very little left to say. It was a disastrous idea to get in, we should have gotten out immediately, we should still get out immediately. Full stop. We have precious little control over either the security environment over the long term or the political environment at all, so pouring money, men, or materiel in is throwing good stuff after bad. I imagine, although I’m not a soothsayer, that things will get noticeably worse for a time after we withdraw — but that this will happen whether we get out this year, next year, or in 10 years.

But in a nutshell, that’s about all I have to say. And I’ve been saying it to anybody who asks. Unfortunately, the New York Times hasn’t asked, and the Washington Post certainly hasn’t asked. For whatever reason, both op-ed pages remain more interested in what the neocons are saying. Probably that’s because they still have the president’s ear, and the papers want to run pieces that relate to policy options he’s actually considering.

Maybe it’s our absence from these venues that’s why Quiggin doesn’t know we’ve been arguing against the war. But to just parachute in to our site’s front page and declare our voices too soft for his liking is a bit much. For better or worse, we’ve been out there, lonely, arguing for withdrawal and against the ideas that spawned the war.

If I had to bet, though, I’d bet money that we’ll still be in Iraq in a meaningful way 10 years from now. Which is why, to my mind, it’s become all the more important that we don’t get the gang back together to play a reunion concert in Iran. Which is why, among other things, we’ve published a paper on what we should do now with Iran, a paper arguing that if a proactive policy fails, it would be better to live with a nuclear Iran than start another war, and a bunch of other stuff on Iran. Here’s a half-day event on Iran that we did that recently was mentioned in an Esquire profile of Flynt Leverett.

In short, I’m not sure what Mr. Quiggin wants us to do. If he has any sharp suggestions for stopping the war, I’m certainly open to them.

Tales from the Clinton Dynasty

Nina Burleigh, who covered the Clinton White House for Time and who once said of President Clinton, ”I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal,” reviews a new biography of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the Washington Post. She writes, “The details are riveting as ever. Who can get enough of POTUS sweating on the phone at 2 a.m. with a love-addled 24-year-old woman, placating her with job promises, knowing his world is about to explode as surely as a Sudanese powdered-milk factory?”

It seems a cavalier way to refer to the bombing of a factory in a poor country, a factory that was not in fact making nerve gas, and a bombing that happened suddenly, just three days after Clinton’s traumatic speech to the nation about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Critics suggested that he wanted to change the subject on the front pages. Bombings aren’t funny, and Burleigh’s jest does nothing to put to rest the cynical, “Wag the Dog” interpretation of Clinton’s action.

Anti-Immigrant Opinions are Weakly Held

I didn’t watch Tuesday’s Democratic debate – watching politicians from either party outbid each other on faux outrage and how much of my money they would spend is too annoying – but I did get the after-action report on the Newshour. And it seems Senator Clinton was drawn into the vortex New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) created with his recent flip-flop on driver licensing and public safety.

His original decision to de-link driver licensing and immigration status for public safety reasons was right, but it was pounced on and demagogued by anti-immigrant groups. Spitzer backed down, and pledged his state to implement the REAL ID Act, pleasing nobody. (When the costs of this national ID law to New York are discovered, he’ll flip-flop again, earning quiet, broad-based appreciation.)

Watching the excerpts of the candidates bumbling around this issue, it appeared to me that they knew giving licenses to illegal immigrants is the right and practical thing to do, but also that they would get demagogued if they said so.

Well, here’s my advice: Go ahead and say it.

Having watched this issue, and having heard from lots of angry people, I know that anti-immigrant views are a classic weakly held opinion. Angry as people are about the rule of law and “coming to this country the right way,” that anger melts when they learn more. Stuff like this:

“We haven’t permitted anywhere near enough legal immigration for decades. You can sit back and talk about legal channels, but the law has only allowed a smidgen of workers into the country compared to our huge demand. Getting people through legal channels at the INS has been hell.

“America, you’re going to have to get over what amounts to paperwork violations by otherwise law-abiding, honest, hard-working people. And that’s what we’re talking about - 98% honest, hard-working people who want to follow the same path our forefathers did, and who would be a credit to this country if we made it legal for them to come. Our current immigration policies are a greater threat to the rule of law than any of the people crossing the border to come here and work.”

This kind of argumentation will be met with vicious demagoguery, which will weaken, and weaken, and fade and fade and fade. The people I hear from – and I regularly do because of the educating I’ve been doing nationwide on the REAL ID Act – immediately soften when I pull them from their echo chambers. The “rule of law” hand is a low pair compared to this full house: “honest, hard-worker from impoverished circumstances, denied legal channels other than a narrow chance of navigating an incompetent bureaucracy.”

There’s one Democratic candidate who is well suited to make this kind of argument. It’s a way to draw attention, look principled, do the right thing, and vanquish a loud but weak pressure group. New Mexico’s uninsured driver rate dropped by two-thirds – from 33% to 11% – when that state delinked immigration status and driving in 2003.

Meltdown at the State Department

I had been wondering how long until members of the foreign service started voicing their concerns about possibly being drafted to go to Iraq. Answer: Less than a week.

In a contentious hour-long “town hall meeting” called to explain the step, these workers peppered the official who signed the order with often hostile complaints about the largest diplomatic call-up since Vietnam….

[…]

Employees directly confronted Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas, who approved the move to so-called “directed assignments” late last Friday to make up for a lack of volunteers to go to Iraq.

“It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment,” [Senior FSO Jack] Crotty said. “I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”

“You know that at any other (country) in the world, the embassy would be closed at this point,” Crotty said to loud and sustained applause from the about 300 diplomats who attended the meeting in a large State Department auditorium.

Sounds like they’d have a hell of a time trying to develop some kind of standing nation-building office at State.

More Willful Obtuseness from Michael Gerson

From this week’s Newsweek column, ostensibly about the “lessons of Iraq” and his new book:

Another false lesson is found in the assertion that the Iraq War has actually been creating the terrorist threat we seek to fight—stirring up a hornet’s nest of understandable grievances in the Arab world. In fact, radical Islamist networks have never lacked for historical provocations. When Osama bin Laden proclaimed his 1998 fatwa justifying the murder of Americans, he used the excuse of President Clinton’s sanctions and air strikes against Iraq—what he called a policy of “continuing aggression against the Iraqi people.” He talked of the “devastation” caused by “horrible massacres” of the 1991 Gulf War. All this took place before the invasion of Iraq was even contemplated—and it was enough to result in the murder of nearly three thousand Americans on 9/11. Islamic radicals will seize on any excuse in their campaign of recruitment and incitement. If it were not Iraq, it would be the latest “crime” of Israel, or the situation in East Timor, or cartoons in a Dutch newspaper, or statements by the pope. The well of outrage is bottomless. The list of demands—from the overthrow of moderate Arab governments to the reconquest of Spain—is endless.

I find it difficult to believe that even Gerson finds this reasoning persuasive. If it were, why protest about how this isn’t a war on Islam? Why go to great pains to describe the common ground between people in Islamic countries and ourselves? Why cast anything we’re doing as a “war of ideas?” If Gerson’s argument were persuasive, it wouldn’t make a lick of difference whether the president held a press conference and made obscene gestures at Muslims making the hajj, and tipped his hand about the grand conspiracy to keep Islam weak.

After all, the list of demands is endless. Right? Right?

Spitzer’s Speedy Flip-Flop

Wow. A brief 36 days is all it took New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) to abandon his stance on driver licensing and New Yorkers’ public safety. As I wrote at the time, Spitzer got it right when he announced that he would de-link driver licensing and immigration status because of the safety benefits to the state’s drivers.

But shrill attacks from anti-immigrant groups came fast and furious. A small group of 9/11 victims’ family members, grief curdled into hatred of immigrants, regularly bandy fear and their loved ones’ memories for political purposes. And they did so with relish when Spitzer announced his plan. It’s crassness that one would expect a New York pol to stare down.

But Spitzer, unable to withstand the heat, seems to have gone scrambling for an out. The New York Times reports that Spitzer will team up with DHS officials today to announce New York’s planned compliance with the REAL ID Act. It requires proof of legal presence to get a compliant license.

This a flat out reversal of the position Spitzer took just over a month ago. The justification he gave - correctly - for de-linking licensing and immigration status was New Yorkers’ safety. With driver licensing treated as an immigration enforcement tool, illegals don’t get licensed, don’t learn the rules of the road or basic driving skills, and don’t carry insurance. When they cause accidents, they flee the scene, leaving injured and dead New Yorkers and causing higher auto insurance rates. As I noted a few weeks ago during his brief flirtation with principle and fortitude, “Spitzer is not willing to shed the blood of New Yorkers to ‘take a stand’ on immigration, which is not a problem state governments are supposed to solve anyway.”

He may try, but Spitzer can’t honestly claim that he’s been consistent. New York’s compliance with REAL ID, were it actually to materialize, would put REAL ID compliant cards in the hands of citizens and make New York driver data available to the federal government. Thus, possession of a non-REAL-ID-compliant license would be tantamount to a confession of illegal status. Thanks to Spitzer’s flip-flop, illegal aliens will now recognize that getting a license merely provides federal authorities the address at which to later round them up for deportation.

Needless to say, they’re not going to get licenses, and the safety benefits Spitzer correctly sought for New Yorkers just 36 days ago will not materialize. The result is what’s known in regulatory circles as risk transfer. There will be more injuries on New York’s roadways so that the U.S. can have a national ID system. Alas, the security benefits of that system, as I showed in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, are negative.

I was impressed and surprised by how right Spitzer had gotten it when he de-linked driver licensing and immigration status in New York. I’m once again impressed, but in a much different way, by how quickly he went scampering away from this good policy. The reactionary critics of his policy obviously really got to him.

A Layered Conundrum in Iraq

There’s been much discussion of the relationship between security and political progress in Iraq. Until about a year ago, the thinking was largely that advances on the political front would iron out wrinkles in the security environment. Since the fighting was fueled by competition over power and resources (the basis of politics), once the political problems were resolved, there would be fewer flashpoints to fight over. Then, with the advent of Surgeism, the thinking became that once the security environment was stabilized, political leaders would take advantage of the relative calm to make peace among themselves. The thinking was that it was hard for to make deals with other leaders whose followers were busy killing your followers.

These are oversimplifications, and there is some merit in both arguments. The relationship goes both ways. But in two comments, yesterday and today, you can see how the question of our staying indefinitely affects the security environment and the political environment in different ways. Here’s Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch describing the prerequisite for sustaining the tamping down of violence, particularly in Sunni areas:

“They have to be convinced that we’re not leaving. That’s the issue. If they were to think we’re leaving we’d have also [sic] sorts of trouble,” Lynch said, clambering over a makeshift earthen bridge across the canal.

There’s a perfectly intelligible logic here. If people think you’re leaving, they’re going to start hedging their bets, and making deals with centers of power outside the national government that have large enough constituencies to influence a post-America Iraq. So from a tactical level–trying to control violence in a particular region, say–the point is to convince the Iraqis that we’re not going anywhere.

But then you take that to the strategic level: forcing political factions who don’t like each other into cooperating and compromising on sharing power at the national level. Tom Friedman describes the situation this way:

As one U.S. official in Baghdad pointed out to me last week, “at no point” since the testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker “have you had the four key Iraqi leaders in the same country at the same time.” They saw the hearings as buying them more time, and so they took it.

“We have created a real case of moral hazard in Iraq,” said Marc Lynch, a Middle East specialist at George Washington University. “Because all the key players think the Americans are going to bail them out, they have no incentive to make any real concessions to one another.”

So if we’re not staying forever, we won’t get cooperation in leveraging local and regional forces into deals like the “Anbar Awakening” and they’ll start hedging their bets. If we are staying forever, the Iraqi national leadership says “What’s the hurry? Let’s see what’s happening in Tehran…” Something that’s helpful at one level is destructive at the other. And the two levels are closely interrelated.