Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Secrecy is Unsafe

The latest issue of Foreign Policy includes a commendable piece by Jacob Shapiro, “Strictly Confidential” (summarized; full article behind paywall).

Shapiro makes an intelligent case that opening government improves security. “When government officials curb access to information,” he writes, “they cut themselves off from the brain power and analytical skills of a huge community of scientists, engineers, and security experts who are often far better at identifying threats, weaknesses, and solutions than any government agency.” Shapiro provides a couple of examples where openness has improved security systems.

“Putting information behind lock and key does not make targets safe from attack. It leaves security analysts unable to find solutions to other weaknesses in the future. It also leaves government and industry less motivated to find safeguards of their own.”

Good stuff.

You Are Entitled to Your Own Opinions…

..but not your own facts, as the saying goes. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute argued earlier this week in USA Today that the United States should pump more money into Iran in an effort to bring about the overthrow of the Iranian regime. According to Rubin, “those denouncing U.S. funding are not the imprisoned student and labor activists, but reformists loyal to theocracy, and gullible pundits.” Presumably that’s me in the role of gullible pundit, but let’s have a look at these “reformists loyal to theocracy” who constitute the only Iranian opponents to U.S. attempts to bring about regime change in Iran.

This from an article by Negar Azimi in the New York Times Magazine:

It is particularly telling, perhaps, that some of the most outspoken critics of the Iranian government have been among the most outspoken critics of the democracy fund. Activists from the journalist Emadeddin Baghi to the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi to the former political prisoner Akbar Ganji have all said thanks but no thanks. Ganji has refused three personal invitations to meet with Bush. A member of a U.S.-based institution that has received State Department financing and who works with Iranians told me that the Iranians had expressly asked not to have their cause mentioned in presidential speeches. ”The propaganda campaign surrounding the launch of this campaign has meant that many of our partners are simply too afraid to work with us anymore,” she told me on condition of anonymity. ”It’s had a chilling effect.”

This from an article in Time by Scott Macleod:

Several mainstream Iranian reformers tell TIME that from the start they transmitted their opposition to the democracy program indirectly but clearly to American officials via the back-channel talks. Besides warning that it could trigger a crackdown, they argued that Iran’s reform movement had strong popular support and did not want or require foreign help. Outside backing has been an unusually sensitive issue in Iranian politics ever since a CIA-backed coup d’etat in 1953 installed the former Shah. Instead, many of them argue, Iran’s democracy movement would be better served if the U.S. lifted sanctions and improved relations with Tehran, which would enable trade and cultural links to be expanded. “There is no serious individual inside or outside Iran who is going to take this money,” an Iranian reformer told TIME. “Anyone having the slightest knowledge of the domestic political situation in Iran would never have created this program.”

Note how Rubin has moved the goalpost such that genuinely Iranian voices of political reform with constituencies inside Iran have now been written out of the acceptable-to-the-US opposition to the Iranian government. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel laureate who has most recently been working to spring imprisoned Wilson Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari from Evin prison, has become “loyal to theocracy.” And the only folks left are Michael Rubin-approved dissidents who want the U.S. government to become more deeply enmeshed with the opposition to the regime, with only one plausible outcome: poisoning the domestic political legitimacy of the opposition and getting the U.S. government more invested in regime change.

Maybe we need an Iranian Ahmed Chalabi.

Stealing Property

A headline in the Saturday Washington Post reads:

Russia’s Gazprom Purchases Siberian Gas Field From BP

The story begins:

The state-controlled energy giant Gazprom on Friday bought a vast natural gas field in Siberia from a unit of British-based petroleum conglomerate BP, continuing the Kremlin’s policy of shifting control of the country’s major energy projects from foreign to state hands.

The last part of the sentence begins to hint at what really happened, a truth that is concealed by words like “purchases” and “bought.” In fact, the Russian government and its giant energy firm Gazprom forced BP to sell, as it has forced other companies to turn valuable properties over to Gazprom and the oil company Rosneft, often through the use of trumped-up tax or regulatory issues.

Journalists should be straightforward about such things. Gazprom did not “purchase” a gas field from BP. This was no “willing buyer, willing seller” transaction. It would more accurately be described as a seizure, a confiscation, or at best a forced sale.

The Wall Street Journal used similar language. The New York Times, to its credit, was more honest and clear: Its headline read, “Moscow Presses BP to Sell a Big Gas Field to Gazprom,” and the story began, “Under pressure from the Russian government, BP agreed on Friday to sell one of the world’s largest natural gas fields to Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly, in the latest apparently forced sale that benefited a Russian state company.”

Footnote: Today is the second anniversary of the Kelo decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could take private property for the benefit of other private owners such as developers. In a stinging dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:

The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory. …Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.

The United States is not Russia. But O’Connor’s warning that “the beneficiaries [of forced takings] are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms” is certainly borne out — not just by a new Institute for Justice report on eminent domain in action — but by the actions in Putin’s Russia.

The Islamofascists’ Reign of Terror

The New York Times reports on American troops’ efforts to push Al Qaeda insurgents out of Baqaba, Iraq, and liberate residents from their strict rule:

The insurgents have imposed a strict Islamic creed, and some have even banned smoking, one resident told Capt. Jeff Noll, the commander of Company B of the First Battalion, 23rd Infantry, during his patrol through the neighborhood.

Banning smoking? President Bush is right — if we don’t stop them in Iraq, we’ll have to fight them in Manhattan, and Montgomery County, and San Francisco….

Failed States and Nutty Claims

Wow, this issue of Foreign Policy is the gift that keeps on giving. The cover of the magazine features the 2007 version of its “failed states index” and the subheading blares “Why the world’s weakest countries pose the greatest danger.” Umm, really? The greatest danger to whom? Chris Preble and I have dealt with these sorts of claims here, but I think we can all take some relief in the fact that we have successfully managed the world’s greatest dangers since the index emerged in 2005. Back then, (sub. req’d) the greatest dangers were posed by Côte d’Ivoire, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Chad, Yemen, Liberia, and Haiti, representing the “most failed states” from 1-10. Yes, the implicit claim is that in 2005 the greatest danger was posed by Ivory Coast. Thankfully, though, Ivory Coast is now only the sixth greatest danger to us.

Pardon the snark, but this is genuinely sloppy stuff.

Now Where Have I Seen *That* Before?

Kurt Campbell and Shawn Brimley have a “Memorandum” piece in the new issue of Foreign Policy magazine outlining a 1967 memo from the US intelligence community about the “Implications of an Unfavorable Outcome in Vietnam” and the lessons it can draw for the current conflict in Iraq.

Of course, a discussion of this very same topic appeared several months ago, without glossy pages and fancy fonts, in the pages of the Newark Star-Ledger.

Washington is a cruel place.

Seen and Not Seen

The Washington Post Magazine had a detailed profile of the daily activities of freshman House member Joe Courtney (D-CT).

We learn that he spends much of his time raising campaign money, even though the next election is still 17 months ago.

More interesting is how a single business in his district, Electric Boat Corp., seems to dominate his time on Capitol Hill. He meets with the company, he lobbies Democratic Party bosses on the firm’s behalf, and he makes sure to ask questions in congressional hearings related to the company.

Electric Boat makes vessels for the Pentagon and employs 6,000 in Courtney’s Connecticut district. That’s a lot of people, but there at 680,000 people in Courtney’s congressional district — what about all their interests? Does Courtney put any effort, for example, into keeping taxes low for the benefit of all the other thousands of businesses in his district?

The article reminded me of Frederic Bastiat’s “What is Seen and What Is Not Seen.” Unfortunately, most politicians focus only on the immediate, most simple, and most visible effects of government action, and don’t have the imagination or capacity for abstract thought to recognize the unseen but much larger effects of big government.

How do we fix this bias?