Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

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.

How Clever Is ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’?

Anna Mulrine, US News and World Report, July 25, 2007:

As President Bush continues to stress al Qaeda as the chief threat to Iraq’s stability — a reprised effort to establish a link between al Qaeda in Iraq and the 9/11 attackers — U.S. military forces on the ground in Iraq are fighting a complex war in regions with vast networks of overlapping loyalties — and few foreign fighters. Most members of al Qaeda in Iraq, say commanders on the ground, are local Iraqi outcasts.

“I can count them [foreign fighters] as a total I have engaged, dead or alive, in the 10 months I’ve been here on one hand,” says Col. David Sutherland, the U.S. commander of coalition forces in the hotly contested area of Diyala province, an insurgent stronghold region some 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. There, Sutherland says, those involved in al Qaeda are largely dispossessed locals, not jihadists who have come from elsewhere. “The recruiting program is [that] al Qaeda may send five or eight individuals into a village. They recruit from those who have no power base, no place in society,” including, he adds, former male prostitutes and the mentally ill.

Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, November 5, 2004:

[I]t was easy for us to provoke this administration and to drag it [after us]. It was enough for us to send two Jihad fighters to the farthest east to hoist a rag on which “Al-Qa’ida” was written — that was enough to cause generals to rush off to this place, thereby causing America human and financial and political losses, without it accomplishing anything worthy of mention, apart from giving business to [the generals’] private corporations. Besides, we gained experience in guerilla warfare and in conducting a war of attrition in our fight with the iniquitous, great power, that is, when we conducted a war of attrition against Russia with Jihad fighters for 10 years until they went bankrupt, with Allah’s grace; as a result, they were forced to withdraw in defeat, all praise and thanks to Allah. We are continuing in the same policy — to make America bleed profusely to the point of bankruptcy, Allah willing. And that is not too difficult for Allah.

Randy Barnett and the Iraq War

I’m a great admirer of Randy Barnett’s work. I can think of few libertarians and few legal scholars from whom I’ve learned more. And I agree with Professor Barnett that foreign policy issues are harder to sort out from libertarian first principles than, say, the question of minimum wage laws. But his op-ed on “Libertarians and the Iraq War” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal raises many more questions than it answers. Among them:

Is libertarianism really a political philosophy that tells you what to think about mandatory recycling and restrictions on the interstate shipment of wine, but has virtually nothing of interest to say about when it might be morally permissible to use daisy cutters and thermobaric bombs?

If even the nightwatchman state is, as Barnett has argued, extraordinarily hard to justify, isn’t it harder still to justify a government with a half-a-trillion dollar defense budget, a government that has described its national security strategy as one designed to “make the world not just safer but better”?

Is “self-defense” such a blob of a concept that one can mold it to cover invading a country that had nothing to do with September 11th, no significant connection with Al Qaeda, and no apparent intention to attack us?

Is “electrifying” really the best adjective for the sensation one feels upon discovering that Rudy Giuliani is either (a) ignorant of the most basic historical facts about Al Qaeda, or (b) couldn’t care less so long as he gets appreciative hoots from the cheap seats?

Is there a hypothetical set of facts that would convince Randy Barnett that the Iraq War has turned out to be a very bad idea indeed for life, liberty, and property at home and abroad? If so, how would that set of facts differ from 3,600 American dead, thousands more horribly maimed, Iraqi civilian casualties at least in the tens of thousands, and two million refugees?

But since this subject has been done to death over the past several years, I’ll provide some links rather than take up more space. Here’s one on not getting into Iraq; here’s one on why we should get out; here’s one on a prior attempt by Barnett to justify interventionist foreign policy on libertarian grounds, and here are three on why Wilsonianism and libertarianism don’t mix.

Just one final question, though. Can we please declare a moratorium on the use of phrases like “rooting for success in Iraq” to distinguish libertarian hawks from doves? If, God forbid, single-payer health care ever comes to the United States, I’ll be “rooting” for the success of our new National Health Service, because I’m not the sort of person who wants to see people suffer and die just so I can enjoy a sense of intellectual vindication. But I hope I’ll be forgiven if I also start looking for a quick exit strategy.

Hagel on Iraq, Iran and U.S. Domestic Politics

I had the pleasure of introducing Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) at a Cato-sponsored event earlier today up on Capitol Hill.

The event was promoted as “America’s Next Steps in Iraq,” and the senator shared his insights from the very latest happenings in the Senate, including the pseudo all-night debate, and the failure to achieve cloture on the Levin-Reed amendment. Sen. Hagel also had some choice comments about the Bush White House’s bizarre attitudes with respect to Congress’s role in shaping foreign policy, and he admitted that he wasn’t comfortable with the foreign policy views of the leading GOP presidential candidates. He deftly parried a question pertaining to his own political plans, other than to say that he will make a decision about his future in the next few weeks.

I was most struck, however, by his comments regarding Iran. Hagel stressed the need for engagement with Iran, along the lines of what was put forward by the Iraq Study Group late last year, and generally consistent with what Cato scholars have argued (e.g. here and here).

In a general sense, he pointed out that the problems of the Middle East will not be resolved by pushing Iran to the sidelines. They are a major power in the region. We might wish it otherwise, but that is the reality. And while our interests often diverge, they have converged in the past (as in when Tehran assisted us in deposing their bitter enemy the Taliban in the fall of 2001) and they are likely to converge in the future. For example, one could certainly argue that they are the one country in the region that is at peace with the current composition of the Iraqi government. Diplomacy is about capitalizing on common interests; focusing on areas of potential cooperation while at the same time not losing sight of the important differences. Hagel noted that Ronald Reagan, after all, was not above negotiating with the leaders of the country he deemed “the evil empire.”

Hagel’s thoughtfulness, integrity and courage are needed in the Congress. They would be of equal or greater value on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Chapman on Iraq

Here’s libertarian columnist Steve Chapman on Bush’s Iraq report card, released last week:

On Thursday, the White House released its latest assessment of the war, and it concluded that on eight of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress, there has been “satisfactory progress.” That was enough for a presidential seal of approval. In other words, getting right answers on less than half the exam questions earns a pass. If the standards for No Child Left Behind were that low, we would be descending toward mass illiteracy.

[…]

By now, we should all know that the president is determined to portray Iraq as a success in the making no matter how much it looks like a failure. He said Thursday that the results of the surge so far are “cause for optimism.” But in September 2004, he was “pleased with the progress.” In January 2005, he said, “I’m optimistic about it.” A year later, he said “we are winning.” The president’s mood is always good and always wrong.

It’s worth pointing out that the White House moved the goalposts–yet again–in its assessment metrics. The Dems in Congress thought they were being tricky by asking the president to assess whether the Iraqis were making “satisfactory” progress on the various metrics, hemming him in by forcing him to either a) put his stamp of approval on what they suspected would be obvious non-progress, or b) concede publicly that the political process was not progressing. Here was the White House’s response, from pages 7-8 of the report, clarifying its assessment techniques:

Standard of Measurement: Section 1314(b)(2)(A) states: “The President shall submit an initial report to Congress, not later than July 15, 2007, assessing the status of each of the specific benchmarks established above, and declaring, in his judgment, whether satisfactory progress toward meeting these benchmarks is, or is not, being achieved.” In order to make this judgment (e.g., whether “satisfactory progress … is, or is not, being achieved”), we have carefully examined all the facts and circumstances with respect to each of the 18 benchmarks and asked the following question: As measured from a January 2007 baseline, do we assess that present trend data demonstrates a positive trajectory, which is tracking toward satisfactory accomplishment in the near term? If the answer is yes, we have provided a “Satisfactory” assessment; if the answer is no, the assessment is “Unsatisfactory.” For those benchmarks receiving the latter assessment, we have explained what, if any, strategic adjustments may be required to improve the present trajectory. (All emphasis in original.)

So the White House defines “satisfactory” as demonstrating a “positive trajectory” that is tracking toward satisfactory accomplishment “in the near term,” a date which remains undefined. Thus, the X-axis in this case, time, could be unlabeled; it represents an infinite timeline constrained only by however the White House cares to define “the near term” at any given moment. Any upward trend could be thus deemed “satisfactory.” We got no evaluation from the White House on how fast the Iraqis should be making progress.

The White House decided to grade themselves on a significant curve, and still could only fudge the report card such that they scored a 44%. Chapman is right; if NCLB had standards like this, the future would look even bleaker.