Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

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?

And These Folks Are Our Friends…

Here’s what Anatole Kaletsky, columnist at the London Times, has to say about the task facing Gordon Brown:

The question Mr Brown must now ask himself is whether he can still allow himself to remain publicly allied to a US Administration that is so recklessly belligerent in its diplomatic conduct, so demonstrably incompetent in warfare and so irresponsibly dangerous to the peace of the world.

As the anarchy in Iraq goes from bad to worse and Washington’s only answer is to expand the circle of its aggression, clichés about the special relationship are no longer sufficient. Mr Brown must decide whether to remain a silent but active partner in this madness, whether to retreat quietly like the Italians, Poles and Spaniards or to develop a third and genuinely courageous option. This is to positively forestall further disasters by breaking publicly with the Bush Administration and trying to develop a genuine European alternative to the suicidal American-led policies, not only in Iraq, but also in Israel, Palestine and Iran.

It’s one thing to hear Dominique de Villepin or “Pootie-Poot” talking like this, but when your friends in England have thrown up their hands, it’s doubly bad news. Interestingly, both Brown and the Tory leader David Cameron have moved away from the stance of Tony Blair, with Cameron going so far as to announce that “We should be solid but not slavish in our friendship with America.”

Sometimes the best friends provide not reflexive support but constructive criticism and prudent advice. Hopefully the U.S.-England relationship will move away from the former and toward the latter.

Neocons Refocus on China

It’s easy to forget that in the early days of the Bush presidency, the neocons were lambasting President Bush for visiting a “national humiliation” on the United States in the form of his handling of the EP-3 crash off the coast of China. It actually wasn’t that humiliating, particularly in comparison to the neocons’ own pet project, but it was a stark reflection of their overarching “bring ‘em on” attitude toward dealing with the world.

There have been signs lately that neoconservative energies have once again been focused on encouraging increased politico-military ties between the US and Taiwan and poisoning the US-China relationship. Gary Schmitt today takes to the pages of the Washington Post to ring the alarm bells about China, but more notably, Therese Shaheen, an AEI adjunct fellow, former head of the US non-embassy embassy in Taiwan, and wife of Rumsfeld flack Larry di Rita, writes in the Asian Wall Street Journal wondering why the U.S. is ignoring Taiwan. (sub. req’d)

Lest anyone think that the fact that the Taiwan issue has been off the radar screen lately is a good sign, here is what Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly had to report about back channel discussions between the U.S. and Taiwan, some of which involved Ms. Shaheen:

Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the U.S. Army colonel who was Powell’s chief of staff through two administrations, said in little-noted remarks early last month that “neocons” in the top rungs of the administration quietly encouraged Taiwanese politicians to move toward a declaration of independence from mainland China…

The top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan at the time, Douglas Paal, backs up Wilkerson’s account…

[One] key character in the minidrama was Therese Shaheen, the outspoken chief of the U.S. office of the American Institute in Taiwan, which took on the functions of the American embassy after the formal 1979 diplomatic switch.

Shaheen, who happens to be DiRita’s wife, openly championed Chen and the independence movement, at one point even publicly reinterpreting Bush’s reiteration of the “one China” policy, saying that the administration “had never said it ‘opposed’ Taiwan independence,” according to a 2004 account in the authoritative Far Eastern Economic Review.

“Therese Shaheen … said don’t sweat it, the president didn’t really mean what he said,” Wilkerson said…

Douglas Paal was then head of the American Institute in Taiwan, effectively making him the U.S. ambassador there. He backed up Wilkerson’s account.

“In the early years of the Bush administration,” Paal said by e-mail last week, “there was a problem with mixed signals to Taiwan from Washington. This was most notably captured in the statements and actions of Ms. Therese Shaheen, the former AIT chair, which ultimately led to her departure.”

Now retired, Paal said he, too, “received many first- and second-hand reports of messages conveyed to Taiwan by DoD civilians and perhaps a uniformed officer or two during that time that were out of sync with President Bush’s position.”

If you think the “long, hard slog” in Iraq is swell, wait until there’s a shooting war in the Taiwan Strait.

The Romney Brothers Go to War … for the White House

The Washington Post reports on Five Brothers, the blog written by the sons of Mitt Romney, with heartwarming stories about just how wholesome and wonderful Dad is. Indeed, the whole family’s just so … wholesome: five brothers image

The Post notes that the blog allows visitors to post comments and questions, “though answers are not guaranteed.” Thus,

A query such as, “Being a Mormon, does Romney campaign on Sunday?” gets a reply — yes, Romney tries to make it — while something like, “Have any of the five Romney brothers, all healthy heterosexuals well under 42, considered volunteering for military service in the Global War on Terror?” is ignored.

The Sullivan Brothers they’re not.

 

Return of Public Diplomacy

The Heritage Foundation has released a report by Lisa Curtis titled “America’s Image Abroad: Room for Improvement.” While the title represents a triumph in terms of overcoming denial of the condition, the evasion of the central problem with “America’s image” in the article is truly remarkable.

Curtis cites the 2004 Defense Science Board report on strategic communication. Here’s what it says, in part:

American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies…Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies.

That’s the Defense Science Board, not Noam Chomsky. Curtis then cites a 2006 GAO report. It says, in part:

All of our panelists agreed that U.S. foreign policy is the major root cause behind anti-American sentiments among Muslim populations and that this point needs to be better researched, absorbed, and acted upon by government officials.

Somehow those concepts don’t make their way into the Heritage paper. The fundamental problem here is that you can have the best salesman in the world plugging your product, but if the product itself stinks, nobody’s going to buy. Until we get past the governing assumption that somehow we just aren’t presenting American foreign policy in the right way, we’re bound to continue hurting ourselves.

But of course if you’d been reading Cato at Liberty, say, more than one year ago, you would have seen this all already.

Insight and Insult from National Journal

This week’s National Journal has a story (not available online) that is at once insightful and insulting. In “The Coming Storm,” Shane Harris reviews the difficulties that are anctipated when the Department of Homeland Security transitions to new leadership under a new administration. There are lots of “politicals” at DHS and not a very deep bench of talent.

Here’s the insightful: “Al Qaeda has launched attacks on the West during moments of governmental weakness: at elections and during transitions to new administrations.

The evidence for this is pretty good (if not rock solid), and it jibes with the strategy of terrorism, which is to goad a stronger opponent into self-injurious missteps. Attacking at a time of vulnerability for the political administration is more likely to induce overreaction and error.

Here’s the insulting: “A mass exodus of Homeland Security officials in late 2008 and early 2009 could leave the country vulnerable.”

This must play like the sweetest lullaby to bureaucrats in Washington — “you’re important; you’re really, really important” — but it is a bald insult to the ordinary citizens, police, firefighters, and investigators who would actually detect and prevent any attack or suffer its brunt and deal with the consequences.

The bureaucrats in Washington have very, very little to do with actual protection of the country from terrorist attack or with response to it. They are the mouthpieces who will rush to the cameras and microphones to foment hysteria. They are the FEMA directors who will bungle the response and the officials who will actively undermine restoration of services. They are not our protection, and their departure does not make us vulnerable.

In fact, their presence adds to our vulnerability. The terrorism strategy succeeds by knocking the political regime off balance. Having a large, prominent, federal protective agency gives terrorists a ripe target. If there were no prominent federal apparatus attached closely to the president — no homeland security secretary to embarass, challenge, and frighten — the strategy of terrorism would be less attractive and harder to execute.