Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

New at Cato Unbound: What to Do about Iran?

In this month’s Cato Unbound, “What to Do about Iran,” Reuel Marc Gerecht, resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute and author of The Islamic Paradox, argues in a provocative new essay that diplomatic attempts keep Iran’s clerical regime from getting nuclear weapons will fail, so the U.S. must choose between preemptively bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities or allowing the mullahs to have the bomb. Arguing that the latter option “would empower its worst enemies in Tehran and spiritually invigorate all Muslim radicals who live on American weakness,” Gerecht advises the former: a policy of preemptively bombing Iran’s nuclear sites.

This week and next, a panel of defense strategy and foreign policy experts will challenge Gerecht’s argument, starting with Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president of defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, and followed by Edward N. Luttwak, senior fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of widely discussed recent article in Commentary, “Three Reasons Not to Bomb Iran — Yet,” and Anthony H. Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of Iran’s Developing Military Capabilities.

Is Gerecht right? Are all non-military approaches to the Iranian nuke bound to fail? If so, should the U.S. resign itself to a nuclear Iran and rely on deterrence as it did during the Cold War? Or is deterrence ill-suited to a regime run by religious extremists?

Stay tuned for incisive commentary and criticism by some of America’s leading defense policy thinkers.

Remembering Japanese Internment

Over the 4th of July, I headed out West to a family reunion in a very remote part of the U.S.: Minidoka County, Idaho–an apocalyptically stark stretch of mile-high lava rock and sagebrush in the heart of the Snake River basin, unfolding like a moonscape from the base of the Albion mountain range at the Utah-Idaho border.

I’d grown up on my dad’s stories about his Idaho childhood. One story that intrigued was his very early memory of working my grandfather’s fields alongside Italian and German World War II POWs, who were held in a prisoner-of-war camp near Twin Falls, Idaho. POWs were used to remedy a shortage of farmhands in agricultural areas throughout the U.S.

Not long ago, I asked my dad if any World War II Japanese internment camps had operated in the Minidoka area. He wasn’t aware of any. Imagine my surprise then when I learned of this memorial service, held today, for the Minidoka internment camp–one of the larger Japanese internment camps operated during World War II.

Its no surprise my dad–otherwise an encyclopedia of information about southern Idaho–was caught short on this question. Virtually nothing of substance remains to memorialize the camp today, although a more substantial memorial is planned.

Minidoka residents–fond of calling their region the “Magic Valley“–shouldn’t get off so easily. Just as the government loaned Axis POWs to some local farmers, it loaned Japanese-Americans to others. Some 2,300 “Nisei” camp residents worked area sugar beet farms on “agricultural leave” from the Minidoka camp–hard, backbreaking work at a time when local farming was undertaken without modern tractors or modern irrigtation technology. To be sure, the camp residents weren’t technically forced to work, as this bit of outrageously upbeat 1943 government propaganda notes–but the Japanese internees had little other choice of employment.

This shameful episode–part of the darker history of communities throughout the West and a telling example of the worst that can happen when courts abdicate oversight of the political branches during wartime–deserves substantial local recognition in Minidoka and other host communities. For more about the location of internment camps, see here and here.

Madness!!!

President Bush has endorsed adding the former Soviet province of Georgia to NATO, a measure that seems designed to provoke the Russians without adding any net benefits to the alliance.  Georgia would bring more liabilities than assets to NATO because it is inherently indefensible.  It is nearly surrounded by Russia; its only border with NATO is a short border with eastern Turkey.  Georgia has no significant military forces of its own, and Russian troops already occupy two enclaves there.

Article V of the NATO Charter obligates all NATO governments to respond to an attack on any NATO country, increasing the probability that a minor confrontation between Georgia and Russia would lead to a larger war between NATO and Russia.  NATO should not be broadened to include countries on the Russian border unless those countries have substantial military forces and defensible borders.  For a similar reason, the earlier addition of the three Baltic countries to NATO was a mistake.  Peaceful and productive relations with Russia are more important than any value these new members bring to the United States and NATO.

President Bush was gracious in hosting the president of Georgia this week and was correct to support the major economic reforms that Georgia has initiated.  But he was wrong in endorsing NATO membership as a sort of after-dinner mint.  There are much larger issues at stake for the U.S., Europe, and Russia.  One wonders what Bush now expects to accomplish with Putin at the G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg next week.  

Technology - er, Paying Attention - Will Save Us All

With masterful dry wit, ars technica skewers a new Defense Department research project.  The idea?  Using technology to find information.

The Air Force’s Office of Scientific Research has commenced a study called “Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information.”  In translation, that means, “We’re going to pay attention to blogs.”  Price tag: $450,000. 

Talk about government waste. I would have sold them that idea for $399,000.

Pardon Me, Congressman, Is That a Log in Your Eye?*

China hawk extraordinaire Rep. Steve Chabot had a piece in the DC Examiner last week calling for a “fresh review of America’s interests in Asia.” For one thing, Rep. Chabot loudly protested China’s “enormous and ever-growing militarization program.”

For advocates of Taiwan independence like Rep. Chabot, the PRC’s military modernization program is no doubt worrisome. But the United States is in no position to protest any other country’s allegedly “enormous and ever-growing militarization program.”

US defense spending is more than $400 billion annually, not including the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US has the largest blue-water navy in the world, with 12 aircraft carriers. We can project naval (or other) power anywhere in the world in a matter of days.

Chinese defense spending is hard to pin down, precisely, but experts generally center around a median estimate in the neighborhood of $50 billion. China has 0 aircraft carriers, and thus is unable even to protect its precarious supply of energy that comes from the Middle East through the Strait of Malacca.

China looks at things pretty simply: The United States could militarily impose its will on issues that China perceives as life-or-death concerns: the future of Taiwan, the balance of power in East Asia, and the security of China’s supplies of energy. It would be like if China were the dominant military power in the Western hemisphere, and then started squawking about America’s attempt to build up its own military.

For Rep. Chabot (or Secretary Rumsfeld) to think that the United States has any position to protest anybody’s “enormous and ever-growing militarization program” is a bit ridiculous. At a time when we’re engaged in two wars halfway ‘round the world, spending nearly as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, it’s a shaky line of reasoning that says that China’s attempt to bring a 1950s-era military into the 21st century is anything that we are in any position to protest.

As Martin Wolf noted in the FT last September (sub. req’d),

the Chinese can justifiably react by asking why the US needs to spend as much on its military as the rest of the world put together. With Canada and Mexico as its neighbours, why does it feel so threatened? To this the US would respond that it has special responsibilities as guarantor of world peace and, in any case, threatens no other nation. China, in its turn, could then ask who elected the US global policeman and why, given the public debate in the US about whether and how to curb its rise, it should trust its security to the US.

Just so.

* For an explanation of the title, go here.

Military Tribunals Plan B, or C, or D, or…

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bush administration’s military tribunals violated the law. On the news today, I heard someone say that the White House must now consider “Plan B.” 

Ahem — we passed Plan B some time ago.

Here’s a recap of what has transpired over the past four years:

PLAN A: Issue “military tribunals” order. (The resistance may be negligible.)

On November 13, 2001, President Bush quietly and matter-of-factly issued a “military order” to establish military tribunals for prisoners in the “war on terror.” The order stated that any prisoner designated by the president to be an “enemy combatant” would be imprisoned by the military. The order boldly declared that such prisoners could be tried before tribunals and that the prisoners “shall not be privileged to seek any remedy in any court of the United States.”

When the prisoners did get legal representation, Mr. Bush’s people told the defense lawyers that the military order precluded them from challenging the legality of the tribunals in court. After all, that’s what the order said. 

However, Plan A failed; legal challenges were filed anyway.

PLAN B: Make the argument to the judges. (They may buy it.)

The Bush administration argued in federal court that legal challenges to the tribunals must be dismissed immediately because the president’s order clearly said that prisoners may not “seek any remedy in any court.” 

But Plan B failed; the court was not persuaded.

PLAN C:  Appeal. (Keep arguing until some court buys it.)

A key aspect of the controversy reached the Supreme Court in Rasul v. Bush in 2004. Mr. Bush’s lawyers argued that U.S. courts lack jurisdiction to consider any legal challenges from prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. 

Plan C failed; the Supreme Court was not persuaded.

PLAN D: Start the tribunals anyway, and handle any legal challenges later. (Perhaps by bringing strong cases against unsympathetic figures like Hamdan, the judicial system will acquiesce.)

Hamdan’s lawyer immediately challenged the legality of the tribunal. Mr. Bush’s lawyers responded by telling the court that Hamdan’s argument was without merit. The judge was not persuaded.

PLAN E: Appeal. (Keep arguing.)

At first, Plan E appeared to work. The appellate court overturned the district court and ruled that the tribunals were legal. But Hamdan’s lawyers refused to go along, and they appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

PLAN F: Persuade the Supreme Court not to hear Hamdan’s appeal. (This will secure the lower court victory.)

But the Supreme Court was not persuaded, and granted certiorari.

PLAN G: Persuade Congress to pass a law that will prevent the Supreme Court from hearing Hamdan’s appeal. (The legislative branch could check the judiciary.)

With time growing short before the High Court would hear Hamdan’s opening arguments, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, ostensibly blocking the case. But the Supreme Court responded that it would hear arguments on the new law at the same time that it would hear arguments on the merits of the military tribunal controversy.

PLAN H: Argue again that the new law means the Court has no jurisdiction to hear Hamdan’s case, then argue that Hamdan’s objections should be heard on post-conviction appeal, and then argue that the tribunals are lawful and proper. (The plan could also be called “Broken Arrow.”)

But Plan H failed. The Supreme Court was unpersuaded by all three arguments and found the tribunals unlawful.

PLAN I is presently in the works, under the codename “Plan B.” 

When it arrives, scrutinize it.

This Sunday in Bolivia and Mexico

This Sunday, when Mexicans will vote for a new president, Bolivians will also be going to the polls — selecting a new constituent assembly that will rewrite their constitution.

Bolivian president Evo Morales is using Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez’s example as a model to concentrate power. Chavez introduced a new constitution that centralized political control and he has used popular referendums to eliminate checks and balances on his power. Morales will have a somewhat harder time at gaining and maintaining similar control, since he doesn’t have the vast oil resources or military background to support him that Chavez has.

If Mexican populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is elected this weekend, will he too follow the Chavez path? Many observers, including the market, don’t seem overly concerned. Mexico is not Bolivia; it is a much larger, more diverse, open economy with a free trade agreement with the United States. Democratization and economic reforms — especially openness to international capital markets — will temper Lopez Obrador’s populist sentiments. At least, so the argument goes.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that Mexico’s reforms have been sufficiently institutionalized. Mercantilism, political opportunism, and the party machine are still quite alive in a Mexico that spent most of the 20th century looking inward and under state domination. Even President Vicente Fox’s great achievement of maintaining a macroeconomic stability not seen in more than 30 years depended heavily on the admirable qualities of the current finance minister and central bank president.

As Mexican economist Manuel Suarez Mier has been emphatically warning, a President Lopez Obrador would find it relatively easy to buy off congressmen from the opposition and discredited PRI party and to thus begin re-establishing the political hegemony that existed in Mexico before Fox came to power. Except this time, the ruling party would be Lopez Obrador’s PRD.

That scenario may seem extreme, especially since it would require plenty of resources to sustain. The path to populism in Mexico would be different than that of Venezuela. But given Lopez Obrador’s political record of behaving irresponsibly and openly disdaining the rule of law (e.g., he has disregarded court rulings with which he disagrees), there is every reason to believe that he will follow through with the vast New Deal-type spending projects that he has promised, the creation of state-owned businesses, and the protection of favored industries even in the face of adverse economic results.

Bolivia is guaranteed a rough ride almost regardless of its election results this weekend. Because the leading presidential contenders are essentially tied in the polls, Mexico can still opt against the candidate that promises to take the country backward.