Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

War without End

Here’s the money quote from the Bill Kristol piece George Will went after yesterday:

“We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions – and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.”

And here’s a front pager in today’s Washington Post about neoconservative anger towards the Bush administration because of its newfound restraint in foreign policy. Prominent Iraq hawks like Max Boot and Cakewalk Ken Adelman are upset that their favored tactic, “bomb today for a brighter tomorrow,” no longer commands the respect it once did in Washington.

Now, you could marvel at the brazenness of all this: the same people who helped lead us into the biggest foreign policy disaster in 30 years trying to push another war (or wars) on us without so much as a prefatory “sorry about the whole Iraq thing, old boy.” But the current squawking also strikes me as a useful reminder of how very, very important war is in the neoconservative vision. It is as central to that vision as peace is to the classical liberal vision.

For the neoconservatives, it’s not about Israel. It’s about war. War is a bracing tonic for the national spirit and in all its forms it presents opportunities for national greatness. “Ultimately, American purpose can find its voice only in Washington,” David Brooks once wrote. And Washington’s never louder or more powerful than when it has a war to fight.

In 1997, Fred Barnes pouted about the “ennui” accompanying that decade’s peace and prosperity:

“The last great moment in Washington was Desert Storm…. It was exciting to follow and write about … Every press conference, I watched. Desert Storm was all I thought about or talked about. My stories concentrated on President Bush’s heroic role in the war.”

Indeed, for many neoconservatives, the 1990s were about the search for an enemy. Who it was didn’t much matter. That can be seen in this 1996 Foreign Affairs article by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, in which they seem distinctly unsettled by the apparant lack of anyone for the U.S. to fight:

“The ubiquitous post-Cold War question – where is the threat? – is thus misconceived. In a world in which peace and American security depend on American power and the will to use it, the main threat the United States faces now and in the future is its own weakness.”

To dispel any notions of weakness, a little therapeutic bombing is sometimes in order. As AEI’s Michael Ledeen apparently put it some years ago:

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

It could be the Serbs. It could be Iraq. If we’re really feeling our oats, it might even be China. Even now, when the United States faces a genuine enemy in Al Qaeda, some neoconservatives are hedging their bets: If we wrap up this war on terror thing too quickly, let’s give great-power conflict a chance.

Who we’re fighting is secondary. That we’re fighting is the main thing. To be a neoconservative is to thrill to the sound of gunfire. (From a nice, safe distance, generally.)

“A Monumentally Stupid Idea”

That is how Augustus Richard Norton, a Middle East specialist at Boston University, characterized a proposal to send UN peacekeepers to southern Lebanon, an idea championed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and others at the just-concluded G-8 summit.

Norton should know. He once deployed to southern Lebanon as part of a small U.N. observer force that has been there since Israel’s first incursion in 1978. He is also a retired army colonel, a former West Point professor, and the author of several books on Middle East politics and culture.

But Norton is not alone in questioning the wisdom of an expanded UN force in southern Lebanon, as this Washington Post article by Peter Baker and Robin Wright points out.

“It’s a non-starter,” said Timur Goksel, who, like Norton, served with the U.N. force. He now teaches in Beirut. Goksel told the Post, “If the intention is to observe, there is already a force in place. If they are talking of a deterrent force to prevent fighting, it will immediately be seen as an occupation force here. And when you have an occupation force, no matter what your flag, even under the United Nations, that’s when the trouble starts. This is a most ridiculous idea. Nobody will accept it.”

But some people are accepting it – and promoting it, despite the fact that an international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is unlikely to succeed in bringing an end to the violence.

Consider the tragi-comic exploits of the current UN mission, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The force was first sent there in March 1978, nine days after Israel invaded southern Lebanon in pursuit of PLO terrorists holed up in the territory, and UNIFIL has since witnessed not one but TWO more Israeli incursions into Lebanon, in June 1982 and now in July 2006. On Monday, as the Post reports, UNIFIL issued a statement complaining “that it was unable to supply food and water to its own troops, much less help deliver humanitarian aid to civilians, because Israel had not guaranteed free passage.”

The international impulse to just do something – despite the long track record of failure – might be overwhelming. An argument (not a very good one) could be made that a larger force with a clearer mandate might succeed where the current UNIFIL mission has failed.

Regardless of those particular details, however, the U.S. military should not be involved. As Norton warns in the closing line of the Post article: “The military is overstretched. Most of the army is wrapped up in Iraq. A deployment in Lebanon would potentially be interminable.” 

Our men and women in uniform have more than enough on their plate right now, and the last thing that they (or we) need is to become embroiled in yet another long-running conflict.

 

George Will vs. the Neocons

Apropos of yesterday’s post plugging George Will’s condemnation of the Weekly Standard and neoconservatism, Will extends his remarks in his column for today’s Washington Post.  It’s tough to excerpt, but just to convince you it’s a George Will column, it ends with a baseball analogy:

Neoconservatives have much to learn, even from Buddy Bell, manager of the Kansas City Royals. After his team lost its 10th consecutive game in April, Bell said, “I never say it can’t get worse.” In their next game, the Royals extended their losing streak to 11 and in May lost 13 in a row.

Keep an eye on the Weekly Standard’s blog for a response.  Thanks to Steve Clemons for the tip.

“I Don’t Think We’re Losing”

On ABC News’ This Week, George Stephanopoulos played a clip of a question posed to Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker, asking whether or not we are winning in Iraq. (Podcast here, segment begins at 32:30.)

After an exceedingly long pause, Schoomaker responds by saying “I…y’know…I think I would answer that by telling you I don’t think we’re losing.”

If that’s the most affirmative response the Army Chief of Staff can offer, it’s time for a radical recalibration of our strategy. It’s a cliché at this point—but no less true—that for insurgencies to succeed, they don’t have to win; they simply have to avoid losing. And if we’re not winning, they’re not losing.

As a bonus, be sure to check out George Will lashing the neocons on the same broadcast, noting that the “magnificently misnamed neoconservatives are the most radical people in this town,” and that Bill Kristol’s recent plea for US airstrikes against Iran embodies an approach that wonders “why put off to tomorrow when you can have a war today?”

It’s enough to make you consider watching the Sunday morning talk shows. For more of Will’s wisdom, look to the upcoming Cato’s Letter, which features Will’s address at the presentation of the 2006 Friedman Prize.

Entangled in Iraq until 2016?

The Washington Times reports that U.S. military commanders believe American forces will be needed in Iraq until at least 2016.

There often are bad ideas in the arena of foreign policy. Sometimes there are very bad ideas. Occasionally, there are even monumentally bad ideas. Staying in the Iraqi snake pit for another decade belongs in the third category. As Cato scholars explain here, here, here and here, the Bush administration needs to adopt a strategy for a prompt exit from this unnessary and ill-conceived mission.

We need to have our forces out of Iraq in a matter of months, not years. And no reasonable person should want to keep our troops in harm’s way for another decade. Given the casualty rates during the first three years of this war, staying until 2016 would mean another 8,000 dead Americans. At that point, U.S. fatalities in Iraq would exceed the number the Soviet Union suffered during its ill-fated intervention in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

Remaining in Iraq for another decade while the country descends into sectarian civil war is a policy that should appeal only to masochists.

There’s No Fixing the FBI’s Computers

While Congress and the Department of Justice consider mandating that ISPs retain data about all of our communications, the FBI, it seems, can’t keep its own IT systems up to date. Putting aside the irony to focus on practical matters, what will bring the FBI up to snuff? I told the reporter in the article linked just above that nothing will.

The problem is institutional; when an organization’s membership doesn’t enjoy feast or famine based on the success of the organization, very little can bring it into focus and create success. … Congressional and public oversight is a weak, weak substitute for competitive pressure.

But the FBI’s computer systems have to be fixed, don’t they? They do. And to get there, you might have to shrink the FBI and law enforcement generally — especially federal law enforcement.

Because of the nature of bureaucracies, I don’t think there is an effective management solution to the FBI’s problems with IT. The better answer occurs at a higher level of abstraction:

Too many risks and threats are being treated as public problems to be dealt with through law enforcement when they should be treated as private problems to be dealt with through security.

To illustrate: Imagine that the nation’s garages had been designed without garage doors. People finding that their lawn mowers and garden tools were being stolen could call the cops (public/law enforcement) or design and install garage doors (private/security). Much going on in Internet security and online anti-fraud these days equates to people without garage doors calling the cops. There should be more personal and corporate responsibility, less government and law enforcement.

Another example: Starting more than 30 years ago, the U.S. government started taking responsibility for airline security (public/law enforcement) rather than leaving it with airlines (private/security). In fact, President Nixon announced expansion of the air marshals program on September 11, 1970, 31 years to the day before 9/11.

Mixed responsibility allowed both the public and private sectors to avoid ownership of the risk that a flight would be commandeered and used as a weapon. After 9/11, the government took further control over airline security and absolved airlines of the liability that might have accrued to them in the courts. (I don’t think they should have been liable for the full consequences of 9/11 or would have been found liable in well-functioning courts, except perhaps for the lives of their passengers.)

The lesson that private owners of critical infrastructure across the country learned is: Failure to secure themselves will bring them protection from liability, subsidies, and government-provided security services. In other words, they have been shown that leaving their garage doors open and calling the cops is better for them than taking responsibility. (In insurance economics, this is called “moral hazard.”)

“How do you fix the FBI’s computers?” You don’t. And you won’t. That’s the best answer I know.

Does it come off as too ideological to argue that the FBI should be smaller? Consider that the management problems at the FBI are merely part of a different ideological choice: having a large federal law enforcement apparatus. It doesn’t have to be this way, and the management problems are a product of the fact that it is.

Does it come off “soft on crime” to argue that federal law enforcement should be reduced? The opposite tack — “tough on crime” — means accepting incompetent law enforcement, which is the best friend crime ever had.

“We Don’t Have a Colonial Office in the United States”

Go to any event on nation building in Washington these days, and you’ll hear endless bickering about whose fault it is Iraq hasn’t gone better. Maybe it’s DOD’s fault for commandeering the planning process. Maybe it’s the State Department’s fault for not letting Ahmed Chalabi be more involved. Maybe (this is the current favorite) we need a new Goldwater-Nichols Act to unify the bureaucracies behind the sorts of nation-building missions we find ourselves in in Iraq.

During a recent event at the US Institute of Peace, both Marine Corps Major Ben Connable and Matt Sherman, a former CPA official, blasted the State Department for not providing sufficient personnel for the mission in Iraq. As it happened, Bob Deutsch, the deputy senior adviser to Secretary Rice for Iraq policy was in the audience, and, well, let’s just say the sparks flew. A rough transcription of part of Deutsch’s comment is below:

We don’t have a colonial office in the United States. And the kind of—when I hear the criticisms of the civilian side of the government, that the State Department doesn’t have a whole bunch of police trainers that we can send out, that we don’t have a whole bunch of people who know how to run electricity companies, who know how to run oil companies. The Department of Energy doesn’t have people to send out to run oil companies. We don’t have a colonial office. And if we are going to do nation building, in Iraq or elsewhere, we’re going to need one. And I agree that that is a decision—that Secretary of State has made some decisions that we’re going to move the foreign service in directions with our transformational diplomacy in that direction. But it would have to be a larger U.S. government decision that we’re going to do that—which has all sorts of bureaucracy and fiscal implications that I’m not sure we’re prepared to buy off on.

I’m not sure whether to be reassured by the senior adviser’s tepid invocation of “bureaucracy and fiscal implications” that he’s “not sure we’re prepared to buy off on” as the primary obstacle to setting up a colonial office, or alarmed by the fact that he suggests that Secretary Rice has “made some decisions” that the foreign service is going to be “moved in that direction.”

At any rate, it’s sure a great time to pick up Chris Preble’s and my Policy Analysis on the topic of building a nation-building office into the State Department.