Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

New at Cato Unbound: Veronique de Rugy on Anti-terrorism Spending

In today’s installment of Cato Unbound, AEI resident scholar (and Cato adjunct scholar) Veronique de Rugy argues that the $271.5 billion devoted by the federal government to homeland security since 9/11 has not been well spent.

“Not only are we over-investing in homeland security,” de Rugy argues, “but most times we spend too much money in the wrong way and on the wrong things.”

The consequence is that we are no safer. “Bad security is often worse than no security at all,” de Rugy writes. “By trying, and failing, to make ourselves more secure, we make ourselves less secure.”

Doublespeak and the War on Terror

Last week, Cato published my paper “Doublespeak and the War on Terrorism.” Of course, this has not kept President Bush from using doublespeak. 

In his televised address this week, Mr. Bush said that all members of the U.S. military are “volunteers.” Not so. We do not have the large-scale conscription of civilians, but we do have “stop-loss” orders from the White House, which means soldiers that have fulfilled the terms of their enlistment contracts may not leave military. The men and women who wanted to return to civilian life after serving their term of service are not “volunteers.”  In military circles, the stop-loss order is known as the “backdoor draft.”

Fortunately, more people are calling attention to such misuse of language by government. Go here for a column by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post. Go here for a column by Dick Meyer of CBS News.

We’ll never be able to stop the government from engaging in doublespeak because the government is constantly engaging in mischief. But if we’re vigilant about it, we can keep the government in check.

Saddam’s Supergun

An article in Sunday’s New York Times takes you to a Graveyard of Goofy Weapons south of Baghdad.  Among them, the remnants of Saddam’s Project Babylon, which, if completed, would have been the world’s biggest spud gun:

the barrel alone would have been 512 feet long and weighed 1,665 tons. As the pieces lying around in the lot in Iskandariya illustrated, the barrel was wide enough to fire projectiles “the size of industrial garbage cans,” as Mr. Lowther put it.

Estimates on the cost of two planned superguns and a smaller prototype called Baby Babylon range from $25 million to several hundred million dollars. If the big guns had operated as designed, they could have shot a 300-pound projectile 600 miles, or lifted a much larger payload into orbit if it was outfitted with a small rocket engine.

Doubtless there’s some true believer out there in the right-wing blogosphere trumpeting this story, hailing it as confirmation that Saddam was the Arab Hugo Drax, coming ever closer to having the means to kill us all.  What if he had loaded up an industrial garbage can with some of those degraded mustard gas shells, floated the whole works off our southern coastline and aimed it right at Disneyworld? 

Well, it’s never too late to be retroactively terrorized, but most of us are probably with Lt. Col. James A. Howard, quoted in the article after visiting the site: “I think a gun this big would be kind of dumb.” 

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

The Washington Post decided to bury a story on page A17 today on how the IAEA responded to a House Intelligence Committee report on Iran (.pdf).  The report, which came out to media fanfare a few weeks ago, was drafted by John Bolton’s hyper-hawkish lieutenant Fred Fleitz, who’s reportedly currently drafting a report on North Korea’s capabilities.

Anyway, the IAEA was none too happy with Mr. Fleitz’s handiwork, calling attention to several unsupported claims, among them that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at Natanz, noting that the 3.5 percent to which Iran has enriched is a far cry from the roughly 90 percent that is needed for a weapon.

The IAEA was similarly displeased with Mr. Fleitz’s accusation that Mohamed el Baradei kicked an inspector off the Iran project for worrying that Iran was deceiving inspectors.  The IAEA responded by calling this allegation “outrageous and dishonest,” pointing out that the inspector in question was still working on Iran.

More alarming by far, though, is David Albright’s* characterization of what’s been going on:

This is like prewar Iraq all over again.  You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors.

*Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, really has been doing yeoman’s work on the Iran question, including its analysis (and posting) of Iran’s August 22 response to the EU3+US proposal.  If you want as dispassionate an analysis as you can get of the issue, go to ISIS.  Good stuff.

Nuclear Proliferators and Double Standards

One of the more interesting foreign policy phenomena over the past year or so has been the prevalence of China hawks fawning over the US-India nuclear deal. The clear implication is that the payoff from signing the deal is that India will fall into line in a loose policy of containing China. Never mind the fact that India has made perfectly clear that it has no intention of following such a policy.

Now comes State Department spokesman-turned-South-and-Central-Asia-assistant-secretary Richard Boucher to admit that with respect to our posture on India versus our posture on Iran “Is there a double-standard? Yeah. There should be.” Reuters reports further that Boucher “added that he did not believe Iran decided its policies based on how Washington dealt with India.”

This is pretty simplistic thinking. Nobody’s arguing that Iran “decides its policies based on how Washington deals with India.” The point is that the increasingly brittle international nonproliferation regime is based on norms; to the extent that the United States undermines those norms, it hastens the irrelevance of the NPT and the related institutions. Further, it’s perfectly clear that the international community (or “international community” if one prefers) has not gone along with the new norm that countries that are friendly to America should get special treatment.

And while we’re at it, let’s look at the circular logic deployed by pro-India deal types based on proliferation concerns. On one hand, we’re told that India has a rock-solid track record on proliferation, so we should sign the deal as a reward. On the other hand, we’re told that one of the benefits of the deal is that it will get some of India’s civilian reactors (though none of its military reactors and no future reactors) into a monitoring regime.

But if India has a rock-solid track record on proliferation, why care about getting them into a semi-formal nonproliferation institution? And further, let’s take a look at India’s allegedly solid track record on proliferation, courtesy of the Weekly Standard:

Over the last 20 months, the State Department has sanctioned no fewer than seven separate Indian entities for transferring strategic weapons-related technology or goods to Iran.

One of these entities–Balaji Amines Limited–was sanctioned late in July for selling Iran chemicals critical to manufacturing rocket fuel at the very same time Iranian-supplied missiles to Hezbollah were slamming into the homes of innocents in Haifa. State also sanctioned Y.S.R. Prasad, former chairman of India’s entire state-run civilian nuclear program. He is reported to have visited with Iran’s nuclear establishment several times and transferred technology to extract tritium, a material necessary to make smaller, more efficient missile-deliverable nuclear warheads. India is demanding that the United States drop its sanctions against Prasad, who is one of the most honored members of India’s nuclear elite. He also is one of the eight leading Indian nuclear scientists who recently wrote Singh protesting the nuclear deal’s encroachment on India’s freedom to expand its nuclear arsenal and to conduct a foreign policy independent of Washington.

A key concern he and his distinguished colleagues raised in their letter (which Singh noted in his address) relates to the strategic cooperation agreement India reached with Iran in 2003. The House of Representatives has been worried about India’s ties to Iran and considered conditioning U.S. nuclear cooperation on India’s supporting allied efforts to block Iran’s nuclear program. This, however, would be a deal breaker for India, Bush administration officials warned. The House listened, backed down, and instead simply expressed its desire for Indian support against Iran’s nuclear program in the report that accompanied its enabling legislation. For India, though, this was still intolerable. “We cannot accept introduction of extraneous issues on foreign policy,” Singh explained. “Any prescriptive suggestions in this regard are not acceptable to us.”

Was a strategic recalibration of the US-India relationship long overdue? You bet. But the Bush administration’s typically clumsy diplomacy with respect to the deal threatens to take a wobbly nonproliferation regime and smash it to bits, without any clear strategy for what’s going to follow in its wake. And now, to the extent the nuclear deal has become a referendum on US-India relations, it’s far too late to torpedo the deal without risking serious damage in those relations. We now find ourselves in a bind where any of the possible outcomes, whether the deal’s passage, its dying on our side, or its being killed on India’s side, are going to have pretty bad consequences.

Here you had a good idea (improve strategic ties with India) that was implemented in such a way that it created a host of negative consequences. It didn’t have to happen this way.


I’m anything but an expert on British politics, but if the head of the Conservatives is making noises like this, we’ve got a serious image problem abroad:

“I and my party are instinctive friends of America and passionate supporters of the Atlantic alliance,” [Conservatives chief David Cameron] said, warning against the “intellectual and moral surrender” of anti-Americanism. But he added that being an uncritical ally was dangerous for Britain: “I fear that if we continue at present we may combine the maximum of exposure with the minimum of real influence over decisions.”

Risking a rift with the Republicans and his own traditionalists, he attacked the “unrealistic and simplistic” neoconservative philosophy of Mr Bush’s closest colleagues and advisers, calling it “a view which sees only light and darkness in the world – and which believes that one can be turned to the other as quickly as flicking a switch”.

Coming Monday: “9/11 Five Years After: Reassessing the Terrorist Threat and Homeland Security”

Monday is the fifth anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that precipitated the Global War on Terror internationally and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security domestically. While the Global War on Terror has received a vast amount of commentary, less has been said about the effectiveness of the government’s policies to guard against terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Is there, in fact, enough of a terrorist threat to justify the astronomical sums spent securing landmarks in third-tier cities? Has domestic anti-terrorism policy actually made us any safer? Was the DHS even a good idea? How is it spending our tax money?

All these questions and more will be debated in the imminent September edition of Cato Unbound, “9/11 Five Years After: Reassessing the Terrorist Threat and Homeland Security.” Ohio State University political scientist John Mueller will kick off the conversation with “Some Reflections on What, If Anything, ‘Are We Safer?’ Might Mean.” Mueller will get feedback and pushback from: Clark Ervin, head of the Homeland Security Program at the Aspen Institute and the first inspector general of the United States Department of Homeland Security; Veronique de Rugy, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and expert on DHS budgeting priorities; and Timothy Naftali, soon-to-be director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum and author of Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism.