Cato foreign policy experts weigh in on President Obama's record in his first 100 days:
Christopher Preble, Director Foreign Policy Studies:
President Obama deserves credit for making a few modest changes in U.S. foreign and defense policy, and he has signaled a desire to make more fundamental shifts in the future. Some of these may prove helpful, while others are likely to encounter problems. In the end, however, so long as the president is unwilling to revisit some of the core assumptions that have guided U.S grand strategy for nearly two decades -- chief among these the conceit that the United States is the world's indispensable nation, and that we must take the lead in resolving all the world's problems -- then he will be unable to effect the broad changes that are truly needed.
Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President Defense & Foreign Policy Studies; Christopher Preble:
On the plus side, Obama moved quickly to fulfill his most important foreign policy promise: ending the war in Iraq. That said, the policy that his administration will implement is consistent with the agreement that the outgoing Bush administration negotiated with the Iraqis. Given that the war has undermined U.S. security interests, and our continuing presence there is costly and counterproductive, Obama should have proposed to remove U.S. troops on a faster timetable.
Malou Innocent, Foreign Policy Analyst:
The jury is still out on the other major, ongoing military operation, the war in Afghanistan. That mission is directly related to events in neighboring Pakistan, which is serving -- and has served -- as a safe haven for Taliban supporters for years. President Obama deserves credit for approaching the problem with both countries together, and also in a regional context, which includes Iran, as well as India. Still unknown is the scope and scale of the U.S. commitment. President Obama has approved a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. Some have suggested that still more troops are needed, and that these additional troop numbers might prevail for 10-15 years. That would be a mistake. The United States should be looking for ways to increase the capacity of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to confront the extremism in their countries, and should not allow either to grow dependent upon U.S. military and financial support.
Christopher Preble and Ted Galen Carpenter:
On Iran, President Obama made the right decision by agreeing to join the P5 + 1 negotiations, but that is only a first step. The two sides are far apart and President Obama has not signaled his intentions if negotiations fail to produce a definitive breakthrough. Sanctions have had a very uneven track record, and are unlikely to succeed in convincing the Iranians to permanently forego uranium enrichment. If the Iranians are intent upon acquiring nuclear weapons, military action would merely delay Iran ’s program, and would serve in the meantime to rally support for an otherwise unpopular clerical regime, and a manifestly incompetent president.
Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow; Christopher Preble:
A related problem is North Korea's ongoing nuclear program, an area where the president and his team seem to be grasping for answers. President Obama was mistaken if he believed that that the UN Security Council would render a meaningful response to Pyongyang's provocative missile launch. It was naive, at best, for him to believe that even a strong rebuke from the UNSC would have altered Kim Jong Il's behavior. The president must directly engage China, the only country with any significant influence over Kim. The North's reckless and unpredictable behavior does not serve Beijing's interests.
Benjamin Friedman, Research Fellow; Christopher Preble:
Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are correct to apply greater scrutiny to bloated Pentagon spending, and to terminating unnecessary weapon systems, but the budget will actually grow slightly, at a time when we should be looking for ways to trim spending. If President Obama decided to avoid Iraq-style occupations, we could cut our ground forces in half. If we stopped planning for near-term war with China or Russia, the Air Force and Navy could be much smaller. Unless we commit to a grand strategy of restraint, and encourage other countries to provide for their own defense, it will be impossible to make the large-scale cuts in military spending that are needed.
Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies; Benjamin Friedman; Christopher Preble:
Two other quick points. President Obama has moved away from some of the overheated rhetoric surrounding counterterrorism and homeland security, including dropping the phrase ‘War on Terror”. This was the right approach. The language surrounding the fight against terrorism is as important -- if not more important -- than the actual fight itself. Equally useful is his pledge to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and his renunciation of the use of torture and other illegal means in the first against al Qaeda. These steps send an important message to audiences outside of the United States who cooperation is essential.
Ian Vasquez, Director, Center for Global Liberty & Prosperity; Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Project Coordinator for Latin America.
President Obama has signaled a slight change on US-Cuba policy by softening some travel and financial restrictions. It is not as far as we would have liked, but it is a step in the right direction -- toward greater engagement, as opposed to more isolation, which was the approach adopted by the Bush administration.
For more research, check out Cato's foreign policy and national security page.
President Barack Obama, like President George W. Bush before him, has gone hat-in-hand to the Europeans to request (beg?) for more troops for Afghanistan. Alas, the European governments gave him the back of their collective hand: they may like President Obama more than his predecessor, but that doesn't mean they, or their peoples, want to do any more in Afghanistan.
But then, it's not clear that getting more European troops would help much. Reports the (Australia) Herald Sun:
When asked by the Britons to attack Afghan rebels, the commander of a [Czech] special operations unit (SOG) said "we're not going to, it's dangerous,'' then ordered his men to get in trucks and return to the base.
On another occasion, an SOG commander decided that the task the Britons had set ran counter to the unit's mission.
Yet another time, a commander said he could not help as his soldiers were on vacation.
"I find it hard to recover from the news I get about this unit. It harms the reputation of the army,'' Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova told the daily.
Obviously, some European troops, including Czechs, fight hard and well. But most of the countries deploy their forces to ensure that they don't have to fight. NATO provides precious few benefits for America in Europe or elsewhere. After 60 years, the U.S. should leave NATO to the Europeans.
Oh, the war in Afghanistan. The more I learn, the more I'm convinced that we need to get out.
As I described the situation to my Cato colleague Chris Preble, for lack of a better analogy, the Afghanistan–Pakistan border is like a balloon: pushing down on one side forces elements to move to another — it doesn't eliminate the threat.
The fate of Pakistan — a nuclear-armed Muslim-majority country plagued by a powerful jihadist insurgency — will matter more to regional and global stability than economic and political developments in Afghanistan. But if our attempts to stabilize Afghanistan destabilize Pakistan, where does that leave us? Like A.I.G., is Afghanistan too big to fail? No.
President Obama earlier this month issued a wide-ranging strategic review of the war and the region, and declared "the core goal of the U.S. must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan." But al Qaeda, as we very well know, is a loosely connected and decentralized network with cells in over 60 countries. Amassing tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops in one country — or any country — is unnecessary.
Until Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, changes priorities, this is a stalemate and we are throwing soldiers into a conflict because policymakers fear that, if we leave, it will get worse. Sound familiar?
The only military role necessary in Afghanistan is trainers and assistance for the Afghan military, police, and special forces tasked with discrete operations against specific targets. The bulk of the combat forces can and should be withdrawn.
As for Pakistan's impulsive act of gallantry in Buner this week, that's certainly welcome news. But Mukhtar Khan, a Pakistani freelance journalist whom I've talked to on numerous occasions, records here that last year in Buner, a lashkar (tribal militia) successfully beat back the Taliban's incursions.
Thanks to the Swat Valley peace deal between pro-Taliban TNSM founder Sufi Mohammad and the Pakistani government, militants have spilled back into Buner, killing policemen and terrorizing locals. What's especially troubling this time around is that the spread from Swat into Buner brings militants closer to Mardan and Swabi, which leads directly to the four-lane motorway running from Peshawar to Islamabad. (I took the picture above when I was on the motorway to Peshawar last August.)
Overall, I'm not optimistic that the Pakistani government's effort in Buner changes the grand scheme of things. Unless the intervention is coupled with a comprehensive shift in Pakistan's strategic priorities, which means a move away from allowing its territory to act as a de facto sanctuary for militants undermining U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan, then these sporadic raids tell us nothing about their leaders' overall commitment to tackling terrorism.
For instance, Pakistan's Supreme Court recently ordered the release of hard-line cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz on bail. Aziz was a leading figure from the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) massacre of July 2007 and faces several charges, including aiding militants. For an idea of how pervasive militant sympathies go, when the Islamist political party Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islami was in power in North-West Frontier Province, a Pakistani territory adjacent to the ungoverned tribal areas, its leaders proselytized in mosques about the need for jihad in Afghanistan. In addition, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was killed in Iraq, their parliament observed a two-minute moment of silence.
If leaders within Pakistan's military and intelligence establishments are serious about combating extremism, it will take more than periodic military moves into restive areas. We will not know for the next several months whether they have abandoned their lackadaisical attitude toward extremism.
Here are a few highlights from Cato Today, a comprehensive daily email from the Cato Institute. You can subscribe, here.
- In a new study, "NATO at 60: A Hollow Alliance," Ted Galen Carpenter argues that NATO has outlived whatever usefulness it once had.
- Doug Bandow weighs the usefulness of NATO in the American Spectator.
- David Isenberg discusses the use of private military and security contractors in war for United Press International.
- Timothy Lynch and Ilya Shapiro take on illegal searches in a legal brief submitted to the Supreme Court.
- In Monday's Cato Daily Podcast, Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, discusses the failure of government aid to Africa.
G-20 Summit Agrees to International Spending Plan
The Washington Post reports, "Leaders from more than 20 major nations including the United States decided Thursday to make available an additional $1 trillion for the world economy through the International Monetary Fund and other institutions as part of a broad package of measures to overcome the global financial crisis."
Cato scholars Richard W. Rahn, Daniel J. Ikenson and Ian Vásquez commented on the London-based meeting:
Rahn: "President Obama of the U.S. and Prime Minister Brown of the U.K. will be pressing for more so-called stimulus spending by other nations, despite the fact that the historical evidence shows that big increases in government spending are more likely to be damaging and slow down recovery than they are to promote vigorous economic expansion and job creation."
Vásquez: "The push by some countries for massive increases in spending to address the global financial crisis smacks of political and bureaucratic opportunism. A prime example is Washington's call to substantially increase the resources of the International Financial Institutions... There is no reason to think that massive increases of the IFIs' funds will not worsen, rather than improve, their record or the accountability of the aid agencies and borrower governments."
Ikenson: "Certainly it is crucial to avoid protectionist policies that clog the arteries of economic recovery and help nobody but politicians. But it is also important to keep things in perspective: the world is not on the brink of a global trade war, as some have suggested."
Ikenson appeared on CNBC this week to push for a reduction of trade barriers in international markets.
With fears mounting over a global shift toward protectionism, Cato senior fellow Tom Palmer and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation are circulating a petition against restrictive trade measures.
Obama Administration Forces Out GM CEO
President Obama took an unprecedented step toward greater control of a private corporation after forcing General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner to leave the company. The New York Post reports "the administration threatened to withhold bailout money from the company if he didn't."
Writing for the Washington Post, trade analyst Dan Ikenson explained why the government is responsible for any GM failure from now on:
President Obama's newly discovered prudence with taxpayer money and his tough-love approach to GM and Chrysler would both have more credibility if he hadn't demanded Rick Wagoner's resignation, as well. By imposing operational conditions normally reserved for boards of directors, the administration is now bound to the infamous "Pottery Barn" rule: you break it, you buy it. If things go further south, the government is now complicit.
Wagoner's replacement, Fritz Henderson, said Tuesday that after receiving billions of taxpayer dollars, the company is considering bankruptcy as an option. Cato scholars recommended bankruptcy months ago:
Dan Ikenson, November 21, 2008: "Bailing out Detroit is unnecessary. After all, this is why we have the bankruptcy process. If companies in Chapter 11 can be salvaged, a bankruptcy judge will help them find the way. In the case of the Big Three, a bankruptcy process would almost certainly require them to dissolve their current union contracts. Revamping their labor structures is the single most important change that GM, Ford, and Chrysler could make — and yet it is the one change that many pro-bailout Democrats wish to ignore."
Daniel J. Mitchell, November 13, 2008: "Advocates oftentimes admit that bailouts are not good policy, but they invariably argue that short-term considerations should trump long-term sensible policy. Their biggest assertion is that a bailout is necessary to prevent bankruptcy, and that avoiding this result is critical to prevent catastrophe. But Chapter 11 protection may be precisely what is needed to put American auto companies back on the path to profitability. Bankruptcy laws specifically are designed to give companies an opportunity — under court supervision — to reduce costs and streamline operations."
Dan Ikenson, December 5, 2008: "The best solution is to allow the bankruptcy process to work. It will be needed. There are going to be jobs lost, but there is really nothing policymakers can do about that without exacerbating problems elsewhere. The numbers won't be as dire as the Big Three have been projecting."
- Is Portugal an example for the future of drug policy? Cato released a new case study this week by Salon writer Glenn Greenwald entitled, "Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies."
- As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization celebrates its 60th birthday, there are signs of mounting trouble within the alliance and increasing reasons to doubt the organization's relevance regarding the foreign policy challenges of the 21st century. In a new study, Cato scholar Ted Galen Carpenter argues that NATO's time is up.
- Should immigration agents target businesses knowingly hiring illegal immigrants? Cato scholar Jim Harper weighs in on a Fox News debate.
- Cato scholar Gene Healy warns, "Beware of the Cult of Obama," in this week's Washington Examiner column.
- Sign up today for Cato University 2009: Economic Crisis, War, and the Rise of the State.
President Obama today gave a statement about his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The first thing to say here is that, according to those who attended a White House briefing, the strategy is not complete: the goals are not defined.
Second, there seems to be a gap between rhetoric and reality. On the one hand, the White House is rhetorically embracing the idea that, at least as far as Afghanistan is concerned, the problem is insufficient U.S. effort. That is consistent with what Obama has said all along: that we are failing in Afghanistan because U.S. efforts there are starved of resources that went to Iraq.
So we need more trainers for the Afghan army (a brigade from the 82nd Airborne gets that job), more combat troops (although only the 17,000 already committed), more U.S. government civilians to aid local development, and more drug eradication (on the folly of this, read Ted Carpenter and David Rittgers). As an enthusiastic Robert Kagan points out, this seems to be a stronger embrace of the nation-building strategy. The partial departure is the willingness to try to buy off elements of the Taliban.
On the other hand, the trainers being sent were requested long ago, and the troop increase is not new. The other shifts are minor. So, in terms of action, little has changed. There seems be a compromise here between the so-called minimalists and maximalists, which caused essentially a stalemate.
If you agree that the trouble in Afghanistan is that we weren't trying hard enough, you should wonder why we aren't trying even harder — doubling down on troops and effort, not just saying so. If you think, as I do, that we need a new strategy of radically reduced objectives, you have the opposite concern.
Nothing particularly new is happening with Pakistan, either, which matters more. We are continuing airstrikes and increasing aid. The White House recognition that the trouble with Pakistan is its vulnerabilty to India, which causes it to avoid policing its west and to embrace militants, is useful, even though it's hard to see what we can do about it.
One particulary troubling observation that the president made today is this:
The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al Qaeda operates unchecked. We have a shared responsibility to act — not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends on it. And what’s at stake at this time is not just our own security — it’s the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf of our common security. That was the founding cause of NATO six decades ago, and that must be our common purpose today.
There are two problems here. First, we can pay the price of an Afghanistan in chaos if we figure out ways to prevent terrorist havens. That is possible at considerably less cost than we spend on that project today. The question is whether we can afford to resurrect Afghanistan from chaos. The president fully buys into the idea that Afghanistan would quickly revert to its 1990s state, with Al Qaeda sanctuaries, absent the U.S. military. That's a claim in need of interrogation.
Second, it is silly to cast the war as a test of multilateralism. Free nations consistently ally when their security obviously requires it. Europeans sensibly wonder if that is still the case in Afghanistan. What we're testing is how willing nations are to unify to fight wars where their security is not obviously at stake.
Should the United States lead a Western coalition to enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur, Sudan?
This idea, which has been kicking around since at least 2006, was articulated recently in the Washington Post by former Air Force Chief of Staff and Obama advisor Tony McPeak, writing with Kurt Bassuener. Back when they were campaigning, President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all backed it. So it stands a good chance of becoming US policy.
The goal is to protect Darfurians from their nominal government without a costly US effort. But the opposite seems a more likely outcome. The no-fly zone may increase the violence in Darfur. And by committing the US to Darfur's protection and failing, it may suck us deeper into Sudan's civil war.
Like most advocates of U.S. intervention in Sudan, McPeak and Bassuener avoid saying that what is occurring in Sudan is a war with sides rather than an irrational slaughter. Attacks on civilians in Darfur, however reprehensible, are a tactic used by a weak, brutal central government to maintain power.
Sudan has some helicopters and Russian cargo aircraft converted into bombers that they use to support a counterinsurgency campaign executed mainly by its army and allied militias, some of which used to be rebels. The militias, in particular the horse-riding Janjaweed, kill and displace civilians because Darfur's insurgent groups rely on them for things rebels need: intelligence, supply, and recruits. According to the Christian Science Monitor, about 400 civilians died as result of air strikes in 2007 and 2008, a fraction of the total killed by ground forces.
Take away the air strikes, McPeak and Bassuener say, and you get leverage over Sudan's government. The leverage can be used to compel Sudan to accept a UN peacekeeping force to augment the largely useless African Union force there now.
Leaving aside the question of logistics (patrolling Darfur would be very costly given its the massive size), this plan simply doesn't bear much logical scrutiny.
It is an application of strategic airpower theory, which tends to make magical assumptions about the political impact of aircraft. That theory tends to depict the enemy as an extremely cost sensitive actor ripped from the pages of economic textbooks rather than what we find in history: governments motivated by nationalistic norms to pursue their political aims at extraordinary cost. Sudan is not going to give up trying to unify its country because we won't let helicopters and aircraft fly over it.
Because Darfur's rebels could arm and police their territory behind the peacekeeper lines, allowing a real peacekeeping force into Sudan would be de facto recognition of Darfur's secession. What leader of Sudan would accept that?
Beyond that, a no-fly zone is likely to make life worse for Darfur's civilians. As Alan Kuperman notes, a no-fly zone, rather than forcing Khartoum to the table, is likely to drive it to increase ground attacks. We might see accelerated ethnic cleaning and slaughter occurring beneath NATO aircraft powerless to stop it, a repetition of past experience. Likewise, a no-fly zone may further discourage Darfurian rebels from coming to terms with the government, pouring further accelerant on the war. It would also keep Sudan from allowing aid workers to travel to Darfur.
A no-fly zone will also symbolize a US commitment to the dissolution of Sudan and the protection of Darfurian civilians. By accomplishing neither, it would likely produce calls for a more robust intervention -- either US boots on the ground or air strikes against people on the ground. Acceding to these calls would make the United States a combatant in Sudan's civil war. Those who push military intervention in Sudan should recognize that is the logical result of their position.
That position is not unreasonable. Full fledged intervention might protect civilians. And who wouldn't be sympathetic to a revolt against an awful central government like Sudan's?
But the United States needs to get out of the other people's civil war business, not double down. We are participating in two civil conflicts abroad now. That is too many already. And Darfur is not the world's only humanitarian nightmare. Peacekeeping the Congo might have more humanitarian payoff. We can't fix everything.
That does not mean doing nothing. We should push Sudan to allow humanitarian workers full access to Darfur, condemn atrocities, and push the rebel factions to sign the peace deal outlined in 2006 or something like it.