Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Troublesome North Korea Strikes Again

The North Koreans have been busy, testing a nuclear weapon and shooting off missiles.  It seems that nothing upsets North Korea more than being ignored.

President Barack Obama expressed the usual outrage:

These actions, while not a surprise given its statements and actions to date, are a matter of grave concern to all nations. North Korea’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security.

However, this really is all old news.  Although the nuclear test reinforces the North’s irresponsible reputation, the blast has little practical importance. North Korea has long been known to be a nuclear state and tested a smaller nuclear device a couple years ago. The regime’s missile capabilities also are well-known.

Contrary to the president’s excited rhetoric, the North has little ability to project force beyond the Korean peninsula.  So Washington should treat the North’s latest offense as an opportunity to reprogram the latter’s negotiating formula.

The U.S. should not reward “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il with a plethora of statements beseeching the regime to cooperate and threatening dire consequences for its bad behavior. Rather, the Obama administration should explain, perhaps through China, that the U.S. is interested in forging a more positive relationship with North, but that no improvement will be possible so long as North Korea acts provocatively. Washington should encourage South Korea and Japan to take a similar stance.

Moreover, the U.S. should step back and suggest that China, Seoul, and Tokyo take the lead in dealing with Pyongyang. North Korea’s activities more threaten its neighbors than America. Even Beijing, the North’s long-time ally, long ago lost patience with Kim’s belligerent behavior and might be willing to support tougher sanctions.

Washington should offer to support this or other efforts to reform North Korean policy.  But without Chinese backing there is little else the U.S. can do.  War on the peninsula would be disastrous for all, and Washington has few additional sanctions to apply.  Beijing has the most leverage on Pyongyang, but whether even that is enough to moderate North Korea’s behavior is anyone’s guess.

North Korea is a problem likely to be long with us. The U.S. has limited ability to influence the North. Washington should offer the prospect of improved relations as a reward for improved North Korean behavior, but should let the North’s neighbors, most notably China, take the lead in managing this most difficult of states.

Iraq’s Refugee Crisis

George W. Bush’s misguided attack on Iraq has had catastrophic consequences for the Iraqi people.  Although the removal of Saddam Hussein was a blessing, the bloody chaos that resulted was not.  Estimates of the number of dead in the ensuing strife starts at about 100,000 and rises rapidly.  The number of injured is far greater.

Moreover, roughly four million people, about one-sixth of the population, have been driven from their homes.  The most vulnerable tended to be Iraq’s Christian community and Iraqis who aided U.S. personnel – acting as translators, for instance.  Yet the Bush administration resisted allowing any of these desperate people to come to America, since to resettle refugees would be to acknowledge that administration policy had failed to result in the promised paradise in Babylon.

This horrid neglect continues.  Reports Hanna Ingber Win:

Of the millions displaced, the United States will resettle about 17,000 new Iraqis this coming fiscal year. While that is a relatively small number of arrivals compared to the number displaced, about a third of them will end up in El Cajon and Greater San Diego. More than 5,000 new Iraqis will arrive in San Diego County during the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, according to Catholic Charities in the San Diego Diocese. Getting jobs, homes and visas to reunite the families of the new arrivals — many of whom put their lives and their families’ lives at risk by helping the U.S. military — is a monumental task.

As the Iraq War played out, the Bush administration seemed to do everything in its power to ignore the refugee crisis. Former President Bush, reluctant to admit to a failed war policy, never mentioned the plight of the refugees and for years refused to allow Iraqis fleeing the war zone to resettle in the U.S. Only after significant political pressure from members of Congress and advocacy groups did the administration’s policy begin to change, and refugees began gaining access to the United States.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the war. He vowed to increase the amount of aid given to countries like Syria and Jordan, which harbor most of the displaced people, as well as expedite the process of resettling refugees here.

“The Bush administration made every effort they could to try to minimize the issue [of Iraqi refugees] in the debate on the war,” Amelia Templeton, a refugee-policy analyst with Human Rights First, says not long after the presidential election. The Obama administration, on the other hand, she says, has made the issue an explicit policy priority. “Obama has said this is a major problem, that we are responsible for this problem and we will try to change this.”

Whether the Obama administration will live up to its rhetoric is still to be seen.

Immigration is an emotional issue at any time.  But there is no excuse for not accepting more persecuted peoples who are fleeing violence sparked by U.S. military action and attacks sparked by their aid for U.S. military forces.  If America refuses to act as a haven for these people, then yet another light will have gone out in what was once a shining city on a hill for the world.

Gingrich, Fear-Mongering, Failed Leadership

There’s a reason why Newt Gingrich is on the political sidelines, and there’s a reason why Vice President Dick Cheney does not have a Republican successor to carry on his preferred policies. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, the contrasts in terrorism and national security policy between President Obama and these leading Republicans were in high relief.

After discussing the personal investment in aggressive counterterrorism Dick Cheney and others in the Bush White House had after the “shock” of 9/11, Newt Gingrich said:

Let me just say, I think people should be afraid. I think the lesson of 1993 – the first time they bombed the World Trade Center – was: Fear is probably appropriate. I think the lesson of Khobar Towers – where American service men were killed in Saudi Arabia – was: Fear is probably appropriate. I think the lesson of the two embassy bombings in East Africa was: Fear is probably appropriate. I think the lesson of the Cole being bombed in Yemen was: Fear is probably appropriate.

I’ll tell you, if you aren’t a little bit afraid after 9/11 and 3,100 Americans killed inside the United States by an effort. If you aren’t worried about the second-wave attack that was designed to take out the biggest building in Los Angeles, I think that you are out of touch with reality.

Host David Gregory asked:

But, Speaker Gingrich, you make the point about how Vice President Cheney felt – personally, personal fear. And isn’t President Obama’s argument that fear as a basis of national security policy is not sustainable over time? How do you come up with a sustainable legal framework, a sustainable national security policy? Don’t we elect leaders to transcend fear for lasting policy?

Gingrich’s response was to cite the sustained American effort in the Cold War. There was, of course, background fear of nuclear war and communism during that time, but the policy that got us through the Cold War was the pragmatic and rational policy of containment – a far cry from policymaking based in fear.

For the time being, Republicans appear to be “on tilt” about terrorism, and seeking their footing in the politics of panic.

Washington Likes Democracy — When People Vote Right

The U.S. government is a big proponent of democracy — as long as foreign peoples do what they are told.  Washington pushed for early elections in Gaza and the result was … oops!  A victory for Hamas.  So now Washington doesn’t like democracy and won’t talk to the victors of a democratic vote.

Now the pattern risks repeating itself.  Vice President Joe Biden recently visited Lebanon and told the Lebanese how much America likes democracy — as long as they vote for the parties that the Obama administration prefers.  Reports Associated Press:

Vice President Joe Biden said Friday that future U.S. aid to Lebanon depends on the outcome of upcoming elections, a warning aimed at Iranian-backed Hezbollah as it tries to oust the pro-Western faction that dominates government.

Confident its alliance will win, Hezbollah criticized Biden’s visit as a U.S. attempt to influence the June 7 vote and held a mass rally to show its popular support.

Biden is the highest-level U.S. official to visit Lebanon in more than 25 years and the attention shows American concern that the vote could shift power firmly into the hands of Hezbollah. U.S. officials have said before they will review aid to Lebanon depending on the composition of the next government, apparently meaning military aid.

“The election of leaders committed to the rule of law and economic reform opens the door to lasting growth and prosperity as it will here in Lebanon,” Biden said. The U.S. “will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government and the policies it advocates.”

The U.S. considers Hezbollah a terrorist group and Biden’s one-day visit was clearly timed to bolster the Western-leaning faction led by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora ahead of the vote. He expressed strong support for the government.

Given the disastrous record of foreign aid over the years, I’d rather the administration simply stop handing out Americans’ money, irrespective of the government in power in a particular nation.  But Washington certainly should stop trying to publicly, even ostentatiously, buy votes.  Imagine how Americans would respond to a similar threat from another country:  “We’ll pay you if you vote our way, but forget the cash if you choose the other guys.”  Most Americans, whatever their personal political preferences, would not be amused, shall we say.

There’s good reason not to like Hezbollah, but Lebanese politics is more complicated than many U.S. policymakers seem to realize:  some Christian factions are allied with the Shiite group.  Moreover, Hezbollah’s focus is on Israel, not America.  There’s no reason to turn another fractious and well-armed group into an enemy of the U.S.

I know it would be a revolutionary change for  Washington, but how about just staying out of other nations’ affairs?  Show our respect for democracy by not trying to buy the result that we want.  Treat others as we would expect them to treat us.  And stop meddling in political disputes in which we can do no evident good.

Foreign Aid Establishment Runs Scared

For years the foreign aid establishment has simply pointed at pictures of starving children abroad and said:  give.  Congresses and presidents have responded by tossing billions at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other so-called aid agencies.  The result, unfortunately, has been continuing poverty mixed with increased indebtedness.  For good reason aid has been said to involve taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries.  But the arguments against misnamed “foreign aid” advanced by Cato and other free market advocates have been largely ignored.

The latest challenger is Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, who has gained significant public attention for her new book, Dead AidI’ve reviewed it in the Washington Times and Cato has hosted a forum for her.  Dedicated to legendary British economist P.T. Bauer, the first recipient of Cato’s Milton Friedman Prize, Dead Aid excoriates the aid establishment for supporting policies that actually make recipients worse off.  Foreign aid would be better called foreign hindrance.

Now, reports the Financial Times (full text hidden behind a subscription wall, alas):

A swell of opposition is building in the aid world to a new protagonist who has thrown down a strident challenge to the rock stars and liberal economists who have long dominated debate over foreign assistance to developing countries.

Galled by the ease with which Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist and former investment banker, has risen to prominence this year, activists are circulating detailed critiques of her ideas and mass mailing African non-government organisations to mobilise support against her.

Yet it is proving hard to suppress the hyper-active graduate of Oxford and Harvard, who pops up weekly in a new capital to promote her book, Dead Aid — the title itself an affront to rock star Bob Geldorf’s Live Aid campaigns.

Obviously the aid lobby is worried.  Free market friends should jump in to back up Moyo.  She has brought both attention and credibility to the case against foreign aid.  This moment must not be wasted.

Cheney vs. Obama: Tale of the Tape

In case you missed it, President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney spoke separately today on terrorism and national security. Like two boxers at a pre-fight press conference, they each touted their strength over their opponent. They espoused deep differences in their views on national counterterrorism strategy.

The Thrilla in Manilla it ain’t. As Gene Healy has pointed out, they agree on a lot more than they admit to. Harvard Law professor and former Bush Office of Legal Counsel head Jack Goldsmith makes the same point at the New Republic. Glenn Greenwald made a similar observation.

However, the areas where they differ are important: torture, closing Guantanamo, criminal prosecution, and messaging. In these key areas, Obama edges out Cheney.

Torture

Cheney:

I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do.

Obama:

I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured.

Torture is incompatible with our values and our national security interests. When we break our own rules (read: laws) against torture, we erode everyone’s faith that America is the good guy in this global fight.

Torture has been embraced by politicians, but the people who are fighting terrorists on the ground want none of it. As former FBI agent Ali Soufan made clear in Senate hearings last week, it is not an effective interrogation technique. Senior military leaders such as General Petraeus, former CENTCOM commanders Joseph Hoar and Anthony Zinni, and former Commandant of the Marine Corps Charles Krulak all denounce the use of torture.

If we captured Al Qaeda operatives who had tortured one of our soldiers in pursuit of information, we would be prosecuting them. Torture is no different and no more justifiable because we are doing it.

Closing Guantanamo

Cheney:

I think the President will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.

Obama:

[I]nstead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

This is an area where Cheney is disagreeing not just with Obama but with John McCain. We would be having this debate regardless of who won the last Presidential election. Get over it.

The current political climate gives you the impression that we are going to let detainees loose in the Midwest with bus fare and a gift certificate for a free gun at the local sporting goods store. Let’s be realistic about this.

We held hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war in America during World War II. The detainees we have now are not ten feet tall and bulletproof, and federal supermax prisons hold the same perfect record of keeping prisoners inside their walls as the detainment facility in Guantanamo Bay.

Criminal Prosecution

Obama basically said that we will try those we can, release those who we believe pose no future threat, and detain those that fit in neither of the first two categories. That’s not a change in policy and that pesky third category isn’t going away.

Obama and Cheney do have some sharp differences as to the reach of war powers versus criminal prosecution.

Cheney:

And when you hear that there are no more, quote, “enemy combatants,” as there were back in the days of that scary war on terror, at first that sounds like progress. The only problem is that the phrase is gone, but the same assortment of killers and would-be mass murderers are still there.

Obama:

Recently, we prosecuted and received a guilty plea from a detainee - al-Marri - in federal court after years of legal confusion. We are preparing to transfer another detainee to the Southern District of New York, where he will face trial on charges related to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania - bombings that killed over 200 people.

I have written extensively on al-Marri, the last person to be detained domestically as an enemy combatant. The FBI did everything right when it investigated and indicted this Al Qaeda sleeper agent masquerading as an exchange student, only to have the Bush administration remove those charges in order to preserve the possibility of detaining domestic criminals under wartime powers. This claim of governmental power is a perversion of executive authority that Obama was right to repudiate.

The man being indicted in New York is Ahmed Gailani. If he is convicted for his role in the bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, he will join his co-conspirators Wadih El-Hage, Mohammed Odeh, Mohammed al-Owhali, and Khalfan Mohammed in a supermax.

This is also where we hold 1993 World Trade Center bombers Ramzi Yousef, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”), Mohammed Salameh, Sayyid Nosair, Mahmud Abouhalima, and Ahmed Ajaj.

Not to mention would-be trans-pacific airline bombers Wali Khan Amin Shah and Abdul Hakim Murad.

Al Qaeda operatives Mohammed Jabarah, Jose Padilla, and Abu Ali will share his mailing address.

Let’s not forget American Taliban Johnny Walker Lindh, Shoe Bomber Richard Reid, Al Qaeda and Hamas financier Mohammed Ali Hassan Al-Moayad, Oregon terrorist training camp organizer Ernest James Ujaama, and would-be Millenium Bomber Ahmed Ressam.

That’s a lot of bad guys. It’s almost like we’re checking names off a list or something.

Messaging

Cheney:

Behind the overwrought reaction to enhanced interrogations is a broader misconception about the threats that still face our country. You can sense the problem in the emergence of euphemisms that strive to put an imaginary distance between the American people and the terrorist enemy. Apparently using the term “war” where terrorists are concerned is starting to feel a bit dated.

Obama: no quote is necessary here. The differences in narrative between Obama and Cheney are clear and woven into what Obama says.

Terrorism is about messaging. America finds herself in the unenviable position of fighting an international terrorist group, Al Qaeda, that is trying to convince local insurgents to join its cause. Calling this a “War on Terror” can create a war on everybody if we use large-scale military solutions for intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic problems.

We have to tie every use of force or governmental power to a message: drop leaflets whenever we drop a bomb, hold a press conference whenever we conduct a raid, and publish a court decision whenever we detain someone. Giving the enemy the initiative in messaging gives them the initiative in the big picture.

Conclusion

Once we get past the rhetoric, the differences are few but worth noting. I take Obama in the third round by TKO.