Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

German High Court Challenges EU and Lisbon Treaty

The forces of European consolidation are attempting to force through the Lisbon Treaty without allowing anyone other than the Irish to vote.  And, of course, the Irish have been pressed to vote a second time since they made the “wrong” decision last year, rejecting Lisbon.

But now the treaty faces a serious challenge before the German high court.  Reports the EU Observer:

Several of the eight judges in charge of examining whether the EU’s Lisbon Treaty is compatible with the German constitution have expressed scepticism about the constitutional effects of further EU integration.

According to reports in the German media, the debate during the crucial two-day hearing starting on Tuesday (10 Februrary) on the treaty centred on criminal law and the extent to which it should be the preserve of member states rather than the EU.

The judges questioned whether the EU should be allowed to increase its powers in criminal law.

Judge Herbert Landau said new EU powers in criminal justice affected “core issues” of German legislative authority.

“These are issues affecting the shared values of a people,” he said.

Judge Udo Di Fabio, who prepared the procedure and will deliver the judgement on the treaty, asked whether the transferral of powers to the EU really means more freedom for EU citizens.

“Is the idea of going ever more in this direction not a threat to freedom?” he asked, according to FT Deutschland.

Judge Rudolf Mellinghoff asked whether the treaty was already “in an extensive way” being applied when its comes to the area of criminal sanctions in environment issues – the European Commission may sanction companies for polluting the environment

In all, four of the eight judges questioned the Lisbon Treaty.

The Irish vote was bad enough, causing wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout the continent’s Eurocratic elite.  If the EU’s most important country rejects the Lisbon Treaty, the entire EU project will be in doubt.  After all, it’s one thing to browbeat the Irish, threatening to toss them out of the EU or push them into some form of second-rate status.  But the EU couldn’t do that with Germany and survive.

It’s hard to imagine the German court overturning the government’s ratification of the treaty.  But no one expected the Irish to say no as well.  Europe might soon find itself dealing with a political as well as economic crisis.

Has President Obama Bitten Off More than He Can Chew?

Beneath all the thrashing over the giant deficit spending bill, President Obama has another thorn in his side: Iraq.  Reuters now reports that the military has crafted an analysis of three plans for withdrawing from Iraq: one taking 16 months, one taking 19 months, and another taking 23 months.  It’s not clear from the article where the 19- and 23-month proposals came from.  It’s a bit strange, though, that the president’s own plan has been put in a position now as being the extremely fast plan for withdrawal, juxtaposed against the two others.  Who asked for other plans?

Reuters reports further that Gen. Petraeus (CENTCOM) and Lt. Gen. Odierno (MNF-I) favor the longest of the three plans.

All of this shouldn’t be surprising, though: Tom Ricks’ new book on Iraq (which I’ve not seen) features this little tidbit in the promotional materials:

For Petraeus, prevailing in Iraq means extending the war. Thomas E. Ricks concludes that the war is likely to last another five to ten years—and that that outcome is a best case scenario. His stunning conclusion, stated in the last line of the book, is that ‘the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered by us and by the world have not yet happened.’”

So in the midst of the partisan scrap over the giant spending package, the Reuters story makes it look like like Obama may have to take on Petraeus and Odierno if he thinks he’s going to get us out of Iraq any time soon.*  Who’s optimistic?

* Marc Lynch of GWU and Foreign Policy made essentially this argument previously, and was slapped down by an Odierno spokesman.  Let’s see if these Obama vs. Petraeus/Odierno stories (and responses from military spokespeople) keep getting written.

Defense Spending Correction

In the podcast posted today on Cato’s main site, I say that it appears likely that Obama will accept a massive increase in defense spending foisted on him by the Pentagon for its FY 2010 budget. It did appear that way a week ago when I recorded the podcast. Bill Lynn, the Raytheon lobbyist Obama nominated to be Bob Gates’ number two at the Pentagon, had said as much, and I figured he knew what the administration was planning.

Turns out, he didn’t. Over the weekend, various news outlets reported that the Office of Management and Budget told the Pentagon to forget the $70 billion bump they hoped for, which would have brought non-war defense spending from about $513 billion to $584 billion, and accept a far smaller increase - about $14 billion, which is about what Pentagon plans called for before this gambit.

As I wrote here a couple months ago, the Pentagon, and the services within it, presumably hoped that they could present Obama with a fait accompli. If he ordered the Pentagon to roughly hold spending level, neoconservatives on the Hill and the Washington Post’s oped page could spin it as a cut and scream “surrender!” Bob Kagan, Max Boot, and others fell right into line.

Boot defends himself here by saying A. he doesn’t know enough about defense spending to know when FoxNews is misleading him, so it’s not his fault, and B. $584 is what the Joint Chiefs say they need to defend the nation, so it really is a cut. He asks, “Are Obama and his budget director prepared to say they understand the military’s needs better than the senior military leadership?” One would certainly hope so, given the concept of civilian control of the military. Boot is apparently unaware that the military organizations usually ask for what they think they can get and call it what they need.

Missing from all this discussion is a fact I only see hidden behind a subscription wall at Inside the Pentagon – the Obama team is going to increase the planned amount of spending over five years. Rather than the leveling off in defense spending that Bush administration had planned, the Obama administration plans to keep it growing mildly.

Hopefully that report is premature or the decision will be reconsidered – and historically these plans rarely hold up. The Pentagon’s budget should be drastically reduced. See the defense budget chapter of the Cato Policy Handbook for details. The bottom line is that it starts with restraint. Do less to spend less. That would avoid needless wars, which is the category of most of those we might fight these days, and the cost incurred by preparing for so many.

*I also say in the podcast that: “We spend more on research and development on new weapons systems than any other country other than China.”

I meant to say “We spend more on researching and developing new weapons than any other country spends on its entire military, other than China.”

Big difference.

Cato Unbound: An Appreciation of Partisanship

This month’s Cato Unbound is up, featuring a lead essay by Harvard Professor Nancy Rosenblum. She discusses themes developed more fully in her book On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship. Rosenblum makes the case that political parties have gotten an undeserved bad reputation, and that they do useful, unappreciated coordinating work in democratic politics.

In the first response essay, Brink Lindsey replies in essence that political parties are much better than they used to be, but there’s still plenty to complain about. Response essays by Henry Farrell of George Washington University and James Fishkin of Stanford University will appear on Friday and Monday, respectively, followed by a blog chat among the authors.

My own biggest questions on the topic are as follows.

First, is it even meaningful to say that we are “for” or “against” partisanship? Or, when we say this, are we really just saying that we’re for or against certain aspects of partisanship? Political parties seem to appear wherever we find the concepts of representative democracy and loyal opposition. Complaining about political parties is a bit like being against the weather.

We may hate many of the things that political parties do, but their main alternatives seem to be dictatorships and death squads. Even the most committed anti-partisans wouldn’t go that route. And even those who cheer for partisan politics may seem to be making a virtue of necessity.

Second, what about the legal regime that sustains the two-party system? The rules that support partisan politics were written by partisans, after all. Certainly we can’t just take them as a given. Ballot access regulations, campaign finance rules, and the incumbent advantage help to give us the specific type of partisan politics we have. Who else gets to write their own ticket like that, and should we let them?

A New Tone toward the Muslim World

After his first major interview with an Arab TV network, it is clear President Obama is striking a decidedly different tone in talking about terrorism. In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, legal policy analyst David H. Rittgers discusses the new direction Obama will take in the fight against terrorism.

“This is a serious departure from some of the message that the Bush Administration put forth,” says Rittgers, who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan as an officer in the Army. “Using ‘you are with us or against us’ is appropriate in certain circumstances, but as a blanket approach that is not the message we need to be sending.”

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Pat Lang on Israel/Palestine

National Journal’s Sydney Freedberg asks a group of distinguished foreign policy types, “Is the two-state solution dead?” Pat Lang offers some sensible remarks:

It is expected ritual to say that the Palestinians and Israelis want peace. What is never specified as part of that incantation is the description of just what sort of peace each group wants. Here it is… What they still want (on both sides) is to win in the contest for that sad, beautiful, stony little strip of land and for their own group to live in peace and possession of the country.

There is no external power preventing the sides from making peace. If the Israelis and Palestinians wanted peace more than they want to win, they would make peace. They do not make peace because there is not enough good will toward the “other” among them to allow peace to exist. No. I no longer really believe that the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine want peace for other than their own side in the bloody mess that has persisted there throughout their lives.

Someone has said on this blog that the United States lacks the ability to “make peace” between these two peoples. That is profoundly true. It is part of our national illusion that we Americans think of the rest of the world as though we are the guardians of distant, unruly and childish folk who act in strange, inexplicable and unreasonable ways. We tend to believe that their quarrels are errors in information or simply bad behavior of the kind seen in school yards.  This mistake on our part is persistent….

Then, however, I’d humbly submit that Lang goes astray in arguing that while neither side appears ready to make the sacrifices required for a workable peace deal, the problem will ultimately “require an external formulation of a peace settlement when they ARE ready.”

Why am I skeptical? Because, as Lang admits, what would be required for this to work is “a consensus of the interested parties across the Middle Eastern, Islamic and Western regions, a consensus that does not shrink from domestic political pressure, that does not fear to apply the inherent leverage provided by huge annual budgetary contributions to both sides and that values human life and happiness more than it does momentary advantage.” If both sides were ready for peace, why would pulling budgetary levers be required? Alternatively, it seems terribly unlikely that pulling budgetary levers could make either side amenable enough to genuine concessions to make peace work. And aside from the extreme unlikelihood of the blessed convergence described above happening in our lifetimes, I’m reminded of George Kennan’s concern in the 1970s about the responsibilities that come with imposing a settlement:

[W]e should not try to tell [the Israelis], or the Arabs, what the terms of a settlement should be. It is they, after all, not we, who would have to live with any settlement that might be achieved. Many of us can think, I am sure, of concessions which, in our personal opinion, it would be wise for the Israelis to make; but for the United States government to take the responsibility of urging them to make such concessions is quite another matter. There are many who would think, for example, that it would be wise for them to give up the Golan Heights. They may of course be right. But how can we be sure? What would our responsibility be if we urged this upon them and it turned out to be disastrous?

It seems like the problem for the United States is less that the Israelis and Palestinians seem unwilling to make the sacrifices required for peace, and more that we find ourselves in a position such that, as Kennan wrote, with respect to both sides of the dispute, “each has the impression that it is primarily through us that its desiderata can be achieved, with the result that we are always first to be blamed, no matter whose ox is gored; and all this in a situation where we actually have very little influence with either party. Seldom, surely, can a great power have gotten itself into a more unsound and unnecessary position.”