Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Range Roving with the Cinema Stars
Fear not, dear reader. This announcement is not some William Kristol sign off. You'll still have me to kick around here at TIA. I'm just adding to the locations from which you get to take a shot.
The blog is meant to occupy a niche that seems thinly populated. There aren’t many full-service blogs about American foreign policy—blogs where you can find timely and incisive comment on major developments around the world, along with less timely, more considered analysis of enduring foreign policy questions. The reason is simple: the world is a big and complex place, so it would take a big staff of specialists, along with some sage generalists, to produce a full-service foreign policy blog. And who’s got the budget for that? Not us. So instead of hiring a dream team of bloggers, we’re assembling a virtual dream team of bloggers; we cull the best posts from a network of great blogs and print the posts here in full.
In other words, this site is an “edited aggregator”: it aggregates posts from a number of blogs, but not automatically—only posts selected by our editors will appear, and those will be a small minority of posts from any given contributing blog.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Working for the Meltdown: Too Late to Lose the Weight You Used to Need to Throw Around?
Lt. Col. John Sayen (US Marine Corps, ret.) provides a summary of the overall picture:
Our military has broken its constitutional controls. Our Founding Fathers wanted no more than a very limited size and role for a federal military. They feared standing armies not only because they might be used against the American public, i.e. to establish military rule, but also for their potential to involve us in costly foreign wars that would drain our treasury, erode our freedoms and involve us in the “entangling alliances” that George Washington warned of in his farewell address. At that time our armies were composed mainly of state militias that the president needed the cooperation of Congress and the state governors in order to use. Today, we have one large all-volunteer federal Army, which for all practical purposes responds only to the president and the executive branch. It has engaged in numerous foreign wars, involved us in many entangling alliances, drained our treasury and eroded our liberties just as our Founding Fathers foresaw. It has enabled the president to take the nation to war on little more than his own authority. The recent repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 allows him to unilaterally use the military not only against foreigners, but against the American people as well.
While it is easy for children of the World War II/Cold War era who have grown accustomed to an enormous, permanent standing Army to assume that this was always the state of affairs, a closer look at the preceding decades reveals a different story. At the time of this nation's founding, there was only a nominal national force - with most arms residing with state-based militias. While this force was gradually augmented over time, even "as late as 1898 the Army was still authorized only 27,000 men." It is that point in time that marks the dramatic break from past traditions.
The state of military affairs prior to the turn of the 20th century reflected the prevailing political will: there was an overriding concern that a large standing Army could usurp representative government, exert outsized influence over that government and/or lead it into unnecessary adventurism through the seductive lure of martial power. Rather than constructing a force that could pose a threat to the republic, or facilitate far-flung folly, US leaders by and large relegated the military to one overriding purpose: defense of the nation's homeland.
A brief recounting:
Congress...established the relationship between the federal government and the state militias with two militia acts passed in 1792. The first gave the president the authority to call out the militia in response to foreign invasion or internal disorder. The second ordered that the militia consist of all able-bodied male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. Each member would arm and equip himself at his own expense and report for training twice a year. The state legislatures would prescribe the militia’s tactical organization (companies, battalions, regiments, etc.). As time went on, however, and the nation grew more secure, militia service effectively became voluntary. Militia units began to resemble social clubs more than military organizations, but even as late as 1898 the militia could field five times more troops than the U.S. Army.
If the president wanted to take the United States to war, he would need a national army that, unlike the militia, could fight anywhere, not just within its home states. Unless the war was to be of extremely limited scope and duration, the regular U.S. Army would be too small. To enlarge it, the president would have to go to Congress not only to obtain a declaration of war, but also the authority and funding needed to call for militia volunteers. Assuming that Congress was forthcoming, the president would then issue a call for volunteers, ordering each state governor to raise a fixed quota of men from their respective militias. These orders were difficult to enforce and during the war of 1812 and the Civil War several governors refused them. However, those that complied would call on the individual companies and regiments of their respective militias to volunteer for federal service. The members of those units would then vote on whether their units would become “U.S. Volunteers.” Individual members of units that volunteered could still excuse themselves from service for health or family reasons.
Given that most militia units were below their full strength in peacetime, and that a portion of their existing members would be unwilling or unable to serve, they would need a lot of new recruits if they were to go to war. They would also need time for training and “shaking down.” Secretary of War John C. Calhoun in 1818 noted that the United States had no significant continental enemies and was essentially an insular power. Thus, the Navy could ensure that an invader could not land in America before the U.S. Volunteers had time to prepare. The system certainly made it harder to go to war.
The structure of America's military apparatus made it difficult to go to war on a whim, or for anything less than a cause deemed vital by enough actors across a broad swath of geography, class and ideology. The warriors themselves had, in essence, veto power. The results that stemmed from this were unsurprising: "In the first 100 years of its existence the United States fought only two significant foreign wars."
Under our current system, on the other hand, the military lacks the same level of autonomy or prerogative when it comes to making decisions. Our modern day volunteer force receives orders, not ballots, when there is a call to arms. Further, whereas multiple actors needed convincing prior to fielding an army in the past (from Congress, to sate governors, to militiamen themselves), increasingly, in modern times, there is only the President.
...[T]he National Defense Act of 1916, passed in anticipation of America’s entry into World War I. In effect...transformed all militia units from individual state forces into a federal reserve force. The title of “National Guard” became mandatory for all militia units and, within the War Department the Division of Militia Affairs became the National Guard Bureau. Instead of the state titles that many had borne since the colonial era the former militia units received numbers in sequence with regular Army units. In addition, the act created a U.S. Army Reserve of trained individuals not organized into units and established a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in the colleges and universities.
...The political cost had been high. America now had the large professional standing army (with no counterbalancing militia) that our Founding Fathers warned us against. The president now controlled all of the nation’s armed forces in peacetime as well as in war. He would no longer have to beg either Congress or the state governors for troops.
Within a few years he would not have to ask Congress for a declaration of war, either. Yes, Congress still holds the purse strings but, as other chapters of this book will show, it has never gripped them very tightly...[T]he new U.S. Army was effectively accountable only to the executive branch of government.
With a new and powerful tool at its disposal, and with the removal of significant structural impediments, the executive branch began to use the US army more frequently, and in furtherance of objectives that bore an increasingly tenuous relationship with the primary mission of defense of the nation. These overall trends reached their zenith, at least thus far, under the Bush administration (although the FDR administration, and others, went further in some respects). The Bush team not only implemented tenets of the unitary executive model as none had before, thus assuming an even greater scope of military-related privilege for the executive branch, but also justified military action through the preventive war doctrine, thus loosening the already permissive standards for using force abroad.
While many might recognize a situation run amok, the question remains, where do we go from here? It would be next to impossible to turn back the clock to the state militia structure that dominated prior to World War I, and it is not even clear that such a move - were it possible - would be prudent. That's a discussion for another time. However, it is crucial that some semblance of balance is restored between the branches, and that some structural obstacles are reintroduced to make the decision to go to war more dependent on establishing a far reaching consensus, rather than the sole prerogative of the President. The better to ensure that such decisions are rare and only made when necessary.
It would certainly improve the dynamic were Congress to reclaim its war-making authority. It is not clear, though, that Congress has any desire to take back that decision making power - and the responsibility that flows from it - and to what extent such claims could withstand pressure from an Executive branch that has seen its war powers grow through legislative grants, as well as the laddering effect of precedent building on precedent, unchecked by an acquiescent or disengaged judiciary.
Perhaps more importantly, the US government needs to bring the military closer to its original mission: direct defense of the nation. In pursuit of this, we need to reduce the budget and revamp the spending priorities of a military establishment that is still stuck in a Cold War posture that began with the adoption of NSC 68 written by Paul Nitze back in 1950. NSC 68 called for a vast and ambitious military buildup in peacetime, and emphasized military approaches over diplomatic ones, in order to confront the Soviet Union.
Regardless of the wisdom of the Nitze approach to the Cold War, the hangover is unmistakable: despite the fact that the Soviet Union is no longer a threat, we are left with an exceedingly expensive military behemoth that looks for causes to justify its existence, rather than realign its mission to the narrow task of defense and/or small scale action. At the very least, we need to shift away from prioritizing the big ticket items more suited to large scale conventional war - a near moot endeavor with the demise of the USSR and, even where there are potential big power rivals, the existence of nuclear weapons.
We should not expect the military bureaucracy to make such changes on its own - there are no incentives to take such measures, and many forces actively resisting such changes. The military establishment is, by and large, more interested in maintaining the status quo than in making painful cuts or going through the complex and difficult task of shifting paradigms. Further, the entire defense establishment (from contractors, to lobbyists, to journalists, to the officer corps itself), is busy selling the next weapons system, or seeking out the next Hitler, in order to maintain its relevance and ensure the continuation of business as usual - business to the tune of roughly $1 trillion dollars a year.
Nor has been any pressure from the Executive or Congressional branches. Rather, empowered executives - be they Democrat or Republican - have shown little interest in reducing the size and scope of a military that is increasingly under its sole purview. Further, our legislators have grown accustomed to fighting for the dollars flowing from defense budgets rather than rethinking the big picture or wisdom of a given weapons system or conflict.
The net result is a military ill-suited to confront current exigencies, with failing equipment mixed in with exceedingly high tech systems that amount to overkill, all while neglecting the development and retention of enough free-thinking, high quality personnel. This dysfunctional dynamic is not making us any safer, though it does come at exorbitant costs at a time when every last federal dollar is already spoken for, and then some - to the tune of trillions more.In an era of hard choices, re-shaping the defense landscape is an easy one.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Working for the Meltdown: Introduction
It's an ambitious project, and the roster of civilian experts and retired military personnel contributing to the effort do an admirable job of providing the relevant history and background, as well as concrete recommendations for future action. But the true strength of the book lies in the willingness of its many contributors to challenge conventional wisdom and a well-guarded the status quo. This is no small feat considering the size, reach and potency of the interests being challenged. Consider, from Lt. Col. John Sayen's (US Marine Corps, ret.) Chapter 1 overview:
Our military is very expensive. The “official” budget will soon hit $600 billion per year. This approximates the military budgets of all other nations of the world combined...[T]he real budget is much higher than the official one. The official budget does not include the Department of Homeland Security or Veterans Affairs, both of which are really military expenses. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are paid for by offline “supplemental” budgets so they are not included either. If one adds these costs the budget climbs to about a trillion dollars. [emphasis added]
Any time one seeks to pick a fight with a trillion dollar domestic industrial complex - which employs millions both directly and indirectly - one should expect to meet stiff and formidable resistance. As stated in the Preface:
The vast majority, perhaps even all, of Congress, the general officer corps of the armed forces, top management of American defense manufacturers, prominent members of Washington's think-tank community and nationally recognized "defense journalists" will hate this book. They will likely also urge that it be ignored by both parties in Congress and especially by the new president and his incoming national security team.
Nevertheless, over the coming weeks, I will offer mini-reviews on certain of the chapters, highlighting the issues raised therein, in an attempt to widen the parameters of what should be considered acceptable, if not vital, debate. That is not to say that the recommendations contained in this work should be accepted whole-cloth. That would be an impossible expectation, and it would belie the fact that there is not unanimity amongst the book's authors as to the ideal course going forward.
Rather, by putting forth forceful, fact-based, well-reasoned challenges to entrenched patterns and accepted norms - and the vested interests represented by a massive segment of our economy and population - America's Defense Meltdown provides a useful entry into a larger discussion that we as a nation cannot afford to put off any longer - both literally and figuratively.The first such installment to follow shortly.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Happy Inauguration Day!
Also, if anyone's interested, I penned a short essay on the significance of the inauguration for a project called Change in Command. Here's how they describe their mission:
Since early December we've been asking a simple question at Change In Command. Our goal: to explore what today's Inauguration could mean for America and to foster a dialogue around a broad range of topics. We tailored our question for a slew of issues - Climate Change, Tax Policy, National Defense, Technology and the Iraq War to name a few. We also made a point to look at culture and lifestyle with issues like Entertainment , Youth Culture and Design. We invited experts in their respective fields to kick off the discussion each day, and by the time the lights go out at the last Inaugural Ball tonight, we will have covered 44 issues for the election of the 44th President of the United States. The responses have been insightful and sometimes surprising, and our thanks goes out to everyone who has participated so far.
My entry is here.Oh, and I think I've got a photo to use for my book jacket, should I choose to write one. What a shameless ham I am. Please, take it with the pinch of irony with which it's given.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Putting the "W" in WPE
To Bradley Schlozman, they were "mold spores," "commies" and "crazy libs."
He was referring to the career lawyers in the Justice Department's civil rights and voting rights divisions. From 2003 to 2006, Schlozman was a Bush appointee who supervised them. Along with several others, he came to symbolize the midlevel political appointees who brought a hard-edged ideology to the day-to-day workings of the Justice Department.
"My tentative plans are to gerrymander all of those crazy libs right out of the section," he said in an e-mail in 2003. "I too get to work with mold spores, but here in Civil Rights, we call them Voting Section attorneys," he confided to another friend.
He hoped to get rid of the "Democrats" and "liberals" because they were "disloyal" and replace them with "real Americans" and "right-thinking Americans."
He appears to have succeeded by his standards, according to an inspector general's report released Tuesday. Among the newly hired lawyers whose political or ideological views could be discerned, 63 of 65 lawyers hired under Schlozman had Republican or conservative credentials, the report said.
Slapping down "a bunch of . . . attorneys really did get the blood pumping and was even enjoyable once in a while," Schlozman wrote three years later when he left to become the U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo.
Schlozman surrounded himself with like-minded officials at the Department of Justice. When he was due to meet in 2004 with John Tanner, then chief of the voting section, he asked how Tanner liked his coffee.
"Mary Frances Berry style -- black and bitter," Tanner replied by e-mail, referring to the African American woman who chaired the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from 1993 to 2004. Schlozman circulated the e-mail. "Y'all will appreciate Tanner's response," he wrote.
Get it? Black and bitter. ROFLMAO!!!
Republicans wonder why they have such a hard time convincing people that the "GOP is the Party of Civil Rights." Via TBogg, we learn that Schlozman is actually touting his civil rights bona fides on the profile page for his current employer:
Why yes. Yes he has hasn't he.
Brad has spoken on civil rights issues and criminal justice matters.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Be Careful What You Wish For
It was a profoundly dismaying experience. Because if Ambassador Meridor is taken at his word, then Israel has no strategy in Gaza.
Asked three times by audience members, Meridor simply could not offer any plausible explanation as to how its military campaign in Gaza would achieve its stated goals...The goal, he explained, was to create "a better, more secure situation for us and the Palestinians" by degrading Hamas's capabilities and by re-establishing the credibility of its deterrence.
But how, exactly?...No guidance as to whether Israel would re-occupy Gaza, or on what terms it would accept a cease-fire. No thoughts as to whether the campaign would cause Hamas to fall from power or help the Palestinian Authority regain political power. An absolute refusal to entertain a question about the negative effects of the images from Gaza on the wider region (the important image of the war, he nearly spat, should be that "terror is not allowed to win"). Would the military assault at least change Hamas's strategic calculus? "This is for the future, only the future will tell."
Unfortunately, there is good reason to believe that such a purposeless application of violence will achieve the opposite of the intended outcome. In the context of such conflict, and the blockade of food and medicine applied to Gaza in recent months, degrading Hamas will not necessarily empower more moderate voices. On the contrary: a weakened Hamas may provide an opening, and support amongst a beleaguered population, for even more radical and pernicious forces like al-Qaeda and similar groups. Desperation and violence have a tendency to beget more desperation and violence, not less.
Hamas is not the worst possible faction to gain power in Gaza, and the US and Israel should be mindful of the alternatives and differences. While lumping all Islamist movements together under one all-encompassing "Islamofascist" umbrella is a preferred tactic of neoconservative thinkers, in truth, there are serious tensions, competing goals and doctrinal differences between groups like Hamas and al-Qaeda et al. Along these lines, there is a greater possibility of reaching a political accommodations with a group like Hamas with the right incentives, whereas no such outcome is possible with al-Qaeda and its ilk.
Further, it's important to note that Hamas and al-Qaeda-like Salafist groups (and other more radical domestic groups such as Islamic Jihad) have long been competing for the "hearts and minds" of Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. Rather than allies, they have tended to view each other as rivals. From an article in Der Spiegel discussing the competition:
Abu Mustafa says, he and his comrades in arms realize they need to be patient. There’s a long way to go before they can begin their struggle for global influence. First, they have to take care of an enemy closer to home: Hamas.
So far, Hamas has done what it can to keep the Salafis under control. They know the ultra-radicals are just waiting to take over Hamas’ position of leadership. “They are traitors,” Abu Mustafa says of Hamas. “Compared to us, they are Islamism lite.” […]
The group’s greatest sin, says Abu Mustafa… is its effort to bring Islam and democracy together. “Hamas represents an American style of Islam. They have tried to curry favor.” Which is not such a bad thing for Abu Mustafa and his Salafis. “Hamas is like a block of ice in the sun,” he says. “Every minute they get smaller — and we get larger.”
Shadi Hamid provides further background:
A political organization has domestic competitors to both the right and left. Hamas’s major competitor to the left is Fatah. Hamas is not threatened by Fatah in any ideological sense, since the latter has no recognizable ideology. On the other hand, Hamas’s competitors from the “right” represent both political and ideological threats. They fall into two main categories: 1) domestic terrorist groups such as Islamic Jihad, and 2) transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It is worth nothing that Hamas and al-Qaeda have not exactly gotten along since Hamas has prevented al-Qaeda, thus far, from gaining a foothold in Gaza.
Not only will the Hamas organization - left in a weakened state by the recent Israeli military actions - be less able to ward off challengers, but Hamas could feel pressure to outflank its rivals by assuming more radical positions than it would have been inclined to take were it not feeling such pressures. Put simply, as Matt Duss does, the recent violence in Gaza could redound to the benefit of Hamas' rivals and push Hamas itself in the wrong direction.
Further complicating this potential trajectory, there is an internal struggle between hardliners and more moderate voices within Hamas that should not be ignored - as its contours are relevant to any analysis of the likely impact and even impetus - of US and Israeli policy. Shadi Hamid:
Mass-based Islamist groups have, in recent years, become increasingly prone to internal factionalization. Hamas is no exception. I wrote earlierabout divisions between Hamas “politicians” (the Gaza-based faction led by Ismail Haniyeh) and Hamas “militants” or “hardliners” (the Damascus-based faction led by Khaled Meshal). [...]
Let’s backtrack to the days leading up to the end of the cease-fire (Dec. 19). Meshal announced on Sunday December 14th that the ceasefire would not be renewed. Meanwhile, Gaza-based Ayman Taha, presumably with support from Haniyeh, saidthat Meshal’s positions were not binding on the organization. Meanwhile, Haniyeh, when asked to comment, did not secondMeshal’s position and instead issued a non-committal statement. What this likely means is that the intensification of rocket attacks after December 19 was authorized by Damascus rather than Gaza. If Meshal could not bind his Gaza counterparts with his words, he could presumably bind them with actions. If this is indeed the case, then internal posturing within Hamas may have played a greater role in the current conflagration than is originally thought.
The last thing Israel and the US should seek to be creating is a situation in which Hamas' hardliners gain the upper hand over the more political-minded faction, and/or that al-Qaeda and like-minded organizations gain a viable foothold in Gaza at the expense of Hamas. Yet, by immediately seeking to undermine and isolate Hamas after its electoral victory, by instituting a punitive blockadeof food and medicine seeking to enter Gaza, and by Israel's most recent military incursion, Israel and the US may be doing just that. With al-Qaeda increasingly turning its eyes to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as the next battle with which to rally its forces around, the timing could not be worse. Matt Duss again:
Note that the competition between Salafists and Hamas eviscerates (once again) the neoconservative conceit of a united Islamofascist front against the West. These are different groups with different ideologies and goals. Treating them merely as different heads on a Islamic terrorist hydra is just bad policy. In addition to addressing underlying causes when possible, a better policy would involve exploring whether these differences can be aggravated and exploited, as they have been in Iraq.
Since 9/11, neoconservatives and other supporters of a “war on terror” have tried to conflate Israel’s war with the Palestinians with America’s war with Al Qaeda, playing upon Americans’ fear and trauma to obscure the very different issues that in fact motivate the Israel-Palestine conflict. But just as an Iraq invasion premised in part on the myth of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection resulted in a foothold for Al Qaeda in Iraq, so a U.S.-Israel policy that admits essentially no difference between Hamas and Al Qaeda — and that continues to blindly support attempts to crush extremism without addressing the conditions that drive extremism — could very likely do the same for Al Qaeda in Palestine.
Given this potential, ending the latest round of violence, and shifting the US government's posture with respect to Hamas and Gaza, takes on an extra sense of urgency. Daniel Levy, as usual, has some trenchant analysis and recommendations for what should happen next. In particular, rather than seeking to drive a wedge between Fatah and Hamas, US policy should seek to foster a unified Palestinian leadership.
In pursuit of this, the US and Israel should abandon attempts to isolate and punish Gazans for their selection of Hamas via the ballot box, and seek to push Hamas to the middle by creating political incentives. In trying to peel the Gaza population away from Hamas through military force and punitive tactics, the US and Israel should fear what the fruition of that strategy might yield. Gazans might just abandon Hamas, but the replacement might be considerably worse. Just as the purposeful degradation of Fatah led to Hamas' ascendance in the first place.[UPDATE: Marc Lynch has even more]
Monday, January 05, 2009
From a timing point of view, the admonition about adopting treaty-like arrangements without the two-thirds approval of the Senate (as Contstitutionally required) is a bit odd to say the least: President Bush has just concluded an extensive and far-reaching SOFA and Strategic Framework Agreement with the Iraqi government that, together, rise to the level of a treaty using most commonly accepted criteria - and certainly the loose standards applied by Yoo and Bolton.
Does that mean that Yoo and Bolton will be calling for that SOFA to be disregarded unless and until it receives approval by two-thirds of the Senate? Of course not. Such standards only apply to initiatives sought by Democrats. Both Yoo and Bolton are all for a near limitless range of executive authority when a Republican is in charge - it's the Democrats that bring out the concern for separatio0n of powers and checks and balances. As Benen notes:
Reading this, I had to double check to make sure we were talking about the same Bolton and Yoo. After all, John Yoo has spent most of the last eight years arguing that the president has an unfettered power to do as he pleases on the international stage. Indeed, Yoo argued that the president can literally ignore any law he chooses -- including the Constitution -- if he decides it's in the nation's interests.
But that was then. Now Yoo is worried about executive overreach. Now Yoo wants every letter of the Constitution to be respected and adhered to without exception. The very same people who argued that the president must act without restriction when pursuing his foreign policy are now arguing that the president must honor the Treaty Clause at all costs.
But John Yoo's record of intellectual dishonesty stretches back farther than the last eight years. During the Clinton administration, Yoo was a vocal critic of then-President Clinton's attempt to use executive privilege to shield material and subordinates from subpoenas and other prosecutorial prying. But when President Bush evoked an even broader executive privilege cone of protection, Yoo wrote an Op-Ed in defense of Bush's far-reaching prerogative.
Yoo even shifted positions on a key issue within a three year span during the Bush administration's tenure. With respect to FISA's suitability as a surveillance regime he was for it before he was against it, so to speak. His about face was serendipitously timed with revelations about the Bush administration's use of warrantless surveillance in contravention of FISA, and his opinions "evolved" to line up neatly with Bush administration's radical position.As Scott Horton wrote some time ago, "[w]hat motivates John Yoo and his friends is partisan politics, 24/7." Indeed, the New York Times owes is readers more than to give a podium to such a blatant and shameless partisan hack. But then, they gave a regular gig to William Kristol, so what do you expect.