Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been



The Taxonomy of Herman Cain’s World View

Herman Cain released his vision of U.S. foreign policy this week. The primary document containing his vision weighs in at just6.5 pages. In that brief space, Mr. Cain really simply assesses U.S. relations with a handful of states. In an even briefer brochure, Cain lays out his “pillars” of U.S. foreign policy. In the short exposition of his philosophy he notes that his is a “pragmatic and principled approach.” One might suggest the two are necessarily contradictory. If Mr. Cain has found a way to resolve the apparent contradiction between principle and pragmatism, it is certainly worth some description that his foreign policy vision currently lacks.

These pillars consist of platitudes that, unsurprisingly, don’t address any real issues or problems. For example, the pillar “Reassert U.S. Leadership” includes “reassure our friends and deter our adversaries.” Outstanding, Mr. Cain; your nuanced perspective on the world would do George Kennan proud. Let us not bother with any sort of criteria or principles to assess who is a friend and who is an ally. Let us instead skip to the chase and reassure our friends and deter our adversaries. How might we do that? Are we not currently providing assurance to our friends?

This pillar also includes, “re-examin[ing] our role in the United Nations.” Obviously, this trope is meant to be red meat to the anti-UN constituency of the GOP base. There is no indication of what this would entail—though, as a member of that base, we are supposed to infer this would mean quitting the UN—no indication of the criteria used to reassess our position, no indication of what the better position would be. Indeed, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, vested with a veto, there is no better position to have within the United Nations. Oddly, in his exposition, Cain declares he will “never relegate the U.S.A. to being just another country in the United Nations.” The U.S. is of course not “just another country”—it’s one of five possessing a veto. So far as this Editor knows, there is no move afoot to make it one.

Further, it is unclear to this Editor, at least, how quitting the UN—again, presumably the inference we are to draw, as members of the GOP base—exhibits leadership, unless we are leading the U.N. to its demise. Of course, a number of our friends—e.g., the United Kingdom, classified as “special relationship”—apparently buy into the utility of the United Nations. This Editor is not sure how leading the U.N. to its demise would reassure our friends.

Another pillar, “Restore Our Global Competitiveness,” is really focused on domestic policy and includes implementing the 9-9-9 plan, making free trade work for the United States, outgrowing our competitors, and ending our dependence on overseas oil. With the exception of implementing the 9-9-9 plan, there is no indication of how any of these would be implemented in practice. Although, improving our global competitiveness is a worthy goal, this Editor would like to see more details. Additionally, the 9-9-9 plan reportedly increases the tax burden on poor Americans, how this improves our global competitiveness is lost on this Editor.

The third and final pillar of Mr. Cain’s plan, “Counter Urgent Threats” is quite specific in its goals but, unfortunately, light on details. This pillar includes stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, fixing border security “for real,” and shielding us against “cyber and electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attacks.” There is no indication as to why cyber attacks and EMP attacks are lumped together. They both deal with (vaguely) electronics, but beyond that they are totally different. It is nice to see, however, that Newt Gingrich’s reference to EMP attacks in the last debate has penetrated the public consciousness enough that Mr. Cain felt it necessary to address.

Perhaps the most controversial portion of Mr. Cain’s foreign policy vision is his taxonomy of nations. Cain has categorized select nations into the following categories “special relationship,” “friend and ally,” “friend and partner,” “friend,” “strategic partner,” “danger and opportunity,” “competitor,” “rival,” and “adversary regime.”

Special Relationship
United Kingdom
Friend and Ally
Canada, Israel, Japan
Friend and Partner
Strategic Partner
Danger and Opportunity
Egypt, Pakistan
Adversary Regime
Iran, North Korea, Venezuela

This taxonomy of nation-states is certainly more nuanced than President Bush’s dichotomy—with us or against us—but it is hardly nuanced. What makes Mexico merely a Friend and Partner rather than a Friend and Ally? Why is Egypt, like Pakistan, a Danger and Opportunity? What does that mean for uncategorized Tunisia? But what strikes me most is that Israel is lumped in as merely a Friend and Ally with Canada and Japan. This is an odd downgrade for a candidate in a field that has been falling over itself to be the greatest friend to Israel (particularly, the right wing of Israel) imaginable. That too is worth some explanation. 

The Short List - November 30, 2011



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been



The Short List - November 29, 2011



Monday, November 28, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been




In general, I am a proponent of decorum and civility—particularly, in the public sphere. In these pages, I have voiced my displeasure with breaches of decorum like that of Rep. Joe Wilson when he shouted at the President. And, though this blog has a progressive slant, my ire in this respect is non-partisan or, perhaps, bipartisan. Which brings me to the incident on Jimmy Fallon’s show last Monday.

For those of you who do not know, Rep. Michele Bachmann appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show last Monday. The Roots are the house band for Jimmy Fallon and, during their tenure, they have established a tradition of playing entrance music customized for particular guests. For Michele Bachmann, the Roots played “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” Both Fallon and NBC have apologized since and, reportedly, the Roots were severely reprimanded.

Now, the Republican field has been subject to a fair amount of derision from this blog—and ole crazy eyes has been no exception. There is much to mock about these characters and few could argue that Bachmann in particular is deserved of kid gloves. She is indeed a liar—she emits falsehoods about the President, his policies, and their effects on thecountry seemingly with every breath. She is building a career on paranoia and sensationalism; she is a demagogue; and she has built her career on terrorizing the American people into voting for her out of fear. Her attacks on the President are unsupported—indeed, unsupportable—and one could be forgiven for wishing upon her turnabout as fair play.

Yet, Bachmann is a member of Congress and a candidate for the Presidency. Estimably, she has dedicated her life to public service—even if she does not honor it as such. She served as an attorney for the IRS and now she serves in Congress. That dedication alone is worthy of respect. What’s more, though, she was invited to be a guest on the Jimmy Fallon show. The bare rules of etiquette and hospitality dictate that she be accorded respect on not be subject to insult by her hosts. Like it or not, the Roots, in the employ of NBC, were her hosts. Worse, they did not challenge her on the veracity of particular statements, they did not engage her in debate, they did not give her an opportunity to respond. No, she was made the butt of a joke she likely did not even understand (this Editor doubts that Rep. Bachmann was able to recognize the song, let alone identify its name to decode the insult). Certainly, anyone who survived high school can sympathize with this scenario.

This Editor has no love lost for Rep. Bachmann. But he believes the behavior of the Roots late Monday night to be abhorrent. He would rather like a great deal more civility in American politics—this desire extends to Michele Bachmann even if she is unlikely to behave civilly herself and will instead continue to peddle lies and misrepresentations about the President.

The Short List - November 28, 2011

And I'm back.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Union Leader Endorses Newt Gingrich

Cementing his status as real contender, today the Manchester Union Leader--New Hampshire's statewide conservative newspaper--endorsed Newt Gingrich for President of the United States. The editorial itself is a study in ahistorical narrative. It describes former Speaker Gingrich as a man not only capable of improving Washington, but a man who has already improved Washington. That is odd praise for a man many--on either side of the aisle--hold responsible for inaugurating (in the Union Leader's words, innovating) the hyper-polarized era of American politics, currently crippling our country. See, e.g., the Empty Chamber Speeches.  

No matter. Gingrich has climbed recently as the latest GOP not-Romney flavor of the month. He is polling, today, at 27% in Iowa, 7 points better than Romney--for those of you keeping score at home, Iowa polls are actually fairly useful for the Republican caucuses in contrast to the Democratic caucuses--and his performance during CNN's national security debate was policy-heavy and focused. He has, as this blog surmised way back when his campaign launched, become a legitimate candidate both for the Republican nomination and for the Presidency--one that stumbled early but did not implode. He could still easily go the way of Pawlenty, Bachmann, Cain, and Perry but with just six weeks to go before Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich appears to be peaking at the right time and managing to do so in two places at once. 

This Editor, at least, believes the Republican field has finally found its not-Romney--and, perhaps, its nominee.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

To you and yours from DCExile.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Live Blogging The November 22 Republican Debate

DCExile will be live blogging tomorrow night's CNN Republican debate on National Security. If you were with us last time, you can expect the same sort of fun. Because National Security always brings out the best in the Republican field, we may even make it into a drinking game.  

Fox News Makes You Dumber

Really, though.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chart of the Day

From The Economist:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Short List - November 17, 2011



Thursday, November 10, 2011

Intervening in Somalia

In a guest post at CFR, Mohammed Jallow argues for a stronger AU military intervention in Somalia to complement Kenya’s incursion (currently bogged down in Somali mud). Jallow writes, “With all these converging forces pressing on al-Shabaab, there is once again another opportunity to end the Somali conflict, at least from a military perspective.” He also claims:
If the AU manages to secure more troops and contributions from other countries, launching an offensive against al-Shabaab from the north could shrink the size of al-Shabaab controlled territory, and cut off its supply lines, effectively starving it of much needed resources to sustain a long fight. Simplistic as that may sound, there is real potential here for a military end to al-Shabaab’s dominance over Somalia, as well as removing the threat it poses to the transitional government and the AU forces protecting it.
But is this right? It is unclear to me that a stronger military to response is any kind of solution to the manifold problems accompanying Somalia’s twenty-year collapse. There is no evidence to indicate that Somalis will respond with anything other than hostility to significant foreign military intervention. Every major foreign intervention since Somalia’s collapse has been unwelcome: the U.N. and U.S. intervention in 1992; the Ethiopian intervention in 2006; and the ongoing African Union mission to Somalia. Worse, none of these interventions has delivered any sort of measurable progress in terms of stabilizing Somalia—in fact, Ethiopia’s invasion arguably did more harm than good by ousting (and subsequently radicalizing) the closet thing that Somalia had seen to a central government in twenty years.

After twenty years of failed attempts to graft a solution onto Somalia, one would expect the international community to take stock and try something else. In particular, the international community ought to look north of Mogadishu to the Republic of Somaliland. Although it has been basically ignored by the international community, Somaliland is a model of success. Its success is attributable to its organic, indigenous conflict resolution process—a process that relied at the outset on traditional power centers and a gradual enlargement of participation to ensure legitimacy and buy-in from stake holders including tribal leaders, rebel fighters, and the people of Somaliland. Importantly, this process of indigenous conflict resolution occurred in parallel with a home-grown disarmament campaign that successfully demilitarized a population that had been engaged in a decade-long civil war.

The success of indigenous conflict resolution among Somalis need not be limited to Somaliland, however. It is little wonder that the closest Somalia has come to a functioning central government in the last twenty years was the brief reign of the Islamic Courts Union. Unlike the farcical Transitional Federal Government, the ICU earned the buy-in of a substantial portion of rump-Somalia’s populace, it was able to administer justice, and it had a stabilizing effect. While we may bristle at the draconian operation of some of the Courts (they were disaggregated), there is a lesson to be learned from their brief success—and from the abject failure of everything before and everything since Ethiopia’s invasion. Namely, that external solutions—especially those that rely on or incorporate individuals with no real constituency within Somalia—are non-starters.

It is for this reason that Jallow’s hope is misplaced. No amount of Kenya, Ethiopian, Uganda, South African, or Nigerian troops can fix Somalia unless they mean to permanently occupy the country. Even then, it is far more likely that a protracted nationalist insurgency will arise to oppose such an occupation than Somalia would be stabilized. Nor is it an answer that the TFG has given the AU or Kenya or any other actor its blessing to operate in Somalia. The TFG has no writ and its collaboration with (and reliance upon) outsiders serves only to underscore this fact.

So, to answer the question posed in Jallow's title: No, collective military action is not the answer.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Short List - November 8, 2011



Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mischaracterizing the Law of Drones

Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman, and Julian Barnes’ reporting in the Wall Street Journal indicates that the United States views its covert drone campaign in Pakistan to be an armed conflict, governed by international humanitarian law. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the hostilities between the United States and various organized armed groups operating in Pakistan—and there are many such groups—are sufficiently intense to rise to the level of an armed conflict, triggering international humanitarian law. IHL provides a state with the authority to use force as a first resort against hostile civilians who directly participate in hostilities. The low-level foot soldiers of the various armed groups in Pakistan are such civilians directly participating in hostilities and they are lawful targets for as long as they are directly participating in hostilities.

Thus, Spencer Ackerman’s mischaracterizations aside, the fundamental question of who can be targeted is not one of policy but of law. Limiting drone targeting in Pakistan to high-level leadership was an implicit indication that the United States was invoking a state’s inherit right of self-defense. The expansion in targeting to include low-level fighters indicates a recognition on the part of the United States that it is engaged in one (perhaps several) armed conflicts in Pakistan. It is within the framework of armed conflict that the United States finds the authority to target a broader set of individuals and not just those whose killing is necessary to disrupt an imminent armed attack—the requirements for a state to use force in self-defense. Notably, the refusal to expand the use of drones in Yemen to include low-level fighters may suggest that the United States does not believe it is engaged in an armed conflict in Yemen, a very interesting point unto itself.

Moreover, the criticism that Ackerman levels—“CIA Drones Kill Large Groups Without Knowing Who They Are”—is misplaced and wrongheaded. Under neither self-defense nor the law of armed conflict is it necessary for the CIA to know who it is targeting. Under self-defense it may be useful for a state to know who it is targeting to be assured that it has made out the requirements of self-defense, but it is not required. Under the law of armed conflict, however, this criticism becomes ridiculous. In a non-international armed conflict, one that takes place between a state and a non-state actor, targetability turns on whether the target is directly participating in hostilities. As for the laundryman in Ackerman’s hypothetical, he is collateral damage. Whether his death renders the use of force unlawful depends on whether, from a prospective view, his death (and those like him) is disproportionate to the military advantage gained by killing the target. 

There is plenty to question about the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan and elsewhere without confusing paradigms or leveling critiques that make no sense. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Short List - November 2, 2011



Tuesday, November 1, 2011

After Iraq, Iraq v. Iran

I tend to agree with Walt's assessment that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq may actually undermine, as opposed to bolster, Iran's position vis-a-vis Iraq:

Ever since 2003, the U.S. presence in Iraq has reinforced cooperation between Iran and some significant portions of Iraq's Shiite community, and especially those elements (such as Muktada al Sadr's Mahdi Army) who really wanted the United States to get out. But once we withdraw, then it is far from obvious that the bulk of Iraqis -- including most Iraqi leaders -- will want to become a satrap for Iran. It's true that the Sunni-Shiite divide provides Iran with some avenues of influence in Iraq society, but there's also the enduring division between Arabs and Persians and Iraq's overriding interest in not allowing Iran to become a hegemonic power in the Gulf region. Let's not forget that the two countries fought a brutal and costly war for most of the 1980s, and plenty of Iraqi and Iranian Shiites killed each other during that conflict.

The Indochina war offers an obvious historical analogy. One of the reasons the United States fought there for so long was the familiar domino theory -- the dubious idea that a communist victory in Vietnam would trigger a cascade of falling dominos and undermine the entire US position in Asia (and possibly elsewhere). But when the United States finally got out, the exact opposite thing happened: none of our other Asian allies abandoned us and China and Vietnam had a rapid falling-out that led to war between the two communist states in 1979. And over time, of course, China abandoned Maoism and Vietnam grew more and more interested in better relations with America. And let's not forget that fourteen years after Saigon fell, it was the Soviet Union that ended up on the ash-heap of history. Once we stopped pouring troops and bombs into Indochina, in short, our strategic position began to improve and we could focus on the more serious aspects of Cold War competition.
In short, if you really think Iran is a threat to dominate the Gulf region, and if you also believe that states tend to balance against threatening powers instead of band-wagoning with them, then you should also expect the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq to encourage more regional powers--including Iraq--to take actions to limit Iranian power and influence. And that might also include being a bit more favorably inclined toward the United States, despite all the other things we do that tick off people in that part of the world. That could be why we're getting a positive response to these new initiatives, and that's why getting out of Iraq may actually bolster our overall strategic position.

Putting aside the historical analogy, the notion that Iran will continue to dominate Iraq and the wider Gulf upon U.S. withdrawal seems misplaced. First, as Walt notes, Iranian strength will likely inspire balancing on the part of Iran's neighbors. Second, for historical and cultural reasons, Iraq is more likely to align with its Arab neighbors (who will engage in balancing) than to band-wagon with Persian Iran, despite the fact that the majority of Iraqis are, like the vast majority of Iranians, Shiite.

The Short List - November 1, 2011