Saturday, March 16, 2013

Drones and Pakistan, Consent and Sovereignty

This week, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Counterterrorism Ben Emmerson, issued a statement concluding, “As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is . . . being conducted without the consent of the . . . legitimate Government of [Pakistan]. . . . and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”  Emmerson based his conclusion on meetings he held between March 11–13, 2013 with representatives of Pakistan’s government, as well as Pakistani civilians.  His lengthy statement includes a detailed summary of those conversations that elaborate the view of Pakistan’s government and is instructive because of its contradictions.  But I digress.

In so far as Pakistan does not consent to U.S. drone strikes, those strikes most certainly violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.  Whether they violate international law is a more difficult question.  Any discussion of the international law governing a state’s use of force must begin with the UN Charter, which occupies the field of modern jus ad bellum.  Article 2(4) of the UN Charter states:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
There are three exceptions to this blanket prohibition on the use of force between states: two found within the text of the UN Charter, and one found in the nature of states.  First, one or more states may use force when it is authorized by the U.N. Security Council under Chapter VII:
The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.  (Article 39) Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 [measures short of force] would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.  (Article 42)
Second, Article 51 (also found in Chapter VII), preserves each state’s inherent right to self-defense in case of an armed attack:
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.
Third, although not found in the UN Charter, state consent to use of force is a well-recognized principle of international law.  That is, State A may authorize State B to use force within State A’s territory.  Although State B is clearly violating the territorial integrity of State A by so using force, Article 20 of the Draft Articles of State Responsibility state that “[v]alid consent by a State to the commission of a given act by another State precludes the worngfulness of that act in relation to the former State to the extent that the act remains within the limits of that consent.”  The continuing validity of consent in international law was affirmed by the International Court of Justice in Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo

The U.N. Security Council has not authorized U.S. use of force within Pakistan so at least that justification for use of force is off the table.  However, with any given drone strike the United States may invoke consent or self-defense or both—the two justifications are not mutually exclusive. 

But the United States is clearly at least relying on consent to justify the lawfulness of its drone strikes in Pakistan.  An article in the Wall Street Journal in September described the evolution of the quantum of consent the United States has considered valid over the last several years.  David Sanger also explored Pakistani consent to US drone strikes in his excellent book Confront and Conceal. From these and other sources, it is apparent that Pakistan gave its consent to US drone strikes at some point.  The problem for both the United States and the Special Rapporteur is determining whether Pakistan continues to consent to those strikes and, if not, when did it revoke that consent. 

As the Draft Articles state, consent only precludes the wrongfulness of an act to the extent that act remains within the limits of the consent given.  Thus, if State A consents to force by State B in the northern half of A’s territory, any force used by B in the southern half of A would be wrongful whereas the same sort of force used in the northern half would lawful.  Similarly, consent to force tied to narrow objectives is only lawful in pursuit of those objective.  For example, if Pakistan were to authorize drone strikes targeting Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan but not Lashkar-e-Taiba, then any U.S. strike targeting LeT would be a violation of Pakistan’s consent and thus wrongful under international law.  Even after granting consent to use of force in it’s a territory, a state may subsequently revoke that consent, rendering any use of force by the outside state after the revocation of consent unlawful.  Such was the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda in Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo

Public statements by Pakistani politicians and elected officials, and statements by officials from the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defence on which Emmerson relies, seem to suggest that Pakistan has revoked its consent for U.S. drone strikes.  However, statements alone cannot be conclusive.  As Roberto Ago noted in his capacity as Special Rapporteur for State Responsibility, “like all manifestations of the state . . . consent can be expressed or tacit, explicit or implicit, provided, however, that it is clearly established.”  Obviously, observers’ lives are made easiest when consent is expressed and done so through some public, verifiable means as in a treaty.  Unfortunately consent is not always given in so accessible and identifiable a fashion.  Consider, for example, the consent given by former President Saleh to U.S. drone strikes in Yemen.  Reports of that consent indicate that it was broad consent to use of force given verbally and privately by President Saleh with the expectation that Saleh would claim any U.S. strikes were the work of Yemen’s airforce both in public and to Yemeni lawmakers.  In Yemen’s case, then, consent was clearly given by Yemen (or at least President Saleh) to the United States.  But the clarity of this consent let alone its very existence was secret and not accessible to observers.  Thus, it is not sufficient merely to look to public statements by a state’s political leadership for evidence of consent or its absence.  We must also consider the objective behavior of the state.

In Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo, the ICJ was forced to consider when the Democratic Republic of the Congo withdrew its consent to the presence of Uganda armed forces on its territory.  The Court considered the arguments of both sides but concluded that, when Congo President Kabila declared the presence of Ugandan forces in the DRC to be an invasion, consent for their presence had been revoked.  Although his statement is similar to accusations from Pakistani officials that the United States is violating its sovereignty, one must recall that Kabila’s statement was paired with Congolese actions.  Within two weeks of declaring that Uganda’s presence constituted an invasion of the DRC, Kabila had enlisted the armed support of Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Angola to oust both Uganda and Rwanda’s forces from the territory of the Congo. 

It is worth noting that Pakistan has taken no similar, concrete steps to demonstrate its revocation of consent to U.S. drone strikes.  This is not to say that Pakistan need pair its verbal protests with a direct assault on U.S. or coalition troops operating in Afghanistan to make a revocation of consent operative.  But Pakistan’s behavior in general has been at best ambiguous.  Despite having the capacity to “‘trace and detect any aircraft’” operating near its border with Pakistan and (apparently) the ability to shoot such aircraft down, there have never been reports of Pakistan shooting down a U.S. drone.  Although the absence of public reports of such downings is not dispositive, the fact that U.S. drones carry out any strikes even though they are slow moving, are not maneuverable, and carry no air defense countermeasures, strongly suggests that Pakistan is choosing not to interdict drones.  Additionally, Pakistan has a modern air force that is at least as capable as the Iranian air force but, while Iran has chased a number of U.S. air force drones over the Persian Gulf in recent months, there have never been any similar reports from Pakistan.  Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, Pakistan has not taken the sort of concrete steps vis-à-vis the United States for drone strikes as it has for other violations of Pakistani sovereignty.  For example, in November 2011, a frontier incident between U.S. and Pakistani troops (that resulted in the death of 26 Pakistanis), led Pakistan to both close its border with Afghanistan to NATO convoys and to kick U.S. drones out from their Pakistani bases.  Pakistan also upgraded its Afghan-border air defense systems.  Similarly, after a CIA contractor killed two Pakistanis in January 2011, Pakistan ousted all CIA contractors and reduced the number of U.S. special operators allowed in Pakistan for training missions from 120 to 39.  Not only has Pakistan not taken such steps in response to U.S. drone strikes, at least until the Wall Street Journal report at the end of September 2012, Pakistan  continued to clear the parts of its air space in which the CIA indicated it would conduct drone strikes.  That is to say, not only is Pakistan not intervening to prevent drone strikes, it is taking affirmative steps to facilitate those strikes.  Thus, Pakistan’s behavior at least renders its public statement ambiguous and, more likely, supersedes those statements altogether.  Again, consent must be clearly stated but clearly stated to the recipient of that consent not the outside world.

If the United States is operating without Pakistan’s consent within Pakistan, it is violating Pakistan’s sovereignty—and it may be violating international law.  However, Emmerson’s conclusion notwithstanding, it is far from clear that, as a matter of international law, the United States is violating Pakistani sovereignty.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Republicans: Good for the Wealth; Bad for National Security

Greg Sargent writes at the Plumline:
If anything, that position is made worse by the new study’s finding [that increasing income inequality is driven by the shift of wealthy peoples' income from wages to dividends and capital gains]. After all, Republicans are openly conceding the sequester will damage our national security, even as they refuse to avert it by agreeing to the closing of loopholes benefiting the wealthy — even though this would likely be part of a deal in which they got more in spending cuts than they’d be conceding in new revenues! As the new study shows, those benefiting from GOP opposition to any new revenues are doing extremely well indeed — lending more ammo to the Democratic argument that Republicans would sooner damage our military and economy than ask for a penny in new revenues from the very rich.

You can find the study to which he refers here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

DCExile's 2013 State of the Union Drinking Game

We shall from time to time create a drinking game . . .

Yes, dear Reader, it is that time of the year again.  The invitation has been sent.  The speech is in its final draft.  All that remains is the delivery itself (and the pre-game show, the pre-pre-game show, the introduction by the Sergeant at Arms, the handshakes, the standing ovations, and doubtless some display of incivility on the part of Tea Party members of Congress).  With that in mind, we humbly submit to you our annual rules (see 2012, 2011 rules) for consuming alcohol while viewing that Constitutionally-mandated presidential rite: the State of the Union.

- Pre-game show rules: one shot of bourbon, one blow to the head from a ball-peen hammer each time Erin Burnett appears on screen.

- “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!”  On that statement, drink one flute of champagne. After all, we’re still celebrating it’s BHO again and not that other guy.

- Speaking of the other guy, drink a carton of milk. That joke will never get old.

- Each time the President says "immigration reform," pour a half shot of tequila into a half shot of bourbon. It'll all be American soon.

- Each time the President says "nuclear arms" shake up your beer can and try to drink it without any spillage. 

- Each time the camera shows a shot of the Al Green(TX-9) take a drink while attempting to howl

- Each time a Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justice is on camera, do a slammer shot and yell, "Order in the court!"

- Each time the President says “bipartisanship” pull out a clump of your hair, put it into a shot glass of 151, and set the whole thing on fire. Drink at your peril--and the country’s.

- Each time there's a camera shot of Sen. McConnell take a shot of Kentucky Gentleman and say "Hello Clarice."

- Each time John Boehner tears up, do a waterfall. You don’t stop until he does. God help us all.

- Each time the camera shows Michelle Obama drink a Cosmo and do a set of curls.

- Each time the President mentions infrastructure, chug one can of American beer (your humble authors suggest Dale’s Pale Ale or Pabst Blue Ribbon), place it intact on your coffee table, and construct a pyramid.  If you can still see the TV over the pyramid by the end of the State of the Union, consider the speech a missed opportunity.

- Each time a Republican is rude, uncivil, or otherwise disrespectful of the President, take one shot of tequila mixed with sugar because somethings aren’t improved by any amount of sugarcoating. 

- If the Pope is mentioned, eat a saltine and enjoy a glass of Carlo Rossi. Bonus: write your own name on a piece of paper, set it aflame, and wait pensively for the smoke to turn white.  It’s going to be a long couple of months, folks.

- If the President mentions or otherwise hints at the possibility of one of his nominees being held up or otherwise filibustered, take (Article) Two shots of rye whiskey and shout, "j'accuse!" at the television. Bonus: If at this point the camera pans to Lindsey Graham (R-SC), throw a copy of the 9/11 Report at the screen.

- If the President mentions Afghanistan, drink an entire bottle of Johnnie Walker Red: Keep Walking.

- If the President mentions health care reform, drink one shot of mouthwash. To your health!

- If the President mentions Syria, eat one spoonful of humus mixed with shards of glass.

- If the President mentions voting or election reform, enjoy one tall glass of Budweiser because, although it used to be made in America, it's done right by the Belgians anymore.

- Each time the camera pans to Ted Nugent, take one long pull off a bottle of vodka and air guitar "Cat Scratch Fever."

- Each time the camera pans to the First Lady's 102 year old guest, set aside one sip of sweet vermouth to be consumed two hours hence. Don't forget to drink . . . I mean, vote.

And that's all for the State of the Union, folks. Our only advice to you for the post-game shows is take all remaining booze, beer, shards of glass, humus, mouthwash, and sugar, blend over ice, and hope it's strong enough to knock you out for the next six months. We'll wake you when the political capital is spent and we're in much the same place we are today.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rendition vs. Rendition or Adjectives Matter

On New Year’s Day, Craig Whitlock reported in the Washington Post an August 2012 arrest by local authorities of three Somali men transiting Djibouti in August who were then interrogated by FBI agents and transferred to U.S. custody to face charges in the United States in Article III courts.  After this depiction, Whitlock concludes that “the Obama administration has embraced rendition,” declaring that they have “tak[en] on renewed significance because the administration and Congress have not reached agreement on a consistent legal pathway for apprehending terrorism suspects overseas and bringing them to justice.” He clearly links the Obama administration’s practice to the Bush administration practice, impliedly asking us to see this as yet another example of Obama carrying on his predecessor’s counterterrorism tactics (and getting away with it without criticism):
The men are the latest example of how the Obama administration has embraced rendition — the practice of holding and interrogating terrorism suspects in other countries without due process — despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.  (emphasis mine).
 But the practice Whitlock describes through the August 2012 vignette is not the practice as he defines it in the emphasized quotation above.  Whitlock describes the arrest of suspects, their transfer apparently without extradition or other judicial process to the United States, and their subsequent indictment and trial. The Bush-era practice—the one subject to “widespread condemnation . . . in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks”—involved detaining individuals in one country, transporting them to a third country, and then torturing them. These individuals were not indicted, they were not provided attorneys, in fact there was little expectation that these individuals would be heard from again. Examples of the Bush-era practice include the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr in Milan in 2003 and his subsequent transfer to Egypt to be tortured—26 Americans have been convicted by an Italian court in absentia forthis incident—and the 2003 mistaken arrest of Khalid el-Masri by Macedonian police, his transfer to U.S. authorities, and his being held or tortured in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, after the U.S. realized that el-Masri was mistakenly detained, he was flown to Albania and deposited on the side of a road at night.

If these practices—the ongoing Obama administration practice described by Whitlock and the Bush-era practice—sound substantially different to you, that is because they are. The Obama administration is engaged in a practice Whitlock correctly identifies as rendition. The Bush-era practice Whitlock invites us to remember is known as extraordinary rendition. The adjective matters a great deal.

Rendition is a practice greatly predates September 11, 2001—see, for example, this 1934 BU law review article on the practice. It is also exactly as Whitlock describes it: “The return of a fugitive from one state to the state where the fugitive is accused or convicted of a crime.” 8 ed. Black’s Law Dictionary. Rendition allows states to avoid the normal legal procedure of extradition when there are barriers to extradition like the absence of an extradition treaty, or the absence of a similar crime in each jurisdiction, or when extradition might be unfeasible for political reasons. Rendition is certainly not the normal mode of business between states, and it may circumvent due process rights the accused is entitled to, but it is not uncommon and its purpose is to expose the rendered individual to judicial process: either trial or the execution of a sentence for conviction.

What makes extraordinary rendition extraordinary is that its purpose is not to bring the target before a court for trial or to otherwise subject the target to judicial process. No, the point of extraordinary rendition is to avoid judicial process altogether—to cause an individual to disappear, be held incommunicado, and extract intelligence not evidence from that individual. What made the practice so heinous in the Bush administration is not merely its lack of transparency or accountability but rather that its opacity facilitated torture.

So, yes, the Obama administration is using ordinary rendition. Is this shocking? No. Is it in anyway similar to the abduction, black sites, and torture used in the Bush administration? No. Adjectives matter.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gun Control via Liability Insurance

This post is cross-listed on From Corn Fields to the Capitol.

NPR has a really great post tied to a story they ran on Morning Edition this morning. In it some experts suggest one practical way to achieve a measure of gun control and price in the potential for negative externalities is by requiring gun owners to purchase liability insurance.  If you own a gun you must also purchase a liability policy to cover the cost of any damage your gun incurs, very similar to the requirement many states have requiring car owners have, at minimum, liability insurance. But there's another wrinkle that could be throw in there.  Here's Prof. Justin Wolfers from the University of Michigan:
Another even more powerful approach is to recognize that the problem isn't guns per se, but gun violence. Thus, instead of taxing guns, we should tax gun violence. Basically, this is the same as saying that we should make gun owners liable for any damage their guns do. Not only would this discourage some people from buying guns, it would lead those who do keep guns to be more careful with how they're stored. Indeed, greater care would surely have kept Adam Lanza out of his mother's cache. The problem though, is that Nancy Lanza is neither with us to pay the damages her gun caused, nor could she afford to pay for the enormous damage her gun wrought in Newtown. And so the only way this solution works is if guns required mandatory liability insurance, much as we force car owners to buy insurance for the damage their machines wreak.
This is an intriguing solution to me, and one I think may sportsmen and women would find very compelling. I know my dad would. He's a card carrying member of the NRA, hunter, gun enthusiast, and all the rest. In the wake of the tragedy at Newton our annual Christmas Eve dinner started out talking about gun control. You won't find a bigger proponent of the second amendment, but you won't find a bigger proponent of individual responsibility either. He thought it made perfect sense that if your gun is used in a crime, you are charged as if you had committed the crime. What if the gun is stolen? Did you report it? Was it locked in a gun safe or did you have a trigger lock on it?

Of course, the trouble with requiring the purchase of "gun insurance" or "gun violence insurance" is that some people just won't buy it. Here's Russ Roberts a research fellow at the Hoover Institution:
[T]he logic is not quite as neat as it might appear. Many people already buy and own guns illegally without license or registration. Adding the cost of insurance would further discourage honest gun ownership. That would make matters worse not better. And is it so obvious that all guns are harmful to others and that gun ownership should be made more expensive to every owner?
Point taken, but we know there are folks on the road who don't have liability insurance. It's part of the landscape, but it doesn't mean doing this is a bad idea. It was a bit like Mr. Wayne LaPierre at the Senate Hearing yesterday saying background checks wouldn't do anything, so we shouldn't do them. Wonder what he would think about requiring liability insurance to be purchased.

Also, if you didn't see this Daily Show segment about how hard it is for the ATF to do it's job, a job Mr. LaPierre said it should be doing, you're missing out.


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Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Changing Nature of War?

This from Dexter Filkins writing in the New Yorker about the revocation of the U.S. military's ban on women in combat irked me:
Notions of equality aside, the real factor that rendered the “non-combat” distinction meaningless was the changing nature of the wars. In an old-style conflict like, say, the Second World War, big, uniformed armies squared off against other big, uniformed armies. In a war like that, driving a truck in a supply convoy, or briefing reporters on the days’ events, could be deemed relatively safe. As long as you were behind the lines, your chances of getting killed were small. But in Iraq and Afghanistan there are no front lines. Or, as the troops on the ground say, the front line is where you are.
Filkins is write that insurgencies are messy and are largely fought without front lines in the way we often imagine European-style warfare in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  But insurgencies are not new and that the United States has faced two in the last twelve years is hardly reflective of the changing nature of war.  

Don't misunderstand me: Filkins' point that the distinction between combat and non-combat jobs--and the supposed protection this distinction afforded female servicemembers--was fairly meaningless in Iraq and Afghanistan is not lost on me.  But Filkins wrongly locates the cause of the distinction's meaninglessness in a non-existent paradigm shift in the nature of warfare itself.  It is not warfare that has changed but the composition of the U.S. armed forces.  Even in Filkins' imagined World War II, women driving supply convoys  would be frequent targets of attack.  Airborne interdiction played a prominent role in World War II.  In North Africa and the Italian campaign, for example, the U.S. Army Air Corps attacked supply depots, ports, and even the ferries traveling over the Messina Straits.  Had women soldiers been used by Axis forces to pilot those ferries or load or unload materiel at ports, then female soldiers would have been killed there.   

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Diplomacy Isn't Dead

This post is cross-listed on DC Exile and From Corn Fields to the Capitol, Jason's new wider ranging blog.

Writing in the New York Times, Roger Cohen has a column up claiming flatly "[d]iplomacy is dead." He feels the U.S. will never achieve a diplomatic accomplishment to rival Nixon's trip to China or the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union.  While, I'm inclined to agree on the latter example, I think Mr. Cohen doth protest too much declaring diplomacy dead.

He rightfully criticizes our current age of, "impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys." He notes the role of professional diplomats has been squeezed in this country because of our post-9/11 focus on non-state actors, which have more visibly involved the armed forces and the CIA, then the State Department. Again, I agree.

But I think he goes too far when he laments the end of realpolitik, but cites Syria as an example of diplomacy failing. I'd tend to think many a realist would size up Syria, even back two years ago, and say there is an not imminent national interest there. Indeed realpolitik isn't for the squeamish, but it seems like that's the cold-hearted analysis driving the lack of U.S. engagement in the country today.

He goes a bit too far when he cites three long standing thorns in the paw of U.S. foreign policy: Cuba, Iran, and Israel-Palestine. These thorns have been lodged for 52, 34, and 65 years respectfully.  And while I'd agree sometimes these three issues are used to scare up domestic constituencies  I think to cite them as diplomatic failures is to ignore the facts.

In Cuba, we had a dictator that was uninterested in seeking a change in relations with us for nearly all the 52 years of the dispute. But now with a new leader there has been some thawing out of relations with revised travel permissions and a continentially slow creep of capitalism into the country. You must have a willing partner to make a diplomatic break through and I'd dare say slow and steady still wins this race.

In Iran, much like Cuba, we find a ruling authority quite disinterested in making peace with us. And yet, diplomacy has happened around the edges. Have we normalized relations? No. Have we convinced Iran to give up any supposed nuclear ambitions? No. But you can't call the ballgame in the third quarter.

With respect to Israel and Palestine, you're dealing with two parties whose own political machinations have made a lasting peace agreement fall in and out of vogue. This is an old conflict and America isn't quite seen as an honest broker. It's hard to fix something so entrenched, which is why so many past efforts have failed  To declare diplomacy dead because the U.S. hasn't facilitated a peace agreement in the Middle East is to raise the bar to dizzying heights and tell the competitor to jump flat footed from the floor.

Mr. Cohen also dismisses two big diplomatic successes, namely Burma and Libya. He mentions Burma but glosses over how the U.S. diplomatically engineered the opening up of the country with carrot extended only in reward for desirable behavior. It was peaceful, it was orderly, and it appears to be genuine. If that's not diplomacy in action, I don't know what is.

With regard to Libya, I'm talking Libya 2003 when Gaddafi voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons without a shot fired. Again, this is a success story for diplomacy, even more so given what would follow eight years later. Imagine a nuclear armed Libya disintegrating into revolution. Surely that we avoided such a scenario should prove diplomacy isn't dead.

Indeed, diplomacy isn't dead. It's alive and well and working all over the world.  As we look to continue to manage the Arab Spring, as we look to manage a rising China, and as we face all manner of international challenges, we know there are diplomats around the world engaging in diplomacy. It's not often flashy, it's unlikely to be trending on Twitter, but it's happening nonetheless and we'll see it from time to time when the moment is right.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Think Again, Again: GOP Foreign Policy Soul Searching

Over at Foreign Policy, Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense studies at the American Enterprise Institute has a "Think Again" piece trying to both reassure and direct today's GOP toward some sort of foreign policy coherence. Pletka encourages the GOP to return to being "the bedrock of U.S. defense."  There are a myriad of things in the post I could quibble with, not the least of which is the preceding quote, but let's I'm going to pick just a few to focus on.

1) Foreign Policy Doctrine is dramatically overrated
Sure we've had a lot of doctrines. Some were rested in the divine, some helped safeguard our nascent revolution, some were about containment, and some were about putting a fist on the scale. Pletka clearly pines for the Reagan Doctrine and speaks glowingly of how "Reagan stirred the pot and worked with like-minded allies to oust communist dictators." Nevermind some of those "dictators" were duly elected. They were on the wrong team.

The example of Iran-Contra and Reagan's Latin American misadventures highlight the problem of doctrine. A doctrine can be a box, limiting options, the scale of a response, and neglecting the contours of a specific conflict. Perhaps I'm wishy washy but all the studying of the world I've done suggests the actors are too complex to be reduced to a simple doctrine and when we've tried, we've ended up doing things that seem, well, un-American.

2) Moral Imperatives are in the eye of the beholder
Pletka takes a lot of time talking about the distinction between Republicans and Democrats and how that difference centers around values and a feeling of a moral imperative. She says:
In the simplest terms, values are what divide us from them and them from us. There are those who believe that American values form a moral imperative for U.S. power in the world -- that because U.S. democracy is among the world's most durable and just, the United States has an obligation (not merely the occasional inclination) to help others attain the benefits of a free society. That is what Republicans have stood for abroad and the distinction they must now again draw with their Democratic counterparts.
I've a lot to take issue with. First off, is it a settled questioned that our democracy is the "most durable and just?" Haven't there been countless pieces on how broken our political system is? Aren't there a bevy of laws on offer in no small number of the states designed to disenfranchise as they chase after a voter fraud problem that doesn't exist? Isn't the durability of a democracy threatened with the distinction between the two parties foreign policies is rooted in the argument that one has "values" and the other does not? Doesn't a "moral imperative" sound a lot like a crusade? And where does waterboarding fall under American values?

I think it's fair to say all Americans would like the peoples of the world to enjoy our many freedoms and live in similar prosperity to what we have achieved, but let's not forget our own pyramid is unfinished. Let's not wrap those hopes in "American Exceptionalism" to the disregard of British Exceptionalism or Japanese Exceptionalism. I'm not prepared equate exceptional with superior. Pletka is and wants the GOP to do the same.

3) The Soviet Union =/= Al Qaeda (and AQIP =/= AQIM)
As is the want of many listless Republicans, Pletka waxes nostalgic for the Reagan years and a foreign policy rooted in opposition to a known enemy, the evil empire. Pletka suggests 
[A] new Republican foreign policy recommitted to the idea that where the United States is able to identify a strategic and moral imperative -- as in the fight against the Soviet Union or the battle against Islamic extremism -- it is in America's interests to use its power to help shape a safer world.
This is a dangerous comparison. The fight against the Soviet Union and the fight against terrorists who wrap themselves in Islamic rhetoric are incredibly different and require incredibly different solutions. Also, this leads back to the challenges created by something like a doctrine and being motivated by a moral imperative. Imagine a Truman Doctrine for Islamic extremism. What would it look like? Would we undermine any Islamist government? Be prepared to invade? If our motivation is a moral imperative that sounds a lot like a crusade to save heathen masses, are we really improving our safety or just fomenting more hate? It is simpler to stand in opposition to an ideology embodied by a country. There is symmetry there, but we lack similar symmetry in our fight against terrorists who are as Islamic as the KKK is Christian (West Wing shout out).

And that lack of symmetry leads to a sidebar rant. Al Qaeda is not a uniform entity. It is a series of disparate franchises with a myriad of motivations and leaders. Every article like this that speaks simply of an Al Qaeda threat does us a disservice by perpetuating the misconception that the organization is monolithic and dramatically overstates the ability of any specific franchise to pose an existential threat to the United States.

4) Money Doesn't Equal Effectiveness
One final note on this, since I had an argument with my mother about this over the holidays. Pletka makes the comment repeatedly that the GOP should advocate for a well funded defense and get rid of the notion of cutting the defense budget. It's certainly been a winning strategy in the past, but it's not grounded in reality or the requirements to fight the threats we face today.

Pletka is actually dismissive of the amount and percentage of GDP the US spends on defense. She notes:
The truth is the United States spends remarkably little on defense. The Pentagon's budget now represents about 4 percent of GDP, close to the lowest proportion in modern history. It is eminently affordable. Yet the country is on track to cut more than $1 trillion in military spending over the next decade. The lion's share of spending is not on operations or weapons systems, as some believe; nearly 50 percent of spending goes to veterans' benefits and uniformed and civilian personnel. So what can be cut? A better question is: What would America like to stop doing?
Now the 4% number is closer to 5% according to Wikipedia and the World Bank, but let's move past the conversation of the percentage of GDP, even if that 4.7% equals 41% of the world's spending on defense. My issue is thinking money equals effectiveness. Our national security threats have changed. We are technologically ahead of any and all our closest competitors and the Chinese boogeyman sitting just in the background of the entire post is only spending 2% of its GDP on defense. That's not the spending habits of a global power looking to have military parity to the U.S. It is ham handed to suggest and try to sell to the American people that our safety is entirely related to the amount of money we spend on defense. It's also bad policy.

The bottom line: Pletka offers some ideas that would sound appealing on the stump, but they aren't good policy. They aren't ideas that move our country forward, rather they're designed to get the GOP some foreign policy points while doing nothing to help our national security. Perhaps that was the point of the exercise for Pletka, but I'd hoped for more distinction and less window dressing.