The combination of President Obama's Afghanistan speech, recent congressional votes on Libya, and the tenor of the GOP presidential debate have prompted gnashing of teeth from the usual suspects about the rise of isolationism and the decline of America. This is good -- a robust debate should be had about balancing America's role abroad with fiscal demands at home, what it means for the United States to have a robust overseas presence, and so forth.
Please, however, for the love of God, can this debate take place without Niall Ferguson?
I ask because his latest essay for Newsweek contains the laziest paragraph I will read today. In this column, Ferguson strains to displace Tom Friedman as The Creator of Inane Metaphors. He coins "IOU-solationism" to descibe the instinct to retrench because of domestic difficulties. There's a pedestrian description of rising sentiment for retrenchment. Then we get to the lazy paragraph, which happens to be the only one in his column that provides a justification for why defense cuts are a bad idea:
Salma Hayek is hot" without providing any supporting evidence -- these stylized facts represent common knowledge. The rising power of radical Islam does not fall into this category, however. Seriously, this might be the worst paragraph I've seen in a published column this year. It's all casual assertion and no evidence.I understand that not every assertion can be backed up in an 800 word column. Really, I get that. It's perfectly fine to assert "the U.S. economy is weak" or "China is rising" or "
In the wake of the GOP debate earlier this week, there's been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and to-ing and fro-ing as to whether Republicans have shifted away from the neoconservatism of George W. Bush and towards offshore balancing or isolationism. I don't think it's a settled question -- I'd conclude that it's partly a genuine realpolitik backlash to the massive costs of Iraq, partly a reflection of public sentiment, and partly a partisan reaction to the fact that it's a Democratic president who's launching
wars kinetic military actions nowadays.
What's more disturbing, however, and uncommented until now, was the total lack of support for freer trade among the GOP field.
This came through loud and clear through what was said and what was not said in New Hampshire. Trade didn't come up all that much during the debate. Tim Pawlenty provided the only comment of substance, and it wasn't a productive one:
[N]umber one, we've got to have fair trade, and what's going on right now is not fair.
I'm for a fair and open trade but I'm not for being stupid and I'm not for being a chump. And we have individuals and organizations and countries around this world who are not following the rules when it comes to fair trade. We need a stronger president and somebody who's going to take on those issues.
In presidential campaigns, this amounts to "don't expect to see any new trade deals anytime soon." As for the other dimensions of globalization, well, peruse the section on immigration
provided you have a green card if you dare. No one said anything about the positive economic and demographic benefits America receives from immigration.
The other thing that was striking was what wasn't said during the debate. All of the candidates focused like sharks with frikkin' laser beams attached to them on the economy. The standard GOP litany of solutions for jump-starting the economy were offered: tax cuts, cutting regulation, tax cuts, cutting government spending, tax cuts, reigning in the Fed, tax cuts, ending Obamacare, tax cuts. Not one of the candidates, however, mentioned trade liberalization as part of their fornmula for getting America moving again.
To be fair, this isn't as bad as when Obama and Clinton were debating over who would eviscerate NAFTA faster in 2008 (and funny, isn't it, how that never happened). And it's not like I was a huge fan of Obama's trade policy. To be just as fair, howeever, at least the current president completed KORUS negotiations and signaled strong interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I get the sense that no one in the GOP field is going to stick their neck out on international trade or investment. For the party that claims to be in favor of lower taxes and regulation, this is a travesty.
Andrew Sullivan has wrung a lot of blog mileage from his myriad awards for stupid/extreme statements found in the news. In that spirit, as well as an effort to
keep my sanity extract some humor from the 2012 presidential campaign, I hereby announce the Donald Trump Award for Assertive Ignorance in World Politics -- known on the street as the Trumpies.
Named in honor of the erstwhile presidential candidate who really likes to name things after himself, the award can be earned by either a presidential candidate or one of his/her foreign policy minions. To score a Trumpie nomination, the person must satisfy two criteria during a single statement or exchange. First, the nominee must display a breathtaking ignorance of some bailiwick of American foreign policy or world politics. Second, the nominee must do this while simultaneously demonstrating supreme confidence in the factual and/or analytical rightness of their statement.
This second criteria is important. I won't begrudge a candidate who demonstrates uncertainty or befuddlement on a foreign policy question. World politics is a vast canvass, and as I've said before, expecting a candidate to demonstrate foreign policy omniscence is a fool's errand. Similarly, I'm not looking for your garden-variety gaffe or misstatement that just indicates a candidate is sleep-deprived. No, the key here is that a candidate is both too ignorant and too proud to admit or even recognize their own ignorance.
During the brief, shining comedy moment that was Trump's proto-campaign, he managed to demonstrate this kind of cocksure ignorance on multiple occasions. With his decision to bow out of the race, however, the field for the Trumpies is now wide open and your humble blogger will accept nominations from readers and commenters. The actual award, of course, will not be announced until after Election Day 2012.
To get the ball rolling, the first Trumpie nomination goes to GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, for his comments on Israel and Palestine on Fox News Sunday:
Now, let's be clear about what's so funny about this clip. Cain's first answer, on offering "nothing" to the Palestinians to make peace, is not what's funny. It's reckless and extreme, but Cain's position possesses some internal logical coherence. It's the combination of this answer with his observation that the Palestinian "right of return" should be negotiated that makes the clip so funny (get a Palestinian negotiator good and liquored up -- hell, just have hummus with them -- and they'll acknpwledge that the right of return is one of the things that they'll have to give up in any two-state peace deal). The combination of these two positions boils down to Cain favoring a single state encompassing both Israelis and Palestinians, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't favor that.
The gaffe was significant enough for the Cain campaign to issue a "clarification of these remarks," which is always a good indicator that a Trumpie nomination has been scored.
Congratulations to Mr. Cain for the inaugural Trumpie nomination! The foreign policy analyst in me hopes that these nominations will be few and far between. The politics junkie, surveying the prospective field, is confident that there will be many more nominations to come over the next 18 months.
The field is now open for nominations -- submit yours in the comments or via-e-mail, and if the strict Trumpie criteria are met, you will see it in a future blog post.
UPDATE: Oh, if Trump re-enters the race, there's gonna be a lot of nominations. Bravo to the Donald for trying to preserve the quality of his brand.
ANOTHER UPDATE: See if Cain had simply admitted to Wallace that he didn't know what "the right to return" meant, he'd have avoided the Trumpie nomination. Instead, he admitted it to Sean Hannity the next day.
My post earlier this week on the role of public opinion in the Big Policy Decisions of the past decade has triggered some interesting responses from the international political economy wing of the blogosphere. See, in order, Kindred Winecoff, Henry Farrell, Dan Nexon, Winecoff again, and then Phil Arena.
Farrell's post in particular connects this contretemps with larger scholarly questions in global political economy and foreign policy decisionmaking:
International political economy scholarship tends to have an extremely stripped down, and bluntly unrealistic account of how policy is made. Typically, modelers in this field either assume that the “median voter” plays an important role in determining national preferences, or that various stylized economic interests (which they try to capture using Stolper-Samuelson, Ricardo-Viner and other approaches borrowed from economic theory) determine policy, perhaps as filtered through a very simple representation of legislative-executive relations.
However, actual work on how policy gets made suggests that this doesn’t work. On many important policy issues, the public has no preferences whatsoever. On others, it has preferences that largely maps onto partisan identifications rather than actual interests, and that reflect claims made by political elites (e.g. global warming). On others yet, the public has a set of contradictory preferences that politicians can pick and choose from. In some broad sense, public opinion does provide a brake on elite policy making – but the boundaries are both relatively loose and weakly defined. Policy elites can get away with a hell of a lot if they want to.
The result is that the relevant literature on policy making (located largely within comparative political economy and a growing debate within American politics) argues that elites play a very strong role in creating policies.
These are fair points -- indeed, Benjamin Page wrote a whole book about the ways in which foreign policy elites in the United States have pursued policies at vatiance with American public opinion.
So, yes, policy elites matter. However, I would issue a few qualifiers and questions to Farrell's points.
1) Who are we talking about when we talk about "elites"? The word "elites" can cover an awful lot of individuals. Many conservatives, for example, snorted at the notion of Krugman scolding elites, since there's no way one can define Krugman as anything but a member of the policy elite. So... who is part of the elite? Does it include powerful interest group lobbies, or only policy mandarins?
In his blog post Farrell seems to imply the latter, which does makes the term more precise. That said, interest groups are a pretty powerful animal, and they will not get confused by elite policy rhetoric. Farrell lumps interest group and public opinion stories together in his blog post, and I'm not sure that's right. When are policy elites simply doing the work of interest groups, and when are they pushing back? I've seen examples of both, but I haven't seen a generalizable theory explaining when one dynamic trumps the other.
2) When does issue salience matter? Part of the reason I pushed back against Krugman was that two of the three policy choices he stressed (tax cuts, Iraq) were very high-profile, publicly debated issues. One would assume that public opinion would form a more powerful brake on high-profile issues than low-profile ones. This is why I didn't push back against Krugman's financial deregulation story.
Now, Farrell might argue that elites can still manipulate a heck of a lot even on high-profile policies. This is probably true on some issues, but on others the public can act as an ex ante or ex post brake on policies. TARP was a bipartisan vote, for example, and a successful policy to boot -- and yet the public backlash against it clearly constrained the Obama administration's policy options in 2009. Despite Obama's election mandate and majorities in both houses of Congress, the administration scaled back its fiscal policy stimulus below the $1 trillion mark, partly because of fears of how the public would respond.
3) When will policy elites split? The word "elite" tends to assume an undifferentiated group of privileged policymakers, and anyone who has spent time inside the Beltway knows that partisanship matters a wee bit. When will the foreign policy community (or economic policy community) reach consensus, and when will there be significant opposition?
Consider Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example. A commonly-made argument (at least in blog comments) is that the public went along with the war because the Bush administration cranked up its PR machine and shaped mass public attitudes. OK, but one of the things us political scientists know is that had the Democrats vociferously opposed the invasion of Iraq, public support for it might have dropped. OK, but now we get to the key questuion -- why didn't Democrats oppose the war with greater vigor? Part of it might be that a lot of Democratic liberal internationalists agreed with Republican neoconservatives taking out Saddam Hussein. Part of it, however, is that Democrats feared looking soft on security during the 2002 midterm elections. Because of that fear, Democratic policymaking elites were not unified -- thereby bolstering public support for the war.
Now, in this narrative, is public opinion a cause or an effect of the debate that played out among policy elites? A little of both, I suspect. I raise this, however, because one of the difficulties with talking about the role of public opinion as a policy constraint (or a policy enabler) is that its role is sometimes buried beneath the more proximate causes.
This is a good blog conversation to have, because it highlights how difficult it is to develop clear and generalizable models of national policy preferences, and the ways in which the fields of international political economy and foreign policy analysis struggle to cope with this complexity.
Ryan Lizza has a 9,000+ word exegesis on the Obama administration's foreign policy decisionmaking in The New Yorker. For anyone who's paid attention to this debate over the past six weeks, there's nothing terribly new -- for those who haven't however, it's a decent summary. The key parts for me:
One of Donilon’s overriding beliefs, which Obama adopted as his own, was that America needed to rebuild its reputation, extricate itself from the Middle East and Afghanistan, and turn its attention toward Asia and China’s unchecked influence in the region. America was “overweighted” in the former and “underweighted” in the latter, Donilon told me. “We’ve been on a little bit of a Middle East detour over the course of the last ten years,” Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said. “And our future will be dominated utterly and fundamentally by developments in Asia and the Pacific region.”
In December, 2009, Obama announced that he would draw down U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of his first term. He also promised, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last year, that he was “moving toward a more targeted approach” that “dismantles terrorist networks without deploying large American armies.”
“The project of the first two years has been to effectively deal with the legacy issues that we inherited, particularly the Iraq war, the Afghan war, and the war against Al Qaeda, while rebalancing our resources and our posture in the world,” Benjamin Rhodes, one of Obama’s deputy national-security advisers, said. “If you were to boil it all down to a bumper sticker, it’s ‘Wind down these two wars, reëstablish American standing and leadership in the world, and focus on a broader set of priorities, from Asia and the global economy to a nuclear-nonproliferation regime.’ ”....
Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.” (emphasis added)
There's something that's really frustrating about the structure of the essay, and then something else that's frustrating about the content. Both of them involve China.
On the structure - despite Lizza's 9,000 words, and despite Obama's stated intention to reorient American foreign policy to be less Middle East-focused, the essay.... is totally focused on the Middle East. I'm not saying that the Middle East is unimportant, but I'd have liked to have read something about how the Obama administration is dealing with the rest of the world. Indeed, Lizzaa notes that Obama visited South America during the opening days of the Libya operation precisely "to show that America has interests in the rest of the world." Despite this effort, the thrust of the article demonstrates its futility during the start of a war. New military conflicts crowd out attention that should be paid to other arenas of foreign policy. It would have been nice to see how the administration's strategy is playing/affecting the rest of the world.
The problem with the content is that bolded section. To tweak Tom Donilon a little bit, I'd characterize it as a "static and one-dimensional assessment" of the U.S. strategic position. It doesn't allow for the possibility that rising states might experience their own dips in national power, or that attitudes towards the United States might improve as a consequence of shifts in U.S. strategy.
Countries make strategic missteps when they overestimate or underestimate their own capabilities. The Bush administration was clearly guilty of overestimation, but there are ways in which the Obama administration is equally guilty of underestimation.
What do you think?
In his column today, Nicholas Kristof gives voice to a sentiment shared by many within the foreign policy community:
In my travels lately, I’ve been trying to explain to Libyans, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Chinese and others the benefits of a democratic system. But if Congressional Republicans actually shut down the government this weekend, they will be making a powerful argument for autocracy. Chinese television will be all over the story.
If a high school student council refused to approve a budget so that student activities had to be canceled — even as student leaders continued to pay themselves stipends — a school board would probably cancel the entire experiment in student democracy. But I can’t imagine high school students acting so immature.
Now, this is the kind of gut-level response that most foreign policy wonks -- myself included -- have when initially confronting the absurdity of a government shutdown. Surely, such a self-inflicted wound would tarnish the brand image of democracy in general and America in particular across the globe.
Is this truthiness actually true, however? I'm beginning to wonder if this hypothesis rests on anything other than sheer assertion. In terms of direct effects, the U.S. military won't be suddenly lay down their arms or anything. As I understand it, the U.S. won't default on debt payments until mid-May, so the financial catastrophe is still six weeks away. So any appreciable effect rests on whether or not American soft power would be dented.
In a brief survey of the interwebs, I could find no research paper that researched whether the 1995/96 government shutdowns had any effect on either American foreign policy or U.S. standing abroad. This jibes with my personal memory of this period, in which very little was written about how the shutdown affected foreign policy. So maybe this gnashing of foreign policy teeth is a bit much.
Of course, this was likely because the previous shutdowns didn't last that long, the longest duration (17 days) took place during the Christmas break, and no big foreign policy crisis was going on during the shutdown. I think it's safe to say that the world is a wee bit
closer to the end of days interesting this time around. That said, no one expects a long stretch of no federal government, so the effect might very well be similar -- which is to say, nonexistent.
In the end, my more analytical take is that the foreign policy effects of a goverment shutdown will depend on how its resolved. If there is little in the way of massive protests, it would signal to the rest of the world the remarkable stability of American civil society. If steps are taken to get a grip on America's mouning debt levels, then the aftermath of the shutdown would not necessarily leave a bad aftertaste.
That said, there might be one residual effect for democratizing nations -- a preference for parliamentary systems of government over presidential systems. As Robert Williams and Esther Jubb observed back in the 1990s:
The world's other advanced industrial democracies, Germany, France, Japan and Britain, manage their budget crises without resorting to the extraordinary shutdown measures which have become a familiar feature of the American budgetary process.
This shutdown thing does seem to be unique to the American presidential system, which might cause newly emerging democracies to embrace other forms of democratic rule. On the whole, however, this is a pretty marginal effect on American foreign policy.
So, on second thought, if any government shutdown is over by the end of April, I think the foreign policy effects would be pretty minimal. But I am very curious to know if there's been any in-depth research on this question.
See, back in early 2009, I wrote one of the earlier posts about whether there was an Obama Doctrine or not. Glenn Thrush quoted that post in Politico last week, which led to a lot of media inquiries on the matter. Regardless of what I say on the subject, the topic du jour appears to be whether there is now an Obama Doctrine and how it holds up as a grand strategy.
I don't have the time today to write up my substantive thoughts on the matter, but I do think it would be useful to at least define the terms properly.
First, on the Obama Doctrine -- unfortunately, foreign policy discourse being what it is, that "XXX Doctrine" has devolved into a meaningless catchphrase coined by news outlets the first time that an administration initiates military or quasi-military force.* Whenever that happens, the news networks go into paroxysms of speculation about whether such action signals a new doctrine. Based on Obama's speech last night, it seems pretty clear that the answer to that question on Libya is a clear "no," so I don't think we need to go there.
Second, even if Libya did lead to an Obama Doctrine, that doesn't equate to a grand strategy. The Reagan Doctrine, for example, had actual policy content -- it meant the arming and aiding of anti-communist guerillas in peripheral communist countries like Nicaragua or Afghanistan. Not even the fiercest Reagan acolyte would agree that the Reagan Doctrine was America's grand strategy during the 1980's. It was rather a policy that was part of the larger strategy of containing Soviet communism.
Obama did not clearly articulate a grand strategy last night (and just as well, since his delivery was pretty weak). He has tried to do so in his previous speeches and strategy documents, with variable results. Far more important that what is said at the beginning of an administration is how Big Decisions are articulated ex post.
In that sense, Dan Nexon is right to say that Obama shouldn't have articulated a grand strategy out of what was clearly an exceptional decision due to exceptional circumstances. That said, if I were Obama's foreign policy team, I'd start thinking very hard about a speech
without the phrase "false choice" in it that clearly prioritizes American interests and values. Because unless the president defines his grand strategy, pundits will be more than happy to define it -- badly -- for him.
*Clear exceptions include those doctrines clearly articulated or embraced by Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, and Reagan.
President Obama is scheduled to address the country this evening on Libya, and the odds are pretty good that Ben Rhodes will be writing the bulk of the speech. I'm sure the speech will be interesting, full of false choices for the Obama administration to surmount and the like.
Still, what I'd love to see is Rhodes' first draft -- you know, the one where he just spits out exactly what he thinks Obama is thinking on Libya, warts and all.
Well, fortunately, due to your humble blogger's vast
and imaginary network of sources inside the Beltway, I have secured a copy of that first draft of the speech, reprinted below for your edification:
FIRST NOTES/DRAFT OF POTUS LIBYA SPEECH
By Benjamin Rhodes
I'm addressing you, my fellow Americans, because my administration's message on our
war limited humanitarian interventionkinetic military action in Libya has truly and totally sucked. Seriously, I'm gobsmacked at how f***ing incoherent we've been in communicating our rationale to the foreign policy community and the American public. The bickering within my administration and within the international coalition has not helped -- sweet Jesus, multilateralism can be a royal pain in the butt sometimes. No wonder public support has been relatively anemic (although there's also the fact that I'm launching another war when all Americans care about right now is the domestic economy).
How bad is it? I'm getting hit by the neocons for moving without Congressional permission less than a week after I was getting hit by them for not moving quickly enough!! Thank God for Newt Gingrich, or I'd look really bad. Now I'm getting flak from the left on not being consistent with R2P when, in fact, anyone who knows anything about R2P knows that I'm doing the best I can. Seriously, I'm supposed to intervene militarily in Bahrain and Syria too? Sure, right after I send the 82nd Airborne to liberate Tibet. At least I can ignore the criticism from those who went on junkets to Tripoli last year. Hypocrisy sure is a bitch, huh?
What kills me, what absolutely kills me, is that in just ten days, without any boots on the ground, we've accomplished one whole hell of a lot. First off, if we hadn't intervened, the rebels would have been routed in Benghazi, and Khaddafy would be in control of the entire country again. OK, so maybe the "100,000 dead" figure was a bit exaggerated, but surely the fall of Benghazi would have created hundreds of thousands of Libya refugees flowing into Egypt, which is exactly what that country doesn't need right now. Anyone who doesn't realize that the situation in Libya and the situation in Egypt are connected is a f***ing moron (which, since we forgot to mention this fact for an awfully long time, apparently includes my messaging shop).
Now, the situation on the ground looks pretty much like how things looked during the high tide of the Libyan rebellion. So long as our air support continues, that's now the worst-case scenario -- and you know what, that's actually pretty tolerable. It would mean that the rebels would control about 70% of Libya's oil reserves and that the regions of the country most hostile to Khaddafy would be free of his grip. Over time, sanctions will start to hit Khaddafy's resources, the Libya Transitional Council can get its act together, and we can burden-share with NATO a hell of a lot more. The Libyans don't want our boots on the ground any more than we want to have them there -- so further escalation is not in the cards.
All the while -- and remember, this is the worst-case scenario -- the United States will have accomplished two direct deliverables and quite a few positive policy externalities. Directly, we averted a humanitarian disaster and created a buffer in eastern Libya that eases any economic or humanitarian pressure on Egypt (which is where our strategic interest lies).
In many ways, the policy externalities are even bigger. The biggest bonus is that, for once, our hard power is actually augmenting our soft power. Those images on Al Jazeera of Libyans saying thank you to the United States -- that's pure soft power gold. When you compare how the U.S. government has handled the Arab Revolutions to Al Qaeda or Iran, the contrast is pretty stark. What's happened in Libya has helped to obscure our more realpolitik response in, say Bahrain. Oh, and we managed to find a purpose for NATO.
Is this messy? Duh, of course! Could this intervention distract us from The Big Picture? Maybe for the past week and this week, sure, but it's not like Iran or China is really exploiting what's going on in the Middle East -- they're too busy trying to pretend it's not happening domestically. As for North Korea learning that it's a mistake to give up their nukes, I'm pretty sure they'd learned that lesson way back in 2003, thank you very much.
Look, I'd have loved for the messaging to be clearer, and in retrospect it would have been good if we'd had asked Congress for authorization, but this is what happens when you make foreign policy on the fly in a region wracked by revolution. It's not perfect, but if you think about the counterfactuals real hard, I'm fully confident that the benefits massively outweigh the costs of this intervention. So there.
Yesterday Rush Limbaugh asked a former U.S. serviceman who called into his show a totally-hypothetical-and-not-in-any-way-designed-to-impugn-the-patriotism-of-the-sitting-president-kind of question:
Are you aware of any military contingency plans for a president who might not be your prototypical pro-America president? Are there contingency plans to deal with a president who may not believe that the United States is the solution to the world's problems?
Marc Ambinder provides both a succinct ("No.") and a more detailed answer. Now, some readers might take umbrage at the partisanship of Limbaugh's question, but I think it dovetails nicely with some recent research interests of my own. In particular: what would happen if the president was under threat of turning into a zombie?
Let's break this down into two phases: A) a president who's been bitten but is still clearly human; and B) an undead POTUS.
The first situation could distort the government's initial policy responses. After all, the actors with the most immediate stake in sabotaging any attack on zombies are those who have been bitten by zombies, and the human relatives of zombies. By definition, the moment humans are bitten, they will inevitably become zombies. This fact can dramatically alter their preferences. This change of mind occurs in many zombie films. In George Romero's Land of the Dead (2005), the character of Cholo has the most militant anti-zombie attitude at the outset of the film. After he is bitten, however, he decides that he wants to "see how the other half lives." In Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (2002), as well as Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Survival of the Dead (2010), family members keep their undead relatives hidden from security and paramilitary forces.
Clearly, soon-to-be-ghouls and their relatives can hamper policy implementation. One would expect a soon-to-be POTUS to order research efforts on finding a cure rather than focusing on prevention, for example.
If the situation is unclear when the president is infected, all hell breaks lose once he becomes a member of the differently animated. The law here is extremely murky. From Ambinder:
The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 spells out a procedure. Let's look at 3 USC 19, subsection "E." We're dealing with a situation where there is no President, no Vice President, no Speaker of the House and no President Pro Tempore. The law then appoints the Secretary of State as President until either the end of the current president's term in office OR someone higher in the chain of command suddenly re-appears or recovers from injuries and is able to discharge the powers of office. (The Secretary of Defense is sixth in line, after the Secretary of the Treasury.)
This seems clear: If it's not clear, after some sort of decapitation attack, whether the President, the Vice President or the two Congressional successors are alive, or if they're all alive but disabled, then the Cabinet secretaries become acting President -- until and unless a "prior entitled individual" is able to act.
Let's say that the POTUS, the VPOTUS, the Speaker and the President Pro Tempore are all injured; only the Vice President recovers. As soon as that person is eligible, he or she can "bump" the Acting President aside whenever he wants....
The problem is that, in a catastrophic emergency, the people who need to know who is in charge might not have the resources to find this out immediately. These people are, in particular, the Secret Service, and the folks who execute lawful orders from the National Command Authority (which is another name for the commander in chief's executive powers).
Well, then what the hell happens if a president is bitten by a zombie, dies, and then becomes a zombie? It seems to me that the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 doesn't cover this contingency.
There is also the question of the conflicting bureaucratic imperatives that some organizations, like the Secret Service, would face in this scenario. For example, in Brian Keene's The Rising, the U.S. government falls apart almost immediately. A key trigger was the Secret Service's difficulties altering their In divining bureaucratic preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat. standard operating procedures. After the president turned into a zombie, he started devouring the secretary of state. As a result, "one Secret Service agent drew his weapon on the undead Commander-in-Chief, and a second agent immediately shot the first."
I think the lesson to draw here for Rush and others is that in divining both bureaucratic and presidential preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat.
I hereby applaud Rush for being brave enough to highlight this troublesome question during a week when nothing else is going on in the world.
Yesterday Director of National Intelligence James Clapper provided his sober assessment of the situation on the ground in Libya:
Responding to questions, Mr. Clapper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Colonel Qaddafi had a potentially decisive advantage in arms and equipment that would make itself felt as the conflict wore on.
“This is kind of a stalemate back and forth,” he said, “but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail.”
Mr. Clapper also offered another scenario, one in which the country is split into two or three ministates, reverting to the way it was before Colonel Qaddafi’s rule. “You could end up with a situation where Qaddafi would have Tripoli and its environs, and then Benghazi and its environs could be under another ministate,” he said.
The White House was clearly taken aback by the assessment that Mr. Qaddafi could prevail.
The White House wasn't the only actor that didn't like what Clapper was saying:
Clapper's prediction of defeat for the Libyan opposition prompted a furious Sen.Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to demand that Clapper resign or be fired.
"The situation in Libya remains tenuous and the director's comments today on Gadhafi's 'staying power' are not helpful to our national security interests,'' Graham said in a statement, using a different spelling of the leader's name. "His comments will make the situation more difficult for those opposing Gadhafi ... and undercut our national efforts to bring about the desired result of Libya moving from dictator to democracy.
Yeah, how dare Clapper say things that jibe with open-source analysis of the situation!!
I kinda sorta understand the argument that Clapper shouldn't have said this in public, but not really. To have a quality debate about policy options on Libya, this kind of dispassionate analysis is crucial. Clapper's job description is to provide an assessment of what's actually occurring on the ground, regardless of what people want to happen on the ground. It's then up to policymakers to craft responses to try to alter or reinforce that situation as they see fit. Calling for Clapper's resignation because he provided what appears to be an accurate assessment of the current state of play seriously politicizes the job of intelligence analysis and assessment. Doesn't the past decade suggest that politicized intelligence leads to catastrophic foreign policymaking?
What worries me is not what Clapper said but how the White House responded:
The White House was clearly taken aback by the assessment that Mr. Qaddafi could prevail, and Mr. Donilon, talking to reporters a few hours later, suggested that Mr. Clapper was addressing the question too narrowly.
“If you did a static and one-dimensional assessment of just looking at order of battle and mercenaries,” Mr. Donilon said, one could conclude that the Libyan leader would hang on. But he said that he took a “dynamic” and “multidimensional” view, which he said would lead “to a different conclusion about how this is going to go forward.”
“The lost legitimacy matters,” he said. “Motivation matters. Incentives matter.” He said Colonel Qaddafi’s “resources are being cut off,” and ultimately that would undercut his hold on power.
A senior administration official, driving home the difference in an e-mail on Thursday evening, wrote, “The president does not think that Qaddafi will prevail.”
Hmmm. Over the past week, the Libyan opposition to Qaddafi has been winning on only one dimension -- garnering international support. On the ground in Libya, not so much. And the international support won't affect the situation on the ground anytime soon. Even the tightest financial sanctions don't matter at this point. Qaddafi possesses far more financial reserves than, say, the Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo -- and yet Gbagbo has managed to stay in power for five months. Sanctions should eventually work in the Ivory Coast, but they're not going to work anytime soon in Libya.
Contra Donilon, the only way in which the dynamic changes on the ground in Libya is if international support becomes far more concerted and proactive in support of the Libyan rebels. Based on Mark Landler and Helene Cooper's analysis in the New York Times, however, the Obama administration won't be spearheading that kind of policy shift. For Donilon to suggest that, absent U.S. action, the dynamic is working in favor of Libya's anti-Qaddafi movement smacks of utopian thinking.
Graham and others should criticize the Obama administration's handling of Libya if they want to see a more forceful policy response. Criticizing the DNI for providing an accurate intelligence assessment, on the other hand, is seriously counterproductive.
The lead article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs is Walter Russell Mead's disquisition regarding the Tea Party's attitudes about American foreign policy. This intellectual exegesis comes on the heels of P.J. O'Rourke's similar effort in World Affairs. This spread of analysis about the Tea Party's hopes and dreams for Amerian foreign policy into the serious policy journals can mean only one thing: the Tea Party's influence on American foreign policy has peaked and will be on the downswing for quite some time.
I actually have some data on my side. The common denominator to all Tea Party supporters is a healthy distrust of the federal government. A Pew poll released last week, however, suggests that anger at the government peaked six months ago:
[F]ewer Americans say they are angry at government than did so last fall. Overall, the percentage saying they are angry with the federal government has fallen from 23% last September to 14% today, with much of the decline coming among Republicans and Tea Party supporters.
There is also data demonstrating that trust in government is rising from last year's nadir. Part of this might be a dead cat bounce. Part of it is likely due to the fact Tea Party supporters are pleased with the midterm election results. Part of it might even be due to a mildly improving job picture. The point is, it's happening.
The performance of the Tea Party's rock stars is also suggestive. As Glenn Beck has careened even further into conspiracy theory territory, he has seen his ratings and popularity fall to the point where other conservatives feel free to rip into him like a garden-variety Democrat. As I pointed out last December, Sarah Palin's poll numbers have been nosediving for the past year now -- enough so that, again, possible contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination feel free to
rip mildly tweak her.
This has all happened after just two months of a new GOP-held House infused with Tea Party members. My prediction is that, if anything, the Tea Party movement will splinter even more going forward. Governing means compromising, and that's exactly what Tea Party activists don't want to see. As the GOP members of Congress consider the
pathetic horrible underwhelming list of 2012 challengers to Barack Obama, they'll decide that it's better to cut a deal with the current administration as a way to stay in power.
As for foreign policy, Beck and Palin have radically different foreign policy worldviews, which suggests the inchoate nature of the Tea Party movement itself. O'Rourke noted last fall:
What is the Tea Party’s foreign policy? It’s a difficult question on two counts. There is no Tea Party foreign policy as far as I can tell, and, on inspection, there is no Tea Party. There are, of course, any number of Tea Party Coalition groups across the country. But these mix and mingle, cooperate, compete, debate, merge, and overlap with countless other groups grouped together as the “Tea Party movement” in the public mind.
Mead makes a similar observation, but argues that passionate minorities can still wield veto power in American politics, and that eventually, "the contest in the Tea Party between what might be called its Palinite and its Paulite wings will likely end in a victory for the Palinities." This implies the status quo of different elements of the Tea Party movement holding contradictory views cannot hold -- and I see no reason why it can't. The simplest fact about the Tea Party is that, by and large, they don't care about foreign policy.
The only issue areas where I suspect the Tea Party will really matter going forward are in the policies that cater to both wing's inherent American nationalism -- namely, immigration and anti-Muslim
hysteria concerns. Beyond that, however, I suspect that ten years from now we'll look back at the Tea Party movement the same way we now look ay Ross Perot's Reform Party -- a brief, interesting but in the end unstable collection of political oddities.
Since I moved to Foreign Policy, the blog post that generated the most feedback was my impressionistic take on the Millennial generation's foreign policy perspectives. I concluded that post on whether generaional cohorts would have distinct foreign policy attitudes with the following:
As I think about it, here are the Millennials' foundational foreign policy experiences:
1) An early childhood of peace and prosperity -- a.k.a., the Nineties;
2) The September 11th attacks;
3) Two Very Long Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq;
4) One Financial Panic/Great Recession;
5) The ascent of China under the shadow of U.S. hegemony.
From these experiences, I would have to conclude that this generation should be anti-interventionist to the point of isolationism.
There was a LOT of very thoughtful pushback in the comments and e-mails from Millennials themselves -- enough for me to wonder whether my jaded Gen-Xer eyes were growing too world-weary.
Now, however, we actually have some data. The Brookings Institution has released a new report, "D.C.'s New Guard: What Does the Next Generation of American Leaders Think?" The survey results came from 1,057 respondents (with a average age of 16.4) who attended the National Student Leadership Conference, Americans for Informed Democracy young leaders programs, and other DC internships -- i.e., those young people already predisposed towards a political career.
The results are veeeeery revealing. The headline figure is that 73% of respondents think that "The U.S. is no longer globally respected" -- which actually suggests that the respondents haven't been looking at the data, but that's a side note. No, the really interesting response is as follows:
[A]lmost 58% of the young leaders in this survey agreed with the statement that the U.S. is too involved in global affairs and should do more at home. Alternatively, 32.4% thought the U.S. had "struck the right balance" between issues at home and abroad," while only 10% thought that the United States should be more globally proactive.
This isolationist sentiment among the younger generation stands in stark comparison to the Chicago Council's recent 2010 polling of older Americans, which found that 67% wanted America to have an active role in the world and only 31% thought we should limit our involvement, a near exact reverse. The older generation survey concluded that there was "persisting support for an internationalist foreign policy at levels unchanged from the past," but this perceived persistence is certainly not there among the young leaders (emphasis added).
Now, to be fair, It is possible to reconcile beliefs that the United States is doing too much abroad now while still believing that the U.S. should exert global leadership, but on a more modest scale. Still, I'm counting this as a clear win over the young people insisting that my impressionistic take on their generation was wrong. Take that, Bieberheads!!!
[Hey, I just noticed this paragraph by P.W. Singer at the start of the report:
In 2011, a “silver tsunami” will hit the United States: the oldest Baby Boomers will reach the United States’ legal retirement age of 65. As the Boomers leave the scene, a new generation will begin to take over. But while the generation that directly follows the Boomers, Generation X, may be “of age”, there is a good chance that it will not actually shape public life and leadership as much the following generation, the Echo Boomers, also known as the “Millennials." (emphasis added)
Say, could that swipe at your generation explain your attitude in this post?--ed.]
No!! Really!! It has nothing to do with that! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to lock myself into a dark room and watch Reality Bites on an endless loop for the next 24 hours.
A peculiar kerfuffle between Argentina and the United States has broken out. The New York Times' Alexei Barrionuevo summarizes the standoff:
Argentina has accused the United States military of trying to bring guns and surveillance equipment into the country under the cover of supplying a police training course, creating the latest diplomatic rift between the countries.
Argentine customs officials seized undeclared equipment on Thursday, including what they described as machine guns and ammunition, spy equipment and drugs like morphine, the Argentine Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
The equipment was on a United States Air Force cargo plane carrying material for a training course that an American military team had been invited to provide to Argentina’s federal police.
Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Argentina would file an official protest in Washington and ask for a joint investigation into why the Air Force attempted to violate Argentine law by sending “material camouflaged inside an official shipment from the United States,” the ministry said in a news release.
“Argentine law must be complied with by all, without exception,” Mr. Timerman said he had told Arturo Valenzuela, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, after Mr. Valenzuela complained about how Argentine customs officials dealt with the cargo, the Foreign Ministry said.
Virginia Staab, a State Department spokeswoman, called the actions by Argentine officials “puzzling and disturbing” and said American officials were seeking explanations from the Argentine government.
The plane carried experts and training equipment that had been “fully coordinated with and approved by” Argentina’s government, Ms. Staab said. She said Argentine authorities conducted “an unusual and unannounced search of the aircraft’s cargo, seizing certain items.”
Ms. Staab said the confiscated equipment included one rifle, a first-aid kit, ready to eat meals, a secure communications device similar to a GPS, encrypted communications equipment, tables and personnel foot lockers that contained helmets. She said American officials were seeking “the immediate return of all items retained by the government of Argentina.”
Argentine officials described the seized material as including equipment for “intercepting communications, various sophisticated and powerful GPS devices, technological elements containing codes labeled secret and a trunk full of expired medicine.”
Now, ordinarily, this sounds like one of those incidents where some errant paperwork and a whole lot of mistrust has escalated things way beyond the level they should be. The Wall Street Journal's Ken Parks and Julian Barnes add some context, however, that suggests something weird is going on:
Argentine officials say some of the materials weren't included in documents submitted by the U.S. Embassy before the plane's arrival, a charge U.S. officials adamantly deny.
"I want to emphasize the need for our equipment to be returned promptly by the government of Argentina regardless of what motivated this inexplicable behavior," Paul Stockton, the assistant secretary of defense for the Americas, said on Tuesday.
Argentine officials, however, responded the U.S. needed to learn that Argentina has its own laws that need respect.
"Just imagine what would have happened if an Argentine aircraft had taken the same kind of material to the United States. [The Argentines] would all be in Guantanamo in orange overalls," Anibal Fernandez, President Cristina Kirchner's cabinet chief, said in an interview with local broadcaster Radio La Red.
The training had been scheduled at the request of the Argentine government, and was meant to be a follow-up to a September 2009 exercise, according to Frank Mora, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs.
"This was all coordinated at the highest levels of the Argentine government," Mr. Mora said in an interview. "So it caught us very much by surprise, the way the government reacted."
When the plane arrived on Thursday, it was met at the airport by senior Argentine officials, including Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who supervised the seizure of the cargo as U.S. officials looked on. (emphases added)
Those two bolded sections lead to two different conclusions. The presence of the Foreign Minister suggests that this wasn't some paperwork screw-up but something with a clear political motivation (rthough it's far from clear whether the entire Argentinian government knows what the heck is going on). The actual motivation is far from clear to me, however -- I'm just gonna assume this isn't an effort by the Argentines to muck up their Paris Club negotiations. This blog heartily welcomes Latin American experts to provide some explanation in the comments section.
For me, however, the more interesting point is the first bolded jab at Guantanamo. It's a horses**t allegation, but it's a horses**t allegation that lots of people make when they talk about the United States (Julian Assange and his defenders have repeatedly averred that Assange would be sent to Gitmo if he were ever to enter the United States, which is an absurd premise on both political and legal grounds).
Here's the thing, though -- is it possible for an American policymaker rebut this kind of wisecrack? There really isn't a good response, because Gitmo is now one of those toxic terms like "bailout" or "Snooki" that can't be undone.
The politics of closing Guantanamo are pretty hopeless, which means it ain't gonna close anytime soon. As a result, this is going to be a sore that continues to fester and continue to erode America's soft power. Maybe that's not worth the political capital required to resolve the situation -- but at least let's openly acknowledge the foreign policy hit.
Congratulations to Reuters' Douglas Hamilton for winning this week's Vizzini Award. The award, for new readers of the blog, goes to someone who uses a term of phrase that clearly does not mean what they think it means.
If Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is toppled, Israel will lose one of its very few friends in a hostile neighborhood and President Barack Obama will bear a large share of the blame, Israeli pundits said on Monday.
Political commentators expressed shock at how the United States as well as its major European allies appeared to be ready to dump a staunch strategic ally of three decades, simply to conform to the current ideology of political correctness. (emphasis added)
Now, there is a purely
short-sighted short-term geopolitical logic out there to justify a stalwart defense of Hosni Mubarak. Claiming that support for legitimate Egyptian demands is an example of "political correctness" seems, well, completely and totally wrong-headed. The most one could say that the United States is now in the semi-awkward position of honoring its own high-powered rhetoric on democracy in the Middle East.
Even from a strictly realpolitik perspective, however, I'm not sure exactly what Israeli pundits think could be gained from backing Mubarak to the hilt. Before his Friday speech, most Obama administration statements were at least mildly supportive, calling the Egyptian government "stable" and denying that Mubarak was a "dictator." Mubarak's disastrous Friday address, however, dramatically raised the policy costs of backing a crackdown (not to mention that I'm not sure the Egyptian army could have pulled it off anyway). As Steve Walt notes on his blog:
To maximize their own security, states want allies that are strong, stable, and that do not cause major strategic problems for them (i.e., by getting into counterproductive quarrels with others). Other things being equal, states are better off if they don't have to worry about their allies' internal stability, and if an allied government enjoys considerable support among its population. An ally that is internally divided, whose government is corrupt or illegitimate, or that is disliked by lots of other countries is ipso facto less valuable than one whose population is unified, whose government is legitimate, and that enjoys lots of international support. For this reason, even a staunch realist would prefer allies that were neither internally fragile nor international pariahs, while recognizing that sometimes you have to work with what you have.
Or, to quote Michael Clayton, "there's no play here."
This story is still interesting, however, because it certainly represents a data point against the Israel Lobby argument for American foreign policy. Scanning this good Washington Post write-up from Karen DeYoung, what's interesing is the dog that isn't barking -- namely, not one mention of Israel.
I suspect this is partly because the prospect of Arab democracy causes a serioius split between Israeli strategists and neoconservative supporters in the United States. Or it could be because, you know, the explanatory power of the Israel Lobby thesis has been vastly exaggerated.
UPDATE: I see that Geneive Abdo argues over at the Middle East Channel that Egypt 2011 is not like Iran 1978/79. Meanwhile, for another data point that neoconservatives are splitting from Israeli strategists, consider this Max Boot post:
I am hardly one to romanticize ElBaradei or to underestimate the difficulties of dealing with him. But what do his critics propose we do anyway?
Encourage Mubarak to kill lots of demonstrators to stay in power? Because at this point, that is probably what it would take for Mubarak to remain as president. Yet it is not even clear at this juncture that he could employ violence to save himself, given the fact that the Egyptian army has announced it will not fire on the demonstrators.
So what should the U.S. do? Demand that ElBaradei step down as the leader of the protest movement? Any such demand would be laughed off by the demonstrators, who are certainly not going to let their tune be called by Washington. Whom, at any rate, would we want to replace ElBaradei? There is not exactly a surfeit of well-respected liberal leaders, which is why ElBaradei was able to become the leader of the anti-Mubarak movement after having spent decades away from Egypt.
Perhaps we should demand that ElBaradei disassociate himself from the Muslim Brotherhood? Again, such a demand would be ignored, and probably rightly so. It is hard to see how any figure can claim to represent all the protesters without also speaking on behalf of the Brotherhood, which is the country’s largest and best-organized nongovernmental organization.
The Days of Rage seem to be persisting in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak is gunning for 2011's Marie Antoinette Award for Most Clueless Political Response By a Leader, and Egyptian protestors have completely and repeatedly ignored the 4 PM curfew announced on Friday. The police have withdrawn, the armed forces are out but not exactly stopping the protestors, and anyone vaguely related to Hosni Mubarak appears to have decided this was a swell time to shop at Harrod's. The official U.S. take on the situation is to
tap-dance as fast as humanly possible not say all that much.
So.... what now? What's going to happen? Like I said last week -- and like Paul Krugman -- I don't know. But having spent the morning watching the Sunday talk shows and the afternoon feverishly updating my Twitter feed, let me take this opportunity to ask as many provocative questions as I can:
1) Why is Mubarak toast? Everyone assumes that the Egyptian leader is a dead man walking, and given his speech on Friday, I can understand that sentiment. There are, however, remaining options for Mubarak to pursue, ranging from a full-blown 1989 Tiananmen square crackdown to a slow-motion 2009 Tehran-style crackdown.
Obviously, these aren't remotely good options for anyone involved. The first rule in political science, however, is that leaders want to stay in power, and Mubarak has given no indication that he wants to leave. He could be packing up as I type this -- but 80-year old strongmen don't tend to faint at the first spot of trouble.
The Days of Rage have clearly altered the future of Egypt -- Gamel Mubarak is not going to succeed his father. How much additional change will take place is unclear.
2) Could the army crack down if it wanted to? Contradicting my first question, the one thing I wonder is whether the Egyptian state has the capacity to crack down any more. Egypt's internal security forces have failed miserably. This leaves the army, an institution that has, to date, commanded respect across all walks of life in Egypt and refrained from direct internal coercion activities .
The fact that jets buzzed Tahrir Dquare suggests two things. First, the military is trying to signal to protestors to, you know, go home. Second, the military might not have the available tools to make this point more effectively, and might not be able to efficiently dispatch protestors if so desired. If this cable is accurate, the Egyptian military has long-focused on developing its conventional warfare capabilities, which is great for an armored attack in the desert and lousy for subduing a restive civilian population.
I'm sure the military could restore order if necessary, but it would be a hugely inefficient enterprise. The hit to their reputation would be massive.
3) Has U.S. influence over the situation increased and not decreased? Again, lots of talk today about how U.S. can't really shape the outcome. OK, except that I don't think the following statements add up:
a) The Egyptian armed forces are now the central pillar propping up the Egyptian state;
b) The Egyptian and American defense establishments have strong ties;
c) U.S. aide to Egypt is roughly $3 billion a year;
d) U.S. influence over the situation has waned.
As the Obama administration's rhetoric shifts -- going from calling on Mubarak to take action to talk about "transition" -- I wonder whether the U.S. is simply following the situation on the ground, or whether the situation on the ground has allowed the administration to start exerting more leverage.
4) After Egypt, which country in the region is the most nervous? This ain't Tunisia, it's the heart of the Arab Middle East. Regime chage in Egypt will send shockwaves across Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Libya and Syria.
That said, I suspect the most nervous country in the region will be Israel. When I was there this summer listening to their top security experts, Egypt was barely mentioned. The cornerstone of Israel's security was the notion that Egypt was a partner and not a threat. A region in which Iran, Turkey and Egypt all adopt hostile attitudes towards the State of Israel is, let's say, not an ideal situation. If both Turkey and Egypt look like democracies a year from now, that makes things even worse.
5) Is the Muslim Brotherhood really all that and a bag of chips? The MB wasn't behind the latest protests, and it's not entirely clear how much support they actually command in Egypt. This hasn't stopped speculation about what an MB-led Egypt would look like. While everyone is evoking what happened in Iran in 1979, I keep thinking that the Egyptian military is a lot more robust now than the Iranian military was back then. Stratfor speculates otherwise, but they don't have much data to back up their claim. I find it interesting that the MB threat has not deterred neoconservatives from supporting, at a minimum, regime change in Egypt.
[So do you have any answers?--ed. The U.S. should be pursuing a broad-spectrum policy of engaging any and every actor in Egypt right now, but the key is the military. All available pressure -- including an aid cutoff -- should be put on that institution to not intervene and not attack civilians. If that happens, I think that all the other dominoes fall.]
As much as I didn't enjoy John Mearsheimer's cover essay in The National Interest, that's how much I've been enjoying his latest book, Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics. Mearsheimer basic argument is that governments lie to each other far less frequently that one would expect, but they more commonly lie to their own citizenry. On the whole, however, they do this less for venal but for strategic reasons.
Mearsheimer's book went to press before Wikileaks blew up. As Stuart Reid points out at Slate, however, it's a wonderful testing opportunity for some aspiring dissertation-writer out there. Indeed, it now turns out that the Obama administration exaggerated juuuuust a wee bit about the damage caused by Wikileaks:
Internal U.S. government reviews have determined that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration's public statements to the contrary.
A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.
"I think they just want to present the toughest front they can muster," the official said.
But State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official, one of two congressional aides familiar with the briefings who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging," said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.
What's interesting is how one reacts to this kind of news. For example, I'm shocked, shocked that Glenn Greenwald has jumped all over this as yet another data point revealing official American perfidy:
And this, of course, has been the point all along: the WikiLeaks disclosures are significant precisely because they expose government deceit, wrongdoing and brutality, but the damage to innocent people has been deliberately and wildly exaggerated -- fabricated -- by the very people whose misconduct has been revealed. There is harm from the WikiLeaks documents, but it's to wrongdoers in power, which is why they are so desperate to malign and then destroy the group.
Contrast this with Kevin Drum:
For the most part, the leaked cables were interesting and in some cases embarrassing, but as a lot of people pointed out in real time, not really all that revelatory. In fact, they mostly showed U.S. diplomacy in a pretty good light. Obviously American diplomats would prefer that private conversations remain private -- and that's perfectly reasonable -- but in the end the WikiLeaks releases didn't cause nearly as much damage as government officials claimed.
It will shock, shock you to know that I agree with Drum more than Greenwald. This is not because of world-weary cynicism -- indeed, there's a very strong argument to be made in favor of a "broken windows" theory of government lying. Do it for small things, and it becomes easier to do it for big things.
The thing is, government honesty and transparency inevitably becomes a comparative exercise, and compared to other governments, the United States does pretty well. Looking at the various lists of Wikileaks revelations, the bulk of the truly embarrassing and/or damaging material affects other governments far more [But what about U.N. spying?--ed. Look up desuetude and get back to me].
My take on Wikileaks really hasn't changed much since my first post on the matter -- the revelations do less to harm U.S. interests than the official overreaction to those revelations.
If the U.S. government stopped exaggerating the threat to U.S. interests and then going all Emily Litlella later, that would be peachy.
Your humble blogger has repeatedly stressed the theme that when it comes to foreign or economic policy, the U.S. public is rationally ignorant. This does not mean, despite my occasional slip of the pen, that Americans are stupid. It means that they lead busy lives and don't see the need to read up on arcane policy issues that do not appear to affect their daily lives.
One of the awesome upsides of being rationally ignorant is that it allows the voter to reconcile what policy wonks know, in their hearts, is utterly irreconcilable.
Two recent polls of U.S. public opinion reveal this point quite nicely. Pew's latest survey of U.S. attitudes about China reveal deep-seated American anxiety about China's rising economic power, but a desire to strengthen relations. This leads to a headline assessment, "Strengthen Ties with China, but Get Tough on Trade," that is already contradictory.
Even better, however, is the Reuters/Ipsos survey of American attitudes about the debt ceiling:
The U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes raising the country's debt limit even though failure to do so could hurt America's international standing and push up borrowing costs, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.
Some 71 percent of those surveyed oppose increasing the borrowing authority, the focus of a brewing political battle over federal spending. Only 18 percent support an increase.…
With the Pentagon fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 51 percent supported cutbacks to military spending.…
Expensive benefit programs that account for nearly half of all federal spending enjoy widespread support, the poll found. Only 20 percent supported paring Social Security retirement benefits while a mere 23 supported cutbacks to the Medicare health-insurance program.
Some 73 percent support scaling back foreign aid and 65 percent support cutting back on tax collection.
How to put this gently… any serious effort to tackle the deficit/debt problem can't be accomplished without addressing Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and tax reform. So any American who says they don't want the debt ceiling raised is logically saying, "I want interest rates to skyrocket and massive cuts in Social Security and Medicare."
Except, of course, most Americans are rationally ignorant -- so they don't see these set of beliefs as contradictory.
It's not a bad way to go through life… unless, of course, you're the one trying to get the books into balance.
Your humble blogger has been
negligent remiss in not discussing the developing situation in the Ivory Coast. As near as I can figure, the state of play is as follows:
1) There was a presidential election last November
2) Everyone and their mother recognizes that Alassane Ouattara defeated current ruler Laurent Gbagbo... except for Gbagbo.
3) Ouattara is now holed up in the Hotel du Golf under the protection of UN peacekeepers and private security forces. Despite mounting pressure from the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Ecowas, Gbagbo is acting like he ain't going anywhere.
Now we have this BBC report:
The UN-recognised president-elect of Ivory Coast has called for a West African special forces operation to remove incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.
Alassane Ouattara's administration says the time for discussion with Mr Gbagbo, who is refusing to step down following November's election, is over.
The West African regional body Ecowas has threatened to force Mr Gbagbo out, but is trying mediation efforts first....
Mr Ouattara, who has many supporters in northern Ivory Coast, said it was just a question of removing Mr Gbagbo from power and taking control of key buildings like the presidential palace.
"Legitimate force doesn't mean a force against Ivorians," Mr Ouattara told reporters on Thursday, AFP news agency reports.
"It's a force to remove Laurent Gbagbo and that's been done elsewhere, in Africa and in Latin America, there are non-violent special operations which allow simply to take the unwanted person and take him elsewhere."
However, Ecowas does not have the sophisticated equipment and personnel needed for a special forces operation, our reporter says.
This raises a somewhat awkward question -- could this be one of those cases where neoconservatives have a valid point about the use of force? The past decade of U.S. military misadventures has clearly dulled the appetite for new military missions among the mass public, most of the foreign policy community and, well, me. That said, this could be one of those cases when unilateral U.S. force might be the best available policy option. [But what about ECOWAS?--ed. Sure, if they could gear up, that would be even better. As the BBC suggests, however, it's not clear that they have the capability to do so.]
Note my stress on the word "could" in that last sentence -- the Ivory Coast has been wracked by civil conflict during this past decade and U.S. action could just make things worse. But I'm not sure about that assertion either.
What do you think?
New Year's is a time for resolutions, a time for pledging to shed the bad habits of the previous year. Goodness knows, the foreign policy community and public commentators who occasionally foray into international relations have accumulated a lot of bad habits over the past year. Here's a list of nine memes, tropes, rhetorical tics, and baseless arguments that I'd like to see less of in 2011:
1) [Fill in the blank] is an "existential threat". This term of art has been on the rise for decades, but it seemed omnipresent this past year. To be sure, lots of actors face a lot of threats out there in world politics. The bar has to be pretty high, however, for something to be an "existential threat." For my money, it means that the country or its modus operandi could be completely extinguished.
Using this criteria, there are no existential threats to the United States in the international system. In 2010, this term was increasingly used by Israelis with respect to Iran. So, let's stipulate that if Iran were ever to acquire/develop, say, a dozen nuclear weapons, then the country would represent an existential threat to Israel. Commentators who do this, however, would also need to stipulate that Israel, in possessing 60-85 warheads, has represented an existential threat to Iran for decades.
2) Iran or North Korea are "irrational" actors in world politics. Look, it's a lot of blog fun to point out the absurdities of the Kims or Ahmadinejad -- I get that. Claiming a country's leaders are "irrational" simply because they don't want the same things that you want doesn't make them irrational, however -- it just means that they have a different set of preferences. The question to ask is whether these governments are pursuing their desired ends in a strategic, utility-maximizing manner. Based on their behavior in 2010, I'd say the answer for both governments is yes. So quit saying either Pyongyang or Tehran might be crazy enough to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike for no reason. Both regimes have really strong self-preservation instincts, however -- the "crazy man launching the bomb" contingency ain't gonna happen.
Note that this doesn't make it any easier to bargain with these countries -- these might be zero-sum bargaining situations. Eliminating the "irrationality" dimension, however, might make public debates about what to do a little more grounded.
3) Wikileaks is just like a newspaper: No it isn't. There's a lot of loose talk about how Wikileaks is really just like Bob Woodward or the New York Times in what it's doing. And sure, Wikileaks' Israel Shamir bears more than a passing resemblance to the Times' Walter Duranty. To my knowledge, neither Woodward nor the Times has threatened to publish documents in its possession as a blackmail device, or warn people to get their money out of a financial institution before something damaging is released.
Wikileaks is an NGO with a quixotic leader who really doesn't like the U.S. government... which makes Wikileaks like a lot of other NGOs. I think a lot of invective directed against the organization has been misplaced, and I agree with Gideon Rachman that Wikileaks has actually does the U.S. a favor. That said, tt's not an ethical journalistic entity.
4) Barack Obama does not really believe in American exceptionalism. I've heard this from a lot of Republican wonks that should know better. The meme emerged from an answer that Obama gave at a news conference in April 2009. John Dickerson at Slate addressed this a few weeks ago:
In the complete answer of nearly 300 words... it's clear that Obama is saying something more complex."We have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional," he says. What makes this moment notable is not that the president nails it but that, in real time, without a carefully crafted set of talking points to guide him, he is trying to find the balance between singing the song of America and demonstrating before a foreign audience that he understands that America is not the only country in the world.
6) Networks will end hierarchy as we know it. Arguments like this one tend to underestimate the ability of hierarchical organizations to evolve over time. More importantly, networks can have plenty of hierarchy embedded within them.
7) Sarah Palin's views correspond to either American public opinion or the official policy of the U.S. government. Um... no. Palin has perfected the art of using a tweet or Facebook post to capture attention. She's also perfected the art of declining poll numbers and increasing unfavorability ratings.
Some commentators have blurred the distinction between Palin and the United States as a whole. Let's be clear -- Sarah Palin is a private citizen with absolutely no official authority. Using her as an example of how "America" or the "United States government" feels about an issue is disingenuous in the extreme. When the Wall Street Journal editorial page sides with Michelle Obama over Sarah Palin, I think it's safe to say that the former Alaska governor has jumped the shark.
8) Because some international relations uses numbers, it's useless to foreign policymakers. Click here and here -- really, there was a surprising amount of crap written about this topic this year, and it would be just peachy if it could stop.
9) 2011 will be all about zombies. Oh, wait... that one is true.
OK, there's a lot of smack talk in this post. So, in the interest of karma, readers are warily encouraged to suggest what my 2011 reslutions should be for the blog.
[You meant warmly, right?--ed. Uh.. sure.]
John Mearsheimer has the lead essay in the latest issue of The National Interest. Entitled "Imperial by Design," the main thesis is not going to shock anyone familiar with Mearsheimer's theoretical and policy writings over the past two decades:
The root cause of America's troubles is that it adopted a flawed grand strategy after the Cold War. From the Clinton administration on, the United States rejected [grand strategies of offshore balancing or selective engagement], instead pursuing global dominance, or what might alternatively be called global hegemony, which was not just doomed to fail, but likely to backfire in dangerous ways if it relied too heavily on military force to achieve its ambitious agenda.
The rest of the article details the flawed strategies pursued by the Clinton and Bush administrations, and then closes with this warning:
The United States needs a new grand strategy. Global dominance is a prescription for endless trouble -- especially in its neoconservative variant. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is populated from top to bottom with liberal imperialists who remain committed to trying to govern the world, albeit with less emphasis on big-stick diplomacy and more emphasis on working with allies and international institutions. In effect, they want to bring back Bill Clinton's grand strategy....
President Obama is making a serious mistake heading down this road. He should instead return to the grand strategy of offshore balancing, which has served this country well for most of its history and offers the best formula for dealing with the threats facing America -- whether it be terrorism, nuclear proliferation or a traditional great-power rival.
Mearsheimer's essay has drawn praise from others at FP, but I confess to finding it conceptually fuzzier than most of his other work.
He's positing that a global dominance strategy doesn't work, and that the post-Cold War era demonstrates that it doesn't work. To demonstrate this, however, he focuses the overwhelming majority of the essay on the Bush administration. Fair enough, except that he's arguing that Obama is copying Bill Clinton and not George W. Bush. Here is the entirety of Mearsheimer's discussion of the Clinton period:
Bill Clinton was the first president to govern exclusively in the post-Cold War world, and his administration pursued global dominance from start to finish. Yet Clinton's foreign-policy team was comprised of liberal imperialists; so, although the president and his lieutenants made clear that they were bent on ruling the world-blatantly reflected in former-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's well-known comment that "if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future"-they employed military force reluctantly and prudently. They may have been gung ho about pushing the unipolar moment onward and upward, but for all their enthusiasm, even these democracy promoters soon saw that nation building was no easy task.
During his first year in office, Clinton carelessly allowed the United States to get involved in nation building in Somalia. But when eighteen American soldiers were killed in a firefight in Mogadishu in October 1993 (famously rendered in Black Hawk Down), he immediately pulled U.S. troops out of the country. In fact, the administration was so spooked by the fiasco that it refused to intervene during the Rwandan genocide in the spring of 1994, even though the cost of doing so would have been small. Yes, Clinton did commit American forces to Haiti in September 1994 to help remove a brutal military regime, but he had to overcome significant congressional opposition and he went to great lengths to get a U.N. resolution supporting a multinational intervention force. Most of the American troops were out of Haiti by March 1996, and at no time was there a serious attempt at nation building.
Clinton did talk tough during the 1992 presidential campaign about using American power against Serbia to halt the fighting in Bosnia, but after taking office, he dragged his feet and only used airpower in 1995 to end the fighting. He went to war against Serbia for a second time in 1999 -- this time over Kosovo -- and once again would only rely on airpower, despite pressure to deploy ground forces from his NATO commander, General Wesley Clark, and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
By early 1998, the neoconservatives were pressuring Clinton to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein. The president endorsed the long-term goal of ousting the Iraqi leader, but he refused to go to war to make that happen. The United States under Bill Clinton was, as Richard Haass put it, a "reluctant sheriff." (emphasis added)
There are some factual errors in this account (Clinton did not pull out immediately after the Black Hawk Down incident -- in fact, he bolstered U.S. forces and then withdrew six months later). More importantly, however, the policies described in this section suggest that Mearsheimer is going Vizzini on the phrase "global dominance." There's very little in the quoted section that bears resemblance to the bolded statement -- at best, it looks imperial by accident rather than design. That doesn't sound like a global dominance strategy to me -- and nowhere in this section does Mearsheimer describe the strategic costs that came with Clinton's approach.
(Maybe one could argue that Clinton's reluctant successes in Bosnia and Kosovo paradoxically bolstered Americans' faith in the utility of force, and that this faith paved the way for neoconservatism to pursue a more militarized approach. But Mearsheimer doesn't make that argument, and I don't think it holds up terribly well).
Mearsheimer is warning us that Obama is trying to replicate Clinton's grand strategy (though he offers minimal evidence to support this assertion). His implicit argument is that Clinton's strategy was a disaster, but he provides no evidence to support this assertion, and I don't think it's obviously correct either.
Instead, Mearsheimer devotes page after page to chronicling the errors of the Bush administration's grand strategy. Which is fine, but after the 5,476th evisceration of the neoconservative grand strategy, diminishing marginal returns do start to kick in. Bush 43's errors of strategy, management and implementation are pretty sui generis, to the point where it's dangerous to generalize from the Bush administration to the entire post-Cold War era.
Maybe offshore balancing is the right grand strategy to pursue, the Clintonian approach was blinkered, and Obama's approach is flawed. These are good propositions to debate and argue. The tragedy of Mearsheimer's "Imperial By Design" is that all of these points are asserted rather than argued.
OK, apparently the Wall Street Journal now has a policy to publish an op-ed every quarter asserting that:
1) U.S. defense spending is woefully inadequate compared to the Cold War era;
2) Those advocating further defense cuts are advocating taking the United States back to the 1930's; and
3) Today's threat environment is really, really bad.
Last quarter it was the Arthur Brooks/Edwin Feulner/William Kristol op-ed. Today it's Mark Helprin. The gist of his argument:
Based upon nothing and ignoring the cautionary example of World War II, we are told that we will never face two major enemies at once. Despite the orders of battle of our potential adversaries and the fact that our response to insurgency has been primarily conventional, we are told that the era of conventional warfare is over. And we are told that we can rest easy because military spending is an accurate index of military power, and we spend as much as the next however many nations combined.
But this takes no account of the nature of our commitments, the fading contributions of our allies, geography, this nation's size and that of its economy, conscription or its absence, purchasing power parity, exchange rate distortions, the military trajectories of our rivals individually or in combination, and the masking effects of off-budget outlays and unreported expenditures. Though military spending comparisons are of lesser utility than assessing actual capabilities, they are useful nonetheless for determining a country's progress relative to itself.
Doing so reveals that from 1940 to 2000, average annual American defense expenditure was 8.5% of GDP; in war and mobilization years 13.3%; under Democratic administration 9.4%; under Republican 7.3%; and, most significantly, in the years of peace 5.7%. Today we spend just 4.6% of GDP—minus purely operational war costs, 3.8%. That is, 66% of the traditional peacetime outlays. We have been, and we are, steadily disarming even as we are at war.
Hmm... I'll concede Helprin's point about fading contributions from allies from Western Europe -- but not elsewhere. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that if a sober analyst took into account geography, purchasing power parity, off-budget outlays, conscription, and actual military readiness, the argument in favor of moderated defense spending becomes stronger and not weaker. When the closest great power rival to the United States has difficulties supplying an anti-piracy flotilla, I think it's safe to say that the gap in capabilities is not going to shrink all that dramatically anytime soon.
More, importantly, it's not the same threat environment as the Cold War. If the Wall Street Journal is going to recycle the same tired argument about going back to Cold War era defense spending, then I'll just cut and paste what I said the first time this argument was made:
Terrorism and piracy are certainly security concerns -- but they don't compare to the Cold War. A nuclear Iran is a major regional headache, but it's not the Cold War. A generation from now, maybe China poses as serious a threat as the Cold War Soviet Union. Maybe. That's a generation away, however....
I'm about to say something that might be controversial for people under the age of 25, but here goes. You know the threats posed to the United States by a rising China, a nuclear Iran, terrorists and piracy? You could put all of them together and they don't equal the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And until I see another hostile country in the world that poses a military threat in Europe, the Middle East and Asia at the same time, I'm thinking that current defense spending should be lower than Cold War levels by a fair amount.
The "we're-not-spending-enough-on-defense" argument reminds me that I'd like to see the foreign policy community make some New Year's resolutions. To be specific, there are arguments and memes that commentators have made over the past year that I'd like to see less of in 2011. More about this later.
Am I missing anything?
Earlier this week I speculated as to why North Korea did not respond to a series of South Korean military drills. In the list of possibilities I provided, I was somewhat skeptical that Chinese pressure was the answer.
In today's New York Times, however, Mark Landler quotes some Obama administration sources suggesting that Chinese (and Russian) pressure was a determining factor:
after a tense week, when the threat of war hung over the Korean Peninsula, the Obama administration and Beijing seem finally to be on the same page.
Administration officials said the Chinese government had embraced an American plan to press the North to reconcile with the South after its deadly attacks on a South Korean island and a warship. The United States believes the Chinese also worked successfully to curb North Korea’s belligerent behavior.
China’s pressure, several senior officials said this week, might help explain why North Korea did not respond militarily to live-fire drills conducted this week by the South Korean military, when a previous drill drew an artillery barrage from the North that killed two South Korean civilians and two soldiers.
As evidence of the policy shift, officials pointed to recent remarks by China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, in which he urged the North and South “to carry out dialogue and contact.” Previously, Beijing’s response had been to propose an emergency meeting of the six-party group that negotiates with North Korea over its nuclear program, a step the United States opposed as rewarding the North’s aggression....
China swiftly dispatched a senior diplomat to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, and officials said he conveyed a strong message about “the unacceptability of attacks and killings of South Koreans,” said a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters.
“The idea that there could be these one-off provocations without expectation of a military response, as the North had behaved in the past, the Chinese now understand that this is no longer the reality, no longer acceptable,” he said.
John Pomfret hits similar notes in his Washington Post story. Actually, it's an even more optimistic assessment :
The United States and China are closing out the year on a positive note on many fronts - including trade, military ties, climate change and global security - as both sides prepare for their presidents' second summit, set for next month.
After a tense year during which U.S. officials, including President Obama, openly criticized China, and their Chinese counterparts returned the favor, there is a sudden switch in tone from the Commerce Department to the National Security Council. Instead of portraying China as protectionist or as an "enabler" of North Korea's provocations, administration officials are praising China, referring to it again as a responsible partner....
The most remarkable about-face has occurred in the administration's attitude toward China over the Korean Peninsula. Two weeks ago, a senior administration official accused China of creating the conditions that allowed North Korea to start a uranium-enrichment program and launch two deadly attacks on South Korea. The tensions on the peninsula threatened to dominate the summit.
But in recent days, senior administration officials have praised China for pressing North Korea not to react to a South Korean military drill Monday. Officials referred specifically to a visit by China's top diplomat, Dai Bingguo, to North Korea on Dec. 9. After the meeting, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that China and North Korea had reached a "consensus" on the situation on the peninsula - which many analysts interpreted as meaning North Korea had agreed not to provoke South Korea in the short term.
Administration officials also commended China for soft-pedaling a proposal to hold emergency talks between South and North Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States as part of a way to calm the situation. Instead, the officials said that China had accepted a U.S. plan that put improving ties between the South and the North ahead of any multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Administration officials portrayed the United States and China as working in lockstep in dealing with the crisis, which many thought had reached the brink of war last weekend. China continued to urge restraint on North Korea, they said, while the United States worked with Seoul to ensure that its exercises were "firm" but also "non-confrontational and non-escalatory," a senior administration said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Nonetheless, it is not clear whether China's pressure has worked. On Thursday, North Korea threatened to launch a "sacred" nuclear war that would "wipe out" South Korea and the United States if they started a conflict.
Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to make a state visit to Washington on Jan. 19. Obama visited China in November 2009.
China's approach on the Korean peninsula is certainly interesting, but what I find really interesting is the Obama administration's conscious decision to talk about this to the Times and Post. Part of this might be the warming up of relations that traditionally precedes a great power summit. Part of it, however, might be the administration's effort to signal to their Chinese counterparts that they understand that Beijing has engaged in a policy shift -- and the Obama administraion genuinely appreciates that shift.
This point is likely
banal obvious to longtime foreign policy hands, but I bring it up in the context of the Wikileaks cables. The attention paid to these diplomatic cables can lead to the impression that all diplomacy that matters is conducted in secret corridors. This kind of coordinated official leaking, however, is the bread and butter of 20th and 21st century statecraft -- and it's not going away anytime soon.
As I'm typing this very sentence, it looks like the New START treaty will be passed. This happened even though GOP arms control pointman Senator Jon Kyl
acted like a petulant child for the last month came out in opposition to the treaty (along with Mitch McConnell).
David Weigel Fred Kaplan has an excellent summary of why the GOP leadership failed to halt ratification, even though the threshold for blocking it was only 34 senators:
If a Republican were president, the accord would have excited no controversy and at most a handful of diehard nays. As even most of its critics conceded, the treaty's text contains nothing objectionable in substance.
There were two kinds of opponents in this debate. The first had concerns that President Barack Obama would use the treaty as an excuse to ease up on missile defense and the programs to maintain the nuclear arsenal. In recent weeks, Obama and his team did as much to allay these concerns as any hawk could have hoped—and more than many doves preferred.
So that left the second kind of opponent: those who simply wanted to deny Obama any kind of victory. The latter motive was clearly dominant in this debate (emphasis added)
Let's step back here for a second and contemplate the truth and meaning of that last sentence. Is it true? Kevin Drum and Greg Sargent clearly think the answer is yes, and they've got some damning quotes to back up their argument. Rich Lowry is particularly revealing on this point:
As the sense builds that ratification is inevitable, Republicans are lining up to get on the “right side.” Lamar Alexander’s support, noted below, is a crucial sign of which way the wind is blowing, although he’ll probably be the only member of the Republican leadership to vote for it. At least Jon Kyl was able to get more money for modernization and that letter from President Obama making assurances on missile defense. Otherwise, this is a dismaying rout (emphasis added)
Um... at best, this is a dismaying rout for the GOP, not the USA. As
Weigel Kaplan points out, however, it's not elements of the GOP didn't favor the treaty:
The task of Obama and the Democratic floor managers, Sens. Harry Reid and John Kerry, was to convince enough Republicans to view the issue not as political gamesmanship but as an urgent matter of national security. Hence their rallying of every retired general, former defense secretary, and other security specialist—Republican and Democrat—that anyone had ever heard of. (At one point, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she might vote for the treaty if former President George H.W. Bush endorsed it. A few days later, Bush released a statement doing just that.)
A few other things happened as well. Beyond the U.S. foreign policy establishment, the Eastern European foreign policy establishment got behind the treaty. There's also the fact that some GOP senators are still nursing a grudge against other GOP senators. Josh Rogin also points out that the treaty always had GOP supporters. And, finally, the Obama administration wisely decided to go to the mat on what was a rather unobjectionable treaty, no matter how hard John Bolton bloviates on the matter.
What does this mean going forward? In my bloggingheads with Matthew Yglesias last week, I was optimistic that Kyl's blatant obstructionism was a step too far, and that maybe this will lead to a little less needless obstructionism when it comes foreign policy. There's also the fact that the American people seems to really like what's happened during the lane duck session. Perhaps the GOP legislators that want to get re-elected will take note of that fact and decide that some cooperaion with the Obama administration on things like KORUS and arms control are a decent idea (there's also the fact that more GOP legislators from Democrat-friendly territory means more moderate Republicans).
That said, the nuclear negotiations with Russia only get harder from here. Plus, my gut tells me that the GOP leadership will become even more obsteperous going forward in order to bolster their reputation as the really tough bargaining party and eliminate the bitter aftertaste they're feeling from the lame duck session.
What do you think?
FP's Josh Rogin ably summarizes the State Department's rollout of the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), an exercise that was clearly inspired by the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review. This was Anne-Marie Slaughter's signal achievement during her tenure as Director of Policy Planning,* which leads to the obvious question of whether it really matters.
The QDDR is dedicated to Rickard Holbrooke, who passed away earlier this week. In a revealing Financial Times article, Brain Katulis of the Center for American Progress makes a particularly telling point about the arc of Holbrooke's career:
"If you compare Holbrooke's tenure in his job as representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he was able to do in the 1990s on Bosnia, you really see that the balance of power in the interim had shifted from the state department to the Pentagon," said Brian Katulis at the Centre for American Progress in Washington.
Katulis hits upon a theme that has been a source of concern here at this blog for a good long while. For at least a decade, there's been a vicious feedback loop: State loses operational authority and capabilities because of poor funding, which leads to more tasks for Defense, which leads to even more lopsided funding between the two bureaucracies, which leads to an even greater disparity in responsibilities, and so forth.
Will the QDDR change that? That's sorta the point of the whole exercise -- the phrase "civilian power" appears 281 times in the QDDR. I'm dubious -- the only way this works is through greater staffing and greater funding for U.S. foreign aid, and in this Age of Austerity, the first things that get cut are.... diplomats and foreign aid funding.
I'd love to see Hillary Clinton make the case to Congress than an extra $50 billion for State would improve American foreign policy enough to cut, say, $100 billion for DoD. I'd love a free pony too, for all the likelihood that this will happen.
I'm not the only one who's dubious. The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi ends his story on the QDDR as follows:
[E]xperts, as well as some military officials, have pointed out that the concept of "civilian power" sounds good, but that the US diplomatic corps is not prepared and doesn't have the numbers to take over many tasks from the military.
Clinton acknowledges that the shift in priorities and organization is "a work in progress," but she also emphasizes that someone will be designated at both the State Department and at USAID to oversee implementation. "I am determined that this report will not merely gather dust, like so many others," she said. And she wants Congress to approve making the QDDR a regular and required State Department policy-review process.
Slaughter echoed those words in a humorous sum-up with reporters. "I'm pretty sure you're thinking, 'I've heard this before,' " she said - a big plan to change the way a government agency works. "But this is different."
The big difference, she insisted, is that Clinton has given the reorganization top priority: "She knows ... we can't afford to continue working in the way we have been."
Reading the QDDR, it's clear that there's a hope that Foggy Bottom will scrape together more resources through wringing greater efficiencies out of the current budget. This is certainly possible -- no one is going to label the State Department a lean, mean fighting bureaucratic machine -- but color me skeptical that there's all that much savings of "government waste" in them thar hills.
To be fair, however, one report is not going to change a dynamic that's been building for more than a decade. It's only a first step. Still first steps are better than no steps. We'll see if this remains Clinton's top priority.
*I have no inside knowledge about this, but am simply assuming that Slaughter will be returning to her academic haunts after the standard two-year leave has expired -- in other words, in early 2011.
Gideon Rachman correctly points out the Wikileaks cables do reveal some interesting stuff. One of the oddities that intrigues him:
The sheer bleakness of America's view of Russia -- and this despite all the happy talk of improved relations and a "reset." It is also interesting that the Americans seem to semi-endorse the popular theory that Putin is personally very wealthy, and even name the oil-trading company that could be being used as a siphon.
Yeah, if Wikileaks reveals that the U.S. thinks Russia is such a kleptocratic basket case, why is the Obama administration so intent on resetting the relationship?
Well, first, you could have divined the administration's opinion of Russia without needing Wikileaks.
Second, I suspect the reset was chosen precisely because Russia is such a kleptocratic basket case. For once, I'm ahead of the curve, as I made this point in a paper for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences earlier this year. The key section:
I characterize current U.S. policy toward the Russian Federation as a form of "realist internationalism," By realist internationalism, I am referring to the kind of foreign policy doctrine espoused during the George H.W. Bush administration. This approach recognizes Russia's great-power status and the utility of a great-power concert in dealing with global trouble spots. Rather than prioritizing human rights, democratization, or even economic interests in the bilateral relationship, this policy position prioritizes great-power cooperation on matters of high politics, such as nuclear nonproliferation and the containment of rogue states that transgress global norms....
Russia's demographic situation is a nightmare: the country's population has been shrinking since 1992. The country has experienced positive economic growth over the past decade, but it has been due almost entirely to the run-up in energy prices. The price spike also had a "Dutch Disease" effect on the Russian economy, with an ever greater share devoted to natural resource extraction in general and oil and natural gas in particular. Over the past year, President Medvedev has lamented multiple times that "trading gas and oil is our drug." Russia's other great-power capability is its nuclear arsenal, but because it has failed to modernize the arsenal that is also a deteriorating asset....
At present, Russia's geography, natural resources nuclear stockpile and global governance prerogatives mean that Moscow is still a great power. Compared to the other BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) economies, however, Russia's future trajectory is far from promising. This assessment appears to reflect the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community as well.
Given this state of play, it is not surprising that U.S. foreign policy has reverted to the "equilibrium position" of realist internationalism; over time, the distribution of power between Russia and the United States will trend in America's direction. A pragmatic approach that alleviates Russian concerns about its relative decline echoes the George H.W. Bush administration's approach to a fading Soviet Union.
I'd be happy to hear alternative explanations for the reset in the comments section.
I've expressed skepticism about whether WikiLeaks will actually lead to greater foreign-policy transparency. That said, l'affaire WikiLeaks has generated just a smidgen of greater candor from at least one U.S. policy principal. Here's Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the fallout from the cable dump:
Let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel." …
Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think -- I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.
Many governments -- some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.
Hat tip: Jack Goldsmith.
There's going to be a lot of scholars, policy analysts and enthused amateurs who are going to drink up the Wikileaks documents as a great new empirical resource. So they should -- they did nothing to cause their release, and these are documents that ordinarily would have taken 25 years minimum to be declassified.
That said, there's going to be a natural inclination to think that any Wikileaks document will endow it with the totemic value of Absolute Truth. "If it was secret, then it must be true," goes this logic. That's a more serious problem. For Exhibit A, let's go to Simon Tisdall of The Guardian's interpreting what the Wikileaks documents reveal about how China views North Korea:
China has signaled its readiness to accept Korean reunification and is privately distancing itself from the North Korean regime, according to leaked US embassy cables that reveal senior Beijing figures regard their official ally as a "spoiled child"....
The leaked North Korea dispatches detail how:
In highly sensitive discussions in February this year, the-then South Korean vice-foreign minister, Chun Yung-woo, told a US ambassador, Kathleen Stephens, that younger generation Chinese Communist party leaders no longer regarded North Korea as a useful or reliable ally and would not risk renewed armed conflict on the peninsula, according to a secret cable to Washington.
Ah, OK, this explains why China has slowly distanced itself from North Korea's recent actions. Oh, wait, I'm sorry, China has done nothing of the sort.
I don't doubt that Chinese officials said everything reported in the documents. I do doubt that those statements mean that China is willing to walk away from North Korea. It means that Chinese diplomats are... er.... diplomatic. They will tell U.S. and South Korean officials some of what they want to hear. I'm sure that they will say somewhat different things to their North Korean counterparts.
The key is to determine whether China's actions reflect their words. And over the past six months, China has not acted in a manner consistent with Tisdall's claims.
This is not to imply that China is acting in a particularly perfidious or underhanded manner, by the way. They're acting like any great power would -- stall for time while trying to figure out the best way to handle a troublesome ally. The point is, just because someone says something in a Wikileaks memo doesn't make it so.
With the latest WikiLeaks dump, Julian Assange clearly thinks he's blown the doors off of American hypocrisy:
The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in "client states"; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.
This document release reveals the contradictions between the US's public persona and what it says behind closed doors -- and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what's going on behind the scenes.
Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington "the country's first President" could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today's document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments -- even the most corrupt -- around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.
Um... a few things:
1) I don't know about other Americans, but I was taught that the "not telling a lie" story was apocryphal.
2) You know, polite people tell their friends and neighbors about embarrassments that could affect them as well as Big Lies.
3) There are no Big Lies. Indeed, Blake Hounshell's original tweet holds: "the U.S. is remarkably consistent in what it says publicly and privately." Assange -- and his source for all of this, Bradley Manning -- seem to think that these documents will expose American perfidy. Based on the initial round of reactions, they're in for a world of disappointment. Oh, sure, there are small lies and lies of omission -- Bob Gates probably didn't mention to Dmitri Medvedev or Vladimir Putin that "Russian democracy has disappeared." Still, I'm not entirely sure how either world politics or American interests would be improved if Gates had been that blunt in Moscow.
If this kind of official hypocrisy is really the good stuff, then there is no really good stuff. U.S. officials don't always perfectly advocate for human rights? Not even the most naive human rights activist would believe otherwise. American diplomats are advancing U.S. commercial interests? American officials have been doing that since the beginning of the Republic. American diplomats help out their friends? Yeah, that's called being human. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but it strikes me that these leaks show other governments engaged in far more hypocritical behavior.
In the first season of Mad Men, there's a great scene when ad
man Don Draper encounters some beatniks. After one of them rips into Don
for The Man and his square ways, he responds as follows:
I hate to break it to you, but there is no Big Lie.
There is no System.
The universe is indifferent.
That's pretty much my reaction to the utopian absurdities of the WikiLeaks manifesto.
It is worth thinking through the long-term implications of this data dump, however. Rob Farley observes:
I'm also pretty skeptical that this release will incline the United States government to make more information publicly available in the future. Bureaucracies don't seem to react to attacks in that manner; I suspect that the State Department will rather act to radically reduce access to such material in order to prevent future leaks.
Asked why such sensitive material was posted on a network accessible to thousands of government employees, the state department spokesman told the Guardian: "The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath revealed gaps in intra-governmental information sharing. Since the attacks of 9/11, the US government has taken significant steps to facilitate information sharing. These efforts were focused on giving diplomatic, military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists quicker and easier access to more data to more effectively do their jobs."
Well, I think it's safe to say that compartmentalization will be back in vogue real soon -- which means, in the long run, both less transparency and less effective policy coordination. It's not the job of WikiLeaks to care about the second problem, but they should care about the first.
Am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.