Over at the Guardian, Ed Pilkington notes a rather curious silence from a powerful American interest group:
The National Rifle Association is so tied up fighting new gun restrictions in the wake of the Newtown shooting that it has failed so far to mount its expected lobbying blitz against a new international arms control control treaty.
With just a few weeks to go until the world's first Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is put to a final vote at a UN conference in New York campaigners have voiced surprise at the NRA's relative silence on the issue. Until the Newtown tragedy, in which 20 young children died in their classrooms on 14 December, the UN's attempt to contain the loosely regulated international trade in weapons had been one of the gun lobby's biggest targets....
[A]head of the final ATT conference, which opens on 18 March, the NRA has been notable by its absence. Though the organisation continues to vow that it will do all in its power to prevent the arms trade coming into effect – arguing that it is a "ticking time-bomb" and "the most serious threat to American gun owners in decades" – it has not been applying the same strong-arm tactics as it did in 2012.
So what's up? Pilkington suggests that the NRA is so distracted fighting against domestic gun control measures that it's taken its eye off the ball of this treaty -- particlarly since, according to the American Bar Association, there's nothing in the ATT to infringe on Second Amendment rights.
That might be true, but let me suggest an alternative hypothesis based on LaPierre's own rhetoric. The standard NRA defense against gun control has been concern about a Leviathan stripping citizens of their right to bear arms. Based on LaPierre's recent Daily Caller essay, however, I think they've switched arguments. The concern is no longer about creeping totalitarianism; it's creeping anarchy:
Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival. It’s responsible behavior, and it’s time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that....
Responsible Americans realize that the world as we know it has changed. We, the American people, clearly see the daunting forces we will undoubtedly face: terrorists, crime, drug gangs, the possibility of Euro-style debt riots, civil unrest or natural disaster.
Gun owners are not buying firearms because they anticipate a confrontation with the government. Rather, we anticipate confrontations where the government isn’t there—or simply doesn’t show up in time.
To preserve the inalienable, individual human right to keep and bear arms—to withstand the siege that is coming—the NRA is building a four-year communications and resistance movement (emphasis added).
They say "communications and resistance movement," I say "doomsday preppers."
I'm hardly the only one to notice this kind of doomsday prepper rhetoric from LaPierre. What's interesting is that the NRA's allies in Congress are talking the same way. Gail Collins offers up the following Lindsey Graham quote:
The senator from South Carolina wanted to know what people were supposed to do with a lousy two-shell shotgun “in an environment where the law and order has broken down, whether it’s a hurricane, national disaster, earthquake, terrorist attack, cyberattack where the power goes down and the dam’s broken and chemicals have been released into the air and law enforcement is really not able to respond and people take advantage of that lawless environment.”
Do you think Graham spends a lot of time watching old episodes of “Doomsday Preppers?” Does he worry about zombies? That definitely would require a lot of firepower (emphasis added).
I don't know if Graham worries about zombies, but I've given this matter some thought, and I do wonder if there's a fusion of various apocalyptic fears going on in some political quarters.
To get back to the Arms Trade Treaty, since Newtown the NRA appears to have shifted tactics in its arguments about the necessity to bear arms. But the fear of state collapse is a very different logic from a fear of an overpowering state. If you believe that governments will simply crumble at the first sign of a threat, then you're not gonna bother lobbying against some silly international treaty. It's not like the ATT will make a difference when the s**t hits the fan. Rather, groups like the NRA should be more concerned with declining gun ownership rates in the United States.
In the argot of international relations theory, a leader or organization that finds itself trapped by its political rhetoric is suffering from "blowback." In an irony of ironies, I wonder if the NRA's shift in rhetoric has hamstrung its lobbying efforts on the Arms Trade Treaty.
One of the tests of any theoretical paradigm is whether it works on a new explanatory domain. The introduction of "cyber" as a new possible zone of conflict would seem to be an ideal testing ground for international relations theory, for example. Will cybersecurity emerge within a strong body of law-governed international regimes, a norm-infused sphere of do's and don'ts, a game-theoretic equilibrium in which no actor has an incentive to deviate frrom status-quo policies, an arena where nuclear analogies are applied to a new and not-so-similar security theater, or a realpolitik zone of anarchy in which there are no rules or norms, just exercises of power and capabilities?
Based on recent reporting, the answer appears to be a realpolitik one. After bolstering the Department of Defense's Cyber Command even during a time of austerity, the New York Times' David Sanger and Thom Shanker report on a new legal review of presidential authority in this area:
A secret legal review on the use of America’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons has concluded that President Obama has the broad power to order a pre-emptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad, according to officials involved in the review.
That decision is among several reached in recent months as the administration moves, in the next few weeks, to approve the nation’s first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyberattack. New policies will also govern how the intelligence agencies can carry out searches of faraway computer networks for signs of potential attacks on the United States and, if the president approves, attack adversaries by injecting them with destructive code — even if there is no declared war.
The rules will be highly classified, just as those governing drone strikes have been closely held....
Cyberweaponry is the newest and perhaps most complex arms race under way. The Pentagon has created a new Cyber Command, and computer network warfare is one of the few parts of the military budget that is expected to grow. Officials said that the new cyberpolicies had been guided by a decade of evolution in counterterrorism policy, particularly on the division of authority between the military and the intelligence agencies in deploying cyberweapons. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the record....
As the process of defining the rules of engagement began more than a year ago, one senior administration official emphasized that the United States had restrained its use of cyberweapons. “There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” the official said....
While many potential targets are military, a country’s power grids, financial systems and communications networks can also be crippled. Even more complex, nonstate actors, like terrorists or criminal groups, can mount attacks, and it is often difficult to tell who is responsible. Some critics have said the cyberthreat is being exaggerated by contractors and consultants who see billions in potential earnings.
One senior American official said that officials quickly determined that the cyberweapons were so powerful that — like nuclear weapons — they should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.
A possible exception would be in cases of narrowly targeted tactical strikes by the military, like turning off an air defense system during a conventional strike against an adversary.
“There are very, very few instances in cyberoperations in which the decision will be made at a level below the president,” the official said. That means the administration has ruled out the use of “automatic” retaliation if a cyberattack on America’s infrastructure is detected, even if the virus is traveling at network speeds....
Under the new guidelines, the Pentagon would not be involved in defending against ordinary cyberattacks on American companies or individuals, even though it has the largest array of cybertools. Domestically, that responsibility falls to the Department of Homeland Security, and investigations of cyberattacks or theft are carried out by the F.B.I.
There's a lot going on in this story, but distilled to its elements, it does seem as though the U.S. is ramping up its offensive capabilities a hell of a lot more than preparing for defensive resiliency. So, offensive realism for the win, right?
Well, maybe, or maybe this is just some odd organizational politics going on. I confess to finding this utterly puzzling, because the latter is clearly kinda important. In an arena populated by non-state actors and quasi-non-state actors, defense would seem to me to be a far more important concern.
The language and analogies being used by officials in the story are also a confusing mix. On the one hand, a lot of the quotes in the story suggest that they think of cyber as like nuclear deterrence, in that escalation could be a very, very, very bad thing. On the other hand, keeping the decision rules classified seems to cut against any kind of deterrence logic.
The New Republic's Thomas Rid is equally bumfuzzled:
Barack Obama is probably America’s most web-savvy president ever. But when it comes to actually crafting policy for the nation's cyber security, his administration has been consistent in only one aspect: bluster. Obama's major legacy on cyber security, it increasingly seems, will be an infrastructure for waging a non-existent “cyber war” that's incapable of defending the country from the types of cyber attacks that are actually coming....
[T]he rhetoric of war doesn't accurately describe much of what happened [in recent cyberattacks]. There was no attack that damaged anything beyond data, and even that was the exception; the Obama administration's rhetoric notwithstanding, there was nothing that bore any resemblance to World War II in the Pacific. Indeed, the Obama administration has been so intent on responding to the cyber threat with martial aggression that it hasn't paused to consider the true nature of the threat. And that has lead to two crucial mistakes: first, failing to realize (or choosing to ignore) that offensive capabilities in cyber security don’t translate easily into defensive capabilities. And second, failing to realize (or choosing to ignore) that it is far more urgent for the United States to concentrate on developing the latter, rather than the former.
In many ways, what's happening with cyber appears to mirror a more general conceptual uncertainty about whether resources and doctrine that apply to other states in the international system can be applied to non-state actors as well. In cyber, it seems that the latter is the more immediate and constant threat, while the former is the more serious but latent threat. On the other hand, when pondering an actor like China, perhaps that dichotomy breaks down.
I'm far from a cyber expert, but I do know a litle bit about international relations theory. What's disturbing about these stories about cyber is not that they reflect aspects of offensive realism -- it's that they reflect a more inchoate cluster of contradictory impulses.
What do you think?
Pop quiz: which administration has been more enthusiastic about joining international treaties, George W. Bush or Barack Obama?
The Obama administration has been slow to submit new treaties to the Senate, and only nine have been approved so far. In contrast, the George W. Bush administration secured Senate approval of 163 treaties over eight years. These included not only bilateral treaties but also multilateral agreements on many important subjects, including human rights, atmospheric and marine environmental protection, the laws of war and arms control.
That paragraph comes from John Bellinger III, Bush 43's former State Department legal adviser. Now, one obvious pushback to this is that Obama has had to deal with a sovereigntist caucus in the Senate that is even more rabid than it was under Bush. Bellinger acknowledges the obvious, but then goes on to argue that fault also lies with the Obama administration:
It isn’t enough to blame Republican opposition to international agreements, which certainly has risen among the party’s senators in recent years. That trend only makes it more important that President Obama work harder to gain Senate support for treaties in his second term....
President Obama must devote more energy to securing Senate approval for pending treaties, both by using the presidency’s bully pulpit to explain the benefits and by directing administration officials to pay more attention to the concerns of individual senators. Despite increasing Republican hostility toward treaties, the president should still be able to persuade between 12 and 15 pragmatic Republican senators to support treaties that give concrete rights to Americans and American businesses or that promote important American interests.
The president should begin with the Law of the Sea Convention, which enjoys strong support from all branches of the United States military and from the American business community. He almost certainly could have gained Senate approval of this important treaty during his first three years in office but inexplicably waited until the maelstrom of the 2012 election year to push for it.
Over at the Monkey Cage, Erik Voeten looks at the political science of this and concludes that Bellinger has a valid point. The reason that Obama has been lethargic on treaties? The opportunity cost of the effort:
The idea that it is indeed hard work to pass treaties is supported by a recent working paper by Judith Kelley and Jon Pevehouse. Passing a treaty isn’t a simple matter of tallying the votes. The Senate’s agree and consent process takes away legislative time and political capital that could be used for other, perhaps more valuable, legislation. This opportunity cost theory yields some interesting and counterintuitive hypotheses. Presidents should become less likely to advance treaties when their approval ratings are high and when their party controls the Senate because that is the time when they can pass more valuable legislation on domestic issues. Kelley and Pevehouse find strong support for these patterns in their analysis with data from 1967-2008.
I suspect that Bellinger is correct that the Obama Administration could have persuaded a few Republicans to switch sides on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities if it had expended more time and capital on the treaty. This is not just about Republican opposition but also about priorities in the Obama Administration, which have, rightly or wrongly, been more on the domestic side.
One could argue that this logic also applies to Obama's cabinet selection process on foreign affairs. With Susan Rice, Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, the White House strategy appears to be, "hey, let's float the name, see if anyone gets upset, and see if the nominee can push back effectively before bothering to actually nominate the person."
Now from a pure logic of politics, this strategy makes some sense on some foreign policy matters. As embarrassing as it was that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities did not get ratified by the Senate, it doesn't change much. There is no effect on domestic law and the U.S. takes a marginal hit on the global stage. Even on cabinet appointments, one could be truly bloodless and argue that Susan Rice's Value Over Replacement-Level Policy Principal wasn't that high. The fiscal cliff negotiations matter a lot more.
Still, politics is art as well as science, and there's something just a little bit chickens**t about the Obama White House's tactics. Politics isn't only about winning -- sometimes it's just about making the effort. And the truth of the matter is that when it comes to dealing with Congress, this administration hasn't made the effort. By my recollection, during its entire first term, the only international relations piece of legislation that got the full court Obama White House press was the New START treaty with Russia. Now given what was going on with the economy, one could argue that the administration had the right set of priorities. But one way to help jumpstart the global economy would be a series of potentially significant foreign economic policy moves -- including the ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention, by the way. And I'd feel safer about my bet with Phil Levy if I knew that the Obama administration was willing to get some skin in the game when it came to foreign policy and Congress.
Letting peple like Susan Rice or Chuck Hagel twist in the political wind is, well, cruel. So I hope that in its second term, the White House cares enough about foreign policy to actually engage Congress rather than throw up their hands and say, "crazy Republicans, what can you do?" Actually, President Obama, you could do one whole hell of a lot if you made an effort.
I've blogged on occasion about the development of a sovereigntist lobby that reflexively opposes all treaties because they erode U.S. sovereignty. For these people, any infringement on American sovereignty is a death blow to freedom, regardless of the benefits from joining. This kind of reflexive opposition has caused even stalwart groups on the right to cringe in embarrassment.
This hasn't slowed down the sovereigntists a bit, which led to a somewhat awkward day in the U.S. Senate:
Former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas sat slightly slumped in his wheelchair on the Senate floor on Tuesday, staring intently as Senator John Kerry gave his most impassioned speech all year, in defense of a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.
Senators from both parties went to greet Mr. Dole, leaning in to hear his wispy reply, as he sat in support of the treaty, which would require that people with disabilities have the same general rights as those without disabilities. Several members took the unusual step of voting aye while seated at their desks, out of respect for Mr. Dole, 89, a Republican who was the majority leader.
Then, after Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, rolled him off the floor, Republicans quietly voted down the treaty that the ailing Mr. Dole, recently released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so longed to see passed.
A majority of Republicans who voted against the treaty, which was modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, said they feared that it would infringe on American sovereignty.
The Cable's Josh Rogin has more on today's vote.
Now to be fair to the Republicans who voted "nay," you don't approve a treaty just because Bob Dole favors it. And to be more than fair, it's true that the United States has comparatively robust legislation in the form of the ADA and IDEA.
On the other hand, the point of this convention is to ensure that other countries start embracing the rules and standards codified by the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act -- you'd think most Republicans would be super-keen on other countries embracing principles of U.S. law. Furthermore, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supports the treaty, and I hear that Republicans are pro-business, so that is a bit confusing. I also read that "the treaty was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration," so, again, you can understand my confusion.
If you want to see the arguments against the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, click here, here, here, here, and here. As near as I can determine, critics don't like the treaty because... it's a treaty. Most of the objections are either bogus or unsubstantiated by practice. As Joshua Keating notes, "a perfectly reasonable treaty was just rejected based on a complete misreading of it."
The treaty’s critics, like the conservative Heritage Foundation, were left arguing that the treaty shouldn’t be ratified if the US already complied with its intent, since endorsing the treaty could lead to problems down the road by unspecified means. That dismayed the treaty’s advocates, who see the treaty’s value in the message it sends to other countries about the importance of protecting disabled people. “It’s a treaty to change the world to be more like America,” protested John Kerry, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before the failed vote.
Dana Milbank notes that sometimes the treaty's opponents contradicted their own arguments:
[O]pponents couldn’t agree on how this box would be opened. “Do I believe that states will pass laws or have to pass laws in conformity with the U.N. edict?” [Rick] Santorum asked himself. “Do we have to amend IDEA?” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. “I don’t have any fear anytime soon that IDEA will be amended. But I do have concerns that people will go to courts and they will use this standard in this convention.”
This was contradicted by the next man at the microphone, home-schooling advocate Mike Farris, who pointed out that the document has a provision stating that “you can’t go to court automatically. You must have implementing legislation first” — the very thing Santorum says he does not expect to happen.
Still, their spurious theory of a U.N. takeover of parenting was enough to lead Lee and Santorum to oppose a treaty that would extend American values worldwide and guarantee disabled people equal treatment, and freedom from torture and exploitation.
Now I'm honestly pretty dubious about whether U.S. ratification of the treaty would accomplish all that. Unlike Law of the Sea, not ratifying this treaty doesn't appreciably harm U.S. interests. It does, however, make the United States look pretty dysfunctional. In essence, the U.S. Senate just rejected a treaty on protecting the disabled that would have globalized the status quo in U.S. law on this issue. To use the parlance of international relations scholars, this is dumber than a bag of hammers.
Your humble blogger is currently knee-deep in dissertation prospectuses (prospecti?), a rather curious literary form. Here at the Fletcher School, a dissertation prospectus is a Ph.D. student's attempt to describe his or her dissertation topic, including the central puzzle, the deficiencies in the existing literature, the proposed hypotheses and the testing strategy.
A prospectus runs about 60-80 pages and, to be blunt, is extremely painful to both authors and readers. It's painful for the authors because, after having spent most of graduate school ripping what they read to intellectual shreds, they discover that coming up with their own original arguments is actually a pretty challenging experience. It's painful for the readers because it's the academic equivalent of teenage poetry -- there's a lot of strong feelings and beliefs surging through the text in a thoroughly out-of-control and ungainly manner (and that's the final version of the prospectus -- you can only imagine what the draft versions of these documents look like). Indeed, the adolescence metaphor works astonishingly well -- I have engaged or witnessed many a conversation like the following:
Ph.D. ADVISOR: I think you should stop reading Wendt [or insert other trendy academic name here]. I don't like the way his arguments are shaping your argument.
Ph.D. STUDENT: But you don't understand!! I love him -- as much as love can be socially constructed!! He's let me see the world in a whole new way. He's the key to everything!!!
Ph.D. ADVISOR: You're writing a dissertation on cooperation among transnational criminal groups -- I just don't think his argument works here.
PH.D. STUDENT: How would you know which arguments work and which ones don't?! When was the last time you read someone who moved you -- the Stone Age?! I bet you've never read a piece of constructivist scholarship in your life. You don't understand me at all!!!!!
Ph.D. ADVISOR: Calm down -- I just think you might be better off if you read other people is all. This is just an intellectual crush. It will pass.
Ph.D. STUDENT!!! No!! Never!! I've never read anyone else who can speak to my topic like him. Wendt and I will stay together forever!!
Usually, the final dissertations look significantly better -- and thank God for that.
As you might surmise, this is not an easy literary form to conquer, and in most cases is just a hoop that should be jumped through as quickly as possible. Reading a bunch of these back-to-back can cause one to start muttering about how grad students ain't what they used to be and what-not. I am usually able to resist such mutterings by forcefully reminding myself that my own dissertation prospectus was such a bland and vague piece of crap ("I want to write something about sanctions") that I purged it from my hard drive as soon as possible in order to
thwart all my future biographers achieve some peace of mind.
Every once in a while, however, a Ph.D. student hits upon the delicate alchemy of fear and arrogance necessary to write an engaging prospectus that suggests an excellent dissertation. Maybe not even an excellent prospectus, but just a scintillating paragraph or two that suggests the student's intellectual trajectory is really, really promising.
This morning I stumbled across one of those paragraphs in a fascinating prospectus on international water boundary disputes (really!), which I now share with you:
While other water law studies have attempted to analyze the origins of water law, the study of water law in ancient societies tends to be cursory and rife with misnomers and mistakes. For instance, most cite the Hammurabi Code as the oldest water law, when with little effort it is easily discoverable that both the codes of Lipit Ishtar and Ur Nammu both contain water provisions, pre-date Hammurabi by at least 250 years, and clearly provide the normative underpinnings on which the Hammurabi Code was constructed. This study will therefore seek to build a solid historical foundation on which to ground further analysis of modern transboundary water law.
It's the phrase "easily discoverable" that tickled my intellectual fancy -- and, fortunately, the rest of the prospectus appears to back up the promise of that paragraph.
It's moments like these that forcefully remind me that, for all of the problems and pathologies with the modern academy, I really, really, really, really love my job.
Answer: they both pretty much put me to sleep.
Call me shallow, call me jaded, call me cynical, but there's not that much there there in either effort. Day 1 of the Top Secret story was the most informative of the bunch, no doubt -- but even that story was frustratingly short on detail. Day 2 and Day 3 were worse, in that they didn't tell me anything I already know. Day 2 of Top Secret America told me that outsourcing to private contractors is bad, bad, bad, and very expensive. Day 3 was kind of like your local news teasers: "Are NSA employees living RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO YOU?!" If you live in the vicinity of BWI, it turns out the answer is, "yes, but it's not a big deal." Again... yawn.
If Top Secret America actually prompts hearings/reform efforts, then yay, dead tree journalism. Otherwise, the reveal was far less than the hype.
As for Wikileaks, Blake Hounshell and Andrew Exum sum up my feelings on the matter. So it turns out that the war in Afghanistan is not going well and Pakistan is playing a double game? Well, knock me down with a feather!!
In essence, neither story provides much in the way of new information -- they merely serve as news pegs through which intractable policy issues can be debated anew. If those debates prove fruitful, that's great -- but during a summer in which I've seen the Stupidest Topics Ever become cable show fodder, I ain't getting my hopes up.
This might be my own subfield prejudice at work. Every once in a while someone from security studies tells me that international political economy is really, really boring and that they can't understand how I could find it interesting. I think today is one of those days in which I would tell them the same thing.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, anything?
Peter Baker provides some lay of the land on START in his New York Times write-up:
With time running out for major votes before the November election, the White House is trying to reach an understanding with Senate Republicans to approve its new arms control treaty with Russia by committing to modernizing the nuclear arsenal and making additional guarantees about missile defense.
The White House pressed allies in Congress in recent days to approve billions of dollars for the nation’s current nuclear weapons and infrastructure even as administration and Congressional officials work on a ratification resolution intended to reaffirm that the treaty will not stop American missile defense plans....
The critical player is Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip, who has criticized the treaty but also signaled that his reservations could be assuaged. In particular, he has sought to modernize the nuclear force, and the administration has proposed spending more than $100 billion over 10 years to sustain and modernize some strategic systems.
“I’ve told the administration it would be much easier to do the treaty right than to do it fast if they want to get it ratified,” Mr. Kyl said Thursday in an interview. “It’s not a matter of delay,” he added, but “until I’m satisfied about some of these things, I will not be willing to allow the treaty to come up.”
Mr. Kyl sounded hopeful that he could reach agreement, ticking off three ways the White House could assure him that the proposed nuclear modernization program would be adequate: ensure enough first-year money in the next round of appropriations bills, include enough second-year money in a follow-up budget proposal and revise the long-range modernization plan to anticipate additional costs in later years.
“I’m not questioning the administration’s commitment to this,” he said, “but this is a big deal, and it needs to have everybody’s commitment to it at takeoff, and I really don’t see that the groundwork has really been laid.”
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has met with Mr. Kyl once and invited him and other senators to talk about the treaty again next week. Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has likewise been talking with Mr. Kyl regularly and is trying to help resolve Republican demands to inspect at least some of the secret negotiating record.
For all the hand-wringing, this sounds like START is gonna get ratified. Kyl has been very careful to avoid boxing himself into a situation where he has to vote no. His asking price is not unreasonable, and it sounds like the Obama administration will meet it.
This would be good - not because START is all of that and a bag of chips, but because it suggests some Very Useful Conclusions:
1) Mitt Romney's Know-Nothing anti-START gambit failed to have any effect;
2) Republicans are being reasonable and constructive on arms control (Kyl's requests make a good deal of sense to me);
3) There can be bipartisan cooperation on important foreign policy questions.
4) Spencer Ackerman was wrong and I was right. Ha!! [It's all about score-settling with you this week, isn't it?--ed. It's the summer -- allow me my small, petty victories.]
Am I missing anything?
Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post earlier this week calling the New START Treaty Obama's "worst foreign policy mistake yet." This prompted a fair amount of blowback. The New York Times' Peter Baker and Slate's Fred Kaplan
tore Romney a new one dissected the substance of Romney's argument and found it wanting. Senator John Kerry wrote a WaPo op-ed the next day that had a pretty contemptuous conclusion:
I have nothing against Massachusetts politicians running for president. But the world's most important elected office carries responsibilities, including the duty to check your facts even if you're in a footrace to the right against Sarah Palin. More than that, you need to understand that when it comes to nuclear danger, the nation's security is more important than scoring cheap political points.
Now reading through all of this, it seems pretty clear that Romney's substantive critique is weak tea. Objecting to the content of a treaty preamble is pretty silly. Claiming that the Russians could put ICBMs on their bombers because of the treaty indicates
Romney's ghost-writer doesn't know the first thing about the history of nuclear weapons some holes in the research effort.
Putting the substantive objections aside, there are some interesting implications to draw from this kerfuffle. First, START will be an easy test of the remaining power of the foreign policy mandarins. As Time's Michael Crowley points out, START has the support of former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Senator Richard Lugar.
If the Obama administration can't get Senate ratification of START despite the bipartisan support of the foreign policy community, well, it suggests that the foreign policy community doesn't have the political capital it once did. I posited earlier this year that START would pass because it was pretty unobtrusive and wouldn't play a big role in political campaigns. If GOP senators think differently, however, then you can kiss any foreign policy initiative that requires congressional approval bye-bye.
This could seriously hamper U.S. foreign policy. Politically, Romney was wise to pick on START, because its importance is not in the arms control. Boosters like Kerry will talk about START like its the greatest thing since sliced bread, when in point of fact it's a modest treaty that yields modest gains on the arms control front. No, START matters because its a signal of better and more stable relations with Moscow (much in the same way that NAFTA was not about trade so much as about ending a century-long contentious relationship with Mexico).
So even if Romney gets chewed up and spit out by the foreign policy mandarins, there's a way in which he'll win no matter what. By belittling the treaty, Romney will get its defenders to inflate its positive attributes. This will force analysts to say that "both sides have exaggerated their claims," putting Romney on par with the foreign policy mandarins.
Developing... in a bad way for the mandarins.
UPDATE: Barron YoungSmith makes a similar point over at TNR. He's even more pessimistic than I am:
[T]he responsible Republican foreign policy establishment is not coming back. Mandarins like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker, who have all testified or written on behalf of the START treaty—calling it an integral, uncontroversial way of repairing the bipartisan arms-control legacy that sustained American foreign policy all the way up until the George W. Bush administration—are going to be dead soon (or they've drifted into the service of Democrats). The people who will take their place will be from a generation of superhawks, like John Bolton, Liz Cheney, and Robert Joseph, who are virulently opposed to the practice of negotiated arms control. Mitt Romney, though a moderate from Michigan, is not going to be the second coming of Gerald Ford.
Well.... this might be true, if you think Mitt Romney has his finger on the pulse of the GOP voter. Based on past experience, however, Mitt Romney has never been able to find that pulse.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Spencer Ackerman doesn't think the Senate will ratify the START treaty because the GOP wants revenge on health care:
It would be a mistake to view the outcome of this vote as a function of the treaty’s merits. Look at it from the GOP’s political vantage. It’s an opportunity to deal Obama’s hippie aspiration for a nuke-free world an embarrassing setback, right after suffering a humiliating defeat on health care, the issue that fight most to their voters. Every Republican interest inclines them against voting for the bill, and the constitutional math of treaty ratification gives them the chance to give Obama a bloody nose in front of the world. If the Obama team starts arguing the merits of the bill as opposed to outlining a raw-politics strategy for passage, then the treaty is fucked. (emphasis added)
I agree that treaty ratification is not going to be easy -- but Ackerman's political acumen seems off, and his timetable is way off. As Peter Baker and Ellen Barry reported for the New York Times, START won't be going up for a vote anytime soon:
The two sides have begun preparing for a signing ceremony in Prague on April 8, timing it to mark the anniversary of Mr. Obama’s speech in the Czech capital outlining his vision for eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons....
Mr. Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the senior Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to brief them on the negotiations. Mr. Kerry later said he would hold hearings between Easter and Memorial Day on the history of arms control and promised action by year’s end. “I assured the president that we strongly support his efforts and that if the final negotiations and all that follows go smoothly, we will work to ensure that the Senate can act on the treaty this year,” Mr. Kerry said.
Lugar told FP's Josh Rogin that "he intends to support the agreement and hearings could begin in May."
So, we know two things. First, by the time hearings and votes on START are taken, health care will have faded from view. Second, at least one prominent Republican senator intends to vote in favor of the treaty.
Does this mean START will sail through? Hardly. But it's also not going to fail because GOP Senators decided en masse to "give Obama a bloody nose in front of the world" because of health care.
Put me down as "cautiously optimistic" that START will be ratified. If the press reports are accurate, then opponents will have to argue that non-binding preamble language will somehow bind future U.S. presidents. Maybe hardcore ideologues can spin that kind of tale, but this is not health care -- fewer activists are going to care about an arms control treaty with a fading great power. Furthermore, if Obama's popularity has rebounded by the time the treaty comes up for a vote, some individual GOP senators will see a decided advantage to bipartisanship on foreign policy.
As Peter Feaver observed over at Shadow Government, there's an ever-increasing number of leaks coming from the Obama administration on foreign policy.
Beyond the drip-drip-drip on the Afghan strategic review, the foreign policy community is now agog at Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf's story in Time on the rise and fall of Greg Craig, Obama's first White House Counsel. Former colleague Laura Rozen labels it as, "one of the most devastating accounts to have emerged of the Obama White House."
Calabresi and Weisskopf's story contains astonishing revelations, like the following:
Well, blow me down.
I don't mean to belittle those who either ardently support or ardently oppose the initial efforts to eliminate the legacies of Guantanamo and the like. But stories that reveal politicians to be acting, er, politically don't really cause my jaw to drop.
The only interesting thing I found in this piece was the part Rozen excerpted:
Obama arrived at Emanuel's office a few minutes later, took off his windbreaker and sat down at a table lined with about a dozen national-security and political advisers. He asked each to state a position and then convened an impromptu debate, selecting Craig and McDonough to argue opposing sides. Craig deployed one of Obama's own moral arguments: that releasing the memos "was consistent with taking a high road" and was "sensitive to our values and our traditions as well as the rule of law." Obama paused, then decided in favor of Craig, dictating a detailed statement explaining his position that would be released the next day.
But for Craig, it turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. Four days later, former Vice President Dick Cheney attacked Obama on Fox News Channel for dismantling the policies he and Bush had put in place to keep the country safe. More significant was the reaction within Obama's camp. Democratic pollsters charted a disturbing trend: a drop in Obama's support among independents, driven in part by national-security issues. Emanuel quietly delegated his aides to get more deeply involved in the process. Damaged by the episode, Craig was about to suffer his first big setback.
In other words, the median American voters are comfortable with using illiberal means to protect the national interest (hmmm... that sounds familiar). And, shock upon shock, politicians respond to public attitudes.
Bryan Bender had a long story in yesterday's Boston Globe about the Obama administration's aspirations for treaty ratification:
Marking a major reversal from the Bush administration, which considered most treaties to be too restrictive of US sovereignty, the Obama administration says it will seek ratification of three major pacts aimed at reducing nuclear weapons. It also will seek approval of a set of regulations to manage use of the oceans and, by the end of the president’s first term, a new treaty to combat global climate change....
International treaties are signed by the president, but under the Constitution must be ratified by the Senate to become law. They need at least 67 votes to pass, not a simple majority of 51, typically requiring strong support from the president’s own party and a significant number of votes from the opposing party. Democrats now control 60 seats in the Senate, counting two independents who usually vote with the party.
Obtaining 67 votes has proved difficult under the best of circumstances and helps explain why fewer than 20 major security treaties have been ratified since the end of World War II, according to David Auerswald, a professor of strategy and policy at the National War College in Washington.
“The foreign policy consensus in this country has disappeared on many issues,’’ said Auerswald, a leading specialist on treaties. “Given that the Democrats only have 60 of the 67 votes necessary to approve a treaty, they have to hold their ranks and pick off seven Republicans. Yet moderate Republicans are a dying breed in the Senate, making the Democrats’ task that much harder.’’
At first glance, I'd share Auerswald's skepticism. The Bush administration, for example, wanted the Senate to pass the Law of the Sea Treaty. Despite Bush's support and the ardent backing of the U.S. Navy, ratification went nowhere -- there were a suficient number of "new sovereigntists" to kill the chances for a floor vote.
Of course, that was a whole election cycle ago. Looking at the U.S. Senate, let's do some arithmetic. Assuming Obama has the backing of all 60 Democrat-ish Senators, who might offer support on the GOP side for, say, the Law of the Sea Treaty? My tentative list:
So it's possible... hmmm.... well, maybe not McCain. It's a little unclear, actually.
I suspect this is going to boil down to whether John McCain wants to be the Arthur Vandenberg of his era.
Either way, however, I suspect the Obama administration would encounter difficulties getting these same seven senators to vote yea on a raft of international treaties. Unless there are more GOP Senators available for the picking, I suspect Obama will have to pick only his favorites to push.
What did you think?
David Brooks' column today looks at the lessons that the swine flu outbreak have for the future of global governance:
So how do we deal with [transnational problems]? Do we build centralized global institutions that are strong enough to respond to transnational threats? Or do we rely on diverse and decentralized communities and nation-states?
A couple of years ago, G. John Ikenberry of Princeton wrote a superb paper making the case for the centralized response. He argued that America should help build a series of multinational institutions to address global problems. The great powers should construct an “infrastructure of international cooperation ... creating shared capacities to respond to a wide variety of contingencies.”
If you apply that logic to the swine flu, you could say that the world should beef up the World Health Organization to give it the power to analyze the spread of the disease, decide when and where quarantines are necessary and organize a single global response....
The response to swine flu suggests that a decentralized approach is best. This crisis is only days old, yet we’ve already seen a bottom-up, highly aggressive response....
If the response were coordinated by a global agency, those local officials would not be so empowered. Power would be wielded by officials from nations that are far away and emotionally aloof from ground zero. The institution would have to poll its members, negotiate internal differences and proceed, as all multinationals do, at the pace of the most recalcitrant stragglers.
Second, the decentralized approach is more credible. It is a fact of human nature that in times of crisis, people like to feel protected by one of their own. They will only trust people who share their historical experience, who understand their cultural assumptions about disease and the threat of outsiders and who have the legitimacy to make brutal choices. If some authority is going to restrict freedom, it should be somebody elected by the people, not a stranger.
Finally, the decentralized approach has coped reasonably well with uncertainty. It is clear from the response, so far, that there is an informal network of scientists who have met over the years and come to certain shared understandings about things like quarantining and rates of infection. It is also clear that there is a ton they don’t understand.
A single global response would produce a uniform approach. A decentralized response fosters experimentation.
Reading this, my first thought was, "wait a minute... Brooks' characterization of Ikenberry's poition ("Power would be wielded by officials from nations that are far away and emotionally aloof from ground zero.") doesn't sound like Ikenberry's stuff.
If you look at the Ikenberry paper that Brooks cites, he proposes, "a strategy in which the United States leads the way in the creation and operation of a loose rule-based international order. The United States provides public goods and solves global collection action problems (emphasis added)." That doesn't sound terribly centralized to me. Indeed, my hunch would be that Ikenberry would find centralized and decentralized responses to complement rather than substitute for each other.
Don't trust me on this, however. I asked John Ikenberry this morning what he thought about Brooks' argument. Here's his response in full:
The problem with David’s analysis is that he thinks the two strategies – national and international – are alternatives. We need both. National governments need to strengthen their capacities to monitor and respond. International capacities – at least the sorts that I propose – are meant to reinforce and assist national governments. This international capacity is particularly important in cases where nations have weak capacities to respond on their own or where coordinated action is the only way to tackle the threat. When it comes to transnational threats like health pandemics everyone everywhere is vulnerable to the weakest link (i.e. weakest nation) in the system, and so no nation can be left behind.
This is not a new idea – it is the idea that underlay America’s strategy of order building after WWII. Jacob Viner, a leading international economist of that era, captured the logic in 1942 as it relates to global markets: "There is wide agreement today that major depressions, mass unemployment, are social evils, and that it is the obligation of governments. . . to prevent them." Moreover, he said, there is "wide agreement also that it is extraordinarily difficult, if not outright impossible, for any country to cope alone with the problems of cyclical booms and depressions. . . while there is good prospect that with international cooperation. . . the problem of the business cycle and of mass unemployment can be largely solved." What Viner says about economic cooperation in the 1940s is even more the case for the diffuse, shifting, and uncertain threats of our era. States need collective capacities to they can make good on their own national obligations to respond.
[You've been dreaming of this kind of Annie Hall/Marshall McLuhan moment for a while, haven't you?--ed. Yes. Yes I have.]
UPDATE: Anne Applebaum offers a more focused critique of the World Health Organization -- and its critics -- in her column today.
Let me be the first FP blogger to welcome Shadow Government into the fold. As the Democrats take over the executive branch, it will be good to have some critical voices around to push and prod their foreign policies.
That said, I'd also love it if Shadow Government could also provide some evaluation on any criticism provided by other former Bush officials as the changeover commences. Do these criticisms have validity, or are they merely tactical justifications given the GOP's minority status?
For example, consider today's New York Times op-ed by John Bolton and John Yoo:
The Constitution’s Treaty Clause has long been seen, rightly, as a bulwark against presidential inclinations to lock the United States into unwise foreign commitments. The clause will likely be tested by Barack Obama’s administration, as the new president and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, led by the legal academics in whose circles they have long traveled, contemplate binding down American power and interests in a dense web of treaties and international bureaucracies.
Like past presidents, Mr. Obama will likely be tempted to avoid the requirement that treaties must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate. The usual methods around this constitutional constraint are executive agreements or a majority vote in the House and Senate to pass a treaty as a simple law (known as a Congressional-executive agreement).
Executive agreements have an acknowledged but limited place in our foreign affairs. Congressional-executive agreements are far more troubling.
Now, on the one hand, one could interpret this advice as a warning about the dangers of implementing international agreements without the broad support of Congress and the American people.
One could also, however, interpret this advice as awfully strange, as it emanates from officials who have, heretofore, been mostly concerned with the augmentation of the executive branch's power at all costs (and implemented plenty of congressional-executive agreements while in office).
It is terribly convenient, now that they are out of power, to be suddenly concerned with Obama running roughshod over the legislative branch. The domestic parallel would be if Bush officials who embraced No Child Left Behind and intervened in the case of Terry Schiavo suddenly developed a Strange New Respect for federalism.
So, Shadow Government, should one take Bolton and Yoo at face value?
UPDATE: Drezner gets results from Shadow Government. [Has the ten-year old in you has always wanted to type that sentence?--ed. Yes. Yes, he has.]
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.