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Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

Bolton on the UN & International Law: Not So Needed, After all

Posted by K.E. White on February 19, 2008

Less Shocking: Former UN Ambassador John Bolton favors US unilateralism/bilateralism over international organizations.

More Shocking: His swipe at international law.

From Yale Daily News’ report on Bolton’s Thursday Yale Law School visit:

“There’s only one country that’s going to stop nuclear proliferation and the threats presented by Iran and North Korea, and that’s the United States,” he concluded. “And that’s the cold, hard truth about international organizations.”

Bolton served as U.N. ambassador under a recess appointment beginning in August 2005. His nomination to the post in 2006 was never approved by the Senate.

Bolton described what he sees as the current challenges in American non-proliferation policy and discussed the United States’ best options in addressing nuclear threats — hardly bothering to veil his disdain for international law and institutions.

“When I was here, I didn’t take any courses at all on international law,” he said, “and frankly I don’t think I missed a thing.”

The paradigm for stemming proliferation, Bolton said, is Libya’s voluntary disarmament in 2003 under American and British pressure — without the help of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency.


Posted in Foreign Policy, John Bolton, proliferation, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Tensions in NATO’s Afghanistan Mission: Canada Wants More Troops, US Paints Dire Picture, Germany on the Fence

Posted by K.E. White on January 30, 2008

Canada—who heads up NATO operations in Afghanistan—is becoming a bit antsy about its peacekeeping role. Earlier this month, a review of Canada’s military operations in Afghanistan—chaired by John Manley—demanded more NATO troops be sent or Canada should terminate its mission there.

Canada’s departure from the NATO mission could be a major blow to the alliance. From

“I think if NATO can’t come through with that help, then I think, frankly, NATO’s own reputation and future will be in jeopardy,” Harper told reporters after endorsing that recommendation from a panel headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley.

Canada, with roughly 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, has lost 78 soldiers and one diplomat. All three opposition parties are pressuring Harper’s Conservatives to end Canada’s combat mission by no later than February 2009, with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois demanding an immediate withdrawal.



The response from other NATO countries? Not fantastic. From Spiegel Online:


Meanwhile, Germany‘s Green Party warned on Wednesday that the deployment of combat troops to northern Afghanistan could lead to the spread of the German mission to the volatile south of the country. Party defense spokesman Winfried Nachtwei told the Leipziger Volkszeitung that the Quick Reaction Force should not “open the door for the Bundeswehr in the south,” and that the government should “guarantee that the limits of the mandate up to now are maintained.” Nachtwei insisted that the combat troops should only be allowed to support troops in the north and not be sent to fight the insurgency.

The German media on Wednesday looked at the implications of the NATO request, which could see Germany further embroiled in Afghanistan.

How coalition partners react to the deteriorating situation is critical to American security. The Afghan-Pakistan border is a terrorist hotbed: threatening not only Afghanistan’s security, but that of the volatile–and nuclear armed–regime in Pakistan.


President Bush pledged to send additional American troops to Afghanistan during his State of the Union address:

“In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al-Qaida is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope.

“These successes must continue, so we are adding 3,200 Marines to our forces in Afghanistan, where they will fight the terrorists and train the Afghan army and police. Defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida is critical to our security, and I thank the Congress for supporting America‘s vital mission in Afghanistan.”

A report released today paints a bleak picture in Afghanistan. From

The study by former UN ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Marine Corps General James Jones is due to be released later on Wednesday.

“The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country,” it says.

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Foreign Policy, international relations, Manley, NATO | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Can American Foreign Policy Overcome the Bully Pulpit? Cavanaugh’s Diagnosis and Cure for “Threat Escalation”

Posted by K.E. White on January 30, 2008

Summary: How do follies like Iraq occur? Can they be avoided? Cavanaugh attempts to answer this question: breaking down the variables that lead to threat escalation. He also explores how threats can be underestimated, examining the failure to prevent the 9-11 attacks. Cavanaugh thus identifies how a charged executive can steer American foreign policy toward inflated threats—or away from legitimate threats. The solution to foreign policy follies? A greater role for Congress in US foreign policy. While his article suffers from selection bias and uncertainty clouds what actually determines foreign policy ‘success’, Cavanaugh’s article is still a must-read for anyone curious about US foreign policy.


The Political Science Quarterly (PSQ) offers a very interesting—and free—article examining “threat inflation” American foreign policy.

Why was the avoidable catastrophe of 9-11 not caught? And why was the nation cajoled into a second Iraq conflict that most now agree went against American security interests?

Jeffery M. Cavanaugh seeks to answer these dual questions of overreaction and under reaction—a.k.a. “threat inflation”. And he finds that there are several examples from recent American history to explore this concept.

Cavanaugh looks at three cases of successful threat inflation: President Harry Truman’s successful inflation of the Soviet threat, America’s Vietnam venture and the second Iraq war. He then probes a counter-case: the profound underestimation that culminated in 9-11.

All this might leave you wondering: Is American foreign policy ever rational?

Lessons from Truman, Vietnam and Iraq

Cavanaugh’s analysis moves past Bush blaming, instead seeking to find similarities between different cases threat inflation. Below is a table (reproduced from the article) that displays Cavanaugh’s four test cases and the variables that tie them together.

In regards to Korea, Cavanaugh argues that while Truman played up the Soviet threat, events came to verify his viewpoint and the American public and political classes rallied behind containment. Thus this can be called a ‘successful’ case of threat inflation: a President pushed the public to his view, but as events played out a bipartisan foreign policy was forged.

Vietnam and Iraq were both weaker cases of threat inflation: both succeeded in there immediate aims to wage war, but appear to have broken—not forged—a coherent direction in America’s foreign policy.

Meanwhile the threat of a terrorist attack on American soil never received the attention it deserved. Here one finds two crucial differences: divided elite opinion and a complete lack of bureaucratic capture as reasons for this failure. Such features would have stopped even a proactive executive—or any national politician—from successfully tackling this threat, according to Cavanaugh.

All these cases point to a profound American political weakness: the President holds too much power to frame and propel the national security debate, showing at times the ability to deceive the American public.

Cavanaugh rightly points out the chronic weakness of Congress on national security—having diluted it wartime authority over the sixty years. (This theme has been explored elsewhere,  as  this past article demonstrates).

Conceptualizing and Testing American Foreign Policy

But what differ Cavanaugh’s analysis is this: He attempts to identify the variables that lead to such outcomes. Cavanaugh also offers new solutions to bring the Congress and the executive back into balance.

But are the variables he examines helpful towards future foreign policy dilemmas? Many of his variables can only be obtained after an event. This diminishes the predictability value of his model–making any ‘test’ of his model difficult.

This comes through most clearly with his use of Truman Cold War foreign policy. Tackling such a huge subject—with various events—seems to make this not comparable to the defined cases of Vietnam, Iraq and the 9-11 attack.

Would not have merely investigating how Truman pulled America into Korea—which some academics consider also an avoidable war–been a better test case to explore?

(There’s also one obvious problem with the cases: Can one can fairly compare a traditional war to a highly lethal terrorist attack?)

But this is all part of a much bigger question: How does one define foreign policy success? By the immediate outcome (i.e. victory in Korea, failure in Vietnam)? Or the long term impact regardless of whether  or not the initial threat was overblown?

For example: It seems clear the short-term costs of the Korean War (verses a containment approach) outweighed any strategic interest the United States had in North Korea. But did not the long-terms benefits of this expenditure of blood and treasure pay make this a successful instance of American foreign policy?

In continuing this line of research, Cavanaugh must develop a model that proves the value of his test cases—and whether or not they should be seen as American foreign policy ‘successes’ or ‘failures’. (And another, perhaps even more daunting task, would be to incorporate the interplay between conflicts: e.g. the impact the Korean War had on America’s conflict in Vietnam.)

This conceptual fog risks boiling Cavanaugh’s research down to this: presidents have overcharged wartime authority, whereas Congress has far too diluted powers. Thus good or bad foreign policy comes down to having a good or bad President–unless Congressional powers are reworked. (One does not need Cavanaugh’s test cases to prove this, though they do offer different angles to gauge Presidential manipulation).

But Cavanaugh deserves credit for attempting to answer 1) how are threats to American security articulated within or society and 2) what generalizable and predictive tests help us get closer to evaluating American foreign policy.

Cavanaugh’s Advice to Congress and America’s National Security Infrastructure

Cavanaugh does offer Congressional remedies: some bland, some bold. He repeats calls for both longer terms for intelligence heads and greater whistle-blowing protections.

More interesting—and controversial—are two of his Congressional reforms: First he advocates granting members of Congress briefings akin to the President’s daily brief on national security. (Naturally one could easily imagine Congress barraging the executive with their daily concerns over American security.)

But Cavanaugh gives a seemingly firmer fix. Congress should merge the Intelligence, Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees into one, bipartisan body.

Such a reform—going against decades of decentralization—would guarantee focused and board attention from the Senate and House of Representatives on America’s national security. The hope? Congress will take clear stands on important foreign policy decisions.

But this too runs into problems: Either the committee would be huge and unmanageable, or Congressman would have to give up chairmanships and committee tasks. This second outcome would not only be an ego blow to Congress, but could dilute specialization of Congressional oversight and also shrink the numbers of elected officials involved in our nation’s foreign policy formulation.

But Cavanaugh offers a template of reform that can easily be tinkered, and perhaps—in time—evolve into an institutional counterweight to an excessive executive. If one reworked Cavanaugh’s scheme into a select, joint Senate-House committee, tasked with both an annual review over American foreign policy and crisis periods (e.g. before launching an invasion or after catastrophic events) one could see—over time—this practice becoming a clear Congressional ‘green light’ to bold developments in American foreign policy.

In short, Cavanaugh’s reforms run into the ‘9-11 Wall’. Why did retired officials steer of the 9-11 investigation? While their work was exemplary, politicians and the media suggested current politicians could not be trusted with foreign policy heavy lifting.

Can members of the House of Representatives—in constant ‘reelection’ mode—give the time necessary for such weighty work?

(On Capitol Hill, by Julian E. Zelizer, goes into great detail about Congress’s many institutional flaws and difficulty to reform.)

A solution would be to keep such work within the Senate, while granting a rotating representative for House Speaker and minority leader.


Cavanaugh’s research does a skillful job of getting past chronic ‘Bush blaming’ for America’s failure in Iraq. He successfully delineates a model of executive foreign policy bullying that can be applied in different time periods and different conflicts.

He also pushes the ball on Congressional reform: proving their value and bringing forth new ideas.

But on the bigger questions of diagnosing American foreign policy and threat inflation, Cavanaugh has much further to go. Cavanaugh’s Truman example must be broken down if it is to be fairly weighted with Vietnam and Iraq. Furthermore he must refine he judges sucess, or risk that he is simply manipulating his test-cases to prove his model.

Cavanaugh’s article also does not thoroughly explore when and if foreign policy decisions can be reversed. Look at his Vietnam example: at what point was Vietnam a failure, and when would have an American pull out been politically acceptable?

But these criticisms are mainly ‘add on’ criticisms. As such, they reflect both the importance of Cavanaugh’s line of research and his skill in laying out a path—however rough—towards a greater understanding of American foreign policy.

Posted in Foreign Policy, Jeffery M. Cavanaugh, Terrorism, United States | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

‘Promote Liberal Democracy’: Proliferation Press Reviews David Makovsky’s Game Plan for Post-Bush Middle East Democratization

Posted by K.E. White on September 15, 2007

Summary: Makovsky looks at the future of American foreign policy in the Middle East. Fighting back the now defunct neo-conservative chant for radical change, he stresses that America not give up on Middle East democratization. He outlines a new strategy: one that eyes the region, and tailors specific liberal agendas for Middle Eastern nation-states. Deserving credit shifting out view out of Iraq and averring a middle path to eventual democracy, Makovsky neglects one important part of the puzzle: How America gets performs in Iraq will be the overriding concern of the next American president, most likely sapping energy for Makovsky’s program. Furthermore, how America gets out of Iraq will determine the efficacy of Makovsky’s nation-state specific democratization scheme.


Writing for Democracy, Washington Institute Senior Fellow David Makovsky tackles where to take America’s foreign policy after Bush. While surveying the flaws of the Bush administration’s neo-conservatively flavored push for democratization, he demands not a change in strategy but tactics. Pushing democratic tendencies is still the way to go, Makovsky writes, but demands a new approach—stressing the liberal underpinning any future democratic society requires.

Makovsky writes:

David MakovskyIt may be ironic, but the places where democratization seems more likely in the Middle East could be where there is an “enlightened” autocrat who holds ultimate power and enforces the rules of the game, whether it is King Abdullah of Jordan, King Hamad of Bahrain, or King Mohammad of Morocco. This enables evolving democratization to move apace. In Freedom House’s democratization ranking of Middle East countries, each are listed as “partly free.” In each case, economic growth has gone hand in hand with democratization. In these three countries, it might be more than coincidence that democratization occurs where there is no oil and there is a requirement for developing human capital. Indeed, there have already been fragile steps to build the institutional building blocks of democracy. In other countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where there is greater resistance by the authoritarian structure and which are listed as “not free” by Freedom House, U.S. efforts will not be easy. Specifically, while the scope of specific reforms in law should reflect the different pace of change in individual countries, the general direction should be clear. However, in all countries, there are programmatic points for the United States that could be attainable if we sustain our focus. Those seeking an evolutionary pathway to democratization know where to put the effort: women’s rights, freer media, a more independent judiciary, and education reform, alongside the greater transparency required for economic growth.

Specifically, the United States should encourage countries to reform restrictive political-party laws that could provide the legal framework for parties to form and compete. This is particularly important for non-Islamists who do not have the vast social network and organizational apparatus of Islamists. It should also encourage reform of media laws to widen the discourse on public policy. Such reforms are key to avoiding government’s prosecution of journalists who interpret any criticism as “defamation” of a head of state. Finally, it should push for reform of the judiciary laws to facilitate the operation of an independent judiciary. Such reforms must be genuine and not like the one passed in Egypt last year; in spite of that “reform,” human rights activists indicate that judges are still paid partly by the Justice Ministry, so that if they rule against the state, their salary can be cut for many months at a time.

Makovsky veers towards a straw man argument by pushing this dichotomy on American foreign policy in the Middle East: either America foolishly over commits (i.e. invades Iraq) or we bolster autocratic regimes with no concern to fostering democracy (Iran under the Shah). American foreign policy has always been between these poles. What determines whether America pushes Makovsky’s micro-liberal Middle East diplomatic track has been whether that goal overrides others: e.g. security concerns of Iran, the need of moderate allies in the region, and the current diplomatic black hole of Iraq. Typically Makovsky’s approach has fallen to other, more immediate diplomatic aims.

Therefore, while Makovsky deserves credit for splitting democratization (i.e. the form of government) from liberalism (the values a government embodies) and for redirecting focus out of Iraq, Iraq is still stands as America’s core dilemma in the Middle East.

An American president tasked with managing either a buildup or draw down of American troops will simply not have the capital to spearhead Makovsky’s strategy. And the mood of the American public come 2009—most likely one of enthused or embittered isolationism—augurs poorly for Makovsky’s diplomatic platform.

But Makovsky does earn praise for unlocking American foreign policy discourse, however briefly, from its ‘Iraq Jam’. And more importantly, Makovsky deserves credit for laying out a diplomatic paradigm that it built on the obvious: Iraq is not the only rubric for America’s success in the Middle East.

Posted in America, David Makovsky, democratization, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Iraq, liberal democracy, United States, Washington Institute | Leave a Comment »

Containing the Nuclear Genie: Will Turkey Tap into Nuclear Power?

Posted by K.E. White on August 5, 2007

Turkey’s recently empowered AKP majority government might just dust off as till now dormant plans for a nuclear power program. If Turkey takes this step, will nuclear weapons be an inevitable outcome in the future? 

No—but that depends a lot on Iran. And Turkey may follow Iran’s nuclear trajectory, developing its nuclear weapons capability by asserting its right to pursue nuclear energy technology. 

From the Turkish Daily News:

Recent power and water cuts led to intensified calls to consider nuclear energy as a solution out of the current crisis, as temperatures are predicted to keep rising resulting in longer and hotter summers for the country. 

The Turkish capital woke up to dry taps yesterday as a result of dramatic rises in temperatures that have dried up water reservoirs, while power cuts remained restricted to a few cities in western Turkey. A series of interruptions in energy supplies prompted both fears of regular blackout and debates over the government’s energy policy.  

Earth Times, citing the Turkish Daily News, gives more detail to Turkey’s still manageable energy woes: 

The Turkish Daily News reports the country’s average appetite will be 190 billion kilowatt hours this year, up from 176 billion kwh last year, which was an 8.4-percent increase from 2005.

Turkey’s energy minister says cuts to supply will be limited to a handful of areas, not mass cuts countrywide.

 But the Turkey still categorically rules out a nuclear weapons program:

 We believe that states of the region should terminate their efforts for developing such weapons and their delivery means and, become party to the non-proliferation regimes and treaties as soon as possible. In this respect, the need for a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is of paramount importance.

Turkey does not possess WMD and does not intend to have them in the future. Turkey adheres to all major international treaties, arrangements and regimes regarding non-proliferation of those weapons and their delivery means, and actively participates and supports all efforts pertaining to non-proliferation in the NATO.

In line with our non-proliferation policies, we are committed to the goal of extensive and complete disarmament of WMD under strict and effective international control. In our view, success in disarmament and arms control initiatives primarily depends on the creation of a political atmosphere inspiring confidence. (Turkish General Staff website)

But an earlier section of this policy statement merits attention:

As it is known, Turkey is situated in a region having an inclination to the proliferation of WMD and their delivery means. Some of our neighbours, who are not parties to the regimes or organizations aiming at preventing the proliferation of WMD, are attempting to develop these weapons. These dangerous attempts are being observed closely and anxiously.

Turkey—a member of NATO and strong US partner—is not now pursuing a nuclear weapons program. 

But this policy is based on a critical premise: that the Middle East remains nuclear free. While this region did not hit a tipping point with Israel ‘non-existent existent’ nuclear deterrent, Iran’s developing nuclear program risks setting off nuclear weapons proliferation throughout the region. 

And while a nuclear armed Middle East could bring Cold War era stability, this outcome comes with a grave risk: nuclear weapons entrusted to slippery hands. 

Fragile regimes + strong currents of radicalism + nuclear weapons = greater global security? 


Posted in AKP, Foreign Policy, Iran, Nuclear, nuclear energy, Nuclear Weapons, Turkey, WMD | Leave a Comment »

Do Defense Contractors Recieve Unfairly Bloated Returns? Does Public Opinion Determine America’s Defense Spending? Robert Higgs Answers these Questions and More

Posted by K.E. White on March 19, 2007

Robert HiggsRobert Higgs recently published work, Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy, explores the finances of America’s evolution into a global hegemon during WWII and cemented during the Cold War.

Higgs casts a critical eye on America’s superpower evolution:

Not the least of this self-damage was the transformation of the executive branch of the federal government into a secretive, highly discretionary, often ill-advised, and badly informed organization that was far too dedicated to attempting the futile task of running the whole world. (xii-xiii)

Proliferation Press highlights two chapters of his recent book. The first explores the profits of defense contractors, and the second looks at the relationship between public opinion and American defense spending.

Profits of U.S. Defense Contractors

Do Defense Contractors defy market forces? Are defense industries being handed profits unfairly owing to a corrupt political system?

Higgs response: Not really.

But defense contractors do receive a significantly greater total market returns.

From Depression, War, and Cold War:

That claim that investment in defense companies was riskier than investment in the overall market is not compelling…We found that the systematic risk…borne by an investor in the top contractors as a group did not differ significantly from the risk borne by an investor in the overall Markey during the 1970s and 1980s.

These finds establish that the financial performance of the leading defense contracting companies was, on the average, much better than that of comparable large corporations during the period 1948-89. The findings do not justify a normative conclusion that the profits of defense contractors were “too high,” particularly in the case of the accounting rates of return (Fisher and McGowan, 1983)…

Either (a) the Capital Asset Pricing Model does not capture some relevant risk perceived by investors in defense firms or (b) investors persistently guessed wrong, leaving stocks undervalued over very long periods.

Does Public Opinion Determine U.S. Defense Spending?

Or is it all structural, with anyone outside the ‘military industrial complex’ hopelessly unable to change their nation’s defense priorities?

Higgs’ surprising claim:

Other ‘causes’ that are normally advanced by analysts (domestic economic conditions, perceived foreign threats, and so forth) do not directly determine changes in defense spending…”

Higgs goes back to exploring the impact of public opinion on defense spending. Higgs finds a curious correlation between the changes in public opinion on whether more money should be spent on spending and actual changes in defense spending.

While returning to the view that public opinion should not be seen as the determining factor in charting swings in defense spending, Higgs does the good service of bringing the public back—and especially how political elites contest over public opinion—to win their battles of spending for America’s national security.

Although surprising at first, the finding that public opinion alone is a powerful predictor of changes in defense spending seems, on reflection, exactly what one ought to have expected. Despite how defense (and other) analysts normally conceive of public opinion—as one element in a long list of commensurable influences…public opinion stands conceptually on a place by itself. It is a different kind of variable. Public opinion expresses people’s preferences regarding policy action. Other “causes” that are normally advanced by analysts (domestic economic conditions, perceived foreign threats, and so forth) do not directly determine changes in defense spending; rather, they determine what decision makers and the public prefer with regard to changes in defense spending. Once public opinion has revealed itself in the polls (or in other ways), government officials, especially those immediately concerned with reelection, face a constraint. They must either act in accordance with public opinion or bear the political risk inherent in deviating from it.

Higgs reminds scholars and non-scholars alike to not toss public opinion away too quickly when seeking to understand U.S. defense spending. Instead he re-opens the black box of public opinion and demands greater attention be paid to this highly prized, greatly contested over, and greatly unknown variable.

Posted in Defense contractors, Defense spending, Executive branch, Foreign Policy, political economy, Robert Higgs | 1 Comment »

Ahmadinejad: Iran Ready to Talk on Nukes and the Holocaust?

Posted by K.E. White on February 14, 2007

Iran Ready for Nuclear Talks…?President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tells ABC News his country is open to a nuclear dialogue:

“We are opposed to any proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons. We believe that the time is now over for nuclear weapons.

It’s a time for logic, for rationality, and for civilisation,” Ahmadinejad told ABC news.

“We’re always ready to talk within the framework of regulations and as long as the rights of the nations are safeguarded.”

He denied suggestions that he sought conflict with the US, saying Iran was “trying to find ways to love people.”

Proliferation Press’s Read: This is an old line by Ahmadinejad. While he remains open to talks, his refuses to meet the American condition for starting them: stopping all uranium enrichment. Who will blink first, Bush or Ahmadinejad?

Vikram Sood, providing a fascinating Indian perspective on U.S.-Iran relations and America’s mission in Iraq, argues that neither President will blink. Instead President Bush will order a pre-emptive air strike on Iran.

As India’s former intelligence chief, Sood’s column demands attention.

Sood warns that such an attack’s “shockwaves will reach our shores sooner than we imagine.”

How the North Korean nuclear accord will affect Iranian calculus has yet to be seen, but Iran is undoubtedly watching to see if the P-5 members of the six party talks (America, Russia and China) are able to keep a united front.

These three countries ability to find common ground towards the Iranian nuclear question is critical to any diplomatic solution.

Ahmadinejad Connects the Holocaust with Palestine

Asked if he was willing to travel to Auschwitz and Nuremberg for documentations on the Holocaust, the Iranian leader asked what purpose this would serve.

“One of the methods used for concealing the truth is diverting the topic. The question is, if Holocaust is true, how is it related to the Palestinian issue?”

“Why, for the excuse of the Holocaust, we have an illegitimate government in the Palestine?”

“Why in the name of the Holocaust do we allow people to occupy the land of some and make them refugees and kill children and innocent people on the street?”

“These are the questions which must be answered by American politicians,” Ahmadinejad said.

Proliferation Press’s Read: Ahmadinejad is not standing down from his controversial Holocaust rhetoric. The substantial point here—not meant in any way to minimize the grossly offensive, dangerous, and deceitful rhetoric Ahmadinejad sprouts—is Ahmadinejad’s focus on Palestine: by supporting Palestine, Ahmadinejad is winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Arab Street.

Not a difficult task when you use America as your foil.

Dislodging Ahmadinejad and his country’s growing influence in the region will require the United States to pay attention to this issue, something that is being down now after many years of neglect.

But if rhetoric like this convinces Israel that it is under existential threat from Iran, some nations (Israel and America) will consider the Iranian regime irrational and hell-bent on destroying Israel.

Thus before Iran has the technological ability to do that through nuclear weapons, it will become likely either Israel or the United States will launch a pre-emptive strike. Such an action would bring international instability not seen for a generation.

Source for Ahmadinejad interview: Hindustan Times

Posted in Bush administration, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Hindustan Times, India, Iran, Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Palestine, Proliferation News, Security Studies, Six Party Talks, Vikram Sood, WMD | 11 Comments »

Profound Failure: Congressional Inability to Debate the Iraq Escalation

Posted by K.E. White on February 6, 2007


U.S. Congress

Today a non-binding resolution critical of the Bush administration’s Iraq escalation died in the United States Senate.

Even the support of Sen. John Warner (R-VA) could not propel the bill to the needed sixty votes.

And, therefore, the opportunity for senators to pass symbolic judgment on President Bush’s Iraq policy has vanished.

Many anti-war voices may have used the immortal words of Peggy Lee to describe this weak, non-binding resolution, ‘Is that all there is?’

But they are wrong; and the American republic, based on co-equal branches of federal government, is today weaker.

Indeed, these voices are not without support. The resolution neither pulled the American plug out of Iraq, nor promised to rein in one of the most inept administrations witnessed in American history.

But any progressive that cheers or quick adjustments to this bill’s defeat should know this vote represents a profound political failure. Not only does it represent a still fledging and inept wartime Congress, one that will haunt Americans for years to come, we have anti-war Democrats to thank for this continuing crippling condition.

I’ll start with the latter half of this perhaps controversial claim.

While the media’s first read of this story highlights unified Republican opposition, the unraveling of support may have more to do with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI).

Last Wednesday Sen. Feingold introduced his Iraq Deployment Act of 2007 that called for cutting Iraq funds within six months of its passage.

Feingold’s favored this approach since it 1) would end war quickly and 2) would exercise the constitutional war powers Congress explicitly holds—slamming the national purse shut.

But after decades of erosion to Congress’s wartime role, this approach was little more than anti-war posturing: Geared more for the 2008 primaries than the sentiment of today’s American public.

While some may agree with Feingold’s position, it 1) opened the door for Republican opposition around the banner of supporting troops already deployed and 2) did not represent a useful tool for Congress to reassert itself in wartime oversight.

Imagining how the American people will react to Congress failing to even hold a debate about the Iraq escalation.

Here’s my guess: ‘Is that all there is?’

And opponents of the administration will again be seen as members of a party without a plan.

The Bush administration could not have asked for a better rhetorical launching point for their failing plan.

But had the newly elected majority pulled off the sixty vote tally tonight for Sen. Warner’s compromise position, it would have represented a historic development in congressional-executive relation.

It would show, at a critical moment in American history, the Congress offering a strategic counter-weight to the President.

Could this momentum lead to the guarantee of active debate over half-baked national security strategies (read: the Iraq “debate” of 2003), regardless of a president’s momentarily popularity?

That is now a question relegated to history books.

But, for a few, concerns over who would be President in 2008 trumped both the matter at hand and the long-term health of our republic.

Am I holding one party to a higher standard than the other?


The nation has gone through too long a period in the wilderness, and hungers progress too much to have excuses wipe legislators’ hands clean.

That is unless, following the words of Miss Lee, we should tolerate a nation that sacrifices even more to the marvelously tragic spectacle that Iraq now represents:

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to a circus. The greatest show on earth.
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears.
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle.
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to a circus?’


This post also appears on Campus Progress.

Posted in Bush administration, Congress, Democratic Party, Foreign Policy, Iraq, neoconservatism, Republican Party, Wartime Powers | 3 Comments »

So Over “Overblown”: J.P. Crowley Reponds to John Mueller’s Latest Book

Posted by K.E. White on January 26, 2007

I recently sat down with Philip J. Crowley, Director of National Defense and Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress, and chatted about John Mueller’s recent book Overblown.P.J. Crowley

Crowley, President Bill Clinton’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, was not bowled over by Overblown, as his responses to my questions make clear.

While finding value in Mueller’s contention that America may have already overreacted to the threat of terrorism, Crowley finds Mueller’s policy prescriptions lacking substance, evidence questionable, worldview dangerously isolationist, and perception of American foreign policy after WWII “idealistic and naive.”

Among his many critiques, Crowley highlights the danger of using past state-on-state diplomacy to understand the threat posed today by international terrorism. This leads him to consider Mueller guilty of the same fallacy—albeit in the opposite direction—of the Bush administration: forcing a statist paradigm onto terrorism.

Question: What do you make of Mueller’s view of America caught in a terror iron-triangle: with an irrationally concerned public egging on elected representative to feed funds to an insatiable terrorism industry?


Philip J. Crowley: It’s a clever formulation, but it’s a secondary consideration. The fundamental consideration is, is there a residual threat of terrorism to the United States? There is.

Certainly Mr. Mueller is likely right in thinking that we have overestimated its severity and have portrayed terrorists as an omniscient threat. And certain actions that the United States has taken since 9-11, most specifically the diversion into Iraq, have actually been counterproductive.

Much of his analysis is fair, but the board theme in terms of what the country should do in response is to basically to ignore the threat.

In the construct in the current threat of terrorism, he may be partially right that to some extent our overreaction actually makes terrorists more emboldened than they may otherwise be.

But his historical analysis of the manner in which the United States has handled what it perceived to be major threats in the past, is deeply, deeply, deeply flawed.

To suggest that on Dec. 8, 1941, in the face of the most significant military attack [Pearl Harbor] against the United States in our history, the proper course of action for President Roosevelt was to ignore and contain it is naive.

Certainly his portray of the McCarthy psyche that gripped the country in the 1950s is fair. On the over hand, many of the steps that we did take militarily, economically and diplomatically throughout the Cold War were directly responsible for the eventual demise of the Soviet Union.

What I found disappointing in the book was Mueller’s attempt to use history to justify an under reaction to the current situation. The ultimate right answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

While we are at risk of overreacting to the threat of terrorism because of 9-11, we are at risk of under reacting by not taking the proper steps to mitigate the residual risk that does exist, and is going to exist for some time.


Is Mueller’s provocative example of Pearl Harbor useful in adding depth to how America responded to security threat in the past and how we should respond to the threat of international terrorism today?


[Mueller’s view of Pearl Harbor] is historically inaccurate.

Mueller bases his analysis on almost purely on mathematical formulas.

He sees our response to Japan as such: The United States lost 2,500 citizens at Pearl Harbor, and in response the United States lost 100,000 or more troops in the Pacific theater.

So, in his mind, [since America’s response lead to greater human losses] the cost of the war did not justify a declaration of the war.

He ignores the fact that through World War II the role of the United States changed. He ignores the positive impact that the United States gained in terms of its impact on the world as a consequence of the war.

There is a just war theory, and it’s very controversial. But I find very few people who believe, as Mr. Muller seems to believe, that World War II was not a just war.


What is the goal of Muller’s book? What is the book’s view of America’s role in the world?

Mueller espouses an isolationist view. In his mind, we should never react to a provocation. You know, I keep using the word naive, and I think it is.

While there is a gain of truth and a seductive logic behind that view, there are simply times you have to respond.

The intervention in Bosnia, for example, was expressly not because the United States was threatened. In fact while the intervention cost American treasure, it cost not a single American life. In that intervention the United States was making a broader statement to Europe and to the world that it would not tolerate ethnic cleansing that threatened our significant national interests.

Now one could argue not that America should not do less, but more. Most people who look at the places the United States has interceded and the places the United States has failed to intercede, say America has not done enough—Darfur being the latest example, and rightfully so.

Mueller is trying to shift history in the opposite direction. And to suggest that it is not worth the United States making, what in my mind, the very important moral and political statement that the United States would hold leaders like Milosevic to account for policies that kill or displace hundreds of thousands of people, is wrong.

And because of the Serbian intervention—it was not perfect, it was not pretty at times—we now have European continent that is more united and is highly unlikely to experience any kind of major conflict in the foreseeable future.

Given where the world was in 1914, where a world war started owing to a series of overlapping alliances, to be at the point today where you’d probably think major war in Europe is no longer possible is an enormous achievement. And that would arguably not happen in the logic that John Mueller applies to the world.


The book’s theoretical perspective relies on lumping together America’s foreign policies towards other nation-states in the past, such as Germany and Japan during World War II or the Soviet Union, with America’s policy towards international terrorism today. Is this a useful approach to understanding American security policy after 9-11?

Mueller ends up, to some extent, contradicting his own argument, conflating the threat [of international terrorism] in ways the Bush administration has.

The Bush administration came into office in 2001, and then came 9-11. The Bush administration could not envision that Al Qaeda could do what it did without formal state sponsorship. And it was that logic that ultimately moved us from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Notwithstanding the existence of a safe heaven in Afghanistan and the shelter the Taliban, as the ruling government in Afghanistan, provided to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda primarily pulled off 9-11 without meaningful state support.

And the Bush administration could not bring itself to accept that fact. So it started to look around for rogue states that are involved in terrorism and had been in the past. The shift then happened from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Mr. Mueller seems to tread that same path in reverse. In order to try to buttress his argument that we have overreacted to the threat of Al Qaeda, which by itself may be true, he then goes back and to use as justification the United States and how it has dealt with various state-related challenges in the second half of the twentieth century. I think he ends up mixing up apples and oranges.

There is logic to what he says about the risk of overreacting to what is not an existential threat. But you cannot confuse how the United States deals with a transnational non-state actor with how the United States deals with state-to-state relations—whether it be Japan after Pearle Harbor, or the Soviet Union during the Cold War, or a European state like Serbia that was responsible for the worst ethnic cleansing of modern time.

Now if one accepts there is a danger of politically overreacting to the threat of terrorism, he does give some rhetorical support to things we have to do—but little substance. I think that is what is missing in the book.


What does Mueller accomplish in this book? And what substance is missing in particular?

He sets up a straw man effectively: There is a fundamental risk that America can and perhaps has overreacted to a threat. But, by the same token, he does not go into any depth of where the right balance is.

He mentions in many parts in the book that while it is hard to envision that Al Qaeda could successfully build or explode a nuclear weapon, he nonetheless accepts the idea that we should do everything possible to keep fissionable material off the market. Okay, how do you do that?

He believes that we should primarily attack terrorism through law enforcement means. Okay, how do you do that?

To the extent that we have a residual threat of terrorism, and there are systems that are valuable to us that could be attacked, whether transit systems or port system, to what extent do you protect them?

His solution is largely just to tell the American people, “Don’t worry be happy.”

He misses the opportunity to find the pragmatic middle ground that would help those who want to know how to effectively govern.


Let’s say someone plans to read this book, or already has. What book would you tell them to read next that would fill in the deficits you have pointed out in Mueller’s work?


It hasn’t been written yet—which is exactly a problem. We’ll get there eventually. I think that is a very good point at which to critique here.

Mueller offers a useful admonition that there is a serious risk that America will overreact if it hasn’t already. The next piece is—if we are able to maintain perspective that his is a serious issue but not an existential threat, and that the adversary is capable but not omniscient—what should we do? Where is the right balance?

That is missing from Mueller’s book and really is the logical next step in the development of our concept of homeland security. What are the enduring things we can do so that we can protect what is important to us, without stoking fears in the population?

Posted in Bush administration, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Homeland Security, Iraq, J.P. Crowley, John Mueller, Proliferation News, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »

India Goes Roos for Nukes: Has Bush’s U.S.-India Nuclear Gambit Failed?

Posted by K.E. White on January 24, 2007

President Bush, upon signing the India nuclear deal, told detractors that India becoming a stanch U.S. ally was well worth any unfounded proliferation concerns:American President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

“The United States and India are natural partners,” Bush said at a signing ceremony in the East Room attended

While that may be true, it seems that America’s decision to open up nuclear technology and material trade to India might be pushing India just as close to other countries: specifically, Russia.

Seems like those “rivalries” from the Cold War are back.

AKI news reports on Putin’s no-strings attached offer to India for nuclear materials and technology:

In an interview…on the eve of his departure for India, President Putin has said that this access should be available under the framework of international centres for nuclear fuel enrichment under the control of international organisations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He said that all countries had the right to access modern technologies “while simultaneously complying with the principles and requirements of non-proliferation.”

Putin said that he was referring not just to India but also to “threshold” countries like Iran, which should all be looked at as universal and not isolated cases. He made it clear that Russia did not want to be a superpower as it did not “wantRussian President Putin and the Indian Prime Minister to be the object of fear and be regarded as the enemy.” In the process, he has thrown open the doors for nuclear cooperation with India without attaching a single condition for a permanent and uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel for the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, construction of additional nuclear reactors and transfer of reprocessing technology…

The US is now getting worried about the Russian strategy to not just open the doors for India, but to also set the pace for greater cooperation in the key nuclear and defence sectors. Unlike the other recent visits by President Putin to India, this one is very different, according to experts here, who see in it a top-level decision to give a new momentum to India-Russia relations for an era of accelerated cooperation.

The Times of India reports on what to expect from Putin’s New Delhi visit:

A statement of intent on nuclear cooperation, a joint venture between Rosneft and OVL and first steps together in space development will mark Russian president Vladimir Putin’s bi-annual visit to India. India and Russia are expected to sign around 10 agreements on Thursday…

The final clause is the key here: until the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) grants India an exemption, Russia will not move a muscle in that direction.

This has been made very clear to India, despite an eagerness on part of the UPA government to get Russia to commit itself, which could have been construed as a testimony to India’s ‘independence’.

The NYTimes fails to completely convey the irony of this development for the Bush administration:

As for weaponry, Russia is already India’s largest military partner. Paradoxically, when the India-United States nuclear deal opens the door for New Delhi to buy acquire technology for its civilian nuclear program, Russia may benefit the most. Kanwal Sibal,Is this in the balance? India’a ambassador to Russia, predicted that Russia would be “among the first, if not the first, to walk in” and sell technology to India.

The deal with the United States permits India to purchase nuclear fuel, reactors and other items around the world, provided that it obtains advance approval from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a coalition of 45 countries that regulates international atomic trade. Russia is already building two nuclear reactors in India, and the Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, was quoted earlier this week by Interfax saying that his government was prepared to build more.

But why, when India is so close to winning a hard-fought deal with the United States is India so quick to conclude a deal with Russia—particularly when they still need to overcome the hurdle for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)?

Beyond the simple reason that the majority of the Indian public thinks nuclear technology is its right and not some U.S. gift to confer, there is another fact that the International Herald Tribune highlights:

A key element of their relationship was rooted in an unwritten code: that India would buy enormous amounts of Russian military hardware, and Moscow would not supply defense equipment to India’s neighboring archrival, Pakistan.

Russian politicians warned there will likely be consequences if India shops elsewhere.

“I believe this situation could stay, but only on condition that India, in its turn, will continue to view Russia as the main source of weapons,” Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told The Associated Press.

So while it would seem diplomatically “smart” to first get the U.S. deal finished up, India 1) must win the support of other NSG’s members, like Russia, and 2) feels an intense pressure to assuage any Russian fears that India is now firmly in the American bloc.

While understandable, this shift seems to highlight the faulty logic of the Bush administration. The Bush White House put nuclear issues–and not trade–at the heart of the Indian relationship.

In so doing, they have allowed other nuclear powers–be they China or Russia–to more evenly compete with them for influence in India, a nation whose public is very attune to their nuclear status–eschewing our natural advantages: India and the United States are liberal states, both are democratic and have strong economic ties.

In any case, arguments that this deal–in the short-term–would wedge India into the American camp when it came to international relations have been off the mark.

Whether in the long-term this changes is an open question: but it seems Bush’s emphasis on bestowing nuclear acceptance to India has proven a costly distraction.

In sum: America has been seen as the state that has relaxed prohibitions against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, without getting anything in return.

Posted in Bush administration, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, India, Manmohan Singh, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Pakistan, Proliferation News, Putin, Russia, U.S. India Nuclear Deal | Leave a Comment »