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Archive for the ‘Think Tank’ Category

The Hawks Mourn: AEI’s Annual “Pre-Briefing” on President Bush’s Sixth State of the Union

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

The mood was sullen today at the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) annual State of the Union “pre-briefing.” 

Six foreign policy analysts at AEI spoke on what the President will—or should—discuss latter tonight, all reiterating a similar theme: never has the President been so weak, and never has he had so much to prove. 

Danielle Pletka, making clear that foreign policy would not be lost to domestic issues in Bush’s upcoming, ably moderated the discussion, guiding the five AEI analysts ably and pulling their wonkish talks into a coherent and compelling—if one-sided—narrative. 

Michael Rubin argued, “while some might criticize Bush’s remarks five years ago as being unhelpful in diplomacy, in reality they were prescient,” emphasizing the growing danger Iran and North Korea pose to international stability. 

While side-stepping the issue of what role those remarks had in creating these sources of international crisis, made the case for tough U.S. diplomacy on Iran and North Korea. 

Rubin recommended President Bush “recognize that there are commonalities among the reformers, the pragmatists, the reformers,” continuing by claiming that “[t]he difference between these factions is one of style, not one of substance.” 

But he conceded a more general failure of America’s approach to Iran: “What I am saying is that the United States isn’t good at playing this Iran game. Of trying to be puppeteer, of trying to engage one faction verses the other.” 

Leon Aron, AEI’s Russia expert, bemoaned “the shrinking of the common commitmentsLeon Aron of every one of the four mainstay areas of the U.S.-Russia strategic dialogue: the war on terror, non-proliferation, Russia’s reliability as a global energy supplier, and its move towards democracy.” 

These common interests will “shrink even further…in the next two years,” Aron stated. 

“[T]he State of the Union speech will matter very little,” Gary Schmitt posed, going against the conventional wisdom of the news media and anchoring the theme of the discussion. 

Gary Schmitt“[P]resident’s can make very fine speeches,” Schmitt told the audience, “but after a time it was a coin that got spent too readily. People began to hear great speeches, but if you don’t see the follow through—the actions—people begin to dismiss the speeches. 

He continued by pointing to the dual-pronged source of the public’s dissatisfaction with President Bush: the botched response to Hurricane Katrina at home and a war effort abroad perceived as failing. 

“The reality in Iraq is what determines public perception. The reality in Katrina, the results of the Hurricane there, are what determined perceptions. And those perceptions are that we have a President that may have very fine policy ideas but is very ineffective in carrying them out.” 

Dan Blumenthal, AEI’s Asia analyst, saw any improvement on the North Korean nuclear dilemma ““only happen[ing] if we start to see some success in Iraq.” 

But Blumenthal seemed pessimistic, finding the Bush administration’s bureaucracy favoring compromise with North Korea, similar to the position of China—not tightening the screws to China by letting Japan out of the nuclear box, or making the de-nuclearization of North Korea the “litmus test” for Sino-American relations. 

But he hoped for some action, lest we have President Bush hand to the next administration “a North Korea that is irreversibly nuclear at this point.” 

Thomas Donnelly, AEI’s Iraq speaker, saw the escalation as a workable strategy: but pointed to the many obstacles Bush must overcome for success in Iraq. 

Donnelly argued that the Bush administration must still show there is a unity of commandThomas Donnelly in Iraq—with Petraeus in the top role; clarify the troop numbers and stages of the proposed surge; and, finally, have ready a reconstruction that works in Iraq. 

Donnelly was well aware of the new political landscape, telling the audience that newly empowered Democrats will point “both barrels to the President on Iraq.” 

He also saw General David Petraeus’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee as more important to Congressional support for Iraq than the State of the Union, conceding the extreme weakness of President Bush to rally the nation behind his foreign policy in Iraq. 

The outlook looked gloomy for all the speakers. 

Success in Iraq, while still seen as achievable, was by no means guaranteed—these speakers blamed domestic politics rather than conditions in Iraq.

And the real threat for many in the room, a nuclear Iran and a further nuclearized North Korea, seemed ever more illusive to contain with Iraq’s attention-stealing and resource-draining present condition. 

Though what seemed most clear to all these speakers was the realization that the aggressive neo-conservative foreign policy was a mere step away from extinction. Unless the compromised Bush administration shows success in Iraq soon, not only will the Bush legacy be tarnished but so too neo-conservative approach to America’s foreign policy.

Posted in Afghanistan, American Enterprise Institute, Bush administration, China, Congress, Dan Blumenthal, Danielle Pletka, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Gary Schmitt, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Leon Aron, Michael Rubin, neoconservatism, North Korea, Terrorism, Think Tank, Thomas Donnelly | Leave a Comment »

Blog-on-Blog: Dickerson’s Misread on McCain and the Troop Surge

Posted by K.E. White on January 8, 2007

John DickersonI saw John Dickerson—okay, okay I heard him from the back rows—at the AEI meeting where Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and John Lieberman (I-CT) endorsed Frederick W. Kagan’s plan for a troop surge of 30-40,000 troops.

After the event, I posted my piece on the event at Campus Progress, meandering afterwards to read Dickerson’s take at Slate.

Anyone can read Dickerson’s article, but they might not know where he got it from.

  • He makes no mention of the particular troop surge plan McCain endorsed at AEIInstead he quotes for the event without any sort of reference.

Instead Dickerson writes, without any reference:John McCain

“He told the audience that everyone in America should read Fiasco, the book that details those many failures. Pointing out that the job was botched is both an act of truth-telling and an act of political defense. If the surge doesn’t work, he will be able to say the Iraq war has been so mismanaged that it was too far gone for the McCain-backed last-ditch attempt.”

What audience? The only McCain talks Dickerson alludes to are:

“Recently he has advocated for a surge in private conversations with the president and at greater length with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who is heading up the administration’s policy review.”

  • Dickerson neglects the likely difference between “the McCain-backed last-ditch attempt” and the likely Bush proposal.

Kagan’s plan calls for 30-40,000 troops. Most sources peg Bush’s surge to be 10-20,000.

In other words, half that being advocated by McCain and Lieberman.

And he forgets to include these words of McCain: “The troops surge should be significant and sustained, if not don’t do it.”

  • Dickerson misses what will be the McCain Iraq Strategy

Obviously McCain is giving himself wiggle room, but of a different sort: He will not just say Bush messed up, but that he picked the wrong strategy.

And this strategy–“the right plan wasn’t adopted”–might be just the ticket to beating an anti-war or war-waffling Democrat in 2008.

I enjoyed the talk, and a fair amount of Dickerson’s article. But perhaps Slate should be on the look-out for another contributor…how does Adjunct Second-Look Contributor sound?

I won’t hold my breath for their call.

Posted in Bush administration, Congress, Diplomacy, Iraq, John McCain, Think Tank | Leave a Comment »

What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You…

Posted by K.E. White on December 20, 2006

by kwhite, cross-listed at Campus Progress 

Last week, I heard former governor homeland security expert James Gilmore speak to Cato on improving our nation’s homeland security spending. He gave glowing comments to John Mueller’s recently published Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate the National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them. The Cato event centered around the book’s charge that domestic anti-terrorism spending is counter-productive to American security.

What did Gilmore–Chairman of USA Secure—-offer as a solution?

This dual-pronged approach: 1) greater emphasis on the citizen to learn how government is spending his or her money, and 2) more transparency from DHS on where funds are going.

As you might guess he was heavy on rhetoric, light on substance.

This led me to wonder, ‘Well, how transparent is DHS spending–or DHS in general?’

Finding this out proved more difficult than I first thought, but below is my first go-around answer.

First, a brief review:

The term classified information refers to materials the government keeps away from public view that may compromise national security. While it has its critics, it’s an established process that has been hammered out by the court system and our nation’s bureaucracy.

But did you know the government can keep unclassified out of the public eye?

There is exactly an umbrella of bureaucratic acronyms that each represent a certain perspective on what are known as “sensitive materials.”

This new batch of “sensitive” concealment-apparently 56 in all–has led some to complain of secrecy abuse, particularly by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Some allege DHS uses this nebulously defined category SSI (or “Sensitive Security Information”) to cloak embarrassing information.

While the most recent DHS appropriations bill (passed this October) did include a section clarifying what SSI meant, DHS still has a sweeping ability to keep information away from the public eye or even other government agencies.

Secrecy is clearly needed for aspects of our nation’s homeland security policies and spending. But this worry must be addressed: Is information that many would consider useful for the public to know about being concealed?

It appears the answer, at least as of September, is yes.

While I applaud Gilmore for pushing the administration–one he has ties to as former Chair of the Republican National Committee–to bring needed transparency to homeland security spending, I hope he offers more details on how to do this at his next public speaking event.

I hope by that time to understand our government’s “sensitive materials” mishmash.

Posted in Homeland Security, Think Tank, WMD | Leave a Comment »

Filling Your Think Tank: D.C. Events Friday, December 8th—Friday, December 15th

Posted by K.E. White on December 7, 2006

 Note: Many think tanks now webcast their events; all times are Eastern Standard

Friday, Dec. 8th

Monday, Dec. 11th

·        Hudson Institute: Searchers Versus Planners in International Development Aid; 12 pm – 2 pm

Wednesday, Dec. 13

Friday, Dec. 15

·        Heritage Institute: Competitive Technologies for National Security Policy: Obstacles and Options for Staying Ahead; 12 pm – 1 pM


Posted in Think Tank | Leave a Comment »