National Security

Beinart on the New Politics of Foreign Policy

Peter Beinart, from a nifty op-ed in the Washington Post:

In "The Best and the Brightest," David Halberstam chronicles Lyndon Johnson's absolute terror of appearing soft on Communism. Having seen fellow Democrats destroyed in the early 1950s because they tolerated a Communist victory in China, Johnson swore that he would not let the story replay itself in Vietnam, and thus pushed America into war. The awful irony, Halberstam argues, is that Johnson's fears were unfounded. The mid-1960s were not the early 1950s. The Red Scare was over. But because it lived on in Johnson's mind, he could not grasp the realities of a new day.

In this way, 2008 is a lot like 1964. On foreign policy, many Democrats live in terror of being called soft, of provoking the kind of conservative assault that has damaged so many of their presidential nominees since Vietnam. But that fear reflects memories of the past, not the realities of today. When Democrats worry about the backlash that awaits Barack Obama if he defends civil liberties, or endorses withdrawal from Iraq, or proposes unconditional negotiations with Iran, they are seeing ghosts. Fundamentally, the politics of foreign policy have changed.

Al Qaeda Regroups, Israel Engages, the GOP Focuses on Obama's "Character"

Three more must reads this morning: 

Amid news reports that violence is rising in Afghanistan, the New York Times offers a major new look at how Bush Administration policies have contributed to the regrouping of Al Qaeda in the region. 

The New York Times editorial page reviews Israel's recent spate of diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, reminding us how these new bold initiatives are a direct repudiation of the now clearly failed Bush strategy for remaking the region.  

And the Washington Post offers an insightful piece on the growing conventional wisdom on how the GOP plans to go after U.S. Sen. Barack Obama - casting him as a politician without beliefs, willing to say and do anything to get elected. 

The Price of Energy Security

The Front Page of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal features an excellent article by Guy Chazan entitled “Russia Outflanks EU’s Pipeline Bid.” The article describes Russia’s efforts to dominate European natural gas supply and politics by outmaneuvering American backed European attempts to build a pipeline to make them less reliant on Russian natural gas. The potential for heavy-handed petropolitics, exemplified by Russia’s 2006 shut-off of gas to Ukraine, has American policy makers concerned once more about Russia’s political influence in Europe.

During the Cold War, the balance of power was measured in nuclear warheads. Now a new kind of contest is playing out. The battlefield is Europe's energy market. The objective is pipeline proliferation. And Russia is winning.

Europe is witnessing a race between two mammoth pipeline projects that would bring natural gas to the Continent from the Caspian and beyond. One of the plans -- hatched in Europe, championed by Washington and named for a Verdi opera -- has been hobbled by bureaucracy. The other, backed by the Kremlin, is rolling ahead with a speed and success that has surprised and frustrated the West. The outcome could shape energy supplies, and political influence, in Europe for decades to come.

Europe is not the only place this dynamic is playing out. Chinese influence in oil-rich African nations has been much maligned due to a policy emphasis energy security, even at the expense of human rights. (Sudan is only one, albeit the most publicized, example of Chinese influence on the region.) This political turmoil, as well as high prices domestically, means that energy security has emerged as a hot topic in American media.

Responding to Chazan’s article on the Wall Street Journal’s "Environmental Capital" blog, Keith Johnson argues that:

You can have energy security, you can give consumers a break, or you can do something for the environment. But aiming for all three at once—that is, what passes for energy policy in the U.S. and Europe—appears next to impossible.

Take the U.S. High oil prices have given legs to Big Oil’s demand for more access to federal lands and coastal areas—a bid for energy security–even while many in Congress are still opposed. But environmentalists figure high oil prices will spur alternative energy and help fight climate change. The Liberman-Warner climate bill foundered thanks in part to high energy prices right now. Meanwhile, the consumer gets whacked regardless—with higher gas prices, or higher electricity bills, or both.

As the scramble for energy heats up, it’s useful to remember that the rules of the game aren’t changing—the game itself is. Energy policy isn’t a cardigan moment or a Rose Garden speech—it’s become the currency of international influence. And the countries that ruthlessly focus on one pillar, rather than trying to juggle all three, are more likely to come out ahead.

Johnson is incorrect to argue that this is a new dynamic, however. Energy security has been the backbone of American politics in the Middle East since the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, and what has been called a “New Great Game” in Central Asia has been an ongoing chess match over oil and natural gas for decades. Johnson is correct that a ruthless pursuit of energy security is more likely to work than other approaches, but the solution to this energy security issue has little to do with climate or economic security. Rather, Europe needs to employ stronger policies and act in a more hard-nosed fashion against Russian advances, and doing so does not mean subverting goals of handling climate change. This is more a matter of having leadership that knows when the trade-off of playing hardball in favor of political security is well worth it.

Securing Energy and the Economy: Avoiding short-term policy traps

The fundamentally new elements of the energy paradigm are that these resources are no longer available on the cheap in the Western world, in large part due to the rise of the developing world, especially Asia, and the concern about climate change. Johnson seems to argue that pursuing energy and climate security while trying to keep energy costs low is impossible. In the short term, he is probably correct. In the longer term, he couldn’t be more wrong. And, in the short term, there are better ways to protect consumers.

The link between energy and economic security is easy to see. If countries do not pursue energy security, they become unable to feed their economies and maintain economic security – talk about a hit to consumers. In the short term though, pursuing lower energy prices can come at the expensive of both energy and climate security and results in silly ides, like a gas tax holiday or opening up off shore drilling.

Thomas Friedman
, in yesterday’s New York Times, weighed in on the dire policy consequences of Egypt’s attempts to keep energy prices low:

From Shubra we drive into the desert toward Alexandria. The highway is full of cars. How can all these Egyptians afford to be driving, I wonder? Answer: The government will spend almost $11 billion this year to subsidize gasoline and cooking fuel; gas here is only about $1.30 a gallon. Sounds like a good deal for the poor — only the poor have no cars, and the fuel subsidies mean less money for mass transit.

Think about these numbers: This year Egypt will spend $6 billion on education and $3 billion on health care, far less than the subsidies for fuel. This is a terrible trap. The subsidies should have been phased out when food and fuel prices were lower. Now that they have soared, the pain of removing the subsidies would be politically suicidal. So education and health care get killed instead.

America is not currently in the trap Friedman describes, but with the wrong policies, could find itself moving in that direction. Incentives must be designed to stimulate infant technologies and decrease in amount over time as those technologies commercialize and scale, not the other way around.

Securing Energy and Climate: Building the 21st Century Economy

Climate and energy security are also not mutually exclusive. If all the West cared about was energy security, America could just build all the coal plants it wanted. We are, after all, the Saudi Arabia of coal. But that is fundamentally not in our climate or economic security interests.

What America needs is a policy that is focused on energy and climate security, indeed such a policy must see the two as interrelated, and must encourage the scaling of technologies capable of taking the place of fossil fuels. Building a 21st century post-carbon economy will not be simple and will not happen tomorrow, by this November, or by November of 2012, but failing to get on that path will ultimately prove the most difficult available option, as failure means economic surrender. Conventional sources of energy will remain important into the future, but the faster America is able to transition away from a hydrocarbon economy, the better our economic, energy, and climate security will be.

Time to Lead on Energy and Climate

Buried in Wednesday’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll was this fact: 18 percent of Americans view energy and the cost of gas as the most important issues for the federal government to address. That number ranked third, behind the economy and the war in Iraq, and ten points ahead of health care. Add that to the 4 percent of Americans who see the environment and global warming and the environment as the number one issue, and 22 percent of Americans see some sort of energy concern as the most important federal issue.

Concern about the fact that only four percent see global warming as the most important issue notwithstanding, this is a welcome shift in political consciousness. The next step is for our leaders to explain why the top two issues, the economy and the war in Iraq, are actually related to energy and the cost of gas, and why confronting global warming relates to all three.

Unfortunately, political rhetoric and action is not yet where it needs to be on these issues. Instead of convincing dialogue about building a clean energy future that enhances energy and climate security, the American people get irresponsible talk from a supposedly pro-climate candidate about a gas tax holiday. The Senate debates cap and trade legislation, but won’t even extend the Solar Investment Tax Credit. Four dollar a gallon gasoline means that it is time to move forward to new sources of energy, not despair about the fact that the old ones aren’t working for us as well as we’d like.

High energy prices are here to stay, and the American people are struggling because of it. For now, it seems that many politicians are unwilling or unable to tell the American people that we have to innovate, not drill, out of this problem, and that there is no short-term solution.

Leadership means connecting the dots, from high energy prices, to climate change, to green collar jobs, to turmoil in the Middle East. It means realizing that four dollar a gallon gasoline is related to the Solar ITC. America is nowhere close to leading on energy, and the consequences will be grim should we take a pass on building the premier 21st century green economy. Thankfully, it seems that the market is taking hold. Companies like GM are starting to get the picture that we need to build plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt, and California is primed to install 200-250 Megawatts of solar in 2008 alone. Let’s hope political leadership can create the policy needed to support them.

Patriotism or Panic?

A New York Times editorial published today addresses the current state of the immigration debate and we thought it worthwhile to share it in its entirety. This reflection reminds me of the values discussed in more detail in "The True Patriot", a pamphlet that NDN highly recommends we read. We are reminded that we cannot allow patriotism to be co-opted by those who use the flag not as a symbol of unity, but as a caricature or brand. We should be reminded that the flag, patriotism, is a moral code - one that believes in fairness, compassion, freedom from prejudice, acceptance, and greatness. And greatness, "lies not in the impermanent lies in the integrity of our choices."

June 3, 2008
The Great Immigration Panic

The New York Times

Someday, the country will recognize the true cost of its war on illegal immigration. We don’t mean dollars, though those are being squandered by the billions. The true cost is to the national identity: the sense of who we are and what we value. It will hit us once the enforcement fever breaks, when we look at what has been done and no longer recognize the country that did it.

A nation of immigrants is holding another nation of immigrants in bondage, exploiting its labor while ignoring its suffering, condemning its lawlessness while sealing off a path to living lawfully. The evidence is all around that something pragmatic and welcoming at the American core has been eclipsed, or is slipping away.

An escalating campaign of raids in homes and workplaces has spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat. After the largest raid ever last month — at a meatpacking plant in Iowa — hundreds were swiftly force-fed through the legal system and sent to prison. Civil-rights lawyers complained, futilely, that workers had been steamrolled into giving up their rights, treated more as a presumptive criminal gang than as potentially exploited workers who deserved a fair hearing. The company that harnessed their desperation, like so many others, has faced no charges.

Immigrants in detention languish without lawyers and decent medical care even when they are mortally ill. Lawmakers are struggling to impose standards and oversight on a system deficient in both. Counties and towns with spare jail cells are lining up for federal contracts as prosecutions fill the system to bursting. Unbothered by the sight of blameless children in
prison scrubs, the government plans to build up to three new family detention centers. Police all over are checking papers, empowered by politicians itching to enlist in the federal crusade.

This is not about forcing people to go home and come back the right way. Ellis Island is closed. Legal paths are clogged or do not exist. Some backlogs are so long that they are measured in decades or generations. A bill to fix the system died a year ago this month. The current strategy, dreamed up by restrictionists and embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, is to force millions into fear and poverty.

There are few national figures standing firm against restrictionism. Senator Edward Kennedy has bravely done so for four decades, but his Senate colleagues who are running for president seem by comparison to be in hiding. John McCain supported sensible reform,
but whenever he mentions it, his party starts braying and he leaves the room. Hillary Rodham Clinton has lost her voice on this issue more than once. Barack Obama, gliding above the ugliness, might someday test his vision of a new politics against restrictionist
hatred, but he has not yet done so. The American public’s moderation on immigration reform, confirmed in poll after poll, begs the candidates to confront the issue with courage and a plan. But they have been vague and discreet when they should be forceful and unflinching.

The restrictionist message is brutally simple — that illegal immigrants deserve no rights, mercy or hope. It refuses to recognize that illegality is not an identity; it is a status that can be mended by making reparations and resuming a lawful life. Unless the nation contains its enforcement compulsion, illegal immigrants will remain forever Them and never Us, subject to whatever abusive regimes the powers of the moment may devise.

Every time this country has singled out a group of newly arrived immigrants for unjust punishment, the shame has echoed through history. Think of the Chinese and Irish, Catholics and Americans of Japanese ancestry. Children someday will study the Great Immigration Panic of the early 2000s, which harmed countless lives, wasted billions of dollars and mocked the nation’s most deeply held values.

An Unfunded Mandate

This recent ad by Elizabeth Dole goes along with the continuing tide of GOP ads on national security and immigration. However, unlike other ads that directly attack Hispanics, representing them as undocumented immigrants, this ad is much more moderate. Instead of showing people crossing the border, it focuses on just talking about border security; instead of showing someone being deported, it is limited to discussing deportation, and it limits the discussion to "tough" undocumented criminals, as opposed to immigrants in general. It is also telling that Sen. Dole does not speak on the issue herself - might she be heeding the warnings by GOP leadership that directly anti-immigrant tactics are counterproductive?

With a strong challenger and limited funds, Sen. Dole is, quite literally, banking on fear and the desire for a sense of security among many in North Carolina. This ad promotes her efforts to bring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to North Carolina to train local and state police to aprehend undocumented criminals. The information that is ommitted in the ad is that this type of training is performed under Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, and under 287(g), ICE must enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the county or State in question. In the case of North Carolina, ICE does not have a state-wide MOA, as expressed in the ad; ICE only has MOAs with five counties in the state, and each MOA can vary in scope and severity.

From a policy perspective, these type of agreements are criticized by Police Chiefs and law enforcement officers because they often have unintended consequences that actually make it harder for them to work with their community to fight crime, particularly in the case of areas with a large immigrant or minority population. Additionally, these agreements with Federal immigration officials come with no additional resources - only additional responsibility and strain on local law enforcement. So we're left wondering why Sen. Dole promotes her push to impose an unfunded mandate on North Carolina.

Your Flight Has Been Cancelled

"The airline industry as it is constituted today was not built to withstand oil prices at $125 a barrel, and certainly not when record fuel prices are coupled with a weak US economy". So said American Airlines CEO Gerard Aprey yesterday in announcing dramatic cuts to service that will eliminate thousands of jobs, remove one of 8 American planes from the sky and charge passengers $15 to check a single suitcase.

Arpey warned the rest of the industry to follow suit or plunge into bankruptcy. And today, the Wall Street Journal reports that the International Energy Agency is anticipating reductions in supply that may drive prices higher.

The wholesale scaleback of air service as we know it is just one of the many ways skyrocketing fuel prices are beginning to alter America's way of life Yet shockingly, we still have no plan or policy to deal with it. President Bush begging Saudi King Abdullah to raise production last week or even Congress ending purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is not a policy.

While Senators Obama and Clinton have proposed broad energy policies, action is needed now. Conditions in the airline industry are approaching those after Sepember 11th when the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was tapped and energy officials should consider that now. Congress should move immediately to fund the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit to fund wind and solar investments. And the White House should convene a national energy council, as proposed by both Democratic Senators, modeled after the National Security Counsil, to meet weekly to address the current crisis and long term issues surrounding energy prices, dependence on foreign oil and climate change. Things will get worse before they get better, but at a minimum a crisis such as this needs attention.

The Times piece on the Pentagon proproganda operation

If you haven't read it, you need to. Here it is.

Will be interesting to see how the networks and the cable networks react this week. The piece draws into question the integrity of their entire coverage of our adventure in Iraq these past 5 years.

Old Man McCain

Senator McCain's confusion about Sunni and Shiite, Al Qaeda and Iran, I think is no simple thing to explain away. Our whole adventure in Iraq has been infused by dangerous levels of niavite and ideology, and all too little informed by the facts on the ground or common sense. The very lack of understanding of how hard it would be to bring Sunni and Shiite together - and how an Iraqi Shiite-led government would result in Iran's regional ascension - is the main cause of why Iraq has cost America so much in the lives and limbs of our young, of "our money," and of our standing in the world. That he is confused about something so central to the entire enterprise over there - after having been there for days and been briefed by many parties - is a virtual disqualifier for the highest office in the land.

Rather than suggesting that McCain is recklessly stupid, perhaps his campaign can say his confusion has been brought about by age. That men of his age often get confused, particularly when they travel and are meeting lots of new people. That running for President, to paraphrase our current President, is "hard, hard."

Update: As our readers may recall, NDN spent a great deal of time last year helping draw attention to Administration's apparent lack of understanding of the Sunni-Shiite dynamic in the Middle East. Visit here to watch a video interview we conducted with Professor Vali Nasr, one of the nation's foremost experts on Islam and the Middle East. His book, the Shia Revival, is one of the best books I've read in recent years and has done more to help me understand the challenge of our current strategy in the Middle East than any other thing I've read.

Perhaps Senator Lieberman should buy his friend Senator McCain a copy of the book.

Update 2: Watch the video here

A global recession for democracies?

I strongly recommend Larry Diamond's article, The Democratic Rollback, in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. He discusses how we can best foster democracy and civil society in aspiring nations, a theme I've discussed here and here, and one of our most urgent global governing challenges. The piece begins:

Since 1974, more than 90 countries have made transitions to democracy, and by the turn of the century approximately 60 percent of the world's independent states were democratic. The democratization of Mexico and Indonesia in the late 1990s and the more recent "color revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine formed the crest of a tidal wave of democratic transitions. Even in the Arab world, the trend is visible: in 2005, democratic forces in Lebanon rose up to peacefully drive out Syrian troops and Iraqis voted in multiparty parliamentary elections for the first time in nearly half a century.

But celebrations of democracy's triumph are premature. In a few short years, the democratic wave has been slowed by a powerful authoritarian undertow, and the world has slipped into a democratic recession. Democracy has recently been overthrown or gradually stifled in a number of key states, including Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela, and, most recently, Bangladesh and the Philippines. In December 2007, electoral fraud in Kenya delivered another abrupt and violent setback. At the same time, most newcomers to the democratic club (and some long-standing members) have performed poorly. Even in many of the countries seen as success stories, such as Chile, Ghana, Poland, and South Africa, there are serious problems of governance and deep pockets of disaffection. In South Asia, where democracy once predominated, India is now surrounded by politically unstable, undemocratic states. And aspirations for democratic progress have been thwarted everywhere in the Arab world (except Morocco), whether by terrorism and political and religious violence (as in Iraq), externally manipulated societal divisions (as in Lebanon), or authoritarian regimes themselves (as in Egypt, Jordan, and some of the Persian Gulf monarchies, such as Bahrain).

Before democracy can spread further, it must take deeper root where it has already sprouted. It is a basic principle of any military or geopolitical campaign that at some point an advancing force must consolidate its gains before it conquers more territory. Emerging democracies must demonstrate that they can solve their governance problems and meet their citizens' expectations for freedom, justice, a better life, and a fairer society. If democracies do not more effectively contain crime and corruption, generate economic growth, relieve economic inequality, and secure freedom and the rule of law, people will eventually lose faith and turn to authoritarian alternatives. Struggling democracies must be consolidated so that all levels of society become enduringly committed to democracy as the best form of government and to their country's constitutional norms and constraints. Western policymakers can assist in this process by demanding more than superficial electoral democracy. By holding governments accountable and making foreign aid contingent on good governance, donors can help reverse the democratic recession.

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