Back in August, I warned of the big changes coming in the Obama Administration's Sudan policy ("A 180 on Sudan"). Contrary to previous positions taken by senior U.S. officials, signs pointed to an all "incentives" policy with the genocidal government in Khartoum, Sudan.
Concerns were only heightened by public comments made by President Obama's Special Envoy for Sudan, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, in recent months. A Washington Post article ("U.S. Envoy's Outreach to Sudan is Criticized as Naive") reported that Gration had "seen signs of goodwill from the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir...and viewed many complaints as understandable yet knee-jerk reactions to a government he trusts is ready to change." Folks understandably hit the roof when Gration stated - "We've got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries -- they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement." Talk of this cookie doctrine led some activist groups to call for the General's resignation.
Back in August, I warned of the big changes coming in the Obama Administration's Sudan policy ("A 180 on Sudan"). Contrary to previous positions taken by senior U.S. officials, signs pointed to an all "incentives" policy with the genocidal government in Khartoum, Sudan.
Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.
Was it appropriate or out of line for Dick Cheney to accuse President Obama of "dithering" on Afghanistan?
Rep. Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.) said:
It’s certainly inappropriate; especially when Dick Cheney comes from the school of politicians who cry “unpatriotic foul” anytime anyone ever criticized the Bush policy, especially with regards to Iraq or Afghanistan. For a former vice president to use that type of word, and criticize the president in that type of forum is certainly in my opinion unpatriotic.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said:
I actually gave a one minute speech today where I stated that I agreed with Vice President Cheney, that the president is dithering which is particularly surprising because the president made it very clear when he ran last year the importance of providing sufficient resources in Afghanistan, and I specifically quoted his statements during the campaign and I quoted specifically from the acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention where he identified that it was necessary to provide sufficient forces to defeat the terrorists. And of course then in March, I sent out a news release commending the president for his strategy and his selection of General McChrystal and the good work of General Petraeus and also I have cited the speech on August 17th to the VFW Convention in Phoenix where the president reiterated that it was so important and I agreed with him to successfully achieve victory in Afghanistan. So I believe that Vice President Cheney was absolutely correct, and I say this, that it shouldn’t be that partisan and we should be, Democrats and Republicans, agreeing on this issue and the decision should be made. By delaying this decision our troops are at risk and it is giving false encouragement to people who appose this country.
Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit said:
One assumes that Cheney would rather retire quietly, but that he feels the Administration is dropping the ball on something very important. Etiquette has generally held, pace Jimmy Carter, that former Presidents don't criticize their successors in public. But Cheney is a former Vice President, to whom no such etiquette applies. (Until recently, it was not needed, as no one cared what former Vice Presidents thought, anyway...)
Cheney has been remarkably successful in pressuring the Obama Administration with his earlier pronouncements on the war, so he probably thought it was worth trying again. More interesting to me is the Administration's reflexive counterattack, which seems -- like its attacks on other critics -- to be counterproductive. The White House's message-control is poor, and it's clearly hurting Obama in the polls and with moderate Democrats. Unlike Cheney, who never pretended to be anything but what he is, Obama ran as a post-partisan transcendent figure, and getting down-and-dirty with critics undermines that in a way that does more big-picture damage than can be justified by any short-term benefit. It seems, however, that they can't help themselves.
Paul Kawika Martin, Organizing, Political and PAC Director of Peace Action, said:
To criticize an eleven-month old Obama Administration for taking time to make major decisions on the nearly impossible situation in the Afghanistan region is absurd. The only thing more absurd is that it comes from the Bush Administration who caused the problems and had nearly eight years to fix.
Clearly Cheney's major priorities this year have been to defend and white wash the failed policies of the Bush administration, take political jabs at the current Administration and continue his legacy through his daughter.
Peace Action was one of the few NGOs opposing invading Afghanistan. Like Iraq, the Bush administration had no long-term plan for Afghanistan. They funded with countless millions in cash warlords to push out Taliban. Some of these warlords are now in the Karzai administration causing problems. Some of the Aid under Bush administration for Afghanistan came in the form of "photo ops," like CAT scan machine sent to hospitals with minimal electricity, no technicians and no one to install them, but the picture of it played well back in the states.
While the Obama administration is seeming more thoughtful and saying that Afghanistan needs a political solution not military one. Most of the funding and action has been military this year. In my recent trip there, it was clear to me that sending 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan will fail to substantially increase security, to stop violent extremists and to make Americans safer. Instead, U.S. and NATO forces need to stop air and Predator drone strikes, arbitrary arrests and detentions and other actions that kill, injure or terrorize innocent civilians and create recruits for the Taliban. The billions of dollars it would cost to send troops would pay more security dividends invested into Afghanistan to provide its populous with physical, economic and food security.
If the Bush administration would have taken some of these actions years ago instead of taking us to the Iraq quagmire, perhaps we would be in a better situation in that unstable region of the world.
John F. McManus, President of the John Birch Society, said:
Dick Cheney's comments about Afghanistan deserve severe criticism, not because they were directed at Mr. Obama, but because they presume that the U.S.-led effort in that nation is proper in the first place. As a former Marine Corps officer, I know that fighting a war against a tactic (such as terrorism) is about as complete reversal of the role of the military as could be imagined. Had our nation fought against a tactic in WW II, we'd likely still be at it. Also, the U.S. Constitution clearly requires a congressional declaration of war before sending forces into battle. There has been none for this war and none for the war in Iraq. If there had been declarations, there would have been a clear objective and both wars would have long been over. The preemptive war against Iraq, with Cheney leading the charge for it, should never have been launched in the first place. Without such declarations of war, Congress and several administrations have betrayed those who serve. Every day I read with deep anguish about casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It's my experience that every government bureaucracy can learn from the private sector. That's certainly the case with our very large, and yes, bureaucratic, intelligence community. This impressed me again reading last week's New Yorker profile ("The Secret Keeper") of private intelligence and security guru Jules Kroll, penned by William Finnegan.
Kroll, born in Queens, built Kroll Inc. into the world's leading investigative firm, with offices and personnel worldwide, pioneering the field of corporate intelligence. Unlike traditional detective and security agencies, Kroll early on "took his business in another direction: upward, into finance and strategic planning. He offered an ever-widening range of services --forensic accounting, crisis management, competitor analysis-- tooled for a globalized business world, in which industrial espionage, counterfeiting, computer fraud, identity fraud, and sophisticated financial crimes have flourished." Kroll Inc. has tracked down wealth stolen by Ferdinand Marcos, Saddam Hussein and Baby Doc Duvalier. The company also works on more brutal crimes, including kidnapping.
Two items involving advanced and nuclear scientists that deserve greater attention:
France. This week, a French scientist of Algerian descent appeared before an anti-terrorism investigative judge for "criminal association with a terrorist enterprise" after it was found that he had been in touch with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - al-Qaeda's North African arm. London's Financial Times reported the 32-year-old was arrested after "discussing potential targets with his correspondents over the internet" ("Scientist at Cern Appears before Anti-terrorism Judge"). The case has raised concerns because of his sophisticated work at the Large Hadron Collider project on the French-Swiss border. The scientist - who also spent time at Stanford - was involved in particle physics, not fissile material. Small comfort.
We'll see where this case goes, but it's a useful reminder of two key points. 1) the idea that only the poor and downtrodden are drawn to Bin Laden's view of the world is a dangerous myth. 2) France has a wealth of counterterrorism knowledge, gained from years of aggressive tactics and intelligence collection. This is especially true when it comes to groups like AQIM, born out of the Algerian terrorism that has targeted France since 1995, and is now hitting Western interests across North Africa.
Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight on the biggest question burning up the blogosphere and cable news airwaves on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009.
The Big Question today is:
President Obama has taken a very different approach to diplomacy than President Bush. Does the new approach serve or undermine long-term U.S. interests?
Christopher Preble, director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, said:
What “very different approach”? Sure, President Bush implicitly scorned diplomacy in favor of toughness, particularly in his first term. But he sought UN Security Council authorization for tougher measures against Iraq; a truly unilateral approach would have bombed first and asked questions later. By the same token, President Obama has staffed his administration with people, including chief diplomat Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who favored military action against Iraq and Serbia in 1998 and 1999, respectively, and were undeterred by the UNSC’s refusal to endorse either intervention.
There are other similarities. George Bush advocated multilateral diplomacy with North Korea, despite his stated antipathy for Kim Jong Il. President Obama supports continued negotiations with the same odious regime that starves its own people. Bush administration officials met with the Iranians to discuss post-Taliban Afghanistan and post-Saddam Iraq. In the second term, President Bush even agreed in principle to high-level talks on Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama likewise believes that the United States and Iran have a number of common interests, and he favors diplomacy over confrontation.
This continuity shouldn’t surprise us. Both men operate within a political environment that equates diplomacy with appeasement, without most people really understanding what either word means. Defined properly, diplomacy is synonymous with relations between states. As successive generations have learned the high costs and dubious benefits of that other form of international relations -- war -- most responsible leaders are rightly eager to engage in diplomacy. Perhaps the greater concern is that they feel the need to call it something else.
Tom McClusky, senior vice president of FRC Action, said:
President Obama's diplomacy seems to consist entirely of abortion promotion, unicorns and fairy farts. While it might earn him Nobel Peace Prizes from judges who long ago lost any credibility it is a recipe for disaster for not only U.S. interests but those of the entire world.
What have been the major foreign accomplishments of President Obama? Within days of taking office he rescinded a policy so that now one of the U.S. biggest exports will be subsidizing abortions in countries who oppose the ghastly practice and increasing funding for an international program that will underwrite coercive abortions and forced sterilizations in countries like China.
As for the President's dealings with the world's most brutal dictators he did exactly as he said he would during the campaign. Be it giving a photo-op for Hugo Chavez, standing up for a brutal tyrant overthrown by his people or remaining largely silent when a terrorist who killed Americans over Lockerbie is released from prison to return to Libya.
The President's failure to take a stand and lead was never more prevalent then his speech to the United Nations that, due to its naivete, would have been better delivered by a five year old girl. The President spoke of a world free of nuclear weapons fully knowing about an illegal uranium enrichment facility that the Iranians had been hiding near Qom. Even France's President Nicolas Sarkozy took the President's lack of backbone to task. And as Charles Krauthammer said, "When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom."
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said:
I think the diplomatic efforts that are ongoing by this administration clearly are about trying to negotiate with people rather than stick our fingers in folks’ eyes. You see things like the breakthrough with Armenia and Turkey, and that didn’t happen before.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said:
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said:
I don’t think it undermines it at all, and I would hope that it would serve for the future. There are going to be those that are going to disagree with the approach that you reach out ... but I think President Obama has taken the approach that talking to people is not appeasement and reaching out makes good sense.
Part of his outreach is not just to the governments, but to the people behind the governments, and reaching out to people all across the world. I think that that's in our best interest. In this world today, we have found out what it's like to have enemies, so wanting to have more friends makes good sense. We don’t have to give away the store to do that. We don’t have to sell out our own principles or our own security to do that, and I think that's what the president is doing.
Michelle D. Barnard, president and CEO of the Independent Women's Forum, said:
It is too soon to tell how President Obama's approach to diplomacy will ultimately affect U.S. interests. While it is certainly positive that many countries report having a more positive view of the United States, we have yet to see if this greater good will translate into actual policy gains.
Take, for example, the arena of international women's human rights. Secretary Clinton has made strong statements in support of international women's human rights (as had the Bush Administration), but then, it is unclear if those statements are being backed up by Administration policy. President Obama's Cairo speech earlier this year was disappointing on the issue of women's rights. Additionally, the Administration appeared somewhat reticent to condemn the massive human rights violations committed by Iran, even as the world watched the regime's thugs gun down peaceful protesters like Iranian protester Neda Iran who was murdered before our eyes. Does this signal a willingness to look pass such abuse in the pursuit of other aims?
Those concerned about international women's human rights should be particularly alarmed by these actions and the Administration's stance on Afghanistan. Whether or not victory in that theater is necessary for U.S. security (or if, as President Obama recently suggested, we can tolerate some Taliban involvement in the country, victory is certainly necessary for the security of millions of Afghan women and girls, who suffered tremendous repression and abuse under the previous Taliban regime.
All Americans, myself included, root for the Obama Administration to make progress in promoting peace and security around the world. We all hope that the Administration's diplomatic efforts will ultimately pay off, but as the old saying goes, "only time will tell."
Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, said:
Is this a trick question? The Bush foreign policy weakened America, alienated our allies and emboldened our adversaries. North Korea is far more threatening than eight years ago. Iran has been strengthened immeasurably by the invasion of Iraq and the increase in the price of oil. Russia invaded Georgia with impunity, and China is both our rival and our banker — not a good position for America. Oh, and we’re losing the war in Afghanistan and have lost 4,340 heroic lives invading, conquering and occupying Iraq, which was no threat to America.
It won’t be easy, but Pres. Obama is working to restore American strength. That starts with reassessing our military strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. It includes hard-nosed, multilateral talks with Iran — backed by the threat of sanctions and keeping all options on the table. It includes new agreements with nations to assist in combating terrorism. And it includes stepped-up use of deadly force against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, including taking out Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com said:
The lack of progress on Iran, the failure to secure the desired level of additional European troops in Afghanistan, the move against the dollar, all suggest that the United States is weaker than it was a year ago. Obama is more popular in the world than Bush was, but less respected, or at least less feared. The Obama presidency will be a test of which is better, but so far popularity isn't looking particularly potent.
Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, said:
The one significant, perhaps overacrching, difference between the two presidents is that President Obama is a visceral, transnational progressive who believes the United States has been a willful hegemon that must engage in a unilateral retreat in global affairs, while President Bush is a believer in American exceptionalism convinced that the United States must serve as a balance wheel in preserving international equilibrium. This difference in attitude accounts, in large part, for the concessions and apologies made by President Obama without a demand for reciprocal responses, and the subsequent criticism leveled against him from Bush supporters and Republicans.
John F. McManus, president of the John Birch Society, said:
I don't see that there's any "different approach" taken by the Obama administration's diplomacy. Our nation is still heavily involved in international entanglements, still committed to nation building, still mired in the anti-American United Nations, and still dispensing foreign aid while admitting to a yearly deficit that is three times the worst yearly shortfall in our nation's history. Wouldn't a truly "different approach" reverse course in these areas?
This was not a prize he sought, much less wanted at this stage of his presidency precisely because it would engender such criticisms and increase expectations. He did the right thing; he accepted it with a great deal humility and modesty.
President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the non-Western world and stress diplomacy. Americans should be proud that we have a president who is restoring respect for our country around the globe. This well-deserved prize is an inspiration for the president and for rest of us to do some really hard thinking about how we create a more peaceful and just world - including our role in Afghanistan.
On a trip to Pakistan last spring, I heard from our embassy about plans for a "diplomatic surge" to add many more U.S. personnel to the country. Given the level of anti-Americanism in the country, I asked whether added manpower would help or hurt our cause. There is, after all, something to be said for a "small footprint" in a foreign land.
So I wasn't surprised by Tuesday's New York Times headline "U.S. Push to Expand in Pakistan Meets Resistance," accompanied by a picture of a spirited protest. Pakistanis resent the U.S. Embassy plans for a very large new building that will house 1,000 personnel and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The State Department also reportedly has plans to buy the biggest building in Peshawar for its consulate in the North-West Frontier Province. Conspiracy theories surrounding the embassy security contractors abound. Our embassy's media officer sure has his work cut out.
Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today:
What would success in Afghanistan look like, and how long will it take?
Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said:
From the beginning, we failed to address the real prospect that there would be and could be no "success" in Afghanistan. Punishing al Qaida and getting bin Laden, were worthwhile, but unrealized, goals. But the Bush Administration was reckless in their approach to the war, and was, then, either delusional or deceitful in their early declarations of victory (remember the "Forward March of Freedom"?). In the name of "success", they dug a deep hole.
uring the campaign, President Obama was right to say "we were fighting the wrong war" , hadn't gotten bin Laden, and correct to note that the conflict had spread across the border into Pakistan, with al Qaida being transformed into a regional menace.
All this said, what we need to do first is rid ourselves of the notion of "success", focusing instead on precise and necessary objectives (which, granted, have now become more difficult), and the ways to avoid failure or getting ground-down in a long term illusory quest of victory. We can't afford to continue to delude ourselves that we will achieve success. The public won't tolerate it, and "it" isn't possible.
Some are demanding immediate action. But before we simply add troops, embrace a failed and corrupt government, of questionable legitimacy, further aggravate regional tensions ignoring the consequences of all this on Pakistan, and dig deeper into the illusory hole of "success", we should listen to Senator John Kerry's sage advice when he urges a more cautious approach, a deliberative decision-making process, and a national debate.
Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, said:
Success in Afghanistan must include a better functioning democracy. Well-grounded allegations of fraud in the recent elections provide openings for the Taliban and undercut Afghans' faith in U.S. allies and, more broadly, the western model of representative democracy. Big changes to Afghanistan's civil society can't happen overnight, but Americans should do more to stand up for honest elections and fair representation. This includes both basic vote-counting rules and a structure of government and electoral rules that promote power-sharing and transparency.
The contrast with Iraq's democracy is striking. Iraq has abandoned a strong president, with a de facto parliamentary system. It uses proportional representation voting systems that in the upcoming elections seem to be doing all the more to encourage the parties to be more secular as they try to reach beyond their religious bases of support in efforts to earn more votes in more regions of the country. That's not to say that Iraq will be a success story and Afghanistan will not -- but more attention should be paid to government structure and electoral rules and process.
Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, said:
We need to “define success down” in Afghanistan. That means abandoning any notion of transforming ethnically fractured, pre-industrial Afghanistan into a modern, cohesive nation state. It also means reversing the drift in Washington’s strategy over the past eight years that has gradually made the Taliban (a parochial Pashtun insurgent movement) rather than al Qaeda America’s primary enemy in Afghanistan. A more modest and realistic strategy means even abandoning the goal of a definitive victory over al-Qaeda itself.
Instead, we need to treat the terrorist threat that al-Qaeda poses as a chronic, but manageable, security problem. Foreign policy, like domestic politics, is the art of the possible. Containing and weakening al Qaeda may be possible, but sustaining a large-scale, long-term occupation of Afghanistan and creating a modern, democratic country is not.
Instead of embracing General McChrystal’s proposal for a substantial increase in the U.S. military presence–or even adopting a “McChrystal-Light” strategy-- the Obama administration should begin a phased withdrawal of troops over the next 18 months, retaining only a small military footprint relying on special forces personnel. Otherwise, America will be entangled for years--or decades--in pursuit of unattainable goals. (For more, read Escaping the “Graveyard of Empires”: A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan.)
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said:
Put me down as not talking about Afghanistan yet. I didn't do enough review before I came to a conclusion on Iraq back in 2002, and I don't want to make that mistake twice. Obviously the heart of the decision in al Qaeda and sanctuaries for terrorism, but that doesn't answer the question--what do you need to do to achieve the goal?
Success in Afghanistan would be stabilization. The conditions there are so poor and we have so far to go. I believe 9 percent of the country has electricity, and the literacy rate for women is about the same. The literacy rate among men is only a shade better. Obviously we're working from a very low bar. I think you can measure success in a number of ways. Over 50 percent of women in that country have less than full citizenship. We should focus on democratization, empowering the people themselves, on their terms. And I don't think that's just the United States' job; it's an international responsibility.
I don't know how long it will take. I think success will be focused on the elimination of al Qaeda and supporting the kind of society that does not give comfort to extremists who contemplate attacks on Americans.
Obama administration officials, some members of Congress and the media are claiming that new facts about the Iranian nuclear program have caused them to suddenly change their minds and conclude Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. These new facts are a "secret" International Atomic Energy Agency report that allegedly found that Iran is now capable of constructing a nuclear weapon and information that Iran has built a covert uranium enrichment facility, now cited as "smoking guns" to justify multilateral action against Iran. However, despite this new information, the U.S. Intelligence Community is sticking by the widely discredited conclusion of its November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.