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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Mount Obama belched forth a mousy counterterrorism strategy, which you can read here in its inglorious entirety.  Like most of the pronouncements of this crowd, it reads rather like an undergraduate seminar paper, full of useless “definitions” that don’t define, and generalizations that beg the real questions. It’s a very lazy approach to a very serious subject.

First and foremost, it’s not very much about counterterrorism, but about how to fight a single organization:  al-Qaeda (pompously written “al Qa’ida”).  After some introductory self-congratulation, the document comes to what should be the central issue:  the nature of the enemy.

The Threat We Face

The preeminent security threat to the United States continues to be from al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates1 and adherents….A decade after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States remains at war with al-Qa‘ida. Although the United States did not seek this conflict, we remain committed, in conjunction with our partners worldwide, to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates and adherents to ensure the security of our citizens and interests.

The death of Usama bin Laden marked the most important strategic milestone in our effort to defeat al-Qa‘ida.

Do you really think that AQ is the most serious “security threat” to the United States? Even the unlamented Richard Armitage knew that the most dangerous terrorist organization is Hezbollah (you know, the guys that have just been indicted for assassinating Rafiq Hariri in Lebanon) and that was back when al-Qaeda was riding high in a triumphant gallop down the Arab Street.  So, even if you wanted to restrict your discussion of terrorism to individual organizations, the elevation of AQ to top status would be wrong.  And it’s wronger today than it was some years ago;  the jihad has not been very glorious for them.

Worse yet, the Strategy seems to be based on the assumption that terrorism is our greatest national security threat, which is unworthy of serious people.  And even if you give the authors a pass on that one, and say, well, it’s about counterterrorism, not the whole strategic universe, the claim that AQ should be the preeminent focus of our strategy would still be wrong.  At the moment, the most serious terrorist threat is the global network led by Iran, and involves Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, along with Hezbollah (cf. “Iran and Syria”), Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and various allied drug mafias and Latin American terrorist groups (FARC, for example).

I think it was President W who once said — in the early days after 9/11, before his vision was clouded by too many deep-thinking court philosophers — that we were at war with various terrorist organizations and the states that sponsor and assist them.  Hence my short list above.  But you will look in vain in the National Strategy for Counterterrorism for any discussion of state sponsors.  Sometimes you need some real knowledge of terrorism to recognize the missing subject, but on other occasions the National Strategy just grabs you by the throat and makes you see it, as when we’re told that it’s imperative to prevent AQ and its allies from developing nukes and other WMDs, without ever mentioning the Iranian nuclear program.

It seems that someone must have mentioned this startling omission, because at the very end, out of nowhere, comes this sentence, all by its lonely self:  “Iran and Syria remain active sponsors of terrorism, and we remain committed to opposing the support these state sponsors provide to groups pursuing terrorist attacks to undermine regional stability.”

That will teach them!  We’re opposed to Iranian and Syrian support for the terrorists.  Take that, Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and Assad.  You needn’t look very hard for the methods — if any — we’re going to use, because that’s the entire “discussion” of state sponsorship, which has long been the key to effective terrorist campaigns against the West.  Nor, needless to say, is there any mention of Tony Blair’s categorical testimony to a British Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, that you can’t defeat al-Qaeda without defeating Iran.  Nor is there any mention of Bob Gates’ departing warning that Iran is stepping up its killing of Americans in Iraq.  Nor, for that matter, is there any mention of the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion — and a recent complaint in a New York court reiterates it — that Iran was directly involved in the 2001 attacks against the homeland.

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The Pawlenty Doctrine

June 29th, 2011 - 10:41 am

I was amazed when I read the Pawlenty speech on the Middle East.  I hadn’t expected that a former Middle Western governor, from a blue state, would have had the passion and vision to deliver one of the most impressive analyses and tough-minded policy ideas within memory.  And I love the title, “No Retreat from Freedom’s Rise.”

Here are the key graphs:

We have a clear interest in seeing an end to Assad’s murderous regime.  By sticking to Bashar al Assad so long, the Obama Administration has not only frustrated Syrians who are fighting for freedom—it has demonstrated strategic blindness.  The governments of Iran and Syria are enemies of the United States.  They are not reformers and never will be.  They support each other.  To weaken or replace one, is to weaken or replace the other.

The fall of the Assad mafia in Damascus would weaken Hamas, which is headquartered there.  It would weaken Hezbollah, which gets its arms from Iran, through Syria.  And it would weaken the Iranian regime itself.

To take advantage of this moment, we should press every diplomatic and economic channel to bring the Assad reign of terror to an end.  We need more forceful sanctions to persuade Syria’s Sunni business elite that Assad is too expensive to keep backing.  We need to work with Turkey and the Arab nations and the Europeans, to further isolate the regime.  And we need to encourage opponents of the regime by making our own position very clear, right now:  Bashar al-Assad must go.

When he does, the mullahs of Iran will find themselves isolated and vulnerable.  Syria is Iran’s only Arab ally.  If we peel that away, I believe it will hasten the fall of the mullahs.  And that is the ultimate goal we must pursue.  It’s the singular opportunity offered to the world by the brave men and women of the Arab Spring.

Who else in American public life is calling for regime change in Syria and Iran, and recognizes that bringing down the Tehran regime is “the ultimate goal we must pursue?”

He’s right, and it’s encouraging that at least someone is saying it.  Perhaps some of the other candidates will see fit to start talking seriously about national security above and beyond the debt, unemployment, and so on.  The country is at risk on both fronts, foreign and domestic, and our future success and survival depend on our winning on both fronts.

Meanwhile, at least Governor Pawlenty laid it out, while the administration dithers and retreats.  It seems that Supreme Leader Khamenei warned Obama in a letter not to meddle in Syria to the detriment of the Assad regime.  Actually he  needn’t have worried.  That sort of thing would cut into the golfing schedule.


Big Media doesn’t pay much attention to them, even though Obama makes an amazing number of errors in his public statements.  And I think it’s easy enough to understand why the BM largely ignores them:  to report them all would totally undermine the image of the president to which a surprising number of “reporters” and pundits are wedded:  that of an unusually intelligent and well educated man.

Yet someone who tells a crowd in Vienna that his “Austrian” isn’t very good, who tells Marines that he’s pleased to speak to the “Marine Corpse,” and who, just today, said he’d given the Medal of Honor to a survivor from the 10th Mountain Division, when in fact the award was given posthumously, doesn’t fit my definition of a brilliant and cultured man.

Yes, there was a Medal of Honor winner who lived to receive it, but it was a different man.  The living honoree is named Giunta;  the deceased hero from the 10th Mountain Division was named Monti.  Both are Italian names.  Did a White House speechwriter confuse the two Italians?  And if so, what does that tell us about the ship under the command of President Obama?  That’s worth pondering for a moment.

When you add up all the mistakes he’s made–not slips of the tongue, but real errors in statements and speeches he could read from the ubiquitous teleprompter–they make quite a number.  So what? you may ask.  The answer is that hundreds of people traditionally read the drafts of presidential speeches and statements.  That happens for two good reasons.  First, presidential utterances are instant policy.  It’s hard to walk away from a public statement.  Second, the myriad political appointees want their leader to look good, and they strain to ensure the accuracy of his statements.  Or at least they did when I had first-hand knowledge of such things, now a few years back.

I don’t think that is happening in this administration.  A friend said to me earlier today that he was really amazed at the discipline of Obama’s team, specifically in the small number of leaks compared with previous administrations–especially W’s years.  It’s a good point, and that only happens when information flow is severely restricted;  when only a handful of folks know what’s happening, chances to leak are reduced.  (On the recent decision on force level reductions in Afghanistan, for example, most of the “inside the Beltway” rumors were dead wrong).

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How To Make Revolution Work

June 15th, 2011 - 2:26 pm

I am a big fan of Walter Russell Mead, and his recent essay on “The Conservative Revolutionary” shows him in top form.  Mead is one of the few who understands that human history often unfolds through paradox, and that the United States is one of the most paradoxical countries in history.  As he says, America is at once the most revolutionary society on earth and the defender of the status quo, which is a tough balancing act (especially if our traditionally shortsighted political class is wearing a blindfold).

Mead understands America’s nature very well, and also our effect on the real world outside our borders: it’s not so much what we do as what we are:

American society is the most revolutionary force on the planet.  The Internet is more subversive than the CIA in its prime.  The dynamism of American society is constantly creating new businesses, new technologies, new ideas and new social models.  These innovations travel, and they make trouble when they do.  Saudi conservatives know that whatever geopolitical arrangements the Saudi princes make with the American government, the American people are busily undermining the core principles of Saudi society.  It’s not just our NGOs educating Saudi women and civil society activists; it’s not just the impact of American college life on the rising generation of the Saudi elite.  We change the world even when we aren’t thinking anything about global revolution — when Hollywood and rap musicians are just trying to make a buck, they are stoking the fires of change around the world.

So whatever any given president may wish to accomplish in foreign affairs, we can’t have durable alliances with tyrants, and foreign leaders opposed to freedom will inevitably attack us.  Remember the great discussion after 9/11, when the big question was “why do they hate us?”  Mead knows that the right answer was: because of what we are.  We are a fearsome engine of revolutionary turmoil.

It follows that efforts to conduct a conservative foreign policy, as the “realists” want, are doomed to failure, because we automatically unleash creative destruction on the world, whatever our leaders’ intentions may be.  “Stability” is a profoundly un-American mission.  We are revolutionaries by our very nature.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize those themes, which I’ve advanced for many years, and I’m glad to see that Mead–who hangs his thinking cap at the Council on Foreign Relations–agrees.  On the other hand, he knows that most democratic revolutions fail, and so he curses both the realists’ and the idealists’ advice to the policy makers:

The realists are wrong that despotic regimes can provide long term stability in the region; the idealists are wrong that the fall of the old despots will lead to liberal democratic states.

The realists wanted Obama to side with tyrants like Mubarak, and look like fools today.  The idealists, Mead says, promised that a few bombs would bring down Qadaffi, and they don’t look very smart either.  Mead doesn’t think that the Arab countries (oddly, Iran does not even make a cameo appearance) aren’t likely candidates for successful democratic revolution, and reminds us that a large chunk of the Soviet Empire, including Mother Russia, accomplished regime change and then reverted to tyranny.

I think he overstates the difficulties facing a revolutionary/conservative foreign policy, and he does so because he sometimes reasons from first principles rather than looking at the specific historical moment.  In the case of failed democratic revolution in the old Soviet Empire, for example, we could have gotten a better outcome if we hadn’t abandoned the democrats just at the moment they needed our embrace. I wrote a book about that shameful betrayal, carried out in the usual bipartisan pattern by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Mead’s essay takes off from a very sharp analysis of the “Arab Spring,” in which he pronounces himself more cautious than optimistic about the eventual outcome.  Me too, but not because–or not simply because–most democratic revolutions fail.  It’s because of the phony, ignorant and weirdly anti-American leadership that afflicts us at this moment.

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My (PR) Agents in Tehran

June 13th, 2011 - 7:09 pm

I am once again grateful to the leaders of the Iranian regime for their continuing efforts to portray me as a powerful man at the very center of American foreign policy.  Their latest effort—which consists of a poorly fabricated video and several spinoffs in official publications—have me one of the key organizers of a phantomatical Iranian government-in-exile.  I am said to have worked intimately with Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, putting them in touch with a character named Madhi (not to be confused with “the mahdi,” aka the 12th Imam, the Iranian Shi’ite messiah with whom President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims to have a close working relationship).  I and my cohorts at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, having received billions of dollars from the dark forces of the FBI, CIA and State, allegedly arranged for Madhi to hobnob with the Veep and the Secretary of State to further our diabolical scheme.

No serious person with even a passing knowledge of the Obama Administration would take any of it seriously (although, if you’ll hold that thought for a moment, you’ll see that one major “newspaper” with claims to legitimacy published the fantasy in considerable detail).  I’ve never met Hillary or Joe, never met Madhi or communicated with him in any way, and have never set foot in the city of Bangkok, where, according to the Tehran disinformers, I supposedly met with him.  The powers-that-be in the Obama White House and State Department don’t have time for the likes of me, which is easily understandable.

Moreover, I am famously opposed to trying to organize the Iranian diaspora against the Tehran regime.  The people who will eventually do that don’t live here or in Europe;  the Iranians who will topple Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are over there, in Iran.  Those are the people we should be supporting, and I have been saying that for many years.

My PR agents carrying out the wishes of Messrs Khamenei and Ahmadinejad don’t seem to understand these little details.  For them, an American is an American, and we’re all agents of the Great Satan.  For extras, they don’t believe for a minute that the millions of Iranians who have marched in the streets and chanted “death to the dictator” are doing it on their own, simply because they hate the tyrants that have wrecked their country.  The Iranian leaders think it’s all a dark plot.  They accordingly manufacture the “evidence” of it.

As I said, I’m grateful for their efforts to pump up my profile;  with a bit of luck I might get some speaking dates out of it.  And the British “newspaper,” the Guardian, has jumped on the bandwagon, publishing a “news story” about the Iranian video that doesn’t challenge any of its claims.  What’s so funny about this is that the Guardian was itself gulled by Mr. Madhi a while back (which they admit), but they couldn’t be bothered to check any of the recent Iranian nonsense.

I guess they thought it was too good to check.  Not that you need any such advice, but I’d be careful before believing anything in the Guardian.  They may have ghost writers in Tehran.

ALSO READ: Iranian Official: “We Will Use Our Missiles To Protect Other Muslim States.”

Games Nations (Don’t) Play

June 12th, 2011 - 11:52 am

Americans love big theories, and don’t have much patience for the myriad little details that make the world so difficult to understand.  Thus spoke Alexis de Tocqueville in the early 1830s, and that insight goes hand in glove with another one:  democracies, including our own, stink at foreign policy.  Nowhere are those two important truths demonstrated more vividly than in an article in the weekend Wall Street Journal that recounts a recent infatuation of American strategists, from Henry Kissinger to military thinkers, with the study of an Oriental board game known as “Go.”  I think it comes from Korea, and its recent elevation to importance for deep thinkers seems to be the work of one David Lai, who teaches at the Army War College, and believes that Go is the key to understanding the Chinese strategic mind.  To quote from the Journal:

“Go is the perfect reflection of Chinese strategic thinking and their operational art,” says Mr. Lai, who grew up watching his father—who was jobless during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution—constantly play the game. A self-described midlevel Go player, Mr. Lai came to the U.S. about 30 years ago.

Theories of this sort are not new.  During the Cold War, self-important Washingtonians used to intone that we were poker players, while the  Soviets were chess masters, which was said to give them an advantage over us.  The Go theory is of the same ilk.  My favorite variation, known to be favored by Dr. Kissinger, is a kind of meta-theory of the relationship between games and national character, according to which you can see the basic components of a nation’s spirit by the way its teams play soccer.  Germans attack, Italians defend, Brazilians look for elegance, and so forth.

It’s all good fun, but it’s mostly balderdash.  The biggest problem with the chess and Go metaphors is that they are both board games, and board games have very little to do with life, or even with that slice of life (war) they are said to embody.  Whatever the rules of the game, the players see everything.  All the pieces (as in chess) or the stones (as in Go) are right there in front of you, and there’s no room for many of life’s and war’s most important elements:  confusion stemming from lack of full vision of the battlefield (“fog of war”), deception, the need for, and simultaneous danger of, communication with allies and troops, and many other problems that are all too real to political and military leaders, but irrelevant to the players of board games.

Card games are much closer to the real world, because you don’t see everything.  Many years ago I noted that it was no accident that Machiavelli was a card player.  Nor that Eisenhower was a bridge player.  Indeed, it always seemed to me that Americans, being card players, had a distinct advantage over the board game  players.  In the purest form of poker–5-card draw–you only see a small fraction of the cards in play, and deception is an integral part of the battle.  In bridge, the most you ever see is half the cards, and during the most important part of the game–the bidding–you only see a quarter of them.  You have to guess, or deduce, the rest, and that process involves deception, error, and bluff.

I do love Go, it’s a terrific game.  I doubt that it has much to do with Chinese grand strategy.  The greatest Chinese strategist of modern times–Deng Xiaoping–was a famous bridge addict, and the original “gang of four” was composed of himself and three other bridge players who had their own train car reserved for their games.

If I were in charge of the curriculum of the War Colleges, I’d make our strategists play bridge many hours a day.  But then, I love the myriad details and I’m suspicious of grand theories.

Mr. Lai, call the American Contract Bridge League and emulate your mother country’s greatest modern leader.

Italy Hit by Global Insurrection

June 5th, 2011 - 8:16 am

Italy is the latest country to be hit with the fury of the global insurrection, whose recent targets include Muslim countries from Arab North Africa and Iran, largely agnostic European nations including France, Germany, Spain. and Holland, and of course that most revolutionary country, the Christian United States. The occasion for the Italian insurrection was a series of local elections all over the country, and the results were devastating for the incumbents.

As elsewhere, the insurrection was focused on the current leader — in this case, Silvio Berlusconi — took most expert observers by surprise, and was intriguingly leaderless (the winning mayoral candidates in Milan and Naples were virtual unknowns, and while both attracted support from the center-left Democratic Party, they owed it nothing and will likely govern with teams of young mavericks), leaving traditional opposition figures wondering what to do next. As in Egypt, we can expect the usual suspects — here, the center-left, and most importantly the heirs of the old Communist Party — to reorganize, penetrate the new insurrectionaries, and trot out their old dreams of an even bigger state with even more central control, but for the moment, it’s wide open. Meanwhile, Berlusconi has been battered in the most unexpected way — most of us “experts” thought he was unbeatable at the polls, as the public opinion surveys had documented until the eve of the vote — and his party, which is more a cult of personality than a modern political organization, is now looking for a successor for the first time in eighteen years.

In our words, the Italian Tea Party has had a great success.

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