Tag Archives: National Security

The Obama Doctrine

Yet again, J. over at the Armchair Generalist beat me to a post I wanted to write about the discussion in the last presidential debate about what an Obama or McCain Doctrine might look like.  I won’t retread old ground but thought that these two pieces (written in the last week of September) complement the candidates’ answers quite well.

The Stratfor article puts the Democratic view of foreign policy into a broader historical context by saying:

Thus, the main thrust of the Democratic tradition is deeply steeped in fighting wars, but approaches this task with four things in mind:

  1. Wars should not begin until the last possible moment and ideally should be initiated by the enemy.
  2. Wars must be fought in a coalition with much of the burden borne by partners.
  3. The outcome of wars should be an institutional legal framework to manage the peace, with the United States being the most influential force within this multilateral framework.
  4. Any such framework must be built on a trans-Atlantic relationship.

It’s funny but once I saw these it became clear why I had such a warm and fuzzy feeling about a potential Obama foreign policy.  My personal prefereces stick very close to these.  In fact, it would be nice to see principles like this formally accepted by Obama.  They’re clear, easily understandable and pretty darn hard to argue with.

Now, the debate answers:

Brokaw: Sen. Obama, let me ask you if — let’s see if we can establish tonight the Obama doctrine and the McCain doctrine for the use of United States combat forces in situations where there’s a humanitarian crisis, but it does not affect our national security. Take the Congo, where 4.5 million people have died since 1998, or take Rwanda in the earlier dreadful days, or Somalia. What is the Obama doctrine for use of force that the United States would send when we don’t have national security issues at stake?

Obama: Well, we may not always have national security issues at stake, but we have moral issues at stake. If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in? If we could’ve stopped Rwanda, surely, if we had the ability, that would be something that we would have to strongly consider and act. So when genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us. And so I do believe that we have to consider it as part of our interests, our national interests, in intervening where possible. But understand that there’s a lot of cruelty around the world. We’re not going to be able to be everywhere all the time. That’s why it’s so important for us to be able to work in concert with our allies. Let’s take the example of Darfur just for a moment. Right now there’s a peacekeeping force that has been set up and we have African Union troops in Darfur to stop a genocide that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. We could be providing logistical support, setting up a no-fly zone at relatively little cost to us, but we can only do it if we can help mobilize the international community and lead. And that’s what I intend to do when I’m president.

You can clearly see the influence of Samantha Power who was unfortunately dropped from the campaign due to a comment made about Hillary Clinton.  Still, it’s nice to see the ideas remain behind and there’s hope she’ll return after November 4th.  Too often intervention is seen as an either/or proposition.  Send in the Marines and take the place over or ignore it and hope it all works out in the end.  This position is more nuanced and allows for a broad spectrum of alternatives based on capability and political will.

Ideally, some sort of inclusion of the possiblity of military action in cases of ‘moral’ necessity in the guiding principles would be great so that we don’t just blunder around picking and choosing what we do randomly but I’m sure any attmepts to do so would be much more controversial.

Regarding war in general (from the Stratfor article):

Responding to attack rather than pre-emptive attack, coalition warfare and multinational postwar solutions are central to Obama’s policy in the Islamic world. He therefore straddles the divide within the Democratic Party. He opposes the war in Iraq as pre-emptive, unilateral and outside the bounds of international organizations while endorsing the Afghan war and promising to expand it.

This view on multilateralism and NATO is summed up in a critical statement by Obama in a position paper:

“Today it’s become fashionable to disparage the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organizations. In fact, reform of these bodies is urgently needed if they are to keep pace with the fast-moving threats we face. Such real reform will not come, however, by dismissing the value of these institutions, or by bullying other countries to ratify changes we have drafted in isolation. Real reform will come because we convince others that they too have a stake in change — that such reforms will make their world, and not just ours, more secure.

The article goes on to say that getting Europe to engage and pony up would be Obama’s first, and most critical, challenge.  While the Europeans can be a bit recalcitrant I think they ultimately want, and will more willingly follow, a strong, rational U.S. foreign policy.  In fact, I think Europeans will be pretty desperate for it.

Iran! Lions! Bears!

There seems to be quite a lot of talk about Iran this election and for good reason.  We haven’t exactly been best buds for awhile and they’ve been planning to rearrange the furniture in their neighborhood for awhile.  Of course, the fact that they’ve got a guy in power who may, or may not, be ‘cuckoo for cocoa puffs‘.

There’s been a lot of hand wringing, saber rattling, and general predictions of doom and gloom if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon.  While I agree it isn’t our desired end state, allow me to present a contrarin view…

First, it’s not like we can do a whole lot about it in the first place.  They learned quite well from the Israeli strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.  They spread out their facilities and built in redundancies.  At best we could delay their effort and piss them off in the process.

Second, let’s not forget that Iran of 2008 is not the Iran of 1979.  All revolutions, once they come to power, moderate and maintance of power becomes their primary concern.  The French, Soviets and Chinese had some pretty crazy ideas when their revolutions took over and within 30 years had settled into fairly conventional nation states (not necessarily ones I would want to live in but that’s another issue).  Yes, the Iranians cling to their revolutionary rhetoric but it’s not at all clear that they aren’t doing the same thing.  Hold onto power and try to further your national goals.

Third, it would be dangerous to assume that the Iranian leadership is irrational.  Just because they do (and say) things we don’t like doesn’t mean they’re crazy.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be crazy or he may be stiring the pot and saying outrageous things about Israel for his domestic audience in order to boost up his approval and take their minds off of the fact that in face of $100 a barrel oil, they still aren’t making great headway economically.  Also, it’s not like Ahmadinejad is the supreme leader of Iran and can make his word law.  He may want to bomb Iran all day long but there would have to be a whole host of others in the government who agree with him before such an action could happen.

Fourth, look at Iran’s position.  On their eastern border are about 70,000 troops (U.S. and non-Afghan coalition) and on their western border are over 140,000 U.S. soldiers.  The U.S. has been a hostile power since the revolution in 1979 and ever since the end of ‘major’ combat operations in Iraq there’s been talk about hooking a right turn and taking Tehran.

So, is it really that irrational to try to get a nuclear bomb?  Everyone knows that is the ultimate game changer.  And a small number of bombs is a defensive move.  Let’s say Iran gets 1, 5 or even a dozen bombs.  What does it do with them?  Unless you assume that Iran is headed by a Hitler-esqe (or Joker-esqe if you’re tired of Hitler analogies) freak who just wants to destroy the world, there’s no way you’d contimplate a nuclear strike against Israel.  Even if you were to throw out the notion of American retaliation, it’s a widely held belief that Israel holds 100-200 nuclear weapons.  It would be the very definition of Mutually Assured Destruction.

So what would a few weapons get you?  A guarantee that the U.S. won’t invade.  Increased prestige and a seat at the regional (and perhaps international) table.  I suspect these are the things Iran really wants.

In order to be an offensive weapon, Iran would need to develop a first strike capability which would limit or eliminate Israel’s ability to retaliate.  Given the distances and capabilities of Israel such an attempt is likely to end up as fruitless as the attempts by the U.S. and Soviets during the cold war.

So I generally agree with this article by Bob Baer:

I myself think a deal can be cut with Iran. During the last 30 years, Iran has gone from a terrorist, revolutionary power to far more rational, calculating regional hegemon. Its belligerence today has more to do with a weakened United States and Israel than with any plans to start World War III.

If we want to have any hope of influencing Iran in the future we going to have to engage with them.  This idiotic idea we seem to have gotten that by somehow ignoring countries we don’t like will result in them running back to us, begging to give them just one more chance is ridiculous.

I’m convinced that our adherence to that policy has done more to keep tyrants in power (see Cuba, Iran, Syria, Lybia, Venezuela, etc.) than Soviet subsidies, radical Islam or expensive oil ever could.

So let’s cut the crap and start using some soft power…


Ah, nothing like narrow minded ideologes to bring down our financial system.  It appears a number of our fine representatives are willing to sacrifice our livelyhoods in order to protect us from…SOCIALISM!!!  Horrors!!

From the NY Times:

Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican, said he was “resolute” in his opposition to the measure because it would betray party principles and amount to “a coffin on top of Ronald Reagan’s coffin.”

Hey, thanks Darrell!  You’re right, I (and millions like me) will be more than happy to stand on the bread line so that we can honor the memory of Ronald Reagan.  After all, you can’t make an omlete without breaking some eggs.


And as an aside, am I the only one thinking that Bin Laden and the Islamists are feeling totally vindicated right now?  While I think this has nothing to do with them, I can see how they’ll spin it.  Just like the Soviets, we invaded a Muslim country and faced economic ruin.  This was, after all, their plan.  Draw us into war(s) and then bleed us dry financially.

News from that 'other' war

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about Afghanistan which is a shame since there’s been a lot going on there and being said about it.  I’ll try to wrap it up now.

Dexter Filkins got a lot of kudos for his article on the Pakistani tribal areas in last week’s NY Times magazine article.  It’s well written and gives a good overview of the situation there but I’m not sure there’s anything terribly new here.

  1. The Taliban is using the area as a base
  2. The Pakistanis are going through the motions (at best) in their support of our war aims
  3. Pakistan is becoming destabilized
  4. We’re in deep doo-doo

The big news lately has been that President Bush has officially authorized the military to conduct operations inside Pakistan without prior approval from the government in Islamabad.

The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.

This distrust was present on the ground in Afghanistan back when I was there in 2003.  I remember hearing periodic ‘reminders’ that the Pakistanis were our good and loyal allies and that there were not to be treated any differently from our other coalition partners.  Of course those speeches were universally received with a ‘Yeah, right’ attitude and the fact that we had to be reminded of what good partners the Pakistanis were spoke to the true level of their reliability.  I can only assume that someone high up had bought some serious rose colored glasses and felt that constant repetition about how stalwart the Pakistanis were would somehow make it so.

Of course, the Pakistanis aren’t too happy about this and are threatening to defend their sovereignty.

Pakistan’s top army officer said Wednesday that his forces would not tolerate American incursions like the one that took place last week and that the army would defend the country’s sovereignty “at all costs.”

And the Prime Minister agreed.

I don’t know if that was for internal consumption to keep the army and Pakistani population from totally wigging out or if it was a warning to the U.S.  After all Pakistani forces firing on Americans isnt’ without precedent

“When the Americans started bombing the Taliban, the Frontier Corps started shooting at the Americans,” we were told by one of Suran Dara’s villagers, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being persecuted or killed by the Pakistani government or the Taliban. “They were trying to help the Taliban. And then the American planes bombed the Pakistani post.”

I can definitely see how this sort of thing can blow up in our faces.  A large scale (in size or duration) incursion into Pakistan could further weaken the secular forces there.  They don’t have much control as it is but at least they control their nuclear arsenal.  But what can we do?  The Pakistanis have clearly demonstrated that they have neither the will or capability to work the tribal areas on their own and without getting a handle on those areas we’re going to keep losing ground and taking casualties.

As what I hope is my only political aside of this post, let me remind you that this ‘new’ policy was put forth by Obama in August of 2007 (I can’t draw attention to that date in any other way) and at the time McCain said:

“You don’t broadcast that you are going to bomb a country that is a sovereign nation and that you are dependent on … in the struggle against (the) Taliban and the sanctuaries which they hold.”

By the way…great primer of the area by the BBC.

How can you not get furious that we’re at this point:

“I am not convinced that we’re winning it in Afghanistan,” Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday…”Frankly, we are running out of time,” Mullen said, adding that not sending U.S. reinforcements to Afghanistan is “too great a risk to ignore.”

This did not have to be and a lot of people knew it.

Palin: "Uh…that mutual defense part of the NATO charter. That's optional, right?"

So, after three weeks of seclusion from the press and round the clock prepping, Palin gave her first interview.  ABC has only released excerpts but there are some great lines in there:

GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?

PALIN: Ukraine, definitely, yes. Yes, and Georgia.


GIBSON: And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States to go to war if Russia were to invade.

PALIN: What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.

It doesn’t have to lead to war and it doesn’t have to lead, as I said, to a Cold War, but economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, again, counting on our allies to help us do that in this mission of keeping our eye on Russia and Putin and some of his desire to control and to control much more than smaller democratic countries.

Uh…I guess her handlers forgot to tell her that Chapter 5 of the NATO charter specifically states:

“…an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

This is kind of a big point.  If she’s going to lobby to admit Georgia into NATO, don’t you think it’d be a good idea to know what potential obligations that might mean for the U.S.

So, let’s review.  “Hey, NATO allies.  If Palin becomes president and you get invaded, we don’t have to go to war with your invader.  We don’t even have to have a ‘cold war’ with your invader.  How’s that make you feel about America’s commitment to our allies?”

Now, in all fairness.  She did seem to flip-flop on the issue after Gibson harped on it a bit.  So, she might not know jack about international issues but she appears to have a finely honed ‘spider sense’ regarding when she’s saying something stupid.

She was also asked about her whole “U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God” quote to which she said that she was riffing off of Lincoln.  I’m sorry.  I just can’t buy that she has the slightest inkling of anything Lincoln has ever said.  Good work by the political team in coming up with a good cover story though.

And finally:

GIBSON: And you didn’t say to yourself, “Am I experienced enough? Am I ready? Do I know enough about international affairs? Do I — will I feel comfortable enough on the national stage to do this?”

PALIN: I didn’t hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn’t that take some hubris?

PALIN: I — I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink.

Ah, brilliant.  That’s what we need.  Another president/vice-president combo that don’t think before they act.  Yes, running the most powerful country in the world, involved in two wars and instability elsewhere is sure to benefit from decisions based on ‘gut’ feelings.

Besides, are you telling me she didn’t think about it for one second?  She didn’t ask her husband?  She didn’t even consider her family?  Every presidential candidate I can remember has some story about how they got their family together to discuss this huge decision and make sure everyone was willing to go through with it.  Not Sarah.  Maybe that’s because she’s convinced she’s on a mission from god?

McCain, my father and W.H. Auden

Jeffrey Goldberg has an article in the current issue of The Atlantic (you have gotten a subscription to it by now, haven’t you?) called The Wars of John McCain.  I’m currently taking a course in ‘Intelligence Profiling’ and this article two points that I think are quite interesting in terms of that subject.

I’ve always assumed (and I think others have as well) that McCain’s positions on conflict generally and Iraq specifically were grounded in his understanding of Veitnam.

I asked Orson Swindle, another former cell mate and a close friend of McCain’s who now volunteers for his campaign…that McCain had argued to me that he doesn’t think about Vietnam overly much when he thinks about the wars of today.

“Bullshit,” Swindle said. “He’ll say Vietnam didn’t affect him, that he doesn’t think about it, that he’s aloof from it. But I see it. It’s there.”

But, Bob Kerry, proposes an interesting alternative veiwpoint.  It’s not Vietnam which influenced how McCain views the world but World War II.

“Ask him the W. H. Auden question,” he told me. “Auden used to ask people to name their first memory of a public event, what they remember that everyone else remembers. John probably remembers a war in which it was very clear who won and who lost.”

“When I was a very small child,” McCain said, when I asked him Kerrey’s question, “I remember this: a guy pulled up in front of our house and said, ‘Jack, the Japs’—that’s what they called them then—‘the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor.’ I remember [my father] going upstairs and grabbing some things, and from then on, I only saw him a couple of times until 1945. That’s what I remember.”

In 1945, McCain was 9 years old. He told me he remembers the celebrations well, but that these memories are shadowed by memories of his grandfather’s death from a heart attack, four days after the Japanese formally surrendered on the deck of the battleship Missouri; Admiral John S. McCain Jr., who commanded a Fast Carrier Task Force in the Pacific, witnessed the signing.

John McGrath, the POW historian, said that McCain’s generation understood warfare through the prism of World War II. “As teenagers, I think we were shocked when in Korea, which they wouldn’t even call a war, we had a negotiated victory,” he said. “That was the first shock, that America would settle for a negotiated settlement. And you have Vietnam. I remember one statement that has always rung in my head, that we’ll only have armed conflicts, no more wars.”

This part of the article came back to me while having dinner with my father last night and arguing over the presidential candidates.  It occurred to me (afterwards) that  we fundamentally see the country differently and part of the reason why may be because of the answer to that W.H. Auden question.

My father, born only two years after McCain sees the U.S. as the ‘most civilized nation in the world’ and, almost by definition, incapable of doing wrong on the macro level at least.  Yeah, they can screw up your taxes or create some bogus regulations but that’s ‘congress’ or ‘the government’, it’s not AMERICA.  In this regard, I’d say he cleaves pretty close to the Bush doctrine that ‘If Americans do something it can’t be bad because America only does good.’  He also views us involved in an existential conflict with terrorism and, just like in WWII, we can’t screw around worrying about hurting feelings and reading people their rights or we’ll get killed.  It’s ultimately a world in which you are guilty until proved innocent and you have to be just as brutal as your enemies or you will lose.  Assuming his formative experiences were of the immediate post WWII era where we had just clearly defeated some evil dudes, were getting ready for another conflict against an evil enemy but were also experiencing phenomenal growth and optimism.

I, on the other hand, had my formative years in the 1970s and I’m having trouble thinking about an early ‘shared’ event that everyone would remember before the Iranian hostage crisis (when I would have been 11 years old).  I think perhaps, more than a single event, the decade of the ’70s had a feel about it that might substitute for a single event.  I remember hearing quite a lot on the radio/TV about Vietnam and Watergate but I was too young to understand them.  I think perhaps I picked up on the general pessimistic feeling within the country though.  I also remember that it seemed like every TV and movie plot seemed to revolve around rogue or incompetent government agencies.

I think that partially explains why we can look at torture, for example, and see it so differently.  He sees it as either something necessary to guarantee the existence of the country (if positive) or the work of rogue individuals who were doing something unauthorized (if negative) and which should not reflect upon the fundamental ‘rightness’ of our country or cause.  Conversely, I see such activity as undermining the very principals that make the country worth fighting for and wonder what exactly we might ‘win’ by using such tactics (which reminds me of the other trend I remember from the ’70s – the narrative of the idealist trying to change the system and fighting those government agencies).

So (just to change subjects a bit) it may be interesting, when attempting to do a personality profile to consider what that person’s ‘Auden moment’ is in determining how they view and respond to events around them.  I guess I’ve thought about it and done it before, just not explicitly.

Another interesting quote in the article:

I asked McCain whether his experiences of two wars—World War II, which saw America achieve absolute victory over fascism, and Vietnam, which saw, in his view, America dishonor itself—have informed his opinions on the subject of victory in the more ambiguous wars of the 21st century.

“We know that there will never be in our lifetimes a celebration like V-J Day,” McCain said. “I don’t know of any enemy we face, or possible adversary, where there’s a clear-cut victory. In Iraq, we will withdraw with honor, and the troops will come home, and there are other conflicts—in Afghanistan, over time, we’ll grow an army—but there will be no church bells ringing all over America and prayers of thanksgiving in cathedrals.”

Is this because of the nature of modern America?

“It’s the nature of the adversary,” he said.

I find this very interesting because he talks of the ‘adversary’.  Singular.  The insurgents (Sunni, Shia, al-Qaeda) in Iraq are part of the insurgency in Afghanistan (Taliban, narco-traffickers, warlords) , is part of Hamas, is part of Hezbollah, is part of Iran, etc., etc.  This, is one of the reasons that I have heartburn with McCain and think he ultimately doesn’t understand the world today (besides the fact that he doesn’t know how to email or use ‘the google’).  I don’t think he has demonstrated that he understands that the conflicts we’re involved in (hot, cold and lukewarm) involve different actors with different goals and may respond to different sets of carrots and sticks.  Everything seems do merge into one amorphous ‘adversary’ which, in this environment will just guarantee us neverending war.

An open letter to my dear aunt.

I just received the following letter from my aunt who’s one of the famous undecided voters.  I think she asks some great questions that many others would ask.  I was preparing to send her an email response but figured this might be a better place to put up my thoughts and encourage a discussion.  First, her letter:

…the only decision I have made thus far with regard to “my” future as an American, is that I am now open-minded to both sides!  Mr. Obama had (please note the word had) deeply impressed me in the beginning and Mr. McCain was not really a contender in my estimations, but he (Mr. Obama) all by himself has left me in my current state of quandary.  I am extremely dismayed by the “once again” negative campaign attacks both sides have chosen to partake in….ENOUGH WITH THE BULLSHIT!!!!

Please offer me constructive and concrete plans to allow me to chant proudly…”land of the free and the home of the brave”. I still well up with pride, my sweet boy, when those 10 words are sung; and I WILL NOT succumb to anything less.  The one question I still have not heard answered by anyone of caliber is “what else would they have done when our land was attacked..what else could have (or should have) been done to stop the “filth” from pretending to be better and stronger than we are??  And if we had chosen not to defend..what would (or could) have happened? Can Mr. Obama answer that…what would he have decided if he were President for less than a year???? I, as many Americans do (I am sure) cry intensely when a member of our land is defeated by death in this horrible charade called “war”, but could we have done something else?  Let your incumbent share with me “his” views on that… then I will listen… Please remember, my love, that I do not in any way approve of Mr. Bush’s bull-headed and pompous continuations… I just have not been given any “credible” arguments  to the contrary.

I still cannot go the area (twin towers) where we lost sooo much (more than huan life) of our world. I grew up loving and living New York and now, to this day, cannot fully appreciate or accept its full majesty when I visit   (Mr. Shit-head Bin-Ladin took that from me). I cried, worried, and mourned ALL WHO LOST THEIR LIVES that day, because of a psycho path that, you might remember, had once shook hands with our “Democratic Leader MR. WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON.  Should he had taken him down back then??  He knew the threat!  We wouldn’t be where we are or have lost so much if ” he had done his job” (instead of banging (oh, wait..it wasn’t sex) his impressionable intern).

And my response:

My dearest Aunt,

I can’t say what others would have done after 9/11 but I can (and of course will) spell out some of the serious errors that the current administration has made, why I think McCain would act in the same vein in the future and why Obama, while certainly not perfect, represents a much better choice.

  1. If 9/11 and al-Qaeda was, in fact, the opening salvo of a conflict that threatens our very existance, as was, and continues to be argued, than a national mobilization would have been called for.  Not just our military forces, but all Americans could have been encouraged to pull together to help in this struggle.  Americans could have been encouraged to conserve energy, engage in some sort of national service (the military, Peace Corps, etc.) and made to feel like we were all in this together. Instead, the American people were told to go shopping.  I believe this was an intentional plan to seperate the American people from any sort of hardship the ‘War on Terror’ would impose and therefore buy their support.  While both Obama and McCain have encouraged national service, Obama has a plan for national service while everyone at the RNC convention except McCain seemed to regard service (except military) as some sort of punch line.  In short, I think its safe to say that you can expect ‘more of the same’ from McCain on this point.
  2. The invasion of Iraq was a disastrous mistake.  This isn’t hindsight.  Even someone as uninformed as I was quite clear in 2002 that Iraq was not the threat it was being made out to be and that a war there was definitely not in our best interest.  While blowing crap up and kicking ass (with or without taking names) may make us feel better, it doesn’t necessarily get us closer to our goals:  making al-Qaeda less able to attack us, bringing those responsible for 9/11 to justice, and eliminating (or reducing) the underlying incentives for people to try to fly airplanes into our buildings.  Iraq just highlighted something that I believe has become a fatal flaw in current Republican ideology:  the military is the answer to everything.  In this regard, McCain may be slightly better than Bush but his constant sabre rattling (and poor decision making skills) should give one serious pause.   Obama was also clear that Iraq was a mistake and also believes that there is value in attempting other ways of getting what we want from the world.
  3. John McCain and the Republicans don’t understand the world we live in.  For all the talk about pre 9/11 thinking and post 9/11 thinking many (Republicans and Democrats) don’t understand the world around us as well as they think they do.  I am convinced that McCain still sees the world through the lens of Vietnam and is still trying to ‘win’ that war.  Obama doesn’t see the world in those terms and could be the first step in getting us out of the 1960s mindset.
  4. Over most of the past seven years we seem to have gone out of our way to ensure the long term survival of al-Qaeda.  We have allowed Pakistan to play footsie with militants in their North West Frontier Province, giving Islamists a safe haven to regroup.  We have given Islamists (now, more than just al-Qaeda) the opportunity to use our actions as both a powerful recruiting tool (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, unnecessary civilian deaths, etc.) as well as an opportunity to get training against our military for years while we were failing about.
  5. I don’t know of any time in which any U.S. president shook hands with bin Laden.  Certainly, the Clinton administration did not persue him as vigorously as it could have.  I will not defend that administration which, I believe, made some other serious foreign policy errors during their watch.  I will however, remind you of the reaction he got when he did try to attack bin Laden with missile strikes.  We were told that the bin Laden threat was being exaggerated in order to provide cover for the Lewinsky scandal.  It’s not an excuse (for a leader should do what’s right regardless of the fall out) but let’s be clear that he would have received little support or acclaim had he killed bin Laden that day.  And, of course, George Bush knew of the same threat and did nothing as well.
  6. I think both candidates have learned some lesson from 9/11 and will not likely take threats to the U.S. lightly.  That’s no guarantee that we won’t be attacked again.  That is, in fact, an unrealistic hope.  You must come to accept that at some point in the future, despite our best efforts, we will be attacked again and people will die.  We can minimize the chances but not eliminate them.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
  7. From my own personal perspective I can tell you that I think the Bush administration has been the worst for military personnel since I’ve been in (that’s 1986, if you remember).  They have let us down in many ways over the years.  McCain’s recent opposition to the new G.I. Bill is quite enough, thank you, for me to see in how he would treat those who’ve served in uniform, but here’s some more if you’d like it.
  8. We have ignored Afghanistan.  When I left Afghanistan in 2004, it was with a sense of disappointment since I felt that little progress had been made in the ten months I was there.  It was no secret as to why that was.  All the attention and resources were focused on Iraq.  It’s only been recently that we have begun to look at Afghanistan and we still don’t have a coherent strategy there.  Because of the errors of the last four years (which I believe will be maintained by a McCain administration), we could very well end up losing that war as well.  That will mean that we betray the Afghan people a second time and loose to the people who supported the 9/11 attackers.

So, I hope this begins (and believe me, I could keep going on but I’ll spare you) to address some of your questions.  I agree, I would prefer there not be petty bickering between the candidates during the election but, unfortunately, it is what works and it is what people want.  So we’ll have to put up with it.  I do think the Obama camp has been generally more fair and tried to focus more on issues than personal attacks but certainly neither side can claim to be ‘clean’ in this regard.

So, you can vote for Obama or demonstrate publicly that you don’t love me and vote for the other guy (just kidding).

Your favorite nephew.

Credible threats

I saw this story first thing this morning about three guys arrested Sunday who may have been planning some sort of attack on Barrack Obama.  They were arrested with some riles and some drugs and the story is a bit but CNN reported (several times) that law enforcement said there was no credible threat to Obama and that the three were just as likely to be “nothing but a bunch of knuckleheads, meth-heads,”  and that “It’s premature to say that it was a valid threat or that these folks have the ability to carry it out,”

Now, it strikes me as strange that any time a Muslim is involved in a threat, no matter how ridiculous, the federal authorities treat it like a ‘existential’ threat to our civilization and they never, ever admit that maybe, just maybe it wasn’t quite as threatening as first described.  This time however, it seems like the authorities are stumbling over themselves to tone down the rhetoric.

I’m just sayin’, sounds a bit strange to me.

A bad day in Afghanistan

Bad news today that 9 soldiers were killed and more injured in an attack on a base near the Afghan-Pakistan border.  ‘I told you so’ is really getting less and less satisfying after 5 years but this is really another indication that the U.S. hasn’t lost the initiative in its “War on Terror” but that it has never really tried to win it.  We got roped into Iraq based upon our own hubris, wacked out ideology and theology, then let Al-Qaeda decide that would be the focus of all our attention.  We then spent the next four years with the famous ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy only to switch to the glorious, answer to all our problems SURGE. 

So, what happens next?  Exactly what you’d expect of an enemy who decides the rules.  They just moved to an area where we don’t have a preponderance of force.  We’re just seeing the same old ‘whack a mole’ strategy except now it’s on a regional scale instead of a national one.  What’s the administration’s answer?  Let’s go chase the enemy and declare Afghanistan the ‘central front’.  Great, we’ll take troops out of Iraq ship them off to Afghanistan and then we can ship them back to Iraq in a couple of years when that place falls apart without the huge influx of money, men and arms that we’re putting into it.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m a big fan of sending extra support to Afghanistan and have been since we invaded.  The problem is the reason for the recent interest in such a plan.  It’s got everything to do with reacting to what the enemy is doing and is not part of any coordinated grand strategy on our part. 

We should be deciding where (if anywhere) the main focus of our anti-Islamist efforts should be, not the Islamists we’re fighting.

You've got to be kiddding me

I just wanted to check.  This is 2008, right?

Then how the hell do we explain the fact that only yesterday was Nelson Mandela taken off of the U.S. terrorist watch list?

I thought we had thousands of sharp people working in our counter-terrorism/homeland security sector.  Is it possible that no one could figure this out over the past 18 years?