Normative Narratives


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Conflict Watch: Why America Should Support An Independent Kurdistan

Map

It appears Iraq and Syria, dubbed the “twins” by Thomas Friedman, probably cannot be restored to their previously defined borders:

There is much talk right now about America teaming up with Iran to push back the coalition of Sunni militias that has taken over Mosul and other Sunni towns in western Iraq and Syria. For now, I’d say stay out of this fight — not because it’s the best option, but because it’s the least bad.

After all, what is the context in which we’d be intervening? Iraq and Syria are twins: multiethnic and multisectarian societies that have been governed, like other Arab states, from the top-down. First, it was by soft-fisted Ottomans who ruled through local notables in a decentralized fashion, then by iron-fisted British and French colonial powers and later by iron-fisted nationalist kings and dictators.

Today, the Ottomans are gone, the British and French are gone and now many of the kings and dictators are gone. We removed Iraq’s dictator; NATO and tribal rebels removed Libya’s; the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen got rid of theirs; and some people in Syria have tried to topple theirs. Each country is now faced with the challenge of trying to govern itself horizontally by having the different sects, parties and tribes agree on social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens who rotate power.

In Iraq, the Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — who had the best chance, the most oil money and the most help from the U.S. in writing a social contract for how to govern Iraq horizontally — chose instead, from the moment the Americans left, to empower Iraqi Shiites and disempower Iraqi Sunnis. It’s no surprise that Iraqi Sunnis decided to grab their own sectarian chunk of the country.

So today, it seems, a unified Iraq and a unified Syria can no longer be governed vertically or horizontally. The leaders no longer have the power to extend their iron fists to every border, and the people no longer have the trust to extend their hands to one another. It would appear that the only way they can remain united is if an international force comes in, evicts the dictators, uproots the extremists and builds consensual politics from the ground up — a generational project for which there are no volunteers.

Pluralism came to Europe only after many centuries of one side or another in religious wars thinking it could have it all, and after much ethnic cleansing created more homogeneous nations. Europe also went through the Enlightenment and the Reformation. Arab Muslims need to go on the same journey. It will happen when they want to or when they have exhausted all other options. Meanwhile, let’s strengthen the islands of decency — Tunisia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Kurdistan — and strengthen our own democracy to insulate ourselves as best we can.

The U.S. does not support an independent Kurdistan, instead favoring Iraqi reunification. I believe this position stems from perceived  “sunk costs”; the U.S. invested so much into nation building in Iraq, supporting Kurdish independence would mean admitting the Iraq war was a failure (something most American’s have already done, but politicians are still reluctant to do). Fighting for a unified Iraq at this point seems like a lost cause, but the obvious alternative, supporting Kurdistan, could be used as political ammo in the 2014 midterm elections. In sum, while Kurdish independence may be the best alternative for those committed to democracy and pluralism in the Middle-East, it may not be best for American politicians, and that alone could hold back any independence movement for the time being.

Both Israel and Turkey have voiced support for Kurdish autonomy (although they have backed away from those statements in the following days), and it is not difficult to see why. The Kurd’s have historically promoted many values consistent with “modern” societies; democracy, human rights, inclusion, gender equality, etc.

Equally as telling are Kurdistan’s detractor’s, notably Egypt’s President Sisi. Sisi publicly stated on Sunday that Kurdish independence would be “catastrophic”, empowering ISIS militants. However, he offers no actual evidence to support his claim. Kurdistan, for the reasons listed above, represents a threat to both the Islamic State’s (formerly ISIS / ISIL) and Sisi’s brands of authoritarianism.

Kurdistan would be another reliable ally in the Middle East alongside Israel. The success of Kurdistan would show that a Muslim, Middle Eastern, pluralistic democratic state can exist, and revitalize democratic movements in the region. Turkey is too “European”, Tunisia is small (and not landlocked), Egypt has slid back into authoritarianism, and Syria and Iraq coming apart at the seams; the legacy of the “Arab Spring” revolutions may ultimately rest in the in the success or failure of Kurdistan.

And while the timing for Kurdish autonomy may not be right for American politicians, it is right for the Kurds, and that is ultimately of more importance. The Kurds have recently gained control of the Kurikut oil field, adding financial viability to a future Kurdistan. When determining which regimes to support, Thomas Friedman talked about “islands of decency” in the Middle East, a call I echoed in a recent blog. The Kurd’s are planning a referendum for independence “within a matter of months”; the U.S. and other democratic powers must be ready to stand by our Kurdish partners with this referendum takes place.

 


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Conflict Watch: How “Starve-the-Beast” Failed The Most Vulnerable at Home and Abroad

In consecutive Op-Ed articles, NYT writer Thomas Friedman considers how unscrupulous leaders and U.S. foreign policy have failed those dedicated to pluralism and democracy in the Middle East:

What to do With the Twins?:

Iraq and Syria are twins: multiethnic and multisectarian societies that have been governed, like other Arab states, from the top-down. First, it was by soft-fisted Ottomans who ruled through local notables in a decentralized fashion, then by iron-fisted British and French colonial powers and later by iron-fisted nationalist kings and dictators.

Today, the Ottomans are gone, the British and French are gone and now many of the kings and dictators are gone. We removed Iraq’s dictator; NATO and tribal rebels removed Libya’s; the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen got rid of theirs; and some people in Syria have tried to topple theirs. Each country is now faced with the challenge of trying to govern itself horizontally by having the different sects, parties and tribes agree on social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens who rotate power.

In Iraq, the Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — who had the best chance, the most oil money and the most help from the U.S. in writing a social contract for how to govern Iraq horizontally — chose instead, from the moment the Americans left, to empower Iraqi Shiites and disempower Iraqi Sunnis. It’s no surprise that Iraqi Sunnis decided to grab their own sectarian chunk of the country.

So today, it seems, a unified Iraq and a unified Syria can no longer be governed vertically or horizontally. The leaders no longer have the power to extend their iron fists to every border, and the people no longer have the trust to extend their hands to one another. It would appear that the only way they can remain united is if an international force comes in, evicts the dictators, uproots the extremists and builds consensual politics from the ground up — a generational project for which there are no volunteers.

I could say that before President Obama drops even an empty Coke can from a U.S. fighter jet on the Sunni militias in Iraq we need to insist that Maliki resign and a national unity cabinet be created that is made up of inclusive Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders. I could say that that is the necessary condition for reunification of Iraq. And I could say that it is absolutely not in our interest or the world’s to see Iraq break apart and one segment be ruled by murderous Sunni militias.

ISIS / SISI:

ISIS and Sisi, argues Perlov, a researcher on Middle East social networks at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, are just flip sides of the same coin: one elevates “god” as the arbiter of all political life and the other “the national state.”

Both have failed and will continue to fail — and require coercion to stay in power — because they cannot deliver for young Arabs and Muslims what they need most: the education, freedom and jobs to realize their full potential and the ability to participate as equal citizens in their political life.

We are going to have to wait for a new generation that “puts society in the center,” argues Perlov, a new Arab/Muslim generation that asks not “how can we serve god or how can we serve the state but how can they serve us.”

Perlov argues that these governing models — hyper-Islamism (ISIS) driven by a war against “takfiris,” or apostates, which is how Sunni Muslim extremists refer to Shiite Muslims; and hyper-nationalism (SISI) driven by a war against Islamist “terrorists,” which is what the Egyptian state calls the Muslim Brotherhood — need to be exhausted to make room for a third option built on pluralism in society, religion and thought.

The Arab world needs to finally puncture the twin myths of the military state (SISI) or the Islamic state (ISIS) that will bring prosperity, stability and dignity. Only when the general populations “finally admit that they are both failed and unworkable models,” argues Perlov, might there be “a chance to see this region move to the 21st century.”

“Both the secular authoritarian model — most recently represented by Sisi — and the radical religious model — represented now by ISIS — have failed,” adds Marwan Muasher, the former foreign minister of Jordan and author of “The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism.” “They did because they have not addressed peoples’ real needs: improving the quality of their life, both in economic and development terms, and also in feeling they are part of the decision-making process.  Both models have been exclusionist, presenting themselves as the holders of absolute truth and of the solution to all society’s problems.”

We tend to make every story about us. But this is not all about us. To be sure, we’ve done plenty of ignorant things in Iraq and Egypt. But we also helped open their doors to a different future, which their leaders have slammed shut for now. Going forward, where we see people truly committed to pluralism, we should help support them. And where we see islands of decency threatened, we should help protect them. But this is primarily about them, about their need to learn to live together without an iron fist from the top, and it will happen only when and if they want it to happen.

Essentially, the twin cases of Iraq and Syria have been a crash course in what not to do. The U.S. invaded Iraq without an established partner ready and willing to defend a pluralistic democratic society. We ended up spending trillions of dollars, found no “weapons of mass destruction”, and, given recent developments in the region, have left Iraq in worse shape than under Saddam (and by no means do I believe Saddam was a viable long term solution either, stick with me here).

In Syria, Iraq’s twin state, essentially the exact opposite situation played out. A war weary American public held the belief it was best to not intervene militarily in Syria in the early stages of the uprising. But Syria was not Iraq; there was an organic, grass roots, civil society movement based on modern pluralistic democratic governance ready to fill the power void. Assad was and continues to butcher his own people openly and indiscriminately, and the pluralistic movement based on soft power has ceded ground to vicious extremist groups and government bombardment. This story has many parallels to what has transpired in Egypt over the past few years.

We must assist legitimate, pluralistic, democratic movements in the developing world, as they are the key to sustainable human development. Going to war without such an ally is a fools errand, as The Iraq War has shown. Abandoning such an ally (as we have done in Egypt and Syria) results in the slaughter of innocents, reverses in economic development and human rights, and presents opportunities for the rise of extremism / authoritarianism. When such an ally presents itself, we must be ready to assist them, before it is too late and that ally is marginalized / defeated.

US Domestic Fiscal Policy:

The Iraq War highlights the greater folly of “starve-the-beast” economic policy. The central tenet of starve-the-beast is that government is just that, a beast, whose role must be minimalized. Notably, President W. Bush went to war in Iraq and gave large tax cuts during his presidency–he starved the beast. The U.S. government was therefore in a poor position to weather the Great Recession, creating somewhat artificial budget debates (even though for the U.S. Federal government, borrowing money was and remains little more expensive that spending from surplus).

Had Bush not given his tax breaks, and the U.S. was determining policy from the prospect of a huge federal surplus, one could argue that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would have been substantially larger (and therefore substantially more effective). President Obama deserves some of the blame for the inadequacies of the ARRA; he was a new president, very idealistic, and tried to make everyone in Washington happy instead of getting the best deal for the American people. Perhaps he wrongfully believed he could go back for more stimulus money later if needed–if so, this was a costly miscalculation. Nevertheless, the fiscal context against which the ARRA was drafted naturally played a role in its composition.

As the economic recovery drudges on for the vast majority of Americans (low growth, high unemployment, stagnant wages), one cannot help but wonder how different things may have been had the U.S. Federal government instead pursued somewhat counter-cyclical fiscal policies.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Getting the U.S. tied up in a decade of war sapped resources and public will to defend pluralism, human rights, and democracy abroad (understandably so; when they’re threatening to cancel your food stamps / unemployment insurance / pension, who cares whats going on in Syria?).

The U.S. fought a war we had no business fighting in Iraq, leaving ourselves unwilling to assist legitimate democratic movements in Egypt and Syria. This is the major consequence of starve the beast philosophy–when we waist money on things we don’t need now, we cannot afford the things we do need later (at least without relying on deficit spending). Domestically, unneeded tax cuts meant there was not enough stimulus money to jump-start the U.S. economy. Abroad, the will to intervene in situations where we should have intervened did not exist because of an unnecessary war.

Of all the costs of the Iraq War, our inability to assist our allies abroad in their time of need may indeed turn out to be our greatest failure.

It is up to civil societies to determine for themselves when to cast off the shackles of authoritarianism and demand modern and pluralistic democratic governance. It is the role of the U.S. and our allies to defend and nurture those movements whenever they present themselves.

(Earlier this week President Obama called for $500 million to train and assist the moderate Syrian opposition; file that one under too little too late category.)

The U.S. government is not a beast, it is a force for progress and socioeconomic justice both at home and abroad, and the leader of the “international community”. Have their been policy failures, both home and abroad, in recent history? Of course. This is no reason to dismiss the many positive outcomes stemming from American domestic and foreign policies.

Starving the beast has real costs for both America and the world’s most vulnerable people; it is mind boggling that it has been the rallying cry of a major American political party for decades.


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Conflict Watch: The End of Team America World Police (Part 4?)

The first time in a while I have been able to talk about America scaling back it’s direct military presence in remote areas of the World. Obama hinted at the limits of American intervention at his speech at the UNGA last month. However, burying our heads in the sand and pretended threats don’t exist is not an option either. It seems the U.S. has a plan which allows it to remain a global security presence without relying on American “boots on the ground”.

Original Article:

Here on the Kansas plains, thousands of soldiers once bound for Iraq or Afghanistan are now gearing up for missions in Africa as part of a new Pentagon strategy to train and advise indigenous forces to tackle emerging terrorist threats and other security risks so that American forces do not have to.

“Our goal is to help Africans solve African problems, without having a big American presence,” said Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee Magee, a West Point graduate and third-generation Army officer whose battalion has sent troops to Burundi, Niger and South Africa in the past several months, and whose unit will deploy to Djibouti in December.

“Africa is one of the places,” President Obama said at a news conference three days after the commando raids, “that you’re seeing some of these [terrorist] groups gather. And we’re going to have to continue to go after them.”

But with the United States military out of Iraq and pulling out of Afghanistan, the Army is looking for new missions around the world. “As we reduce the rotational requirement to combat areas, we can use these forces to great effect in Africa,” Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the head of the Africa Command, told Congress this year.

Missions that were once performed largely by Special Operations Forces, including the Army’s Green Berets, are now falling to regular infantry troops like members of the Second Armored Brigade Combat Team here at Fort Riley, nicknamed the Dagger Brigade.

“We’re never going to teach them anything about Boko Haram they don’t already know, but we can help them develop their capacity as a military,” said Maj. Bret Hamilton, 38, an Iraq and Afghan war veteran who led the team in Niger.

Before deploying, the troops in Kansas receive six days of cultural training and instruction from Africa-born graduate students at nearby Kansas State University. “The soldiers trained are able to ask about things not in their books,” said Daryl Youngman, an associate professor at the university who oversees the instruction.

Some Africa specialists say that if the goal is to build a cadre of regional specialists, this training seems lacking. “There needs to be a concentrated effort for these forces to have sustained regional language training and expertise,” said Lesley Anne Warner, an Africa analyst with CNA’s Center for Strategic Studies in Alexandria, Va., who has studied the regional brigade concept. “Not having such training defeats part of the rationale for having regionally aligned forces.”

For the South Africans, it was a chance to learn tactics and techniques that American troops refined in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the Americans, it offered an opportunity to gain new insights on African counterinsurgency.

“When the tire meets the tar, that’s when you actually learn the most lessons,” Brig. Gen. Lawrence Reginald Smith, the South Africa force commander there, said in a telephone interview. “What we bring to the table is knowledge of the indigenous people and the rebels who come from those people, including how they act.”

Obama, in referring to “places these groups go”, was talking about how terrorist groups tend to fill the governance-void, buying goodwill through essential services in exchange for a base of operations. Africa certainly has governance and public service delivery issues, making it an ideal place for extremists groups to try to setup shop.

Initially, this program will not be a scaling back of American military expenditure, but rather a shift from fighting to training. In the long run it will allow America to allocate less resources into military programs without compromising our national security and/or that of our allies.  While there may still technically be “boots on the ground”, it is much more desirable to have Americans training on ally grounds then fighting in enemy territory. 

It would be nice if American troops had language and cultural sensitivity training beyond the 6 days currently being allocated to troop preparation, and perhaps in time more resources will be invested into this aspect. However, language training is a long term task, and generally is outside the pay-grade of the average American soldier. With English as a primary language globally, it makes more sense to have African’s learn English and act as translators then expecting our troops to learn a new language (and expect them not to demand greater compensation for such training). The economic benefit of our troops knowing African languages is virtually non-existent; the economic benefit of teaching African’s English (which many will already know) goes beyond just the training of soldiers and can have a meaningful impact on their earning potential for their whole lives.

This is certainly a long term project, but one which alongside preventative peace-building projects I believe will lead to a more secure Africa. With peace being a prerequisite to sustainable human development, I believe this is a worthwhile project for America to pursue, in both our own and African economic / security terms. It is also a mutually beneficial relationship; America brings in our military expertise and advanced weaponry, while the Africans train us on the local realities we would otherwise not know about.  


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Conflict Watch: Drone Week(s), It’s a Bad Week to be a Terrorist

I should probably say “drone month” or “drone year / decade”, but I really wanted to make a play on Shark Week so there it is.

Comic relief aside, news of drone strikes in the Middle East and Central Asia has proliferated recently:

Pakistan:

At least six militants were killed and four others injured after the latest American drone strike in Pakistan’s restive tribal belt on Sunday, Pakistani intelligence officials and militant commanders said.

An intelligence official in the area, who was authorized to speak only on the condition of anonymity, said preliminary reports indicated that a senior commander with a Pakistani Taliban faction led by Gul Bahadur, which has links with Al Qaeda, had been killed in the attack.

There have been 15 C.I.A.-led drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, compared with 47 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which monitors the strikes. Up to 124 people have been killed, the group said, including up to 4 civilians.

Pakistani officials say the attacks violate their country’s sovereignty, result in civilian deaths and aid in the recruitment of fresh militants. American officials privately dispute those claims, saying the civilian death toll has dropped as strikes have grown more accurate in recent years.

Yemen:

Missile-armed drone aircraft launched the fifth attack on suspected al-Qaeda militants in Yemen within 72 hours, as the U.S. stepped up raids after closing its embassy and warning Americans to leave the country.

The drone killed three people in a vehicle in Ghail Bawazeer region, according to the al-Sahwa news website of the opposition Islamist Islah party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 22 suspected militants have been killed since Aug. 6, according to a tally from reports on the website.

The strikes come as the U.S., Britain and other Western countries closed their missions in Yemen and told citizens to leave, while Yemeni authorities said on Aug. 7 they had foiled an al-Qaeda plot to seize port facilities. The Obama administration is keeping 19 embassies and consulates closed because “a threat still remains” from al-Qaeda affiliates, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.

Saeed Obaid al-Jemhi, an expert on al-Qaeda and Islamist movements and author of a book on the Yemeni group, said the intensified campaign will be counterproductive.

“The Americans feel these strikes will generate a positive impact and that is true, but there is a huge negative impact on Yemen,” he said. “This will generate more sympathizers with al-Qaeda and will also weaken the popularity of the Yemen’s President Hadi.”

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported a sharp increase in U.S. operations in Yemen in 2012, with at least 32 confirmed strikes, double the number carried out in 2011. The U.S. intends to end drone attacks in Pakistan soon, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Aug. 1.

Egypt:

An Israeli drone strike inside Egypt killed five suspected Islamic militants and destroyed a rocket launcher Friday, two senior Egyptian security officials said, marking a rare Israeli operation carried out in its Arab neighbor’s territory.

The strike, coming after a warning from Egypt caused Israel to briefly close an airport Thursday, potentially signals a significant new level of cooperation between the two former foes over security matters in the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula after a military coup ousted Egypt’s president. Egypt long has maintained that it wouldn’t allow other countries to use its territories as hotbed to launch attacks against other countries.

The drone strike comes after Israel briefly prevented landings at an airport in the Red Sea resort of Eilat on Thursday. While Israeli officials would only say the closure came out of unspecified security concerns, an Egyptian security official told the AP that officials warned Israel about the possibility of rocket strikes. The official said Egyptian authorities received intelligence suggesting terrorist groups planned to fire missiles Friday at Israel, as well as at locations in northern Sinai and the Suez Canal.

Residents heard a large explosion Friday in el-Agra, an area in the northern region of the Sinai close to Egypt’s border with Israel. The officials said the Israeli attack was in cooperation with Egyptian authorities.

While Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979, the country has long been suspicious of the Jewish state’s intentions while annually celebrating its own military exploits against Israel in the Sinai. Allowing an Israeli drone strike inside its own territory represents military cooperation otherwise never seen before.

Proliferation of drone strikes has occurred in line with D.I.M.E. (Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military, Economic) foreign policy, and has been carried out in a more transparent way (as evidenced by news reports on drone strikes).  For a reminder, or the sake of new readers, I had this to say about the place of drone strikes within the larger D.I.M.E. framework:

We must realize that everyday there are people who try to hurt Americans Western interests–Jihad does not take a vacation. The fact that the Boston Marathon attack was the first major act of terrorism on American soil since 9/11 is not a result of a diminished threat, but rather highlights the efficacy of American intelligence efforts.

To the extent that the Obama administration is embracing a a shift to D.I.M.E. (diplomatic, intelligence, military, economic) foreign policy, winding down traditional military programs requires putting more resources in diplomacy, economic aid, and intelligence gathering. As I said, far from being hypocritical, the Obama administration is being consistent; when the ultimate goal is security for American’s (and the world), putting people directly in the line of fire is counter-productive unless it is truly a last-case scenario.  

Obama did not say he would stop drone strikes, but that he would make the process more transparent. He did not say he would stop fighting terrorism, but that the way that terrorism is going to be fought is changing.

Are Drone strikes a necessary evil in today’s world? Considering the high cost of traditional warfare (both in money and in lives), and the inability to keep terrorist leaders in jail due to prison-breaks, perhaps targeted, intelligence-backed drone strikes truly are the most effective way of moving forward with “the War on Terror”. Terrorists due not respect human rights and due process, why should they be granted such privileges?

The “drone-strikes-fuels-Jihad” argument seems to hold water. Are drone strikes really counter-productive in terms of increasing the appeal of / helping recruiting efforts for extremist groups? Testimony from the sentencing portion of the Bradley Manning case sheds light on this claim:

A prosecution witness in the sentencing phase of the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning told a military judge on Thursday that Al Qaeda could have used WikiLeaks disclosures, including classified United States government materials provided by Private Manning, to encourage attacks in the West, in testimony meant to show the harm done by his actions.

The witness, Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein, an adviser to the Pentagon’s Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism, said that WikiLeaks materials showing that the United States had killed civilians, for instance, could help Al Qaeda.

“Perception is important because it provides a good environment for recruitment, for fund-raising and for support for Al Qaeda’s wider audience and objectives,” he said.

The article went on to say that had it not been for Wiki-leaks, Al Qaeda would have found other propaganda to help recruitment efforts / fuel anti-American sentiment (apologies, I cannot seem to find that version of the article).

I am all for preventative peace-building, tackling the root causes of terrorism before they take hold. But taking the moral high-ground [not using drones] in areas where terrorism already has deep roots would be–in my opinion–much more counter-productive to the global war on terror.  

Drone strikes have become more transparent (in their disclosure), and allegedly more targeted to minimize collateral damage and civilian deaths. When assessing national security programs, it is helpful to think of them in terms of opportunity cost–what is the cost of the next best alternative / inaction. If the next best alternative is traditional warfare, then we already know the costs are too high and results unsustainable. The cost of inaction is high too; pulling out of the war on terror may seem like an attractive short term solution. But allowing terrorism to spread with relative impunity will only make future anti-terrorism efforts all the more costly and complex.

Am I an “Obama foreign policy apologist”? Perhaps, however I see the use of drones as the lesser of many evils. A world in which drone strikes and terrorism (and warfare and human rights violations in general) do not exist is a beautiful normative vision, but is unfortunately not a reality today.

 


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Conflict Watch: Prison Breaks, Guantanamo, and the War on Terror

Original article:

Interpol issued a global security alert on Saturday, citing prison breaks across nine nations in the past month, including some in which Al Qaeda is suspected of playing a role, and asked for help to determine whether the operations “are coordinated or linked.”

The international police organization requested, in a statement, that its 190 member nations “closely follow and swiftly process any information linked to these events and the escaped prisoners.” It also cited the anniversaries of notable terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, and a similar security alert issued by the State Department on Friday. It said that it would be “prioritizing all information and intelligence in relation to the breakouts or terrorist plots.”

Late last month Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate carried out what were described as carefully synchronized operations at two prisons, in Abu Ghraib and Taji. The group used mortars to pin down Iraqi forces, employed suicide bombers to punch holes in their defenses and then sent an assault force to free the inmates, Western experts said at the time.

A few days later, more than 1,000 prisoners escaped under murky circumstances at a prison near Benghazi, Libya.

Shortly after that, as many as 150 fighters armed with guns and grenade launchers blew holes in the perimeter wall of a century-old prison at Dera Ismail Khan, just outside Pakistan’s tribal belt, the Pakistani police said.

It is certainly concerning that The State Department and Interpol have both issued broad statements indicating a rising threat of a terrorist attack in the near future:

“The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on its “This Week” program on Sunday.

The State Department, and some American allies, will be shutting down embassies and consulates in the following countries:

“Britain said it would close its embassy in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramadan and into Eid,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement, referring to the Muslim holy month which ends on Wednesday.”

On Thursday, the State Department said U.S. embassies that would normally be open on Sunday – chiefly those in the Muslim world – would be closed that day because of security concerns, adding that they might be shut for a longer period.

The embassies in the following countries will be closed: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The consulates in Arbil, Iraq; Dhahran and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates will also be shut.

The need to close embassies and consulates is a moral victory for terrorists. Diplomacy, communication, cooperation and resulting social capital needed for meaningful international relations are all compromised when regular operations at these facilities cease. However, a governments primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of foreign service personnel; after the deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi in 2012, and amidst accusations that the U.S. government did not to enough to prevent the attack (whether founded in fact or not), the Obama administration is rightfully unwilling to take any chances going forward.

Resumption of normal diplomatic relationships should be a top concern, but one that must be balanced with adequate security measures. Recent congressional action highlights the bipartisan support and overall importance of these goals:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a proposal Thursday that aims to bolster security at U.S. embassies and diplomatic posts around the world in the aftermath of the attacks on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, last year.

Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said the proposal, which passed on a voice vote, is a “very meaningful step in assuring the security of missions abroad and the safety of our foreign service personal.”

 
On a related note, the multitude of prison breakouts in terrorist hot-beds is creating even more difficulty in the ongoing attempt to shut down Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp:
 
 
The vulnerability of prisons has been shown in the past ten days with a spate of mass breakouts that have freed nearly 1,700 prisoners in three countries. Analysts said that the four jailbreaks, in Iraq, Pakistan and Libya, could complicate the US Government’s plans to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay
 
 
There has been outrage over recent evidence that the per-prisoner cost at Gitmo may be as high as $2.7 million a year, all things considered. This is on-top of ongoing popular dissent over violations of prisoners rights and due process of law.
 
 
$2.7 million is indisputably a lot of money for a single prisoner/ However, we have to look at in context of the resources we put into arresting these “most wanted” criminals in the first place. Disruption of normal economic activity due to terrorism costs the global economy billions of dollars a year–I will not attempt to cite an estimate because of issues with defining “terrorism” and how open to interpretation the “cost of terrorism” can be. The War on Terror has cost the U.S. government trillions of dollars.
 
 
It is not acceptable to pour all of these resources into capturing criminals only to have them escape from detention. Breaking out high level terrorist officials bolsters the strategic capability of terrorist organizations to plan future terrorist attacks / jail breaks–the effects of a well planned jail break can be truly catastrophic.
 
 
With regards to rights violations and due process of the law, I think as a society we can be pragmatic enough to realize this is a nonsensical argument. The criminals who end up in Gitmo, or places like Gitmo, are generally human rights violators and murderers–they have no respect for human rights or the due process of the law.
 
 
Do you want to know what act surely is a violation of due process of the law and will most likely lead to future human rights violations? Breaking a terrorist leader out of prison. By taking the moral high ground, Western interests would be putting themselves at a systematic and strategic disadvantage in the fight against terrorism that they can ill afford. When considering Gitmo’s future, we have to factor in what the alternatives are.
 
 
Guantanamo Bay is far from perfect or efficient, it is commonly referred to as a “stain” on America’s human rights records. However, when considering the alternatives, it is undoubtedly the lesser of many evils. 
 
—-
 
Update: I did not want to speculate, but there is now official confirmation that intelligence gathering programs have helped expose this most recent threat:
 

Chambliss said one of the surveillance programs revealed by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden had helped gather intelligence about this threat.

Those programs “allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter,” he said. “If we did not have these programs then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys.”

 

 


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Transparency Report: TEOTAWP, Cyber-Terrorism, Civil Liberties and Invasion of Privacy

For clarity sake, TEOTAWP stands for The End of Team America World Police, a recurring theme here at NN.

Two weeks ago, President Obama addressed the nation to signal a shift away from President Bush’s “War on Terror” towards more sustainable foreign policy.

Yesterday, information was leaked about the U.S. government using “dragnet” tactics to access American’s personal telephone and internet information. There has understandably been outrage about this apparent infringement on civil rights / liberties. The purpose of this blog post is not to address this legitimate concern, but rather to explain why data-mining is perfectly consistent (and arguably a logical conclusion) of the Obama administrations stance on national security.

A recap of what Obama said, through the NN lens, can be read here:

‘Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.’

Mr. Obama rejected the notion of an expansive war on terrorism and instead articulated a narrower understanding of the mission for the United States. ‘Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,’ he said.

‘Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror,’ Mr. Obama added. ‘We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.’”

“As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion,” Mr. Obama said. “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.”

“The changes reflect a conclusion by the White House that the core of Al Qaeda has been decimated by years of strikes and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But in the speech, the president said that the threat had evolved in a complicated mosaic of dangers from affiliated groups and homegrown terrorists, like the bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon.”

“Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, issued 10 questions to the president in reaction to previews of his speech. “Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat? Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

I, like President Obama, addressed the issue from a theoretical/normative perspective; over the medium to long run more cooperation and building stronger, more resilient geopolitical relationships will allow the U.S. to divert some resources from the DoD to the DoS, an element of “D.I.M.E” diplomacy.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expanded on Obama’s vision recently, in a more practical short-term way:

“Over all, he said, the United States will keep its “decisive military edge,” an oblique but distinct reference to American military superiority. China has announced an 11.2 percent increase in military spending this year, part of its rapid military modernization.

He stressed that new technologies would entail spending fewer resources in a smarter way…”

As Senator Boehner’s questions highlight, simply ignoring terrorism and the growing threat of cyber-terrorism will not make these issues go away. They demand a response that is more sustainable financially and more stomach-able morally. Obama did not say he would stop drone strikes, but that he would make the process more transparent. He did not say he would stop fighting terrorism, but that the way that terrorism is going to be fought is changing.

Instead of sending our young men and women to remote locations to fight unsustainable wars which tarnish America’s image and fuel anti-American sentiments, the Administration will use a fraction of those resources to protect homeland security. Obama’s statement that the “threat had evolved in a complicated mosaic of dangers from affiliated groups and homegrown terrorists, like the bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon.”, alludes to a more covert approach in combating terrorism and protecting America’s national security interests.

We must realize that everyday there are people who try to hurt Americans–Jihad does not take a vacation. The fact that the Boston Marathon attack was the first major act of terrorism on American soil since 9/11 is not a result of a diminished threat, but rather highlights the efficacy of American intelligence efforts.

To the extent that the Obama administration is embracing a a shift to D.I.M.E. (diplomatic, intelligence, military, economic) foreign policy, winding down traditional military programs requires putting more resources in diplomacy, economic aid, and intelligence gathering. As I said, far from being hypocritical, the Obama administration is being consistent; when the ultimate goal is security for American’s (and the world), putting people directly in the line of fire is counter-productive unless it is truly a last-case scenario.  

If gathering personal communications data is what it takes to unlock resources needed for important domestic programs, brings home the troops, while continuing our efforts to undermine anti-American forces at home and abroad, then we must take a practical view of the matter. Particularly in light of the cyber-security threat, monitoring internet actions seems like a logical counterweight.

There is certainly a debate to be had about protecting our civil liberties in modern times, but the “slippery-slope” argument is akin to conspiracy theory. Just because the Federal government has access to personal information does not mean it will be used for nefarious purposes. In fact, its is exactly because it is the U.S. government that we should not have these fears; as cynical as people are about the U.S. government, it is the global model for transparency, accountability, and protection of human rights (including civil rights).

For example, the U.S. government has nuclear weapons in order to maintain peace and stability. North Korea and Iran, on the other hand, are trying to develop nuclear capabilities for destabilizing purposes. That is why North Korean and Iranian nuclear capabilities, while negligible compared to American capabilities, pose a much more direct threat and have drawn a consensus response (global sanctions). If this seems like a double standard, it’s because it is. America, and other nations that have proven they are accountable and responsible, have earned the right to pursue certain questionable actions in the name of the “greater good”. The same claim, by a government that is unaccountable and systematically violates human rights, does not hold the same merit.

Nothing in this world is black-and-white. The economist in me tends to approach complex issues in cost-benefit framework. It seems to me that the benefits of collecting personal information are tangible, while the costs amount to little more than unfounded fear of “big brother”. Conspiracy theories may be a fun distraction on a rainy afternoon for some, but they have little place in practical political and foreign policy debates.

The fact that the bipartisan support exists on this issue should tell us something about its importance:

“Congressional leaders from both parties stood by a program that they had effectively sanctioned through the passage of counter-terrorism laws over the years. Senators Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, the chairwoman and vice chairman of the intelligence committee, released a joint statement defending the surveillance.

“The threat from terrorism remains very real and these lawful intelligence activities must continue, with the careful oversight of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government,” they wrote.”


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The (Real Beginning of the) End of Team America World Police Part 3(? 4? 5?, I’ve Lost Count…)

I started my narrative on this topic with a two-part political and economic analysis of current U.S. Defense Policy. I then wrote a piece on the true cost of the war on terror, and more recently a piece on how Europe’s shrinking military expenditure is hurting it’s credibility as a meaningful security partner to the United States. Current U.S. military policy has long been an issue affecting America’s fiscal space, constraining resources for social programs which compromise our future growth prospects and social mobility, thereby perpetuating rising inequality in America. At the heart of the matter is the uneven proportion of Global Security expenditure that America pays. Today, President Obama signaled he is of similar mind on the subject.

“Taken together, the president’s words and deeds added up to an effort to move the country away from the perpetual war on terrorism envisioned by his predecessor, George W. Bush, toward a more limited campaign against particular groups that would eventually be curtailed even if the threat of terrorism could never be eliminated.

‘Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.’

Mr. Obama rejected the notion of an expansive war on terrorism and instead articulated a narrower understanding of the mission for the United States. ‘Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,’ he said.

‘Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror,’ Mr. Obama added. ‘We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.’”

“As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion,” Mr. Obama said. “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.”

“The changes reflect a conclusion by the White House that the core of Al Qaeda has been decimated by years of strikes and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But in the speech, the president said that the threat had evolved in a complicated mosaic of dangers from affiliated groups and homegrown terrorists, like the bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon.”

As is to be expected, Republicans were critical of Obama’s realistic, transparent, straightforward and even-handed speech:

“Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, issued 10 questions to the president in reaction to previews of his speech. “Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat? Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, was sharper in reaction. ‘The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,’ he said. ‘Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.'”

First to address Senator Chambliss, are you sir a moron? how could the winding down of the war on terror have “no clear operational benefit”? Does making a military mission less costly both in dollar terms and American lives have no effect on the operational benefit of The War on Terror? Not to mention the impact on public opinion of the U.S. abroad (which is directly related to terrorism). Or do you not consider the costs of an operation unless the money is going to those lazy “takers”? (i.e. any social program the G.O.P. will fight tooth and nail). If anything, we should have much sooner reconsidered the operational benefit of the War on Terror in the first place (which has been marginal at best, as highlighted by recent sectarian violence in Iraq).

Speaker Boehner’s questions are more substantive; I have actually grown to like Senator Boehner, I almost pity him for the impossible job he has of trying to legitimize the current cluster-fuck of ridiculous soundbites and indefensible policy advocacy that has come to define the G.O.P. I’m sure Mr. Boehner did not imagine his constituents would be so unrealistic and uncompromising that his time as House Speaker would be marked as a period of historically low congressional approval ratings.

But back to Congressman Boehner’s Questions. Questions 1 and 2 (“Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat?”) were already addressed by President Obama in his speech:

“But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.”  

Obviously Al-Qaeda would be considered a “network that poses a direct danger to us”, probably the primary of such networks. One has to question whether John was not sleeping through the President’s speech with questions like those. And to expect a President to openly discuss his defense strategies, probably our most important national security secret, is not exactly proposing a reasonable question.

President Obama also alluded to the answer to Speaker Boehner’s 3rd question in that very same breath. Mr. Boehner asked, “Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

The answer to that is, of course not. The President stated he planned to “make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold”, but what exactly does that mean? It could only mean putting more resources into preventative peace-building and diplomacy efforts, as I have advocated for here at NN.

Conflict resolution theory tells us that the majority of todays armed conflicts are “Protracted Social Conflicts”. This means that their roots are in human rights violations, which almost always involve inadequate service delivery and security being provided by a country’s government. In situations like this, conflict is likely to break out. When conflicts break out, there is no military to keep terrorist activities at bay (assuming the regime in power is not allied with extremist groups to begin with).

Terrorist groups seize onto this absence of government human rights “duty bearers” and begin to provide services and security themselves. People on the ground, having no other option other than living in extreme poverty and extreme discomfort, welcome these terrorists in with open arms. Terrorists are able to buy goodwill, gain footholds for their operations, and attract a new generation of young Jihadists.

The only way the President can prevent new terrorist groups from forming is to scale up the capacity of strong, democratic governments in developing countries around the world (or factions within countries that do not have democratic governments). If America undertakes this much more noble pursuit, we can build sustainable relationships that foster greater economic and security alliances, rather than destroying nations and then attempting to build them back up from scratch, which is costly in money, time, and lives.

We must remember that building these relationships is not easy. Transitions to democracy and a higher standard of living take time, and the process is not always linear. Vested interests will never give up easily, as they have so much to lose as society reaps the benefits of modernization, and more resources are invested into basic infrastructure as well as physical and human capital.

Though we face an uphill battle, we must never falter in our fight to promote peace, security, and mutually beneficial and environmentally sustainable economic relationships. Only through cooperation and coordination can the global community confront and overcome the issues we collectively face in the 21st century and beyond.

And we must always remember we are not alone in this fight. Our Allies around the world remain committed to the same vision as us. Institutions such as the UN, NATO, WB, IMF, WHO and countless other international, national, and regoinal institutions, alongside non-governmental organizations, charities, and civil society organizations join our ranks. The day when extreme poverty and human rights violations are no longer a threat is just beyond the horizon, and I look forward doing whatever I can to work towards that future.


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Transparency Thursday: Deriving the True Cost of “The War on Terror”

The “War on Terror” has been costly in a number of ways. The first thing we think of when we think of the cost of any war is the human death toll. The total number of deaths for U.S. military personnel is estimated at 6,518 . When considering casualties (deaths and wounded soldiers), that number balloons to 48,430. This means, according to estimates, a whopping 41,936 soldiers returned to the U.S. wounded from battle (physically or psychologically).

The number of deaths of indigenous people resulting from “The War on Terror” (which included military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) is estimated to be between 272,000 to 329,000.

From a death toll standpoint, the Americans escaped relatively unscathed. According to these numbers, there were 42 foreigner deaths to every American soldier killed. Not to discount those brave men and women who lost their lives fighting in “The War on Terror”, but it was historically one of the least deadly wars in U.S. history (in terms of the total % of U.S. population killed, .002%, and U.S. deaths per day, 1.72).

Human life is the hardest cost to quantify, because there is no numerical value that can be ascribed to a person’s life. Surely, more money was invested in each American soldier that died than in each Middle-Easterner killed, as the U.S. invests more in human capital (education, healthcare) and soldier training than the average Iraqi, Afghani, or Pakistani receives. But many of those killed in The War on Terror were innocent men, women and children. How do you value a life? Based on a person’s skill, or their age, or what they could have accomplished? The answer is that there is no answer, every death is personal (to a family / community), and leaves us wondering “what if”. The U.S. compensates families as best it can for those lost in war (although it can never bring that person back), whole most of the people who had loved ones die at the hands of U.S. soldiers receive nothing and are left trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

Compared to the human cost, the dollar value of war is relatively straightforward:

“The 2011 study said the combined cost of the wars was at least $3.7 trillion, based on actual expenditures from the U.S. Treasury and future commitments, such as the medical and disability claims of U.S. war veterans.

That estimate climbed to nearly $4 trillion in the update… the costs left out trillions of dollars in interest the United States could pay over the next 40 years.

The interest on expenses for the Iraq war could amount to about $4 trillion during that period, the report said.”

If “The War on Terror” ended today, the bill could total 8 trillion dollars when future interest payments and veterans benefits are considered. To put that in perspective, the U.S. national debt clock currently reads $16.7 trillion. Of all the debt the U.S. government owes, a little less than half of it is due to “The War on Terror” (and one has to wonder how much of the unknown cost of the war is included in the “debt clock” figure, and if that figure should not be adjusted higher as more information on the monetary cost of the war becomes available).

What is less straightforward is the social cost of “The War on Terror”. Since the fighting occurred overseas, everyday U.S. life was generally uninterrupted. Those in the Middle-East were not so lucky:

“Excluded [from the 272,000 to 329,000 estimate] were indirect deaths caused by the mass exodus of doctors and a devastated infrastructure, for example…”

“The war reinvigorated radical Islamist militants in the region, set back women’s rights, and weakened an already precarious healthcare system, the report said. Meanwhile, the $212 billion reconstruction effort was largely a failure with most of that money spent on security or lost to waste and fraud…”

That is not to say that there was no social cost for the U.S. As the above numbers indicate, an estimated 6,500 soldiers died in the war, while an estimated 42,000 more were considered casualties of war. The families of the deceased must be compensated, while those lucky enough to be alive face the challenge of living with a physical or psychological handicap. Those lucky enough to escape with their lives and without injury must still receive the benefits they are entitled to, and these numbers add up over time:

“The report also examined the burden on U.S. veterans and their families, showing a deep social cost as well as an increase in spending on veterans. The 2011 study found U.S. medical and disability claims for veterans after a decade of war totaled $33 billion. Two years later, that number had risen to $134.7 billion.”

As forces are pulled out of Afghanistan, we can only expect that number to rise exponentially. So now that we have a rough idea of the human, social, and dollar costs of war, we must ask ourselves “why did we do this?”  To that question, there is unfortunately no good answer.

The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2001 in response to the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. The rationale behind this invasion was that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction”. Over time, this claim has been proven false.

When France began involvement in Mali, and while President Obama mulls over his options in Syria, it would be prudent to heed this warning (which I have stated before): be cautious of anybody trying to sell a quick and painless military intervention:

“‘Action needed to be taken,’ said Steven Bucci, the military assistant to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the run-up to the war and today a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think-tank.

Bucci, who was unconnected to the Watson study, agreed with its observation that the forecasts for the cost and duration of the war proved to be a tiny fraction of the real costs.

“If we had had the foresight to see how long it would last and even if it would have cost half the lives, we would not have gone in,” Bucci said. “Just the time alone would have been enough to stop us. Everyone thought it would be short.”

Due diligence must be taken more seriously. The estimated dollar costs of war fail to take into account the human and social costs, and even still tend to be overly optimistic. The price of fanning the flames of hatred in Islamic countries has also yet to be fully realized.

Whenever there is a question of domestic spending in the U.S., a long debate ensues, the specter of “moral hazard” is evoked, and quick action rarely takes place (if at all). Why then were our same tax dollars spent so liberally on these unneeded wars?

Is this what President Eisenhower was referring to when he famously warnedwe must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”? A future where military spending was out of control, where money was spent on defense without proper due diligence while simultaneously taking money away from crucial domestic programs? I would say it certainly is; military spending accounted for 24% of the 2012 Federal Budget (education accounted for 4%). Eisenhower made this famous warning in his farewell address in 1961, yet it seems that over 50 years later we still have not heeded his words.

What we see now is people saying we didn’t know what we thought we knew, both in terms of the duration of the war and the reason for invading in the first place (weapons of mass destruction). Would a misappropriation of trillions of dollars on domestic programs be tolerated? Of course not. We should therefore take this as a lesson learned and reconsider how the U.S. intervenes in foreign affairs.

I have argued for a substantial downsizing of U.S. D.o.D. spending, with some of the money being reallocated to the D.o.S. (and to USAID specifically, to tackle the humanitarian roots of conflict which provide breeding grounds for terrorist activities), and the rest of the money going to underfunded domestic programs (or paying down the deficit).

Other countries do not want our help in the form of military intervention. While the costs of “The War on Terror” were much higher than initially believe, the benefits have been much lower (and in time may prove to be non-existent). The U.S. holds little sway over Iraqi policy since we pulled out in 2011, and recently Afghani President Hamid Karzia has taken up anti-American rhetoric to prove he is not a puppet of the west as the U.S. begins winding down its military efforts in Afghanistan.

Hopefully a lesson (albeit a costly one) has been learned. You cannot impose democracy through war. Democracy must occur organically through a process of empowering the citizens of a country. Less money, spent more carefully through the D.o.S., would go a longer way in achieving the goal of creating strategic regional allies.

We must also work more closely with existing strategic regional allies (in the Middle East, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia come to mind) and our allies in Europe and around the world, to ensure a multilateral approach is taken when intervening in another country. This would reduce both the high (monetary) costs and  anti-American sentiment associated with unilateral U.S. military intervention. It should also increase the meager benefits that have come to define “The War on Terror” by creating lasting allies instead of simply running costly “babysitting” campaigns.

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Economic Outlook: The End of Team America World Police (Part 2)

Yesterday, we examined the roots to what President Eisenhower referred to as the “military-industrial complex”. The U.S. has many legitimate reasons for maintaining a strong military; having said that, U.S. military expenditures are out of control. The U.S. spent $ 711 billion in 2012, that’s 41% of global military expenditures. The next closest countries are China at 143 billion (8.2%), Russia at 71.9 billion (4.1%). Let’s be clear here, when we talk about spending cuts for the military, we’re talking about shaving a few billion dollars off the bloated D.o.D. budget—under no proposed circumstances would the U.S. lose its prominence in global security issues. Clearly our allies need to pick up some of the slack in ensuring global security.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/timeline/9b6b4ac6234a38d7f61757290055617d.png

To clarify, some military spending goes to soldier benefits, which under no circumstances should be cut (retroactively). It would be a slap in the face to cut current veterans benefits, these people signed up and served our country under the belief they would get these benefits—they signed contracts with the U.S. government. However, veterans’ benefits accounted for only $127 billion in 2012, about 18% of the defense budget, so there is room to adjust the budget without reneging on promises already made to our service men and women.

When considered next to federal deficits, the case for cutting military spending is even stronger. Military expenditure accounted for 25% of federal spending in 2012. For comparisons sake, Education accounted for 3%, Health Care 23%, and Pensions (Social Security) 22%. It is absurd that the U.S., which is in no real threat of being invaded, spends 8 times as much on defense spending than on education on a yearly basis. If you ask me, the greatest threat to American prosperity is not terrorism or globalization; it is the systemic underinvestment in education.

https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?cht=p3&chs=600x200&chf=bg,s,e8e8ff&chd=t:22,23,3,25,12,2,3,1,4,6&chl=Pensions%2022%|Health%20Care%2023%|Education%203%|Defense%2025%|Welfare%2012%|Protection%202%|Transportation%203%|General%20Government%201%|Other%20Spending%204%|Interest%206%&chtt=Budgeted%20Federal%20Spending%20for%20%20-%20FY%202012

The “War on Terror” has led America to rethink how we intervene in other countries, as it has been so costly:

“With enactment of the sixth FY2011 Continuing Resolution through March 18, 2011, (H.J.Res. 48/P.L. 112-6) Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for military operations, base security,reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). This estimate assumes that the current CR level continues through the rest of the year and that agencies allocate reductions proportionately. Of this $1.283 trillion total, CRS estimates that Iraq will receive about $806 billion (63%), OEF $444 billion (35%) and enhanced base security about $29 billion (2%), with about $5 billion that CRS cannot allocate (1/2%). About 94% of the funds are for DOD.”

“He [Obama] asks more detailed questions about how sending 100 troops, or 10,000, might influence long-term outcomes. Paraphrasing the president, one aide said he is more likely to ask, ‘So if we put troops into Syria to stabilize the chemical weapons, what can they accomplish in a year that they couldn’t accomplish in a week?’… ‘He has got to find the happy medium between not committing us to a decade-long ground war and choosing not to do anything,’ said Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was the head of the State Department’s policy planning operation for Mr. Obama’s first two years in office and has urged him to intervene more strongly in humanitarian disasters.”

I agree with Anne-Maria Slaughter, that part of smarter (D.I.M.E) intervention must involve shifting resources from the D.o.D. to the D.o.S. Both departments have the same mandate, to protect America’s interest abroad. However, more should be done in a preventative capacity. Protracted Social Conflict theory gives insights into future conflict zones; preventative action in these areas would save money and lives. Admittedly, there are instances where Defense must act instead of State (for instance, if fighting has already begun in a region), so it is essential to have both departments adequately funded. Currently the D.o.D. budget is more than 10x larger than the that of the D.o.S., some rebalancing is in order.

I would like to go back and highlight a quote from French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte I posted yesterday:

It should be obvious, he said, that the United States has other priorities and is concentrating on Asia, and need not act everywhere. So if we are both independent and true allies of the United States we should be in a position to act when need be.

The rest of the world is beginning to realize that it must take more of a collective role in global security. There is one last point I would like to make, which is addressed by Mr. Levitte; the future of military efforts in Asia.

There is little reason that we should refocus our military interventions in Asia. Yes, North Korea, Yemen, and a number of other Asian countries pose terror risks, but not immediate risks to America. The strongest nations in Asia; China, India, and Japan, are our allies. We should be able to count on them to ensure regional stability, with the U.S. offering logistical, financial,  and intelligence assistance as necessary. I sincerely hope that Obama takes this opportunity, with European nations taking greater responsibility in Northern Africa and the Middle-East, and rising military expenditures in Asia, to reallocate D.o.D. spending to the D.o.S (and not to just shift defense spending from one region in the world to another). This shift may be politically unpopular, and some would inevitably call Obama “soft” on Asia / China / terrorists, but such action would ultimately be in America’s best interests

Obama has been a very friendly president toward the D.o.S., streamlining U.S. diplomatic efforts and scaling up the USAID budget. However, changes have so far been modest. Hopefully Obama uses his second term to make significant changes in U.S. foreign policy.

If our allies around the world help share in the cost of ensuring global security, the U.S. can focus more on domestic issues and preventative peacebuilding. This vision for the future is attainable, but far from guaranteed; it will take real political will and leadership to accomplish. Hopefully president Obama has what it takes to start America on this path.


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Conflict Watch: The End of Team America World Police (Part 1)

The United States has by far the largest military in the world. Tomorrow I will get into the numbers, so for now you’ll have to take this information on good faith. The American military has been a global force for good since WWI (and probably before that). The U.S. intervened on the side of democracy in both WWI and WWII, and was central in efforts to promote global coordination, cooperation, and mutually beneficial trade throughout the 20th century (The League of Nations, U.N, N.A.T.O. G.A.T.T. W.T.O, I.M.F, W.B, the list goes on and on).  The Marshall Plan, the large post WWII European reconstruction aid package, and the ensuing ideological standoff with the Soviet Union, further cemented America’s position as global defender of “Western values”.

The United States has carved out this position, as a global protector of modernization, democracy, and capitalism, for many reasons. The most pronounced reason relates to American values, at its base a humanitarian plea. However, there are also economic and national security reasons for promoting these values around the world. The rapid expansion of capitalism after The Cold War has led to unprecedented growth in the global economy. This growth is mutually beneficial; as poorer countries develop new markets for American exports open up.

This growth must be protected; there are still those who oppose the forces of modernization, either because it will take power away from the current elite, or because it is at odds with traditional / religious values, or perhaps because of a contentious colonial history. There is no shortage of reasons why other people do not like us (and if one does not exist you can count on someone to fabricate a reason). In order to protect ourselves, and in hopes of creating new trade partners and lifting the world’s most impoverished from the shackles of extreme poverty, the U.S. has invested trillions of dollars into this global vision (prompting Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the two comedic geniuses behind South Park, to create a satirical movie “Team America: World Police”, to highlight America’s prominence in foreign conflicts) . I have argued that resources should be shifted from a bloated D.o.D. to the D.o.S., and still hold strongly to this belief, but this is an ideological argument about the same agreed upon principle; As technology advances, and globalization progresses, the world will only become smaller and more interconnected. As a result, foreign policy (both America’s and other nation’s) will become even more important.

There has to be a rethinking of how the U.S. intervenes. Gone are the days of the classic “world war”; today’s most prominent conflict is the Protracted Social Conflict (PSC). U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, while “successful” in terms of ousting oppressive leaders, have been very costly. The U.S. can no longer afford to play the role of “Team America: World Police”. Arab Spring interventions have highlighted a shift from overt military action to covert operations. It is now common knowledge that nation rebuilding must be a part of military intervention, in order to ensure the power vacuum created is not filled by someone who is even less aligned with “Western interests”. The cost of ensuring global security and protecting the international trade system must be more evenly shared by the developed world.

It would be natural to start by analyzing French foreign policy, as they have been most directly involved in the current Northern Africa conflicts. However, I would like to first focus on Germany. Germany has come a long way from being defeated in two world wars and being divided by the Berlin wall. Due to economic responsibility and stability, Germany has become a world power (it is the most powerful country in the EU in economic terms). Germany has, ironically, benefited from having limited military power after WWII (imagine how different the U.S. economic picture would be with a more reasonable defense budget):

“After World War II, West German politicians rejected military force for any goal other than self-defense, and a strong pacifist streak developed in the public. The end of the cold war brought the beginning of a long period of halting change. Allies, particularly in the United States, have repeatedly called for Germany to take more responsibility and a larger share of the burden…’I don’t think it’s healthy for the future of Europe to give Germany this refuge where Germany handles the economy and doesn’t have to deal with the dirty stuff,’ Mr. Böhnke [head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations]”.

’A country of our size,’ Mr. Köhler [former German president] said, ‘with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.’”

It is time for Germany to step up to the plate and share the responsibilities of being a world power. France already has a large military, and sees a dynamic and pragmatic military as an essential component of global security:

“France has maintained its ability to send troops and equipment quickly to large parts of the globe, and it should soon overtake an austerity-minded Britain as the world’s fourth largest military spender, after the United States, China and Russia…The French are willing to intervene militarily, but on the basis of new conditions, which differ, French officials argue, from the old colonial habits and traditions known as ‘Françafrique.’”

“’We think it is absolutely necessary for other European countries to do what we do,’ Mr. Levitte said. ‘Otherwise there will be a kind of strategic irrelevance of Europe as a whole.’ It should be obvious, he said, that the United States has other priorities and is concentrating on Asia, and need not act everywhere. ‘So if we are both independent and true allies of the United States we should be in a position to act when need be.’”

French officials have also called for African troops (and Algerian troops specifically) to take a larger role in regional security affairs:

France’s foreign minister told African leaders that ‘our African friends need to take the lead’ in a multilateral military intervention in Mali…’We must, as quickly as possible, furnish the logistical and financial means required by the Malian Army and Ecowas,’ he [Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius] said.”

Military intervention is costly, both in terms of human lives and monetary cost. Global security has an element of “the tragedy of the commons” to it; everyone benefits from security, so there are bound to be “free rider” issues when it comes to paying for global security operations. It has become obvious that America cannot afford to play world police anymore; we cannot support the military bill and still provide the services needed to grow America domestically without amassing large amounts of debt (which has also been called a national security threat; damned if you do intervene, damned if you don’t). It is time for the rest of the world to share in the cost of our collective freedom and prosperity.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of “The End of Team America World Police”, when I will focus on military and humanitarian expenditures by country to further highlight the need for a more evenly shared approach to foreign intervention and global security.