I always thought that President Obama wanted to model his domestic policy on Lincoln and his foreign policy on Eisenhower.
But the news this week of the IRS harrassing right-wing groups and the Justice Department harrassing the Associated Press evokes the Nixon era for me.
On the other hand, Nixon had better relations with the military (despite contemplating firing Creighton Abrams in Vietnam).
This is me really going off the Obama reservation.
By Lt. Gen. John H. Cushman, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
This is what the president should say:
Organs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have recently made announcements of that nation's readiness to attack with long range weapons targets of the United States.
It is time for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to cease such behavior and to join the community of nations.
The United States has no intention to attack the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
If under any pretext the Democratic People's Republic of Korea attacks the United States, we will respond with devastating might. Their nation will be a wasteland.
Leaders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have built military weaponry that can serve no useful purpose.
I repeat, it is time for them to cease such behavior and to join the community of nations.
End of conference
General Cushman commanded the 101st Airborne Division, the Army Combined Arms Center, and the ROK/US field army defending Korea's Western Sector. He served three tours in Vietnam. He also is author of Command and Control of Theater Forces: The Korea Command and Other Cases (1986).
I was thinking over that question last night as I fell asleep at the Army War College, where I am visiting. I think one reason President Obama excites so much emotion is that he represents the end of the Reagan revolution.
Look at this way. FDR's New Deal lasted about four decades, until it began collapsing under President Carter. Then Reagan came along. In a nutshell, he inverted the New Deal: Government was not the answer, he said, it was part of the problem. He also began a massive transfer of wealth from the middle classes to the top 1 percent of our society. One reason he could do this is that he didn't get us into an expensive war.
In both cases, eventual successors from the other party lived with the work of their predecessors. Just as Eisenhower did not try to undo the New Deal, Clinton did not try to reverse the Reagan revolution.
I don't think Obama killed the Regan revolution. I think it was getting old -- it had lasted nearly three decades. But I think the Reagan influence effectively was killed by President Bush's lengthy Iraq war, which proved so expensive that it was no longer possible to transfer wealth to the rich at the Reagan-era rate without running up huge deficits.
Obama, I think, buried the corpse, especially with his second inaugural. Government, he is saying, often is part of the answer. I think people are ready to hear this. They don't mind paying taxes as long as they believe the results are concrete: fewer potholes, longer library hours, healthier kids -- and disaster relief for the victims of Sandy.
I think I didn't appreciate how important Obama's inauguration speech on Monday was to gay Americans. This thought dawned on me as I was walking my dogs on Monday night and passed a local gay bar. The entire second floor of the building was covered by a huge American flag. I found that moving.
The WTF moment for me in Obama's second inaugural address, delivered Monday at noon, was his use of the phrase "peace in our time." This came during his discussion of foreign policy, and in such circles, that phrase is a synonym for appeasement, especially of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain in September 1938. What signal does his using it send to Iran? I hope he was just using it to jerk Netanyahu's chain.
I also simply didn't understand what he meant by "a world without boundaries." But my immediate thought was, No, right now we need boundaries -- like those meant to keep Iran out of Syria and Pakistan out of Afghanistan.
Two things I did like:
Overall, I'd give it a C-. It wasn't a terrible speech, but I am grading on the curve because I have seen him do so much better. Overall, the rhetoric seemed tired, like second-rate Kennedyisms, which may reflect the pack of Hill rats and political hacks staffing the White House. It made me wonder if the president is depressed. I mean, I wouldn't blame him. But not a happy thought.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In preparation for Monday's inauguration, when President Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term in office, Washington, D.C. is tightening security across the board as it anticipates that upwards of 800,000 people will descend upon the city for the proceedings and celebrations. The Secret Service says it has "42 partners here -- every law enforcement entity, every transportation entity, everyone that's got camera -- we are utilizing." And that includes Military Working Dogs.
In addition to D.C. police dogs, canine teams from around the country will be joining in for the weekend for the extra-special POTUS mission. The Joint Task Force-National Capital Region/Military District of Washington has been "coordinating for [nearly 18] months with the Secret Service and FBI to plan for inauguration security," and that includes providing more dogs -- 45 dog handlers to be exact.
CNN noted that when Thomas Jefferson was sworn into office, "he declined the seven horses and two carriages that were ready to ferry him from his boarding house to the Senate chamber where he would take the oath of office" and just walked. Hard to imagine that Obama could afford to do the same, even if escorted by all 45 dog teams.
And though these teams may not be charged with ferrying Obama safely from location to location, they will be on hand throughout the weekend conducting sweeps of the "parade grounds and the Capitol Building." On inauguration day they will be out in full force, on-hand and at the ready.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
By Jim Gourley and Mike Gore
Best Defense gory analysts
Last night's presidential debate on foreign policy is already old news, with most commentators hanging their hats on "horses and bayonets." History will no doubt remember these as some of the most memorable words of the campaign. But beyond declarations of winners, losers, and meme-worthy moments, the real significance of the dialogue lies in other words both spoken and unspoken.
An analysis of key terms indicates how the candidates' arguments represent the greater American dialogue on foreign policy. There were several items mentioned enough times to merit a Twitter hashtag. Others were peculiarly absent.
A foreign policy discussion usually involves relations with other countries, so it's probably most informative to assess which countries came up most often in the conversation. According to the transcript from last night's debate, the rank-ordered list is:
Latin America: 4
North Korea: 1
It is evident that the single issue represented by tensions between Israel and Iran allow them to trump China, which presents a vast array of foreign policy challenges for the United States. It is also puzzling that Iran and Syria can be mentioned more than four and twice as many times as Russia, respectively, when that country is so instrumental in shielding them in the U.N. Security Council, not to mention its resurgence as a power broker in its own right. Afghanistan, the only country where the American military is actively engaged in a full-scale war, is number six.
Also remarkable are those left unmentioned. Completely left out of the discussion are the United States' closest neighbors, as well as Palestine, the diplomatic gravity of which is inescapable by the second-most talked about country in the debate. Especially troubling is Mexico. When one considers the political instability, rising violence and influence of the cartels, the infiltration of drug gangs into the United States, and the increasing sophistication of their networks, it is arguable that narco-terrorism to the south is a greater existential threat to national security than fundamentalist terrorism based overseas.
To further contextualize the shift in American foreign policy dialogue, we examined the transcripts for all three debates during the 2000 presidential election and select phrases in the 2008 foreign policy debate. None of the debates focused on specific issues, which led us to aggregate the total mentions in conversation. The countries, by number of mentions:
Middle East: 18
A comparison before and after 9/11 indicates significant changes in the dialogue. Before 2001, only two countries in the Middle East were mentioned by name in the debates. The rest were considered part of a larger amalgam. In 2012, half a dozen are mentioned by name. Though Russia is arguably as relevant today as it was then, it only received half as many by-name references in this debate. This precipitous decline in noteworthiness seems only to have occurred in the last four years. In the 2008 foreign policy debate, it was tied with Iran for most-mentioned country with 31 by-name references.
There was also no mention of Europe last night, which twelve years ago was the third-highest trending word in the debate. This is especially relevant in the context of Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the support received from allies in both wars and the prominence of NATO's role in Afghanistan now, NATO was not mentioned a single time in this debate. In 2000 it came up fifteen times in the course of three debates.
Other proportions seem odd. Mali's name was spoken five times with regard to the emergent terrorist threat there, while Yemen and Somalia only received mention in passing despite our existent military presence there for the same reasons. Though the last combat troops were declared withdrawn from Iraq over a year ago, that country was still mentioned more times than Afghanistan. Interestingly, this is a repeat of the 2008 foreign policy debate, in which Iraq out-mentioned Afghanistan by a margin of 35 to 33. Though the fear of nuclear proliferation drove much of the conversation, North Korea was only mentioned once.
There are indications that the United States' foreign policy dialogue has been gradually yet increasingly laced with the vocabulary of fear and force. "9/11" still found its way into the debate on three occasions, while "Arab Spring" only came up once. The word "threat" was used ten times in three debates in 2000. In the 2008 foreign policy debate it surfaced 17 times. It was uttered 25 times last night. It appears that "nuclear" is the only type of threat the candidates cared to discuss. It came up 38 times during the debate, compared to only one mention apiece of cyber and space (both by the President, neither of which he elaborated on). "Military" was mentioned 49 times compared to 56 twelve years ago. Forms of "diplomacy" came up only one-fifth as many. Curiously, in the context of the looming sequestration threat, references to defense and military spending were approximately the same -- six times in 2000 versus seven times in this debate.
Still other causes for concern exist when last night's potent potables are considered in light of this decidedly economy-driven election. The word "economy" came up 25 times; the same number of mentions as "threat." But if economics are so tied to American foreign policy concerns, there is a perplexing absence of certain countries in the discussion. Mexico has already been mentioned, but India, Argentina, Japan, Germany and South Korea join it in the cast of unmentionables.
In all, the debate primarily revolved around American preoccupation with fears of imminent danger and hostility. The candidates spoke to the issues in a distinctly martial dialect. The prevalence of key terms and the glaring omission of others leads one to wonder if the candidates believe politics is the conduct of war by other means. Both candidates are certainly knowledgeable about countries and issues beyond those discussed, but their time was limited. With that said, it is a rational conclusion that the debate was limited to those items perceived as most important to the American public consciousness. Such being the case, this debate was a disconcerting indication that Americans' fixation with bayonets is more troubling than it appears.
Mike Gore is a Journalism and Communications Student at Western Washington University. Jim Gourley is Best Defense's number one commenter.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
I thought I had some sort of responsibility to listen to last night's debate, so I tried. But this time I lasted only 7 minutes. When Romney's voice started feeling like chalk screeching on the blackboard, the book I'm reading about small boats in big weather suddenly seemed much more interesting. (I'm in the chapter on using drogues as sea anchors.) Andrew Sullivan carries the best summary of the debate: Romney's argument was, "I will lead America the same way, but with more leadership!"
But Jim Gourley has a longer attention span, so he will analyze the debate for us today.
I wish generals and admirals would get out of the business of endorsing presidential candidates. It's a bad business and can only result in politicization of the relationship between our presidents and our military leaders.
The upside of this list is that it is very heavy on Marines and Navy, and surprisingly light on Army generals (with the notable exception of Tommy R. Franks!). Is the Army the most reliably obedient of our services? I remember an admiral saying at the Naval War College that the Navy is a golden retriever, the Air Force is an airedale, and the Army is a loyal Labrador. (He wasn't sure if the Marines were mastiffs or pitbulls.)
I think President Obama lost the debate last night, not because he screwed up, but because the whole debate was so damn boring. I'm an Obama fan, and I turned it off at 9:37 to go read a book, which turned out to be a better use of my time.
Political journalists will go on and on today about the debate, but remember, they had to watch the whole thing, and got paid to do that and also to yak about it. I think that skews their judgment -- they lacked the reasonable option the rest of us had, of just turning it off.
During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama earned the G.O.P.'s mockery. Now he has earned their fear. It is an ambiguous feat, accomplished by going to the dark side, by walking the G.O.P.'s talk, by becoming the man Dick Cheney fashioned himself to be.
Tom again: But if Obama truly possessed the killer instinct, why is VP Biden still on the ticket? I think dumping him likely would have added one point to Obama's vote in November. And that could mean a lot.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 4, 2009.
By Joseph Singh
Best Defense department of remote-controlled warfare
The international laws governing the use of force are fundamentally outdated, reflecting a lost age of acutely-defined zones of war and peace, according to a speaker at this week's panel discussion on armed drones and targeted killing. Hosted by the German Marshall fund, the event was run under Chatham House rules, thus none of the speakers will be identified in this post.
While both panelists supported a convention governing drone usage, there are convincing reasons to suspect that new international laws enacted to reflect a changing global environment will remain wholly ineffective. Any legal framework governing drone use will confront the perennial challenge of state behavior in an anarchic system: Irrespective of the international laws and norms in place, states will disregard codes of conduct if they perceive them to be contrary to their national interests.
We know that current international rules technically prohibit targeted killings, just as the U.N. charter prohibits war. Even the federal government imposes its own ban on assassinations. Issued by President Reagan, Executive Order 12333 strictly prohibits target killings, asserting that "no person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination."
However, the expansion of drone use under the Obama administration does not result from a murky international laws. It simply proves that a new legal framework will fail to chart new norms on future drone use. Give a lawyer the task of justifying any policy "and he will find the legal regime," said one of the panelists.
The debate over the use of drones has often been misconstrued as a debate on the ethics, legality and unintended consequences of using remotely piloted vehicles to engage hostiles abroad. Yet drones have been used by nations for decades and their specific technological attributes should not be the focus of debate. Instead, killing by drone speaks to a larger question of defining the conditions under which nations should deploy such force.
Panelists noted that in Afghanistan, ISAF has been very effective at using drones as part of the larger military campaign. Strict rules govern the use of drones under ISAF command. Under no conditions, for example, are drones used to attack buildings, given the possibility that unidentified civilians may be inside. Such rigidity results not solely from a belief in abiding by the rules of war, but from a conviction that any civilian deaths threaten greater instability. In the hinterlands of Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, where ground troops are unable to help vet potential targets or engage with local populations to redress errors, drones have struck more fear and resentment in local populations than confidence, one panelist concluded.
One panelist said that new norms governing drone use are necessary to ensure the security of America and her closest allies. I am not so sure. U.S. drone activities could hypothetically be used to justify targeting American civilians by hostile states, but America's military dominance should always deter such behavior. Instead, limits on the drone program are necessary for America's strategy in the Middle East, in order to rectify the long-term trend towards radicalization that is seeded by short-term gains in targeted killing.
In a post-Afghanistan and post-Iraq world, the use of drones speaks to a wider unwillingness to use large-scale, high-risk military force to project American power abroad, as both panelists noted. Drone technology allows the president to remain active in the fight against terrorism without having to make unpopular and costlier "boots on the ground" commitments. Ultimately, however, the Obama administration must confront the difficult truth that what is a useful tactic in a broader military campaign cannot be substituted for an overall strategy.
While targeted killings constitute a centuries-old practice in international relations, the rapid rise in drone strikes raises important questions for the Obama administration. Are the strategic gains achieved through drone deployment sustainable given rising public outcry over targeted killings in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen? Can targeted killing programs co-exist with efforts to help support good governance, when those programs are perceived to undermine U.S. credibility? Will those nations continue to tacitly permit the U.S. to operate drones in their airspace when their public condemnations prove insufficient for satisfying domestic audiences?
In the near term, targeted killing has crippled Al Qaeda's leadership, and may serve as an immediate deterrent to future recruits. Yet a whack-a-mole approach to confronting the world's largest terrorist network should not be considered an effective long-term strategy. Incentives to change these norms will only follow an honest assessment of the long-term strategic benefits and drawbacks of an expansive use of drones.
"What does that have to do with me and the world we're living in today?" inquires Susan Rice, American ambassador to the United Nations.
Remarks like that worry me. Just because you weren't alive during the Vietnam War doesn't mean you won't go down that road. I generally am a fan of the Obama administration, on both domestic and foreign policy. But the one thing that gives me the creeps is their awkward relationship with senior military officials. Mistrusting the Joint Chiefs, suspecting their motives, treating them as adversaries or outsiders, not examining differences -- that was LBJ's recipe. It didn't work. He looked upon the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a political entity to be manipulated or, failing that, sidelined. That's a recipe for disaster, especially for an administration conspicuously lacking interest in the views of former military officers or even former civilian Pentagon officials.
In our system, White House officials have the upper hand in the civilian-military relationship, so it is their responsibility to be steward of it. That's the price of "the unequal dialogue." If the relationship is persistently poor, it is the fault of the civilians, because they are in the best position to fix it. The first step is to demand candor from the generals, and to protect those who provide it. Remove those who don't.
Anytime anyone tells me that the lessons of Vietnam are irrelevant, that's when I begin looking for a hole to hide in.
If he's lucky, I think the national security advisor lasts until January. If he is not, he blows up on the launchpad in the middle of the presidential election campaign. His fate, it seems to me, rests in the hands of David Sanger, who broke the news that the American and Israeli governments were jointly conducting a cybercampaign against the Iranian nuclear program, and had successfully inserted a virus that wrecked Iranian centrifuges. If Sanger cooperates with the special counsels looking into the leaks about this highly classified program, things are going to get interesting very quickly.
It wouldn't matter if Sanger, a fine reporter, first got wind of highly classified info from an underling. What matters is what Donilon said when asked by him. The moment of truth likely will be when a government lawyer says, "Mr. Donilon, when Mr. Sanger asked you about 'Olympic Games,' how did you reply?" If Donilon discussed the program with Sanger, he's got a legal problem, I would think.
Hmmm -- anyone remember who Scooter Libby's lawyer was?
Here is a link to my review in today's New York Times of David Sanger's new book on President Obama's foreign policy. As I say in the review, the strongest part of the book is the stuff about the joint Israeli-American cybercampaign against the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. (Btw, the copyeditor for the book review told me while editing it that she had checked and this is the first time the Times has used the word "cybercampaign" to describe a series of cyberattacks, which surprised me.)
An interesting side observation in the book is Sanger's comment that Obama's "legendary self-control . . . makes him seem like a politician from a more buttoned-down, controlled Asian environment."
I wonder: Is Obama actually our first Asian president?
Just when you think Pakistan couldn't make a stupider move, it does. Dissing Obama in his hometown was a dumbass play. Oddly, no American president probably had more initial sympathy for Pakistan, which Obama visited as a student. (He had Pakistani roommates at college, he said, and learned to cook Pakistani dishes from them.) Yet it looks like the Pakistani government has managed to piss him off.
Yesterday he pointedly left Pakistan out of the countries he thanked for help in Afghanistan: "I want to welcome the presence of President Karzai, as well as officials from central Asia and Russia -- nations that have an important perspective and that continue to provide critical transit for ISAF supplies."
"If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney, higher than his margin in the general population," reports Margot Roosevelt of Reuters.
I have to say this surprised me. Reuters says veterans report being tired of our wars, are angry about the foolishness of invading Iraq, and worried by the situation with Iran. One says he likes how Obama handled Libya.
On the other hand, 37 percent of vets asked said they disapprove of the way Obama has handled the presidency, vs. just 27 who approve, and everyone else up in the air. So the poll numbers leave me a bit confused.
Mitt Romney is a Republican version of John Kerry, I think -- a rich politician from Massachusetts who doesn't really know who he is but (as James Carville has put it), was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images
These statements are more significant than they may seem, because they provide support to skeptics of the official Israeli position that Iran must be attacked soon. And so I think this eases election-year pressure on President Obama: All he has to say to hawkish critics is, What do you think you know that the chief of the Israeli defense forces and the former head of Shin Bet don't know?
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
I read most of Alex Berenson's 'The Shadow Patrol' on a flight from Philadelphia to Manchester, England, across the Atlantic Sea.
It's the first "post-Osama" novel I've read, which gave it an extra fillip. He occasionally gets military stuff slightly wrong, which was a slight distraction.
Here are some of the lines I liked:
--"Terror and boredom, the twin poles of infantry duty." Yes, a familiar thought, but expressed quite succinctly here.
--The CIA view of the world. "We killed Osama. And no civilian casualties in the op. Not one. Ten years since 9/11 and no real attacks on American soil. Not even jerks with AKs lighting up a mall. We've kept our people safe."
--Pakistani duplicity. "Truths might be told in Quetta, but never on purpose."
--On the American public's lack of interest in our wars. "You go to a bar, guys buy you a round, ask about what you're doing. But if you tell them, their eyes glaze over. It's too far away, confusing. Plus they're ashamed about it because they're getting drunk in college, mommy and daddy paying the bills, and you're putting your butts on the line for them every day. They don't want to think about it."
--On today's American generals: "No one ever got stars on his collar by taking chances."
I'd also be interested in knowing if Joby Warrick thinks of the book. I will ask him.
Brett McGurk, who I ran into in the Green Zone when he was negotiating the SOFA with the government of Iraq, has been named U.S. ambassador to Iraq. This is good because he knows all the promises Maliki has made over the years, not just to the U.S. but to Kurds and others, and so might be able to better forestall the prime minister's various attempts to re-negotiate all his deals.
No word on whether he had to take an oath renouncing all support for the Bush administration.
That was my takeaway from Romney's op-ed article in yesterday's Washington Post on how he would handle Iran. The policy he recommends is extraordinarily close to what Obama is doing and saying.
The only difference I see is that Obama knows more about Iran than Romney does. Like history? "Ronald Reagan made it crystal clear that the Iranians would pay a very stiff price for continuing their criminal behavior," writes Gov. Romney. If I were a Republican, I wouldn't be recommending Reagan's handling of Iran as the model, unless the moderate Massachusetts millionaire wants to endorse giving Iran more weapons in exchange for the release of hostages, as of course the Reagan Administration did.
But the stupidest line in the article might be this one: "I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must." Dude, how are sanctions gonna work if we impose them alone? They won't, so they must be imposed multilaterally. Which is what President Obama happens to be doing. I have to wonder who in the Romney campaign thought this article was a good idea.
Meanwhile, I suspect that one thing Republican hawks don't understand is the depth of opposition inside the military to attacking Iran. (Of course, back in 2002-03, lots of people in the military were against attacking Iraq-but the administration back then was all hot to trot, and did not want to be confused by facts.)
Here is what old Obama said yesterday at a press conference about all this:
When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. I'm reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.
This is not a game. There's nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that's more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.
Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven't launched a war. If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
This is the first presidential election in many decades, I think, in which the Democrats have the upper hand in foreign policy and national security. I have only dim memories of the 1964 campaign, but I recalls Lyndon Johnson having an advantage over Barry Goldwater in that area. Hard to remember that now, in light of how badly LBJ handled the Vietnam War in the following four years.
Ironically, Obama is likely only to get a small boost in votes for this, because -- just a bit more than a decade after 9/11 -- Americans frankly don't give a damn about foreign policy, Scarlett. By a 81 to 9 percent margin, they care more about the economy. (Hey, imagine if we still had all the money spent on the Iraq war to spend on domestic infrastructure, which is crumbling…)
Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images
The weirdest recent trend in foreign policy is the spate of former Bush Administration types berating President Obama for his handling of Iraq. Honestly, it feels to me like seeing Custer provide advice on how to handle American Indian tribes. Please, haven't you all helped enough already? (As for John Yoo advocating preemptive war with Iran -- that is clearly just him messing with us. Rick Santorum, too.)
Second weirdest trend: Attacks on Iraqi fortune tellers.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.