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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:15 pm

Memo to Michael Gerson: WTF?

In today’s Washington Postdated, former Bush flack-hack and occasional thoughtful conservative Michael Gerson goes off the rails again, suggesting that Obama has made three mistakes during his campaign that just might prove to be fatal.

1.  Obama made the mistake of choosing in Joe Biden a thoughtful, experienced, and capable running mate instead of a crazy, inexperienced, and frequently vicious unknown.

He could have reinforced a message of change and moderation with a Democratic governor who wins in a Republican state, or reached for history by selecting Hillary Clinton. But his choice came soon after Russia invaded Georgia, and the conventional wisdom demanded an old hand who knew his way around Tbilisi. When the Georgia crisis faded, Obama was left with a partisan, undisciplined, congressional liberal at his side.

Apparently it is better to score easy points by creating a celebrity while sating your red (moose) meat base than it is to think about what is necessary to govern a large and complex nation.

2.  Obama made the mistake of turning his convention speech into a thoughtful discussion of the issues that matter to the American people instead of a rehash of his inspirational stumps:

In his Denver speech, it seemed that every American home was on the auction block, every car stalled for lack of gasoline, every credit card bill past due, every worker treated like a Russian serf. And John McCain? He was out of touch, with flawed “judgment.” His life devoted to serving oil companies and big corporations. And, by the way, he didn’t have the courage to follow Osama bin Laden “to the cave where he lives.”

Apparently it is better to speak blandishments than talk about the real problems facing this country.  The irony, of course, is that much of the commentariat before the speech — including Republicans — could not stop talking about how Obama needed to talk policy.  After the speech every commentator — even Pat Buchanan, for crying out loud — called the speech one of the finest of his career and an extraordinary challenge to McCain.  All that was forgotten by Gerson and other folks, largely because the next day, John McCain opened up that big ol’ can of crazy known as the Sarahnator.

3.  Obama is now making the mistake of getting tough on McCain for being such a lying liar who lies about his giant sack of lies.

Who is hurt most by this race to the bottom? McCain, by the evidence of his own convention, wants to be a viewed as a fighter — which a fight does little to undermine. Obama was introduced to America as a different and better kind of politician — an image now in tatters.

That’s right — it’s Obama’s fault for challenging the lies, because it makes him look like a typical politician.  Forget the fact that McCain has sullied his honor.  It’s far more relevant that Obama chose to fight back, thus hurting his reputation as a change agent.

If Michael Gerson wants to put on a pair of beer goggles when he looks at John McCain, that’s his prerogative.  But he shouldn’t expect the rest of us to believe him.

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17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:45 am

Sarah Palin’s Excellent Adventure

In case you missed it yesterday, the Sarahnator and her tannin’ bed are heading to New York City to visit Dr. Joel Fleischman to meet with strange people who talk funny (no, not other Alaskans):

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will meet with foreign leaders next week at the United Nations, a move to boost her foreign-policy credentials, a Republican strategist said.  Republican candidate John McCain plans to introduce the Alaska governor to heads of state at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, although specific names weren’t yet firmed up. “The meetings will give her some exposure and experience with foreign leaders,” the strategist said. “It’s a great idea.”

Oh yeah, a great idea.  Just stu-freaking-pendous.  Maybe McCain advisor John Bolton can take her up in a helicopter and they can try to shoot the top ten stories off the UN building.

Nothing like using foreign governments to score a few political points.  And hey, if Obama can go to Berlin, why can’t Palin go to Turtle Bay?

Uh, because she doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about?

I can see it now.

Hi Vladimir and Dmitri, my name is  Sarah.  Vlad, you gotta come to Alaska where we can go huntin’ together.  Shootin’ moose is a lot more fun than that little kitty you killed a few weeks ago.  And have I mentioned that I can see you guys from my house?

Oh, and if you ever mess with Georgia again, this lipstick-wearin’ pitbull is gonna bomb the living crap out of ya.  If you thought messin’ with Texas was a pain, just wait ’til you have a snowshoe shoved where the sun don’t shine.

I’m sure that will go over like a ton of nukes.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

While We Were Putting Lipstick on That Pig. . .

One of the tragedies of the current campaign is that the two candidates have not yet had a serious debate about America’s role in the world.  Both McCain and Obama have laid out very different visions — to oversimplify, McCain’s robust nationalism versus Obama’s effective internationalism.  But instead of debating the future of American foreign policy, the campaign has degenerated into discussions about such salient topics as lipstick, pigs, celebrities, and bridges.

Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic suggests that this isn’t a coincidence — McCain is pursuing a vicious campaign because he knows his worldview won’t get him elected.

Like many people who have covered John McCain, I think of him as a deeply serious man, preoccupied with America’s defense and its position in the world. So I’ve been confused for the past few days, trying to figure out why he’s allowing his campaign to make a circus of this election, leveling unserious and dishonest accusations about Barack Obama’s positions on sex education and Sarah Palin.

Then it came to me: The answer can be found in. . .John McCain’s philosophy of war, and in particular with the doctrine of preemption, which McCain still endorses. . . . McCain knows that preemption isn’t the easiest sell these days: “It’s very hard to run for president on this idea right now,” he told me.

So, what do you do when one of your core ideas is out of sync with the predispositions of the American public? You spend your days talking about lipstick on pigs. This might win him the election, but I’d rather see him debate preemption.

I think this is largely true.  Thanks to the Bush Administration, preemption isn’t exactly a popular concept right now.  It’s not merely intellectually bankrupt, it’s also despised by the rest of the world.  What McCain, Bush, Cheney, and I presume, Palin (once they explain everything to her) view as America asserting its interests is viewed in the rest of the world as exceptionalism and even imperialism.

Four more years of such a policy may destroy what’s left of American power and credibility in the world.  Right now, Russia is asserting itself, and they’re doing it by using the Bush playbook.  While no one is paying attention, Venezuela is quite effectively building a new anti-American bloc in Latin America (more on this in a future post).  Erstwhile American allies are beginning to reevaluate whether it makes sense to continue to make friendship with a weakened, angry, and often bellicose United States a priority in their foreign policy.  And perhaps most troubling of all, a strong and assertive China is confidently asserting itself — not merely by hosting the Olympics, but in a number of other ways, most notably through massive foreign assistance projects that just happen to give China access to the natural resources it needs to continue to grow.

Let’s be blunt:  nobody is really that impressed with us anymore.  We’ve become the annoying guest who insists on dominating the conversation but who has little of value to contribute to the conversation.  We’re on the verge of becoming the kid who was a star athlete in high school but who never reaches similar heights in adulthood.

It’s not only that we’re despised.  It’s that we’re increasingly a laughingstock.  If McCain is elected, it could be a tipping point.  Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and a number of lesser states will see no reason not to organize in opposition to our interests.  We will find it harder to assert ourselves, or even to be heard.

To be clear, I’m not interested in appeasing or even appealing to such states.  But I’m also not interested in poking all of them in the eye with a sharp stick, especially when we do it constantly and frequently simultaneously.  McCain doesn’t seem to understand that there are a finite number of states you can anger before people start seeing you as the problem — even when you’re in the right.

It’s almost as if McCain wants to go it alone.  After all, that’s what has worked for him in campaigns.  Why not turn it into a foreign policy?

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:15 pm

Joy Behar and Baba Wawa are teh Awesome

So “The View” of all places goes where no media outlet has dared go and busts McCain for the sex ed and lipstick on a pig controversies:

I don’t know if I agree with Sullivan that this interview “just destroyed McCain’s candidacy,” but the momentum clearly has reversed, with the media starting to hit back — and call what he said, as Joy Behar did here, lies. Add into that Palin’s performance last night, and the fact that Obama has started to punch back, and you’ve got some serious problems for the campaign.

People aren’t taking him at face value anymore.  That means that when the McCain campaign hits back — and you can be assured that they will hit back soon in order to try to reassert control over the news cycle — people are going to be less credulous then they were before everyone started talking about pigs, lipstick, sex ed, and wars with Russia.  That’s going to make it all the harder for the next negative ad to stick — not only will the media and the public wonder whether it’s true, but another harshly negative ad will reinforce the emerging meme that McCain will do anything to win.

Last but not least, how lame was McCain’s defense?  “[Obama] chooses his words carefully.”  As if that’s a bad thing?  As if someone who just pops off is what we want in a President?  And did you hear the contempt in his voice?

Good for Behar, and for Barbara Walters, who, just for a moment, reminded people that she used to be a pretty good journalist in her own right.

So between this and the Gibson interview, how long will it take for the McCain campaign to start whining about how ABC doesn’t show proper respect towards the ticket?

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:23 pm

Guess Who Thinks Mayors & Governors Don’t Have What It Takes to Be President?

Check this out:  In one of the Republican debates earlier this year, McCain implies that Mayors and Governors don’t have the experience to be President.  Oh, and he states flat out that he needs no “on-the-job training.”  Say, I don’t know, like Sarah “Bombs Away” Palin?

New Obama ad:  show Sarah Palin promising to go to war with Russia and not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is, then show this.  Then say that John McCain doesn’t has the judgment to be President. Oh, and point out that he wasn’t emphasizing change back then, he was bragging about 26 years in Washington.  So much for the outsider gambit.

Framing, framing, framing.

It’s right in front of your face, guys.

If anyone has the link to the full debate, please put it in the comments below.

Hat tip:  Undip reader Aric

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

Framing, the Media, and the McCain Campaign

Steve Schmidt and the other soulless Rovians running the McCain campaign understand something that neither the Obama campaign nor the mainstream media do:  that if you utter a lie, no matter how outrageous, the lie will be repeated, even if it the other side is criticizing or refuting it.  When Obama calls the McCain sex ad perverse, people hear Obama is perverse.  When the media mockingly refers to the straight talk express, people hear that McCain is a straight talker.  And when the media, in the name of balance, don’t call what McCain is doing a flat-out lie, people only hear the original message.

This is framing 101.  The problem is that the McCain campaign adheres to the gospel of Frank Luntz, the Republican framing guru, and the Obama campaign doesn’t listen to his George Lakoff, his Democratic counterpart.  Luntz and Lakoff both argue variations on the same theme:  that people connect emotionally not intellectually, and trying to convince them with intellectual arguments only reinforces their existing perceptions.

This isn’t about the media taking sides.  It’s about the media not falling into traps set by either side, where they mindlessly repeat what the campaigns say, even when doing so just reinforces the existing frame.  In addition, the media have to stop inserting their assumptions into analysis:  “McCain is too honorable to have done that,” or “Obama doesn’t get angry.”

What does this mean for the Obama campaign?  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  they need to go on the offensive and they need to do it now.  Last night, Sarah Palin gave them a huge gift:  she said that she was willing to go to war with Russia over Georgia.  The Obama campaign needs to beat that drum and beat it repeatedly for the next twenty-four hours:  “McCain-Palin want to get American involved in another senseless war — except this time with a country that could strike back.”

It’s that simple.  Now do it.

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

I just watched the Palin interview again.  If you haven’t seen it, here it is in its entirety.  For the purposes of this post, please pay particular attention to the section on Russia, which begins at 3:25 and ends at 4:50:

Here’s the key part:

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

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

GIBSON: Because Putin has said he would not tolerate NATO incursion into the Caucasus.

PALIN: Well, you know, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution, those actions have showed us that those democratic nations, I believe, deserve to be in NATO.

Putin thinks otherwise. Obviously, he thinks otherwise, but…

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help.

But NATO, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely, at this point and I think that we need to — especially with new leadership coming in on January 20, being sworn on, on either ticket, we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those NATO members.

We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to defend one another in a very dangerous world today.

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

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

And we have got to be vigilant. We have got to show the support, in this case, for Georgia. The support that we can show is economic sanctions perhaps against Russia, if this is what it leads to.

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

If I and everyone else heard/read her correctly, she just suggested that a) Georgia should be part of NATO, and b) were Russia to invade again, other NATO members should go to war with Russia.

To say that those comments are staggeringly naive and dangerous would be a vast understatement.

First of all, let’s put her comments into historical perspective.  Here is a list of countries that the Soviet Union and its primary successor, Russia, have invaded since 1920, excluding the “Great Patriotic War” (Russia’s name for World War II between the June 1941 German invasion and 1945):

  • Poland (1920)
  • Poland  (1939)
  • Finland (1939)
  • Estonia (1940)
  • Latvia (1940)
  • Lithuania (1940)
  • Hungary (1956)
  • Czechoslovakia (1968)
  • Afghanistan (1979)
  • Georgia (2008)

In addition, the Soviet Union annexed parts of a number of countries during or after World War II:

  • Moldova (from Romania)
  • Eastern Poland (first taken in 1939 and then ratified at Yalta as part of the decision to shift Poland westwards)
  • Subcarpathian Ruthenia (Czechoslovakia)
  • Konigsberg (Germany — later renamed Kaliningrad Oblast)

After the Second World War, Soviet troops occupied a number of countries, most of which became part of the Comintern and later Warsaw Pact.  The exceptions were northern Iran, Austria, and (after 1948) Yugoslavia.

Now here’s a list of American Presidents who threatened war with the Soviet Union and/or Russia as a result of these invasions, all of which violated international law.

There aren’t any.

Not Roosevelt or Truman.

Not JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Not Reagan.

Not even Dubya.

Palin has moved into territory that no President or Presidential candidate (not even Goldwater in 1964) has ever ventured.  The only time anyone has said something this bad is in 1968, when Curtis LeMay, upon being named George Wallace’s VP candidate, said that he would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons.

I don’t think that comparisons to “Bombs Away” LeMay — who was the model for Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove — were what John McCain was hoping for in selecting the Sarahnator.

Let’s draw a flowchart showing where Sarah Palin’s policy could lead us.

Georgia joins NATO → Russia attacks Georgia → Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which says an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members → NATO declares war on Russia → nuclear war.

Ilan Goldenberg over at Democracy Arsenal highlights just how dangerous this kind of talk is:

No sane American or European leader would ever ever ever give an answer like that.  You do not get into hypotheticals about nuclear war.  You just don’t.

Palin references the Cold War.  The only reason the Cold War stayed cold is because our leaders understood the stakes of getting things wrong and saying things that could lead to catastrophic nuclear war.  During the Cuban Missile Crisis every word, every public statement, and any message that the Kennedy administration sent to the Soviets was checked, double checked, and triple checked to make sure it was sending precisely the right signal.

This is what you are forced to do when you have thousands of nuclear weapons and so does your opponent. The stakes are simply too high.  And yet there is a nominee for the Vice Presidency of the United States who may one day have her hand on the button and she is casually talking about potential catastrophic nuclear war.

To be fair, both Obama and McCain believe that Georgia should join NATO.  But neither of them — not even John McCain — has ever said, suggested, or even hinted that the United States would go to war with Russia over Georgia.

Let me be clear here.  The problem isn’t that Sarah Palin is crazy.  She’s not.  The problem is that she is in no way prepared to answer basic questions on foreign policy in a way that doesn’t make her look crazy.  And that means she is not prepared to be Vice President or President.  She might be someday, but not right now.

To put this all in perspective, let me contrast the process the McCain campaign used to prepare Sarah Palin for these interviews and the process used by the State Department to prepare its officials for Congressional testimony.

Assistant Secretaries of State are usually people who have spent years (if not decades) becoming experts on the particular area or subject matter that they now oversee on behalf of the State Department.  They usually know their stuff.  But when they go to testify before Congress on one small part of their portfolio, they get a two inch-thick briefing book with every possible question they might get, along with answers consistent with U.S. Government policy.  Those answers have been vetted by everyone in the building who plays a role in determining policy.  The Assistant Secretaries also spend hours in what are known as “murder boards,” where their staffmembers pepper them with the questions and then critique their answers until they get it right.

Assistant Secretaries of State:  weeks and hours of intensive, hands-on preparation for a narrow topic, undertaken by someone who already is an expert on a topic.

Sarah Palin:  At most two weeks of probably not very intensive preparation (given all the speeches and appearances since she was announced, it didn’t leave much study time) to prepare answers to every possible question on every possible subject under the sun, by someone with little or no foreign policy experience.  She was expected to come out of this less-than-rigorous process prepared to provide short, simple answers to easy questions on topics about which she had never thought.

And people wonder why she did so badly?

It turned out that Charlie Gibson, the McCain’s first choice for a first interview, wasn’t prepared to roll over like they expected.  So when Gibson pursued a line of questioning in any depth, Palin ran out of sound bites. When that happened, she  had to improvise.  She had to make stuff up when she doesn’t have the experience or background to do so knowledgeably.

A more experienced politician would have had the wisdom in such a situation to avoid talking about war.  But Palin is not experienced.  She doesn’t understand the consequences of straying from the playbook.  As a result, she committed a McCain Administration to a course that could lead directly to nuclear war.  And chances are, given the McCain campaign’s recent refusal to backtrack on anything, it’s highly unlikely that the Senator would do the smart thing, which would be to issue a clarification.

In the end, however, we should judge not Sarah Palin, but John McCain.  His choice of her was thoughtless, reckless, and fundamentally unwise.   Such lapses in judgment demonstrate his manifest unsuitability to be President.

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11 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:53 pm

Palin and War

I’m still trying to get my mind around Palin’s comments on Russia, Georgia, NATO and war.  I promise more in the morning, but right now I’m too fried to think straight.

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:15 pm

Russia: Anything You Can Do I Can Make Worse

A few weeks back, Dubya sent a ship to visit Georgia.  The Russians were outraged.  Now we have their response:

Two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela on Wednesday as part of military maneuvers, the government said, announcing an unprecedented deployment to the territory of a new ally at a time of increasingly tense relations with the U.S.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the two Tu-160 bombers flew to Venezuela on a training mission. It said in a statement carried by the Russian news wires that the planes will conduct training flights over neutral waters over the next few days before heading back to Russia. . . . In Moscow, Defense Ministry spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky refused to say how long the Venezuela deployment will last or say whether the planes carried any weapons. . . .

Earlier this week, Russia said it will send a naval squadron and long-range patrol planes to Venezuela in November for a joint military exercise in the Caribbean.

Everyone keeps saying it isn’t a new Cold War.  I certainly hope that’s true.  But let’s look at the evidence:

  • The U.S. and Russia are no longer cooperating on reducing nuclear arsenals.
  • Cheney just spent the past week running around Europe and warning against Russia (more on this later).
  • The EU is looking into ways to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and oil.
  • Russia is developing close relations with a Latin American neighbor of the United States, and has potentially sent strategic assets within striking range of the continental U.S.
  • U.S.-Russian space cooperation appears to be a thing of the past.
  • Both the Bush Administration and the McCain campaign no longer talk of Russia as an ally, but as a rival.
  • Russia and China have become more and more friendly since Putin came to power.
  • Russia has supported the establishment of two nascent organizations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), either of which could evolve into a rival to the United States/EU/NATO.

Is it me or is it getting chilly in here?

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

So Much for Mars

Further proof of the absolute inability of this Administration — and its allies in Congress — to think through the consequences of its actions:

NASA is about out of options for keeping U.S. astronauts in space after 2011.  Unless President George Bush intervenes, or whoever succeeds him in January immediately steps into the space arena, the dismantling of the space shuttle program will be too far along to reverse course. . . .

The three-ship fleet is scheduled for retirement in 2010. NASA wants to use the shuttle’s budget for developing replacement ships that can go to the moon as well as to the International Space Station. The new vehicle, called Orion, won’t be ready until 2015 — five years after the shuttle stops flying.

NASA had counted on buying Russian Soyuz capsules to transport crews to the space station during the gap. But in recent interviews, NASA administrator Michael Griffin said he has no hope Congress will pass the legislation needed for NASA to keep the Soyuz assembly lines running. . . .  “My guess is that there is going to be a lengthy period with no U.S. crew on (the space station) after 2011,” Griffin wrote in an email to top NASA managers that was posted on the Orlando Sentinel’s Web site.

The agency cannot purchase Russian rockets unless it receives an exemption from a trade sanction Congress levied in 2005 after Russia reportedly helped Iran develop nuclear weapons technology. Griffin has said the exemption to the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act, needs to be in place by early 2009 to keep U.S. and partner astronauts in orbit.  U.S. outrage over Russia’s handling of a dispute with neighboring Georgia has pretty much nixed any chance Congress will lift the trade ban again, Griffin said.

“Exactly as I predicted, events have unfolded in a way that makes it clear how unwise it was for the U.S. to adopt a policy of deliberate dependence upon another power for access to ISS,” Griffin wrote.

When I was growing up, there was nothing more exciting or romantic than the space program.  John F. Kennedy’s challenge to land on the moon by the end of the decade was both a great achievement and a wonderful example of what we as a nation could do if we put our minds to it.

In contrast, our policy today, as Griffin notes, is “deliberate dependence.”

Here’s the thing.  I think it would be cool for us to go back to the moon or to Mars.  But I also think that there are other things that are more important and more worthy of funding if we have to make difficult choices.  I’d love for us to do all the things we’d like to do, but those days are gone, at least for a while if not forever.

But if we are going to have a space program, is it too much to ask that it not be completely half-assed, utterly dependent on unreliable “third parties,” and hopelessly unrealistic about the gap between what we want to do and what’s possible with the money we plan to spend?

Ask not what the Bush Administration can do for you.  Ask the Bush Administration whether they can screw things up any more than they already have.

Maybe we can beg the Chinese to let us hitch a ride.

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Russia-Georgia: The Other Shoe Drops

This isn’t good:

Statement by Secretary Condoleezza Rice

Washington, DC

September 8, 2008

The President intends to notify Congress that he has today rescinded his prior determination regarding the U.S.-Russia Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation (the so-called ‘123’ Agreement). As a result, there is no basis for further consideration of the Agreement under the Atomic Energy Act at this time.

The U.S. nonproliferation goals contained in the proposed Agreement remain valid: to provide a sound basis for U.S.-Russian civil nuclear cooperation, create commercial opportunities, and enhance cooperation with Russia on important global nonproliferation issues.

We make this decision with regret. Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement.

We will reevaluate the situation at a later date as we follow developments closely.

For those not familiar with 123 agreements, they are named after Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which requires that the U.S. government negotiate and sign an agreement with a given country before commerce in nuclear materials can be established.

Although 123 agreements can be controversial in and of themselves (as is the case with the U.S.-India pact), they also offer a way to help promote nonproliferation and the reduction of nuclear stockpiles.

The era of U.S.-Russian cooperation on nukes may have just come to an end.

Hope Saakashvili is feeling more secure now — because something tells me that a few of those missiles are now pointed his way.

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:45 pm

Beyond November: Ruben E. Brigety

The Connect U.S. Fund has launched a new two-year initiative to help shape debate during the upcoming Presidential transition.  As part of this effort, they’ve asked leading thinkers and advocates to talk about what should be the top two or three foreign policy priorities for the next President.  They’ve also kindly allowed us to cross-post the responses here.

The series took a brief hiatus during the conventions, but it’s back and will continue from now until the election.  Today, we’ll hear from Rube E. Brigety.  Future posts in the series will appears every Thursday.  You can find the previous posts here.  Thanks again to Heather Hamilton and Eric Schwartz for making the cross-postings happen.

Regardless of who wins the Presidential election in November, America will face challenges around the world that are arguably unprecedented in their complexity and scope. The list of urgent issues is well known – two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the quest for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, resurgent powers in China and Russia, a weakened U.S. dollar, the need for energy independence, and the effects of climate change, just to name a few.

A common thread connecting all of these problems is that they cannot be solved with the approaches that have dominated U.S. foreign policy for the last eight years. For much of the last decade, particularly since 9/11, our government has resorted to unilateral methods to solve multilateral problems, and resorted to the use or threat of force to advance our interests abroad. Time and again, this has contributed to America’s declining popularity in the world even as it strains our military, marginalizes our alliances, and leaves crucial problems to fester. All of this can be traced to a zero-sum world view which does not tangibly link the security and prosperity of the United States with needs and aspirations of most of the world.

Our country needs more than new policies to confront the foreign policy challenges of the next decade. It needs a new worldview. It needs a framework for understanding the limits of unilateralism and military might, and the potential in cooperation and non-military methods of influence.

At the Center for American Progress, we have advanced an idea called “Sustainable Security.” An amalgamation of national security, collective security and human security, the Sustainable Security paradigm recognizes the importance of improving the lives of other people around the world as a critical security concerns for the United States. Rather than seeing foreign assistance as charity best relegated to the periphery of our statecraft, sustainable security emphasizes investing in social and economic development in countries around the world as a means of countering various threats – from the growth of radical extremism to the ravages of climate change. Furthermore, it posits that true “security” for the United States and other countries can only happen when development assistance is pursued in a cooperative manner with other countries and when it is closely coordinated with our other diplomatic and defense priorities. While there will always be a place for use of force, sustainable security argues that we have as much to gain from investing in the welfare of others as we do from investing in weapons systems to advance our nation’s security interests.

From this worldview, a few important foreign policy priorities follow. First, the United States should adopt a National Development Strategy. Despite the fact that we spend more on development assistance than any other country in the world, we do not have an articulated strategy to guide its distribution or to relate it to other aspects of American foreign policy. Promulgating a National Development Strategy from the White House that is applicable to every federal agency involved in delivering assistance would be a major statement of the important of foreign aid to our national security and provide crucial guidance for this important instrument of policy.

Second, we will have to reform the structures that deliver foreign assistance. The most important reforms should include the creation of a cabinet level development agency and a recapitalization our development infrastructure. Most of our allies that are major donors of development assistance have a cabinet agency to direct that activity. We are in the distinct minority in this regard. Elevating development assistance to a cabinet level status will not only show how important it is for us, but it will also ensure that development considerations are appropriately accounted for in our foreign policy. The next time we are forced to go to war with another country, we would be much more likely to take into account post-conflict considerations about economic reconstruction and rule of law if we have a powerful agency whose job it was to think about it and to perform the required tasks. Also, we cannot make development a major part of our foreign policy as long as there are more drummers in military bands than there are development professionals in the employ of our government. With less than one-thousand Foreign Service officers assigned to the U.S. Agency for International Development, our ability to do vital development projects, and to support our defense and diplomatic initiatives, is imperiled. This is a situation which must be reversed.

With great risk comes great opportunity, and this is particularly true for the next Presidential administration. Changing how we approach the problems of the world is vital to achieving durable solutions for ourselves and our allies. Let’s hope our next President take on the challenge.

Reuben E. Brigety, II is Director of the Sustainable Security Program at The Center for American Progress. Prior to joining CAP, he served as a Special Assistant in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Brigety is also an Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University. He is the author of Ethics, Technology and the American Way of War (Routledge, 2007) and a variety of other articles and book chapters. Before entering academia, Brigety was a researcher with the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. He served on HRW research missions in Afghanistan in March 2002 and in Iraq in April and May of 2003. He also served as HRW’s coordinator for crisis management during the Iraq war and as an HRW delegate to the Convention on Conventional Weapons negotiations in Geneva. Before joining HRW, Brigety was an active duty U.S. naval officer and held several staff positions in the Pentagon and in fleet support units.

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5 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:04 pm

While You Were Away: Russia-Georgia

Map of South Ossetia

The last two weeks have been nuts, what with the Clinton and Obama speeches, Hurricane Sarah, and all other things political.  And things are unlikely to slow down anytime soon, given the fact that the election is only sixty days away.

While Americans focused on the conventions (and Hurricane Gustav), world events didn’t just grind to a halt.  Over the past two weeks, there have been a number of important developments that are not only important in their own right but also may have a significant impact on the next President’s ability to govern.

Over the next few days, I’m going to try to highlight someJ of them.  Let’s start with Russia-Georgia.

In the past two weeks, the Russia-Georgia conflict has increasingly turned into a proxy (cold) war between the United States and the Russian Federation.  Russian President Medvedev has demonstrated a particular affection for Bushian bluster, making grandiose nationalistic statements about reestablishing a Russian sphere of influence that were meant as much for internal consumption as for global politics.  Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has taken several steps to bind the United States even more closely to the fate of Georgia — including a pledge of more than $1 billion in new (non-military) foreign assistance and a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.

John McCain’s protestations notwithstanding, most Americans still do not understand what is going on or why the conflict is relevant to their lives.

For all the jokes about Cheney being sent out of the country during the Convention, the reality is that his trip was deadly serious, designed to show the Russians that the United States would not be cowed in the face of its aggression.  But it also showed Cheney’s unbelievably blinkered view of the world:  in the end, the reason the U.S. is backing Georgia is because of the latter’s decision to send troops to Iraq.

The Administration’s actions are going to make it much harder for the next President to pursue a more rational, interests-based policy while at the same time defending Georgian sovereignty.  Of course, if McCain is President, that will not be a problem.

The bottom line:  this has become a game of low-intensity chicken, with both sides acting like 12-year-old boys.  And neither side really cares to behave like adults.  Georgia, which is largely (though not entirely) the victim here, is stuck in the middle, with little hope of serious support from the West or complete withdrawal of Russian forces.  The real fear is that some further incident will cause one side or the other to ratchet up the rhetoric in a way that we’re suddenly looking at Bosnia 1914 all over again — except this time, it will be with thousands upon thousands of nukes on both sides.

For those interested in the specifics, you can find a straightforward report on the events of the past two weeks after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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2 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

New Poll: Cheneypalooza!

Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States.Image via Wikipedia

Time for a new poll, boys and girls!  Thanks to all of those who volunteered to staple-gun their toenails to their foreheads in our last poll.

The topic this time is. . . Dick Cheney.

With all the focus on Sarah Palin and Hurricane Gustav, I think it’s a shame that we’ve all but ignored our favorite evil nemesis.

Since he’s winging off to the Republic of Georgia (and other not-so-tropical climes) today, there’s no time like the present to think about his corrosive influence over and impact on U.S. foreign policy.

Please remember to vote early and vote often!  Vice President Cheney wants to make damn sure that we can fix this election too!

And if you don’t vote, the terrorists will win.

And remember — the evil he does, he does for us.  You could say it’s selfless evil, altruistic evil, a kinder and gentler evil.


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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
01:00 pm

Controlympics: Winners Who Lost (#3 of 4)

We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners and the losers.  Now let’s take a look at winners who in fact lost.

1.  Chinese women’s gymnastics team — nobody believes they were all sixteen years old.  Not even the Chinese.  They may have won gold, and the Chinese may have avoided a scandal as a result of forged documents, but the reality is that sooner or later, someone will talk.

2.  Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh — the American bikini-clad, gold medal-winning women’s beach volleyball team may have been the ugliest winners in the entire Olympics.  And May-Treanor’s “slap my butt” antics with President Bush set back both the sport and America’s image.

3. Russia — Russian athletes came in third in terms of total number of medals won.  After the invasion of Georgia, however, nobody wanted them to win anything.  And at one point in the Games, Georgia had as many gold medals as Russia.  In addition, Russia’s hosting of the winter games at Sochi in 2014 may be at risk, given their location only fifteen miles from the Russia-Georgia border.

4.  Zhang Yimou — the director of the the Opening and Closing ceremonies actually praised the “precision” of North Korean performers and dissed the New York Metropolitan Opera as whiners.  He also ignored his own history — as a victim of the Cultural Revolution — to suck up to the Chinese leadership and produce massive extravaganzas without any consideration of the resultant human cost.

5.  London 2012 — they may have the next games, but they have to follow what was (setting aside, for the moment, human rights abuses and other problems) the best-organized Games ever.  And the London contribution to the Closing Ceremonies was beyond bad.

Next up:  the medal winners in the Schadenfreude competition.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:00 pm

Controlympics: Losers (#2 of 4)

We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners.  Now let’s take a look at the losers.

1.  Human rights — the Chinese did everything they could to stifle dissent, and with the exception of a few brave Chinese and Westerners, they succeeded — so much so that they even managed to prevent any protests in the officially managed protest zones.  In the process, they also silenced and/or arrested hundreds if not thousands of dissidents; shipped tens of thousands of migrants and homeless out of Beijing; and perhaps most depressingly, created new electronic surveillance systems that give them the ability to shut down dissent before it starts.

2. Western media — with a few exceptions, the Western media mindlessly bought what the Chinese were selling.  And there was no bigger culprit than NBC, whose commentators (with the notable exception of Bob Costas) often sounded like apologists.  Worst of the worst:  Joshua Cooper-Ramo at the opening and closing ceremonies and Mary Carillo’s insipid travelogues.

3.  Chinese athletes — for all their victories, Chinese athletes didn’t look like they were having much fun.  The pressure to win was so great that it seemed to suck all the joy out of their participation.  There were exceptions, of course, but all too often we saw images of Chinese athletes looking like their lives had ended after failing to win gold.  Best example of this:  Chinese diver Zhou Luxin, who lost to Australian Matthew Mitcham on the last dive of the 10m platform competition.

4.  International Olympic Committee — for seven years, we’ve heard how the Olympics were going to open up China.  When it became clear that wasn’t the case, the IOC fell back on the old trope of the Olympics being above politics.  And when that didn’t work, they tried to change the subject.  From his blather before the games that he couldn’t talk about human rights to his criticism of Usain Bolt to his complicity in the cover-up of the Chinese gymnastic team age scandal, Jacques Rogge looked even worse.

5.  George W. Bush — while Russia invaded Georgia, he was playing hide the volleyball with Misty May-Traenor and Kerri Walsh.  Given his subsequent rhetoric about the conflict, he sure took his sweet time getting back to the States.

Next up:  winners who lost.

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25 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:45 am

McCain Hearts Cheney While Cheney Hearts Georgia

From 2001:

All that’s missing is his “I ♥ Dick Cheney” t-shirt.  So much for his ads trying to run away from the Bush Administration.  If I were the Obama campaign, I’d run this clip into the ground.

Now flash forward seven-plus years.  Today, the White House issued the following statement:

Vice President Cheney will travel abroad beginning September 2, 2008. President Bush has asked the Vice President to travel to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Italy for discussions with these key partners on issues of mutual interest. The Vice President will meet with President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, President Saakashvili of Georgia, President Yushchenko of Ukraine, and President Napolitano and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, as well as senior officials of their respective governments. In addition to meetings with foreign leaders, the Vice President will attend and address the Ambrosetti forum entitled, “Intelligence on the World, Europe and Italy” in Lake Como, Italy.

I presume Air Force Two will head to Baku straight from St. Paul, as the Dickster is scheduled to speak on Monday, September 1, followed by a brief ceremony where he shoots McCain’s VP pick in the face.

On a serious note, most of my fellow bloggers are viewing this as an effort to get Cheney out of town so as not to distract from McCain.  That’s plausible, but I fear a more sinister motive may also be at play.

Think about it:  Cheney will be meeting with Saakashvili right in the middle of the Convention.  And not meeting with the Russians.  Giving John McCain another opportunity to denounce Putin and praise the Georgians, thus making him look strong on national security.

I’d say that is far more provocative than anything Cheney could say or do in St. Paul.

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22 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Russia-Georgia: Wishful Reporting?

How many consecutive days have we seen variations on the “Russia is pulling out of Georgia real soon” story?  I thought I’d take a look.

Times (UK), August 14:

Russian military officials said today that they would start to return control of Gori to Georgia soon, as agreed in a French-brokered ceasefire.

NYT, August 15:

Both Georgia and Russia took steps back from open conflict on Thursday, with Russia largely ending air operations over Georgia and preparing to withdraw at least some of the troops it had moved inside the country

AP, August 16:

Russian forces pulled back Saturday from positions in a town not far from Georgia’s capital after the Russia’s president signed a cease-fire deal, but his foreign minister said the troop withdrawal would be contingent on further security measures.

AP, August 17:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says Russian troops will begin a pullback Monday from Georgia toward that country’s separatist-held region of South Ossetia.

Reuters, August 18:

Russia announced it would begin withdrawing forces from Georgia today after a war that dealt a humiliating blow to the Black Sea state and raised fears for energy supplies to Europe.

Reuters, August 19:

Russian troops will pull back from Georgia’s heartland by the end of this week, the Kremlin said on Tuesday, but NATO said it was freezing contacts with Moscow until all Russian forces were out of the country.

The Globe and Mail, August 20:

A small Russian column, including three tanks, three trucks, five armoured personnel carriers and a rocket launcher, left Gori, the central Georgian city that straddles a vital east-west highway. A Russian officer said they were headed for South Ossetia, the disputed province at the heart of the conflict, then home to Russia.

Reuters, August 21:

Russia said on Thursday it would pull back some of its troops in Georgia within 24 hours after Washington demanded they leave “now”, but Moscow said it would still keep a force stationed in Georgia’s heartland.

AP, August 22:

Russian forces lingered deep in Georgia on Thursday, digging trenches and setting up mortars a day before Kremlin officials promised to complete a troop withdrawal from this former Soviet republic.

Okay guys, that nine consecutive days you’ve reported that Russia is either pulling troops out or promising to pull troops out.  Don’t you think it’s time you actually figure out exactly what’s going on and stop speculating?

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18 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:21 am

Russia-Georgia: A Neocon Trap?

I, like everyone else, has assumed that the neocons’ foaming at the mouth over Russia-Georgia has been genuine — in the sense that they really want to view Putin’s Russia as a reborn USSR, and really believe that we should defend Georgia.  I’m sure that’s probably the case for some.

But to play conspiracy theorist for a moment, what if they don’t really believe any of it?  What if they could care less about Georgia?  What then would be their motivation?

Well, how about this:  they’re making it almost impossible for the next Administration not to take a hard line against Russia without being portrayed as weak.  And since McCain is already supporting their cause, what we’re really talking about is a ploy to limit Obama’s options should he get elected.  President Obama, they will argue, isn’t standing up to Russia.  And in doing so, he’s making America look weak in the eyes of Putin and all our other potential opponents.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  In fact, it’s the Jimmy Carter edition.

Think I’m crazy?  What’s Option A in the neocon playbook?  Force your opponents to go along with what you want by making them fear looking weak.  And if you can’t get them to go along, make them look like traitors.

Of course I could be wrong.  The neocons could actually be stark raving mad, willing to risk World War Whatever (they can’t seem to make up their minds on the number) to protect a tiny state whose significance to the United States lies primarily in the fact that the Bush Administration is embarrassed that it made promises that it had no hope of keeping.

That means your choices are a) they’re deeply cynical or b) they’re completely crazy. And by “they” I mean not just the Kristols, Kagans, and Boots of this world, but also John McCain.

I can’t think of a better argument for supporting Barack Obama.

Of course I’m probably just saying that to score a job in his administration.


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17 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

Diplospeak Translator: The Condi in Crawford

I think The Condi has been spending too much time down on the ranch with Dubya.  Yes, I know she just got back from a whirlwind trip and everything, but sheesh, it’s like she caught a case of the Cold Warrior pneumonia and the malapropism flu.

Yesterday, she spoke to the press after briefing her husband the commander-in-chief.  Time to break out the Diplospeak Translator.  Once again, we bring you only the choicest cuts.

THE CONDI: I think everybody understands that Russia had a choice to make over the last several years, and it was a choice that should have been opened to Russia, which was a choice to act in a 21st-century way, fully integrate into the international institutions. I think it’s very much worthwhile to have given Russia that chance.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: It really stinks that they followed our lead in ignoring international institutions like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.  Didn’t they hear the part where we said, “do as we say, not as we do”?

THE CONDI: Now, I think the behavior recently suggests that perhaps Russia has not taken that route, and either that they have not taken that route or that they would like to have it both ways — that is, that you behave in a 1968 way toward your small neighbors by invading them and, at the same time, you continue to integrate into the political and diplomatic and economic and security structures of the international community. And I think the fact is, you can’t have it both ways.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: As opposed to behaving in a 2003 way, where you invade small countries on the other side of the world while continuing to dismantle the political and diplomatic and economic and security structures of the international community.  There’s a big difference — as soon as I can figure out what it is, I’ll let you know.

THE CONDI: Now, we’ll take our time; we’ll evaluate. But already, the consequences for Russia of its behavior is that it has rallied people to — against them, and many of the small states, which were once captive nations, have rallied to the side of Georgia. That in and of itself is a very different circumstance than we might have faced several decades ago.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Is the Cold War on again?  Pretty please?  Because I spent half my freaking life studying the Russkies and haven’t been able to contribute anything useful for about twenty years.

THE CONDI: I have to assume for now that the word of the President of Russia to the presidency of the EU is going to be respected.


THE CONDI: The Georgians have very often offered substantial autonomy to these two regions. We have pressed very hard for there to be recognition of minority rights in these regions. So there’s a lot of groundwork that has been laid here, but what has to happen now, when these international discussions intensify over the next period of time after this — after the cease-fire is in place, is that it all has to proceed from where it proceeded from before, which is the territorial integrity of Georgia be respected; that these regions, as the President just said, are within the internationally recognized boundaries of Georgia; and that the Security Council resolutions, which have been passed numerous times, will be respected. And there will have to be a negotiated solution on that basis.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Please, please, please please don’t mention Kosovo.

REPORTER:  But Russia has said explicitly that they are not prepared to return to the status quo. I mean, how do you get around that?

THE CONDI: Well, then, Russia would be in violation of extant Security Council resolutions.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: You know, just like they said we were doing back in 2003.

REPORTER:  I mean, is there really serious discussion about kicking them out of the G8, or is there really serious discussion about the WTO?

THE CONDI: We’ll take our time and look at further consequences for what Russia has done. But I would just note that there are already consequences. There has been universal concern within the European Union, the United States, et cetera, about the way Russia has done this. I think that you will start to see reports come out about what Russian forces engaged in.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: Look!  Over there!  Human rights violations!  Whew!  I wasn’t sure that old trick still worked given everything we’ve done in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

THE CONDI: The — already you have the states that are — were former captive nations, like Poland, the Baltic states, even states like Ukraine speaking out against this kind of behavior.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: I knew if we kept banging that old captive nations drum, it would become useful again.  And what a perfect regurgitation of Cold War rhetoric!  Ah, I feel complete again.

THE CONDI: [I]t’s not just talk, it is about Russia’s standing in the international community. I want to go back to the point. In 1968, when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, it occupied the capital, overthrew the government, and paid no consequence. And one reason it paid no consequence is that the Soviet Union actually didn’t care about its status in the international system. It didn’t want to be member of the WTO; it didn’t want to be in the OECD; it didn’t want to be seen as a responsible player in international politics.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR: In 2003, when we invaded Iraq, occupied the capital, and overthrew the government, we had no idea we would still paying for it more than five years later.  And nothing annoys us more than seeing someone else get away with something we tried to do ourselves.

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