NDN Blog

Foreign Policy Chat - Cameron's Visit, Decapitating Drug Cartels, And Is Obama Keeping A Journalist Imprisoned In Yemen?

Decapitating Drug Cartels Is Bad Policy

General Jacoby, head of US Northern Command, testified this week about the ongoing violence in Mexico and the effectiveness of current strategies to counter the increasingly powerful drug cartels. Jacoby reported that "Twenty-two out of the top 37 trafficking figures" had been eliminated, yet turned a few heads when he followed up with the seemingly counterintuitive assessment that their apparent success "had not had an appreciable, positive effect." This would come as much surprise to academics who study similar "leadership decapitation" strategies that are deployed against terrorist organizations. Jenna Jordan, a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, published a ground-breaking paper in 2009 that analyzed nearly 300 instances where the leader of a terrorist group was removed, and found that not only is a "group's age, size, and type critical in identifying when decapitation will cause the cessation of terrorist activity," but that "decapitation does not increase the likelihood of organizational collapse beyond a baseline rate of collapse for groups over time. Organizations that have not had their leaders removed are more likely to fall apart than those that have undergone a loss of leadership." There's a video of her presenting these findings available here, free to be perused by anyone -- even leaders of Northern Command. 

PM Cameron Comes Stateside

British Prime Minister David Cameron is in DC this week to meet with the President to discuss coordinating Middle East policy and to get on the same page in advance of the forthcoming NATO summit. After catching an NCAA basketball game last night, the two met this morning in the Oval Office to discuss Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Obama and Cameron had earlier penned a joint Op-Ed expressing their solidarity over these, and other, issues-seeking to downplay any suggestion that the two leaders don't share a close relationship. In a press conference this afternoon they expressed their commitment to the existing withdraw framework in Afghanistan, which will bring the vast majority of western troops home by the end of 2014. While Cameron said that "We will not give up on the mission," it's not entirely clear what that mission is. The Prime Minister's expressed goal is to establish a firm endgame whereby British troops can come home as soon possible. On the other hand, he told journalists that "What I define as doing the job is leaving Afghanistan looking after its own security, not being a haven for terror, without the involvement of foreign troops." Given the realities on the ground and tactical forecasts, those two missions may well be mutually exclusive.

Is Obama Keeping a Yemeni Journalist in Prison?

Jeremy Scahill wrote an in-depth article examining the case of Abduleleah Haider Shaye, A Yemeni journalist who remains imprisoned in that country at the bequest of the White House. Shaye was originally arrested, tried, and imprisoned by a Special Yemeni Security Court, but when he was set to be released, the President expressed concern that he could go on to aid Al Qaida. Those are about all of the facts that people agree upon. Scahill seems to share Philip Luther's views -a top official at Amnesty International - that "There are strong indications that the charges against [Shaye] are trumped up and that he has been jailed solely for daring to speak out about US collaboration in a cluster munitions attack which took place in Yemen." The validity of that assessment aside, it is clear that Shaye had an admittedly close relationship with the leadership on Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the full extent of which may be known only to the US intelligence community. The White House is standing by its assessment with a State Department spokesperson recently telling the Nation that they "remain concerned about Shaye's potential release due to his association with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula." It's very difficult to determine from the outside looking in what's really going on here, but I highly recommend reading Scahill's full article.

Foreign Policy Chat - Executive War Powers And UAVs Coming Home To Roost

Impeachment Bill

Republican Congressman Walter Jones introduced a bill making it an impeachable offense for a President to authorize force without the consent of Congress. Rep. Jones became anti-imperial Presidency at some point after he voted to give a free hand to President Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan. The timing of this latest move seems to indicate that it was precipitated by the crisis in Syria and last week's testy exchange between Panetta and Senator Sessions on the issue of Congressional authorization. Both the bill introduced by Rep. Jones and the fainting-couch commentary from conservatives is hard to take seriously, however. The War Powers Act does, in fact, authorize the President to deploy troops into harm's way and sets out criteria by which it is proper for him or her to seek retroactive and ongoing authorization from Congress. The aggrandizement of executive power on this front and the inclination to stretch the rules is not a partisan issue. All presidents, of all parties, seek to expand Executive power. And if the Congress doesn't like it they need to pass a new law putting themselves back into the center of these debates. A real law, though, as opposed to the type of PR stunt that Congressman Jones has written. I doubt that this will happen any time soon, though. The dirty little secret is that Congress doesn't actually want to be on the hook for deciding when, where, and how the armed forces are deployed. They'd much rather take retroactive credit when things go well and leave the blame on the President when they don't. So we should expect continued sniping from Capitol Hill, but little real legislation that would rein in Presidential power.

Unmanned Aircraft Headed Stateside

The FAA is currently drafting the first rule to allow for civilian use of airborne aircraft in the US. Congress has already passed legislation requiring the agency to figure out a way to authorize these flights and now industry, government, and privacy advocates are figuring out what all of this will actually mean. The UAVs that have been developed by the Pentagon and deployed in Afghanistan and Pakistan may be coming stateside to be used by police departments, government agencies, and civilians. Civil liberties watch-dogs are rightfully concerned about the implications of an omnipresent eye-in-the-sky keeping tabs on Americans from thousands of feet in the air. They're being joined in their skepticism by safety experts who are concerned that thousands of UAVs -- potentially as large as the Global Hawk with its 116 foot wingspan --  could pose real problems for safe and predictable civil aviation. 

Foreign Policy Chat - Afghan Murders, Chinese Bankers, And The Military's Pain Ray

Fall-out from Afghan Killings

An American Army Sergeant, over the weekend, methodically went door to door in Southern Afghanistan murdering civilians. With at least 16 people killed -- many of them children -- Generals, policy makers, and the public are left searching for answers. In all likelihood we'll never know what caused this one soldier to snap and while a full investigation is needed, observers should resist the desire to draw sweeping conclusions about the readiness or condition of US forces based off of one crazed individual.

What is known, however, is the impact the event is having on the debate inside Washington about how to manage the transition out of Afghanistan.  An agreement reached last week over detainees appeared to be moving the US-Afghan relationship in a positive direction, but now there are riots in the streets and Afghan officials calling for local prosecution. This poorly timed event has led even previously stalwart GOP politicians to start making calls for more immediate troop withdrawals. The White House, for its part, has said that their phase-out strategy remains unchanged -- with 20,000 US troops scheduled to evacuate by September. Any hope of Afghanistan not descending into madness and economic depression after ISAF forces leave, however, is pinned on the institutional infrastructure the US is able to leave behind, much of that dependent on negotiating a long-term security agreement. And this shooting makes those negotiations a lot more challenging.

Pain Ray

A light-hearted video of National Security reporter Spencer Ackerman was making the rounds today, as he volunteered to be shot by the military's "Pain Ray." This less-than-lethal technology essentially microwaves people from hundreds of yards away, causing intense burning sensations. The weapon was developed to be used at military bases where it could break up violent crowds or disperse hostile activity without mowing people down with machine guns. Its actual usage, though, has been limited for a combination of technical and PR reasons. This has led the Army to bring journalists for show-and-tells like this one in order make the case for redeploying the weapons abroad. General McChrystal, back in 2010, sent the Pain Rays back from Afghanistan after mere weeks because it was such a propaganda boon for the Taliban. Apparently people don't respond very well to the prospect of being zapped by invisible ray guns from miles away. 

Chinese Currency

In global economic news, the Economist reports that the Chinese Central Bank suggested today that it will no longer let the yuan slowly appreciate. The Chinese had been running intermittent trade deficits as of late, as rising labor costs and other factors have driven down exports to some degree, but those trends appear to have reversed. Chinese central bankers had allowed the yuan to gain 8% on the dollar since 2010 (though its still likely undervalued by nearly 40%), but apparently they're ready to lock it back down. The President's "pivot to Asia" is reflective of the fact that the rapid size and growth of the Chinese economy will make their global financial behavior a prime driver of US strategic decisions well into the future. For an interesting, and radio based, take on how this type of currency manipulation actually works in China, I highly recommend this episode of Planet Money -- aptly named "China's Giant Pool of Money."

Foreign Policy Chat - Afghanistan, Iran, Kony2012, And A Renewed TNR

Chris Hughes to Take Over TNR

This isn't foreign policy news, per se, but this morning's announcement that Facebook Co-Founder and Obama digital organizing wiz Chris Hughes has purchased The New Republic was on everyone's lips today. TNR has been an important part of the liberal intellectual landscape for nearly a century and Hughes sounds like he is invested in reinvigorating the magazine and making its foreign and domestic policy work increasingly relevant in the years to come. Check out the NY Times Media blog for a nice analysis of the move.

US-Afghan MOD on Detainees

The US government struck a deal on detainees with their Afghan counterparts which moves everyone one big step closer to inking a Memorandum of Understanding on the long-term American presence in the country. Progress on this front is welcome, given the lack of practical strategy and substantial problems facing the post-war transition. This agreement still leaves unresolved the sticky issue of US Special Forces conducting "night raids," but prospects for a negotiated agreement are now better than they have been.

Joseph Kony

Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord and head of the Lords Resistance Army, has become the worlds most wanted man on Facebook and Twitter. Invisible Children created a short film which went viral, rocketing the Kony2012 campaign into a global advocacy PR stratosphere normally reserved for charities that feature Bono. Foreign Policy published an interesting critique of the campaign and then posted a response by Invisible Children. A -- Moderately graphic -- slideshow of the basic facts and images has been published as well. Whether #kony2012 is net-positive or negative, it's worth noting that the Obama administration has been engaged in this issue for some time, having sent 100 combat troops to central Africa last year in order to help break the back of the LRA.

Experts Warn About Overheated Rhetoric on Iran

I wrote earlier today about the growing consensus among experts that the saber-rattling on Iran has gotten a little out of control. Check that out for some video and note that the policy makers who are calling for bombing are increasingly out of step with actual intelligence reports and expert opinion. 

Experts Warn About Overheated Rhetoric On Iran

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On Morning Joe this morning, Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour discusses the rational nature of the Iranian regime and explains why the international community still has plenty of time before Iran could develop a functional nuclear weapons capacity. The segment also teases a forthcoming 60 Minutes interview with Meir Dagan, former Israeli Intelligence Chief, in which he urges for cooler heads to prevail. These statements are indicative of the growing consensus among policy experts that the harsh sanctions and international isolation, that has characterized the Obama Administration's tough diplomacy, is succeeding in the short to medium term. It is important to note that the politicians beating the war drums on Iran are increasingly unsupported by actual analysis and intelligence. 



Foreign Policy Chat – Managing China’s Cyber Threat

A new Congressionally-commissioned report on China's offensive cyber capabilities was released today, arriving just in time to contribute to the debate over a new cyber security bill winding its way through the legislature. The report provides some interesting technical details, but it was based off of open-source intelligence, making its big conclusions familiar to those who have been paying attention to these issues over the last several months. We know that China is pursuing a robust program of offensive capability that it hopes would allow it to disrupt foreign information and hardware networks, in addition to demobilizing an opponent's command and control, in advance of a traditional military operation.  The report also highlights the prevalence of Chinese non-government, though perhaps sanctioned, hackers' continued efforts to steal business information and R&D details from American corporations. Intelligence officials and corporate officers have known about his for years, but officials -- both in and outside the Government -- have only recently begun calling out China publically for its role in supporting cyber espionage.

While information theft is certainly a problem, policymakers should not be surprised by China developing cyber capabilities and contemplating its role in their contingency planning. The United States is certainly doing the same thing. US Cyber Command is tasked with a similar mission and one would hope that they're also toiling to stay on the cutting edge of offensive and defense cyber capabilities, as well as developing ways to integrate these tools into strategic and tactical planning. It would be a mistake to view china's foray into this space as an unusually aggressive move, rather than something to be expected. As we manage this new reality, however, we should view the evolving cyber space through two critical prisms.

Building and maintaining our security defenses needs to be a top priority and far more can and should be done to protect ourselves from cyber threats. A large part of Cyber Command's mission -- along with DHS and others -- is to secure government and defense networks from potential attack. This effort should be commended, but there needs to be a commitment of resources that is actually scaled to the task. In addition to more robust funding, though, existing agency constituencies need to sacrifice tightly-held turf in order to promote an effective whole-of-government approach. 

While these reforms can appear daunting, they're actually much further ahead than the private sector. Much of the essential US infrastructure -- power plants, telecom, utilities -- are privately owned. Up to now we have largely relyied on these private corporations to protect their networks and services on their own. Unfortunately, very few have actually stepped up to the plate. James Lewis, a cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, highlighted this problem when he recently testified before Congress: "As a nation, we are still too reliant on cybersecurity policies from the 1990s that depend on voluntary action, market forces and feckless public private partnerships.  This approach has failed.  It is inadequate for what has become a global infrastructure that our economy relies upon and, because of its speed and scale, makes criminals, spies and hostile militaries our next door neighbors. Continued endorsement of these old ideas as the basis for cybersecurity puts the nation at risk"

This is the critical issue that the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 is intended to address. The status quo has clearly failed and Congress should make sure to write and pass a strong bill that will not allow our national security to be put at risk simply because corporations would rather spare themselves the expense and hassle of securing and upgrading their systems. Let's be clear; Like the Wall Street banks, it's the American citizens, tax payers, and government who will be left holding the bag if our physical or digital infrastructure is compromised, so it's past time to enforce reasonable regulations.

Along with playing a strong defense, we also need to keep in mind that our approach to cyber is part of our much larger relationship with China. The President's "pivot to Asia" reflects the reality that the nature of Sino-US relations will be, perhaps, one of the most consequential factors driving 21st century global politics. The speed and size of the Chinese economic expansion will inevitably bring with it a desire for more regional, global, and military influence. This situation calls for effective and proactive engagement by the US. Domestic cyber attacks and espionage is also a huge and growing problem within China and, when searching for common interests, we shouldn't dismiss out of hand the potential for this issue to be a potential source of collaboration.

As China grows into its more influential role, US policy makers need to be wary of slipping into an unnecessarily combative relationship. We no longer have the option of falling into a new Cold War. Our economies and interests in the global commons are simply too interdependent. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't confront the Chinese in order to protect US interests. We should not shy away from raising the stakes -- at the WTO and bilaterally -- on issues of trade and currency manipulation. But every new tank produced in Beijing or Chinese hacker who skims a password should not be viewed as an indication of focused aggression and a sign of some imminent attack. As the recent report on cyber capabilities makes clear, China has many broad and diverse interests and they have little motivation to pick a real fight with the United States. Increased military spending should be expected from China given their economic growth and the massive balance of force advantage that the US maintains. Despite large investments by Beijing, China is not a near-peer for the US in conventional military might. The US will remain, for many decades at least, the only country with the hardware, infrastructure, and logistics necessary to project sustained military power around the globe.

The ongoing cyber threat from China is real, but our response must avoid overreaction and be viewed within the larger context of the US-Sino relationship. We need to raise our game in securing our private and public network infrastructure, work with China and the international community to establish a credible cyber regime, and then hold violators responsible through appropriately-scaled penalties. This is not a time to simply withdraw behind firewalls. In the long run, both Americans and Chinese have a shared interest in a stable and secure global digital commons, and this challenge calls on us to be global leaders in making that happen.

The White House On Targeted Killings: More Questions Than Answers

Attorney General Holder gave a widely-anticipated speech yesterday attempting to shed some light on the Administration's policy regarding the targeted killing of American citizens engaged in terrorism abroad. Politico has a good summary of what was said and I recommend reading Adam Serwer's take over at Mother Jones.  The bulk of the speech was boilerplate that we've heard before, but the important portion was when Holder laid out the standard used by the Administration when making decisions about targets:

"Let me be clear: an operation using lethal force in a foreign country, targeted against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, would be lawful at least in the following circumstances: First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles."

While this is the clearest statement that's been given by the Administration on the subject, it begs more questions than it answers. He characterizes Al Qaeda as posing an ongoing and imminent threat to the US. Given that reality, it's not clear what relevant distinction exists between "operational" and non-operational leadership. Holder's internal logic wouldn't seem to preclude the targeting of people who provide significant material, recruiting, or logistics support if the entire organization is viewed as posing an imminent threat to Americans.

He goes on to acknowledge the necessity of "robust oversight," explaining the detailed procedures in place to deal with intelligence gathering, wire-tapping, and prosecuting suspects through military tribunals. When he gets back to the situation at hand, however, the only oversight that appears to apply to targeted killings is for the White House to "regularly inform...the appropriate members of Congress." Mere Congressional notification hardly seems like a robust form of oversight. In fact, it's really the bare legal minimum. It certainly sounds as though the White House is operating under the amended National Security Act which doesn't require them to notify all of Congress, or even everyone on the relevent Intelligence committees. They can choose to brief only the so-called "Gang of 8," and the Congressional Research Service points out that "Congress does not have the authority under statute to veto outright a covert action." There may be compelling reasons for the Administration to limit oversight so severely, but the Attorney General didn't make those arguments.

Holder did, however, attempt to take his most vocal legal critics head-on when he asserted--correctly--that "Due process and judicial process are not one and the same." The Supreme Court has consistently allowed for alternative, extra-judicial processes in instances where a judge and traditional trial are unnecessary. Kevin Drum points out, however, that historically this approach has been "meant to keep full-blown trials from being required even for fairly minor offenses, something that could grind the criminal justice system to a halt. It's not meant to demean the due process required for something as serious as targeting someone for killing." The legal precedent is clearly on the side of the Administration here, but in order to know whether or not they are, in fact, demeaning the standard--we would need a lot more knowledge about how the internal process of target selection and approval is carried out. These are details that the White House appears intent on keeping to itself.

It isn't just American terrorist supporters who have a deeply vested interest in this policy, however. There's more than a few foreign countries that I'm sure are weary of American Hellfire missiles targeting people within their borders. Holder recognized these concerns, assuring the audience that the White House's legal interpretation "does not mean that we can use military force whenever or wherever we want." After this throat-clearing, however, he goes on to remind everyone that "neither Congress nor our federal courts has limited the geographic scope of our ability to use force... the use of force in foreign territory would be consistent with these international legal principles if conducted, for example, with the consent of the nation involved - or after a determination that the nation is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a threat to the United States." We know that the Osama bin Laden raid, for example, was conducted without the consent or knowledge of the Pakistani government, so presumably there is some kind of process and criteria in place to make a determination about whether or not a country is "unable or unwilling" to act. Like the process for determining individual targets, though, the actual standards and calculus being used remains too opaque to judge.

All told, I commend the Administration's attempt to increase, if only marginally, the transparency around this policy. Americans, legal scholars, and foreign countries are right to view these actions with skepticism. The Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress in the wake of the September 11 attacks, grants the President broad powers to use "necessary and appropriate force" in protecting the nation from terrorism. As the Attorney General himself pointed out, though, proper oversight and review are essential to ensure that the White House exercises this power in a way that's consistent with our constitution, values, and international legal commitments. The ACLU, in a response to Holder's speech, argued that "judicial oversight is critically important given the breathtaking authority the government has claimed." Some accommodation for national security is clearly appropriate, but whether more formal judicial oversight is needed can't be fairly determined without understanding the rigor of the Administration's internal due process. With that in mind. civil rights groups are doing a real service by continuing to push for the needed level of disclosure. 

Foreign Policy Chat: Posturing On Iran And A Third Term For Putin


The escalating rhetoric on Iran is converging this week with a high-profile visit from Israeli PM Netanyahu and AIPAC's annual conference. Israeli hard liners and their American supporters have been pressuring the President for weeks to toughen up his position on Iran, emphasize military options, and to articulate concrete "red lines" - Iranian actions that would spur a military response from the US. The President took the stage at AIPAC to reassure the audience that he stands with Israel and is working diligently to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The President's two-track strategy--which led with the option of diplomatic rapprochement and then pivoted to tough sanctions--has been credited by many analysts as causing significant economic turmoil in Iran and isolating them internationally in unprecedented ways. The fact remains that while no one can guarantee that the Administration's strategy will prevent Iran from developing nuclear capability, the hawks calling for air strikes certainly have not made any kind of compelling case for what that end game looks like and how we would deal with the massive regional instability that would result.

Daniel Levy penned an interesting piece analyzing some of the behind-the-scenes politics and strategy on the Israeli side and concludes that Bibi probably won't attack Iran. It's a great read for some background on the closed-door debates likely to be happening in Washington this week. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has seized the opportunity to try and criticize Obama's Iran policy and cast him as weak on the Middle East. His argument, however, seems unlikely to resonate when his characterization of what a Romney foreign policy would look like is virtually identical to the one advanced by President Obama. Romney's suggestion that he "will have those military options...and will take those crippling sanctions and put them into place," could be verbatim from any White House press release. In trying to contexualize all of the noise on Iran, I highly recommend this radio clip from last week's On The Media, in which New York Times reporter Scott Shane explains the way that media coverage of Iran is impacting public opinion. Interesting stuff. 


Putin Claims Third Term

Sunday night saw Vladimir Putin shed tears as he claimed a third term as Russian President amid a backdrop of protests and allegations of electoral fraud. This result is anything but shocking, with international election observers promptly issuing a report revealing that the entire election left much to be desired: “Although all contestants were able to campaign unhindered, the conditions for the campaign were clearly skewed in favor of one candidate. Also, overly restrictive candidate registration requirements limited genuine competition. While all candidates had access to media, one candidate, the current Prime Minister, was given clear advantage in the coverage… The process deteriorated during the count which was assessed negatively in nearly one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities.” After the results were announced, police arrested more than 500 protestors and Putin reportedly paid $10 a head in order to fill the seats at a dramatic victory party.

The details of Russia’s rocky experience with democratic governance is less important in the short term, however, than how Putin chooses to play his cards on other regional and strategic issues. The Secretary-General of NATO issued a statement expressing his confidence that the organization will continue to collaborate on issues of importance—such as missile infrastructure and Afghanistan. The continuity of government in Moscow will also have important implications for the ongoing international response to the crisis in Syria. Russia recently vetoed a Security Council resolution on the subject, seeking to protect their long-time ally and warm-water naval base. US and European officials will have to wait and see whether the security of a six year Presidential term will make Putin more or less inclined to come to the table and engage with the West. 

Best Of NDN's Mobile Policy Work

This Wednesday, former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and Suzanne Hall of the State Department will be joining NDN as we release a new paper on the “Mobile Revolution, Revisited.” Tim Chambers authored the first version of this paper back in 2006 and the ensuing five years of election engagement, mobile-enabled revolution, and technology-based international development has proven his work to be prescient and its update incredibly timely.

NDN and New Policy Institute have long been on the cutting edge of mobile policy. We were among the first to not only recognize its game-changing potential for election strategy and community development, but also among the most outspoken advocates of public policies that supported the growth, adoption, and spread of mobile technology. Our Global Mobile Blog has also consistently provided a vital window into the challenges and opportunities these technologies face around the world. In preparation for this Wednesday’s event we have assembled ten of the most influential pieces on mobile that NDN has released. Simon Rosenberg addressed many of these issues in his forward to Crashing The Gate, Marcos Moulitsas' critically acclaimed book, in 2006. Our efforts on this front stretch back nearly a decade and continue to be a priority for us. We hope that you’ll reacquaint yourself with some of NDN’s ground-breaking work on this front and join us on Wednesday, March 7th. As always, we welcome your feedback and thoughts. 

1. Mobile Media in 21st Century Politics - Tim Chambers and Rob Sebastian. September 1, 2006

2. A laptop in Every Backpack - Alec Ross and Simon Rosenberg. May 1, 2007

3. The 50 Year Strategy - Simon Rosenberg and Peter Leyden. December 2007

4. Harnessing the Mobile Revolution - Thomas Kalil. October 8, 2008

5. Obama: No Realist He - Simon Rosenberg. June 16, 2009

6. The Power of Mobile - Alec Ross (Video). June 26, 2009

7. Governance and the Internet Ecosystem - Tom Tauke (Video). March 25, 2010

8. Connection Technologies in U.S. Foreign Policy - Sam DuPont. September 10, 2010

9. The Age of Possibility - Simon Rosenberg (Video). April 29, 2011

10. The Employment Effects of Advances in Internet and Wireless Technology: Evaluating the Transitions from 2G to 3G and from 3G to 4G - Rob Shapiro and Kevin Hassett. January 18, 2012



Foreign Policy Chat: What To Do About Syria, North Korean Nukes, And Foreign Policy In The 2012 Election

Today we're launching a regular feature called Foreign Policy Chat. I'll be highlighting a few daily stories that are driving the chatter in foreign policy circles, providing interesting links, and offering some brief analysis. I welcome your feedback and comments. Stay up to date throughout the day via Twitter by following @BradEEB and #FoPoChat. 


As the Syrian rebels have been forced into a “tactical retreat” from Homs and the SNC struggles to establish the ability to effectively represent the Syrian people, debate continues in the US about aid and possible intervention. GOP presidential candidates have criticized the President’s failure to act militarily, but proponents of intervention have failed to confront the stated logistical concerns of nearly all top policy makers from the White House, Capitol Hill, and NATO. A CNAS report by Marc Lynch, published last week, convincingly argues that intervention or arming the rebels stands little chance of improving the situation on the ground and would likely make the conflict far more bloody. Until the hawks can articulate a reasonable path forward that addresses all of the tactical and strategic problems, their position simply isn’t credible.

Foreign Policy and the 2012 Election

With the economy slowly improving and polls trending positively for Democrats, GOP operatives are beginning to suggest moving the national debate onto issues of foreign policy. Two of the political architects behind George W Bush’s failed foreign policy misadventures, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, recently penned an article arguing that the President is weak on security issues and vulnerable on foreign policy. The irrationality of their arguments, however, has been exposed by two compelling rebuttals: One by Stan Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner; the other by Michael Cohen. While Rove and Gillespie’s assertions about Obama’s vulnerability are largely baseless, this debate suggests that we’re going to be hearing a lot more about foreign policy between now and November. NDN’s own Simon Rosenberg recently explored how Obama’s Middle East strategy will likely fit into forthcoming Republican attacks.

North Korea

This week saw a surprise announcement that the US had struck a deal with the North Koreans to freeze their nuclear program, discontinue missile tests, and allow UN inspectors in exchange for significant food aid. Secretary Clinton characterized the move as a “modest step forward,” while North Korea experts Victor Cha and Ellen Kim argued that this may be a bad-faith ploy from a Pyongyang leadership with no real intention to make lasting changes. Critics are right to be skeptical. The long-running pattern of North Korean behavior suggests that the cat and mouse game over their nuclear program is far from over. This latest move occurring so closely on the heels of Kim Jong Un’s ascension, however, is almost certainly positive. Many analysts were afraid that the younger Kim would feel compelled to flex his military muscles in order to earn the respect of the military establishment. The fact that he feels comfortable enough to make any nuclear deal with the US seems to suggest that it’s unlikely the regime will aggressively lash out in the near term. 

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