National Security

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. 

Obama's Speech Clearly Defines His View of America's Role in the World

I enjoyed this latter section of the President's speech last night. It is perhaps the clearest holistic indication to date of his view of America's role in the world:

As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests.  And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces.  I don't have the luxury of committing to just one.  Indeed, I'm mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who -- in discussing our national security -- said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration:  the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance.  We've failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy.  In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills.  Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children.  Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce.  So we can't simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home.  Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power.  It pays for our military.  It underwrites our diplomacy.  It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry.  And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last.  That's why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended -- because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own.

Now, let me be clear:  None of this will be easy.  The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world.  And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies.

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict -- not just how we wage wars.  We'll have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power.  Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold -- whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere -- they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.

And we can't count on military might alone.  We have to invest in our homeland security, because we can't capture or kill every violent extremist abroad.  We have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence, so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks. 

We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction.  And that's why I've made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loose nuclear materials from terrorists, to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and to pursue the goal of a world without them -- because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever more destructive weapons; true security will come for those who reject them. 

We'll have to use diplomacy, because no one nation can meet the challenges of an interconnected world acting alone.  I've spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships.  And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim world -- one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity. 

And finally, we must draw on the strength of our values -- for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not.  That's why we must promote our values by living them at home -- which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom and justice and opportunity and respect for the dignity of all peoples.  That is who we are.  That is the source, the moral source, of America’s authority.

Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents and great-grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs.  We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents.  We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies.  We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions -- from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank -- that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes.  But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades -- a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, and markets open, and billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress and advancing frontiers of human liberty. 

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination.  Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations.  We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours.  What we have fought for -- what we continue to fight for -- is a better future for our children and grandchildren.  And we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.  (Applause.)   

As a country, we're not as young -- and perhaps not as innocent -- as we were when Roosevelt was President.  Yet we are still heirs to a noble struggle for freedom.  And now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age. 

In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms.  It derives from our people -- from the workers and businesses who will rebuild our economy; from the entrepreneurs and researchers who will pioneer new industries; from the teachers that will educate our children, and the service of those who work in our communities at home; from the diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad; and from the men and women in uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government of the people, by the people, and for the people a reality on this Earth.

Big Press Day for Upcoming NDN Speakers Rep. Adam Smith and Peter Bergen on Afghanistan

Next Wednesday, October 28, Afghanistan experts Congressman Adam Smith, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities of the House Armed Services Committee, and journalist Peter Bergen, the Co-Director of the New America Foundation’s Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative will speak to NDN about America’s challenges in Afghanistan. Both had important contributions to the conversation today in the press, Smith in lead quote in the New York Times and Bergen in an article in The New Republic.

Here's what Adam Smith, who recently traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, had to say in a piece on Taliban financing:

Despite efforts by the United States and its allies in the last year to cripple the Taliban's financing, using the military and intelligence, American officials acknowledge they barely made a dent.

"I don’t believe we can significantly alter their effectiveness by cutting off their money right now," said Representative Adam Smith, a Washington State Democrat on the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees who traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan last month. "I'm not saying we shouldn’t try. It’s just bigger and more complex than we can effectively stop."

And an excerpt from Peter Bergen's piece called "The Front: The Taliban - Al Qaeda Merger:" President Obama weighs whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, the connection between the region and Al Qaeda has suddenly become a matter of hot dispute in Washington. We are told that September 11 was as much a product of plotting in Hamburg as in Afghanistan; that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are quite distinct groups, and that we can therefore defeat the former while tolerating the latter; that flushing jihadists out of one failing state will merely cause them to pop up in another anarchic corner of the globe; that, in the age of the Internet, denying terrorists a physical safe haven isn't all it's cracked up to be.

These arguments point toward one conclusion: The effort to secure Afghanistan is not a matter of vital U.S. interest. But those who make this case could not be more mistaken. Afghanistan and the areas of Pakistan that border it have always been the epicenter of the war on jihadist terrorism--and, at least for the foreseeable future, they will continue to be. Though it may be tempting to think otherwise, we cannot defeat Al Qaeda without securing Afghanistan.

To see this important discussion on Afghanistan between Smith and Bergen, it's well worth viewing NDN's webcast at 7:00 pm on October 28. Details here.

Now Reading: TNR's Crowley on the Obama Foreign Policy Process

The New Republic's Michael Crowley has a piece up today on the Obama foreign policy process. It's an insight into the President’s emphasis on process and inclusion as well as how hands on he really is on foreign policy. It's worth reading the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

In the normal course of Washington events, the creation of talking points often involves several aides, who bicker and rewrite for hours until they've come up with a simple message for their boss. In the Bush administration, that process might have been perverted so that the vice president was telling his nominal boss what to say. But the Obama administration apparently operates differently. Rather than calling in his top foreign policy aides or formulating a stance that advanced his own agenda, Biden turned directly to Barack Obama. "The vice president said, 'What do you want me to say?' And the president and the vice president sat down and did them together," explains a senior White House aide. "And then they presented them to us."

Crowley covers Gitmo, Iran, General Jones, and more.

Drezner on Russia, Iran, and US Interests

Yesterday on, the Tufts Fletcher School’s Daniel Drezner wrote about the problems Russia is causing itself by being seen to meddle in Iran’s internal politics (in stark contrast to Obama's smart response).  Basically, he picks up on an Andrew Sullivan blog in which Iranians seem to believe that something like a Russian Coup is actually happening, and that the Russians are now very concerned about this and trying to backtrack, likely unsuccessfully.

I also think Drezner’s right on in terms of where things are headed, which is now in stark contrast to where the situation was just a couple days ago. Until recently, Obama was accurate in saying that there was little difference in terms of policy outcomes between an Ahmadinejad and Mousavi win (and he was certainly right to say it, so as to not pronounce an American favorite, thereby handicapping that person). Now, as Drezner rights, the situation in Iran is at a fundamentally different point (my emphasis):

I'm pretty sure a Rubicon has been crossed in Iran that can't be uncrossed.  This isn't 1999 and 2003 -- too many days have passed with the Khamenei regime on the defensive.  The regime as it existed for the past twenty years -- hemmed-in democracy combined with clerical rule -- is not going to be able to continue.  With the largest protests of the past week scheduled for tomorrow, I think this ends in one of two ways:  the removal of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei from power, or bloodshed on a scale that we cannot comprehend. 

Actually, come to think of it, those two outcomes are not mutually exclusive.  

Obama and Realism, Continued

Yesterday on the NDN Blog, Simon, Sam, Dan, and I wrote quite a bit about Obama’s foreign policy philosophy, and I’d like to present a couple more takes on the subject. First, TNR’s Peter Scoblic applauds the Obama Administration’s response to Iran, and their ability to craft a middle ground between realism and idealism:

I don't accept the suggestion that if one is not an idealist, one is necessarily a cold-blooded realist. Although there are certainly those who believe that the internal affairs of other countries are irrelevant or unimportant, it is possible to care about human rights while questioning America's ability to influence the internal affairs of other countries and while doubting that our values and our interests are always synonymous. The United States has other priorities as well. Thus one can be skeptical of the efficacy and wisdom of diplomatic and military pressure in the name of human rights without being amoral. Moreover, although realism may be "cold," its ideological opposite, which puts the nature of regimes at the center of our foreign policy, is even more problematic. In this view, one espoused chiefly by conservatives and neoconservatives, the fact that a regime is good or evil becomes not simply a moral observation but a strategic guide. Idealism's concern with regimes, in other words, can rapidly deteriorate into a dangerous Manichaeism.

I think it is possible to have a foreign policy that harbors no illusions about the nature of enemy regimes, but that recognizes our limited capacity to change those regimes and therefore our need to engage them. I think it is possible to have a moral foreign policy that is not moralist. But how, exactly, do we pursue our idealist instincts without sabotaging the security of the United States and our allies? How can we be appropriately self-interested without being utterly selfish? These are the questions we're wrestling with right now. At first glance, the answers may seem to differ only in balance and degree. (Does one speak loudly and decry the evil of the mullah-cracy in order to support the protestors, or does one hold back, recognizing that interference could backfire not only against Mousavi's backers but against American interests more broadly?) But these are not simply tactical questions…they are the manifestations of fundamentally different worldviews, which is to say they represent different assessments of our strategic priorities and our capabilities.

Also, Stephen Walt over at convincingly rejects Andrew Sullivan’s call for Western governments to refuse to acknowledge Ahmadinejad as president of Iran, asking how far we would have to apply that standard. He is also (not surprisingly) pleased with Obama’s response to Iran:

Obama's measured response to the events in Iran strikes me as more sensible: we can and should deplore the abuses of basic rights and the democratic process, while making it clear that the United States is not interfering and remaining open to the possibility of constructive dialogue. Given our long and troubled history with Iran (which includes active support for groups seeking to overthrow the current government), any sense that we are now trying to back Moussavi is likely to backfire. Trying to steer this one from Washington won’t advance our interests or those of the reformists.  

Here's a hypothetical question for you to ponder. Which world would you prefer: 1) a world where Ahmadinejad remains in power, but Iran formally reaffirms that it will not develop nuclear weapons, ratifies and implements the Additional Protocol of the NPT, comes clean to our satisfaction about past violations (including the so-called "alleged studies"), permits highly intrusive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities, and ends support for Hamas and Hezbollah as part of a "grand bargain" with the West; or 2) a world where Mir Hussein Mousavi -- who was the Ayatollah Khomeini's prime minister from 1981 to 1989 -- wins a new election but then doesn't alter Iran's activities at all? 

This is hypothetical, of course, and almost certainly does not reflect the likely policy alternatives. But your choice of which world you'd prefer probably reveals a lot about how you conceive of the national interest, and the degree to which you think foreign policy should emphasize concrete security achievements on the one hand, or normative preferences on the other.

Finally, I hesitate to even link to this, but Robert Kagan embarrassed himself this morning in the Washington Post. Jonathan Chait at TNR does a fine job of dismantling his argument.

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