National Security

Two Cheers for Obama: Nobody Makes the Best Out of Bad Situation Like He Does

(U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica Hines)
(U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica Hines) An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off for Poland, September 5, 2014, from Aviano Air Base, Italy. This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post . I t took President Barack Obama a long time, and multiple stumbles, to back into a foreign policy role that looks something like leadership. If Russian President Putin is agreeing to a cease-fire in Ukraine that just might hold, the U.S.-led combination of pressure and restraint deserves much of the credit. Putin considers the loss of the Ukraine one of the great tragedies of Russian history, and before this conflict is over Putin will probably demand and get greater regional autonomy for Russian-majority Eastern Ukraine. But that beats an annexation or a war. At the outset of this conflict, Germany was prepared to subordinate the independence of Ukraine to long-standing German economic ties with Russia. Chancellor Merkel's new toughness, which helped alter the Russian calculus, would not...

Why Is President Obama the Only One Not Trying to Make the Public Afraid?

Remember this? Good times.
There's something odd going on with regard to this ISIL situation (and by the way, it would be good if we could agree on a name for it), or odd if your point of reference is the Bush era, the consequences of which we're still grappling with. Back then, the way things worked was that the president and his advisors would come out and tell us some swarthy Middle Easterners were coming to kill you and your family, and therefore it was imperative that we assent to the policies the administration wanted to pursue. When asked for evidence, they'd respond with statements like, " We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud ." The secretary of Homeland Security told us all to stockpile duct tape and plastic sheeting so you'd be able to survive when al-Qaeda launched a chemical weapons attack on your street. But over time, when most Americans were not actually killed by terrorists, the fear began to subside. Today, we have a president once again asking for support for a new military...

Endless 9/11s: How the Bush-Cheney Response to the World Trade Center Attack Shaped Today’s Terrors

(AP Photo/Alexandre Fuchs)
T hirteen years ago today, al-Qaeda terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, took out a chunk of the Pentagon, and very nearly crashed a fourth jetliner into a target assumed to be the Capitol or the White House. That attack, in the wake of the Bush administration’s willful refusal to pay attention to increasingly urgent warnings from its own counter-terrorism officials, set in motion a series of events whose aftermath we are still living through. Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush decided that the real culprit was Saddam Hussein, and made war on Iraq. ISIL is, in part, the creature of the regional destabilization and Islamist backlash that followed. The Bush administration, at first an illegitimate and feeble presidency, found a new voice and a new purpose. Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took over. In the USA PATRIOT Act, a long wish list of the most extreme warrantless surveillance techniques was rushed into law, and the U.S. became more of...

Just How Big a Threat to the U.S. Is ISIL?

It didn't surprise anyone that most Republicans were displeased with President Obama's speech about ISIS (which he called ISIL, another of its names) last night, and it would be natural to conclude that the key division at work is between a president and party reluctant to use military force abroad, and an opposition party with near-limitless enthusiasm for military adventures. There's plenty of truth there, but there's an even more fundamental divide, even if it's not going to be spoken by President Obama or that many Democrats. The real question is whether ISIL actually constitutes a threat to the United States. For Republicans, it's so obvious that ISIS does threaten us that there isn't any use debating it . ISIL has seized large swaths of territory and picked up weapons left behind by the Iraqi army, they're well-funded thanks to pillaging banks and selling oil on the black market, and they have dreams of a caliphate spanning the entire Middle East. So of course they're a threat...

In Fight Against ISIL, Obama Finds Himself Facing Michael Corleone's Dilemma

(AP Photo/Saul Loeb, Pool)
I f you think that American power and leadership is best demonstrated by our ability to blow things up, this probably wasn’t the speech for you . While President Barack Obama laid out a number of steps he would be taking to ramp up the effort against ISIL (the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” or, as they now call themselves, the “Islamic State”), including, in addition to air strikes in Iraq, possibly striking the group inside Syria, the speech was much less than the full-throated call to war that his most hawkish critics wanted. Coming in the wake of the heinous beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Stephen Sotloff, clearly stung by criticism of his admission last week that “[w]e don’t have a strategy yet” for addressing ISIL’s presence in Syria, and pressured by relentless drumbeat to “do something”—which in Washington almost always translates to: “Make more war!” —the president obviously felt the need to explain that, yes, we are doing something, and here’s what...

Could Scottish Independence Set Off a Cascade of Secession?

(Danny Lawson/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images)
(Danny Lawson/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images) Scottish independence referendum. Deputy First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and actor Alan Cumming on September 8, 2014, outside the Yes Kelvin campaign hub in Glasgow ahead of the Scottish independence referendum vote on September 18. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . U ntil recently, few people took seriously the possibility that Scotland might actually secede from the United Kingdom. However, with a referendum scheduled for September 18, the latest polls show secession in the lead for the first time, and gaining dramatic momentum . The British government is frantically scrambling to offer the Scots a much more autonomous form of federalism, to head off the drive for full independence. Meanwhile, the specter of a diminished Britain has led to speculative attack against the British pound. What's going on here? For one thing, with the European Union allowing membership for lots of micro-states,...

It's Time To Stop 'Managing' the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Just End It

Netanyahu appears to truly not believe that a negotiated agreement can end a conflict with a dedicated opponent, but there's really no other way.

(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed) A Palestinian protester holds stones during a protest against the expansion of the nearby Jewish settlement of Halamish, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah, Friday, November 9, 2012. I n mid-June, a couple of aeons ago the way time is counted here in the Middle East, before rockets were falling in Tel Aviv, before the invasion of Gaza and the death count and the rubble, before "ceasefire" became a synonym for broken hope, when Israel was still an outpost of calm in the region, I took a day's reporting trip to West Bank settlements north of Jerusalem. My guide was Dror Etkes, the veteran Israeli tracker of settlement building and land theft. At a settlement known as Kokhav Ya'akov, northeast of Jerusalem, we saw earth-moving equipment clearing ground for a new development. Kokhav Ya'akov, Etkes explained, is built on what Israel has determined to be state-owned land—except for some 200 houses and a few dozen mobile homes on real estate...

The Government Program That's Equipping Police Like an Occupying Military Force

A chilling index from the Institute for Southern Studies.

(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes)
(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes) Protesters raise their hands in front of police atop an armored vehicle in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. This index was originally published by Facing South , a website of the Institute for Southern Studies. ( Click here to subscribe to their newsletter.) Year in which Congress initially authorized the Defense Department to give excess arms and ammunition to law enforcement agencies for counter-drug activities, leading to the creation of what's come to be known as the 1033 program: 1990 Number of law enforcement agencies the program has given equipment to: more than 17,000 Percent of U.S. states with agencies participating in the program: 100 (Photo from the Richland County Sheriff's Department website.) Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County, South Carolina and members of his department's Special Response Team with the military vehicle they call "The Peacemaker." Value of military equipment the program has transferred...

Thoughtful, Prudent and Faltering: The Paradox of Obama

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014. N ew York Times columnist Tom Friedman's extended interview with President Obama shed some light on how Obama can be well-informed, thoughtful, prudent—yet still be seen as faltering as a foreign policy president. If you compare Obama with George W. Bush (OK — a low bar), Obama wins, hands down. Unlike Bush, Obama inhabits the reality-based foreign policy space, with no apologies. Unlike Bush, he has no messianic zealots among his advisers. He gives the kind of well-considered responses that suggest a president who carefully engages with truly difficult policy conundrums. Yet at the end of the day, he often comes across as vacillating and indecisive—an impression that can be fatal in his dealings with allies, adversaries, and, of course, any electorate. In the case of Iraq and ISIL's murderous assault on religious minorities and rivals, not to...

If Having a Foreign Policy Doctrine Is So Important, Why Won't Hillary Clinton Spell Hers Out?

Official State Department Photo
J effrey Golberg has an interview with Hillary Clinton which is being billed as a rebuke of, or maybe a distancing from, her old boss, Barack Obama. While you'll probably think that an overstatement when you read the transcript, she does express a desire for a foreign policy "doctrine" of her own, even if she doesn't actually deliver it. While there are a few unsettling things in the interview (her comments on Israel could have come from Bibi Netanyahu himself), the doctrine question is worth paying attention to. As I've argued before , President Obama doesn't have a foreign policy doctrine, and that's by design. He explicitly rejected the idea that it was necessary to have some kind of bumper-sticker-ready idea guiding all his foreign policy decisions, a single phrase or sentence that sums up everything he'd be doing in foreign affairs. Even though doctrines don't have a particularly good track record of late, in this interview, Clinton says that a doctrine is necessary (though she...

The New York Times Finally Comes Around on "Torture"

An enhanced interrogation chair from the Inquisition. (Flickr/Anguskirk)
The New York Times has finally decided, only a decade or so too late, that it will now use the word "torture" to describe the torture techniques used during the Bush years by the United States government on prisoners believed to be connected to terrorism. While we should certainly be glad that they've finally come around, the statement by Executive Editor Dean Baquet explaining their decision shows just how wrongheaded the editors' thinking this issue has been all along. You should read the whole thing (it's pretty brief), but here are some particularly troubling parts: When the first revelations emerged a decade ago, the situation was murky. The details about what the Central Intelligence Agency did in its interrogation rooms were vague. The word "torture" had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one. While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of "torture." The Times described...

It Isn't About the Tunnels. So What Is the Gaza Conflict Really About?

The Israeli government's tactical goals shifted repeatedly. At no point, it appears, has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a strategic political vision.

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Update: August 8, 4:00 p.m. Israel time ( 9 a.m. EDT ): Hopes for an end to the Gaza War evaporated after indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo stalled. Hamas rejected an extension of the three-day ceasefire that began on Tuesday . Moments after the ceasefire ended, rocket fire from Gaza into Israel resumed this morning. Israeli artillery fire and air strikes followed, and the Israeli negotiators left Cairo. I. At four o'clock after the war —which is to say, 4 p.m. Tuesday—a Hebrew news site carried a telegraphic bulletin: The head of the Israeli army's Southern Command announced that residents of the area bordering Gaza could return to their homes and feel safe. The reassuring message was undercut by the bulletin that appeared on the same site one minute earlier: "IDF assessment: Hamas still has at least two to three tunnels reaching into...

Our Privacy and Liberty Still At Risk, Even If Leahy NSA Bill Passes

Under the USA Freedom Act, the executive branch could exploit the absence of a bright-line restriction to engage in collection that is far broader than necessary.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy arrives as his panel questions top Obama administration officials about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. A fter a brief hiatus, legislative reform of the NSA’s bulk collection program appears to be back on track. Thanks to skillful negotiations on the part of Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and other cosponsors, the version of the USA Freedom Act that was unveiled in the Senate last week restores many of the protections that House leadership and administration officials stripped out of the House version in secret, last-minute talks. Most notably, the Senate bill clearly would prohibit the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records and other types of information. And yet, even if the Senate version becomes law, Americans’ private information will remain vulnerable—under both the domestic programs addressed by the bill and other, much larger...

House Intel Committee Finds No Benghazi Scandal; Will Boehner Ignore Its Findings?

House Speaker John Boehner faces a choice: Either he can accept the findings of a responsible, Republican committee chair, or cynically allow a kangaroo court to proceed. 

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
A ccording to Representative Mike Thompson , Democrat of California, a report from the Republican led House Intelligence Committee on the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, "confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given." Late last week, before Congress headed out of Washington for August recess, the body voted to declassify the document. After nearly two years of investigations, millions of dollars spent, tens of thousands of pages of documents handed over by the administration, a Republican-led committee is about to release a report stating that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Obama White House. In fact, nearly all of the accusations levied against the White House over the past year by conservatives in Congress, and amplified by the media, have now been determined to be false—by a Republican jury. House Speaker John Boehner is now left with a choice. Will he allow Rep...

The Limits of American Power: Judging Obama's Foreign Policy

The Bush administration taught us the folly of overreach, but America simply can't exit the world stage. The dangers are too great.

AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo U.S. Army soldiers salute American flags at a ceremony at Camp Liberty in Baghdad on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . W hen I was young, a mantra among progressives was that America had to stop operating as global policeman. Vietnam was the signal episode of arrogant and ultimately self-defeating American overreach. But there were plenty of other cases of the U.S. government doing the bidding of oil companies and banana barons, and blithely overthrowing left-democratic governments as well as outright communists (or driving nationalist reformers into the arms of communists.) As the late Phil Ochs tauntingly sang, " We're the cops of the world. " Or as Randy Newman mordantly put it, " Let's drop the big one and see what happens. " At the same time, I viewed myself as sensible left. I was the guy at the Moratorium demonstrations of the late 1960s and early 1970s (actually covering them for Pacifica) hoping to make...

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