National Security

The Fall of the House of Assad?

If and when the Syrian regime crumbles, an American administration will have to seize opportunities.

AP Photos
B ashar al-Assad has not yet fallen. I note this only because of the tone of inevitability in some news reports on Syria's civil war. The downfall of Tunisia's Ben Ali, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi may be no more predictive than a roulette ball falling on red in the last three spins. Arguably, the popular convulsion in the Middle East began not in Tunisia in late 2010 but in Teheran in mid-2009, when the Iranian regime—Assad's patron—crushed a popular revolution and erased the immense hopes it had raised. Still, it would be foolish to bet heavily on Assad's long-term survival as Syria's leader. His forces may have retaken rebel-held suburbs of Damascus this week, but armed rebels holding suburbs of a capital even for a few days is the political equivalent of a tubercular cough. Wagering on when the regime will crumble or what will replace it is equally risky. Assad has already defied Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's December prediction that the Syrian regime...

Why the Republicans Won't Benefit From Being the War Party

If there was a single moment in this campaign in which a candidate declared, "Here's a position that almost every American will find completely insane, but I'm taking it because Barack Obama sucks," it would have to be the time in one of the debates when Rick Perry declared that not only was he bummed that the Iraq war was over, but "I would send troops back to Iraq." Even his Republican opponents obviously thought that was crazy. I thought of that listening to the radio this morning, when John McCain gave an interview to NPR about how Obama has screwed up Iran policy, and reminded us all not just of why he was such an unappealing presidential candidate four years ago, but how far the Republican party has drifted on foreign policy. Among the absurd things he said were that the "green revolution" protests in 2009 were "literally crying out...'Obama, Obama, are you with us?'" and if Obama had spoken out against Iran more forcefully, things would have turned out differently. You might...

Best New York Times Caption Ever

A typo in the caption of this New York Times photo raises questions about the nature of war. Isn’t that how wars start? Someone tells a story about what happened to them. Another person tells a different story. And so a fissure forms and widens. Fiction between ostensible allies leads to disasters. Honesty is the best policy.

Women, War, & Peace

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
I'm not a gender essentialist. I don't believe that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. I suspect strongly, in fact, that women and men are the same species and might even be able to reproduce. At the same time, it's true that women and men—on average, in general—tend to behave differently. You can't predict any individual woman's or man's behavior based on sex; as we've discussed here before, some boys want to be princesses, and some girls are hard-core jocks with a fabulous swagger. Yet at the same time, the international policy community knows that, on average, women tend to invest in their families while men spend their money on themselves. And that if women are involved in peacemaking and national rebuilding, that peace is more stable than if it were all organized by men. Last month, Hillary Clinton gave an extraordinary speech that got little attention, buried as it was during the holidays. In it, she discussed: ... the growing body of evidence that shows how women...

What Can Replace Social Security?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Manchester, New Hampshire— Last night, some of Ron Paul’s younger supporters—and Ron Paul supporters are disproportionately young—held a pub crawl through the bars of downtown Manchester. During the first two hours (after which time I crawled away), about 50 largely male Paulists, behaving far too decorously for serious pub crawlers, drank and munched and yacked. Paul himself had arrived in the state just that afternoon—electing, for some mysterious reason, to spend Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning back in Texas. At a welcome rally at Nashua’s small-plane airport, he spoke in his usual generalities about libertarian values, interspersing occasional anecdotes about unnamed congressional colleagues who had voted to fund one damned project after another. He was hailed, of course, as a conquering hero—Paul’s supporters are the only true zealots among the Republicans this year. One such zealot who turned up at the pub crawl was Nick, who’d driven all the way from Boston. Like many if...

Occupying Grand Central Station

OWS rings in the new year with a fight against NDAA.

Sargeant Shamar Thomas protests against NDAA Tuesday at Grand Central Station.
Five hundred people returned to Zuccotti Park on New Year's Eve, with drums, chants of "Whose Year? Our Year!", and a tent, which they say they gave to police in exchange for entrance to the park. An hour before midnight, police and occupiers attempting to remove metal barricades around Zuccotti had a violent confrontation and, by 1:30 a.m., police had cleared activists from the park. Tuesday, occupiers mobilized against the National Defense Authorization Action signed by President Obama on New Year's Eve. After a lunchtime march to the offices of New York senators, occupiers gathered in the Grand Central train station, where multiple people were arrested while leading "People's Mic" recitations of an anti-NDAA script. The indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA have become a lightning rod for Occupy actions, including Philadelphia—where activists presented "Fascist of the Year" awards to actors portraying their Senators—and Iowa, where they occupied the hotel headquartering the...

Pruning the Pentagon

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) President Barack Obama, center, shakes hand with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., left, and Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta, right, at a news briefing on the defense strategic guidance at the Pentagon, Thursday, Jan., 5, 2012. Looking on are Sec. of the Army John McHugh, far left, and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, far right. Y esterday, President Barack Obama crossed the Potomac River to hold a press conference at the Pentagon, the first time a president has addressed reporters from the military’s headquarters. Flanked by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, and other senior military leaders, the president introduced the findings of a nine-month review of U.S. military strategy that will guide how the Pentagon allocates defense dollars as military spending slows following a decade of war. The review, which calls for a leaner, more agile military and a...

The Last King of the Iron Curtain

Socialism was supposed to create a new socialist man—a fellow or gal whose labor was unalienated, who was freed from want, who had time off to read, to fish, to play, to parent. He would be healthier, longer-lived, better educated and wiser than his counterpart under capitalism. To a considerable degree, social democracy (or even its attenuated American cousin, New Deal liberalism) has accomplished some of those goals (higher pay, more time off, widespread education) if not all of them (unalienated labor, widespread wisdom). But what the comrades used to call “true socialism”—that is, communism—not so much. And most certainly, not the creation of a new socialist man. If it had, thousands or millions of citizens in communist countries could be entrusted with the reins of government. Instead, leadership in the few remaining communist countries looks increasingly dynastic. In North Korea, Kim Jong Il has been succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un, even as Kim Jong Il succeeded his father,...

The War on Terror Comes Home

Passage of the NDAA brings issues of indefinite detention and military trials to American shores.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
It is usually difficult to find an issue, particularly in the form of current legislation, that unites retired generals and admirals, civil libertarians, Tea Party activists, retired intelligence officers, current Obama administration national-security officials, and former Bush administration officials. But this year's defense authorization bill, which passed both houses of Congress this week, did just that. The 666-page bill is a vast document that authorizes $662 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year. Nestled in in this overarching bill are a series of controversial provisions that authorize the president to indefinitely detain terror suspects and require the military to take custody of anyone deemed to be a member of al-Qaeda. The White House issued a veto threat to both the House and Senate versions of the bill. Just about every member of the administration’s national-security team—the director of national intelligence, secretary of defense, secretary of state, CIA...

Conflict's Resolution

The end of the Iraq War marks a victory for progressives, but tough work lies ahead.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama stood with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the South Court Auditorium of the White House to announce that “ a war is ending .” Two days later, the president visited Fort Bragg to offer an encomium to post-9/11 veterans. “Your service belongs to the ages,” he told the assembled troops. By the end of the year, all U.S. combat troops in Iraq will have slipped across the border into Kuwait, and America’s war in Iraq will be over. The president’s political staff carefully crafted the public-relations campaign around the war’s end. The issue, after all, is a political IED. Obama had to take credit for keeping a campaign promise while avoiding the appearance of enjoying a political victory lap among the ashes of a war that cost 4,483 American lives. The president also had to avoid portraying the end of the war in any way that conjures memories of George W. Bush’s fatefully premature victory ceremony in 2003—the now-infamous display of hubris...

From London, With Angst

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy chronicles the last days of Britain as a superpower.

AP Photo/Matt Sayles
Spying is popularly conceived of as a glamorous line of work. The James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Mission Impossible films are all cocktails, trysts, gunplay in the tropical sun, and evil brought to heel. The audience gleefully absorbs the antics of the hero-spy, a romantic figure who easily escapes the institutional harnesses of his superiors. Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy takes place in a different world. There is no super spy here, just a vision of the claustrophobic, embittered world of the intelligence community and its human cost. Based on the novel by John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor is concerned with the hunt for a Soviet mole who has infiltrated the highest levels of the British intelligence establishment, an agency known at “The Circus”. (Le Carré’s work popularized “mole” as a term for a double agent.) Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, Tinker Tailor ’s rumpled, aging hero. Smiley, enmeshed in a corrupt institution, represents an elite obsessed with perceived...

Madisonianism or Opportunism?

Matt Dickinson’s blog Presidential Power over the weekend updated us on an important legislative development (hard though it is to believe there could be a legislative development at present): the Senate’s odd bipartisan effort to require that all terrorism suspects be detained by the military and tried, if at all, by military tribunals rather than the civilian courts. As Matt notes, this would be true even if the suspect was an American suspect, captured on American soil. President Obama has threatened a veto. A New York Times editorial urged that he do just that about a month ago, on the grounds that it was a bad idea, but also that Congress was committing “an outrageous usurpation of executive authority.” Two quick thoughts. One, for nearly a decade – and as recently as the NATO intervention in Libya (though an “all’s well that ends well” attitude towards that adventure seems to have kicked in) – the left’s accusation has been that the president was usurping legislative authority...

Revenge of the Neocons

As much as Hope and Change defined Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, his success was a clear rebuke of the policies in the George W. Bush presidency. Bush's approval rating hung at 25 percent on the day Obama was elected, and John McCain did everything he could to distance himself from the incumbent Republican president. Bush's legacy was tarnished for a number of reasons, but none more so than his foolhardy foreign-policy agenda. When the Democratic candidate who rose to fame for his early opposition to Iraq won the presidency, it appeared the neo-con age had come to a close. Three years later, it's clear that wasn't the case. The Heritage Foundation and AEI cohosted the presidential debate last night; in addition to CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, audience members from the two conservative think tanks had the chance to quiz the roster of candidates. The list of attendees read like an all-star neo-conservatives from the Bush White House. Paul Wolfowitz served as a deputy Secretary of Defense...

Condi the Zombie Killer

The former secretary of state puts to rest the idea that Palestinians aren't interested in a peace deal.

(Flickr/Darth Downey)
S he killed the lie, I thought, as I read Condoleezza Rice's semi-revelations about the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that was really almost reached three years ago. The lie says that Israel's then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, offered everything the Palestinians could possibly expect, and Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas said no because he isn't interested in peace. Rice was secretary of state at the time and seems to have believed in peacemaking, despite serving under George W. Bush. In her new memoir, she confirms an account of why peace slipped away that fits evidence and logic much better than the lie does. Then I thought again: The lie won't go away. It provides current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his domestic legitimacy and his overseas defense of his policies—a defense that works poorly outside of the United States, but working there is enough to protect him from any sudden impulse by Barack Obama to renew the peace process. The lie is presented softly by Netanyahu's good-...

The Glorious Invasion

T hree weeks after September 11, 2001, the day I arrived in Moscow to begin as National Public Radio’s bureau chief, my editors gave me four hours to pack before I was dispatched on an overnight flight to the never-never land of Uzbekistan. It was a temporary stopping--off point before I went on to neighboring Afghanistan. I had never been to Uzbekistan and knew only that the place was renowned as a hotbed of terrified, stonewalling bureaucrats. It had taken the U.S. three weeks to turn Uzbekistan into its biggest regional ally, with the Uzbeks agreeing to provide an air base outside the city of Karshi in the southern part of the country. The U.S. State Department continued to list a yearly litany of Uzbekistan’s appalling human-rights abuses, but the offenses were subsumed under the “strategic partnership” mantra, a concession to the need to fight the war in Afghanistan and worry about human rights later. Before the Afghan War, foreign reporters were a rarity in Uzbekistan. But visa...

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