Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Time to End The Bully Doctrine

The Status of forces agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq passed the Iraqi cabinet recently. Passage by the full Iraqi parliament is predicted by the end of November 2008.

An important feature of the SOFA is the promise that the U.S. will no longer attack other countries from Iraq, as it has been doing. That provision goes a long way towards calming Iran, which is worried about a U.S. invasion from Iraq.

The U.S. has been attacking countries all over the world with impunity since at least 2004, when Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld authorized them. We have dropped bombs on Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Kenya, and many other countries since then (New York Times: “Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda,” 9 Nov 08).

(Graphic from Mother Jones)

What is the legal or moral justification for such attacks? The same as for the invasion of Iraq in the first place: the Bush Doctrine, which essentially is, “The U.S. has the self-appointed ‘right’ to attack any country in the world, any time we feel like it, for whatever reason we decide.”

How would we feel if Iran declared the “right” to attack Detroit because it perceived a threat there to its national security? I don’t think we would find that acceptable.

What if Russia decided it needed to bomb Anchorage because it believed some oligarch fugitives were hiding out there? Would we be OK with that? I don’t think so.

The Bush Doctrine is nothing more than the bully’s credo that “might makes right.” It is immoral, illegal, foolish, counterproductive, and extremely dangerous for the whole world.

I think the Bush administration has stepped up its attacks on sovereign nations lately in a desperate hope of landing a bomb on Bin Laden, so GW can claim symbolic revenge for 9-11. Otherwise he must slink out of office a disgraced dog. I really think he would risk the lives of millions for personal aggrandizement.

Will the SOFA put an end to these attacks? I don’t even think the ones originating from Iraq will cease. They will just be smaller scale, under the international radar, maybe run by the CIA using foreign mercenaries. No more ostentatious big bird drones.

But Predators can be launched from almost anywhere, including Turkey, Israel, India – any number of places. So my bet is that attacks will continue, at least until January 20, 2009. After that, I hope Obama does a thorough review of U.S. military policy, and renounces Bush’s Bully Doctrine.

There are at least two good alternatives to the Bully doctrine. One is to revert to self defense and judicial proceedings, as was generally the policy during the Clinton administration (with exceptions), but unlike the Clinton administration, put the proper resources into self-defense and international law enforcement. We can be proactive and internationally aggressive toward anti-American terrorists without arbitrarily blowing up civilians in other countries. It requires good intelligence and police work and a hardened defense perimeter.

Another alternative would be to continue military operations in foreign countries, but with their permission! How do you get permission? You ask. Diplomacy! You might even have to work with a country over the long term, and spend some money on them to garner their cooperation. You convince them that it is in their own best interests to pursue the bad guys in their territory. Maybe you let them execute the operations under your guidance. You make it worth their while. There are many options.

What if the other country won’t agree to allow military operations on their turf? Then we don’t go in!

If they really are harboring terrorists and they don’t care, or do so willfully, then that country is no friend of ours. Cut them off. This is a whole new approach to international diplomacy and alliances that does not require us to be friends with countries that work against our interests just because it is geopolitically “convenient.” Those days should be over. Realpolitik should be Real.

Certainly we can tolerate and work with countries who do not please us in every way. No doubt they feel the same way about us. But if our highest international priorities are such things as terrorism and nonproliferation, then those principles cannot be subordinated to economics or geopolitical chess games. It’s a kind of international toughness to walk your own talk.

I thought Robert Gates would be a good Defense Secretary for Obama, but I am not so sure any more since he re-affirmed Rumsfeld’s bully authorization. Obama needs to have a DoD chief who is on the same page.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lucky 44

The 44th president is talented and blessed with a silver tongue, but he is also very lucky. He will need that luck to stay with him.

The financial bubble could have burst any time in the last 5 years, or it could have lasted another year or two. The timing was lucky for Obama, who was perceived by voters as more trustworthy on the economy (mainly because the Republicans have been so untrustworthy). The recession is already painful, but we will come out of it in a year.

Corollary luck is for Obama to have a pot of 700 billion dollars already appropriated to work with. I doubt that all of it will be spent. It’s main purpose is already achieved, to provide a backstop of confidence for the financial system. Some will be spent to stanch the home loan foreclosure rate. There will be plenty left over. Opportunity for Lucky 44.

Obama was also lucky to be running at a time when the Republicans were so self-destructive. Right wing extremists had (and have) such a grip on the party that it could not field a strong candidate. McCain was probably the best brand, but his campaign was apparently run by those same extremists and he never had much chance to be himself. Palin is merely a continuation of that same narrow minded extremism (that’s why she was selected, after all). Obama couldn’t have beat a Reagan or a Nixon, or probably even McCain if McCain had actually run as a moderate.

Corollary luck was that McCain’s pandering to the extremists all but broke the bank on his campaign early on, so he had no choice but to accept public financing. Obama promised to do the same, but soon realized that he would not have to, as the money started pouring in. It would have been a very different race if both candidates were limited to public financing. If the money had not started flowing until a few months later, Obama might have actually signed up for public financing. Although he opened up the donation money faucet himself, the timing of its flow was lucky.

Obama was also lucky that the war in Iraq took a positive turn when it did. Had it not, he would have been facing McCain the soldier in every speech, and been on the defensive. The situation is far from stable in Iraq and fast approaching disaster in Afghanistan, but Lucky 44 found a calm in the storm at just the right moment.

Corollary luck was that there was no spectacular terrorist incident in the past two years. Some of that can be credited to the hard work of the intelligence agencies, the military, and Homeland Security. Still, we all know that cloak of protection is full of holes and Obama was lucky.

There is a lot of trouble ahead. Let’s hope Lucky 44 continues to have the magic.