Tag: Obama Administration (page 2 of 2)

Praying for the end of time

President Obama has been receiving a fair amount of heat lately for “dithering” about U.S. policy towards Afghanistan. After all, the administration has been thinking through its Afghan policy since late summer. Critics in the opposition party say the President’s decision is “long overdue” and that the “strategy review” needs to move from the “evaluation phase” to the “execution phase” ASAP.

Administration officials have long said that the problem is made complicated by the signal America will send to Afghanistan if it too readily approves a troop increase. Ten days ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates framed the question in this manner: “How do we signal resolve, and at the same time, signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open-ended?”

In some ways, this bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan is almost as complex as a summer romance that just won’t end — or blossom.

In April 2002, then-President George W. Bush famously made some very big promises to new-love Afghanistan:

We know that true peace will only be achieved when we give the Afghan people the means to achieve their own aspirations. Peace — peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan develop its own stable government. Peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan train and develop its own national army. And peace will be achieved through an education system for boys and girls which works.

We’re working hard in Afghanistan. We’re clearing minefields. We’re rebuilding roads. We’re improving medical care. And we will work to help Afghanistan to develop an economy that can feed its people without feeding the world’s demand for drugs.

And we help the Afghan people recover from the Taliban rule….By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall.

Especially given these promises, the Obama administration’s “dithering” must be upsetting leaders in Kabul (and not merely in the Republican caucus in Washington).

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you highly value an interpersonal relationship, never pause long if your partner asks “Do you love me?”

The title of this post alludes to a classic rock song by the performer Meatloaf, “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” Most readers are probably familiar with the song lyrics, so there’s no need to recount the long story here. Suffice to say that an aroused young man in a heated moment is abruptly stalled by his partner’s questions — his responses will be measured against clear prerequisites:

Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?

If you don’t know how that decision turned out, see this video.

Let’s hope Obama’s “dithering” leads to better policy.


Bosnia Faltering

As Charli pointed out a while ago, I co-authored a piece in the current issue of Foreign Affairs on the backward slide in Bosnia over the past three years. My co-author, Patrice McMahon, and I noted that the institutions created by the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 successfully ended the war, but created a decentralized duel-entity political system based on ethnic quotas and divisions that are now contributing to the current crisis. For the better part of a decade, the international community poured money and resources into Bosnia’s post-war state-building experience. In large part, the extensive international effort hid (and ignored) the underlying problems of ethnic segregation in many communities, pervasive corruption, and the disfunctionality of state institutions. By and large, the successful end of the war and the absence of any organized inter-ethnic violence convinced many in Washington and Brussels that Bosnia was a great success story.

However, for reasons we unpack in the article, the contradictions left unresolved at Dayton began to intensify beginning in late 2005 and we began to observe a series of disturbing trends: the re-emergence of ethnic chauvinism, heightened nationalist discourse, economic stagnation, and international missteps, complacency, and fatigue. These have contributed to an intensifying crisis this year in which there is complete political deadlock on all major issues and there is almost no functioning central governing institutions. Serb leaders are now openly talking about secession of Republika Srbska (RS) while many Bosniak leaders are calling for the effective dissolution of the RS.

Since that piece went to press in early August, things have continued to deteriorate.

In the past two weeks, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Carl Bildt, former High Representative for Bosnia (OHR) and current Swedish Foreign Minister (Sweden currently holds the EU presidency), initiated two separate meetings in Sarajevo to try to break the current impasse. They presented a package of reforms ostensibly designed to establish some functionality to state institutions and told the Bosnian parties that no EU or NATO membership talks would be forthcoming without the reforms. However, the latest talks on Tuesday broke down as the Serbs balked at efforts to shift some powers from the entity level to a stronger central government while Bosniak and Croat officials criticized provisions that would leave in place entity voting structures (thereby allowing the Serbs veto authority over most national legislation).

While both Bildt and Steinberg tried to put a positive spin on events, the international effort had an air of desperation to it.

Much of the problem is that the international community is divided on its overall assessment of the situation in Bosnia and in its approach to resolving the sitution.

The Europeans do not view the current situation as a crisis. For the most part, Brussels sees the political stalemate as an irritant, but ultimately its position is that nothing will move forward in Bosnia until the international community closes OHR and ends Bosnia’s status as an international protectorate of sorts. As a result, Bildt’s general approach to the recent talks has been to secure some small concessions from the three ethnic groups but not to shake things up fundamentally. The priority seems to close OHR as quickly as possible regardless of the potential consequences.

The Obama administration, by contrast, is much more inclined to view the situation as serious. The political stalemate not only hampers EU ascension efforts, but will also contribute to greater nationalist rhetoric, and possible return to some levels of violence. The Americans wanted to get an agreement on constitutional reform before the end of the year and the start of next year’s campaigning for national elections. However, Obama’s commitment to a multilateral effort led the administration to defer some of the initiative to Bildt and the EU. In the end, the compromises and constitutional reforms put forward by the US and EU representatives were too weak to garner support from any of the three major groups in Bosnia.

For my money, I applaud the renewed attention to Bosnia. However, Brussels and Washington will have almost no influence in the internal Bosnian political dynamic until they get their collective act together. The various factions in Bosnia clearly see the gaps in the US and EU positions and will not even begin serious discussions unless they see a unified international front. I don’t envision a return to a full-blown war as we saw between 1992 and 1995, but I am very concerned about greater political fragmentation that could very easily spark a return of organized militia violence.

Perhaps I’m being a bit over-sensitive to that threat, but I recall the level of complacency in 1991 and early 1992 when too many folks in Brussels and Washington seemed to dismiss the idea the war could come to Sarajevo — which, as we were told over and over was a very cosmopolitan city that had hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, war won’t happen there….


The Practice of Diplomacy

David Rothkopf has a nice piece in today’s Washington Post giving a positive review to Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. He makes the prescient point that she has revitalized US Diplomacy by revitalizing both the department and its approach, taking on important yet not headline grabbing issues that will have a profound impact on the relationships that define the US role in the world in the coming decades. While the White House and DoD focus on Iran and Afghanistan, Rothkopf notes how Clinton is able to address:

Which nations will be our key partners? What do you do when many vital partners — China, for example, and Russia — are rivals as well? How must America’s alliances change as NATO is stretched to the limit? How do we engage with rogue states and old enemies in ways that do not strengthen them and preserve our prerogative to challenge threats? How do we move beyond the diplomacy of men in striped pants speaking only for governments and embrace potent nonstate players and once-disenfranchised peoples?

Clinton laid out her approach in a major speech to the Council on Foreign Relations last month (I actually listened to it as a podcast, you can get the audio here). She is doing the diplomacy, engaging in the practices that build relationships that constitute US standing in international affairs.

And, as Rothkopf concludes, she’s doing this from a position of power. Beyond resources or personalities, she has the single most important form of power in Washington: the confidence of the President. (I want to say that’s Neustadt but its still early on Sunday!)


Is America cool again?

According to the latest data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “the image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama.”

Follow the Pew survey link to find data charting some dramatic American improvements throughout the world. The biggest upswings seem to have occurred in Western Europe, parts of Latin America, India, and in Indonesia and Nigeria. Note that in some of these states the U.S. image was already on the upswing the past year or so following lows achieved earlier this decade.

Data from Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Muslim Middle East do not reflect major changes. Indeed, the US image has actually declined in Israel post-Bush and is flat (with low marks) in Pakistan, Palestine, and Turkey.

What does it mean that major U.S. foreign policy initiatives of the past half year are most popular in other advanced states?

I think the results reflect rational thinking around the globe. After all, the Obama administration announced some important changes in the war on terror, escalated the war in Afghanistan, followed the path towards withdrawal from Iraq (starting with the cities), and started talking differently about global climate change.

Those are all relatively popular moves in Europe. Thousands of NATO troops are in Afghanistan, so even though Europeans are not especially hawkish on the war, many have reason to seek victory.

President Obama has personal connections to Indonesia and Nigeria, so the improvements in U.S. image in those states may only reflect favorable views towards a “favorite son.” Do the Pew survey results from the rest of Muslim world mean the famed “Cairo speech” didn’t hit its intended target audience?

I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

Apparently, much of the Muslim world is going to wait awhile for policy results before changing their impression of the USA.


We chose to go to the moon–not because it was easy but because it was hard

Forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to set foot on the Moon. Michael Griffin, former NASA Administrator, observed:

What is most striking about this 40th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon is that we can no longer do what we’re celebrating. Not “do not choose to,” but “can’t.”

By the 40th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Oregon Trail was carrying settlers to the West. By the 40th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, a web of rail traffic crisscrossed the continent. By the 40th anniversary of Lindbergh’s epic transatlantic flight, thousands of people in jetliners retraced his route in comfort and safety every day. And on the 40th anniversary of Sputnik, hundreds of satellites were orbiting the Earth.

Only in human spaceflight do we celebrate the anniversary of an achievement that seems more difficult to repeat than to accomplish the first time. Only in human spaceflight can we find in museums things that most of us in the space business wish we still had today.

What is missing? Someone who can say:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.

…Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Could Obama do this? Quite possibly. Reagan tried, Clinton tried, even Bush tried (PDF). Will he Obama do it–after he’s finished with the Economy, Health Care, Iraq, Afghanistan, and chopping the F-22? I’d love to see him try.


Is Obama channeling Bush?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that Barack Obama is behaving just like George W. Bush. Reuters, June 25:

Obama said on Tuesday he was “appalled and outraged” by a post-election crackdown and Washington withdrew invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend Independence Day celebrations on July 4 — stalling efforts to improve ties with Tehran.

“Mr Obama made a mistake to say those things … our question is why he fell into this trap and said things that previously (former president George W.) Bush used to say,” the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

“Do you want to speak with this tone? If that is your stance then what is left to talk about … I hope you avoid interfering in Iran’s affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian nation is informed of it,” he said.

Obama, of course, famously said last year that he would negotiate with Iran without precondition — even though the Bush administration considered Iran part of an “axis of evil.”

Conservatives have generally been criticizing Obama for failing to employ Bush’s brand of cowboy diplomacy toward Iran — talk tough and carry a big gun.

Yesterday, Obama made his toughest statements to-date about Iran:

“the United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days.”

The U.S. has few ties with Iran, so it has almost no leverage with which to bargain. Thus, the Bush-Obama divide largely reflects the problem of trying to advance foreign policy interests in such at environment.

Bush used tough rhetoric and threatening sticks to try to coerce Iran into doing what it wanted.

Obama apparently wants to soften U.S. rhetoric and offer potential carrots. He wants to find common interests that might set the table for some horse trading.

Neither approach is guaranteed to work, of course, but the U.S. has been using the stick approach for about 30 years. I would also note that the policy hasn’t worked very well toward Cuba either — and Obama recognizes that as well.


Tripe for sale!

The burning question of the day: is Paul Wolfowitz and idiot or does he just think the rest of us are dumber than dirt?

In his latest missive, “‘No Comment’ is Not an Option,” Wolfowitz takes a little stroll down memory lane. He first reminisces about how Ronald Reagan dropped the ball and failed to call Philippine autocrat Ferdinand Marcos out for manipulating the results of the 1986 election. But, thanks to George Schultz’s efforts, the US got on the ‘right side of history’:

On Feb. 15, the White House issued a new statement: “The elections were marred by widespread fraud and violence perpetrated largely by the ruling party.” The following day, Marcos and Aquino each claimed victory. On Feb. 22, when Marcos ordered the arrest of two key reformers, as many as a million Filipinos poured into EDSA Square in Manila to block the arrests in a dramatic demonstration of “people power.”

Reagan’s final message to Marcos was delivered two days later, when the president’s close friend, Sen. Paul Laxalt, warned that Reagan opposed any use of force against the crowds and urged him “to cut and cut clean.” The next day, Marcos left the Philippines.

This was, in fact, a great moment for the Reagan administration. It withdrew support from a dictatorial regime; in doing so, it enabled a democratic transition in a US client state.

All of this would make for a nice analogy.. if Iran was a US client state. I don’t think the absurdity of the comparison should be particularly difficult to grasp: the major difference between the Philippines in 1986 and Iran in 2009 is that United States enjoyed tremendous leverage over the former, but lacks much of any in the latter. Marcos left because he knew the jig was up; the US even helped arrange for him to safely make his way into exile. He died of natural causes in Hawaii.

Wolfowitz, on the other hand, spins a little fairy tale in which the magical power of Reagan’s words (alone) worked an enchantment upon the Philippines, reaching deep into Marcos’ black heart and causing him to see the light.

But, at least in some respects, Wolfowitz’s second analogy strikes me as even more bizarre. He recalls the 1991 Soviet coup that threatened to restore Communist hardliners to power.

Responding early that morning, the [President Bush] refused to condemn the coup, calling it merely “a disturbing development.” He expressed only lukewarm support for Gorbachev and even less for Yeltsin, and neither was among the world leaders that he tried to contact about the crisis. He seemed focused on working with the new Soviet team, hoping that their leader, Gennady Yanayev, was committed to “reform.”

Although Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had argued consistently for the United States to support the peaceful aspirations of the Russians, Ukrainians and other Soviet peoples, it was Yeltsin — with a powerful personal letter — who persuaded Bush to abandon equivocation and oppose the coup. By late afternoon, the White House had reversed course, condemning the coup attempt as “misguided and illegitimate.” Bush then called Yeltsin to assure him of his support.

The thing is, Wolfowitz doesn’t even bother to pretend that Bush’s (rhetorical) position made one whit of difference. Which, of course, it didn’t.

Still, despite the total irrelevance of any of this to Obama’s public stance on unfolding events in Iran, Wolfowitz wants us to believe that a failure to hand Ahmadinejad and his associates a rhetorical loaded gun to use against the opposition will somehow leave the Obama Administration culpable should Ahmadinejad hold onto power.

Maybe I’m not being fair to Wolfowitz. After all, he does let us know that decisive action “does not mean that we need to pick sides in an Iranian election or claim to know its result. Obama could send a powerful message simply by placing his enormous personal prestige behind the peaceful conduct of the demonstrators and their demand for reform — exactly the kind of peaceful, democratic change that he praised in his speech in Cairo.”

Quite right. After all, it isn’t like Wolfowitz just implied that it was the decision of past American Presidents to “take sides” that “tipped the scale” in favor of democratic movements. At least Wolfowitz is calling on Obama to change course and say, well, pretty much exactly what Obama’s already said to the world about Iran.

I admit we may be approaching a time when the calculations change. Khamenei dashed reformist hopes yesterday and threw down the gauntlet. We’ve already seen signs that the Iranian police state is starting to fully mobilize. But if, and when, that time comes, I think we can safely say that Wolfowitz’s mess of column adds nothing to our understanding of how, and under what conditions, to proceed.

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch indeed.



Its winter wonderland blogging from DC! It looks like we’ve got about 6 inches of snow on the ground so far, and its still falling. The University is on a delayed opening, so my morning class is canceled, leaving some time for NSC blogging.

Late last week, the Obama NSC released NSPD-1, the traditional presidential order structuring the National Security Council membership, committees, and operating procedures. As was promised, Obama has significantly expanded the NSC membership, inviting the Attorney General, secretaries of Energy and Homeland Security, and Ambassador to the UN as standing members. The directive also reformulates the inter-agency committees / working groups that serve to formulate and coordinate policy at the working level, leaving the NSC in charge of these. The net effect is further centralization of the policy process through the White House, continuing a longstanding trend in the management of US foreign policy. Presidents since Kennedy have used the NSC to try to tame the bureaucracy, with varying results. The NSC, however, has always ended up accruing power at the expense of the agencies.

You can read the full NSPD-1 as a PDF here.

The big winners? Jim Jones is now in the catbird seat, poised to become one of the most consequential National Security Advisers in a generation. The White House policy coordinating apparatus is strengthened. The WH Counselor can attend any meeting. The US Ambassador to the UN gets a significantly increased profile—from sub-cabinet to full cabinet—and the Energy Department has a new-found seat at the table. The NEC, as if he didn’t have enough to deal with already, also gets a prominent seat at the table.

The losers? State, which had been the default chair department for working-level groups loses that privilege to the NSC. The Homeland Security apparatus also loses, as many of its responsibilities are folded into the NSC.

Again, as I argued earlier, this matters significantly in that all our decision-making theories of foreign policy clearly show that the decision-making process a president uses significantly shapes policy. As SecDef Gates said over the weekend, Obama already has a markedly different style from Bush, he’s much more “analytical,” and calls on people to make sure all views are heard in a meeting. Obama’s emerging style might prevent the breakdown of the inter-agency process under Bush, where one agency could end-run another, and dissenting views vanished into the ether. Obviously its unwise to make concrete predictions based on one document (as events have a way of overtaking the best-laid plans), but this key document does give a powerful glimpse into the inner-workings of the Obama Administration.


Obama’s NSC

I want to call attention to a WaPo article from Sunday on the emerging structure of Obama’s national security council–it was front page, but largely lost among the coverage of the Stimulus package. Indeed, only Rozen really seems to have picked up on it. While largely an interview with new National Security Adviser James Jones about organizational charts and workflows, it nevertheless offers a substantial insight into the new Administration’s ability to deal with foreign policy–both crises and long-term issues.

Students of foreign policy analysis focus on the decision-making process that Administrations use to make foreign policy. At the heart of that process is the NSC. Since the Kennedy Administration (remember Ex-Comm?), the NSC has largely taken over from the cabinet agencies as the President’s main source for foreign policy management, planning, and coordination. Any introductory foreign policy course covers the evolution of the NSC (as Daalder and Destler do in the most recent Foreign Affairs), noting how the organization and function of the NSC reflect the President’s decision-making style. JFK had a collegial group, Nixon a rigid hierarchy, Bush I an well organized coordinating system, and so on.

Jones tells the Post that:

President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues.

The result will be a “dramatically different” NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II to advise the president on diplomatic and military matters, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview. “The world that we live in has changed so dramatically in this decade that organizations that were created to meet a certain set of criteria no longer are terribly useful,” he said.

A couple changes are worth pointing out.

1. Obama plans to radically alter membership. By law, the only standing members of the NSC are the President, VP, SecState, and SecDef. The CJCS is the military adviser and DNI intelligence advisor. By design, its a flexible structure, allowing the President to add members as he sees fit. Traditionally other agencies have attended as required–Justice, Treasury, etc. Jones plans to draw in members from across the executive branch, involving any agency relevant to an issue. In part, this reflects the increasing role that other agencies, from law enforcement to energy to agriculture play in foreign policy. The potential pay-off is greater coordination and a greater ability to focus the government’s actions on a topic. The downside, of course, is that more people in the room always makes for a more difficult meeting.

2. Jones will assert greater control over access to the President and Presidential involvement in decision-making. Largely, this is a reaction to the Bush II NSC, where back-channels and unilateral action, especially among State, Defense, and the Vice President’s office, undermined effective coordination. (Do note the comparison between Bush Administrations–largely composed of the same cast of characters. Bush I is widely regarded as having had a model NSC, while Bush II is widely regarded as having had a highly dysfunctional NSC).

3. He plans to re-draw agency maps. Yes, maps. Each department divides the world into region–State has its regional bureaus, DoD has its Unified Command Plan, and the NSC has its Senior Directors. These regional division, however, reflect Agency-specific needs and do not correspond in any way to each other. State’s South Asia bureau includes Afghanistan and India, while in DoD, CENTCOM runs the show in Afghanistan while PACOM has jurisdiction over India. His goal is to have parallelism within agencies, creating peers who oversee policy with the same group of countries. It would certainly make it easier to know who to pick up the phone and call.

The point here is that, from a foreign policy analysis perspective, this stuff really matters. A significant chunk of foreign policy theory asserts that the decision-making process has a substantial influence in the quality of decision made, and thus effectiveness of US foreign policy.

The NSC is how Presidents do this. A functional NSC can provide the President with options, information, and advice to make the best possible decision when faced with a foreign policy choice. A functional NSC can make sure that government agencies work in concert to carry out the President’s chosen course of action. A dysfunctional NSC process can rapidly reproduce its dysfunction across the government and embed itself within US foreign policy.

So, take note of Jone’s comments, as his success in creating the working NSC structure he describes will be a sizable indicator of the Administration’s ability to handle the myriad of critical foreign policy issues it faces.



Laura Rozen has confirmed reports that Princeton Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter will become “the first woman to head the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning, Foggy Bottom’s in-house think tank.”

If Slaughter ever publishes an anonymous insider account about US foreign policy in Foreign Affairs, her obvious pseudonym is XX.


Content-free weekend

Obviously, it is slow around here over the long holiday weekend.

Here’s my brief winter holiday weekend report:

1. My wife and oldest daughter left Louisville early Saturday morning to attend the Inaugural. They do not have tickets to any events, so they will be among the masses tomorrow. However, they did have a well-placed friend for a pre-Tuesday function. As a consequence, they already met the President-elect and the rest of the Obamas! More here.

2. While most of my family is out of town, I’ve been reading email and blog posts about the incoming administration.

This is the best line, by far: “Clinton would have picked a better secretary of State.”

Madam Secretary-to-be cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee easily, but the hearings had a somewhat unpleasant, if familiar, feel to them.

3. I’ve been crafting an assignment requiring my US Foreign Policy students to research likely changes Obama will bring. What will the “new beginning” look like?

Because my university has to complete its work before the Kentucky Derby (always the first Saturday in May), we begin our third week of classes tomorrow.

When I did this exercise on my own for publication in 2001, I didn’t anticipate 9/11 (“I do not address a litany of other potentially meaningful foreign policy concerns: … [including] terrorism”) or a new Iraq war (“Despite these menacing [campaign] statements and the early attack [bombings to enforce the no fly zone in February 2001], it seems unlikely that Iraq will be the foreign policy centerpiece of Bush II.”).

This time, I’m looking for wisdom in the crowd.


Silent coup?

Back in September, I blogged about the new Northern Command, which oversees deployment of an Army Brigade Combat Team inside the US — putting active American troops on the homeland for the first time since 1878 (other than during national emergency).

The recent post was a somewhat paranoid followup to one I wrote on July 4, 2007, about NSPD 51. That White House security directive asserts presidential leadership of government during catastrophic emergency. By the standards of the directive, the US arguably had two such emergencies during the Bush years (9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). Potentially, it creates a broad threat to ordinary democratic rule.

Apparently, even some Bush administration officials are worried about these moves — and others. Thomas A. Schweich’s op-ed in the December 21 Washington Post warned of a “silent military coup” against the US government. Schweich recently served as Bush’s ambassador for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan and deputy assistant secretary of State for international law enforcement affairs, so he had a front row seat to the disturbing trends he outlines.

So, what specifically worries Schweich?

In addition to the NorthCom deployment, Schweich points to Defense undermining State Department training efforts in Afghanistan, the military tribunals in Guantanamo, militarized anti-drug efforts in Latin America, and increased military involvement in domestic surveillance. He’s very worried about the placement of military officials at the top of intelligence agencies. Schweich notes Barack Obama’s risky choice for National Security Advisor, retired 4 star general James Jones. Behind the scenes, notes ambassador Schweich, the military has effectively vetoed numerous foreign policy choices and shaped enormous budget choices. He is almost offended that Defense gets billions of dollars to accomplish what other agencies are asked to do for mere tens of millions.

It’s an interesting piece that probably went unnoticed during the holidays.

I should also note that other conservatives, including Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, worry about militarism in America.

Bill Clinton’s White House effectively outsourced a number of key decisions to the Pentagon — rejection of the ICC, the land mine ban and CTBT, for example. It will be interesting to see if Obama’s administration can reclaim civilian governance of foreign policy.


Leon comes in from the cold (updated)

Leon Panetta was named to head the CIA today.

Its a surprise move, as no one had Panetta on any lists for a major appointment, and many were looking for someone with “intelligence experience” to head the CIA. While Panetta has never worked in the IC, he was a Congressman, head of OMB, and Chief of Staff to the president. The top thing Panetta seemingly had going for him? His strong stance against torture and the distance he provides from Bush Administration policies. Its now well documented that he wrote in the Washington Monthly that “We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.”

Reaction has ranged from great to terrible to huh? As I mentioned before, Obama is putting together a governing team heavy on legislative experience. I think Panetta has the potential to be a good DCI. He knows Washington. He knows the White House, and he knows how to serve the President, who is the CIA’s main client. Lets not underestimate this kind of experience–most are looking for supply-side, Intel product production experience. Panetta has consumer, client-based experience. He knows what needs to come out of the agency, and can press the agency to produce a higher quality product that is at is useful to for the President. He also knows the budget and the Hill, so he can get the agency the money it needs and build a positive relationship with Congress.

If he stands up for his people, rewards good work, and puts together a good management team, he can do well. Recall that one former DCI, George Bush, had no intel experience when he took over, and he seems to have done quite well for himself, as they named the building after him.

Of course, this remains potential. He doesn’t know the business, he could misjudge what the agency needs to do, and he could just as easily alienate his workforce and decimate their budget, and the Administration might not listen to him anyway.

I think, though, that Panetta is a savvy enough guy to make this gig work and to be a very solid addition to the Administration and an asset to the IC.

Update: After pondering this for a bit, this appointment gets back to the experience issue that has been a leit-motif of the entire Obama campaign. He has no experience. He doesn’t need experience, he has good judgment. Yadda yadda yadda. Here you have a number of people, including the relevant congressional committee chairs requesting someone with “experience.” The Obama people obviously felt that “experience” as they constitute it was a detriment, not an asset. The “experienced” people rumored to have been under consideration, like Brennan or Hayden, certainly knew the CIA, but gained their experience working there under the Bush Administration. Is this the kind of experience you want leading the agency? Obama clearly feels not– he wants to signal a break from torture, Iraq’s WMD, and a host of other high profile failings of the agency and IC. So, you look toward a different kind of experience, experience running a government agency and serving the President’s needs not tainted by the Bush Administration. That pretty much leaves one place to go, a Clinton Administration veteran such as Panetta.

Now, there’s the persistent criticism that this is a return to the Clinton years, but one cannot have it both ways. If you want experience, Democrats really have no place else to go but Clinton officials. If you want a break from the Clinton era, you end up with no experience in key positions.

Indeed, lets take a look at the cabinet nominations. Who among them has experience in the agency they are now slated to lead?
Gates at Defense, as a holdover certainly has experience since he’s already in the job.
Energy, Chu, he directs Lawerence Berkeley Lab, which is a DOE lab.
Justice, Holder, was Deputy AG in the Clinton Administration
Treasury, Geithner, was Undersecretary of Treasury for International Affairs in the Clinton Administration
EPA, Jackson, worked there for 16 years early in her career.
USUN, Rice, was an Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Clinton Administration
HUD, Donovan, former Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Clinton Administration
Emanuel, COS, was a deputy COS in the Clinton Administration.

A second list, on which I would include Panetta, shows related and relevant experience, but not direct experience.
Education, Duncan, ran Chicago Schools
Shinseki, VA, Army
Blair, DNI, did a stint at the CIA and ran PACOM
Panetta, former COS
Orszag, OMB, from CBO

And then there’s the Legislative / Governor experience that everyone assumes should translate to a Cabinet appointment, and sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t.
Agriculture, Vilsack
HHS, Daschle
Homeland Security, Napolitano
Interior, Salazar
State, Clinton
Labor, Solis
Transportation, LaHood

Moral of the story–Panetta’s not any better or worse than any other of Obama’s picks.


Analyzing Obama’s National Security Team: change you can believe in?

Today Obama formally announced the core of his National Security team: Clinton at State, Gen. Jones as SAPNSA, and Gates to remain at DoD. It’s a team of experienced insiders, centrists, pragmatists, and even Republicans. Some have asked the obvious question: Is this Change you can Believe in for national security and foreign policy?

The selection of Jones is particularly interesting. He breaks a recent trend in the National Security Advisor position as a close policy associate of the President. Condi once said that her top job as NSA was to “staff the President” and she is very close to Bush. While Jones does not come from an academic or “policy” background, he is perhaps more experienced in areas relevant to the position.

First, he has significant first hand experienced in the integration of diplomacy as well as political and military security from his time as head of NATO. SACEUR is a unique posting within the US military. It’s a ‘dual-hatted’ job, as both powerful regional combatant commander and head of the NATO alliance. The NATO role gives the SACEUR direct access to allied heads of state and a large diplomatic role in intra-NATO politics. The tough part of the job is balancing responsibility to the USA and the US chain of command as head of EUCOM and responsibility to the alliance as SACEUR. Wesley Clark talked about the tensions in this arrangement in his Waging Modern War book. It’s a job with no parallel. That Jones could successfully negotiate it bodes well for his chances to successfully negotiate the White House and National Security Council.

Second, he has experience managing a large and complex organization and coordinating intra-bureaucratic activities. This perhaps suggests a shift in the role of the NSA and NSC. Originally, the NSA and NSC were designed as a coordination mechanism, to hash out differences within the bureaucracy in order to present a clear decision to the President and then ensure that the relevant agencies implemented the Presidents decisions in a coordinated and coherent manner. Over the years, the NSC has become the head policy shop and the NSA a key policy advisor—staffing the president rather than keeping State and Defense on the same page. The selection of Jones gives Obama an NSA who has the heft, skill, and experience to coordinate the massive cogs of the national security bureaucracy to implement Obama’s agenda. This is critical—too many seem to be focusing on the wrong indicator of change, be it a Cabinet secretary or potential policy prioritization. Any change you can believe in will require years to complete the slow boring of hard boards. Policies need to be implemented and institutionalized to provide lasting change, and Jones has the resume to accomplish this key task.

With respect to Clinton at State, this remains somewhat a mystery to me—not that Obama would select her, but that she would take the job. For him, it takes the person who is potentially his biggest political rival off the political stage and puts her on the team where he’s in charge and she toes the line. She will win some battles, but she will lose some battle, and like all Secretaries of State, she will advance the President’s agenda in diplomacy. For her, it takes her out of the Senate where she has an independent platform to maintain a national political profile and pursue an agenda of her own choosing.

It is, however, reflective of an emerging trend in Obama’s administration—selecting leaders with extensive Hill experience. Emmanuel as COS, Daschle at HHS and Health Czar, Clinton at State—these are three major players in Congress now joining the Administration. It suggests that Obama will place a key priority on relations with Congress, and he has people who know how to get a legislative agenda enacted. Maybe Clinton, using her Senatorial experience, will be able to win more funding for State and expanded foreign aid. That would be a welcome change.

At Defense, instead of keeping Bush’s appointee, what if Obama had nominated a SecDef who had said:

I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use “soft” power and for better integrating it with “hard” power.

Now, that could have come from any Nye-reading foreign policy pragmatist, but it is a change from the Bush Administration’s policy of spreading democracy by invasion and fighting terrorism with military force. And yet in Gates, Obama has found just such a person. About a year ago, Gates gave an under-appreciated speech where he set out an agenda for the future of DoD in a larger national security bureaucracy that sounded like it could be very much at home in an Obama administration. To quote Gates at length:

Funding for non-military foreign-affairs programs has increased since 2001, but it remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military and to the importance of such capabilities. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense – not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion – less than what the Pentagon spends on health care alone. Secretary Rice has asked for a budget increase for the State Department and an expansion of the Foreign Service. The need is real.

Despite new hires, there are only about 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers – less than the manning for one aircraft carrier strike group. And personnel challenges loom on the horizon. By one estimate, 30 percent of USAID’s Foreign Service officers are eligible for retirement this year – valuable experience that cannot be contracted out.

Overall, our current military spending amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, below the historic norm and well below previous wartime periods. Nonetheless, we use this benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense. We lack a similar benchmark for other departments and institutions.

What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.

Now, I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of “man bites dog” – or for some back in the Pentagon, “blasphemy.” It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year.

Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department “in a heartbeat,” assuming it was spent in the right place.

After all, civilian participation is both necessary to making military operations successful and to relieving stress on the men and women of our armed services who have endured so much these last few years, and done so with such unflagging bravery and devotion. Indeed, having robust civilian capabilities available could make it less likely that military force will have to be used in the first place, as local problems might be dealt with before they become crises.

Appointing a person with this agenda to head DoD fits in with Obama’s overall approach to international affairs, and this speech may be a major impetus behind keeping Gates.

At Homeland Security, Napolitano is perhaps the biggest and under-appreciated change, as she is the only true “outsider” (non-Washington) appointee. She represents a vision for DHS that is less counter-terrorism and more immigration and disaster response, both areas in which she, as a Governor (and former AG) of a border state, has existing expertise

At Justice, Holder seems like a very good pick, especially given the monumental job of rebuilding the disaster that is the Bush DOJ. My guess is that while he will play an important role in national security affairs (ie the legal issues surrounding the closing of Gitmo), his plate will be full with more pressing issues in the domestic legal arena.

Not mentioned and still to be determined: what Obama will do with the Intelligence portfolio in selecting his DNI and CIA head. He could treat the positions as ‘non-partisan’ and keep McCarthy and Hayden for a while (both served as head of the National Security Agency under the Clinton Administration and as career military men are more career officials than strictly Bush people) or he could bring in his own person to institute key changes and make statements on items like, say, torture policy.

Ultimately, though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Obama’s promise to bring change will be judged by what he does as President: the policies he advances, the priorities he sets, the decisions he makes, the resolve he displays when under pressure, the course he sets for the United States in world affairs. While naming a couple of cabinet secretaries is certainly part of that, its only one small part. Regardless of what one may think of Clinton or Gates, they serve at the pleasure of the President and, in the end, are only as good or as bad as he allows them to be.

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