Now that Barack Obama's presidency is well into its fifth year, one of the biggest puzzles continues to be this administration's persistent neglect of human rights and democracy policy. The White House's dismissal of a "freedom agenda" during its first year in office was foolish as a policy matter yet unsurprising as a political matter, given the reflexive temptation of almost every new presidency to distance itself from its predecessor. But over four years later, that excuse no longer holds water -- especially in light of the combination of resurgent authoritarianism and revolutionary ferment across the globe. Behind almost every one of the front-page national security challenges confronting the Obama administration today -- such as Iran's nuclear weapons program, North Korea's nuclear weapons, the Syrian civil war, the Egyptian coup, Russia's safe harbor for Edward Snowden (applauded by Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela), China's cyberattacks, and so on -- stands the problem of either autocratic or fragile, illiberal regimes.
Of course these are profoundly difficult issues. Not since the 1989-1991 global convulsions at the end of the Cold War has there been such a staggering and simultaneous array of revolutionary changes taking place around the world. Yet as hard as statecraft is in this environment, there remains a chasm between international events and American policy priorities, between the call of history and the administration's lack of response.
No, I am not suggesting that a robust human rights and democracy policy would be the silver-bullet answer to all these challenges -- that is a simplistic straw man. If anything, the last decade has shown just how agonizingly hard the promotion of democratic institutions and human rights can be. But a coherent freedom policy needs to be at least part of the tool kit and more of a priority than it has been. At one level, Obama seems to have an intuitive sense for this; witness his recent nostalgic reflections in South Africa on how advocating for human rights and Nelson Mandela's liberty in South Africa as a college student marked his first political activism. Now that Obama has graduated from student activism to the Oval Office, there are contemporary moral equivalents to Mandela among freedom dissidents in countries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea who would appreciate the support of the U.S. presidency.
Meanwhile, there have been two developments this month that offer signs of encouragement. First, Obama's nomination of Tom Malinowski to be the assistant secretary of state for democracy, rights, and labor (DRL) is much to be welcomed. Malinowski brings energy, intellect, moral principle, and over two decades of experience in both human rights and foreign policy. The latter is especially crucial as it will equip him to work effectively within the interagency system and help prevent DRL from sliding back to the bureaucratic margins at Foggy Bottom. I hope he will be swiftly confirmed and can assume his duties soon.
Second, the launch just this past week of the new Freedom Square blog by the George W. Bush Institute heralds a fresh and innovative new platform for news and insight on freedom issues around the globe. Shadow Government readers are encouraged to check it out, as you'll find distinguished voices such as Tony Blair and Condoleezza Rice, as well as sharp upcoming writers such as Jordan Hirsch. Freedom Square looks to be a valuable new resource and comes at a needful time.
Traveling this week in Brazil, Pope Francis delivered an unexpected broadside against the current push in the region by some governments to revise drug consumption laws. Visiting a drug rehabilitation center in Rio de Janeiro, the pontiff said, "A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America." Rather, "it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs," which includes promoting greater justice and more education.
He went on to denounce powerful drug-trafficking syndicates as "merchants of death," adding, "The scourge of drug trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires an act of courage from society as a whole."
The pope's words are a devastating blow to the current campaign calling for a fundamental rethinking on how to prosecute the war on drugs in the Americas. Much to the chagrin of Barack Obama's administration, that has become the primary issue many of the United States' neighbors want to discuss in regional forums. And it is not just anti-American populists pushing the matter just to embarrass the United States, but responsible governments like Colombia and Guatemala.
In fact, just as Pope Francis spoke those words in Rio, Organization of American States Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza was traveling in neighboring Uruguay and Paraguay delivering copies of the organization's recent report saying that governments should consider decriminalizing some drug use. The ostensible goal would be to make trafficking less lucrative and hence reduce incentives for drug-related violence.
Certainly no one can blame those frustrated governments whose societies have been most ravaged by the narcotics trade -- the wanton violence, the pervasive corruption, the economic dislocations, and the destroyed lives -- for seeking alternative solutions. But the pope's words are a reminder that there are no easy solutions -- no silver bullet -- to eliminating the criminal element in our collective midst.
The Obama administration's response to the regional effort is to say it is open to dialogue on the issue, which is really just a polite way of saying it has no plans to alter current counternarcotics policies. In Guatemala, Secretary of State John Kerry said, "These challenges simply defy any simple, one-shot Band-Aid [approach].… Drug abuse destroys lives, tears at communities of all of our countries."
The administration is right to hold the line on drug policy. It is not to be hardhearted about the domestic costs that countries have borne fighting the drug scourge. After all, they are paying the price to feed the recreational habits of consumers in wealthier societies such as the United States. But there is no compelling evidence that less restrictive policies would lessen drug-related violence or otherwise improve their respective situations in any way. In fact, what is certain to occur is a spike in local consumption, with all the attendant social ills and economic dislocations that would engender.
Countries must continue the admittedly challenging tasks of developing more-effective law enforcement capabilities, open and transparent court systems, and better prisons, while increasing economic opportunity and building strong social sectors. As Pope Francis alludes, regional governments have no choice but to continue tackling the tough reforms that are essential for their own future political stability, democratic consolidation, the general welfare, and national security.
The elections in Mali this Sunday, July 28, are an important milestone for a country trying to return to democracy after not only a military coup, but also a takeover in its north by Islamist extremists and the influence of al Qaeda. Thanks to quick French action, the Tuareg militants were expelled, and al Qaeda didn't get a foothold. The coup actually created a chaotic situation favorable to the Islamists and al Qaeda, but now there will finally be an opportunity for the north and south to reconcile.
While some are criticizing the French for being too quick to leave, others note that Malians themselves set the date for the elections and their goal was to return to a democratically elected government before the interim government could get too comfortable. In the short (or medium) term, security will become the United Nations' problem; the economy will become the international donors' problem; and governance will become the Malians' problem with, I hope, sufficient help from the United States and others. Pretty much how one would expect given the circumstances, but it is too soon to attempt predictions for Mali's future.
But what of the foreign-policy problem that this crisis was for the United States? What can we learn from hindsight?
Move quickly -- that is what we can learn. In a world that still needs the West to seek out and defeat terrorists, we can look back and say, "Thank God for the French." That's not a phrase regularly used in Washington foreign-policy circles, to be sure, but one quite apt here. Because of Paris's quick intervention, radical Islamists were thwarted. From what were they thwarted? An attempt to turn the north of Mali into another al Qaedastan, complete with radical Islamists controlling all of society and thus the future. Sources both on the ground and among the intelligentsia tell us that speedy action to prevent al Qaeda's money, ideas, and oppressive ways from taking root has kept us from having to face a generation raised on radicalism and unquenchable hate for the West that expresses itself in terrorism.
Mali has a chance not to turn out like Afghanistan did when the Taliban ruled over an al Qaeda protectorate in the 1990s (let's not repeat that mistake, please), or like parts of several other northern African states where al Qaeda and other terrorist groups found safe haven, or like what might be happening right now in parts of Syria. But the second chance is in large part because the French moved so fast and now because the United States and others are trying to support civil society and the fundamentals of democratic life in Mali.
Washington tends to see the problem in Mali as a radical extremism problem and the response as counterinsurgency. The reality is that extremism takes time to settle in. Al Qaeda wasn't in charge long enough to really make extremism stick. Had al Qaeda remained in charge in the north much longer, it would have established a narrative among young, disenfranchised people to radicalize them. The task, therefore, is straightforward: We must empower Muslims to work with other Muslims on the basis of natural rights, which have a venerable tradition in Islam, albeit small and not terribly influential. But no matter, it is the only answer because the problem is not just poverty or lack of access to capital and education. Those are symptoms of a deeper problem: a culture and the institutions it spawns that keep men and women in political, social, and economic chains. As in most of the developing world, this is not easy, and it takes at least a generation to see lasting progress. The "easy" cases of Eastern Europe and Latin America, comparatively speaking, are not likely to be repeated.
If we get this right, we might not only succeed in helping Mali stay whole and get back on the path to democracy from which it has strayed, but we might also prevent further erosion in the entire Sahel, preventing slides in Mauritania and northern Nigeria.
FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images
There is a temptation to ignore the gathering of G-20 finance ministers in Moscow last week. Such summits typically feature a very particular sort of drama -- pitched battles over the wording of a communiqué. The victorious sherpas earn their black belts in bureaucracy but have little impact on the broader world. I would not recommend anything so drastic as reading the communiqué produced at last week's meeting, but summits can provide an occasion to check in on some important ongoing policy discussions.
Last week's meeting in Moscow concluded with a call for emphasizing economic growth over austerity. With Chinese growth faltering, Europe perpetually slumping, and the U.S. Federal Reserve contemplating the limits of its quantitative easing, a consensus emerged that this was no time for frugality. This signifies at least a temporary vanquishing of the budget-conscious Germans by the stimulus-besotted Americans. More interesting, though, are some of the perversities of the underlying growth vs. stimulus debate.
This is a debate that was confused to begin with. Then, Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart were found to have stumbled in their arithmetic and the discussion went right off the rails. To recap, Rogoff and Reinhart were celebrated for arguing that beyond a threshold level of debt (90 percent of GDP) growth would slow sharply. If that were true, then racking up very high levels of debt would suppress rather than stimulate growth; austerity might do the reverse. The unveiling of Rogoff and Reinhart's error revealed that high levels of debt were still associated with slower growth, only there was not such a sharp turn at 90 percent. Nevertheless, the finding was taken as a license to party, figuratively speaking. For the sake of argument, we can set aside all the other studies that cautioned against excessive borrowing and embrace the turn against budget-balancing. Economies are slow, so let's borrow!
Great. From whom?
For the United States, this is not such a problem. Treasury yields have risen, but the country can still borrow fairly cheaply. Yet the United States economy looks positively rosy compared to much of the rest of the world. What of countries like Portugal that were overtaken by the financial crisis? The Portuguese economy is supposed to contract by 2.3 percent this year and youth unemployment is over 42 percent. Surely, if a country needs a bit of stimulus, it's Portugal. But the Wall Street Journal reports this week that Portuguese bonds have stumbled and borrowing costs have risen. In other words, no one seems very eager to lend to the country. One likely reason for lender reluctance is that Portugal's debt just bubbled over 127 percent of GDP.
Surely Portugal's European brethren can front the country some more cash, can't they? Perhaps. But the euro area as a whole just crossed the erstwhile Rogoff-Reinhart threshold to 90.6 percent of GDP. If we take euro area economies in descending order of economic size, Germany has debt/GDP of 81.2 percent, France is at 91.9 percent, and Italy at 130.3 percent. No one is feeling especially flush. Italy would clearly be a recipient, not a donor and has had its own loud anti-austerity arguments. Even if the euro zone's wealthier nations took pity on desperate countries like Portugal and Greece, Italy is substantially bigger and hence less affordable. This highlights the fundamental problem: If a new borrowing enthusiast cannot find a correspondingly enthusiastic lender, it is unclear how the rejection of austerity will have any effect.
What harm, though, if ministers gather and proclaim their devotion to growth (and motherhood and apple pie)? One of the problems in Moscow was that the push against austerity seemed a reversal of 2010 G-20 pledges in Toronto to cut borrowing. One might argue that there is a certain genius to the G-20 approach over recent years. If the leaders make enough contradictory pledges, eventually one of them will be honored, if only by accident.
Alternatively, and more seriously, one could note that there is not necessarily any conflict between short-term spending and longer-term fiscal rectitude. That, in fact, has been the IMF prescription, though short-term spending has been much more popular than longer-term entitlement reforms.
There is a broader danger here. At the onset of the global financial crisis, the G-20 was able to offer some much-needed reassurance to a badly-shaken world through its promises to set things right. If the group continues to iterate through empty or misguided pledges, ultimately people will succumb to the temptation to ignore the gathered leaders, even in a future moment of serious need.
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is being raked over the coals by the Senate's most prominent military expert for not disclosing in congressional hearings the advice Gen. Martin Dempsey gave the president about intervening in Syria. Peter Feaver is, of course, to blame for this, he having argued in these electronic pages for grilling Dempsey. Let those who've doubted that Shadow Government controls Washington now quail.
Commentary less thoughtful than Peter's has narrowed in on the exact wording of the U.S. code regulating the chairman's responsibility in order to debate how fully obligated the chairman is to advise Congress. This approach takes the issue in unhelpful and legalistic directions when common sense provides a practical solution that has long been successfully employed by other senior military leaders.
That solution is for the chairman to provide his best military advice to Congress, affirm that he has given his advice to the president, and respectfully decline to be specific about the counsel he gives the president. When pressed by members of Congress, deference and humor in acknowledging that Congress is placing said general in an untenable position are often effective as deflection (see ref: Colin Powell).
Barack Obama's administration does the U.S. military leadership no favors by trying to make those leaders take responsibility for its political choices -- but again, this is neither without precedent nor without time-honored defense, which is for military leaders to answer that what is being asked is above their pay grade.
There are many good arguments for intervening in Syria, which is what Sen. John McCain was pressing Dempsey about. The best argument for staying out is that Obama is not invested in solving the problem. The president may intone that Bashar al-Assad must go, but he has no strategy for achieving that end, is clearly unwilling to commit the national effort to attain that objective, has made no attempt to convince the American people of the importance of doing so, and therefore has no business putting America's sons and daughters in harm's way, no matter how worthy the objective.
That we are having such a tangled-up conversation about the chairman's responsibilities suggests that public discourse could use a refresher course on civil-military issues. The president deserves to receive military advice in private and has every right to disregard that advice because he has been elected to balance the country's competing priorities and determine how much effort, treasure, and risk to apportion. It is the president who is responsible for winning or losing the country's wars. To place the responsibility on the military's shoulders both gives the military too wide a latitude in the country's affairs and removes from the political leadership its proper accountability for national outcomes.
I myself have always been partial to the Powell doctrine as the starting point for understanding civilian and military responsibilities when using force. Critics often construe its meaning in a strictured way as advocating overwhelming force, but the guidelines actually delineate what the military needs to do (bring properly trained and equipped military force decisively to bear to achieve political objectives) and what tasks rest with the political leadership (identify the vital national security objectives, determine they are attainable, analyze the costs and benefits, exhaust nonmilitary means to attain the objectives, and build public and international support). The country has allowed too many of these responsibilities to migrate to the military, when they properly belong to the civilians to whom the military is subordinated.
The Powell approach has been much criticized as constraining the president's freedom of action as commander in chief; in fact, what it does is give the civilian leadership a template for asking questions that will lead to the successful use of force. And the debate over Dempsey's testimony shows that the country is in need of political leaders -- both in the executive branch and in Congress -- who will do more than advocate tactical military approaches and actually advance strategies for achieving outcomes in the U.S. national interest that they have convinced their fellow Americans are worth the risk and effort.
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Very soon after Hosni Mubarak fell from power, the Obama administration's Egypt policy began to fail. Critics, like many of those here at Foreign Policy's Shadow Government blog, noted that any hope for the future depended on Egypt truly transforming itself into a pluralist state. No more military-backed dictatorship and no contemplation of an Islamist dictatorship. The revolution that resulted in Mubarak's downfall (plus the years of opposition political activity and dissent before that) clearly revealed that Egypt contains large groups of people who want representation in their government. The body politic is composed of Muslims, Christians, and liberals/secularists. The test of any new government -- including the putting together of one -- would be whether it would respect the rights of all nonviolent actors to participate in a representative government. This was especially crucial to understand and respect given that we had just witnessed millions of Egyptians from these various camps mobilized with considerable bravery and determination to liberate themselves.
Not long after barely winning power, the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated that it had no intention of recognizing these facts or governing accordingly. President Mohamed Morsy took steps and made statements indicative of his goal: an "Islamist project" as his spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan so ably put it Tuesday.
Ghozlan's statements in Arabic on the Brotherhood's website were translated by the Washington Free Beacon and published Wednesday. They include these comments: "America was not happy about the establishment of a regime that adopts the Islamic civilization project for the state at the expense of the secular Western model." And this telling remark about the Brotherhood's purported support for democracy: "What [America] found from the new regime, headed by Dr. Mohamed Morsi, was opposition to" its pro-Israel, pro-democracy agenda.
And finally this one: Morsy "sought to substitute the Islamic project for the Western secular project, and here began the exploitation by the secular parties in order to spoil [the Islamic project]."
The Obama administration's policy from the outset was to pretend the Brotherhood and Morsy had good intentions and an interest in doing the right thing now that Egypt was finally free. They met pretty much exclusively with the government and eschewed meeting with the opposition. They spent some months pointing up Morsy's nuanced "cooperation" regarding the peace treaty with Israel and the peace process between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Now then, Morsy could hardly do otherwise, so that doesn't count for much in telling us what the United States was dealing with. But we knew what the United States was dealing with because we had plenty of evidence from the last 50 years of what the Brotherhood is and does and wants.
Indeed, none of this surprises critics of the Obama policy. Ghozlan's comments only confirm what was known all along. The question is, when will the administration quit being surprised by inveterate enemies and haters of the United States and democracy? Four years of policy based on wishing and hoping, on the fading charisma of an American politician, and on the certainty that everyone really does want to get along and will do so if properly engaged in an era of good feelings has failed utterly. National security is at risk when leaders impose their "ought" for what "is."
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. Army is besieged. Not on the battlefield, where it acquitted itself remarkably well across concurrent and sustained combat campaigns. Where the Army finds itself bogged down is in an inability to make its case effectively to the executive, the legislature, and the American public. As a result, there is little resonance to the Army's argument for its size and spending program.
The U.S. Army has been at war for more than a decade while broader society has been untouched by the demands that so weigh on the fighting forces and their families. It feels itself buffeted by demands that it meet civilian standards of conduct on social issues. Congress wholly disregarded its warnings about the catastrophic effects of sequestration and refuses to give any latitude to make even modest cuts to military benefit programs. It finds itself playing catch-up to the military services that are thinking more creatively about the demands of military operations against adversaries in the Asia-Pacific. And now it finds itself the potential bill payer for the next round of Defense Department budget cuts.
The Army's leadership is responding to these challenges by projecting a resigned discontent, as Gen. Ray Odierno conveyed in his press conference a few weeks ago -- almost as though the leadership knows it's fighting a losing battle, but is seeing it through to whatever outcome the titanic forces arrayed against the leadership's preferred size and structure for the Army ultimately exact.
Unlike the Marine Corps, which stands proudly and even defiantly outside society, the Army expects to be understood and appreciated -- its ethos is to feel it's the service closest to the rest of American society, the most democratic in many ways and the one that eventually gets answers right on terms broadly acceptable both inside the military and beyond it. And it's right; that earnestness is one of the beautiful attributes of America's magnificent Army.
But the Army's leadership needs to take responsibility for the fact that it has not made a persuasive argument for its program. And the weakest part of the Army's program is its justification for end strength -- that is, the size of the Army it seeks to maintain.
Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, held a press conference on June 25 to announce what has long been the Army's planned manning level: reductions from 540,000 active-duty soldiers and 358,000 National Guardsmen to 490,000 active-duty and 350,000 Guardsmen. Oddly, Odierno made the announcement in advance of the defense secretary's release of his Strategic Choices and Management Review, which is supposed to guide the military services' budget and programmatic choices.
Odierno didn't just preempt the defense secretary; he outlined an Army program for the coming 10 years. Odierno said, "The Army's in the process of undergoing one of the largest organizational changes probably since World War II." And it is true that the Army is (again) redesigning its brigade combat teams, but the force structure he outlined is nearly identical in dimension to the Army of the mid-1990s. Despite all the differences in the international environment, capability improvements by both U.S. forces and America's enemies, and reduced force planning requirements, the current Army program and the mid-1990s program had end strengths of 490,000 active-duty soldiers.
And it sadly goes without saying that the Army program does not anticipate sequestration continuing into fiscal 2014, though it almost surely will. Odierno said that if sequestration does continue as outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act, it "could require another significant reduction in active guard and reserve force structure [of] as much as 100,000 combined."
For the Army leadership to get ahead of the train and craft an outcome different from cuts of another 100,000 soldiers, it will need to be much more forthcoming and much more analytically persuasive than Odierno has been. The Army needs urgently to answer three fundamental questions:
1. Why so similar to the 1990s? Bill Clinton's administration lamely protested that the Bottom-Up Review, which sized and apportioned U.S. military forces for the post-Cold War, was not a budget-driven exercise (what strategy isn't a budget-driven exercise?). The review was admirably serious in describing threats and the requisite military forces, concepts, and equipment for defending and advancing U.S. interests. Force planning is a dark art and, as Mark Gunzinger of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments argues, typically is better at identifying additions than subtractions.
In the mid-1990s, the Defense Department's planning construct sized the force to fight "two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies" -- two wars. The department's current guidance reduces that standard to one war. In the mid-1990s, the U.S. military was just beginning to reap the benefits of the communications revolution, which has provided the situational awareness, precision, range, and sustainability of combat power that has "transformed" how we fight. In the mid-1990s the United States did not have a combat-hardened military expert at adapting to emergent tactical and operational challenges. In the mid-1990s, the National Guard and Reserve were generally not considered the peer of their active-duty counterparts; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved them capable of being a regular part of the combat rotation. Yet despite all these differences, X = 490,000. Why?
2. Why not more in the reserve component? Not only have the National Guard and Reserve shown they can and will fight with the excellence and tenacity of their active-duty counterparts, but the long lead times associated with many current threats suggest the possibility of greater reliance on mobilizable forces. Since the 9/11 attacks, 877,000 reservists have been mobilized, with remarkably little resistance from either the reservists or their employers. There are problems, to be sure -- especially for returning reservists whose employers have not honored their commitment -- but very few refusals to serve. And the Army's leadership has lavishly praised the performance of the National Guard and Reserve in ways that make difficult any future argument that they are not central contributors.
The Reserve Forces Policy Board (not a disinterested source, but it at least produced its analysis for review) concluded that even with train-up costs, a reservist costs a third of what it costs to keep an active-duty service member. Pennsylvania's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, has calculated that cutting the active component by 100,000 and increasing the reserve component by the same amount would save "$15.7 billion annually with no loss in Total Army end-strength." The Army is sure to have lots of concerns about making such a trade-off, and many of those concerns are justified. But none will carry any weight until the Army can explain what needs to be in the active component and what can be shifted to the reserve component.
3. Should Army and Marine Corps roles and missions be further disaggregated? The Marine Corps bills itself as "the nation's 9/11 force," always ready to fight and fast to get there. It relies on support and sustainment from all the other services, but is the utility infielder of the U.S. military, able to make do with what's available and absorb the shock of first engagement. The current defense program envisions retaining a Marine Corps of 182,000 and refocusing its mission toward amphibious operations -- that is, away from being a second army as the size of U.S. ground forces has required for the past decade. There does not appear to be a similar refocus by the Army on its traditional strength of entering a mature theater of war and fighting extended combat. Should not the reductions in end strength allow the two ground forces to specialize more to their strong suits? Does the United States need an Army with one-fifth of its force optimized to what the Marine Corps does?
There may be -- surely are -- good rebuttals to these questions that make a strong case for retaining an Army of 490,000 active-duty soldiers. But the Army needs to make a persuasive case for that, and so far the Army has not.
The Army cannot sustain an active duty end-strength of 490,000 in the current budget and threat environment without doing a dramatically better job of explaining their rationale for the size Army. As it currently stands, General Odierno comes across as trying to salvage as much end strength as he can, falling back slowly as budget pressure and Congressional intransigence make his current position untenable. And that may be the best the Army can do, if they honestly don't have answers to these questions. But it's not a winning strategy.
From the point of view of American civil-military relations, today's confirmation hearing for Gen. Martin Dempsey, whom President Barack Obama nominated for a customary second tour as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the second-most important hearing of the year. The first was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing earlier in the year.
Hagel's hearing was a train wreck, but he won grudging confirmation. I hope and expect Dempsey's to go much more smoothly, and I hope and expect him to win an even more enthusiastic affirmative vote.
Hagel has performed better than his dismal performance in the confirmation hearing would have predicted. While I thought at the time that there were better choices for secretary of defense, I also thought that there was not a strong enough case against him to overcome the presumption that elections have consequences and one of them is that presidents should get the appointees they want. The confirmation hearings should not be a rubber stamp, and it is always possible that the vetting process was inadequate. However, the burden of proof should be on those seeking to reject, rather than on the president.
The case for Dempsey strikes me as much stronger than was the case for Hagel, notwithstanding the sharp critiques from my friend and Shadow Government colleague Kori Schake (who has made her skepticism plain here, here, and here). By all means, I hope the Senate uses the confirmation hearing to raise the tough questions that deserve to be asked of the administration's national security policy, which, as I argued before, appears to be in free-fall. However, it is obvious that these problems derive from decisions above Dempsey's pay grade and that those elected and appointed officials responsible at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. do not appear before confirmation hearings, or any oversight hearings. So this is the moment to ask those questions of an administration official obliged to answer them.
It is also fair game to ask Dempsey the tough questions that belong at his level: How does he explain the evolution in his advice on Syria? Why does he believe that the United States has established credible coercive diplomacy vis-à-vis Iran? What will he recommend if, as seems probable, the sequester will not be fixed? And so on. Dempsey must provide compelling accounts of the many issues he will manage if he is confirmed to a second tour, ranging from sexual harassment policy to pay and compensation to rebalancing the force as it returns from war to barracks.
But I think he deserves that second tour. I admit to a certain bias here because Dempsey cares deeply about an issue that I think is vitally important: the health of civil-military relations. (Yes, I acknowledge another possible conflict of interest: Dempsey is a Duke alum with a graduate degree in English, which speaks well of his breadth of education. I also taught his son in class.) Dempsey has made educating the force about the do's and don'ts of healthy civil-military relations a high priority in his first term. In this regard, he was responding to the same warning signs that motivated his predecessor, Adm. Mike Mullen, and his earlier boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to likewise make civil-military relations a point of emphasis. Dempsey has spoken out persuasively about the dangers of senior retired military getting involved in high-stakes partisan politics, and he has spoken compellingly about the need for better communication between civilian and military institutions.
Both civilians and the military share responsibility for preserving healthy civil-military relations, but it is simply a fact that civilian political leaders are too distracted to pay the matter adequate attention, and the rest of civilian society is even more inclined to ignore the relationship. If military leaders do not make it a priority, no one in positions of influence will.
Dempsey understands this fundamentally important fact, and for that reason -- and barring a black-swan surprise revelation in the hearings -- he deserves to be questioned closely and then confirmed.
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.