Those who track security issues in the Western Hemisphere know that in recent years the Drug Enforcement Administration has come under increasing pressure as it has attempted to fulfill its mission. Radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have decried its operations as latter-day manifestations of American "imperialism" and expelled counter-narcotics officers from their countries. Others, such as Guatemala's Otto Perez, at wits end over the drug-fueled carnage in his country, have tried to lead a regional movement to liberalize drug consumption laws in a misguided attempt to quell the violence.
But through it all, the DEA has soldiered on, placing its agents and partners in harm's way to prevent illicit narcotics from reaching our shores. Moreover, what many do not realize is that as U.S. Defense Department and intelligence community assets have been redeployed to meet challenges elsewhere around the globe, DEA personnel today pretty much are the last line of defense to detect threats before they reach the U.S. southern border. (Remember, it was a DEA sting that led to the exposure of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington in 2011.)
What this means is that if a small plane carrying terrorists and/or explosives approaches U.S. airspace or someone tries to smuggle a dirty bomb across our southern border, there is a good chance both will be picked up by DEA surveillance or intel networks in time to thwart any attacks.
I mention this in the context of a recently published op-ed by my colleague Ambassador Roger Noriega in which he reveals that Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a powerful member of both the Appropriations and Judiciary Committees, sent a harshly worded letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart threatening to cut off support for U.S. counter-narcotics operations in Central America because he was dissatisfied with the agency's answers regarding a joint U.S.-Honduran interdiction operation last year in which four presumed innocent bystanders were killed.
Ambassador Noriega recounts the details, but suffice it to say that a DEA surveillance video of the incident disproves testimony of local eyewitnesses (collected by Washington-based activists) that no one did anything to provoke gunfire. Yet, Senator Leahy appears to give more credence to the accounts of those with an ideological axe to grind against U.S. security assistance in the region than he does to federal law enforcement agents who just blocked half a ton of cocaine from reaching the United States.
That four Hondurans who may not have had anything to do with the drugs were killed is tragic, but the blame lies with the traffickers who habitually exploit local populations to provide cover for their criminality. It certainly doesn't belong on those who are taking on these dangerous criminal networks frontally. Nor is it fathomable how cutting off U.S. assistance will help improve conditions in countries caught in the middle of major drug trafficking routes from South to North America.
The Obama administration needs to quietly let Senator Leahy know that he is way off base threatening and haranguing the DEA administrator. DEA agents in the field need to know President Obama has their back -- to prevent a knife being stuck in it from their own side. Moreover, the State Department needs to cable all U.S. Ambassadors in drug transit zones to be more openly supportive of our counter-narcotics partnerships with countries in the region. Too many spend their time seemingly apologizing for these programs and buckling under the slightest challenge to them.
The message is simple: we support these programs because we are taking responsibility for the fact that U.S. demand for recreational drugs fuels mayhem and impunity in their countries. And stamping out this pernicious trade not only makes their streets safer to walk, but rids their governing institutions of the corrupting influence of dirty money. That doesn't appear to be something we should be ashamed of.
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Before ink had been put to paper -- let alone dried -- on an interim nuclear bargain with Iran Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced it as "the deal of the century" for Tehran , noting that Iran would not have to dismantle even one centrifuge. If a deal is culminated, others will no doubt defend it, arguing that Iran's enrichment program is a fait accompli; that we can hope only to contain it, not to end it, or even to roll it back.
So over the next few weeks the argument will play out over whether or not Iran has been pushed farther from a nuclear weapons capability, and whether sanctions relief would then be justified. This highly transactional approach would offer scant evidence of a strategic decision by Tehran to forego a nuclear weapons program in favor of a better relationship with the international community. It would, however, be consistent with a pattern of deals Tehran has sought to buy breathing space, while continuing to expand its nuclear program.
A better test of the worth of an Iranian nuclear commitment has already been specified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- how Tehran answers specific evidence of nuclear weapons development. Two years ago, the agency reported on what it called "possible military dimensions" of the Iranian nuclear program, stating:
"Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile, about which the Agency has regularly received new information." [pdf]
Despite the IAEA's rather anodyne label, the November 2011 report raised allegations of work that can only be explained as part of a nuclear weapons development program, including efforts "pertinent to the development of an HEU [highly enriched uranium] implosion device," such as:
These are detailed allegations, directly related to nuclear weapons development, reported by multiple sources, and in many cases cross-checked against information developed independently by the agency. They give lie to Tehran's plea that its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
For years, the IAEA has sought Iranian cooperation in resolving the issues associated with these activities, but Tehran has stonewalled. Even Monday's deal between the IAEA and Iran failed to address these matters. How Tehran deals with the IAEA's allegation of "a possible military dimension" to the Iranian program is critically important.
Openness would allow the IAEA to follow the leads -- inspect facilities, analyze documents, talk with scientists, check procurement records. This would enable the agency to determine what the facts on the ground are, and to root out any Iranian nuclear weapons program, if one continues to exist.
It would also signal that Tehran has decided that the costs of developing nuclear weapons are too high and the benefits of an alternative path are worth pursuing.
Alternatively, if Tehran continues to stonewall the IAEA, refusing to clarify what it has done and not done despite credible and damning evidence, we will know that the deal is tactical, not strategic, that cooperation by Tehran is incomplete and grudging, and that given half a chance, they will cheat on it.
Could such a deal still be worthwhile? Perhaps, but only if Iran is materially and verifiably farther from a nuclear weapons capability than it is today, and that would set the bar very, very high.
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An American president tries to pursue an ambitious gambit to deal with a Middle Eastern country's suspected WMD program, only to be stymied in a multilateral forum by French intransigence. Does this describe the George W. Bush administration's feud with Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin over Iraq under Saddam Hussein? Yes, but this is also what happened over the weekend to the Obama administration's effort to cut a deal in Geneva with Iran over its nuclear program, until blocked by Francois Hollande's French government. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius derided the provisional agreement with Iran as a "fool's game" because it reportedly conceded too much to Tehran, particularly allowing construction to continue of the Arak plutonium reprocessing plant, and permitting Iran to keep its current stocks of enriched uranium and even continue some enrichment efforts up to 3.5 percent.
American surprise at France's posture towards Iran is probably colored by lingering memories of former president Jacques Chirac's vocal opposition to the Bush administration's Middle East policies. The tragi-comic nadir of U.S.-France relations during those years came when the Congressional cafeteria renamed “French Fries” as “Freedom Fries.” But diplo-culinary spats notwithstanding, Chirac was an aberration. As a former senior British national security official (and otherwise critic of the Bush administration) recently commented to me, Chirac was probably the most anti-American French leader since the days of Vichy.
It is not just Hollande who is a hawkish internationalist; his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was as well. Nor is this just a 21st century phenomenon. Shortly after becoming president, Ronald Reagan was famously surprised to discover that the socialist French President Francois Mitterand was also a fierce anticommunist. While Reagan had initially adopted a common stereotype of French socialists as timorous and unreliable in international politics, he soon realized that France under Mitterand would be a bold and valued American ally in the conflict with the Soviet Union.
So perhaps Americans today should not be surprised that another French socialist, the current president Hollande, has also embraced an assertive foreign policy. This provides the backdrop for France's role this past weekend in holding the line against what appears to have been an effort by the US to push a dubious deal with Iran.
The Obama administration's actions this past week also helped clarify a lingering question hanging over the negotiations: which side holds the strongest leverage? Was Tehran motivated to come to the bargaining table by the acute pain it is suffering from economic sanctions and a genuine willingness to negotiate away its nuclear weapons program? Or was Tehran motivated instead by its perception that the Obama administration is irresolute and desperate for a deal in the wake of its embarrassing volte-face on Syria? Judging by the terms of the failed deal, where the US would trade concrete sanctions relief in exchange for abstract Iranian promises, it was unfortunately the latter.
Meanwhile, France has quietly emerged as the leading member of the transatlantic community and the most assertive in responding to - and shaping -- the many dislocations of the Arab Awakening. It began with Libya, where France under Sarkozy catalyzed (and even jumped the starter gun) the NATO intervention. Then France took the lead on sending forces to restore order in Mali as it fractured amidst a military coup and Islamist takeover of the north. On Syria, France has consistently advocated more support for the moderate rebel elements and more pressure on the Assad regime. And now France is the leading voice against a nuclear Iran.
At first glance these policies may seem a far cry from a traditional raison d'etat foreign policy, but in France's case they seem to result from a combination of values and interests, the latter including France's commercial interests with nations like Saudi Arabia. Yet overall France has assessed, properly, that Western powers should not be neutral on the several fault lines dividing the broader Middle East, and that principled diplomacy and targeted interventions can help support moderates and reformers while tilting the balance against extremists enamored of terrorism, WMD, and other destabilizing factors.
One of the several unfortunate consequences of the Obama administration's failed Middle East policy thus far is how it has alienated many American allies and partners. This list of frustration includes Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, the UAE, United Kingdom, and France. Recalibrating America's policies and standing in the region begins with being more attentive to the concerns of our allies; Paris would be a good place to start.
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Back in June when the controversy over the operations of the NSA started to crescendo, President Obama went on Charlie Rose to join the conversation. He gave the distinct impression that he was inviting the public to join in him a thorough soul-searching dialogue concerning the thorny trade-offs between civil liberty and national security, much as he had invited the public to debate drones a month earlier.
Since then there has been a very lively debate, of a sort. Barely a day goes by without another purportedly damning revelation in the media. The voices of the critics have been heard, loud and clear.
The voices on the other side? Not so much. Yes, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander has mounted a vigorous defense. Secretary of Defense Hagel has spoken up for the NSA. And there have been a few balanced debates in the public. My own organization, Duke's Program in American Grand Strategy is co-hosting one of those this Monday: a conversation between Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman and former NSA head Michael Hayden.
But you would look in vain to find many examples of President Obama joining in the conversation he himself seemed to be calling for a few months ago. It is almost as if the NSA is supposed to be viewed as some sort of independent agency, only distantly connected to the Obama administration, rather than a vital part of Obama's own national security team.
A debate of all against the NSA (and a few former NSA employees) is never going to be a balanced conversation. President Obama must engage personally.
I understand that the president has had his hands full with the Obamacare fiasco. While most of the media attention has focused on the mismanagement that led to the poorly designed website, the part that has surprised me the most are reports that President Obama repeatedly told the American public untruths about the reform -- untruths that he knew were untrue and that his policy advisors had even recommended against saying because they were untrue, only to be over-ruled by political advisors who insisted that the president keep misleading the public because it helped him politically in the short run. The President's tepid half-apology -- he expressed regret that people are losing their health insurance and tried to spin away the central issue of purposively misleading the American public with "we weren't as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place" -- probably won't resolve the scandal. Even a president as well-protected by the media as this one would have a problem given the facts of this case, and so this scandal will continue to siphon off White House attention and rhetorical resources.
I also understand that President Obama has had an unprecedented reluctance to use his bully pulpit to mobilize public support for his controversial war policies. I do not think in modern American history there has ever been a war leader who spent less effort explaining the importance of the wars he has ordered men and women to fight on the country's behalf.
In view of how much damage the Obamacare troubles is causing the administration and how little Obama likes to defend his war policies, perhaps it seems naive to encourage the president to engage rhetorically on national security.
However, I think it would actually help him politically. Presidents have the rhetorical advantage when it comes to national security, and surely it is more advantageous for him to be talking about the steps his administration is taking to track down terrorists or to put Afghanistan on a stable trajectory than it is to be talking about the load times for the healthcare.gov website.
And it is the right thing to do as a matter of policy. President Obama inherited a national security toolkit more capable than his predecessor inherited, but if he does not act, Obama could end up bequeathing to his successor a far less capable toolkit. Although there is room for reforms, unless President Obama engages meaningfully in the debate, there is a real risk that even the well-meaning reformers will throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. President Obama can help prevent that from happening, but only if he will engage.
Yet it appears he will only engage if he personally can be tagged with the issue. He is speaking about Obamacare. Maybe he could be induced to speak about Obamaintel.
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In the United States, the prospects for additional international trade opportunities look dim. The continuing fallout from revelations that the National Security Agency snooped through millions of pieces of European telephone data has cast a pall upon the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks. Additionally, the government shutdown forced the cancellation of the second round of negotiations on the pact, as well as forcing President Obama to miss the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which squandered an opportunity to push to finalize a similar commercial agreement in Asia. Internally, past and future fiscal fights are likely to further sour the possibility of future collaborative action between President Obama and Congressional Republicans, which will be necessary to pass any trade legislation.
However, it is always darkest before the dawn, and our neighbor to the north provides a light for those interested in promoting international trade.
Canada and the European Union have come to an agreement on a bilateral trade accord that would eliminate tariffs and open new markets to companies on both sides of the Atlantic. Thanks to some shrewd politicking from Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper, the measure enjoys overwhelming support from the public and could be finalized by 2015, practically light speed for a trade agreement.
Economists from both sides foresee financial benefits. Canada would join a select coterie of nations that have preferential access to the United States and the European Union, the two largest markets in the world. Increased exports, particularly in the services industry, could help inject some dynamism into a sclerotic European economy.
A leaked EU analysis of the trade agreement with Canada gives the United States a leg up when it comes to negotiating with the continent. If the EU views the recent bilateral accord as a guide, America has the benefit of knowing where the box canyons and strong currents are located.
There will be plenty of challenges and debates with European negotiators, so President Obama should be doing as much as he can to limit friction over the deal at home. That will require a more hands on approach to getting Trade Promotion Authority passed through Congress. In addition to the inside game in Washington, the White House will also have to play a strong outside game with businesses and unions that may not have as much to gain from tariff reductions as other sectors of the economy. A serious breakthrough on trade could provide some spark to a second term that is losing power fast.
If enacted, TTIP has the potential to boost economic output by some $100 billion a year on each side of the Atlantic, according to trade officials. It would offer the prospect of much needed job growth and improve the ability for America and Europe to compete with emerging markets. Additionally the maneuver would go a long way towards setting a global standard for bilateral trade agreements and commerce more generally.
There's no doubt that the task will be difficult, but the United States and Europe have worked together to slay more vicious dragons in the past. The scourge of communism was more formidable than any special interest group could ever dream of becoming.
The United States joined Europe to form the G-6 in 1975 to initiate the idea of global economic cooperation for mutual benefit. Canada followed suit a year later to make it the G-7, and today the pact has evolved into the G-20.
It is now the United States' turn to follow Canada's lead. If both America and Europe can break through gridlock at home and once again join hands, each side will benefit immensely, and the world economy could get a much-needed boost from the transatlantic partners who have long been the twin engines powering global prosperity.
Hon. Mark R. Kennedy (@HonMarkKennedy) leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).
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I agree with Dov that the White House is behaving utterly irresponsibly with regard to defense spending and policy -- and I even favor further spending cuts, which Dov does not. President Obama has for his entire term in office treated DOD like an ATM machine, cutting its budget to free up money for his priorities while excoriating Congress for the consequences of those cuts. President Obama clearly doesn't share the Pentagon's concern about further cuts, blithely saying the $490 billion already cut can be matched. The White House chose to exclude personnel costs from budget cuts, ratcheting up pressure on other parts of the budget. The president was shameless enough to go to Camp Pendleton during the government shutdown, stand in front of the assembled Marines and say "what makes me frustrated is that sometimes the very folks who say they stand with our military, the same folks are standing in the way of the sequester. It's important to look at deeds, and not just words."
But Hagel is also to blame for the mismanagement evident at DOD. The Defense Department turned in a FY 2014 budget $54 billion in excess of the Budget Control Act ceiling, exacerbating the cuts that would need to be made when sequestration came into effect. Services were permitted to spend in excess of their annual burn rate in the months before sequestration went into effect, in order to accentuate the degree of cuts and therefore the damage they could claim was the result of sequestration. According to former Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter, the Pentagon only began "prudent planning" for sequestration two weeks before it came into effect. Services that had programmed their money carefully enough that they didn't need to furlough civilian employees (the Navy) were required out of solidarity to transfer money to the other services and participate in furloughs.
Hagel's Strategic Choices Management Review was supposed to identify where trade-offs would need to be made. Beyond the simplistic "quantity or quality" metric Hagel summarized in his out-brief to the press, it produced very little. Army end strength wasn't even raised as an issue. The leader of the Air Force Quadrennial Defense Review team said of the SCMR "there was no strategy in it, there were no choices in it."
Dov is exactly right that the cutting-edge enablers of our military proficiency (ISR, precision strike) and shielding our vulnerabilities (space, cyber) are where to prioritize spending, but very little in Hagel's actual choices as secretary suggests he is doing so. The criticism holds across all six of Hagel's priorities: reduce "the world's biggest back office" by 20 percent; make contingency scenarios drive force structure; tier readiness; protect emerging capabilities; "preserve balance" between compensation, training, and equipment; and reform personnel compensation.
Compensation reform is the most egregious illustration: it needs doing, but DOD isn't doing it. It's great that he set up a commission to review compensation...except that the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation concluded its work less than a year ago. Budget experts like the estimable Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments have provided a welter of suggestions for curbing the runaway cost of personnel compensation. The debate is not lacking ideas or alternatives, it is lacking the leadership heft -- both from DOD's civilian and military leaders -- to shame Congress into accepting that not every "vote to support our men and women in uniform" is actually good for the Department of Defense in these austere times. Especially when denying them the training and equipment that will make them effective and reduce the risk of casualties is the alternative.
I very much hope Secretary Hagel will actually take up some of these ideas, and those that his own commission will put forward, but giving speeches and setting up commissions are not the same as taking on the Military Officers Association of America and other lobbying groups that will make votes uncomfortable for members of Congress to cast. The service chiefs will have to play an active part in changing the political dynamic from one that rewards compensation votes to one that educates the Congress and public to understand greater compensation will actually be harmful because training and equipment will get short shrift.
That DOD is in such a parlous state is largely its own fault, the result of weak leadership and bad management. Even former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been critical, saying "these decisions have been by the seat of the pants, what's essential and what's not essential. I think not enough thought was put into how exactly this would be implemented." Hagel needs to up his game, and so does the military leadership.
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Tokyo and Beijing are certainly rivals, but given demographic trends, the rivalry will be among grumpy old men.
Things are heating up in the East China Sea, as China continues to pressure Japan to abandon its claim that its sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyus by China) is nonnegotiable.
And after a year of dangerous intrusions and escalations, such as a Chinese frigate locking its radar on a Japanese vessel around the disputed islands, recently Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera accused China of sending its coast guard vessels into the Senkaku waters more than once a week: "I believe the intrusions by China in the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands fall in the 'gray zone' [between] peacetime and an emergency situation."
The Sino-Japanese dispute is coming perilously close to conflict, as China finds in Shinzo Abe's government a wall of resistance to its recent pattern of aggression in its near seas. Abe has ambitious plans for reviving both the Japanese economy and its national security institutions to deal with dual threats from China and North Korea.
But there is some irony in Onodera's choice of words, "gray zone," to describe the state of affairs in the East China Sea: This great-power competition is unique in that the protagonists are getting old fast.
Never before have we seen a strategic rivalry in which the opposing sides are getting so old. While both countries are using the tools of traditional statecraft -- rising military budgets, high-stakes diplomacy, economic leverage -- to gain strategic advantage, they are rapidly losing the actual people to sustain this great game.
According to Chinese statistics, the 15-64 age-group cohort, the most productive age group, shrank by 3.45 million last year. Meanwhile, the China Research Center on Aging announced that there are now 202 million elderly in China -- the size of a large country.
According to my colleague Nicholas Eberstadt, the demographic guru, China's working-age population will shrink at a rate of 1 percent starting soon (if it hasn't already). By way of contrast, during the past three decades of massive economic growth, China's working-age population grew by 1.8 percent per year. The cohort of Chinese 65 and older will grow at an astonishing rate of 3.7 percent per year for the next two decades; the elderly as a percentage of the entire population will double, reaching 17.2 percent by 2030.
As for Japan, more than 23 percent of the population is already 65 or older. Over the next few decades the proportion of elderly in Japan could grow to one-third of the total population Already, the total population is shrinking and not being replaced through either birth or immigration. Over the next two decades, the working-age population will decline by about 17 percent from 81 million to 67 million.
Each country will lose military-age personnel needed to populate its increasingly sophisticated military capabilities or innovative industrial bases that build greater wealth and power. Accompanying the erosion in wealth and power will be a loss of political will to meet current leaders' ambitions.
The costs of the coming old-age tsunami are mind-boggling. China is relatively poor and has no national pension system and a limited patchwork of locally run systems. Japan is far wealthier but deeply indebted. Neither country has enough kids to support aging parents.
It would be easy enough to conclude that these demographic trends portend more inward-looking countries tending to their elderly. But there is nothing inevitable in international politics -- aging countries do not necessarily make more peaceful ones. And these are long-run trends; there can be much trouble before they're all old.
While it is amusing to consider that the walker may replace the missile as the weapon of choice for China and Japan, there are also far more dangerous possibilities. An aging Russia, for example, relies on its nuclear weapons (the most bang for the least manpower) for security. Both Japan and China are seriously interested in drones and robotics as systems of the future. Given the inclinations of youth in both countries, conflict may seem like a complicated video game.
And like grumpy old men, the countries may become more impatient and disputatious. Where this plot leads is anyone's guess, but for guidance we are better off searching in the science-fiction section of the library.
Photo: /AFP/Getty Images
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.