We are witnessing a classic political mistake stir unrest in an otherwise tranquil Turkey: letting political popularity inflate one's ego to the point that you think it is you that people like, instead of your ideas. Unless Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan does an about-face in his response to recent protests, he risks an unraveling of support for him and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), despite all they have done to propel Turkey forward.
As a vital ally and key power in a region filled with turmoil, this should be of concern to all Americans. It is in America's best interest for President Obama to utilize the immense soft power of the executive branch and privately counsel his friend on how best to respond to community engagement.
Erdogan and AKP have risen to heights of support not seen in recent times in Turkey. They came to power tapping into popular resentment against restrictions on individual freedoms, such as the ability for women to wear headscarves in schools and public buildings imposed by decades of secularist rule. In response, the Turkish people gave Erdogan and AKP unprecedented results at the ballot box.
Given the opportunity to lead, AKP has delivered. The economy has boomed, with per capita income tripling to more than $10,000. The nation has never been closer to reconciling with its Kurdish population after decades of strife. Turkey's standing in the world has risen as a result. By speaking boldly on regional issues, Erdogan has become one of the most popular leaders in Turkey and the Arab world. With success at home and abroad in a land with such a rich history, it is easy to see how success could go to one's head.
The protests, initially sparked by opposition to replacing a park with a shopping mall, reflect both this economic success and a political reversal. It is a mistake to dismiss these protests as mere environmental agitation or partisan inspired opposition. It is in fact the same expression that propelled AKP to power: the desire for personal freedoms and inclusion.
The emerging Turkish middle class yearns to be heard during the political decision making process. Having had their taste for freedom and inclusion whetted, they want more. Quizzically, Erdogan has decided to give them less on several recent occasions including:
These moves inflamed the passions of previously politically disengaged citizens that were surprised to see their lifestyle choices under assault.
Rather than being receptive to the public outcry, Erdogan has dug in, insisting that the construction plans would continue. He defended the alcohol law saying on television "Whoever drinks alcohol is an alcoholic." When challenged on whether he would call those who voted for him and happened to enjoy an occasional pint or two drunkards, he began to backtrack.
People of consequence in Turkey tell me that Erdogan is no longer listening to advice from anyone. This approach is not helping. His attempts to stifle the press and the lack of coverage of the protests within the Turkish media does a disservice to government officials who need to see all sides of the argument in order to legislate effectively. Erdogan's dismissal of social media sites such as Twitter as a "menace" undermines the democratic appeal of his and his party's leadership.
Turkey is at an important pivot point. If Erdogan returns to the inclusive approach that propelled him to power there is so much good he can do. The nation has geographic and ideological links between the East and West that will serve it well in a 21st century interconnected world, so long as its government remains receptive to all of its citizens' voices.
This is exactly the time when it is important for a friend and fellow leader like Obama to make a frank private call. His roots as a community organizer would come in handy in providing sound counsel to Erdogan. If this call has been quietly made, kudos to the President. If it has not been made, it should be soon.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Facing a series of significant foreign policy challenges, the Obama administration appears to be responding with an array of diplomatic initiatives built around negotiations. Thus, the White House hopes to convene a diplomatic conference on the Syrian war in Geneva , and to launch a dialogue with China on cybersecurity, both to take place in July. Meanwhile, the administration still hopes to resume yet another round of negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.
The problem in each of these cases is not that the Obama administration is following a diplomatic track. The problem is that the White House and State Department seem to be pursuing negotiations from a posture of weakness, and are not taking the needful steps to strengthen their negotiating hand. Diplomacy always takes place in the context of facts on the ground, and in each of these cases America's adversaries are doing a better job of creating facts on the ground more favorable to their positions. Meanwhile, perhaps seduced by the false dichotomy of thinking that diplomacy is always an alternative to the use of force rather than often a complement to force, the Obama administration may be setting up its various diplomatic gambits for failure.
Take Syria. While Secretary Kerry is begging and cajoling various parties to agree to attend the peace conference, in the war itself the Assad regime's patrons such as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are helping Damascus regain the battlefield initiative against the rebels through substantial weapons upgrades and territorial advances. Even if the Geneva gathering does take place next month, it will occur in circumstances far more favorable to Assad and his backers - and will consequently be far less likely to lead to Assad's departure and any viable settlement.
In the case of China, the White House in recent weeks has at last begun publicly speaking out against China's state-sponsored hacking of American military and commercial targets, but the only real action in response seems to be a call for dialogue because, in the words of a senior administration official "we need to develop some norms and rules." Well, yes, developing norms and rules would be nice, but the immediate issue is much simpler: the Chinese government needs to stop stealing technology from American companies, and needs to stop engaging in low-grade acts of cyberwar against the American military. China will continue this cyberwarfare as long as it can do so without any consequences - and a diplomatic dialogue or even "sternly-worded demarche" from the State Department do not count as consequences. Especially since Beijing has proven very artful at using dialogues as diversionary tactics to resist taking concrete policy steps, with the episodic U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue being just one example (an especially sad reminder of the failures of U.S. human rights policy as this week marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre).
Iran, meanwhile, is starting to resemble "Groundhog Day," with Tehran pursuing a salami slicing strategy of incrementally advancing its nuclear program while sporadically coming back to the negotiating table. Here at least the US diplomatic strategy has included coercive instruments such as economic sanctions and other measures. But as Mike Singh and others have repeatedly pointed out, missing has been a credible, unambiguous threat from the U.S. of the use of force. It is just such a credible threat that would, ironically, reduce the likelihood of war by showing the Iranian regime that a diplomatic solution is their best and only option.
Looking at history, many previous negotiations succeeded because of the strong hand the U.S. wielded. Nixon and Kissinger used the Linebacker bombing campaigns to strengthen the American position in the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War. Reagan's diplomatic outreaches to Gorbachev took place amidst America's enhanced military posture, development of the Strategic Defense Initiative that drove the Russians nuts, and pressure on the Soviet periphery through support for insurgents in places like Afghanistan. The Clinton administration had a strong hand to play in negotiating the Dayton Accords thanks to Operation Deliberate Force.
In contrast, the Obama administration has dealt itself a weak hand in its various diplomatic initiatives. This is not at all to say that diplomacy should be abandoned, but rather that the White House should look for ways to approach negotiations with incentives for the other side to change its behavior. In Syria, this could mean steps like arming the rebels or imposing no-fly zones. With China, it could mean engaging in some retaliatory cyber-measures against Unit 61398 (one hopes this is already being done?), so that when Chinese officials sit down for the dialogue they will do so knowing that refusing to cooperate will carry costs. In the case of Iran, the regime needs to know that its choices are a negotiated settlement or the destruction of its nuclear program.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama has made an important point: The U.S. war against al Qaeda, "like all wars, must end." I have written previously about my concern that the United States' global counterterrorism campaign had become a never-ending war. But the president's speech last week did not tell us how and when this war can end, so it is best seen as a milestone, not an endpoint.
While unending war is clearly bad for a republic and dangerous to U.S. security, the trickier task is defining the conditions that, when met, tell us that the war against al Qaeda is over. The United States does not have the privilege of deciding unilaterally when it ends: The enemy gets a vote too. And some of the U.S. policy choices in the Middle East and South Asia could make ending it harder.
Consider Iraq, which is increasingly split by sectarian strife, under attack from a resurgent al Qaeda in Iraq, and struggling with a difficult transition following the U.S. withdrawal. Or Afghanistan, where the Taliban understand that they can wait the United States out because of the administration's public announcement of its intention to withdraw U.S. troops in 2014. Or Libya, which has been fraught with unrest and radicalization after Muammar al-Qaddafi's ouster. In all three cases, the United States seems to have simply decided at a certain point that it had invested enough blood and treasure in the conflict.
Yet the president's speech offered some of the most forceful and persuasive discussions of this war's nature that he has given during his tenure. Obama administration officials often speak of "violent extremism" rather than Islamist radicalism. But Obama was blunt and accurate in his speech: "Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology -- a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause."
Still, there seemed to be a mismatch between the president's rhetoric and his policies. He said America "must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces" and then, two sentences later, added that "our troops will come home" from Afghanistan. There appear to be similar disconnects between other elements of the administration's Afghanistan strategy over the last three years -- a publicized withdrawal deadline detached from realities on the ground, inconsistent attempts to negotiate with the Taliban, and carte blanche to Pakistan even as it supports the Taliban -- and the president's articulated goal of completing the defeat of al Qaeda and its Afghan allies.
The same mismatch may arise when it comes to soft power. "Force alone cannot make us safe," the president said. "We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root." If so, this administration should seek to invest more in soft-power tools. The State Department's new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations remains underfunded, for example, and the Civilian Response Corps has not yet lived up to its initial promise.
The president made a particular point of defending foreign aid, which he called "fundamental to our national security, and any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism," yet U.S. worldwide economic assistance fell almost $7 billion from 2010 to 2011, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development's "green book" of overseas loans and grants. The relative lack of governance and reconstruction assistance in Afghanistan has long been the weak pillar of U.S. strategy there. Obama also called for "patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya," but the United States has done too little to help post-conflict Libya after helping overthrow the Qaddafi regime.
A final point of the speech that bears scrutiny is the implication that invading countries is never a viable option: "Invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies, unleash a torrent of unintended consequences, are difficult to contain, and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict." The result of putting more boots on the ground, Obama continued, "would be more U.S. deaths, more Black Hawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars."
Not all interventions end in the downing of a Black Hawk or a shootout in a Third World slum. I call this the "Somalia fallacy," the unjustified belief that the botched 1992-1993 intervention in Somalia is a blueprint that accurately predicts how all interventions in failed states will play out. In fact, almost none do. There now seems to be a similar Iraq fallacy -- the belief that interventions will necessarily be badly mismanaged and provoke an insurgency, when, again, very few actually do.
That aside, the president appears to be refuting an argument that no one makes: No one is saying that invasion to topple a regime is the only option for dealing with terrorist safe havens. Invasion may be necessary in some circumstances -- as it was in Afghanistan -- but not in others. War is never preferable, but it may sometimes be necessary and, sadly, the most effective option.
Obama's statements jibe with a popular, if misguided, strain of security studies: that the fundamental nature of war has changed because of technology and globalization, which might explain his preference for drones. Yet strategically, war is and always has been lethal statecraft -- nothing more and nothing less. Tactically, it is and always has been the attempt to make men kill each other in an organized fashion. In the face of such harsh truths, it is premature to declare the end of a war that terrorists may choose to continue to wage against the United States for a long time yet.
Paul Miller is a political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp. He is a former CIA analyst and served from 2007 to 2009 as director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the White House's National Security Staff.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
It has been a very long time since the military profession has had to struggle with so many overlapping challenges at the same time -- fiscal, ethical, medical, bureaucratic, and operational. Every day seems to bring a new headline of a scandal, and it is not hyperbole to suggest that, in combination, they add up to an institution in crisis.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, the senior-most uniformed military officer, has already directed a number of sensible reforms aimed at strengthening the moral fiber of military leaders at various levels of command, but many may have missed it because the rollout was eclipsed by the Boston terrorist attack. It is too soon to judge the effectiveness of the changes, yet the continued drumbeat of negative stories underscores that it was not too soon for the institution to respond in a dramatic fashion.
The most controversial aspect of the new reforms is instituting a 360-degree review, meaning military leaders will be evaluated not merely by their superiors in the chain of command, but also by their peers and subordinates. This is alien to military culture, but well-established in many civilian settings. We lowly professors, for instance, are reviewed more often by our peers (through blind peer review of research papers) and by our subordinates (through student evaluations of our teaching) than we are by our superiors (an annual assessment by a departmental chair and intermittent promotion review). The academic profession may not be seen as the paragon of good management, but at a minimum it suggests that the 360-degree review is survivable. The key is to view the information in totality and in context, not giving undue weight to any single bit of information, whether adverse or favorable. Some of the more egregious figures in recent scandals -- serial abusive leaders -- probably would have been uncovered with such a system.
The Dempsey reforms are a good start, and as they are implemented, I suspect we will learn more about understanding the problems and ways to rectify them.
As for understanding, it seems clear that the strain of over a decade of high optempo/perstempo war-fighting -- something the all-volunteer force was explicitly designed not to do -- is a major contributing factor. But I think other cultural forces are of equal importance, in particular two generational effects that get less notice than they deserve. First, the junior ranks are drawn from a generation that is itself in something of a moral crisis. I found Lost in Transition, by Christian Smith and his team of sociologists, to be deeply insightful about the ways the generation from which the military draws all its new recruits does moral reasoning. It is a sober read and should be required for all noncommissioned and commissioned officers because it describes a sharp divide between the way older generations of Americans thought about right and wrong (even the notoriously self-indulgent baby boomers!) and the more narcissistic approach that prevails among youth today.
Second, most of the senior ranks joined and became career military during another period of considerable crisis for the institution and for civil-military relations -- the Clinton years. I wonder whether one lingering effect of that period is a sense among some officers -- perhaps only a subliminal sense -- that because President Bill Clinton "got away" with a scandal that would have ended the career of any military officer, the rules no longer apply, or at least should no longer apply to them. Some experts I respect think I am off base with this conjecture. I am sure that the 1990s scandal and civil-military troubles may be completely out of sight and out of mind for most career military and that there may be more officers affected in the opposite way -- bound and determined to hold themselves to a higher standard. So at most, it may be only a tiny fraction that is affected by that era in the negative way I imagine, but then it is only a tiny fraction of the military who are causing the problems, so that, by itself, does not rebut the hypothesis.
In other words, at least some of the perceived moral challenges in the military profession probably can be traced to currents in the broader civilian society. Indeed, it is surely deeper than that: They can be traced to the human condition itself. Even the term that is popular to describe one manifestation of the problem with successful leaders, the Bathsheba syndrome, underscores how timeless the challenges are.
Are there any "fixes" to the human condition? Perhaps not fixes, but there are four time-honored approaches.
1. Inner transformation: drawing upon a Higher Power to make a dramatic change in one's moral trajectory -- the stuff of countless "I was lost, but now I am found" testimonies.
2. Accountability: bringing private behavior from out of the shadows and into the antiseptic light of review by others (this is what the 360-degree review is trying to harness).
3. Systems designed to avoid what Catholic teaching calls "occasions to sin," meaning situations that involve undue amounts of temptation -- for instance ensuring that superior officers are not alone in a hotel room late at night with potential sex partners from the junior ranks.
4. Systems designed to provide redemption and renewal for individuals who have erred. This last element, which is integral to all religious forms of moral education, may be the most difficult one to apply in a military setting. Without it, however, the military can develop a zero-defect mentality that inhibits the risk-taking that is essential to combat effectiveness.
The military must be wary of cures that are worse than the disease. For instance, it would certainly be an overreaction to the Petraeus scandal to set in motion a promotion system that would prevent leaders like him from reaching the pinnacle of the profession. As disappointing as his ethical choices were, they were not so egregious that they negated all he had accomplished up until that point. Put another way, any promotion system that did not promote a David Petraeus along the way should be considered broken. The military also must be wary of the paradox of monitoring systems: Is a high number of hits a sign that the system is not working, because so many people seem to be getting flagged, or a sign that the system is working, because it is catching and flagging the behavior it is targeting?
Because of the danger of overreaction, whatever the military institution does to grapple with these various professional crises, it would be well-advised to borrow the "reversibility" notion that was embraced in Barack Obama's strategic guidance issued in January 2012. In that case, the military was tasked with making deep cuts to meet Obama's budget targets, and the strategy team recognized that every time the United States had tried to do something similar, it had overshot and left the country with inadequate military capability. The Obama team was sure it had not made the same mistake again, but, as a hedge, it pledged this:
This includes an accounting of our ability to make a course change that could be driven by many factors, including shocks or evolutions in the strategic, operational, economic, and technological spheres. Accordingly, the concept of "reversibility" -- including the vectors on which we place our industrial base, our people, our active-reserve component balance, our posture, and our partnership emphasis -- is a key part of our decision calculus.
That same caution is probably warranted if Congress presses for more dramatic responses beyond the ones already implemented by the Dempsey reforms.
Finally, the senior-most military leaders need to remember two great principles of moral leadership. First, successful leaders create a moral climate in which imperfect humans encourage each other to act morally, rather than depending on creating or selecting morally perfect people. Second, what the senior-most leaders -- the general and flag officers and, in particular, the community of four-star officers at the pinnacle of the institution -- set up for themselves will be the loudest message of all they can send to the force, far more instructive and compelling than even the most rigorous professional ethics training regimen.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The president's speech at the National Defense University was most unsatisfying for anyone hoping that at long last Obama would articulate what his purpose is in being commander-in-chief while terrorists continue their efforts to kill and maim Americans and our allies.
Both Peter Feaver (here) and Tom Mahnken (here) have offered incisive comments and I don't intend to belabor their excellent points other than to note that I think this speech is a defining moment in a way for which the administration was not hoping. Rather than turn a page and finally say what he believes and what he will pursue about the greatest challenge we face today, the president muddied the waters so much that clarity in his final term now seems impossible. The speech -- long-planned and expected by supporters and critics alike -- demonstrates that the administration's policy is incoherent because it sends two different messages.
On the one hand, after largely keeping in place the Bush policies designed to prosecute a global war on terror, Obama now says we cannot pursue terrorists everywhere in an unlimited fashion -- implying that that is what George W. Bush did -- and so he is also implying that the global war on terror is over because it was never a realistic approach. But on the other hand, he acknowledges that terrorists are still hatching their plots and working their will all over the world, and so we must combat them and he will do so. He can't have it both ways. If terrorists still operate, and they do, and he said so (even if he suggests inaccurately that al Qaeda is on the wane), and if they still operate all over the world and here at home, and they do, and he said so, then we are in a global war on terror. He should say so. To say otherwise is absurd.
Adding to the confusion is the president's announcement at NDU of policy changes he will seek: reducing the incidence of drone strikes and closing Guantanamo. It is hard to believe that suddenly the drone strikes are no longer useful when they have essentially been this administration's signature policy in fighting terror. And it is hard to believe that trying to close a secure prison that allows for interrogations when you still have no detailed plan that can pass muster with Congress is a serious policy. But maybe these new policies are motivated more by a desire to improve on his and the U.S. popularity ratings around the world that are currently lower than in the Bush era.
I do not say the administration is incompetent; I have worked with a number of them over the years in government, and so have we all at Shadow Government. But being smart and well-credentialed does not necessarily mean one will produce rational and coherent foreign policy. To do that, the head policymaker must eschew politics and have clear and precise goals; he must have a well-thought-out vision and mission of what is to be achieved. And he must formulate and articulate a strategy that puts money and other resources into the effort. The president has never done these things seriously and much less as a package. He's only made it worse with a speech that sends a confused message: The global war on terror is over but we will keep fighting terrorists who are active all over the globe.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Now, I'm no Medea Benjamin, but I had several strong reactions to President Obama's speech at the National Defense University Thursday.
First, as expected, Obama used the platform to criticize the Bush administration. Quite frankly, however, I've gotten so used to that trope that I almost don't pay attention to it anymore. But in criticizing America's conduct of its conflict with al Qaeda and its affiliates, the president was also critiquing his own performance over the last four plus years. Listening to Obama's speech, one cannot help but ask, "What were you doing over the past four years? Wasn't it you who greatly expanded the scope and intensity of drone strikes during your first term?" Obama has hardly been a passive bystander as this drama has unfolded. The drone strike program was inaugurated by the Bush administration, but it has reached its zenith under Obama.
Which leads to my second observation: Obama's speech was almost entirely about tactics. Indeed, Obama has presided over what my late friend and colleague Michael Handel termed the "tacticization of strategy." Obama and his team have used a tactic -- strikes on terrorists launched from unmanned air vehicles -- as a substitute for the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategy. The same is true of the administration's attitude toward interrogation and detention.
Third, in seeking to define the conflict more tightly, he actually muddied the waters. Obama's call for limiting the use of force to al Qaeda and its affiliates is sensible. Indeed, I don't know of anyone from the previous administration who would argue with that notion. The difficulty has always involved determining the criteria for affiliation with al Qaeda. Is it individuals or groups who have sworn an oath of fealty of al Qaeda central? Is it groups that share al Qaeda's vision of violent jihad? Is it individuals who are inspired by al Qaeda's preaching?
Obama appears to have difficulty with this himself. Consider the following paragraph from his speech:
And finally, we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States. Whether it's a shooter at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a plane flying into a building in Texas, or the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, America has confronted many forms of violent extremism in our history. Deranged or alienated individuals -- often U.S. citizens or legal residents -- can do enormous damage, particularly when inspired by larger notions of violent jihad. And that pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood and the bombing of the Boston Marathon.
So Timothy McVeigh was a "violent extremist", whereas violent extremism "appears to have led to" Major Nidal Hassan's murderous rampage? The use of the passive voice in the latter case is telling.
We can -- and should -- debate how strong and how centralized al Qaeda is. Such a debate is crucial to understanding the nature of our adversary and the kind of war upon which we are embarked and thus to developing an effective strategy. Furthermore, scholars would be aided in this debate if they had access to more of the documents seized from Osama bin Laden's house in Pakistan. Only seventeen have so far been released, and the president quoted from another yesterday. Would the thousands of documents that remain classified corroborate the president's view of how we are doing? One wonders.
Fourth, and most importantly, just as President Bush was criticized for declaring a premature end to the 2003 Iraq War, Obama may very well be criticized for declaring an end to the war on terror.
It takes two to end a war. Indeed, it is the defeated party that determines when a war is over, because he holds the power to continue it. In the present instance, it is less than clear that al Qaeda's leadership believes that it is defeated. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are if anything gaining new footholds in North Africa, West Africa, and Syria.
Obama's NDU speech may thus prove to be his own "mission accomplished" moment. I hope that I am wrong but fear that I am right.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday's speech is one that President Obama has evidently wanted to give for some time. For several years now, there appears to have been an internal debate over whether and how to reframe the war on terror. One camp, call them the optimists, have wanted to declare the equivalent of "mission accomplished," with al Qaeda strategically defeated and the remaining terror threats relegated to a second or third-tier concern. The other camp, call them the pessimists, have warned that such a declaration would be premature because operational successes against some aspects of the terror network (e.g. the killing of bin Laden and numerous al Qaeda operational commanders) have been undermined by strategic setbacks in other areas (e.g. the emergence of new safe havens in North Africa, the unraveling of security in Iraq, the spiraling chaos in Syria that has re-energized both Sunni and Shia terrorist groups, and so on).
Politically, declaring mission accomplished is a tantalizing risk. On the one hand, it is clear that Obama partisans are keen to wring maximum political benefit from the good fortune of killing bin Laden on their watch. The boast that they have "won" the "good" war that Bush started (the war on terror) and "ended" the "bad" war (Iraq) would, if true, cement Obama's national security legacy. On the other hand, just as Bush paid a huge price for standing in front of a "mission accomplished" banner when the conflict in Iraq was anything but over, Obama would be at great risk if terrorists successfully struck after he had made the boast.
Shortly after the bin Laden raid, the Obama administration floated some "mission accomplished" trial balloons, with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggesting that al Qaeda was near strategic defeat. As the presidential election campaign heated up in the summer of 2012, it looked as if the administration was considering a bolder declaration. If that is right, I bet they are glad they resisted the temptation because the Benghazi terror attacks were hard enough for the administration to spin as it was. It would have been a much more daunting task if the attacks came on the heels of a "mission accomplished" speech.
Perhaps that is why, when he finally gave it after the Benghazi terror attack and after the Boston terror attack, the president's speech was so rhetorically unsatisfying. It sounded as if the president was personally and publicly wrestling with the tantalizing risk and never fully resolving where he came down. It seemed to be a compromise forged from two separate speeches, one drafted by the optimists and the other by the pessimists. Perhaps it was a sufficiently artful compromise to win one 24-hour news cycle, but that is probably its high water mark. The administration got some of the headlines it wanted -- the Washington Post highlighted the notion of the United States at "a ‘crossroads'" in the war on terror, and the New York Times called the speech a "pivot," perhaps enough to give the impression that there is a fundamental shift underway. But, in fact, as the president was at pains to admit in the speech, the threat remains and requires on-going extraordinary efforts, including efforts associated with war and not mere law enforcement.
And so it does. As Max Boot notes, the details laid out in Obama's speech mostly take us back to the de facto policy he inherited from President George W. Bush -- policies which have stood him in pretty good stead and made possible even having an internal debate about whether to declare the war on terror, or some crucial phase of it, over.
In news terms, the most important change appears to be a reduction in drone strikes from Obama-era levels back to Bush-era levels. Slowing down the pace of drone strikes is not a trivial change. For one thing, the drone strikes are deeply unpopular around the world, even -- and perhaps especially -- with our allies. They have become for Obama what "torture" was for the Bush administration and foreign discomfort with drone strikes is one important reason that the "soft power asset bubble" that Obama generated in his first few months in office has largely popped. So the evolution in drone policy is significant, but equally significant is that the president promised to continue to do drone strikes, as he deems necessary. The drone war has not ended.
The other "changes" are mostly hortatory appeals for Congress to change, coupled with rejections of the proposals coming from Congress on the subject.
The current phase in the war will indeed end when Gitmo is closed and when U.S. forces operate under a newly drafted authorization for the use of military force, two things the president called for without explaining how he could achieve it. Even then, however, the war will not be over, just entering a new phase. And if events on the ground in the Middle East continue to unfold along their current trajectory, that new phase may be every bit as daunting as the pessimists fear.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
World Bank President Jim Kim and the World Bank board will in the next few weeks receive a report about the future of the "Doing Business" report that will be critical in determining the future of the bank's signature project to encourage private sector development. Forces inside the bank -- most notably, China -- have tried to scuttle the Doing Business report, which ranks countries on the ease of starting and running a business, and it is now up to Kim to ensure the report survives intact.
Countries loathe to embrace private enterprise as the main driver of development have attempted to weaken, outsource, or do away with the report, an effort that has crystallized in the forthcoming report about the future of Doing Business. As a trained medical doctor, Kim is well familiar with the Hippocratic Oath and its dictate to "do no harm," and in coming weeks he will have the chance to live up to that pledge and save an important aspect of the bank's development agenda.
The bottom line is that Doing Business is one of the World Bank's most important and useful activities. For the United States, it is one of the top five most important programs at the World Bank. Messing with Doing Business should be a line in the sand for the bank.
I expect one of three outcomes from the panel's report: crippling several of the critical indicators, ending Doing Business altogether, or outsourcing Doing Business to something like the World Economic Forum. These are all bad outcomes for development, the World Bank, and the United States.
Sources inside the World Bank that Kim has said privately that his "hands will be tied" by the panel's report, but there are several other factors that the Bank's leadership should take into consideration in their decision.
First, Kim should review the open letter authored by Paul Collier, Daron Acemoglu, Graeme Wheeler, Michael Klein, and Simon Johnson, five heavyweights in the development community who strongly support Doing Business. Currently, the letter has been signed by 50 former and current policymakers, prominent economists, and others from all over the world.
Additionally, Doing Business is broadly popular on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Last week, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce and Jeb Hensarling, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter, which was also signed by the Democratic Reps. Gregory Meeks and Karen Bass, encouraging Kim to keep the Doing Business report intact. That letter is embedded at the bottom of this post.
Jim Kim has the power in World Bank board meetings to offer a summation and to provide his interpretation of the board's consensus. He should exercise that power to defend Doing Business. I have seen him push back on other silly ideas by leveraging his moral authority as someone from the NGO community. Now is the time to say, " I am from the NGO community, I have seen what crony capitalism can do, I have seen what corruption has wrought, I am for a data driven and evidence based approach to development, and I believe the private sector is the driver of development. Therefore, I conclude that the bank will continue to run and grow Doing Business."
Win McNamee/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.