Well, everyone, I'm sad to say this is my last day with Foreign Policy. On Monday, I will begin a new job as the national security advisor to Sen. John McCain. I am honored and humbled by the opportunity, but moving on is bittersweet. Over the past year, I've had a chance to help re-launch Foreign Policy with a tremendous group of people: Susan Glasser, Moises Naim, Blake Hounshell, and all of the junior editors, who are the real brains of this operation (but don't tell anyone). In just one year -- a year, I would add, that hasn't been kind to the economy, and especially the long-suffering media industry -- we have expanded Foreign Policy's revenue over last year, added subscribers to our award-winning magazine, and built the new ForeignPolicy.com into the single best website in the business devoted to global politics, economics, and ideas. And that is still just the beginning of what this institution will achieve in the years to come.
On top of all that, it has been a real joy to write regularly and edit this blog, along with a truly amazing and experienced group of foreign policy practitioners-turned-bloggers. I have learned a great deal from all of them. I think the blog is more than living up to the mission we set for it. And most of all, I've had fun. That's a great thing to say for any job.
This is my last post to Shadow Government. (I can already hear my own dedicated loyal opponents choking back their tears in the comments section.) But I am thrilled to say that the best days of this blog are most definitely ahead of it. Peter Feaver and Will Inboden, who have been star contributors in this blog's first year, will assume my editorial responsibilities here at Shadow Government, effective immediately. We have already worked together to fulfill my long-standing desire to add a lot of smart new contributors to the current stable of terrific bloggers. Keep an eye out for the new arrivals in the days to come. You will be very impressed.
So Peter and Will are already well on their way to making Shadow Government an even better forum for practical, constructive commentary on U.S. foreign policy from experienced members of the loyal opposition. Consider that continuity in shadow government. I will remain a loyal fan and reader of this blog, and of ForeignPolicy.com. And who knows, maybe I'll have a chance to come back at some point. If, that is, Peter and Will let me...
Apropos of Ross Douthat's fine column today about President Obama's reluctance thus far but requirement in future to become a "war president" on Afghanistan, I found this bit of last night's 60 Minutes profile of Gen. McChrystal to be -- how do you say? -- unbelievable:
Q: How often do you talk to the president?
McChrystal: I've talked to the president once since I've been here, on a [video teleconference].
Once?! We're talking, by my rough math, more than 100 days that McChrystal has been the president's hand-picked commander in Afghanistan, and he's spoken with him once. I'm not sure what the bigger question is right now: Whether the president will stick with his counterinsurgency strategy from March and resource it up to McChrystal's recommended levels -- or whether he will take ownership of any decision he ultimately makes and get fully behind it.
I am all for making absolutely sure that any Afghanistan strategy is right before making any resourcing decisions, and for scrubbing it hard in light of recent events. But all of that aside, we are still at war. Is it too much to ask the president to devote as much of his personal time and public capital on Afghanistan as he is on getting his hometown the 2016 Olympics?
Going back to that Foreign Policy Initiative conference I mentioned earlier, I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of democracy promotion between Ken Wollack (president of the National Democratic Institute) and Elliott Abrams (formerly Bush's deputy national security advisor, now with the Council on Foreign Relations). Not surprisingly, they spent most of their time on whether the United States should promote democracy and less time on how to do it. But in the current debate, the two seem pretty linked: After the Bush administration, many people think we don't know how to promote democracy and thus question whether we should do it.
It's a tricky question. After all, democracy is not like, say, disease, where one output (medicine) is likely to achieve the desired outcome (health). There are so many contingent factors that go into democratization, and it's not clear which of these factors -- economic development, a rising middle class, anti-corruption programs, improvements in basic security and rule of law, outside support for democracy activists, external pressure on autocratic governments to reform, free elections, among other factors -- gets a country to democracy. And that's to say nothing about what influence and role an external actor like the United States can have on another country's democratization.
So how exactly do we promote democracy? I put this question to Elliott Abrams, and here is his response:
The United States is not without useful experience in helping foreign democracy activists, and helping governments that are trying to democratize. Some of the expertise resides in the National Endowment for Democracies and the two party institutes, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. Some resides in Foreign Service personnel who have served in posts where this was a major issue, and have seen what works and what does not. So the first part of an answer is to involve people who have worked on this on the ground, pragmatically.
Sounds simple. But the State Department does not greatly value such expertise; it is most often not very "career-enhancing" because it often involves tangling with your ambassador or deputy chief of mission, your USAID mission director, and the local government. State most often pursues smooth relations with other countries, and pushing for democracy through backing local dissidents is not the path to that over-valued goal. We need less to discover, from scratch, what works, than to harness the knowledge that exists in various corners of the U.S. government. The failure to do this -- for example, at the Foreign Service Institute -- and teach it to Foreign Service officers is scandalous.
It is hard to generalize about what does work. Societies are not like bodies, to use your analogy -- all fundamentally alike. In some situations, free elections are the best path forward, and our role is mostly pressure and activism to guarantee the integrity of elections. In other cases, there will not soon be elections, and all we can do is try to protect dissidents -- by meeting them, championing them, visiting them in prison, helping their families, advertising their situation. I do believe, as President Bush did, that elections are often transforming events (not least if they are stolen!) and should not be delayed until all conditions are ideal -- the sequentialist view. But there is no playbook that works in all situations; there is only the accrued experiences of success and failure.
I would say that always and everywhere we should make our position clear, backing peaceful democracy activists (as Bush said in his Prague speech). I reject the view that we need to be silent about abuses, or very quiet about them -- the view that seemed widespread in the Obama Administration as it reacted to Iran after the June elections. Our comments about stolen elections, or the safety of jailed activists, or the trials of dissidents, are always helpful.
By Christian Brose
Videos from each session of this week's Foreign Policy Initiative conference (no relation to Foreign Policy magazine) are now online, and I recommend them all to you.
Here is the discussion of the war in Afghanistan, especially the U.S. domestic politics of it, featuring Rep. Mark Kirk, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, and Gen. Mark Kimmitt (ret.), moderated by Jonathan Karl:
A conversation on democracy promotion between Elliott Abrams and Kenneth Wollack, moderated by Doyle McManus:
A discussion of Iran after the election between Ray Takeyh, Reuel Gerecht, and Karim Sadjadpour, moderated by Barbara Slavin:
A conversation about Iraq and Afghanistan with Mike O'Hanlon, Ken Pollack, and Gen. Dave Barno (ret.), moderated by Tom Donnelly:
And then, here is John McCain talking with Bob Kagan:
Mitt Romney talking with Dan Senor:
And Newt Gingrich talking with Bob Kagan:
Let's say you're President Obama. You campaigned for an increased U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, but you hadn't really kicked the tires on that problem. And when you did, upon taking office, you felt a serious twinge of buyer's remorse. Meanwhile, your commanders were clamoring for more forces, and before having a chance to conduct a proper policy review, you agreed to deploy 17,000 more troops. And then they came back and asked for more, so you agreed again to deploy 4,000 trainers and enablers. This did not make your left-wing base happy at all.
Once you finally got around to conducting that policy review, your commanders were more or less unanimous in their call for a fully-resourced counterinsurgency strategy. Many others agreed. And ultimately, you did too. So you rolled out new goals and a new strategy that played to your domestic audience as a significant escalation of the war, which it was. This made your base even angrier. But you pressed on. You changed your entire military leadership in Kabul, bringing in a team that most everyone agreed was the ideal choice to execute the counterinsurgency campaign you were now calling for.
Then came summer. Your left-wing base grew more and more frustrated with you for what seemed to them like your unwillingness to fight for greater government intervention in the health care system (especially a public option), your perceived capitulation to the likes of Glenn Beck, and not least, the growing concern that you were getting America deeper into an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. After all, your base asked, weren't you the antiwar candidate? They didn't carry you to victory to get us out of one war only to immerse us in another. Public support for the fight in Afghanistan began to crater, especially among liberal Democrats. And this was before the whole corrupt business of the Afghan election, which only hardened the views of your base that you were becoming Lyndon Johnson.
So now, the general you chose has produced the assessment you asked for and devised a strategy to achieve the policy goals you set for him, and the kicker: He is likely to ask for even more troops and resources, possibly a whole lot more -- to say nothing of a real commitment from you to take this issue before the American people, to make the case for it and spend your precious and fleeting political capital on it, to buy the time needed at home for your forces in the field to begin showing real signs of progress. After going through all of this, are you really going to reverse course now, pull the plug on this thing, and open yourself up to charges that you are ignoring the advice of your commanders and endangering America?
Let's assume you're not. And because this is a thought experiment, let's say that you realize that the right course of action is to get General McChrystal what he says he needs to be successful. How would you go about rolling that out to a skeptical, war-weary public and a left-wing base that is already disenchanted with you -- a base that will go full postal if you send 10, or 20, or even 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan?
Would you take a good deal of time responding to McChrystal's assessment and even order your commander to hold off on sending his request for more troops and resources so you can seriously mull over the assessment, or at least give the appearance of mulling, as opposed to blithely signing off on whatever the military asks for? Yes.
Would you go on as many Sunday shows as possible to remind the American people that you want to make absolutely sure that we have the right strategy in Afghanistan, that we are there to defeat the people who carried out the attacks of September 11, that you have no interest in being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan, and that you won't send any additional troops into harms way until you are confident that the loss of their lives would not be in vein? Yes.
Would you let it be known, both by saying so yourself and by leaks from others, that you and your national security team are going back to the drawing board and doing a hard scrub of your war policy, making sure that it's absolutely right, sending hard questions back to your commanders, making rigorous demands of the local allies on whose behalf we'll be fighting, and signaling that you have left no stone unturned? Yes.
In short, would you do everything possible to demonstrate to your base that you are not repeating the same mistakes you alleged of the last guy --rushing to war and committing thousands of lives and billions of dollars without an airtight and fully scrubbed plan to succeed? Again, yes.
And then, having demonstrated that you've weighed every option, explored every alternative, listened to every side, done all of this a second time, and nonetheless come to the conclusion that your commanders are right -- that your strategy needs more troops and resources to succeed -- having done all this, will it be any likelier that the country, let alone your antiwar base, will support your decision? Maybe.
It's worth entertaining the possibility that Obama is doing what's necessary to align his domestic politics before going through with an unpopular escalation. But, then, it's far from clear that the present signs of shifting goalposts and reluctant, delayed decision-making should not be taken at face value, as the preparations to scrap the new strategy that Obama correctly laid out in March before it even has a chance to work.
I just saw the sad news that Irving Kristol passed away this afternoon at the age of 89. I had the pleasure of working at the two magazines that Irving was best known for -- first at The National Interest and then very briefly at The Public Interest. By the time I showed up, Irving had long since ended his day-to-day involvement in both (he was never as much involved in the NI as he was in the PI), but I did have a chance to meet him on a few occasions when he came into the office for lunch with the staff. My memory, to my everlasting shame, is mostly that of a dumb young kid running his yap, overeager to engage with and impress the founder of the place, and him smiling and listening politely, arguing with me and asking me questions, but never doing what he should have done, which was told me to go sit quietly in the corner and color.
Others will have far better, and more personal, recollections of Irving Kristol. I knew him mainly through his writings and my brief time working in the institutions he built. For a young person fresh out of college, there was nothing quite like coming to work at the "Kristol palace," as the editors used to call both magazines. It was a four-day work week with lunches on the house -- from which came the joke, pretty antiquated by the time I got there, that we were dedicated to fighting socialism in the world while practicing it in the office. A professor of mine even tells the story of a student of his looking for a job that he sent to see Irving, who promptly met with him and talked with him for awhile, liked him, but didn't have anything to offer him. So he told the kid to put down on his resume that he'd worked for Irving for six months, and if anyone brought it up, he would happily serve as a reference.
As someone who actually got to work at Irving's magazines, I'd say it was about as close to a "workers' paradise" as we're ever likely to get. As a 22-year-old assistant editor, I was expected to handle magazine business from Monday to Thursday (which mainly consisted of reading and talking with my colleagues about policy, history, philosophy, culture, and everything in between), but I was then expected to use those remaining three days to do my own work, write my own articles, publish under my own name, and however the magazine could help me do that, it would. That had been Irving's policy for decades, and it remained as much a mission of each magazine as what was published quarterly in its pages. The roster of significant (and diverse) thinkers who got their start because of Irving's investment in his young staff -- from Bob Kagan, to Michael Lind, to Mark Lilla, to many others -- is as worthy a legacy as what he achieved through the countless articles he wrote himself and published from others.
And that achievement was nothing less than the revitalization, indeed the redefinition, of conservative thinking in America. It would be a poor tribute indeed for me to prattle on about Irving's work and that of his magazines. Far better for the interested reader to start with this selection of Irving's pieces that the Weekly Standard has posted, and then dig into the archives of The Public Interest (newly online thanks to the outstanding work of National Affairs, the new magazine that will carry the PI's torch for a new era). Read through all of that, while trying to keep up with the deluge of tributes and reminiscences that will pour forth in the coming days from people who truly knew him the best, and you'll begin to have a sense of how much Irving Kristol meant to so many people -- and how sorely he'll be missed.
I have two quick thoughts in response to George Will's argument in today's Washington Post that the United States should pull out of Afghanistan and instead "do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small potent Special Forces units..."
First, the strategy Will proposes looks a lot closer to the one we've been following for the past few years -- to little effect -- as opposed to the one General McChrystal is now proposing. Yes, there has been much talk of counterinsurgency of late, but when you starve such a strategy of resources and rely on leaders who seem either unwilling or unable to implement it, you are largely left, by necessity, with whack-a-mole counterterrorism. And we've seen what that's gotten us: a reliance on airstrikes that have produced huge civilian casualties, the increasing loss of territory to the Taliban, a Karzai government that has grown less effective and more corrupt the weaker it has become -- in short, everything that Will is inveighing against at present. I find little reason to think that things in Afghanistan will improve to the benefit of our national interest if we do more of what clearly hasn't been working these past few years.
Second, I am happy that Will proposed an alternative strategy. Too often, especially as Afghanistan is concerned, critics criticize -- and there is certainly much to criticize in Afghanistan -- without stating what they'd do instead. That said, it seems to me that critics like Will -- or others, for that matter, like Steve Walt and Michael Cohen -- should also be willing to explain why their alternative policy is better given what would likely transpire as a result. To me, that would be some kind of a return to ethnic fighting or civil war a la the 1990s, the likely collapse or complete marginalization of the current Kabul government, the expansion of Taliban control over even more of the country, an even greater increase in civilian causalities as the United States and NATO "do what can be done from offshore," a return to backing whatever Afghan factions (read: warlords) are willing to take the fight to our enemies, a dangerous rise in regional instability, and the acceptance of all the misery that would ensue.
What's more, it seems that the burden of proof is on the critics as to why this flaming mess would not also be a threat to our interests, given recent history. The hardest of the hard core "Next-Gen Taliban" commanders seem even more violent, more radical, and more sympathetic to Al Qaeda's ideology than their elders, like Mullah Omar. So do we really think that these guys, if they gain a foothold in Afghanistan, will not then turn around and begin to press their advantage into Pakistan? Do we really think that they will not reopen Afghanistan as an Al Qaeda safe haven, considering how intermingled and intermarried and fellow-traveling the Taliban vanguard now is with Al Qaeda? All of these scenarios, and more, seem like pretty safe assumptions in the event of a U.S. withdrawal. And as for Will's point that there are other potential safe havens in the world where Al Qaeda could be (Somalia, Yemen, etc.) -- this is true, but that's not a reason to stop trying to deny Al Qaeda and its allies a safe haven where they are currently (which, admittedly, is more Pakistan than Afghanistan -- for now).
The problem in Afghanistan is not that a counterinsurgency strategy has failed, but that is hasn't really ever been tried. There are risks with either strategy, be it reinforcement or withdrawal, but I'd like to hear from the critics why their alternative is better in light of its likely implications, which to me seem pretty awful. Given how bad things would likely get in Afghanistan if we adopted Will's prescriptions, shouldn't we at least give McChrystal's plan a decent period of time to work before pulling the ripcord?
If you haven't yet read David Rothkopf's article in yesterday's Washington Post, I'll save you the headache. Claim: Hillary Clinton is "overseeing what may be the most profound change in U.S. foreign policy in decades." Evidence: She engages with emerging powers, believes diplomacy isn't just about working with governments, plays well with others, wants to get more money for the State Department and to "rethink development" (confirming or even naming a director of USAID would be a good start), hires a Goldman veteran to take on State's economics portfolio (unlike Reuben Jeffrey, right?), is "leaving behind old doctrines and labels" (presumably for newer, less descriptive ones), and is harnessing the "new" power of cell phones and the interwebs. What is of value here is distinctly non-revolutionary; the rest is just hot air and shameless ass-kissing. Presumably it is designed to help Clinton. Well, with friends like these...
It would be one thing if these claims were made by, say, my mom -- and if she wrote them in, say, an email. But how is it possible for anyone who thinks and writes about foreign policy for a living -- anyone who has not completely and unquestioningly drunk the Obama kool-aid, or who isn't financially obligated to sell it -- to think that Hillary Clinton, or even Barack Obama, is transforming U.S. foreign policy? I've been droning on for 10 months now about how this administration would largely continue most of the foreign policy it inherited from its predecessor, and Rothkopf's attempt to argue the opposite case proves my point better than anything I've yet written. Apparently Rothkopf was one of the many members of the foreign policy hoi-polloi that went into intellectual hibernation in 2004 and only awoke this January.
Otherwise he would have recognized that, as Clinton continues to "rethink development", she'll mostly be building on the thinking behind Bush-era advancements like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the foreign assistance reform process, the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and Provincial Reconstruction Teams. The same goes for "rethinking the very nature of diplomacy." It's already been rethought. And the hard part isn't getting more resources, but enacting the (often unpopular) reforms that most now agree need to happen.
Had Rothkopf been paying attention these past few years, he also might have recognized that many of the new diplomatic partnerships to solve those global, transnational problems that Obama and Clinton talk about so often -- dare I say, the "minilateralism" agenda -- were Bush administration creations: not just the G-20, as Rothkopf concedes, but also the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Major Economies Forum on Energy Security and Climate Change, the GCC+2, the P5+1, the Quartet (and the Arab Quartet), the Global Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, the Six Party framework, etc., etc.
He might have understood that America's new strategic relationships with emerging powers are also a Bush-era inheritance. As is the recognition of what Rothkopf calls "the indispensability of collaborating with others." (For example, he quotes approvingly from Clinton's CFR speech: "We will put special emphasis on encouraging major and emerging global powers -- China, India, Russia and Brazil, as well as Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa -- to be full partners in tackling the global agenda." Sounds good to me, but I thought it sounded even better four years ago in the original Condi: "In the 21st century, emerging nations like India and China and Brazil and Egypt and Indonesia and South Africa are increasingly shaping the course of history.... And the United States is working with our many partners ... to build a true form of global stability, a balance of power that favors freedom.")
I could go on, but suffice it to say, this does not a transformation make.
What's more annoying is that Rothkopf totally misses and even obscures the real point about Obama and Clinton's foreign policy thus far: It's not how much or how little they have changed things up until now, but what they have to show for their efforts. To be fair, it's not nothing. They have cleared the air and signaled a fresh start, and recent polls confirm that many in the world are thinking better about America since Obama took over. That's good, but actual cooperation has not always followed. Our NATO allies have passed on sending more troops to Afghanistan and on lifting restrictions on those already there. Nor are they and others lining up to help us close Guantanamo. India and China don't share any of Obama's enthusiasm for a climate change deal. Virtually the only thing we can agree on with Russia is that we should only have a couple thousand nukes between us. Pakistan is still dysfunctional and supporting terrorism. Iran and North Korea are all middle fingers and no unclenched fists. Time will tell of course, but rarely has a U.S. administration been so well liked, so eager to engage with others, and had so little to show for it.
This should be a helpful reminder that the world doesn't revolve around America, even if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are leading its foreign policy. We still live in a world of nations, and those nations have interests, and where their basic interests clash with ours, these nations won't be any more willing to compromise them for America's sake. This trend is only becoming more pronounced, as all those big emerging powers grow bigger, and stronger, and richer, and more assertive in pushing their interests. This is today's reality, and it has been mugging the Obama administration since January. If only reality would do a little more mugging of David Rothkopf. It might pull him out of his la-la-land and spare him future embarrassment.
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.