In an incredible 36 hours of developments, Hosni Mubarak managed to wrong-foot just about everyone, ultimately himself. First he was resigning, then he wasn't, then he did. It appears, after all, that there was a coup.
But as the events unfolded, almost everyone, including bloggers like me, managed to get it wrong:
The Intelligence community. The beleaguered IC was already reeling from White House criticism about failing to predict events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt. (This criticism is a bit unfair since I bet there were some warnings -- given the volume of intelligence products and the way they are written, virtually everything has been predicted as "possible." Moreover, it is clear that those with vastly better intelligence and sources on Egypt than anything the IC ever could hope to amass, the Mubarak regime itself, were also surprised by the flow of events.) Then came the gaffe by Director of National Intelligence Clapper about the "largely secular" Muslim Brotherhood, a statement his staff was obliged to walk back later in the day. And the topper was CIA Director Panetta's admission that his forward-leaning prediction yesterday about Mubarak's departure was based not on intelligence analysis but on television reports. This is an almost textbook case of the CNN effect.
The White House. President Obama and his team clearly expected Mubarak to step down yesterday and gave every appearance of being flummoxed when he didn't. Now that he has, perhaps they will generate a ticktock account that shows a steely command marked by grace under pressure. Some of their most ardent supporters, however, already have spoiled that narrative -- witness Steve Clemons, "The mystique of America's superpower status has been shattered." His critique is surely exaggerated; has any other external power been more relevant to the crisis than the United States? Whoever is number two is a very, very distant number two. But the mystique of smart diplomacy might have taken a hit, and there are serious questions to be asked about the utility of Obama's soft power.
Bloggers and all the other rapid-response pundits. Including, of course, me. Blogging is to crises what radio play-by-play is to basketball. It is always a step or two behind, usually relating the obvious and (hopefully) never driving the outcome. It rather reminds me of the old joke from the national security policymaking world that many memos deserve to be classified, "Burn Before Reading."
Of course, in the end, the person most wrong-footed is Mubarak himself. He lost the chance to leave graciously. He is leaving, but it has much more the feel of the Oscar winner still talking into the microphone despite the orchestra drowning him out today than it would have even yesterday.
Of greater importance is the possibility that he wrong-footed his own successors. As I noted yesterday, the departure of Mubarak is actually the easiest part of mollifying the protesters. Their deeper demands for democratic reform, good governance, and greater economic opportunity for all are far more difficult to engineer. If the regime has this much trouble managing the easy part, what does this say about their prospects for managing the harder parts?
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According to reports, Congresswoman Jane Harman is resigning from her seat in the House of Representatives.
As I indicated earlier, the "thoughtful on national security" wing of the Democratic caucus suffered heavy losses in the midterm election. I worried that with a smaller group of moderate Democrats with which to partner, bipartisanship on national security policy would be that much harder to forge.
It just got a little harder with the departure of Jane Harman. Apparently, her new post will be head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where she will retain her prominent voice on national policy. But she will be speaking from the outside rather than from the inside.
The reports do not say why she is leaving, but it is no secret that she was on the outs with former Speaker now-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. It is possible that that situation was bearable while Democrats held the majority and became unbearable in the new era. Whatever the reason, it is a loss for the Democratic Party and, I believe, for the country more generally. I wish her every success in her new venture, and I also hope that new voices emerge in the Democratic caucus with her foreign policy sensibility. I just wish I was as confident of the latter as I am of the former.
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It is right and natural that we devote a great deal of time deliberating about the foreign policy and other implications of the events unfolding in Egypt. For Egypt, these events constitute a national crisis; for the United States, a foreign-policy crisis. But for many individuals, these events also represent a personal crisis. These include first and foremost Egyptians themselves, of course, who amid jubilation and trepidation about the future of their country must also grapple with rapidly rising food prices, various shortages, looting, and a complete standstill in tourist spending. But the crisis has also affected Americans who live and work in Egypt or tourists who have found themselves unexpectedly stranded there.
While we debate the intentions of President Mubarak, the attitude of the military, and the likely place of various groups and figures in a successor government, many in Cairo worry about
sounds of gunfire outside their windows and reports of looters in their neighborhoods. Their friends and relatives inside and outside Egypt struggle to get information on their safety and whereabouts, frustrated by the interruption of email, mobile phones, and other means of communication.
Looking after the welfare of Americans abroad -- particularly during a crisis -- is one of the core missions of the State Department and a foremost responsibility of U.S. diplomats stationed overseas. U.S. diplomats are rarely noticed, much less celebrated, but their service and sacrifices deserve the American people's recognition.
When a crisis such as this erupts, the local U.S. Embassy will scramble to understand and report to Washington on events and offer its advice on U.S. policy. But it will also initiate a massive effort to account for and care for American citizens, both those who wish to leave and those who remain behind. Right now at the Cairo airport, our Foreign Service officers and other U.S. personnel are putting in days-long shifts to assist Americans who want to leave Egypt. The same officers who are responding to Washington's demands for analysis of opposition figures and the latest reports on protests in Tahrir Square are also comforting weary travelers, serving them food and water, and packing them on to evacuation flights.
Among those the officers have seen off are their own families, whom the State Department yesterday ordered to depart Egypt. The farewells are hasty -- families must leave quickly once the order is given -- and sometimes do not take place at all if the employee is needed elsewhere. The families do not know when they will be able to return, if at all, and must make accommodations for housing and schools on the fly. When their families are long gone, the officers stay on to perform vital work to advance U.S. national security.
The experience of the officers in Cairo is hardly unique -- many diplomats are stationed at embassies and consulates overseas where conditions do not permit their families to
accompany them. Alongside other civilians and of course members of the military, they make daily sacrifices to serve their country. Few Americans are actually aware of what they do, and fewer still will ever have need to call upon their help. But they are there when Americans require, and for Americans stranded in Egypt, that is a deep relief.
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For an administration that claims there is no conflict between our interests and our values, the Obama administration has sure seemed to have a difficult time balancing U.S. interests in a stable Egypt with the U.S. values of a democratic Egypt.
The administration is in a legitimately tough position deciding how much support to continue giving an authoritarian government that has proved useful to us. But as the protests have worn on, the president, like Secretary Clinton, hit a better balance, calling on the Mubarak government to set in motion a transition to free elections. Vice President Biden was characteristically maladroit, claiming Mubarak was not a dictator and explaining that all the Egyptian protesters were seeking was "a little more opportunity." The Pentagon was characteristically calm and forward leaning, reaching out to the Egyptian defense establishment -- which is indistinguishable from the Egyptian government at its highest levels -- to urge professionalism and restraint.
The Egyptian military has already delivered on the only important near-term military request the United States is likely to make: not using force against the protesters. How might democratization in Egypt affect U.S.-Egyptian military cooperation? Short of an Iranian-style Islamic government overtly hostile to the United States, Mubarak's departure is unlikely to affect military cooperation with the United States. The United States does not actually rely on the Egyptian military for much militarily, and most of that which the United States does is very much in their interests to continue. But it could affect Egyptian-Israeli cooperation, with enormous consequences for the United States.
For military purposes, the United States relies on the Egyptian government in three main ways: 1) acting as a transit for U.S. military forces, 2) preventing Egypt from becoming a base for terrorist activity that would affect the United States, and 3) protecting Israel.
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In kayaking, you can choose one of two types of stability, but you cannot have both. A flat-bottomed kayak has high "initial stability" -- it appears to ride smoothly in the water, with little rocking back and forth. But it has low "final stability" -- in rough seas, it tends to quickly and catastrophically capsize. An angled-bottom kayak is just the opposite. With low initial stability, it takes more effort to guide and is prone to constant shifts from side to side. But these kayaks are faster and more efficient, and their high final stability means that they remain upright in stormy seas, and can recover even when turned nearly upside down.
Things are not so different with democracies and dictatorships. Democracy is messy -- look at the United States, where in the last five years alone we have experienced swings from right to left and back again, and where political discourse can often be raucous. Dictatorships, on the other hand, often possess a superficial stability -- until they reach the tipping point, which often comes more quickly than expected. Such was the case in Tunisia, which seemed an oasis of calm until a small spark quickly grew to consume the longstanding rule of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
Dictatorships lack the self-righting mechanisms and institutions which provide democracies with their deep stability. Free expression, free assembly, multiple and accountable political parties, free and fair elections, and independent courts -- all of these form the vital structure of a democracy and provide an outlet for people's grievances. In a dictatorship, people are denied these outlets and anger simmers beneath the surface, occasionally bursting through society's calm veneer in violent fashion.
These two broad categories -- democracies and dictatorships -- are of course an oversimplification. In reality there is a full spectrum of political and civil liberties along which countries fall. Egypt is not Tunisia. But it is perhaps not so far off. Freedom House gave Tunisia its worst score for political rights, and Egypt scored just one point better. In the civil rights category, the countries received the same score. In understanding the contrasting U.S. and international response to unrest in Tunisia and Egypt, perhaps the most relevant difference between the two is not culture or politics, but the strategic importance of each to the United States.
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Foreign aid is once again under fire. Every so often a few politicians -- usually Republicans -- get up in arms about our government's gift of large amounts of money to other countries. Equally often, media stories appear detailing how ineffective aid supposedly is. The picture emerges that foreign aid is unnecessary, ineffective, and wasteful.
For example, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) released a proposal last week to cut the budget for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by $1.39 billion as part of a broader package of deficit-reduction proposals. (Hat tip to our friends at The Cable for their post on the subject.) There were similar rumblings after the Republican takeover in 1994. Republicans seem to have an inborn suspicion -- usually dormant, but one that fitfully flares up once per decade -- that aid is just a handout from rich countries to poor ones to help the former ease their consciences.
Or take the lengthy Wall Street Journal story last week that declares, "A massive U.S. aid program that has made Pakistan the world's second-largest recipient of American economic and development assistance is facing serious challenges, people involved in the effort say. The ambitious civilian-aid program is intended in part to bolster support for the U.S. in the volatile and strategically vital nation. But a host of problems on the ground are hampering the initiative." Despite billions of aid, the United States remains unpopular in Pakistan; thus, the article implies, aid is ineffective.
These criticisms of foreign aid rest on faulty notions of what aid is and what it is supposed to accomplish. There are two views of aid reflected here, neither of which are helpful.
I propose a third view of foreign aid.
The advantage of this view is that it is realistic. The United States can actually do this. The U.S. is not trying to change people's heart or minds, contrary to the bribery view. It is only trying to change their capacity. Additionally, this view helps the U.S. prioritize which countries should get aid, and what kind, contrary to the charity view. Giving billions to Tuvalu would be a commendable act of charity for the Salvation Army, but it would be folly for USAID because Tuvalu is not a strategic priority for the United States.
(I am not arguing that we should never be charitable. Rather, every possible foreign aid program is an act of charity. Charity by itself cannot help us decide which charitable programs to undertake. The United States either has to flip a coin to allocate our charity randomly, or consult our own interests to allocate it strategically.)
The Marshall Plan is a good model. The United States gave something like $25 billion (in today's dollars) per year to Western Europe after World War II. It was undoubtedly an act of charity. The money helped the Europeans rebuild their economies and saved tens of millions of people from poverty or even starvation. But it was also a strategic investment. Policymakers at the time worried about a return of the Great Depression following demobilization and the Marshall Plan helped Europe become a strong trading partner for the United States. Most importantly, U.S. officials feared the rise of Soviet power and hoped the Plan would bolster European governments' stability and prevent the spread of communism.
This view of foreign aid would help protect it from the kind of cuts the congressional Republicans are proposing. Aid is hard power. It is a weapon the United States uses to strengthen allies and, thus, ourselves. But this view would also help save it from the kind of limitless, grandiose visions Democrats sometimes seem to have for it. This is the sort of view that I hoped Secretary of State Clinton would incorporate in the recent Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. But despite the document's many strengths it did not seem to offer a framework for prioritizing among the Unites States' many foreign aid opportunities.
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The State of the Union speech was almost completely about domestic policy. By my count, roughly 1/7th of the address (about 1000 words in a 7000 word speech) was devoted to foreign policy and national security, the bailiwick of this blog. Perhaps this proportion reflects the mood of the country, or the medium of the platform, or the mode of this administration. However, it is a noteworthy proportion for a president who mentioned national security in his inaugural address before raising any domestic policy issue -- and did so rather dramatically with the words, "Our nation is at war.…"
Last night, President Obama did mention the war, or rather the wars. He described the Iraq war as "coming to an end" and, while he did claim that our troops were leaving "with their heads held high," that was about as far as he was willing to go in terms of claiming success or failure. It was a far cry from the triumphalist rhetoric of Vice President Biden, by comparison. Obama mentioned a "lasting partnership with the Iraqi people," but he placed that squarely with "our civilians," thus avoiding mention of the critical role the U.S. military will play over the next decade in helping train and maintain Iraqi security forces.
Obama's mention of the broader war on terror was brief but otherwise Bushian, combining the kinetic ("we have taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies") with the police work ("Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals…") with the war of ideas ("…the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our family.") Left unaddressed is the ongoing controversy over the Obama administration's embrace of the lion's share of the Bush war on terror policies circa 2007.
There were a few optimistic notes about Afghanistan and Pakistan that were doubtless discordant in the ears of the growing number of Americans, especially within the chattering class and most especially among the president's political base, who believe that the mission there is doomed. The confusion over the long-range strategy for Afghanistan was left unaddressed -- the briefest possible mention to the infamous July 2011 deadline and no mention whatsoever of U.S. commitments during the critical period from July 2011 to 2014. I suspect that one year from now domestic politics will demand that the 2012 State of the Union address spend a bit more time elaborating on all of this.
The rest of the foreign-policy references were noteworthy for their focus on the past rather than the present or future. For the most part, they were a series of pats on the back for things done -- New START passed, new Iranian sanctions imposed, new NATO strategic document unveiled, and so on -- rather than a bold vision for how to address the challenges that remain.
President Obama did address the foreign-policy topic of the hour, the popular unrest in the Arab world, but with only the blandest of references to Tunisia and no mention whatsoever of the far more ominous rumblings in Egypt and Lebanon. My objection is not with what the president said ("The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people") but with what the president did not say, as in "What this means for Egypt is.…," or "So in Lebanon we must.…" Undoubtedly, the president's advisors decided that given the delicacy of rapidly fluid environment, the less said the better.
From my parochial point of view, the president's best national security-related reference was his call to open up all U.S. campuses to military recruiters and to ROTC. This is an issue that has true bipartisan support and is long overdue. It is also an issue on which President Obama has unique influence, given that the target audience -- university administrators -- is likely one of the more ardent factions in the president's political base.
Otherwise, the speech offered little grist for a foreign-policy mill. It was not much of a harbinger of how the president and his team will handle the myriad foreign-policy challenges they face. Yet I am confident that President Obama will spend far more than 1/7th of the remainder of his current term on foreign policy, so Shadow Government folks will have plenty to address in the coming months even if there was not much for us last night.
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Two apparently unrelated snapshots have got me thinking about the hoary topic of the gap between academic political science and the nitty-gritty world of foreign policymaking.
Snapshot 1: The story about the haggling between Chinese and U.S. aides over protocol niceties for the state visit of Chinese leader Hu. The report vividly conveys the back-and-forth that is the daily grind of diplomacy in the trenches. I could well recall how doggedly the Chinese aides pursued a diplomatic nicety here or a protocol advantage there, all the while blocking the efforts of U.S. aides to add elements that would highlight U.S. priorities. And I cringed once again at the account of the gaffes that accompanied the welcome ceremony of Hu's visit back in 2006.
Snapshot 2: My program here just hosted Farah Pandith, who is special representative to Muslim communities in the State Department, a relatively new post that was set up to help implement the vision President Obama outlined in his June 2009 Cairo speech. Ms. Pandith is a rarity -- she has served as a political appointee in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations -- and she delighted the students with a vivid account of her engagement with Muslims around the world on behalf of Obama and Secretary Clinton. She focuses on the under-30 generation and, naturally, this led my students to ask about recent dramatic events in Tunisia and Lebanon in which the younger generation seems to be playing a particularly influential role. However, Ms. Pandith deftly shifted from expansive to circumspect to avoid saying anything that might roil the diplomatic waters at this delicate time; "I would refer you to the remarks made by Assistant Secretary Feltman," was about all she would say. And rightly so, because in her position a stray remark might wreck carefully calibrated (at least, I hope they are carefully calibrated) strategies being pursued at the top level.
Both these snapshots are good teaching moments, precisely because they are at such variance with the daily fare of a typical political science course, including my courses. Very few theories of U.S. foreign policy cover adequately the nuances of summit protocol staff negotiations, and it is hard to capture such detail in class discussion anyway. Yet, I indulge the conceit that I am training the next generation of staffers who will do it. Likewise, my students hear me speculate widely and wildly about every current event, precisely because in my current position and in my classroom there is very little harm done -- nothing protects the country from my errors quite so much as towering irrelevance. Yet, if I were in Ms. Pandith's shoes, I would have to adopt as circumspect a posture. The challenge is for trained-in-the-general and free-to-be-irresponsible academics to cultivate an appreciation for nuance and an attention to circumspection in one's students.
The best way to do that, I guess, is to keep introducing my students to practitioners and to remind them that, as good as political science can be, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in [my] philosophy."
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That's what the new Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wants to know. In a letter to the State Department last week, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) expressed her grave concern over reports that the administration was trying to pressure the Honduran government to absolve disgraced former President Manuel Zelaya of his crimes that precipitated the 2009 presidential crisis there.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen wrote, "It is troubling to consider that the importance of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Honduras would be undermined by attempts to coerce the Honduran government to take steps that run counter to its legal and constitutional processes in order to pave the way for Manuel Zelaya to return to Honduras without facing judicial consequences." She called on the administration to "immediately cease any efforts being taken to undercut the judicial system in Honduras by pressuring the current government to absolve Zelaya of his crimes."
Indeed, absolving Zelaya of his crimes would open the door to his return to Honduras, which appears to be the new administration policy on Honduras. In little-noticed remarks in a December 2010 trip to Tegucigalpa, Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela said that, "national reconciliation will advance further when Honduras is able to resolve the issue of the return of former President Zelaya so that the country can regain its place in the [Organization of American States]."
Yet advocating for Zelaya's return is nothing short of reckless, resulting most assuredly in a return to rule of the mob and anarchy. Since his removal from power, the oligarch-turned radical-populist has shown no contrition for his abuses of power and disrespect for the country's constitution. He has continued to wave the bloody shirt while in exile in the Dominican Republic. His actions then and now demonstrate he cares not a whit about endangering Honduran lives in the service of his political agenda.
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On Dec. 15, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rolled out the State Department's first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) at an internal town hall meeting -- a year behind schedule. No surprise, it turns out to be more of a public relations document than a disciplined strategic review. Yet if it doesn't score a bull-eye, the QDDR at least hits an outer ring by describing an ambitious and needed reform agenda.
Quadrennial reviews -- used by the Department of Defense since 1993 and also adopted by the Intelligence Community and Department of Homeland Security -- are supposed to evaluate an institution's fitness for accomplishing expected missions and responding to crises. As guides for decision-makers, they should assess the continuing applicability of the agency's charter, the global operating environment, institutional strengths and weaknesses, and options prioritized by resources available.
I may have missed something in my speed read through the QDDR's 242 pages. But it seemed less an analytical assessment than a justification for steps the secretary had already taken. State's desire to coordinate a growing menagerie of interagency actors in its embassies got coverage, but its evolving relationship with them was brief. The operating environment lacked details on forecast challenges and regional goals. Moreover, the authors pulled punches on institutional strengths and weaknesses, shed little light on budgetary realities, and established no discernible priorities among a long list of to-do's.
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Nothing sums up the sorry state of U.S. policy toward Kyrgyzstan than these contrasting images from last week: at the same time that thousands of Kyrgyz were taking to the streets protesting against their corrupt authoritarian leader, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Bakiyev's son, Maksim, was arriving in Washington for consultations with U.S. officials. While Kyrgyzstan literally was burning, U.S. officials were prepared for business-as-usual talks with Maksim, who, like his father, has been accused of engaging in massive corruption and human rights abuses. More than 80 people were killed in last week's violence.
For several years, U.S. policy toward Kyrgyzstan has focused almost exclusively on keeping open its military airbase at Manas, through which 50,000 troops passed on their way to and from Afghanistan last month. Bakiyev early last year threatened to close the facility while on a visit to Moscow, which offered $2 billion as an inducement for him to kick the Americans out. But Bakiyev doublecrossed Moscow by agreeing to keep Manas open after the United States agreed to triple the rent it paid from $18 million annually to $60 million and promised another $100 million in aid, including a recently-announced counter-terrorism center.
To those in the Kyrgyz opposition, it seemed the United States was willing to pay Bakiyev virtually any price, including looking the other way from a markedly deteriorating human rights situation, as long as Manas stayed open. Defending against such criticism, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley argued, "We've been very clear in our concerns about the government, its abuses, its corruption." The reality, however, at least in public, is very different.
There are only two statements that can be found over the past few months in which the U.S. has spoken out about the problems in Kyrgyzstan: a January 21 statement from the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna about the murder of a Kyrgyz journalist (which occurred a month before), and the State Department's annual Human Rights Report, released last month and which covers every country around the globe. The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek lists no public statements of concern on its website this year.
Striking in the Human Rights Report is admission that last July's Kyrgyz presidential election, which triggered much of the opposition's fervor, "failed to meet many of the country's international commitments" and was "marred by significant obstacles for opposition parties, intimidation, voting irregularities, and the use of government resources to benefit specific political interests." Such an assessment raises doubts as to whether Bakiyev was the democratically-elected leader of the country in the first place.
During a recent visit to Central Asia, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced concerns about the poor human rights situation in the region. In a speech to the Kyrgyz parliament on Saturday, four days before the situation exploded, Ban said, "For the United Nations, the protection of human rights is a bedrock principle if a country is to prosper. Recent events have been troubling, including the past few days. I repeat: all human rights must be protected, including free speech and freedom of the media."
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By Thomas Mahnken
John Barry, one of the nation's most insightful defense reporters, has posted a piece for Newsweek arguing that the Pentagon should be put in charge of the Haiti relief effort. As he notes, the only institution capable of meeting the demands of the Haiti crisis is not the United Nations, but the U.S. military.
As in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. armed forces have once again become the responder of first resort. In this case, the U.S. Navy is front and center: the USS Carl Vinson's heavy-lift helicopter and the USS Bataan and USS Ft McHenry's air cushioned landing craft are bringing needed supplies to the people of Haiti.
There are three lessons here. First, for all the talk of whole-of-government solutions, the U.S. military remains the most competent national security institution we have. In recent years, the men and women of the U.S. armed forces have time and time again responded admirably when called upon to conduct missions far beyond those for which they were trained.
Second, the very competence of the military has become a sort of trap. Time and time again, the military has taken up the slack when other national security institutions do not perform as well as they can or should. Tasks better performed by the State Department or U.S. Agency for International Development, state or local governments, or non-governmental organizations too often wind up being performed by soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
Third, when the American taxpayer bought today's Navy, he got a lot more than he thought he was getting. He not only got a force capable of defending American interests on the high seas, but also one possessing the flexibility to respond rapidly to contingencies across the spectrum of conflict. Let's hope that the Obama administration's Quadrennial Defense Review, to be released next month, reflects this reality.
The Obama administration has two choices. First, it can continue to hope that, with more funding and some presidential leadership, the other parts of the national security community will finally rise to the occasion. Both Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Clinton (both at Foggy Bottom and before that in the Senate) have been articulate advocates for whole-of-government approaches. I very much hope they succeed.
If not, the logical alternative is to do what John Barry says and give missions like Haiti to the Pentagon. Such an approach would, however, be undesirable; it would further dilute U.S. military capabilities while also delegitimizing those institutions that should be bringing their unique talents to bear on crisis situations.
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(Editors' Note: David J. Kramer headed the International Republican Institute's election observer delegation to Honduras. He writes here in a personal capacity.)
Last week was a very good week for the people of Honduras. On Sunday Nov. 29, Hondurans went to the polls to choose their next president in an election that passed the "free and fair" test of observers on the ground (myself included). Three days later on Dec. 2, Honduran legislators rejected a return to the past, defeating a motion to restore the ousted and disgraced leader, Manuel Zelaya, for the remaining two months of his term.
Hondurans are clearly looking to the future -- the question is whether the international community, including the United States, will do the same.
Earlier this week the mood in Tegucigalpa, the capital, was celebratory. The sight of many young Hondurans participating in the political process bodes well for the country's future. Despite exaggerated reports of widespread violence and bombings in the days leading up to election day, the voting went off peacefully, with few problems save for some late openings of polling stations and technical glitches for phoning in results to the central election commission. The campaign was not perfect, with short-term emergency measures that briefly limited political space, but these measures were lifted in enough time to allow for a lively competition for voters' support.
The international group of observers with whom I worked heard few complaints before, during, and after the vote. On the contrary, many Hondurans voiced sincere appreciation for our willingness to monitor the election and satisfaction that their country was putting the Zelaya controversy in the past.
The Nov. 29 election was scheduled last year, long before the summer's commotion involving Zelaya. Primary elections in November 2008 produced the two main party candidates, Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo and Elvin Santos. Lobo, head of the National Party, won in a landslide by some 15 percent of the vote, a victory acknowledged by Santos, his main challenger from the Liberal Party. Zelaya is also from the Liberal Party, and the fact that Santos decided to participate in the election is a sign that even within his own party, Zelaya is a spent force.
Zelaya's calls for Hondurans to stay away from the polls were largely ignored. And Honduran legislators put the final nail in his coffin when they upheld his June removal from office, carried out by the military upon orders from the Honduran Supreme Court, because Zelaya was engaging in unconstitutional efforts to extend his stay in power. Despite the legal basis for his removal (the military's decision to deport him to Costa Rica could have been handled better), the international community, the Obama administration included, quickly condemned these developments and suspended assistance, calling for Zelaya's return to power.
Whereas the majority of Hondurans saw the election as a proper way forward, the Organization of American States (OAS) and countries such as Brazil and Venezuela chose to boycott it out of allegiance to Zelaya. Recognizing the elections, they maintained, would legitimize what they deemed to have been a coup d'etat.
After condemning what it called "a coup" against Zelaya in the summer and trying to iron out a compromise agreement that would return him to office, the Obama administration eventually realized that the election would take place whether Washington approved or not. Accordingly, the State Department requested the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute to assess the election process. At the same time, Department officials continued to call for Zelaya's restoration so that he could finish out his term in office, but Honduras's National Congress rebuffed the U.S. administration's entreaties by voting against reinstating Zelaya.
The day after the election, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, in a rambling press briefing, refused to recognize the results of the elections and called for Zelaya to be returned to power. Appearing before the press again the day after the Honduran Congress rejected that possibility, Valenzuela voiced disappointment with the decision, but signaled that the United States was finally getting the message: Hondurans were looking forward, not to the recent past.
The United States and other countries, as well as the OAS, should lift their suspensions of assistance to Honduras, the poorest country in Central America, and recognize that the citizens of that country followed a democratic process in choosing a new president. The Honduran Congress also took its responsibility seriously in voting on whether to reinstate Zelaya. Those who boycotted the Nov. 29 election missed an impressive display of civic duty by Hondurans determined to exercise their democratic rights. Now, it is time the international community united behind the people of Honduras and their new leaders.
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By Dov Zakheim
Kabul is a city at war. There are green zones and red zones, and roadblocks
everywhere. The city is awash with a host of uniforms -- those of NATO states, as
well as others, from Australia to Mongolia. Americans in uniform walk the streets fully equipped and armed. American government civilians wear body armor, as I did
when making the short twenty minute walk from Camp Eggars to the U.S. Embassy.
In much of our government, however, the war is nowhere to be seen. Civil servants go about their business as if it were peacetime. There is still a serious shortage of U.S. government civilians here in Afghanistan, although their numbers are increasing. Many of those who do indeed serve here do not venture out of Kabul. This is so not because they are less dedicated to their mission. The sorry fact is that all too often they have little to offer in the field. Their expertise tends to be bureaucratic -- they are only equipped to manage and document projects and activities -- rather than technical.
The contrast with life back home could not be more striking. It is not just that most U.S. citizens go about their daily business unaffected by war, (unless they have a loved one serving in the military). Our executive branch does the same, with the notable exceptions of pockets in State, Treasury, and even smaller elements of other agencies.
And Congress is not much better. To be sure, it votes big supplemental budgets. But it has not done enough to lift restrictions on government activities that apply more to peacetime than to war zones.
As an example, while here I was told of the tragic story of a U.S. military couple deployed to Afghanistan and based at Bagram Air Base that had been bunking in a plywood structure with a tin roof called a B hut. The hut took a direct hit from a 107mm rocket; the wife was taking a shower outside the hut. When she returned she found her husband a victim of the hit.
Why were they in such a flimsy structure? Because of arcane Congressional spending limitations on what is called "minor military construction." There was no money to build the brick structures that might have saved the soldier's, and those of others like him.
The restrictions, and, more generally, the behaviors that make good sense in peace time are not appropriate in wartime. We cannot pretend to be a nation at peace even as we have the better part of 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and a virtually like amount in Iraq, still very much at war. If we continue to do so, we will undermine the effectiveness of any troop increases, and make success -- already a challenging proposition -- even more difficult to achieve.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
This past week marked yet another of 2009's 20th anniversaries highlighting the challenges we face to protect the world's afflicted. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), passed in 1989, has now been ratified by 193 countries -- except the United States and Somalia. Its 20th anniversary prompted the usual round of calls on the United States to ratify it, but ratification would not necessarily improve the lives of the world's children. The Obama administration says it is reviewing the CRC, but the reality is that like some other human rights treaties, the technicalities of U.S. law and problems with some aspects of the CRC make ratification anytime soon unlikely.
Vulnerable children are a common denominator in many foreign policy challenges today -- whether an orphan who needs to be adopted, a child soldier or trafficking victim who needs to be reunited, an unaccompanied minor refugee who needs to go home, or a poor child whose family needs support to stay together. Instead of the CRC, a far more productive focus for child advocates would be to urge Secretary Clinton to fix the broken U.S. policy and aid apparatus on global children's issues. A good start would be to designate someone at the State Department, ambassador-level or higher, to coordinate all child protection issues across the U.S. government.
International children's issues currently fall afoul of the U.S. government's dysfunctional foreign aid system. There is bipartisan consensus that the system is broken. Secretary Rice attempted foreign assistance reform through transformational diplomacy, and the Obama administration has its State-led Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and pending legislation on the Hill. But I doubt change is imminent. For the foreseeable future, gaps will remain in culture, approach, and purpose between State, USAID, and other U.S. agencies with international programs -- and vulnerable children around the world will continue to fall through the cracks.
Every child's right to a family, their best protection against abuse, is enshrined in the CRC. But protecting that right requires finding permanent solutions for each orphan, abandoned or separated child. From a U.S. policy perspective, responsibility for each category of children as well as the solutions available to them are spread across numerous offices and departments from State, to USAID, to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and others. The divisions run wide and deep, but the issue where American foreign policy interests come together around children -- or more often collide -- is over inter-country adoption.
Americans adopt more children from abroad than any other nation and international adoptions have more than doubled since 1989. Adoption is not right for every child without a family nor is it the full solution to the orphan crisis brought on by HIV/AIDS. But for many needy children adoption is the only way to have a permanent family. Yet adoptions must be done right. Unfortunately, weak laws and regulations in developing countries, preferences for infants over older children, and the money involved can lead to inappropriate adoptions and, in extreme cases, baby selling. Such problems have forced the State Department's Office of Children's Issues to stop adoptions from specific countries like Cambodia and Guatemala until officials could ensure that they were legitimate -- a necessary but tragic outcome for families and children caught in the pipeline.
As a member of the Policy Planning Staff under Secretary Rice, I developed an initiative that would have improved interagency coordination and created bilateral partnerships and a trust fund at UNICEF to help countries strengthen their own child protection systems. Though there was wide support including from the Secretary herself, the initiative was derailed by petty turf issues, scarce resources and resistance to new approaches -- all common bureaucratic dysfunctions. Opposition to international adoption also played a role. A USAID officer told me that he maintains a firm wall between international adoptions and any assistance he oversees for orphans to keep it from being "tainted." The problem is that the same authorities in developing countries in charge of adoptions are also in charge of other vulnerable children. The bureaucratic wall helps no one -- not the abandoned child languishing in an institution even though a family is willing to adopt him or the government official trying to stop bad adoptions and place children safely into families in her own country. It needs to come down.
It will take a mandate from the top to push the bureaucracy past these problems and Secretary Clinton is perfectly placed to direct it. As a former Senator and long-time child advocate, she knows of the strong bipartisan support in Congress for adoption and orphan issues. The secretary can task someone on her staff, possibly an existing assistant secretary, with the mandate to implement a comprehensive strategy to protect children globally. An "ambassador for children" could chair a senior policy coordinating group to include HHS and others to oversee strategic diplomacy, technical assistance, exchanges, and public-private partnerships to help developing countries improve child protection systems and provide better oversight of all adoptions. An effective coordinating mechanism could unlock significant resources from Congress, the private sector, faith-based groups, and other international partners.
Assisting countries that want to improve their own governance is the best way to reduce the abuse, exploitation and neglect of orphans and vulnerable children anywhere. It doesn't require ratifying a new treaty, just some leadership and more effective cooperation.
JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came away from her visit to Moscow this week with mixed results. The two big ticket items involved Iran and the human rights situation inside Russia.
By all appearances, Clinton struck out on moving Russia closer to supporting sanctions against Iran should current negotiation efforts fail. "We did not ask for anything today," she said, in a rather stunning admission. "We reviewed the situation and where it stood, which I think was the appropriate timing for what this process entails."
That she would not try to push Russia toward supporting sanctions is hard to believe -- and, if true, frankly irresponsible. More likely, she tried and failed but was putting the best spin on it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's comments after his meeting with Clinton clearly indicated continued Russian resistance to any sanctions push. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, never a supporter of getting tougher toward Iran, reinforced this position in comments from Beijing on Wednesday when he argued that discussing sanctions now against Iran would be "premature."
This contrasts with comments Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made in New York last month and that he reportedly reiterated in his private meeting with Clinton on Tuesday. The Kremlin, however, has not publicly challenged either the foreign minister's or prime minister's contradictory comments, even though the president is ultimately in charge of Russian foreign policy (the idea that Medvedev would slap down Putin is rather laughable). Yet these conflicting messages cause confusion about who calls the shots in Moscow. Then again, perhaps the situation is very clear: it is Putin and not Medvedev (more on this in a future blog entry). What a shame, then, that Putin was in Beijing, not Moscow, during Clinton's visit. All this is not a surprise to those of us who have been saying that Russia is unlikely at the end of the day to support tough sanctions against Iran -- even in exchange for the Obama administration's regrettable decision September 17 on missile defense (which, by the way, was handled abysmally).
In contrast to the bad news on Iran, Clinton's comments on the human rights situation inside Russia were a pleasant surprise. In spite of her short shrift of human rights concerns in the past (recall her comments on the way to Beijing in February when she said she didn't want those issues to "interfere" with other pressing matters), Clinton made clear the concerns of the Obama administration about the deteriorating situation inside Russia. Her meeting with human rights and civil society activists was a very good follow-up to President Obama's similar meeting in July. Her interview with independent radio station Ekho Moskvy and her remarks to students at Moscow State University (MGU) also touched on these issues in a strong way.
"I think all of these issues -- imprisonments, detentions, beatings, killings - it is something that is hurtful to see from the outside," Clinton said at MGU. "Every country has criminal elements, every country has people who try to abuse power, but in the last 18 months ... there have been too many of the incidents," adding that not enough was being done to "ensure no one had impunity from prosecution ... I said that this is a matter of grave concern not just for the United States but for the Russian people, and not just for activists but people who worry that unsolved killings are a very serious challenge to order and the fair functioning of society," Clinton said. In an innovative society, she observed, "people must be free to take unpopular decisions, disagree with conventional wisdom, know they are safe to peacefully challenge accepted practice and authority."
In her interview with Ekho Mskvy, she highlighted the attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, noting they are "of such great concern. ... in the last 18 months ... there have been many of these incidents. ... I think we want the government to stand up and say this is wrong."
Her strong statements on these issues were especially important given an unnecessary and unfortunate situation caused by an article in the Russian newspaper Kommersant earlier in the week based on comments made by NSC Senior Director Michael McFaul suggesting that human rights concerns would receive less attention from the Obama administration. The thrust of the Kommersant article seemed out of synch with Obama's handling of the issue in July, with Clinton's comments this week, and with McFaul's own passion for human rights over his career (and I've known him for some 16 years). Clinton stepped into the fray and allayed the concerns, at least for the time being, of those who were worry that human rights issues will fall down the list of priorities in the interest of the Obama Administration's overall "reset" policy with Moscow.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
An intriguing article in today's New York Times addresses a favorite Beltway party game: Where is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on important policies? This game, which was temporarily suspended for a weekend so insiders could play another game ("What is the best Nobel Peace Prize joke you have heard?"), really matters and, if the NYT piece can be believed, it may prove dispositive in determining President Obama's Afghanistan decision.
Secretary Clinton has largely sailed under the radar and contented herself with high-profile actions on low-profile issues like trips focusing on women in Africa and efforts to promote peace in Northern Ireland. She has won some oddly effusive plaudits, but few people not directly on her payroll would credit her as a driving force in President Obama's foreign policy thus far. Indeed, the pattern has been unmistakable: The more important the issue, the less prominent the activity and voice of Secretary Clinton.
The thesis of today's NYT story is that this pattern may obscure her real influence. Secretary Clinton's power may come by way of serving as an amen corner for Secretary Gates, the most powerful member of President Obama's cabinet. By endorsing Gates's view on Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and other issues, Secretary Clinton guarantees that the issue will not be framed internally as an us vs. him issue, where the "us" is Team Obama and the "him" is the holdover appointee from the Bush administration. She has thus played a crucial role in forging the most important, if most often misunderstood (cf. the curious convergence of views between former Vice President Dick Cheney and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee) fact about President Obama's national security policy thus far: its dramatic continuity with President Bush's national-security policy.
Ironically, however, that continuity may have played out its course. As the NYT story also suggests, Clinton and Gates appear to be teaming up to do something that Bush did not do: Stick with an incremental policy rather than embrace a surge. The reporters seem confident that Clinton and Gates favor a middle course between Biden's abrupt shift in mission and McChrystal's Iraq-like (Bush-like) surge in military and civilian resources.
Even without Clinton and Gates recommending it, most observers probably would bet that President Obama is going to split the difference in this fashion. The politics of the Afghanistan decision are such that a split-the-difference option is almost inescapable. Having the two most important cabinet principals endorsing it would make it virtually a foregone conclusion.
It would also do one more thing, which thus far has not happened: It would put Secretary Clinton's imprimatur on an important policy. The war in Afghanistan has already become President Obama's war. If he adopts Secretary Clinton's recommendation, it will also become her war. What comes of that war may well determine a key part of how history rates both of these political leaders in the foreign-policy arena.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
While conducting research for a book I am currently writing on the history of American strategic thought on Asia, I came across a memorandum prepared by the State Department in the early 1840s to guide the United States' first treaty negotiations with China. The memo stressed that the paramount goal of the U.S. commissioner to China was to secure trade access, and that under no conditions was the U.S. delegation to let on that the United States was a republic, since this might frighten the Qing. Instead, the delegation was instructed to highlight that unlike Britain, the United States would maintain a strict policy of noninterference in the affairs of other states and to express respect for the benign rule of the Celestial Emperor toward his people.
In its day, this was probably considered "smart power" and its advocates have made something of a comeback in recent months.
There has been a great deal of speculation about why the Obama administration has changed the tone and substance of U.S. policy on democracy and human rights. It is partly related to the tension between anti-imperialism and human rights in the liberal foreign-policy playbook. Iraq has also contributed to a backlash against values-based foreign policy strategies in a repeat of what happened to democracy-promotion after the Philippines intervention, World War I, and Vietnam. Politics are at play too, since Democrats now seem to believe that they can seize the political high ground on national security by embracing realism as their own (and perhaps peeling off some moderate Republicans in the process).
However, it would be far too simplistic too argue that the administration has "abandoned" human rights and democracy -- at least in Asia. In fact, the administration has actually made the case for real pressure on regimes like Burma, North Korea, and even China. The problem is that these statements of policy have been overshadowed by conflicting signals sent in speeches by the president or decisions like not inviting the Dalai Lama to the White House during his visit to Washington this week. Ironically, by being both tough and soft at the same time, the administration risks losing both American prestige and progress on the democratic causes America has always championed.
The consequences of this confused message were obvious in a meeting I had earlier this week with a senior delegation from Vietnam. The delegation raised a trip I had taken to Hanoi in early 2005 to hammer out a religious freedom agreement in advance of the Vietnamese prime minister's first visit to the White House (I was then NSC senior director for Asia). In that agreement, Vietnam agreed to open hundreds of house churches in the Central Highlands, paving the way for a successful summit and a strategic advance in U.S. relations with Vietnam. My interlocutors this week raised the trip because they wanted to confirm that U.S. strategy had now changed. They noted that President Obama's U.N. speech identified four pillars, none of which touched on human rights and democracy. Authoritarian states take what leaders say far more seriously than what bureaucrats say. So they asked my advice on how to approach intransigent U.S. bureaucrats now that the president had "moved beyond" the difficult issues of human rights and democracy.
The administration's confused signals have also hurt on Burma. After weeks of speculation that U.S. sanctions would be lifted -- speculation fueled by self-proclaimed advisors to candidate Obama now seeking to ingratiate themselves with the SPDC and by the administration's own proengagement rhetoric -- the administration's policy review on Burma turned out to be fairly modest in terms of course correction. In fact -- and this was largely missed by the press -- Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell testified that if there was not progress on securing the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and integrating the NLD and the ethnic minorities into the new constitution, the U.S. would actually seek to increase sanctions on the regime. But by then the regime had already internalized the wrong message and thought that reducing Aung San Suu Kyi's sentence from three years to 18 months would be enough to get sanctions lifted (even as the regime launched violent new military offensives against ethnic minorities along the Chinese and Thai border). Just as bad, states in ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, are moving away from their own very healthy debate about how to implement the human rights standards in the association's new charter and focusing on getting the United States to change its policy instead (Singaporeans could not be more gleeful at the opportunity to escape an internal ASEAN debate on values by shifting the burden back on Washington to change its approach). Now the prospects for progress in this new engagement of the regime are diminished because U.S. signals have softened everyone else's resolve.
Ditto for North Korea. Secretary of State Clinton's July 23 statement on North Korea, emphasized that the United States will "continue to work closely with other governments, international organizations, and NGOs to address human rights violations and abuses perpetuated by the regime, and would soon announce an envoy for North Korean human rights." But the senior envoy dispatched to the region has made barely a mention of the situation in the North.
On China, Secretary Clinton fumbled early with statements that she would not let issues like human rights and Tibet interfere with more important strategic issues. But senior administration officials have steadily adjusted since. President Obama raised human rights in welcoming remarks for the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and in a Sept. 24 speech to the Center for a New American Security, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said that he "could not disagree more" with Chinese officials who say that there is no place for human rights in the U.S.-China dialogue.
The problem is that nobody seems to believe any of this anymore. Than Shwe and the thugs running Burma guessed wrong on the administration's expectations. The Vietnamese clearly think the heat is off on religious freedom in their country. Japan's new foreign minister, Katsuya Okada, gloated in a joint press conference with the Cambodian foreign minister this week that the U.S. was "moving closer to Japan and Cambodia's position" -- even though Campbell had clearly testified on the content of the policy the week before.
Now with the administration's decision not to invite the Dalai Lama to the Oval Office during his visit to Washington this week (the first noninvite by a president during the visit of the Dalai Lama since 1991), the White House is compounding the mistakes in its messaging on human rights and democracy in the region.
The elements of a strong policy on human rights and democracy are a matter of record in the statements of senior Obama administration officials (for which they deserve full credit), but those points have been muddled or drowned out by conflicting narratives about engagement, access, "smart power" and the president's own apparent ambivalence about championing universal values. I suspect this will change as feigned neorealism comes up short in terms of results. Indeed, one can already see some evolution in the administration's approach to these issues. However, until the president clearly reaffirms America's commitment to human rights, democracy, and governance, there will be five consequences in Asia that even hard-core realists will lament (not to mention the idealists who would normally be comfortably at the core of a Democratic foreign policy):
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 Will Inboden
There are few policy subjects more boring than the so-called “interagency process.” The quickest way to find yourself standing suddenly and awkwardly alone at a Washington cocktail party is to say something like “well, what I am really interested in is the reform of the interagency process within the national security infrastructure.” Even devoted policy professionals will quickly change the subject, if not flee your presence entirely (unless you happen to be at a party with any folks from this outfit, who will rush over to buy you a drink). Simply put, it is hard to muster much excitement or interest even within the Beltway, let alone outside the Beltway, for thinking about how the organizational processes of the various departments and agencies of the U.S. government function together to advance national security objectives.
But just how, and how well, the U.S. government and its various agencies organize, plan for, and allocate resources to national security policy matters profoundly to the conduct of foreign and defense policy. And for anyone who doubts this, exhibit A on what can happen when the process doesn’t work is Iraq up through 2006, exhibit B is Afghanistan today, and exhibit C is any number of possible future interventions (cf. Pakistan, or Iran, or North Korea, or Sudan, or...).
So Secretary Clinton’s announcement on Friday that the State Department and USAID will conduct a “Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review” (QDDR) is significant. Modelled on the Pentagon’s “Quadrennial Defense Review” (QDR), the QDDR will, in Secretary Clinton’s words, be
a tool to provide us with both short-term and long-term blueprints for how to advance our foreign policy objectives and our values and interests. This will provide us with a comprehensive assessment for organizational reform and improvements to our policy, strategy, and planning processes.
Overall, this is a noteworthy and laudable initiative, and has the real potential to strengthen how American foreign policy is made. But there are also a few looming pitfalls. Herewith some thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the QDDR.
• The QDDR might elevate strategic planning at the State Department and USAID. In other words, the QDDR might actually work. It has become a truism that the State Department almost ignores long-term planning about emerging threats, challenges, and opportunities, and instead remains myopically stuck in day-to-day relationship management with other nations. Likewise USAID spends too much time as a contracting agency shackled by Congressional earmarks and merely administering development dollars around the world. The QDDR could force new and creative thinking about global trends and State and USAID’s roles in shaping them.
• The QDDR might better integrate policies with resources, and State with USAID. Though the Secretary of State ostensibly has authority over USAID, in practice State and USAID have too little integration, so that State’s diplomatic priorities are often not reflected in USAID’s resource allocation.
• The QDDR might link State and USAID more closely with the Pentagon. One problem revealed most acutely by the early post-conflict reconstruction failures in Iraq and Afghanistan is the severe disparities between the State Department and the Pentagon in culture, capabilities, and resources. Having State and USAID go through a similar review process, simultaneously with the Pentagon, could begin to bridge this gap. Otherwise, in former Policy Planning Director Steve Krasner’s vivid formulation, “to meet 21st century foreign policy challenges, we might just need to create a new cabinet agency that sits in the middle of the Potomac River” (er, in other words, combining the functions of State, USAID, and the Pentagon).
• The QDDR makes academic research relevant to policy. The QDDR concept seems to have its roots at least in part in the Princeton Project on National Security, co-chaired by then-Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, and now State’s Director of Policy Planning, Anne-Marie Slaughter. More avenues are needed to bring such scholarly research from universities into the policy world; the QDDR could be a good start.
• The QDDR risks disregarding other vital elements of national power and security policy. There is much more to foreign policy than just diplomacy and development. Trade policy, fiscal policy, energy policy, and intelligence, for starters, all play major roles in the exercise of national power. As I have written previously, the “3 D’s” may have alliterative appeal but it is a less accurate and less comprehensive acronym than, say, “DIME” used at the Pentagon for the different elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, military, and economic. More practically, what role will the Treasury Department, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Intelligence Community, the Energy Department, and the Commerce Department have in the QDDR process? And if they have little or no role, how can the QDDR be a credible assessment of resources and strategy?
• Where’s the National Security Council? The NSC is supposed to coordinate and lead all departments and agencies behind a common policy. But other than an obligatory nod towards “coordinating with the interagency process,” Clinton’s announcement of the QDDR asserts that State will control it, and leaves unclear what if any role the NSC would play in the QDDR process. Given the endemic differences between State and DoD, it is plausible that the new QDDR could construct even taller stovepipes separating defense from diplomacy and development. To take just one plausible example, what if in the next QDR, the Pentagon identifies China as America’s most likely peer-competitor threat, whereas in the QDDR State identifies China as a strategic partner for the United States? Only leadership, coordination, and yes, control of the process by the NSC can prevent such bureaucratic contradictions and strategic incoherence.
• The QDDR risks being, as Mark Twain would put it, “chloroform in print.” Secretary Clinton described the QDDR as a “bottom-up review.” On a good day this means that input will be solicited far and wide from every embassy and bureau, the people in the field and in the trenches who best understand their patch of turf. On a bad day (which happen more often in government) it means that the QDDR will be a stale, written-by-committee laundry list of bureaucratese that avoids difficult trade-offs and lacks strategic coherence. Even if it is a “bottom-up review,” it will need a firm hand from the top to succeed, and ideally one principal official who controls the writing process.
• What about the National Security Strategy? The Goldwater-Nichols Act, the law which mandated the QDR, also directed each Administration to produce a National Security Strategy (NSS). The NSS is the only strategy document which brings all elements of national power into a coherent and integrated framework of policy priorities. The besetting weakness of the NSS is that it is not linked to budget authority and resource allocation. Because the QDR and QDDR both ostensibly tie policies with resources, they have more immediate relevance. So here’s an idea for the White House, which others have suggested but bears repeating: why not fold the QDR and the QDDR into the National Security Strategy, and produce a genuinely integrated, whole-of-government National Security Strategic Review?
By Kori Schake
Gary Schaub has an op-ed in today's New York Times on the disparity between State and Defense. Here's the heart of it:
Not surprisingly, the State Department has trouble pulling its weight — and the Defense Department fills the void....
General Petraeus oversees Central Command — America’s military presence in the Middle East — and has assembled a task force to develop a strategy for the area that stretches from Egypt to Pakistan. This task force will not develop a traditional military strategy with a focus on offensive and defensive operations. Centcom will aim to help nations in the region govern effectively, build their economies and provide security to their people. It will also try to communicate America’s foreign policy intentions clearly.
Regional commanders oversee policy in their regions because no one else can. They have staffs of thousands, forces numbering in the tens of thousands and vast financial resources. These generals tower over civilians who share responsibility for securing American interests abroad: ambassadors, regional desk officers and assistant secretaries of state.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates recognizes the imbalance and has called for increasing the State Department’s budget. But this is a long-term proposition. As he rebuilds his team in a new administration, Mr. Gates should see to it that every command has civilian officials to work alongside their military counterparts.
Building civilian posts into military headquarters will aggravate rather than solve the problem of the discrepancy between our military and diplomatic capacity. No civilian is ever going to be promoted to CENTCOM commander, and that tells you all you need to know about why Schaub’s proposed solution is inadequate. Civilians will provide diplomatic input to the military decisions, and that’s a good thing, but it shouldn’t be confused for developing an integrated politico-economic-military strategy or having the respective departments take responsibility for their slices and apportion resources to its execution.
CENTCOM’s strategy for U.S. relations with countries in its military area of responsibility deserves no more credence than a historian with expertise on Pakistan would deserve in crafting a military strategy. I mean no disrespect to General Petraeus and his team, just that it’s not their area of expertise, and it’s unfair of the U.S. government to thrust them into the work of setting priorities that are fundamentally political or diplomatic in nature.
What is needed is a wholesale rethinking of how we organize, train, and equip our diplomats and how we connect them to the President’s priorities. Does anyone really think we have enough diplomats for the people-intensive tasks of winning the war of ideas? How about advancing democracy? Strengthening civil society? Showing people in societies threatened by globalization the power of America’s creed of opportunity and self-reliance? There are more than 200 cities in the world with populations over a million people that have no U.S. diplomatic representation at all.
Beyond the baseline numbers, we don’t train our diplomats in anything except languages. In the course of a military career, a top officer spends about seven years being educated for the expanded responsibilities their subsequent jobs entail –- that’s in addition to the training for their current job that is part and parcel of their routine work. A comparably senior diplomat will have had less than a year. That our diplomats are as admirably capable as they are is a tribute to their individual excellence.
The State Department didn’t teach them to swim; they threw them in the water and promoted the ones who didn’t drown. Requiring virtuoso individuals to make the system work in an average way is a sub-optimal (and often disastrous) way to structure an institution. Bureaucracies are supposed to support and enable better performance, not inhibit it.
I've worked in both Defense and State, and the difference money makes on the culture just screams out at you. The State Department feels itself lucky to send people to the National War College –- they’ve been living on small budgets for such a long time they can’t even envision a world in which our country has a National Diplomatic University that teaches statecraft and our military pleads for admission to gain that essential education. State’s culture is one of doing the best you can with inadequate resources.
While Congress is frequently vilified for stinginess toward the State Department, they mostly meddle in foreign assistance accounts, not the baseline budget. The White House almost always gets the money requested in the President’s budget. The President should ask for money, and lots of it, to bring our non-military national security departments up to the standard our military performs at.
We need diplomats who are the peers of their military counterparts, not their subordinates.
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.