Voice

Tiger Woods evidently holds the keys to sequestration

During last week's congressional hearings, America's military leaders outlined the dire consequences they envision if, as has long seemed likely, the sequestration provision of the 2011 Budget Control Act comes into effect. The hearings were scheduled by sympathetic Armed Services committees to give vent to the Pentagon's alarm.

In one exchange, Rep. Mike Rogers asked the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff if he had informed the president of the dire consequences to readiness from sequestration beginning on March 1. "We have had that conversation," Gen. Martin Dempsey answered. Rogers followed up to ask how the president responded. "He assured me he's working on it," said Dempsey.

The president "working on it" has not equated to producing a budget that piles up less than a trillion-dollar deficit for fiscal year 2013. It has not equated to finding means within his executive powers to minimize the effect of the reductions -- to the contrary, the White House explicitly instructed agencies to spend and plan as though the law would not come into effect. It has not equated to working with Congress to strike a deal; the president has no meetings scheduled with congressional leaders. It has not equated to acknowledging his critics may have a point or have proposals that could be incorporated into his plan (he has not offered a plan). It has not even equated to acknowledging that mandatory spending is driving our debt. The president is allowing these cuts to discretionary spending in order to protect mandatory spending, otherwise known as "entitlement" programs.

Congress is stuck. It is stuck because two years ago markets started signaling concern about the level of America's national debt and the rate at which the U.S. government continued to incur it. The Congressional Budget Office reported in December that federal revenues increased by $30 billion in the first two months of the fiscal year, but federal spending increased by $87 billion. We borrow $4.8 billion dollars a day. The United States borrows 31 cents of every single dollar it spends. 

As the euro crisis has demonstrated, market confidence can collapse quickly and is very expensive to regain. Ratings agencies have already downgraded the U.S. because of our inability to bring our spending and revenue into balance. That is the political impetus behind draconian measures to force an end to deficit spending and produce a medium-term plan to ramp down our national debt. Unless we show markets the United States has the capacity to bring our budget into alignment, we will be at great risk of getting involved in the kind of escalating game of chicken European governments have been forced into over the past three years: committing ever more money to a firewall that forestalls a market run and driving interest rates up to devastating levels. And to be clear: markets are not to blame for gaming our currency. We are to blame for putting ourselves at risk by racking up so much debt.

Breaking the congressional deadlock requires presidential leadership. That's why our form of government has a chief executive. But the president is now not only leading from behind in foreign policy, but also leading from behind in the domestic policy that is the basis of our international strength. Instead of working to prevent sequestration from going into effect -- with two weeks remaining until training is curtailed for 80 percent of Army forces, the military faces what Gen. Dempsey described as an unprecedented readiness crisis, and the pivot to Asia becomes unaffordable -- President Obama took the long weekend to golf in Florida with Tiger Woods. The military is claiming dread crisis, and the commander in chief has gone golfing. Is it possible all of us missed the seminal role Tiger Woods must have in breaking the political stalemate in Washington?

Cory Lum - Pool/Getty Images)

Shadow Government

What do the Mali al Qaeda documents tell us about the group?

We now have another opportunity to gain some insight into the inner workings of al Qaeda through captured documents. The French military intervention in Mali apparently forced the insurgents to flee without their most confidential papers. In the chaotic aftermath, journalists found a large number of documents produced by al Qaeda's shadow government in Timbuktu. The documents demonstrate the extent of the bureaucracy erected in just a few months, and show just how seriously al Qaeda takes the political objectives that they have set for themselves.

Although the majority of the material seems to be routine court documents, two deserve closer attention:  a complex document that consists of a cover letter and a partial copy of minutes from a meeting of the Notables (A'yan), and a nearly complete document from the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): ‘Abd al-Malik Drukdal (also known as Abu Mus‘ab ‘Abd al-Wadud). The complex document has interesting things to tell us about the administrative and political organization of AQIM, and I will be discussing it in greater detail in another post next week.

It is the document from Drukdal that has the most significant implications, however. Of first importance is that it claims to be a set of Directives (Tawajihat) from a commander to his subordinates. Although his language is collegial, it is clear that Drukdal believes he has the authority to give orders to his "brother Emirs" and that they will obey. The entire document is, in fact, a case study of how much command and control al Qaeda has over its forces in the field, and specifically gives us new evidence about the relationship between AQIM and other jihadist groups in Mali (such as Ansar Dine). The evidence from this document suggests that Ansar Dine, and thus other groups, are in fact an integral part of AQIM and willing to obey orders from AQIM's emir. Thus Drukdal tells the other emirs to make a peace deal with the nationalist Tuareg movement (the MNLA), and Ansar Dine followed through, signing an accord with the MNLA in December 2012. He also instructs commanders to stop imposing al Qaeda's version of sharia in a harsh manner in order to win over more Malians to their cause. In November 2012, Ansar Dine again followed through, publicly announcing that it would no longer seek to impose sharia as aggressively throughout Mali.

Just as interesting is the fact that the emir of AQIM admits his group uses the pretense of a local focus as a cover for its real nature as a global jihadist, al Qaeda organization. He tells his commanders to "adopt mature and moderate rhetoric that reassures and calms. To do so, you must avoid any statements that are provocative to neighboring countries and avoid repeated threats. Better for you to be silent and pretend to be a ‘domestic' movement that has its own causes and concerns. There is no call for you to expose that we have an expansionist, jihadist, al Qaeda project or anything like that." In one short paragraph, in other words, Drukdal explains how to confuse current analysis not just of AQIM, but also of al-Qaeda's branches worldwide.

Finally, the pragmatic nature of al Qaeda's political strategy comes through in this document, providing a strong counterpoint to the group's commitment to ideological purity. This is evident in Drukdal's decision to back away from an immediate and rapid imposition of every sharia statute. His reasoning is entirely based on "interests": the new Islamic state is still in its infancy and therefore the group needs to be flexible and pragmatic in order to win over the people first. He even recommends that commanders on the ground begin with da'wa toward the people of Mali, a process of convincing people to join the movement through argumentation, which al Qaeda has traditionally avoided. In the end, however, he remains committed to imposing al Qaeda's extremist version of sharia, just waiting until the state passes through "infancy" and is an "adolescent" -- one strong enough to stand on its own.

FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images