Shadow Government

Maybe President Obama Should Spend Some Time Defending his National Security Policies

Back in June when the controversy over the operations of the NSA started to crescendo, President Obama went on Charlie Rose to join the conversation. He gave the distinct impression that he was inviting the public to join in him a thorough soul-searching dialogue concerning the thorny trade-offs between civil liberty and national security, much as he had invited the public to debate drones a month earlier.

Since then there has been a very lively debate, of a sort. Barely a day goes by without another purportedly damning revelation in the media. The voices of the critics have been heard, loud and clear.

The voices on the other side? Not so much. Yes, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander has mounted a vigorous defense. Secretary of Defense Hagel has spoken up for the NSA. And there have been a few balanced debates in the public. My own organization, Duke's Program in American Grand Strategy is co-hosting one of those this Monday: a conversation between Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman and former NSA head Michael Hayden.

But you would look in vain to find many examples of President Obama joining in the conversation he himself seemed to be calling for a few months ago. It is almost as if the NSA is supposed to be viewed as some sort of independent agency, only distantly connected to the Obama administration, rather than a vital part of Obama's own national security team.

A debate of all against the NSA (and a few former NSA employees) is never going to be a balanced conversation. President Obama must engage personally.

I understand that the president has had his hands full with the Obamacare fiasco. While most of the media attention has focused on the mismanagement that led to the poorly designed website, the part that has surprised me the most are reports that President Obama repeatedly told the American public untruths about the reform -- untruths that he knew were untrue and that his policy advisors had even recommended against saying because they were untrue, only to be over-ruled by political advisors who insisted that the president keep misleading the public because it helped him politically in the short run. The President's tepid half-apology -- he expressed regret that people are losing their health insurance and tried to spin away the central issue of purposively misleading the American public with "we weren't as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place" -- probably won't resolve the scandal. Even a president as well-protected by the media as this one would have a problem given the facts of this case, and so this scandal will continue to siphon off White House attention and rhetorical resources.

I also understand that President Obama has had an unprecedented reluctance to use his bully pulpit to mobilize public support for his controversial war policies. I do not think in modern American history there has ever been a war leader who spent less effort explaining the importance of the wars he has ordered men and women to fight on the country's behalf.

In view of how much damage the Obamacare troubles is causing the administration and how little Obama likes to defend his war policies, perhaps it seems naive to encourage the president to engage rhetorically on national security.

However, I think it would actually help him politically. Presidents have the rhetorical advantage when it comes to national security, and surely it is more advantageous for him to be talking about the steps his administration is taking to track down terrorists or to put Afghanistan on a stable trajectory than it is to be talking about the load times for the healthcare.gov website.

And it is the right thing to do as a matter of policy. President Obama inherited a national security toolkit more capable than his predecessor inherited, but if he does not act, Obama could end up bequeathing to his successor a far less capable toolkit. Although there is room for reforms, unless President Obama engages meaningfully in the debate, there is a real risk that even the well-meaning reformers will throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. President Obama can help prevent that from happening, but only if he will engage.

Yet it appears he will only engage if he personally can be tagged with the issue. He is speaking about Obamacare. Maybe he could be induced to speak about Obamaintel.

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Shadow Government

Northern Lights, American Opportunity for International Trade

In the United States, the prospects for additional international trade opportunities look dim. The continuing fallout from revelations that the National Security Agency snooped through millions of pieces of European telephone data has cast a pall upon the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks. Additionally, the government shutdown forced the cancellation of the second round of negotiations on the pact, as well as forcing President Obama to miss the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which squandered an opportunity to push to finalize a similar commercial agreement in Asia. Internally, past and future fiscal fights are likely to further sour the possibility of future collaborative action between President Obama and Congressional Republicans, which will be necessary to pass any trade legislation.

However, it is always darkest before the dawn, and our neighbor to the north provides a light for those interested in promoting international trade.

Canada and the European Union have come to an agreement on a bilateral trade accord that would eliminate tariffs and open new markets to companies on both sides of the Atlantic. Thanks to some shrewd politicking from Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper, the measure enjoys overwhelming support from the public and could be finalized by 2015, practically light speed for a trade agreement.

Economists from both sides foresee financial benefits. Canada would join a select coterie of nations that have preferential access to the United States and the European Union, the two largest markets in the world. Increased exports, particularly in the services industry, could help inject some dynamism into a sclerotic European economy.

A leaked EU analysis of the trade agreement with Canada gives the United States a leg up when it comes to negotiating with the continent. If the EU views the recent bilateral accord as a guide, America has the benefit of knowing where the box canyons and strong currents are located.

There will be plenty of challenges and debates with European negotiators, so President Obama should be doing as much as he can to limit friction over the deal at home. That will require a more hands on approach to getting Trade Promotion Authority passed through Congress. In addition to the inside game in Washington, the White House will also have to play a strong outside game with businesses and unions that may not have as much to gain from tariff reductions as other sectors of the economy. A serious breakthrough on trade could provide some spark to a second term that is losing power fast.

If enacted, TTIP has the potential to boost economic output by some $100 billion a year on each side of the Atlantic, according to trade officials. It would offer the prospect of much needed job growth and improve the ability for America and Europe to compete with emerging markets. Additionally the maneuver would go a long way towards setting a global standard for bilateral trade agreements and commerce more generally.

There's no doubt that the task will be difficult, but the United States and Europe have worked together to slay more vicious dragons in the past. The scourge of communism was more formidable than any special interest group could ever dream of becoming.

The United States joined Europe to form the G-6 in 1975 to initiate the idea of global economic cooperation for mutual benefit. Canada followed suit a year later to make it the G-7, and today the pact has evolved into the G-20.

It is now the United States' turn to follow Canada's lead.  If both America and Europe can break through gridlock at home and once again join hands, each side will benefit immensely, and the world economy could get a much-needed boost from the transatlantic partners who have long been the twin engines powering global prosperity.

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy (@HonMarkKennedy) leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).

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