Archive for the ‘National and international security’ Category

I Want To Be Just Like You

Author: Gary Hart

The immigration “debate”, which routinely produces more heat than light, is contentious in part because it assumes foreign people entering the United States want to remain foreigners and not become Americans.  Most recently the British prime minister decried “multiculturalism” because it was producing more or less permanent ghettos in the U.K.  American critics of Mexican immigrants often reflect the same opinion.  And throughout our history as every wave of immigrants arrived here, there were always haters who sought to keep them in their place.

Experience, at least in the U.S., proves that immigrants don’t want to be separate and will find a way to break out of a majority-imposed ghetto.  Name a hyphenated-American group that has refused to integrate.  Of course, different cultures, like different religions, seek to retain their identity.  But it is a fundamental fact of human nature that young people want to fit in.  They want to dress like, eat like, date like, and mostly of all sound like American kids.  Even though none of us can change our skin color, it is amazing to look at and listen to kids of varying colors and nationalities who look like and sound like fifth generation American kids.  We didn’t become a melting pot by accident.

This powerful urge is called assimilation.  Anyone over 50 finds it difficult.  Everyone above the age of 5 finds it easy and important.  Assimilation is very near the heart of the genius of America.  People all over the world want to come here for a lot of reasons, most importantly economic opportunity.  But they–and most of all their children–want to become Americans in every sense of the word.  You don’t do that by insisting on speaking your original language or dressing in strange clothing.  Besides which, television and global marketing are making millions of people all over the world into something like Americans.  Osama bin Laden hates this.

Whatever else the immigration debate–one in a series of many throughout our history–is about, it should not be about assimilation.  Pick virtually any nationality group and bring them to the United States.  It is an absolute guarantee that their children will be every bit as American as yours and mine

Intelligence…and Combat

Author: Gary Hart

Why is the CIA conducting “covert” military operations in Afghanistan and the Department of Defense spending the bulk of the $80 billion intelligence budget?  There is confusion in roles and missions here, and I say that as a veteran of both the Senate Armed Services committee and the Senate Intelligence Oversight committee.

There was a plausible argument for this kind of confusion during the Cold War days when we used the clandestine services to carry out operations in third world countries where the uniformed military might have triggered direct confrontation with the Soviet Union.  But that era ended twenty years ago.  Wouldn’t it now make a lot more sense for the CIA to be collecting and analyzing information, for example on such questions as to whether a popular uprising in Tunisia might spread to Egypt, and the military to be carrying out drone attacks on the Afghan-Pakistan border–presuming that’s what the commander in chief wants done?

We have really well trained special forces for this kind of thing–Delta Force, Rangers, Seals, Air Force Special Forces, and others.  They are good at what they do, including covert operations carried out, in many cases, by personnel wearing native clothes and riding mules.  I would welcome any instruction, particularly from those from the world of covert operations, as to why our principle intelligence agency is carrying out secret operations that are not secret while our military establishment is largely duplicating (maybe even triplicating) what the intelligence agency does or at least is supposed to do.

The central point is this: if the CIA let the military carry out clandestine operations and instead focused on its central mission, we might get better intelligence and better clandestine operations.  And we might be able to save some money on the overly large defense intelligence establishment.

We are not fooling anyone with this operational shell game.  Like the infamous “secret bombing of Cambodia” during the Vietnam War days, in which the secret was being kept from the American people not from the poor Cambodian who knew exactly where the bombs were coming from, our CIA-conducted operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere are not secret to the people subjected to those operations.  So, by what theory is the CIA conducting these operations and not the military’s Special Forces?

This is not a rhetorical question.  If I knew the answer I would either divulge it or not have written this essay.  Anyone, particularly those who know, care to enlighten us?

Blackmail Versus Self-Interest

Author: Gary Hart

Occasions for the United States to make a diplomatic breakthrough that is in its self-interest, that makes the world safer, and that benefits future generations are rare.  When they do occur they almost always have to do with reducing nuclear arsenals.  Such is the pending New Start treaty.

That being the case, why should the president have to pay blackmail to get Republican votes for ratification?  For it is blackmail, pure and simple, that is being demanded in exchange for votes for ratification.  And even when the president agrees to pay it, the Republicans turn him down. 

Consider this: your daughter has been kidnapped and you need your neighbor’s help to rescue her.  He agrees to help if you pay him a  million dollars.  You pay him the million.  Then he changes his mind.  Not quite the same, but close.

As the price for voting for a treaty virtually every serious person in both political parties favors, the Republicans demanded $85 billion (at a time of huge deficits and demands for “smaller government”) to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal over coming years.  Bin Laden seems not to care if we have nuclear weapons and no one is able to say against whom they might be used.

President Obama took the bait and promised the money.  The Republicans quickly backed out of an agreement and announced opposition to a treaty manifestly in our self-interest.  In better times this would cost the Republican party dearly.  But these are not better times.  They are times when few pay attention, even to an issue as vital to their children’s security as fewer Russian nuclear weapons and renewed inspection of nuclear sites.  The Republican leaders fears no citizen reprisal for its mendacity.  They know that too few people take the trouble to study their own self-interest and to hold accountable those who violate it.

If Washington is broken, as the current political rhetoric suggests, it will stay broken until voters connect their votes with the ridiculous behavior of those they vote for.

Before bombing Iran, as many now seem to want to do, here are some questions that require answers and considerable public debate:

1.  Bombing a sovereign nation is a de facto declaration of war.  Our Constitution requires the Congress, not the President, to declare war.  Simply because we have launched a number of wars without a Congressional declaration does not mean the Constitutional requirement has been suspended;

2.  Such an attack will have economic consequences for us.  The Iranians most likely would blockade the Strait of Hormuz, thus reducing the shipment of Persian Gulf oil–almost one-quarter of our imports–and dramatically increasing world oil prices.  This would have a powerfully negative affect on our already fragile economy;

3.  Such an attack would place great stress on our military.  We cannot continue the Afghan war, prop up the neighboring Iraqi government, and create a third battlefield in the Middle East.  It is folly to assume that a US-Iran war can be carried out by the Navy and Air Force alone.  Our ground combat forces are near exhaustion;

4.  Bombing Iran would virtually assure an attack of considerable dimensions carried out against Israel.  This would involve both Iranian and Lebanon-based missiles.  Israel would necessarily retaliate.  We would then have all-out war in the Middle East.

5.  An attack on another Muslim (albeit Persian) nation invigorates al Qaeda recruitment.  A third war in a Islamic nation confirms their argument that the US hates Muslims.  Expect other 9/11’s of some dimensions.

This is the short list.  Many other questions must be answered, such as: will other Arab states in the Middle East, who we are told fear Iran, publicly endorse an American attack?  We shouldn’t hold our breath.

This is not an argument for “doing nothing”, the standard retort of the eager bombers.  We have at least a year, and probably more, to weigh Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions, and to rally regional and global opposition to them.  Building so-called “off ramps” for Iran on the nuclear highway is currently underway. 

In the meantime, before the dogs of war are unleashed, this debate better be brought out into the public squares of America.  The consequences are enormous.

Paraphrasing Tolstoy: all happy empires are alike; every unhappy empire is unhappy in its own way.  Without entering the rhetorical jungle of whether the United States has been exhibiting imperial tendencies in the early 21st century, it does share some unhappy symptoms with previous empires.

It is always a cause for wonderment that those most eager to go to war spend so little time thinking about its long term consequences, especially in human lives.  This commentator has carried on a running word-fight with the media over the definition of “casualty”, usually used to indicate those killed in combat but intended to be used to include those wounded in combat as well.  Total U.S. casualties in Iraq, for example, are approaching 40,000.

But now the long term payback for that war, and Afghanistan, is coming due.  In recent days Defense Department studies reveal the number of suicides, drug abuse cases, and psychological disorders among the troops.  Much of this is the result of extended deployments and repeated re-deployments, as well as the destructive mental impact of close-order counterinsurgency warfare.  Dead bodies and wounded everywhere, everyday.  This human toll is exacerbated by the lowering of recruitment standards to include those previously categorized as “morally unqualified”, people whose backgrounds would not otherwise permit them to serve.  A separate consideration is the impact on career military personnel of being required to serve with those with criminal records.

Why cannot political leaders level with the American people on the costs of warfare?  It is obvious if they did so, the appetite for voluntary invasions especially would be greatly diminished.  Unfortunately our society’s collective memory will have erased the human costs of Iraq and Afghanistan by the time some future president starts beating the drums and unleashing the dogs of war.  Reawakening memory requires statesmanship and a knowledge of history.  And we have very few leaders who qualify.

Perhaps we should create a public office and call it the Prophet Jeremiah.  Everytime the war drums were heard, the Prophet Jeremiah would remind us of the human costs we were assuming and the unhappiness of empires throughout history.

Security Through Anticipation

Author: Gary Hart

As the world changes dramatically, so does the nature of conflict and methods for achieving security.  Even as nations increasingly find the costs of war unacceptable, stateless nations, such as al Qaeda, have found unconventional conflict attractive and insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the limitations of our Cold War large-scale force structures and weapons systems.

Chechyan separatists, Somali pirates, Mexican drug cartels, Pakistani Taliban, Turkish Kurds, Tibetan nationalists, and many others join al Qaeda (though not always as viciously) in representing the conflict of the new 21st century.

But they all have one thing in common: they are not afraid of nuclear aircraft carrier task groups, B-2 bomber wings, or big infantry divisions.  Despite our massive military superiority (at least in traditional terms), this fact–plus the rejection of stupendous reward offers–illustrates why Osama bin Laden is still alive almost a full decade after 9.11.

From these circumstances, certain conclusions may be drawn: the prospects of major nation-state wars is sharply declining; the prospects for unconventional conflicts are increasing; we are much better prepared for the former than we are the latter; invasion of other countries almost inevitably guarantees commitment to costly, long-term counterinsurgency warfare; and long-term reconfiguration of our force structures (and their strategies, tactics, and doctrines) is imperative.

And a lot more thought must be given to our real mission in countries such as Afghanistan and countries such as Iraq before unleashing the dogs of war.  That kind of great power intelligence, as well as a dramatic increase in our ability to anticipate threats and reduce them through a better understanding of history, culture, and local politics, will do more to make us secure than a new generation of massive Cold War weapons.

Welcome to the bright new century.

The views of others would be welcome on this question: If climate is changing in ways that will adversely affect the planet, is this a moral issue?

Let’s assume for purposes of this question that there is a “tipping point” beyond which heating of the climate cannot be reversed and that this change will bring about mass migrations, rise in coastal water levels, upheaval of crop patterns, drying up of major water sources, and so forth.  Assume further that populations in both democracies and autocratic regimes are not responding to arguments having to do with science, politics, policy, international treaties, and the range of debates now surrounding the climate issue.  They are not responding for two basic reasons: the debate is too complex and remote; and they feel helpless about it in any case, even if they took time to understand it.

For those of us who accept the warnings of senior military figures that this is an international security issue of major, historical proportions, what can be done?  Perhaps the whole climate issue is being managed on the wrong plane.  Perhaps the issue isn’t about us.  Perhaps the issue is about our children.  Perhaps public opinion and sentiment can be activated by this argument: we do not have the moral right to risk damage to the planet our children will inherit.

Veterans of this blogsite know that its author is transfixed by the fact that the preamble to our Constitution sets out the purposes for the creation of the United States as being goals and principles “for ourselves and our posterity.”  The Founders were looking into the future.  They wanted this great experiment in republican democracy to last.  Yet today we live in a culture that principally thinks only of itself and only of today.

So, whatever one’s religion, and whatever one’s politics, we all ought to agree that we have no right to endanger our children.  It has always seemed to me to be a vastly underplayed card in the world of global politics that one common denominator unites all mankind: we care about our children.  It is as fundamental to human nature as any other attribute.  That being the case, could we not agree that, while scientists continue to refine the data and seek concurrence, and diplomats continue to negotiate treaties, and politicians continue (hopefully) to educate their constituents, we are accountable to generations born and unborn for this planet, and that we have a moral duty not to damage it by heating the climate or detonating nuclear weapons.

It has been wisely said that we do not own the earth: we take it from our parents and hold it in trust for our children.  When all is said and done, and we are called upon to account for our lives on earth, this may well be the standard we must meet.

The Appeal of the Simplistic

Author: Gary Hart

Several days ago, in a critique of the Obama response to the Israeli attack on a Turkish ship, former national security advisor Richard Allen brought up the response of Ronald Reagan to the 1981 Israeli destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq.  Based on what Mr. Allen describes as Mr. Reagan’s “extensive preparation” and “deeply held principles on foreign policy,” Mr. Reagan’s response was: “Boys will be boys.”  Mr. Allen takes this as wisdom beyond the reach of experts and profound presidential analysis of a dramatic attack by one nation on another in the Middle East tinderbox.

It surely ranks, in terms of simplicity, with “Stuff happens” and “You’re doin’ a heck of a job, Brownie.”

In times when almost everything seems too complex, simplicity has its appeal.  Mr. Allen thought Mr. Reagan got right to the core, the essence, of Middle East, and possibly world, relations.  If he did, it is not obviously so and requires a discerning mind that few of us possess.

Perhaps more than any other, more sophisticated political analysis, however, this may isolate the gene that separates the conservative from the liberal mind.  It also accounts for the popularity in certain circles of a Sarah Palin.  Life’s not all that complicated.  It’s just a matter of common sense.  Eliminate taxes and government.  Refuse to address consequences.  Every person for himself or herself.  And devil take the hindmost.  Boys will be boys.

When Ronald Reagan says “boys will be boys” and Donald Rumsfeld says “stuff happens,” this is a whole political philosophy, a world view.  Life really is just one damn thing after another.  And society, all of us together, are wasting our time—and particularly our tax dollars—trying to make things better.  The liberal fallacy is to believe in improvement, progress, and a better way.  The fallacy is compounded when it requires serious thought, analysis, and an appreciation of history.

The facts of life are simple: investment bankers will be greedy; defense contractors will be corrupt; government officials are praised for just showing up; politicians will protect their careers; oil companies will cut corners.  The conservative mind understands basic human nature, and it is not a pretty sight.  Boys will be boys.

John Calvin constructed a theology around this notion.  Life is preordained.  You are either among the elect or the non-elect.  Life is predestined and predetermined.  Many conservative thinkers seem to operate from similar simplistic premises.  To be on the inside of conservative thought is to operate within a closed system and a simplistic one at that.  Very little changes, and nothing changes very much.  So only quixotic fools struggle for equality and justice.

Boys will be boys.  That is, until the consequences of their simplistic boyishness brings catastrophe down on all of us.  Then we may need some real leaders.

The greatest honor we can pay to those who have given their lives in service to our country’s defense is to limit the number of those who might be required to join them. We can do that by looking over the horizon, anticipating danger, and taking steps necessary to reduce it.

This process is called strategy. And the Obama administration has just provided its first annual National Security Strategy. At least as much as the federal budget, this document defines who we are and the role we are determined to play in the world. If this document misunderstands the times, misinterprets threats, applies the wrong resources, or defies our principles, the ranks of the fallen grow and we become weaker.

The first Obama National Security Strategy will be analyzed for its differences from the Bush strategies. In this regard it differs sharply in at least three major ways: it places great emphasis on the economic and human basis for security; it places diplomacy on an equal footing with the military; and it envisions a global commons of shared responsibilities for the common security.

The economic foundation for our security is formed by education and knowledge, clean energy and energy independence, science and technology investments, and a healthy work force. Innovation, new, more effective ways of doing things, is the source of power. And power translates into security.

Diplomacy, or engagement, is necessary to “mobilize collective action”, create new partnerships, organize a new international order (though the “new” is mentioned only once, possibly out of nervousness caused by the first Bush’s “new world order, respect for “universal rights” (a phrase distinct from Carter’s emphasis on human rights), “greater interconnectedness”, modernization of international institutions, and, possibly most important, the need for the United States to “live its values.”

The U.S. security concerns include: nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security, new biological and cyber threats, al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a two-state settlement in the Middle East and engagement with the Muslim world, and developing economic cooperation among the G-20 nations (replacing the traditional G-8). Emphasis is placed on common interests, including climate threats, and collective, not U.S. unilateral, responses.

The Obama strategy’s description of the “strategic environment” encompasses terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, space and cyberspace, fossil fuel dependence, climate and pandemics, failing states, and criminal networks. Militarily this requires conventional “superiority” (however that can be measured), response to asymmetrical threats, a civilian expeditionary capability (sounds like nation-building), and the integration of domestic (homeland) and international security. Our defenses also involve counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, stability operations (preventing failed states), and improvements in “resiience” (the ability to absorb and overcome a systemic failure, whose author is Dr. Steve Flynn).

Key strategic concepts include: the ability to “shape change”, moral leadership, the power of example, living the principles of democracy, and remaining true to our Constitutional ideals and principles. Here is the qualitative departure from the second Bush’s preoccupation with unilateralism, preemption, and expedient suspension of Constitutional principles.

For the author of The Fourth Power: a Grand Strategy for the U.S. in the 21st Century (2004), The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons (2006), and Under the Eagle’s Wing (2008), all of which urged a national strategy based on shared international responsibility for a global commons, threat anticipation and reduction, and security policy based on Constitutional principles, this national security strategy is a very welcome return to the mainstream of America’s role in the world and, at the same time, a realization that the new realities of the 21st century cannot be addressed by military means alone, nor can they be solved by one nation alone.

It is personally gratifying to see so many ideas totally neglected in the past administration now incorporated in our national strategy in a new administration.

A more intelligent strategic approach to security in the next few years will guarantee that fewer crosses will be added at Arlington and fewer young men and women will have the bell toll for them.

Pictures of Unnecessary Events

Author: Gary Hart

Most of us have a picture or two, sometimes more, that we can’t get out of our minds. We say they haunt us. For me, one of those is of New York City firemen, most carrying upwards of a hundred pounds of equipment, trudging up the emergency stairways of the Trade Towers on September 11th, 2001, past dazed, confused, choking tenants trying desperately to make their way to safety. The firemen were deliberately heading into pure danger.

Like combat films of troops heading directly into enemy fire, these pictures make you wonder where that kind of courage comes from. Is it simply training and conditioning? Is it produced by adrenaline alone? Or is it the product of something called duty? If so, where does that sense of duty come from? Where the safety of our fellow human beings are concerned, is duty the result of some deeply felt reflex of care, concern, and empathy? Whatever its source, that duty produces the courage necessary to perform it.

I am among those, undoubtedly a minority, who think those firemen and building tenants did not have to die. If our political leaders and our government had taken warnings seriously and had their hair on fire sufficiently to stand up all agencies on high alert, the airplane highjackers could have been stopped. It would have required focus, urgency, and extra intensity on the part of law enforcement, airport screeners, and ticket agents, some very good luck, and the sharing of existing intelligence among all of them. But it could have been done.

Having served on the commission that issued one of those warnings as early as January 31, 2001, I suppose this question still plagues me more than most, and I suppose it will until I die. But there are lessons from this for all of us to learn. Those lessons have certainly been learned by the New York City officials who remain on a higher degree of alert than most of the rest of the country and whose intense focus on the security of their city saved lives very recently. But the rest of us are still relying on luck more than diligence.

I go on seeing the faces of those firemen, and I always will. And I marvel at their courage.