Archive for the ‘National and international security’ Category

The Eagle and the Bear

Author: Gary Hart

Two PowersA post-Cold War mystery prevails.  Why, almost twenty years after the end of the Cold War, are there still so many members of the U.S. foreign policy community (often called foreign policy elites) who seem instinctively to dislike the Russians?

Reasons can be found: Russia is not yet a democratic society; it is far from having a genuine free press; political dissent is discouraged; power and wealth are concentrated; too many Russians lean toward authoritarianism; and so forth.

All these are plausible arguments, except they overlook one thing: there are a number of areas where less antagonistic relations with Russia would help the U.S.  These include: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power; containing the threat posed by North Korea; preventing al Qaeda from making inroads into Muslim republics on Russia’s southern border; controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; continuing to help us resupply our forces in Afghanistan; and a wide variety of other common interests.

Instead, we periodically find a way to poke the Bear in the eye.  We quickly took the side of the Georgians in their conflict with Russia, though later facts demonstrated Georgian provocation.  We continue to consider placing missile defenses near the Russian border.  Until recently we pursued NATO membership for the Ukraine and Georgia, even though a majority of Ukrainians oppose it and few Europeans want to go to war with Russia on behalf of the Georgians.  And two decades after the end of the Cold War we still maintain trade restrictions (called the Jackson-Vanik amendment) against the Russians for no good reason.

Following the adage that we don’t have permanent friends, we have permanent interests, we have many more common interests with the Russians than we have matters in opposition.  We do not have to compromise our principles in order to pursue those common interests.  Nothing requires us to soften criticisms for undemocratic behavior.  Nothing requires us to lower our standards. 

It is to be hoped that the Obama administration will rethink the harder line taken by the Bush-Cheney administration, and the president has indicated his intention of doing so.  The first step is a new nuclear arms agreement, presently being negotiated, to be completed by December. 

Our greatest common interest with the Russians is to get rid of as many nuclear weapons as possible between us and lead the world in eliminating nuclear arsenals altogether.

StrategyAs a nation that has largely valued laissez faire in its markets and independence for individual citizens, the United States has generally resisted strategic approaches to domestic matters or grand strategies for its role in the world.  Strategy suggests planning, and planning is something centralized governments do.

The price paid for go-it-alone individualism is dependence on reaction.  We are stalwart, dedicated, and resolute in reaction to adversity, especially attacks by foreign forces.  We are miserable at anticipation and preparation.  The latter requires centralized authority, something Americans instinctively resist.

So, we prefer to wait until something bad happens–Pearl Harbor, economic depression, or 9/11–and then we unite in response.  That is all well and good, except a heavy price in blood and treasure is almost always paid. 

There is the alternative of preparing for the future.  For example, it was possible to see a new economic wave called information technology by the early and mid-1970s.  We could have trained young people and retrained industrial workers for the new jobs this wave would create.  But we did not.  Some smart people predicted the Wall Street collapse in 2008.  Regulatory steps to prevent it were not taken.  And, of course, sufficient evidence of a terrorist attack, including evidence involving airplanes and tall buildings, existed in the early 21st century.  No serious steps were taken to prevent it.

We had a strategy throughout the second half of the 20th century.  It was called “containment of communism.”  It required massive coordination of defense, foreign, and even economic policies.  And, arguably, it worked, though at a total price some think was excessive.  Thereafter, we replaced that strategy with one called “war on terrorism.”  As a central organizing principle for the nation, that has worked less well.

We might consider a new grand strategy for the 21st century that included the following elements: networking governments (including, for example, intelligence collection, public health services, environmental programs; research laboratories) to anticipate global crises; expansion of special military forces for the changing nature of conflict; a new age of international institution building patterned after 1946-49; and regulation of international financial systems.

Much could be added to this kind of list.  The point is that anticipation and strategy are better than catastrophe and reaction, and strategy can be developed without sacrifice of individual freedom.

What is Security?

Author: Gary Hart

What is security?

National SecurityIf there has been a dominant phrase in the political vocabulary of my generation it has been “national security”.  Very few of those who threw the phrase around bothered to define it.  During the Cold War, and even beyond, national security was a phrase used by foreign policy and defense insiders, a priesthood with its own language and common understandings.

In a perfect world, sometime between the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the era of terrorism in 2001 there would have been a national discussion about what national security actually meant.  Now the default meaning is defeat of terrorism.

But, assuming terrorists are kept in their cage, literally or figuratively, would we therefore be secure?  It is doubtful.  For there are new realities that threaten or at least challenge our security: pandemics (swine flu); climate change; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; failed and failing states; mass south-north migrations; and quite a number of other disturbances to the peace that we didn’t have to deal with previously.

One of the purposes of this web site is to stimulate thought (including by its operator) regarding what it means to be secure in an era where the United States has no peer competitor and where new threats do not lend themselves to military solution or solution by one nation, including the U.S., alone.

The President in Chains

Author: Gary Hart

White House GateIt has been powerfully argued that the national security state, inaugurated in 1947 and greatly expanded ever since, created a more powerful national executive than our Founders anticipated and that this power structure now both handcuffs the president and compels him to become a virtual monomaniacal figure. [“Entangled Giant,” New York Review of Books, October 8, 2009, Gary Wills]

The National Security Act of 1947 was the statutory basis for defining America’s role in the world post-World War II and for conducting the Cold War.  It established a new Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, and the United States Air Force as a new military service.  For more than six decades, it has also been the source of authority for the president as commander-in-chief.

Despite the fact that our Constitution, Article I, section 8, gives Congress solely the power to “provide for the common defense” and “declare War,” it is not accidental that no declaration of war has been authorized since 1941, even while we waged war in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and dozens of other venues.  Presidents now decide when and where we will wage war.

Gary Wills bolsters his provocative argument by listing all of the George W. Bush “security” measures quietly adopted and approved by the new Obama administration.  His argument is not that President Obama was a closet neo-conservative who managed to fool the voters.  Rather, he says, the national security state has become a kind of powerful prison with the president as warden.  He has authority over it, but he cannot escape it.

This helps explain the demented insistence on the part of the Bush administration to create, or perhaps merely ratify, the “unitary executive,” a notion based on the premise that all executive power resides in the president and Congress has no authority to question his actions as they relate to national security.  In this context “national security” is so broadly defined as to include virtually everything.

All the Bush advisors were trying to do was formalize a six decade trend, the concentration of power in the commander-in-chief.

All this might make some plausible sense, but only if two things were true: one, that we are now locked into a kind of semi-permanent era of conflict and danger; and two that James Madison and his colleagues had not gone to considerable pains to create a genius system of checked-and-balanced government where power is concentrated in no single branch.

We should be concerned less about whether Bush officials are now happy with the concentrated power they have passed on to their successors and more about what James Madison would think about all this.

 Gary Hart

Afghanistan“We believe that our government is weak, stupid, overbearing, dishonest, and inefficient, and also believe it to be the best in the world and would like to offer it to others.” This insight of Professor Michael Kammen came to mind as I drove around the teeming, dusty streets of Kabul last week.

The United States has an enormous military, political and economic presence in Afghanistan, which will increase before it decreases, trying to bring to the Afghan people the kind of government against which Americans have been screaming in so-called town hall meetings recently. Many Afghanis are dying and risking their lives to achieve even a semblance of the kind of government many Americans seem to distrust at best and hate at worst.

Perhaps it is because this ancient culture is tired and wishes a halt to everyone using it as a modern-day version of the OK Corral for the U.S. Army and the Taliban.

Unlike Iraq, however, we didn’t send our Army there because we wanted to; we did so because our most recent day of infamy, 9/11, originated there. And, partly because we chose not to finish the job in 2002, we are now back to pick up where we left off seven years ago.

As a member of a small international group observing the second presidential election in this very old country’s history, these reflections are rendered not to stimulate debate about American policy in Afghanistan but to reflect on 21st century democracy and what it means through a different set of eyes and, strangely enough, to ponder whether the Afghan people, even in their desperate life-and-death struggle, might have a lesson for us.

A small army of media, non-governmental organizations, and members of the international community blanketed last week’s election focusing on the same questions that dominate U.S. elections: winners and losers; voter turnout; rumors of manipulation and fraud; and, in this case, numbers of dead and wounded. Within 48 hours, most of this army was at the airport, headed for the next war zone or arena of excitement.

The skeptics concluded that the turnout was low, especially in the hostile south and east, too many women stayed away out of fear, and as many as 50 or more were killed on election day. For the smaller group of us who saw the glass half full, however, it was an inspiring experience. Despite ancient cultural and religious traditions of misogyny, a surprising number of candidates of provincial councils were women, and women voted in appreciable numbers in the safer regions. Unlike the only previous national presidential election in 2004, this election was managed by the Afghan government and included an independent election commission. The candidates spoke to issues of great public concern and avoided attacks and acrimony much more, it must be said, than in American elections. No one called any of the candidates “socialists” or “communists.”

( read the full article at The Denver Post)

Welcome Post

Author: Gary Hart

Welcome to Matters of Principle, Senator Gary Hart’s personal blog.  More content is coming soon, so please visit the blog section of the site to see the most recent posts.  Thanks for dropping by.