Friday, May 26, 2006

So Much for Regime Change

The New York times reports:
Iraq supports Iran's right to pursue nuclear research, its new foreign minister said today, taking a position at odds with that of the Bush administration.
Well, so much for Iraq as an American imperial outpost. This isn't a small policy difference--Iran's nuclear program is (supposedly) at the top of the Bush Foreign Policy agenda.

According to news service accounts, Mr. Zebari said that Iraq does not want "any of our neighbors to have weapons of mass destruction."

But he also confirmed "the right of the republic of Iran and the right of any other state to have scientific and technological abilities to research in the field of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

Wait-- isn't this why we invaded Iraq in the first place?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Intelligence Central

Lots has been going on in the once shadowy world of intelligence lately-- nary a day goes by without another Page 1 story about one secret agency or another.

Now that all the grading is done, I finally have time to post about it.

Where to start? Porter Goss abruptly "resigns" from the CIA. General Michael Hayden, now Deputy DNI and formerly head of the NSA, is nominated to take his place. The USA today reveals that the NSA's domestic call monitoring program is larger than anyone had previously thought. Hayden now faces questions on all of this in his confirmation hearings.

All of this tells us some very important things about the state of the US intelligence community.

First, it tells us (with deep apologies to my good friend), I wouldn't want to be starting a job at the CIA right now. The backstory on Goss's resignation seems to be that either he left due to pending scandal with limos and hookers, or more likely, he was force out after a power-play with DNI Negroponte's office. The CIA director was once a towering figure in Washington as manager of all US intelligence activities. The CIA ran secret agents, and the CIA provided top-notch all-source intelligence analysis straight to the President and senior government officials. Now, the DNI has taken over Presidential briefings, and the CIA no longer has any monopoly on all-source analysis. Other agencies, particulary those in DOD, are doing their own analysis, and the DNI and new National Counter-Terrorism Center perform analytical functions as well. Although the CIA still controls the National Clandestine Service, it no longer has a monopoly on HUMINT, with DoD increasing its collection activities. In short, the CIA faces an "existential crisis."

Look at the signals sent by Hayden's nomination. First off, the announcement that he will hire a former CIA official forced out by Goss is a clear repudation of Goss's tenure and a signal that Hayden will reverse many of Goss's personnel decisions that were unpopular with senior CIA officials who departed the Agency while Goss was Director.

Second, the concern should not be that a military man is taking over the CIA (Hayden is a 4-star general in the Air Force, but would certainly not be the first military man to run the CIA). The issue is that Hayden is now Negroponte's deputy and Hayden's nomination signals a clear shift in the hierarcy of Washington power--the DNI is now clearly on top of the game and the CIA is clearly now a second-level agency. This is the fall out from Intel reform-- the CIA as we know it is slowly being dismantled and moved over to the DNI and 4 years from now the intel community will be quite different than it is now.

Now, I think Hayden will and probably should be confirmed-- he'd be a decent choice. He is probably the most experienced senior career intel official in Washington. He is respected by both parties (remember, Clinton named him to head the NSA back in 1999). He has run an agency before, so he has the requisite management experience (something Goss did not have). As a military man, far from holding the Pentagon's line, he is better able to stand up to them and demand that DoD stay off the CIA's turf. And, as William Arkin notes (in what is quite a good blog, by the way), "he is better than the likely alternatives that the Bush administration would come up with if he is not confirmed."

The great irony here is that, if you really look at it, all of this intel reform and creation of the DNI finally creates the position of DCI that was envisioned in the original National Security Act of 1947. One of the criticisms of the intel reform process was that the DNI did not have the power of controlling his own agency. But, with the DNI staff pushing 1000 people, Negroponte has quite the staff. The National Intelligence Council now works for DNI, giving them a long-term analytic capability.

One day, we might see the CIA just end up as another box on the org chart of the DNI, much like ACDA and USIA are now Undersecretaries of State.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

USFP: $3.09 / gallon
(at the BP near my house)

But before I get to that-- we have the latest in Bush Administration Defense Policy straight out of James Bond (Die Another Day or Diamonds are Forever--take your pick). A giant laser beam to shoot satellites out of the sky (yes, I know both movies are about lasers in space shooting earth, but close enough-- like a shark with a frickin' laser beam on its head!). The NYT reports that the Starfire lab in New Mexico has developed a way to have the atmosphere focus a laser beam on a point in outter space (check out the cool picture), paving the way for the development of a laser powerful enough to disable a spacecraft. Right now, not such a big deal (the US is so dominant in the use of space resources for military advantage its not even funny), but its one small step towards the weaponization of space--something Rumsfeld has been big on for a while....

Anyway... About the oil.
The confluence of the new great game of international energy politics (like I discussed below), high gas prices, moves by developing countries to exploit these resources, and electoral politics has renewed the focus on America's addiction to cheap oil. Now that oil is no longer "cheap" we're feeling the pinch, but so far, its only a pinch.

NPR had a story this morning that reported that gas really should be closer to $5-$7 / gallon!!!
Aside from the externalities not included in the price of gas, its only when gas gets this expensive for a sustained amount of time that the US economy will make the fundamental shifts to more fuel efficient cars (goodbye hummer, hello prius) and reduce energy consumption. Right now, gas is more expensive, but we're rich enough to absorb the hit.

As Robert Samuelson opines in today's Post:
Whatever happens, the larger question is how Americans build on this episode. It may feel good to vilify the major oil companies and the oil cartel. But that won't help. We now import 60 percent of our oil; large imports will continue indefinitely. So far, we've escaped a true calamity. We may not be so lucky in the future. We could minimize our vulnerabilities to supply interruptions and price increases. We could open up more acreage (including Alaska) to drilling. We could orchestrate -- through tougher fuel economy standards and a gradually rising energy tax -- a big shift toward more-efficient vehicles. Once again, we've been warned. Will we continue to ignore it?
So, who wants to be the Congressional Candidate running this November on platform to raise the federal gas tax two dollars a gallon?

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