Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Previously on 24...

As you loyal readers know, I am quite the fan of 24.

So, reading the Post the other day, I can't believe I missed this amazing event:
Despite the unabated threat of terrorism and the arrival of another hurricane season, the nation's top Homeland Security official had time yesterday to publicly ponder this question:
Is the Fox series "24" like real counterterrorism efforts, or is it, you know, just a make-believe suspense show with actors and product-placement props and characters running around breathlessly yelling at each other, "Dammit, there's no time!"

I probably could do without the image of Rush Limbaugh planting a huge kiss on Chloe (Mary Lynn Rasjskub).

There was lots of text about how 24 touches the debate on torture, how conservatives have found a program they love "liberal hollywood" and such. But, 24 seems to have a lot of high-profile fans in the real world of Washington and Counterterrorism.

I'm just pissed I missed a chance to go to an event where they talked 24.

You can watch /stream the event from the Heritage site.

Friday, June 23, 2006

It was revealed this week that the Bush Administration:
has secretly been tapping into a vast global database of confidential financial transactions for nearly five years, according to U.S. government and industry officials.
Initiated shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the surveillance program has used a broad new interpretation of the Treasury Department's administrative powers to bypass traditional banking privacy protections. It has swept in large volumes of international money transfers, including many made by U.S. citizens and residents, in an effort to track the locations, identities and activities of suspected terrorists.

This secret snooping on global wire-transfers, working in conjunction with the NSA wiretap program, was (is) part of the Administration's strategy for finding and disrupting global terrorist networks.

Aside from the obvious civil liberties concerns of gathering data on AmCits without a proper warrant, there is a key conceptual issue at stake that is likely to cloud the debate and mislead those trying to make a judgment on the use of this tactic. Specifically:

The White House vigorously defended today a secret program of combing through a vast international data base containing banking transactions involving thousands of Americans. Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials said the program, whose existence was revealed on Thursday night by The New York Times, was both legal and necessary to deter terrorism.
Emphasis added, on Deter Terrorism.

Simply put, a secret program like this can't deter terrorism.

It can identify and monitor terrorist networks. It can signal terrorist activities. It can generate intelligence vital to interdicting terrorist activity. But, it cannot deter terrorism and terrorist attacks.

Deterrence, as studied in great depth by a number of IR scholars, is a relatively simple game. Party A threatens Party B with some sort of punitive action if Party B takes a particular action. Party A must clearly and credibly communicate the threat, and Party B must feel threatened enough to be dissuaded from undertaking the action in question. It revolves around a clear shared understanding of threat, credibility, and consequences. Deterrence failures result when either a) the threat is not severe enough to change Party B's actions or b) the threat is not communicated in a clear, credible manner to create a shared understanding of consequences between the two parties.

So, to deter terrorists, there would have to be a standing, credible threat for the US to respond with significant force on a target the terrorists hold in high value. If the terrorists strike the US, the US strikes the high-value terrorist target. The threat of this unfavorable retaliation keeps the terrorists from attacking the US.

How does secret monitoring of international financial transactions fit into this equation? For the monitoring program to work, it must be secret. If terrorists knew they were being tracked, they would find another way to move money about the globe. Such secret monitoring does nothing to dissuade terrorist activity-- in fact, just the opposite occurs. The more terrorists activity using this international financial system, the more valuable intelligence is gathered.

What it does not do is deter. Deterrence requires a public game, and really only works when totally and completely transparent. The transparency increases the credibility of the threat by leaving no room for doubt. The Bush Administration has disavowed highly public anti-terrorist measures and shown a lackluster commitment to public diplomacy while showing a penchant for secret monitoring programs, secret prisons, and secret wars. You can interrupt a particular chain of events in secret, but you can't deter in secret.

So, if we want to talk about deterring terrorists, lets publicly talk about what we're doing to raise the cost of terrorist action. That's how you play the deterrence game.

cross posted

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Some interesting Sunday morning reading:

The Washington Post today reprints a rather lengthy cable from the US Embassy in Iraq to Main State. Its worth a read.

The Post introduces the Cable:

Hours before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees. This cable, marked "sensitive" and obtained by The Washington Post, outlines in spare prose the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government.

One question / issue about Iraq is the on-ground conditions for everyday Iraqis. Bush apologists like to claim that the Media ignore all the good news of progress that Coalition forces are making. Bush critics like to claim that the Administration ignores the grim "reality" of Iraq in favor of its own propoganda.

Here you have an interesting instance of the State Department producing a piece of organizational knowledge about the conditions of every-day life in Iraq. State does this through cables, the official communications that Embassies send to Main State every day. Though "To SECSTATE" and signed "Khalilzad," its the cable is more realistically sent by the head of the Public Affairs section to the Iraq desk officer / office director at the State Department. It might be circulated among the office and read by the front office of the Assistant Secretary. Usually, cables of this nature don't make it up to the Secretary herself--with nearly 200 posts world-wide sending in several cables a day, there's no way she can read them all.

The folks in the the PA section in Iraq get this information from their own employees, that is to say, Iraqi civilians working for the US Government in Baghdad. All embassies use some local labor for non-sensitive administrative tasks. In the cable, you have the Embassy personnel relating the stories of how difficulty it is to live and work with Americans in Baghdad.

It's bad, and getting worse.

So, on the one hand, we can now claim that yes, the US government is fully aware of the situation in Baghdad, how bad it is, and that its own employees--those who work for the US and one would assume are about as pro-US as they come in Baghdad--are under constant threat because of their job.

On the other hand, had this cable not appeared in the Sunday Washington Post, reprinted in its entirety, to be read by everybody who is anybody here inside the Beltway, its doubtful that anyone above the Assistant Secretary level would have paid serious attention to the dispatch. It would have disappeared into the National Archives, to be discovered by some grad student with a FOIA and a dissertation about Iraq 20 years hence. Now, you can bet Tony Snow will get a question about it Monday (fearless prediction, lets see if I'm right!)

This gets at the complicated issue of how do organizations, such as State and the USG, really come to "know" about the world and issues toward which they make policy. Is it enough for one lone dissenter, in this case an FSO in the PA section of USEMB Baghdad with nothing better to do than talk to his/her office mates and write up that conversation in a 6-page memo, to yell into the wind that conditions in Iraq are quite bad? What scholarship shows us is that organizations build frames, operate within those frames, and ignore information outside those frames. In this case, the Administration continually frames the US as making progress in the essential and noble war in Iraq.

So, even though the government posseses a piece (or many pieces) of information that conditions in Iraq are quite poor, it still might not "know" what is actually going on over there.

crossposted at the Duck

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies.....

(I'm a blogging fiend in the past few days, but when you have material this good...)

So, for any of you who took the 206 class, you'll really love this.

Yesterday, Bush was operationalizing variables in a speech about Iraq:

On the other hand, I do think we'll be able to measure progress. You can measure progress in capacity of Iraqi units. You can measure progress in megawatts of electricity delivered. You can measure progress in terms of oil sold on the market on behalf of the Iraqi people.

How do you define and measure a conceptual issue? That's operationalizing your variables. In this case, how do we operationalize Progress In Iraq.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution weighs in on Bush's measurements and how he is measuring progress in this NPR story (audio link). You can look at O'Hanlon's Iraq Index here for greater details.

Who says opertationalizing variables isn't important!
Its very important!

Yet another reason why the 206 class is the most important one you'll ever take. 382 is the most fun, but 206 is important (and if you haven't yet taken it, you should).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

And Another Thing...

From such diverse sources as the Stratfor Daily Podcast (audio link) and The Daily Show: you fly 11 hours for a 5 hour meeting in Iraq....

When does Bush get to make an "announced" visit to Iraq?

Bush to Maliki: Hi, I'm with you, I'm so outta here.

(Rob Cordry says it much more eloquently...)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

President Bush made a surprise visit to Baghdad today.

For several days, the Administration had been promoting a "major" cabinet meeting to "hone" its post-Zarqawi Iraq strategy. Up at Camp David, Bush had all of his Cabinet and senior advisors either in attendence or hooked in via teleconference.

Well, lo and behold, on day 2, instead of having a teleconfrence with the new PM of the Iraqi Government, he drops into Baghdad (litterally, drops from the sky for 6 hours and then left) and meets with PM Maliki, Gen. Casey and Amb. Khalilzad and has the rest of his Cabinet, still back at Camp David (presumably still waiting for Bush to show up) on teleconference.

So, what to make of Bush's vist?

As with most major Foreign Policy issues, there is a very delicate 2-level game in play.

Domestically, support for the war has been in a free-fall, and Bush's own numbers approval numbers have followed all the way down-- prior to this week, Bush's approval rating was in the low 30's, historic low territory. People feel as if the war was a mistake, the US is lacking direction in Iraq, and that the occupation is failing, in part because we can't seem to put together a stable Iraqi government worth supporting. We might stand down when they stand up, but that line only works if you can sell the idea that Iraq will in fact one day stand up. Its telling that a majority of Congressional candidates are running against Bush and the war for the November elections.

Within Iraq, the administration is trying to support a new government and avoid a civil war and find some sort of exit pathway that allows for enough future stability to permit needed diplomatic and military focus on Iran and North Korea and Somalia and....

This week we had the convegence of two key events: the killing of Zarqawi and the completion of the Iraqi cabinet.

As just about everyone else has said, getting rid of Zarqawi eliminates a major source of agitation, but certainly does not solve the insurgency.

Obviously, its a PR move. It can't hurt (well, lets never say can't...), and if early returns are of any use, may have helped a little at home. But, trips like this can only have a limited PR value-- driven in part by the OPSEC necessary to protect the President traveling in a War Zone. Only 6 close aids knew of the trip beforehand, and reporters designated to tag along to cover the event were told to turn in all communications devices. Maliki didn't even know that Bush would be there until 5 minutes before the meeting. At a "normal" state visit, there are elaborate plans, speeches, photo-ops, and message-crafting. None of that could happen here. So, the PR is not what it could be, but at this point, its certainly better PR than what the Administration had been getting and grabs headlines worldwide.
There's probably a good paragraph or two to be written about public vs. private langauge. Maybe for a future post.

The larger PR boost, however, probably comes within Iraq and is linked to the potential political pay-off of the visit. The PM hopes to get a boost (and Bush certainly hopes to give him one) in two arenas. By meeting with the President of the USA, Maliki can show his legitimacy and all that. By standing up to the President--talking about withdrawal dates and such--he can make all the legitimation moves with his various constituencies Patrick is so fond of writing about.
Aside from the PR boost with the public, the visit hopefully gives Maliki a political boost with his own government.

With this visit, Bush and Maliki are now joined at the hip, with each having an undue influence on the future of the other. Maliki needs the US to secure and rebuild his country, and also needs appropriate political cooperation to establish a functional Iraqi government. Bush needs the same thing. If either fails, both probably go down together.

It certainly provides those who want to support the Administration with an opportunity to make a solid argument in favor of optimism in Iraq. This could be a turning point, but we've "turned the corner" in Iraq before.

The PR and shows of support are no substitue for the long, hard, dirty work of putting the promises made at this meeting into practice. And, unfortunately, this is where both the Bush Administration and nacent Iraqi government have a track record that has turned so many corners as to be walking around in circles.

cross posted at the Duck

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel
(cross posted at the Duck)

Bush today, speaking in Nebraska on immigration:

This is a tough debate for America, it really is. It's a tough debate because it's one in which the language can sometimes send the wrong signals about what we're about. People are very emotional about this issue. And my admonition to people who are concerned about the immigration debate is to remember that language can send signals about who we are as a nation. That harsh, ugly rhetoric on the debate tends to divide our country. It tends to forget the values that have made us great.

Language sends signals....

So what kind of signals has Bush been sending about the War On Terrorism / War in Iraq?

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

History has called us into action, and this nation is responding. You've got to understand my mind set and what we think. We've got to act on behalf of the little ones. We've got to secure the world and this civilization as we know it from these evil people. We just have to do this.

This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.

[T]he best way to defend America is to stay on the offense. The best way to protect you is to rally all the strength of national government -- intelligence and military and law enforcement and financial strength -- to stay on the offense against an enemy that I believe wants to hurt us again. And that means find them where they hide, and keep the pressure on, and never relent, and understand that you can't negotiate with these folks, there is no compromise, there is no middle ground. And so that's exactly what we're doing.

There are some that feel like if they attack us that we may decide to leave prematurely. They don't understand what they are talking about if that is the case. Let me finish. There are some who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on.

This country will not rest, we will not tire, we will not stop until this danger to civilization is removed.

[L]et me say something: the United States government has an obligation to protect the American people. It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way. And we will do so within the law, and we will do so in honoring our commitment not to torture people. And we expect the countries where we send somebody to, not to torture, as well. But you bet, when we find somebody who might do harm to the American people, we will detain them and ask others from their country of origin to detain them. It makes sense. The American people expect us to do that. We -- we still at war.

One of my -- I've said this before to you, I'm going to say it again, one of my concerns after September the 11th is the farther away we got from September the 11th, the more relaxed we would all become and assume that there wasn't an enemy out there ready to hit us. And I just can't let the American people -- I'm not going to let them down by assuming that the enemy is not going to hit us again. We're going to do everything we can to protect us. And we've got guidelines. We've got law. But you bet, Mark, we're going to find people before they harm us.

This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table.

So, again, what sort of signals does this language send?

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Monday, June 05, 2006

I've got a new gig: I've joined the group blog The Duck of Minerva.

I'm of course still going to keep up this site, but I may cross-post things from time to time.

Check it out, its a really good blog, and I'm excited to join it!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I run, I ran, I raq

In a major policy shift yesterday, the Bush administration announced that it would offer to join talks with Iran over Iran's nuclear program. This is a rather big deal for the administration on two fronts. First, in the historic context, its the first real, formal (if you don't count the secret and illegal Iran-contra arms for hostages deals of the 1980's) offer of diplomatic contact between the US and Iran since 1979. Second, it marks a significant turn from the Administration's policy of confrontation over Iran's nuclear program. World opinion on this offer is mixed over the offer's sincerity, but regardless, it tells us something interesting about the Bush Administration and US non-proliferation policy.

Very interesting is the NYT analysis of this move, calling it a "last resort." David Sanger writes:

During the past month, according to European officials and some current and former members of the Bush administration, it became obvious to Mr. Bush that he could not hope to hold together a fractious coalition of nations to enforce sanctions — or consider military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites — unless he first showed a willingness to engage Iran's leadership directly over its nuclear program and exhaust every nonmilitary option.

Few of his aides expect that Iran's leaders will meet Mr. Bush's main condition: that Iran first re-suspend all of its nuclear activities, including shutting down every centrifuge that could add to its small stockpile of enriched uranium. Administration officials characterized their offer as a test of whether the Iranians want engagement with the West more than they want the option to build a nuclear bomb some day.

And while the Europeans and the Japanese said they were elated by Mr. Bush's turnaround, some participants in the drawn-out nuclear drama questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence.

Bush was between the proverbial rock and hard place. Alone, the US couldn't do anything--military strikes are off the table because the military is so bogged down in Iraq and its hard for us to isolate Iran any more-- we haven't had any contact and have imposed sanctions on them and frozen all Iranian assets in the US since 1979. So, the US must rely on the Europeans and Japanese, who buy Iran's oil, to act as the stick. Easier said than done.

"Cheney was dead set against it," said one former official who sat in many of those meetings. "At its heart, this was an argument about whether you could isolate the Iranians enough to force some kind of regime change." But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside — perhaps because they read Mr. Bush's body language, or perhaps because they believed Iran would scuttle the effort by insisting that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty gives it the right to develop nuclear fuel. The United States insists that Iran gave up that right by deceiving inspectors for 18 years.

In the end, said one former official who has kept close tabs on the debate, "it came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box" of trying talks.

This is no surprise, Cheney is long known to be in the Regime Change camp. The question that our international partners, let alone Iran, all have: are we serious, are we seriously willing to cut a deal, or is this all just a show, to check that box so we can then proceed with sanctions and open up a military option? As a result:

Yet skepticism abounds. "It's true that the conditions are significantly different than they were four or five years ago, but candidly they are not as favorable now for the United States," said Richard Haass, who as the head of the State Department's policy planning operation during Mr. Bush's first term was a major advocate of engagement with Iran.

First, the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinijad, "has vowed that the country will never back down on enriching uranium.

"Oil's at $70 a barrel instead of $20, said Mr. Haass, now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "And we are bogged down in Iraq," where the United States is vulnerable to Iranian efforts to worsen the violence and arm the insurgents.

Go figure. Who's in the driver's seat here, them or us? Worst case scenario--both Bush and Ahmadinijad think they are driving, producing a dangerous game of nuclear proliferation chicken. That never ends well.

And, of course, this stuff doesn't occur in a vaccuum. Bush has made confronting "Evil" states a centerpiece of his administration, and the "Evil" states have learned a valuable lesson from this.

But the internal debates in the White House included vigorous discussion of the risks associated with any effort to negotiate with foes suspected of seeking nuclear weapons. And in this, Mr. Bush already has bitter experience.

In its dealings with North Korea, which Mr. Bush branded a member of the "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq, the administration also decided a few years ago to try limited engagement, locked arm-in-arm with neighboring nations.

But North Korea has kept making weapons fuel, and the allies have not stayed united: China and South Korea continue to aid the North. The Iranians have doubtless noticed.

Get your nuke first, then enter a stand-off with the US. Then use the leverage it gives you to extract a better bargin with either the US or its allies. Indeed, the Iranians have noticed.

They'll talk, but they won't stop making nuclear fuel.

Who blinks first on this one?

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