Last week I posted a commentary that focused on Ken Pollack's recent article on pressuring Iran. My opening observation was that the article deserves attention, especially for clearly laying out some of the most important reasons that a military attack on Iran in the name of setting back the nuclear program would be a big mistake. I went on to make some other observations that were more critical of the article—specifically, for giving far less attention to some other aspects of trying to influence Iranian behavior than to strengthening pressures on the regime. I also commented that this disparity in attention reflected the prevailing overall discourse in the United States about policy toward Iran.
The leaking mill known as WikiLeaks, evidently trying to outdo itself after releasing in July some 92,000 classified documents from the war in Afghanistan, has made a dump of nearly 400,000 similarly classified documents from the Iraq War. Forgive me for not wading through this material myself; I will rely on the summaries from those news organizations who were given the material in advance so they could do the wading for us. What has been summarized so far is hardly the stuff either of big-headline news stories or of public enlightenment. One is left to wonder about the motivations of the original leaker or leakers. One can also wonder about the motivation of WikiLeaks, although it is clear that the organization at least gets publicity. Maybe it will also make it into the Guinness book as the current holder of the record for the largest compromise of U.S. national security information ever.
The very lack of newsworthiness in the material makes it easy to think that such leaking is at worst an innocuous exercise. It is not. The sheer volume of the material being compromised makes it highly likely that the compromise entails at least some increased danger to military operations and to the personnel still conducting those operations in the war zones in question, just as Pentagon officials have said it does. But that sort of direct harm is not the only type of damage. There also are several indirect costs, which come not only from the WikiLeaks style of leaking-by-the-truckload but also from smaller disclosures of classified information, each one of which contributes to a climate in which still more leaks are expected.
Former–Czech President Václav Havel and South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu join forces in Friday's Washington Post to defend jailed Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo (Havel and Tutu are the honorary co-chairs of the organization that represents Liu as his international legal counsel). Writing from experience, they say, "We have seen this before: in the dark days of apartheid, under the long shadow of the Iron Curtain." All Liu asked for, the author claim, was for Beijing to "honor rights enshrined in the Chinese Constitution."
Havel and Tutu declare that Liu's prize should not have been "a moment of shame or insult" but one "of pride"—and China can still seize the opportunity to turn things around. Rejecting the idea that awarding a Chinese citizen the peace prize is part of the long list of wrongs China has suffered at the hands of the West (for more on that, check out Pierce Brendon's article in the latest issue of TNI), they call on the People's Republic to "show the world that it has the confidence to face criticism and embrace change." (Havel and Tutu also make the perhaps-imprecise assertion that the Middle Kingdom is looked upon today "more than at any other time in history" as a world leader.)
Not so long ago, Afghan President Hamid Karzai banned the operation of private security companies from operating in his country. Washington expected him to amend the decree, but so far, no movement. Which means many companies and aid organizations in Afghanistan that rely on private security companies for protection are packing up. Development projects are key to General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy, and officials are preparing for long talks with the Karzai government to try to come to some sort of agreement.
Juan Williams should be grateful to National Public Radio for firing him and allowing him to snag a two-year, $2 million contract from Fox News. Williams deserves it. He is one of the most reasonable and fair-minded commentators on the air.
Ostensibly, NPR terminated his contract for his comments about him gettin' the willies when he sees Muslims flying on airplanes. It was a foolish thing to say. But in no way did it rise to the level of a firing offense. As the Washington Post editorialized, the imbroglio is reminiscent of the Obama's administration's rush to fire Shirley Sherrod. Dumping Williams, in short, is a case of political correctness run amok.
In many ways, though, the affair isn't about Williams. It's about the overblown fear of Muslims and the hypertrophied war on terror that the Bush administration inaugurated after September 11. The administration, which had ignored the threat until September 11, preferring to concentrate on toys like missile defense, promptly proceeded to hype it. Now that President Obama, supposedly a Muslim in mufti, is in office fears of the Muslim "threat" have risen exponentially, as the flap over the so-called mosque, which wasn't a mosque at all but, rather, a community center, in New York demonstrated.
Whatever is your opinion about the issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians, you have to give the Palestinians credit for having hit upon a clever idea to inject into the current impasse. That idea, currently a subject of discussion among Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, is to appeal to international bodies for some kind of affirmation of Palestine as a state on land Israel conquered in the 1967 war. The reactions to this idea, even though it is still just a proposal (apart from an argument already being made to the International Court of Justice that the Palestinian Authority has enough of the attributes of a state to have standing to bring cases before the court), show that the Palestinians have hit a weak spot, or at least a sore one.
Any such affirmation would not bring the Palestinians materially closer to real statehood. The goal of Palestinian statehood has repeatedly been affirmed and supported internationally, and has even been accepted—reluctantly—by the current Israeli government as supposedly an objective of U.S.-sponsored negotiations. So another affirmation almost seems superfluous. And an affirmation would not bring the Palestinians one inch closer to an actual sovereign state on the ground, where the determinative factor is continued Israeli military control of the West Bank supplemented by the daily creation of still more facts on the ground in the form of expanded Israeli settlements.
It seems everyone has something to say about National Public Radio terminating analyst Juan Williams's contract after his controversial remarks on Monday's O'Reilly Factor regarding Muslims on airplanes. The last topic to spark this much debate in the blogosphere was . . . well, Muslims (the whole mosque-near-ground-zero thing. Or the Marty Peretz debacle). You can get a sense of how Ian Buruma might react to the whole thing by reading his timely article on the defense of liberalism in the latest issue of The National Interest.
What Williams said was that he gets nervous when he sees "people in Muslim garb" on an airplane because they identify "themselves first and foremost as Muslims." For its part, NPR says his comments "undermined his credibility as a news analyst."
Jeffrey Goldberg disagrees both with Williams's statements and NPR's action. He finds a problem with the "Inquisition-like state of journalism" where anything "deemed offensive to Jews and Muslims in particular is considered immediate grounds for firing," which only provides "the extreme right . . . with another free speech martyr."
In the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) Max Boot laments that British Prime Minister David Cameron has chosen to cut the UK's defense budget by 8 percent. The cuts, documented here and here, affect the British military across the board.
I won't go into the details of Cameron's cuts here. I think many of the reductions make sense, though I question the direction that the Brits seem to be going with carriers (continuing to build two without plans to use them); I predict that the future of naval aviation will be built around smaller ships launching unmanned and remotely piloted vehicles. But that is a discussion for another time.
Of greater interest here is Boot's reaction, and the likely reaction of his "Defending Defense" fellow travelers. Just as the Heritage Foundation's Jim Carafano did on Monday, Boot closes with a warning to fiscal conservatives who believe that all forms of government spending are a legitimate target for deficit reduction:
Yesterday was a big day for Pakistan. President Obama had his monthly meeting with his national-security team that touched on counterinsurgency strategy and cooperation with Pakistan to fight extremists. That sitdown led up to the kickoff of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue. A Pakistani delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is in Washington for three days of talks. The focus will be on the oftentimes-tense relationship between the two countries and how they can better work together. On the U.S. side, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, incoming Ambassador to Paksitan Cameron Munter and others will be part of the discussions.
The face-to-face between Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Gates, Mullen and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michelle Flournoy focused on the longer term, according to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. Gates said to Kayani he was hoping to move the relationship “beyond the day-to-day ups and downs that it has historically experienced.”
Imagine a conservative leader who slashed spending across the board, ranging from social outlays to the military. It would raise howls of indignation on both the American left and right. But that's what Prime Minister David Cameron is doing in England--proposing a sweeping austerity program designed to put the island nation back on a firm financial footing.
Given that American neoconservatives have been calling for Europe to up its defense outlays, Cameron's action is coming as something of a shock in America. Max Boot complains, in the Wall Street Journal, that "the days of British military power appear to be ending--with the obituary written, ironically, by a Tory-dominated government supposedly dedicated to a strong defense." Actually, British observers themselves are taking a somewhat different view. In Foreign Policy, Alistair Burnett observes,
Nuclear weapons or not, it seems clear Britain intends to remain a useful ally to the United States and its NATO partners, with a renewed attempt to work more closely with the French.
What remains open to question is how that power will be used in the future. Cameron also signaled that Britain would be less interested in large-scale military interventions along Iraqi or Afghan lines, and instead would focus more on using diplomacy and aid to prevent conflicts from breaking out in the first place. It's just as well: That might be all a cash-strapped Britain may be capable of doing anymore.