Friday, November 21, 2008

All Apologies

I just wanted to apologize for the lack of posting over the last two weeks. My book Restoring the Balance: War Powers in an Age of Terror is due to the publisher (the good people of Praeger Press) on Dec. 1. I'm polishing the conclusion now, then will spend the next few days going over the whole manuscript with a fine-toothed comb.

I hope to resume posting, and regular posting at that, shortly. Thanks for sticking around and for reading Security Dilemmas.

As always, suggestions as to posting topics are always appreciated.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama, the Guantanamo Detainees, and the Limits of Power

The Associated Press is reporting that President-elect Obama is planning on closing the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and moving most of the prisoners currently held there to the US for trial in the civilian justice system. On face, such a move would square with campaign promises made by Obama, and holds out the prospect of ending one of the primary causes in the global increase in anti-Americanism.

Unfortunately, and not suprisingly, the picture is much more complicated than this. Closing Guantanamo may bring an end to a symbol, but closing the base in and of itself doesn't do anything to resolve the fates of the hundreds of prisoners inside. Obama plans to release many of least-problematic detainees, and to move many of the others inside of the US and subject them to criminal prosecution in the civilian courts.

But what about the most dangerous? According to the AP, "A third group of detainees — the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information — might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks. Advisers participating directly in the planning spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren't final."

I have no problem with creating a special terrorism court, parallel to the regualar civilian courts, that would be empowered to hear special cases involving highly classified material and using different evidentiary rules. But make no mistake about it. These courts would be more like military tribunals than like "regular" courts. The ACLU and other opponents have already voiced their opposition to Obama's plan:
"I think that creating a new alternative court system in response to the abject failure of Guantanamo would be a profound mistake," said Jonathan Hafetz, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represents detainees. "We do not need a new court system. The last eight years are a testament to the problems of trying to create
new systems."

The tougher challenge will be allaying fears by Democrats who believe the Bush administration's military commissions were a farce and dislike the idea of giving detainees anything less than the full constitutional rights normally enjoyed by everyone on U.S. soil.

"There would be concern about establishing a completely new system," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Judiciary Committee and former federal prosecutor who is aware of the discussions in the Obama camp. "And in the sense that establishing a regimen of detention that includes American citizens and foreign nationals that takes place on U.S. soil and departs from the criminal justice system — trying to establish that would be very difficult."

But for the most dangerous detainees, the civilian legal system is not an appropriate venue for trials. "Prosecuting all detainees in federal courts raises a host of problems. Evidence gathered through military interrogation or from intelligence sources might be thrown out. Defendants would have the right to confront witnesses, meaning undercover CIA officers or terrorist turncoats might have to take the stand, jeopardizing their cover and revealing classified intelligence tactics." In addition to these problems, evidence seized on battlefields is not likely to have been treated in a manner consistent with civilian evidentiary standards. Hearsay and other probative value evidence might be needed, and the rights due the detained upon capture -- Miranda rights, access to a lawyer -- are different due to the military nature of their detention.

Obama's approach is an eminently sensible one, but it highlights the limits of presidential power. Supporters of Obama like the ACLU are going to be disappointed when President Obama continues to take the war on terror seriously, rather than simply dismantling everything the Bush administration has done. While the Bush policies were wrong in their implementation, they were right in their general direction: the war on terror is not one that can be fought entirely with the tools of the criminal justice system. The threat posed to the nation by terrorists is entirely different than the threat posed by "regular" criminals, as are the rights due to them. President Obama already recognizes this, and while his plan may be better as respecting basic rights than Bush's, it still treats the war on terror as a war in which the rules must be different. Obama may not be Bush, but he will be the President of the United States, and anyone who expects him to simply be Obama and to "do the right thing" is going to be seriously disappointed.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Grading the Bush Doctrine, Pt. 2

Continuing from my last post, let us keep analyzing Tom Engelhardt's analysis of the outcomes of the application of the Bush Doctrine.

3. Pakistan: At the time of the invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration threw its support behind General Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator of relatively stable, nuclear-armed Pakistan. In the ensuing years, the US transferred at least $10 billion, mainly to the general's military associates, to fight the "war on terror". (Most of the money went elsewhere.) Seven years later, Musharraf has fallen ingloriously, while the country has reportedly turned strongly anti-American - only 19% of Pakistanis in a recent BBC poll had a negative view of al-Qaeda - is on the verge of a financial meltdown, and has been strikingly destabilized, with its tribal regions at least partially in the hands of a Pakistani version of the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda and foreign jihadis. That region is also now a relatively safe haven for the Afghan Taliban. American planes and drones attack in these areas ever more regularly, causing civilian casualties and more anti-Americanism, as the US edges toward its third real war in the region.
Result: Extremism promoted, destabilization in progress. Grade: F
The situation in Pakistan is exceedingly complicated, and Engelhardt's analysis is far too simplistic. Only 19% of Pakistanis have a negative view of al Qaeda...but so what? What makes that a relevant metric of anything? Is the other 81% supporting al Qaeda in any way? It's true that al Qaeda and the Taliban have been regrouping the mountainous regions along the Afghan border and that US airstrikes have provoked anti-Americanism. But those airstrikes have also forced Pakistan to act more forefully against al Qaeda. More specifically, Pakistan has begun adopting an Iraq-style strategy of bringing local tribesmen into the fight, using them against the guerrilla elements. Musharraf has been removed from power, and while Pakistan is far from a liberal democracy, there are signs that the government is establishing stronger civilian control over the military. I'd say a grade of C- is much more appropriate here.

4. Iraq: In March 2003, with a shock-and-awe air campaign and 130,000 troops, the Bush administration launched its long-desired invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, officially in search of (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad fell to American troops in April and Bush declared "major combat operations ... ended" from the deck of a US aircraft carrier against a "Mission Accomplished" banner on May 1. Within four months, according to administration projections, there were to be only 30,000 to 40,000 American troops left in the country, stationed at bases outside Iraq's cities, in a peaceful (occupied) land with a "democratic," non-sectarian, pro-American government in formation. In the intervening five-plus years, perhaps one million Iraqis died, up to five million went into internal or external exile, a fierce insurgency blew up, an even fiercer sectarian war took place, more than 4,000 Americans died, hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars were spent on a war that led to chaos and on "reconstruction" that reconstructed nothing.

There are still close to 150,000 American troops in the country and American military leaders are cautioning against withdrawing many more of them any time soon. Filled with killing fields and barely hanging together, Iraq is - despite recently lowered levels of violence - still among the more dangerous environments on the planet, while a largely Shi'ite government in Baghdad has grown ever closer to Shi'ite Iran. Thanks to the president's "surge strategy" of 2007, this state of affairs is often described here as a "success".
Result: Mission unaccomplished. Grade: F
Absolutely absurd and blinkered. As the Iraq Study Group made clear in its final report, while Iraq may not have had any actual WMD at the time of the invasion, Iraq was maintaining the capability to start its WMD program up once sanctions ended. And at the time of the invasion there was every indiciation that those sanctions were crumbling. At a minimum, the US invasion removed the inevitablility of an eventual Iraqi CBW capability. Of course, the administration did a terrible job of planning for the occupation-phase of the war. But, the US stuck to its guns, implementing the surge which was brought improved levels of stability to the country. Al Qaeda has suffered mightily in Iraq, and as a result has been forced to reconstitute its centralized organizational structure in Pakistan (which is a good thing for counter-terror efforts). The political process is proceeding and the longer it advances that more it will coalesce. Engelhardt's failure to recognize this in any way totally undermines his argument. At the moment, I would give a C- (again, I know) grade.

5. Iran: In his January 2002 State of the Union address, Bush dubbed Iran part of an "axis of evil" (along with Iraq and North Korea), attaching a shock-and-awe bull's-eye to that nation ruled by Islamic fundamentalists. (A neo-con quip of that time was: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.") In later years, Bush warned repeatedly that the US would not allow Iran to move toward the possession of a nuclear weapons program and his administration would indeed take numerous steps, ranging from sanctions to the funding of covert actions, to destabilize the country's ruling regime. More than six years after his "axis of evil" speech, and endless administration threats and bluster later, Iran is regionally resurgent, the most powerful foreign influence in Shi'ite Iraq, and continuing on a path toward that nuclear power program which, it claims, is purely peaceful, but could, of course, prove otherwise.
Result: Strengthened Iran. Grade: F
Here, Engelhardt is more or less right. The toppling of Hussein has had two direct effects on Iran: By removing Iraq as a balancing counterweight, Iran has been freed up to act and Iran has become more intent on developing nuclear weapons. Nothing that has been tried -- the EU-3, sanctions, pressure -- has worked. Perhaps President-elect Obama's bent towards negotiations will alter the current stalemate, but Iran seems determined to develop NW. For once, I agree with Engelhardt's grade: F.

That's it for today. Next time, I'll consider Lebanon, Gaza, Somalia, and Georgia.