Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hillary Clinton Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

In the wake of this past weekend's spat between former President Bill Clinton and Fox News guy Chris Wallace, Senator Hillary Clinton has waded into the fray in defense of her husband. In Senator Clinton's words:

I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team.
So, in Hillary's world, if only President Clinton had been handed a formal report, he would have taken action against al Qaeda and bin Laden. Alas, there was no such report given to Clinton. Were there other indications that, perhaps, al Qaeda was a threat to be taken more seriously? Today's Wall Street Journal provides a useful list of such indications:

Some 38 days after he was sworn in, al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center. He did not visit the twin towers that year, even though four days after the attack he was just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, talking about job training. He made no attempt to rally the public against terrorism. His only public speech on the bombing was a few paragraphs inserted into a radio address mostly devoted an economic stimulus package. Those stray paragraphs were limited to reassuring the public and thanking the rescuers, the kinds of things governors say after hurricanes. He did not even vow to bring the bombers to justice. Instead, he turned the first terrorist attack on American soil over to the FBI....

• In 1994, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (who would later plan the 9/11 attacks) launched "Operation Bojinka" to down 11 U.S. planes simultaneously over the Pacific. A sharp-eyed Filipina police officer foiled the plot. The sole American response: increased law-enforcement cooperation with the Philippines.

• In 1995, al Qaeda detonated a 220-pound car bomb outside the Office of Program Manager in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing five Americans and wounding 60 more. The FBI was sent in.

• In 1996, al Qaeda bombed the barracks of American pilots patrolling the "no-fly zones" over Iraq, killing 19. Again, the FBI responded.

• In 1997, al Qaeda consolidated its position in Afghanistan and bin Laden repeatedly declared war on the U.S. In February, bin Laden told an Arab TV network: "If someone can kill an American soldier, it is better than wasting time on other matters." No response from the Clinton administration.

• In 1998, al Qaeda simultaneously bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224, including 12 U.S. diplomats. Mr. Clinton ordered cruise-missile strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan in response. Here Mr. Clinton's critics are wrong: The president was right to retaliate when America was attacked, irrespective of the Monica Lewinsky case.

Still, "Operation Infinite Reach" was weakened by Clintonian compromise. The State Department feared that Pakistan might spot the American missiles in its air space and misinterpret it as an Indian attack. So Mr. Clinton told Gen. Joe Ralston, vice chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, to notify Pakistan's army minutes before the Tomahawks passed over Pakistan. Given Pakistan's links to jihadis at the time, it is not surprising that bin Laden was tipped off, fleeing some 45 minutes before the missiles arrived.

• In 1999, the Clinton administration disrupted al Qaeda's Millennium plots, a series of bombings stretching from Amman to Los Angeles. This shining success was mostly the work of Richard Clarke, a NSC senior director who forced agencies to work together. But the Millennium approach was shortlived. Over Mr. Clarke's objections, policy reverted to the status quo.

• In January 2000, al Qaeda tried and failed to attack the U.S.S. The Sullivans off Yemen. (Their boat sank before they could reach their target.) But in October 2000, an al Qaeda bomb ripped a hole in the hull of the U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 sailors and wounding another 39.

When Mr. Clarke presented a plan to launch a massive cruise missile strike on al Qaeda and Taliban facilities in Afghanistan, the Clinton cabinet voted against it. After the meeting, a State Department counterterrorism official, Michael Sheehan, sought out Mr. Clarke. Both told me that they were stunned. Mr. Sheehan asked Mr. Clarke: "What's it going to take to get them to hit al Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon?"

Furthermore, according to the Washington Post article cited above:
Some of Clinton's statements on Fox have drawn scrutiny. He said that after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, "I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan." The Sept. 11 commission, though, found no plans for an invasion of Afghanistan or for an operation to topple the Taliban, just more limited options such as plans for attacks with cruise missiles or Special Forces. And nothing in the panel's report indicated that a lack of basing rights in Uzbekistan prevented a military response.

Clinton also asserted that the Bush administration "didn't have a single meeting about bin Laden for the nine months after I left office." In fact, the Bush team held several meetings on terrorism through the interagency group known as the deputies committee and one on Sept. 4, 2001, through the principals committee composed of Cabinet officers. What Clinton may have been referring to was counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's frustration that the principals disregarded his urgent calls to meet sooner because of a months-long policy review.

Now it's true that, despite Condoleezza Rice's claim to the contrary, Clarke did present the incoming Bush Administration with a plan to deal with al Qaeda. Nonetheless, despite these protestations to the contrary, Clinton's inattention to the rising threat of al Qaeda is clear.

I have long argued the 9/11 represented a failure of US deterrence. The unwillingness of the US to respond to a long string of terror attacks against American interests led al Qaeda to believe that it could strike the US with at best impunity and at worst a limited response. It's hard to imagine that if bin Laden and al Qaeda had anticipated the consequences of the American response to 9/11, in particular the destruction of their quasi-state in Afghanistan, the ripping of their financial networks and the relentless hunting of their leaders, they would have carried out the attack.

President Bush rightly and necessarily comes under scrutiny and criticism for his policies in dealing with international terrorism. President Clinton's policies deserve the same.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bill Clinton Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks.

Over the weekend, former president Bill Clinton got into a unseemly and very unpresidential on-air tiff with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. The subject: Clinton's handling of al Qaeda during his administration. In response to the question "Did you do enough to connect the dots and go after al Qaeda," Clinton argued that "We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since." Clinton went on to claim that "I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get bin Laden. I regret it, but I did try and I did everything I thought I responsibly could."

From everything I know about this, Clinton is here at best putting positive spin on the events in question and at worst commiting an outright lie to bolster his presidency. In his defense, Clinton referred to Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, written by Richard Clarke, the former White House head of counter-terror efforts under Clinton. However, as Byron York points out, Clarke's book pretty much supports the conventional wisdom: that the Clinton Administration passed on several chances to either apprehend or kill bin Laden during the 1990s. Quoting from York:

Judging by Clarke’s sympathetic account — as well as by the sympathetic accounts of other former Clinton aides like Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon — it’s not quite accurate to say that Clinton tried to kill bin Laden. Rather, he tried to convince — as opposed to, say, order — U.S. military and intelligence agencies to kill bin Laden. And when, on a number of occasions, those agencies refused to act, Clinton, the commander-in-chief, gave up. Clinton did not give up in the sense of an executive who gives an order and then moves on to other things, thinking the order is being carried out when in fact it is being ignored. Instead, Clinton knew at the time that his top military and intelligence officials were dragging their feet on going after bin Laden and al Qaeda. He gave up rather than use his authority to force them into action....

On page 223, Clarke describes a meeting, in late 2000, of the National Security Council “principals” — among them, the heads of the CIA, the FBI, the Attorney General, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the secretaries of State, Defense. It was just after al Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole. But neither the FBI nor the CIA would say that al Qaeda was behind the bombing, and there was little support for a retaliatory strike. Clarke quotes Mike Sheehan, a State Department official, saying in frustration, “What’s it going to take, Dick? Who the shit do they think attacked the Cole, fuckin’ Martians? The Pentagon brass won’t let Delta go get bin Laden. Hell they won’t even let the Air Force carpet bomb the place. Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon to get their attention?”...

So Clinton couldn’t get the job done. Why not? According to Clarke’s pro-Clinton view, the president was stymied by Republican opposition. “Weakened by continual political attack,” Clarke writes, “[Clinton] could not get the CIA, the Pentagon, and FBI to act sufficiently to deal with the threat.”...

But the bottom line is that Bill Clinton, the commander-in-chief, could not find the will to order the military into action against al Qaeda, and Bill Clinton, the head of the executive branch, could not find the will to order the CIA and FBI to act. No matter what the former president says on Fox, or anywhere else, that is his legacy in the war on terror.
York's argument supports the general argument of what is, in my view, the best book on the US's efforts to deal with al Qaeda in the 1990s, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll. Coll identifies several opportunities when the US had chances to deal with al Qaeda and bin Laden, and chose not to. For example, on p. 323, Coll details the question of whether Sudan offered to arrest bin Laden and hand him over to the US. While it's unclear if the offer was made, Coll is clear that it wasn't clear if the US would take bin Laden if the opportunity to arrest him existed. The problem: lack of evidence. Coll cites Sandy Berger as saying "he knew of no intelligence at the time showing that bin Laden had committed any crimes against Americans." Throughout the book, Coll highlights instances where insufficient attention, hestiation and confusion, or simple unwillingness meant that opportunities to arrest or kill bin Laden were passed up.

Does this mean that Clinton is, as his self-defense indicates he believes himself to be accused, to blame to some degree for 9/11? Not exactly. I believe Clinton is correct when he says that he tried to deal with bin Laden and did everything he believed he could reasonably do. But what Clinton can be blamed for is not recognizing the situation for what it was to become and not changing the nature of the dialogue within and without the American government. As president, it was incumbent on Clinton to move the country away from thinking about bin Laden, al Qaeda, and terrorism as a law enforcement problem. The US was attacked 4 times under Clinton's watch (the first WTC bombing, the US embassies in Africa, the Marine barracks in Saudi Arabia, and the USS Cole) and the American response consisted of a few arrests and the destruction of a pharmecuetical plant in Sudan and a few tents in Afghanistan. Clinton certainly did not willfully ignore the problem of Islamic terrorism, but he also did not recognize it for was it was, nor did he, in the words of York, order the military into action against al Qaeda or the CIA and FBI to act. Clinton's pathetic defensive response seems to indicate that he is well aware of this.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Mixed Messages in Palestine

In the wake of the announcement that Hamas and Fatah will form a unity government to lead the Palestinians comes a fair amount of confusion about whether the new government, and more specifically Hamas, will recognize Israel's right to exist and commit itself to pursuing a negotiated land-for-peace settlement rather than violence. Yesterday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from Fatah declared that the new unity government would recognize Israel. Abbas said that "I would like to reaffirm that any future Palestinian government will commit to all the agreements that the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority have committed to," agreements understood to include the mutual recognition documents signed in 1993 by Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. Furthermore:

These letters contain mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, renunciation of violence, and commitment to negotiations as the path toward reaching a permanent solution that will lead to the establishment of the independent state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. Any future government will commit to imposing security and order, to ending the phenomena of multiple militias, indiscipline and chaos and to the rule of law.

However, today Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas announced that he would neither recognize Israel nor head any government that did so. Haniyeh is seen as one of the more moderate leaders of Hamas, and his unwillingness to commit to Abbas' government harkens to problems as the Palestinians try to create the unity government. Fatah has been trying to figure out a way in which Hamas can participate and tacitly recognize Israel without being forced to publicly announce the change, for example by accepting the mutual recognition documents as part of the government but not in its party platforms. It is unlikely that Israel, and more importantly for the purposes of ending the isolation of the Palestinian government and re-opening the money taps, the US, would accept such vague language.

However, this would be a mistake. If Hamas is boxed in to a corner where its only choice to recognize Israel and thereby alienate its popular support, it may not be willing to do so. What is more important is that Hamas commit itself to pursuing peaceful negotiations and cracking down on renegade militias. As I noted in a previous post, Israel and the US need to develop clear guidelines for what kind of behavior will and will not be tolerated from a Palestinian government. If Hamas can demonstrate the ability and willingness to control its gunmen and a consolidation of power in the hands of the government and away from the militias (including itself), it should be accepted as the legitimate governor of Palestine and as a real negotiating partner, regardless of whether it can say the words of recognition.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Global Gun Ban?

An article appeared in yesterday's New York Times Magazine about the growing international profile and role of the National Rifle Association, discussing the organization's involvement in beating back a challenge to gun-ownership in Brazil. The article is more about the internationalization of the NRA than supportive of any particular position on gun rights, but it got me thinking about the (inevitable) backlash against the NRA and the international pro-gun lobby. The UN just recently convened a conference on the international trade of small arms and there has been a strong push to ban the sale and trade of small and light arms, the availability and affordability of which are blamed for fueling and spreading conflict around the world. But would a global gun ban be a good idea?

Stemming the flood of small arms on the global market may indeed have the effect of reducing some conflict, such as those in Africa between rebel groups that could find it difficult to continue their struggle in the absence of cheap and readily available weapons. But, there are plenty of easily identifiable unintended consequences as well. While warring rebel groups may find their capacity to commit violence lowered, so would groups struggling to protect themselves against brutal governments be less capable of resisting. Governments have ways of acquiring weapons (making gun themselves, for example) that are not always available to non-state actors. Let us not forget the disastrous consequences of the "neutral" arms embargo placed on the warring parties of the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s. Serbia, which was in possession of the vast majority of the former Yugoslavian Army, was in a much stronger position that Bosnia, which was unable to procure weapons to defend itself, thanks to the UN (which then compounded the problem by failing to live up to its offers of protection).

What about the victims of genocide? Wouldn't the poor Tutsis of Rwanda or those currently living in Darfur be better off if they could procure weapons and defend themselves? The international community isn't going to help them, and the governments trying to slaughter them are much better armed (or at least in the case of Rwanda, better organized). It's easy, living in a stable, modern world to forget the reasons why gun ownership can be vitally important as a tool of the weak to defend their rights against the powerful. So unless the UN and the rest of the international community is willing to defend those that cannot defend themselves against their brutal governments, there should be no global ban on small arms. Limiting the ability of governments to arms themselves may be a good thing; limiting the ability of peoples to do the same will likely have disastrous consequences.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Using Common Sense in Homeland Security

On Tuesday, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told a Senate committee hearing what any half-way intelligent analyst already knew: that the United States can not afford to protect every possible target from terrorism. Mr. Chertoff used the example of highway safety, noting that “I put my daughter in my car. If I wanted my daughter to be 100 percent safe, I’d put a five-mile-an-hour speed limit cap on the car. [But that is not an option] because that’s more safety than we can afford.”

This is true. Increased security always comes at a price. Sometimes that price is financial, sometimes it is paid in civil liberties, but there is always a price. The government needs to be more sensitive to those prices when determining how to best protect the country.

However, Chertoff didn't go quite far enough. His comments were directly primarily at government as the payer of the costs of security. But other agents pay as well. Banning liquids on planes, for example, not only imposed increased screening costs on TSA and DHS, but slowed down the speed of business and made people's flights uncomfortable. All are costs that must considered. In order to really determine whether the benefit of increasing security is worth the cost, Homeland Security must not only consider the financial burden to the nation, but also the price paid by other actors.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Progress in Palestine?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced a deal with Hamas whereby the rival parties will cooperate in a unity government, and negotiations are underway to dissolve the existing Hamas-led government and replace it with a coalition cabinet. it is expected that Hamas will keep the prime ministry, with Fatah keeping the presidency with Abbas, and other cabinet positions being divided between the two. The deal is designed to end the international isolation of the Palestinian government imposed since the electoral victory by Hamas back in January that has cost the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars and made it impossible for the government to pay the salaries of its employees. According to the Washington Post:
Details of the agreement mark the first time Hamas has tacitly endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not explicitly the Jewish state's right to exist. Hamas and Fatah announced a tentative agreement several months ago, but it was never officially signed because of the tumult of an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip following the June 25 capture of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit by gunmen from Hamas's military wing.
This is certainly good news, but it is not yet reason to celebrate or re-open the money faucets. The appropriate metric of Palestinian willingness to participate in the negotiated peace process is not whether Hamas is able to share power, but whether the Palestinian government as a whole is willing and (more or less) able to crack down on extra-governmental militias. As Lebanon learned the hard way, a government cannot function if it does not enjoy a monopoly of violence within its own borders. For far too long, both Fatah and Hamas have been unwilling to subordinate their own militias and fighters to the central government. Each has been unwilling to disarm the fighters of rival groups. Thus, even when one party is negotating in good faith, it cannot control what the other groups are doing, giving small militia groups an effective veto over the negotiations.

If the Palestinian government is to be regarded as legitimate and resume receiving international aid, it must move towards unifying the various armed groups operating in the West Bank and Gaza. This is not to say that it must be capable to preventing any and all armed attacks against Israel. However, the government cannot continue to extend one hand in peace while pretending not to know the other hand is throwing a bomb. Israel and the US should immediately work with the new unity government to develop clear metrics and guidelines to determine how successful the Palestinians are at gaining control of their fractured society and political operators.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What I Do and Don't Know About Global Warming

While I may technically be a scientist (a political scientist, that is), I don't really know anything about real science. I took the two-year sequence of science for non-majors at the University of Chicago, and my wife has an MA in chemistry from Cal Tech, but that's about it.

So, when it comes to global warming, I don't have much to say. I can't make heads or tails of climate models, I don't understand the physics and chemistry behind the theories, and I certainly don't know enough to agree or disagree with the arguments bandied around.

What I do know, however, is to be skeptical when anyone, anywhere, tells me that there is no more dispute over an issue. So, when I hear people telling me that the dire predictions are no longer contested, or are settled science, I tend to resist joining the bandwagon.

For example, in a recent issue of Discover magazine to which I subscribe to bolster my meager scientific knowledge (although, unfortunately, I no longer have the issue so I don't know which one it is for linking purposes) I read an article from the editors about how there was no longer any debate about whether global warming was caused by humans, only how great the damage would be. In the very same issue was an interview with the chief hurricane scientist at NOAA, who was arguing that he does not believe that global warming is, in fact, man-made. Now I can't assess the arguments from either side; but I do know that the chief hurricance guy at NOAA is a real, respected scientist who disagrees with an opinion that Discover tells me is un-disagreeable-with. Similarly, a recent article in the Boston Globe discussed Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at MIT:
Lindzen acknowledges that global warming is real, and he acknowledges that increased carbon emissions might be causing the warming -- but they also might not.

``We do not understand the natural internal variability of climate change" is one of Lindzen's many heresies, along with such zingers as ``the Arctic was as warm or warmer in 1940," ``the evidence so far suggests that the Greenland ice sheet is actually growing on average," and ``Alpine glaciers have been retreating since the early 19th century, and were advancing for several centuries before that. Since about 1970, many of the glaciers have stopped retreating and some are now advancing again. And, frankly, we don't know why."

When Lindzen published similar views in The Wall Street Journal this spring, environmentalist Laurie David, the wife of comedian Larry David, immediately branded him a ``shill." She resurrected a shopworn slur first directed against Lindzen by former Globe writer Ross Gelbspan, who called Lindzen a ``hood ornament" for the fossil fuels industry in a 1995 article in Harper's Magazine.

Finally, an article in last Saturday's Australian informs us that "Science tempers fears on climate change." The article, which has had early access to the forthcoming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a UN-based organization that has been in the forefront of the fight against global warming) reports that "the world's top climate scientists have cut their worst-case forecast for global warming over the next 100 years" and that "the new projections put paid to some of the more alarmist scenarios raised by previous modelling, which have suggested that sea levels could rise by almost 1m over the same period."

Let me be clear: I do not know what is going on with the environment. I don't know enough science to believe or disbelieve the claims for and against global warming being caused by humans. But neither do you. Nor do most people, including the scientists who tell us that the science is settled. And that's the point. So long as I hear that there is no more debate or discussion over the question, I will be skeptical of doomsayers. The only way to reach a reasonable and effective public policy solution is to allow as much debate and discussion as possible. So stop telling me that no one disagrees with global warming as a man-made phenomena and stop telling me that we have to act in accordance with the precautionary principle. I don't know what to think about global warming, and I certainly don't know what to do, but I'd like to learn.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Looming Genocide in Sudan

Despite the signing of a peace deal in May 2006, the situation in Darfur seems to be heading towards disaster and genocide. Last week, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir refused to meet with the envoy dispatched from the United States, and then rejected a UN resolution to fold the existing, but ineffective, African Union peacekeeping force into a larger, more capable United Nations force. Today, the AU force threatened to pull out of Darfur when its mandate expires at the end of the month if the mission is not handed over to the UN. Meanwhile, Sudan has begun a major offensive -- a testament in and of itself to the ineffectiveness of the AU peacekeepers -- presumably in an effort to crush the Darfuri rebels before being forced to accept a UN force (or, more cynically, in advance of "graciously" allowing the UN in to Darfur to see how nicely the situation has been resolved). Civilian casualties, looting, and rapes are all on the rise. To date, deaths in Darfur are approximately 250,000, with 2.5 million peope displaced and at the mercy of the Sudanese government and the murderous janjaweed raiders if the peacekeepers are withdrawn.

The situation is coming to a head, and the world cannot wait for the UN to take action. Waiting to convince Sudan to accept the international peacekeepers will simply present Sudan with a window of opportunity to complete its operations. The UN needs to set aside its strong predilictions for state sovereignty, and formally request that other international actors, such as NATO, take actions into their own hands. However, as opposed to Kosovo, when UN authorization was not particular explicit and didn't come until after the NATO operation, this time the UN needs to act before thousands more Darfuris are slaughtered by their barbaric government. True, China and Russia would likely veto a Chapter VIII authorization of a regional actor intevening in Sudan's affairs, or even a less formal request to do so. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan must act in accordance with the spirit, rather the laws, of his institution, and issue a direct call from his office.

Would, if given the opportunity and green light from the UN, the west act? It's hard to say. On the one hand, the NATO powers, and the US in particular, has been much more vocal and active about Darfur than previous genocidal situations in Africa, like Rwanda. However, the lessons of Somalia still ring loudly in the ears of politicians and military leaders alike: in the absence of strong public support, humanitarian deployments are doomed to failure. Now is the time for President Bush to begin mustering support for a deployment to Sudan. Given that many European powers are providing troops for Lebanon, the US may have to send several thousand of its own. But, given the need to rebuild the US image (although intervening against the Muslim state of Sudan may not help the US with the Arab "street"), the clearly looming disaster, President Bush's interest in the problem, as well as the growing recognition that US inaction in Rwanda was a great black spot on US foreign policy, it doesn't seem impossible to imagine.