Today finds evidence that the U.S.-Pakistan operation that resulted in the capture of the Afghan Taliban's deputy commander has paid dividends. According to Reuters, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar's interrogation, conducted by both U.S. and Pakistani officials, has resulted in intelligence, which has "been verified and has been useful to U.S. commanders and intelligence officers and analysts in both Afghanistan and Washington."
Today, leaders from around the world are gathering in Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit in order to discuss the global challenge of nuclear terrorism, which President Obama has described as “The single-biggest threat to U.S. security.” The summit, the first of its kind, is the largest meeting of leaders to assemble in Washington since the meeting that formed the United Nations in 1945, demonstrating the global nature of the challenge and the need to address it accordingly. This event clearly demonstrates that President Obama, who has made promoting American leadership through engagement with the world and through multilateral institutions a foundation of his Administration’s foreign and national security policy, is delivering on this approach. National security experts agree that 21st century global challenges, such as preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear materials, require global solutions like the one that the President is pursuing, an approach that is popular both at home and abroad.
Today is the start of the two week United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. From now until December 18, negotiators from 190 countries will be working out some of the most complicated and vexing issues surrounding a climate change deal, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions and financial commitments to help developing countries who are ill equipped to deal with the problem. Expectations now center on Copenhagen producing a framework political agreement, with binding targets to come next year.
The rise of China is undoubtedly one of the most critical strategic developments of the 21st century. While it may not rival Afghanistan or Iran in terms of immediate media salience, the President’s first visit to China has clearly demonstrated both the importance of this rising power and how the Obama administration relates to it. With subdued atmopherics as backdrop, the Obama team has effectively worked for the past 10 months to advance our interests in a positive manner with China across several fronts, including through the first ever U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which was convened this past July in Washington. The Administration can point to several major accomplishments on energy and climate change, the global economy and trade, and nonproliferation and international security.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day, a time when our country honors the sacrifices and service of our men and women in uniform. Our troops have performed brilliantly under very difficult conditions and fully expect the nation to support them on their return from overseas deployments. These past eight years have seen veterans, active service members, their families, and veterans’ service organizations under considerable strain. Multiple deployments have taken a tremendous toll on the military and veteran’s services, as well as the individual soldiers and their families, and our country has failed to keep its promise to support them with the best veteran’s services possible. The system and structure were simply not prepared or properly resourced for the influx of soldiers returning home from multiple wars. Our country must do better on their behalf. After the discovery of problems in health care, most clearly demonstrated at Walter Reed Hospital, the Obama administration has taken great pains of fix the sins of the past. While plenty of work remains to be done in order to help our veterans, since taking office the Obama administration has made advancements to increase funding for veterans services, streamline the Department of Veterans Affairs, and face the difficult mental health issues that those returning home from war face.
As international negotiations continue with Iran over its nuclear program, lawmakers in Washington have introduced several pieces of legislation to implement significant unilateral sanctions. But while some argue that the threat of increased sanctions will strengthen the Obama administrations diplomatic hand, the advancement of such sanctions is not a zero cost game and may even have the opposite effect. The strategic approach that the administration has pursued on Iran, where it has implemented smart sanctions alongside effective multilateral diplomacy buttressed by effective communication with the Iranian people - will be affected by any Congressional action on sanctions. Policy makers must be careful to ensure that such moves will not undermine the President and the current state of diplomacy with Iran.
As pressure mounts on the Obama administration to explain its way forward in Afghanistan, the Administration is doing its homework in developing an effective strategy. Unlike previous administrations, the current one is pursuing, as Secretary Gates said yesterday, “the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s.” This is not a tidy process, as the uncertainty surrounding the flawed presidential elections last month has demonstrated. But one thing is for certain – getting Afghanistan policy right will require more than a purely military approach.
Getting Afghanistan policy right is about much more than a magic bullet number of troops. President Obama explained “we are not going to put the cart before the horse and just think that sending more troops will automatically make America safe.” Hearing all sides in the vibrant political-military debate that is taking place amongst experts will allow the Administration to avoid the “group-think” that has plagued past administrations, especially on Afghanistan. This clear-eyed approach to managing the war stands in stark contrast to the self-assured ideological approach that characterized President Bush’s war-time decision making, which failed to take real facts – even the unwelcome ones – into account. That failed approach has had dire consequences for our national security, and the important debate taking place now is both refreshing and significant. Hypocritically, conservatives have started attacking the President for not rushing to increase troops. Instead, of playing political games with the war, this Administration is focused on getting the strategy right.
Yesterday the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei formally approved Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the next president of Iran. However, the political situation is hardly settled. The security state appears firmly entrenched; yet a violent crackdown and show trials have not stopped demonstrations or rifts within Iranian political elites. Ahmadinejad is due to be sworn in on Wednesday and sizeable demonstrations are expected.
With Congress heading home to their constituencies this weekend, conservatives are continuing their attacks on President Obama’s foreign policy. These attacks have followed a familiar pattern – conservatives reflexively attack Obama in every way possible in the hopes that one of their claims stick – even if the attacks contradict each other. For example, neoconservative Elliot Cohen argued yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that Obama’s foreign policy is the same as the Bush administration’s, even as former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, former State Department official Liz Cheney, assert that Obama is dismantling Bush-era policies that protect America. These arguments are incoherent and baseless.
Senior American and Chinese leaders began two days of high level talks yesterday under the framework of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. In recognition of China’s emergence on the international scene, the Obama administration has expanded the dialogue with China to encompass a whole range of international strategic and economic issues, such as the global economic recession, climate change, and nonproliferation. The Administration has also quietly made clear its larger strategy: that progress on contentious areas such as human rights and democracy promotion, can best be encouraged by engagement on areas where there is agreement – removing the excuses that the last eight years’ policies gave many around the world for ignoring or downgrading genuine US concerns for the freedom and well-being of others. But as the Obama administration is seeking to build a constructive relationship, many conservatives have described China as the next big enemy – using its rise to justify many unnecessary weapons programs, such as the F-22. Conservatives also seem to discount the strategic and economic costs of China adopting a confrontational approach toward the U.S. While the U.S. and China won’t always see eye to eye, the President explained that “that only makes dialogue more important.”