Political attitudes are beginning to catch up to a quiet sea change in American foreign policy: progressive policy success is earning public trust, while conservative overreach is facing a backlash from voters and our military leadership. As The Washington Post's David Ignatius notes, among other things, alliances are stronger, Iran is weaker and al Qaeda is on the run. Lacking a substantive counterattack, conservatives have resorted to undermining the ideal of civilian leadership enshrined in our Constitution -- attacks that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey calls "offensive." Former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke commented that conservative candidates' attacks "are telling voters in advance that there is an important part of the president's job that they are unwilling to perform."
As the House of Representatives breaks for August recess, Members, candidates and all constituents should take a hard look at the conservative movement's positions on national security. The consistent message on national security coming from its leaders - especially the likely 2012 presidential hopefuls - is based on radical positions that are not rooted in reality. In particular, its leaders, such as Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin, have chosen political positions that advocate for policies that are far outside of mainstream America, run counter to America's national security interests and ignore the facts. By consistently putting politics ahead of national security, these extreme conservatives threaten to move the national security debate in a dangerous direction, one that distracts, rather than solves problems. As the United States faces a number of challenges worldwide, Americans deserve a debate that is based on the facts - not distortions.
In a sign of increased frustration with Iran’s unwillingness to accept America’s “outstretched hand,” the House of Representatives moved yesterday to approve broad sanctions legislation targeting Iran’s petroleum industry. For its part, the Iranian regime remained defiant, pledging continued opposition, even as it struggled to contain the persistent rifts that have emerged in the wake of last summer’s election crisis. Attention now shifts to the Senate and ultimately to the Obama administration, which supports measures aimed at pressuring Iran that receive international backing, a key ingredient for those measures’ success. They are joined in this view by a wide array of national security experts, who in addition to arguing for a multilateral diplomatic approach, have pushed for targeting sanctions on specific key regime figures and entities, as well as fitting any future steps within an overall strategy that continues to keep engagement on the table.
The Obama administration took an important step towards closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay today by announcing that dozens of terrorism suspects currently being held there will be transferred to a prison in Thomson, Illinois. When retrofitted for greater security, the Thomson Correctional Center will have the same enhanced security attributes as facilities that already house terrorists on American soil. Local leaders, residents, prison guards - including former Guantanamo Bay prison guards – and their unions fully support the president’s decision and have expressed both their confidence in the prison system’s ability to hold the prisoners and their excitement about the jobs and federal money that will come with the transfer.
Yesterday, the Obama administration took its strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to Congress. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen began the task of explaining the Administration’s strategy to America’s elected officials. For the sake of the strategy’s integrity, and in order to make certain that the Administration remains focused on its core objectives, it is vital that Congress ask the tough questions, and maintain vigilant oversight.
In a surprise visit to Kabul this week, Secretary of State Clinton attended Hamid Karzai’s Presidential inauguration. During the visit, she urged the Afghan government to both reform itself and to stamp out corruption. In particular, she stressed that Karzai had a limited window to “make a new compact with the people of Afghanistan.” Clinton’s message underscored a basic point that progressives have been making for months – that without a political and diplomatic strategy that urges Afghans to step up, no plan for Afghanistan can succeed.
A comprehensive strategy and architecture to bring terrorists to justice should be a source of national pride – not fear-mongering. Whether it’s making inane assertions that terrorists will kidnap Mayor Bloomberg’s daughter, or claiming that Illinois will become ground zero for terrorist attacks and jihad recruitment, conservatives are simply unhinged when it comes to combating terror. But while they demonize our judicial system and lambast the ability of the men and women of our prison and law enforcement systems to keep our communities safe, they neglect the fact that trying terrorists in civilian courts—and following the rule of law—is one of our best strategies for combating violent extremism. Pursuing this takes critical recruitment tools away from the terrorists, brings us allies and partners around the world, and underscores the foundations of our democracy that separates America from its enemies. This was best summed up by 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser, who said: “To be clear, the only danger posed by prosecuting men like KSM in an open court in New York is the red alert it poses to the Republican Party's faltering reputation in fighting their ‘war on terror.’”
This weekend, with developments on civilian and military trials for Guantanamo detainees, a secure prison facility to house some of them in the US and reforms to the military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, the Administration showed significant progress toward a comprehensive plan that uses military and law enforcement tools to keep Americans safe. National security experts, military and prosecutors, and the people of Thomson, Illinois responded positively.
Since 9/11, American courts have convicted and imprisoned nearly 200 terrorists. In the same time period, the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has convicted only three detainees, while undermining the international respect and partnership we need to fight terrorism around the world. By closing Guantanamo and bringing terror suspects held there to America for prosecution, the Obama administration is attempting to succeed where the Bush administration largely failed: bring prosecutable detainees held at Guantanamo to justice. America’s justice system has a long history of successfully holding and trying terrorist suspects. From the mastermind of the first World Trade Center attack to Zacarias Moussaoui—the “20th Hijacker”—to the shoe-bomber Richard Reid, our prison and court systems have a long track record of keeping our communities safe while bringing dangerous terrorists to justice. The Obama administration is applying the same record of success to detainees held at Guantanamo. Today more than 120 national security and political leaders, from retired generals and former prosecutors to GOP strategist Grover Norquist, released a letter supporting this approach – because it will not only bring terrorists to justice, but also make America safer.
The decision by Abdullah Abdullah to drop out of Afghanistan’s run-off election has finally created a level of clarity on who will lead the beleaguered nation. Yet despite the return of Hamid Karzai as President, the political situation remains far from either clear or conducive to short-term stability. This latest development is far from ideal, especially as it is taking place while we recalibrate our Afghanistan strategy. As President Obama continues to develop a strategy for Afghanistan, this latest development is yet another indication that the most essential ingredient for fostering stability there — the political environment — remains unstable and a major impediment to progress. As one top Afghanistan observer said, the Afghan political situation is now a “fiasco.” This means that while a central tenet of a successful counter-insurgency strategy is the inclusion of a viable political partner, it is essential that President Obama’s strategic review adequately reflect the now evident political chaos enveloping Afghanistan. It also underlines the primacy of the political over the military, both on the ground in Afghanistan and in Washington’s strategic planning.