Bipartisan opposition continues to mount to provisions in the defense authorization bill passed by the House and Senate and currently heading to conference. The provisions would mandate military detention and permit indefinite detention of terrorism suspects including American citizens taken in the U.S. and harden restrictions on the transfer of terror suspects. Recent weeks have seen an outpouring of support from conservatives and progressives, lawyers and security professionals, editorial boards and government officials. Adam Serwer writes, "It's official: Just about the only people who think the mandatory military detention provisions in the defense spending bill are a good idea are the congressional legislators trying to show everyone how tough on terror they are." [Mother Jones, 12/6/11]
U.S.-Russia relations have reached a tight spot on several central issues: discord over plans for European missile defense, disappointment with Russia's flawed elections, disagreement on how to end the regime crackdown in Syria and pressure Iran on its nuclear program. Led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the administration has taken strong stances on the elections and missile defense, while continuing partnership in other vital areas, including U.S. overflight rights to Afghanistan and New START treaty implementation. The ability to "walk and chew gum at the same time" - to stand strong on issues of principle, maintain communication and make pragmatic progress elsewhere - shows the success of the "reset" policy. In fact, the reset's critics are now getting what they said they wanted on missile defense and human rights - while in Afghanistan our military gets what it needs.
Bipartisan opposition continues to mount to provisions in the defense authorization bill passed by the House and Senate and currently heading to conference. The provisions would mandate military detention and permit indefinite detention of terrorism suspects including American citizens taken in the U.S. and harden restrictions on the transfer of terror suspects. Recent weeks have seen an outpouring of support from conservatives and progressives, lawyers and security professionals, editorial boards and government officials. Adam Serwer writes, "It's official: Just about the only people who think the mandatory military detention provisions in the defense spending bill are a good idea are the congressional legislators trying to show everyone how tough on terror they are."
Tensions on the ground and the political calendar in the U.S. have put concerns over Iran's nuclear program again in the spotlight. A report out today and a presidential candidates' forum tomorrow will highlight a one-dimensional approach - public threats of force. But military and intelligence experts argue for a firm, but quiet and multi-dimensional approach. They say that an Iranian nuclear weapon is neither inevitable nor the beginning of the apocalypse - and that a smart, realistic policy must be twinned with clear communication in order to avoid sleepwalking into war. As Ambassador James Dobbins and his RAND colleagues write: "Pure engagement has little short- or even medium-term prospect of attaining any of the three main U.S. objectives. Containment affects only Iran's external behavior. Preemption deals only with the nuclear issue, and then only temporarily. Deterrence makes sense only if combined with containment and some minimal form of engagement, if only to prevent accidental disaster. Neither normalization nor regime change is a feasible short term objective. Realistic policy must be fashioned at some intermediate point across each of these three spectrums."
Nearly 1,000 delegates from more than 100 countries, including some 60 foreign ministers, are meeting today in Bonn, Germany, to discuss the future of Afghanistan. With both Pakistani and Taliban leaders absent, expectations are modest. The conference is a reminder that, as Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) writes, a successful transition in Afghanistan rests on continued political and economic engagement that focuses on building a legitimate and effective state, even as NATO military presence winds down. An acceptable solution also needs regional buy-in, first and foremost from recalcitrant Pakistan. Here, too, resources should be aimed toward empowering civilians and making clear that Pakistan's other choice is international isolation, not just punishing the security apparatus. As former Congresswoman Jane Harman writes, "Congress should not confuse security aid to the Pakistani military with economic assistance designed to shore up civilian political capacity."
Debate has flared anew this week over whether and how military spending figures into deficit reduction, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor working to renegotiate the terms of the Budget Control Act and delay reductions to the Pentagon's budget. House members are arguing over the inflated cost of our nuclear weapons complex, as the U.S. plans to replace the three delivery platforms for our nuclear arsenal, the cost of which has grown 25 percent over the past year. Experts in and out of government have called for reexamining the weapons' deterrent value and ballooning costs - just one of many examples of why lawmakers from both sides of the aisle continue to support smart, strategic reductions in military spending.
A chain of events which began last week with tough new UK sanctions on Iran has now led to apparently orchestrated protestors swarming the British Embassy in Tehran and a UK decision to close the embassy and order Iranian diplomats in London to leave the country. As tensions rise and the Senate prepares to consider additional sanctions -- this time against Iran's Central Bank -- the world oil market is bracing itself for the worst. When tensions with Iran peaked in 2007 and speculation of an attack grew, the cost of a barrel of oil jumped 36 percent. During a time of fragile economic recovery, such a spike would have a serious impact on the U.S. economy. And as additional pressure is applied, Iran continues to try and spin this to its advantage politically. Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies explains, "Threats of a military option or regime change only reinforce their determination to resist."
The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is currently being debated on the Senate floor. An unprecedented array of security and military experts has raised concerns about portions of the bill that would authorize indefinite detention, mandate military custody of terrorism suspects and impose stringent restrictions on transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay. The bipartisan consensus opposing those provisions includes the head of the FBI, the Director of National Intelligence, the secretary of defense, 26 retired generals and admirals, senior interrogators and counterterrorism officials from the Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations. Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Jim Webb (D-VA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) are sponsoring an amendment that would strip the bill of these provisions, which is expected to be voted on today. As one former Bush administration official said, these provisions "could actually weaken our counterterrorism efforts."
Today, Egyptians went to the polls for the first time since the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak in February. Reports suggest high turn-out and few problems. Elections will continue in two rounds for the next four months. The complex process is only one of the challenges on Egypt's path towards democratization highlighted by last week's violence and controversy over the extent and length of the interim military government's rule. Political Islam, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, is expected to do very well in the election - as has been the case in Tunisia and Morocco. The United States and the West face a twin challenge: learning to work with political Islam, as we have in Turkey and Iraq, while holding such parties to their secular, democratic commitments and affirming our own.
Last night's debaters gave the ongoing events in the Middle East short shrift. But major developments offer both testimony to citizens' desire for freedom and dignity and the need for strong, unified diplomacy in service of U.S. interests and values. In recent weeks, we've seen a violent military crackdown on demonstrations in Egypt, new censure of Syria's President Bashar Assad and a new report on violence in Bahrain. The Arab League, U.S. and other partners succeeded in passing a UN resolution calling for an end to violence in Syria. Regional player Turkey called for Assad to step down. In Egypt, the military government's pledge to step down next summer failed to quell protests in Tahrir Square, which raged into a fifth day. In Bahrain, clashes between protestors and security forces preceded a report on last year's violence. The report, written by the Bahrain Independent Commission, details torture and excessive force but tamps down claims about Iranian meddling. And in Yemen, longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to a plan negotiated by Gulf countries to step down from power.