As attention in the U.S. is focused on the alleged Iranian terror plot, Tunisia prepares to hold the first post-Arab spring elections this weekend - the fruits of its leading role and a bellwether for transition across the region. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a surprise visit to Libya to pledge U.S. aid to the transitional government. Israel and Hamas completed the first part of their prisoner exchange, securing the release of Gilad Shalit and hundreds of Palestinians, and highlighting a new mediating role for Egypt. Elsewhere the news was less positive: the threat of open civil war between Syrian protestors and Assad forces is increasing daily; community relations are worsening in Egypt; and the violence in Yemen worsens.
Tonight in Las Vegas, the Republican presidential hopefuls are holding another debate. As the New York Times writes today: "For a while, we were concerned that the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination were not saying much about national security and foreign affairs. Now that a few have started, maybe they were better off before. Certainly, the Republican hopefuls have put to rest any lingering notion that their party is the one to trust with the nation's security... the candidates offer largely bad analysis and worse solutions, nothing that suggests real understanding or new ideas."
While the administration responds to the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. with new sanctions and heightened international pressure against Iran, some on the right have seized on the moment as, in Bill Kristol's words, "an engraved invitation to use force" against Tehran. However, national security experts from both sides of the aisle and Iranian opposition leaders continue to warn that the economic and human costs of such an attack would be extraordinarily high and its efficacy limited at best. Senior military leaders use words like "foolish" to describe a strike, while Iranian opposition leaders have denounced its likely effects on Iran's democracy activists and human rights campaigners.
Yesterday U.S. law enforcement agencies added a second counterterrorism success to the week - on the heels of the disruption of an Iranian-linked plot, "Underwear Bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab pled guilty to all eight terrorism charges. Our civilian legal system is part of a comprehensive counterterrorism policy that combines strong kinetic action, legal tools, intelligence, financial leverage and diplomatic efforts. A poll released this morning confirms again that the American people give this approach overwhelming support, with 61% approval.
There are still many unanswered questions surrounding the Iranian-backed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. The plot was disrupted by effective interagency and international cooperation at many different levels-which is one of our best tools against terrorism. The scheme raises serious questions about the struggle for influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia in a rapidly changing Middle East and the internal dynamics between Iran's Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). What we do know, however, is that its result will be intense efforts to increase the international pressure against an already isolated Iran.
today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice
has charged two men for allegedly participating in a plot to assassinate the
Saudi Ambassador to the United States and subsequently attack the Saudi and
Israeli embassies in Washington, DC. Much remains unclear about the sources,
aims and structure of the plot. But as we wait for more facts to emerge,
three things are clear: civilian federal agents worked together
to successfully disrupt the plot; the U.S. is committed to holding all
parties responsible; and close partnerships with allies were necessary to stop
the plot and will be vital going forward to ensure Iran’s international
Two developments today highlight the divide between overheated political rhetoric on counterterrorism and the reality of effective counterterrorism in practice. In Detroit, "Underwear Bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab begins his trial, an example of how cooperation among the civilian legal system, the FBI and the military produced both successful intelligence-gathering and a prompt day in court. Yet back in Washington, the Senate is considering controversial detainee provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would remove civilian courts and law enforcement from counterterrorism, handing the military a role it does not want. Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson will voice the Defense Department's concerns today, adding to the concerns raised by Senators Reid, Feinstein and Leahy. It is strange to see these attacks on a set of tools that are core to U.S. constitutional values, proven effective, and supported by the public. As Lawrence Wilkerson writes, "the defense bill could actually weaken our counterterrorism efforts."
This week marks the tenth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, waged in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. America has accomplished, by and large, what we set out to do. Through the exceptional efforts of our fighting men and women, as well as their civilian counterparts, we have decimated al Qaeda, including killing the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden. Our military has grown stronger and more adaptable - at costs little-understood by the civilians they serve. Now is the time to reconsider our global objectives and the role the military plays in accomplishing them: rebalancing the tools of our national power, refocusing on the sources of our strength at home and matching our priorities with resources.
The Department of Defense is charged with protecting the American people and defending our nation and our allies. Our Armed Forces are operating in a strategic environment that continues to evolve as geopolitical trends shift and the world becomes increasingly interconnected. Yet chief among the myriad of challenges we face in the 21st century is our economic security.
Last night the Senate voted to bring to the floor a blunt, last-ditch measure aimed at pressuring China to revalue its currency, which has been rising but only at a painfully slow rate. While a faster appreciation is in the interest of both the U.S. and China - the issue is not zero-sum - many countries acting together would have been preferable to the U.S. pressuring China alone. In addition, the economic relationship between the two countries is complex - we will have to address several trade disagreements, and strengthen the foundations of our own economy, to redress the current imbalance with China. More broadly, a serious China strategy encompasses issues from security and economics to human rights and energy. Our economic and security interests, and our values, demand that U.S. policymakers firmly and continually press American interests -- and that no one issue should be allowed to crater the whole relationship. Both sides should adhere to that principle.