Bruce Jentleson, writing in the Washington Quarterly, sums up the need for clear-eyed analysis as the ever-more complex “Arab Spring” confronts a hot summer: “Blithe generalizations, binary thinking, and fear-mongering distort both the political dialogue and the analytic capacity needed to pursue policies differentiated according to the particular political dynamics of the various countries of the Arab world and the strategic challenges facing the United States.”
Last week, the Obama administration announced that it was prosecuting Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame for terrorism-related charges in the federal court in New York City. Warsame, who is perceived to have been a connector between al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia's al Shabaab, was reportedly seized in April and held aboard a U.S. Navy ship for two months. National security experts welcomed the decision to bring Warsame to New York for federal prosecution, but it has sparked a surprising reaction from the right. Evoking controversial but unrelated state court decisions, and experience gained not in law enforcement but on television, some Congressional conservatives responded by calling for the use of military commissions, which have proven at best ineffective at prosecuting terrorists and at worst harmful to America's counterterrorism efforts. By contrast, the administration's comprehensive, effective approach to has drawn the support of key experts, editorial boards and public opinion.
With budget talks stalled and ambitions shrinking, it’s time for bipartisan agreement that defense spending, 55 percent of all discretionary spending and more than double what it was ten years ago, shares in the cuts. As Adm. Mullen has said, policymakers need to answer hard questions about military strategy, matching our means to our ends and securing our economic and national security.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, experts in and out of government are reviewing the successes and mistakes of the approach to counterterrorism that has dominated the decade. Yesterday, the Obama administration released its first National Counterterrorism Strategy outlining its overall approach to combating terrorism. It highlights the need for whole-of-government efforts that go beyond any one agency or tool; for partnerships built on trust between nations and within our own society; and for standing strongly with our own institutions and values to face terror with resilience. These lessons have been outlined again and again by experts in terrorism and national security. New polling this week also showed that the American people clearly prefer this results-oriented approach to doubling down on failed policies of the past.
As the “Arab Spring” turns into the “Arab Summer,” recent developments range from debate in the United States Congress about America’s role in Libya, to clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, to constitutional reforms in Morocco. Carnegie Endowment scholar and former Jordanian diplomat Marwan Muasher captures the reality when he writes, “The Arab Awakening is going to be measured in decades, not months or years.”
Last week, President Obama put the Afghanistan war effort in the broader context of America’s role in the world. This vision represents widely accepted mainstream views on national security and foreign policy and has proven effective. Meanwhile, as the 2012 presidential primary season begins, conservative candidates continue to try and one-up one another on who is either the strongest isolationist or the greatest war hawk. Today’s foreign policy speech by Tim Pawlenty further demonstrates the divide. These two extremes within the conservative movement have been rejected by the public who seek a results-oriented approach, not distractions and posturing.
Intense efforts are underway to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt. The talks are now focused on the largest single element of discretionary spending, one which has nearly doubled in the last decade: the defense budget. According to the Washington Post, an increasing number of conservatives agree with the president that reforms to defense spending must be part of the overall solution to reducing the national debt. This shift comes as the public questions how America’s military commitments abroad are paying off—something President Obama acknowledged in his speech last week when he announced the withdrawal of the surge troops in Afghanistan. “America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home,” he said.
Leon Panetta will soon take over as secretary of defense amid a review of roles and missions, requiring that as we rethink budgets and spending, we also rethink the strategy that determines how and where America uses its military. Panetta will also be forced to deal with a Congress that says it wants to reduce spending, but still funds unwanted programs that several defense secretaries before him have tried to weed out.
This week the National Security Network was in the forefront of analyzing and framing President Obama's pledge to begin a responsible transition in Afghanistan by removing 33,000 "surge" troops by the end of 2012.
This week Iran is giving off new signs of both the complexity of its internal affairs and the relative weakness of its international position: an inconclusive meeting with Director General Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); dwindling regional influence; economic woes and an ongoing power struggle between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Diplomacy, coupled with smart punitive measures like sanctions, offers the best way forward. “Sanctions were never supposed to become an end [unto] themselves, but unfortunately they can easily become so, because they are something we know how to do,” said John Limbert, the former top State Department official dealing with Iran, “Changing relations with Iran is much harder [than imposing sanctions]—particularly if the other side is not going to be very cooperative.” But it’s the best approach. Israel’s outgoing intelligence chief has also joined the numerous national security experts in warning that a fourth military campaign in the Middle East would be “stupid,” not to mention “messy and protracted.”
From Capitol Hill to the halls of NATO, debate over Libya continues to combine serious efforts at oversight, profound philosophical choices and naked political gamesmanship. As the House and Senate consider measures formally authorizing the U.S. role, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) suggests the House may not support his own proposal, NSN examines six factual questions about what’s happening on the ground now and what sort of scenarios may arise moving forward.