The Danger of Obama’s Dithering

John R. Bolton |  Los Angeles Times

Weakness in American foreign policy in one region often invites challenges elsewhere, because our adversaries carefully follow diminished American resolve. Similarly, presidential indecisiveness, whether because of uncertainty or internal political struggles, signals that the United States may not respond to international challenges in clear and coherent ways.

Taken together, weakness and indecisiveness have proved historically to be a toxic combination for America’s global interests. That is exactly the combination we now see under President Obama. If anything, his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize only underlines the problem. All of Obama’s campaign and inaugural talk about “extending an open hand” and “engagement,” especially the multilateral variety, isn’t exactly unfolding according to plan. Entirely predictably, we see more clearly every day that diplomacy is not a policy but only a technique. Absent presidential leadership, which at a minimum means clear policy direction and persistence in the face of criticism and adversity, engagement simply embodies weakness and indecision.

Obama is no Harry Truman. At best, he is reprising Jimmy Carter. At worst, the real precedent may be Ethelred the Unready, the turn-of the-first-millennium Anglo-Saxon king whose reputation for indecisiveness and his unsuccessful paying of Danegeld–literally, “Danish tax”–to buy off Viking raiders made him history’s paradigmatic weak leader.

Beyond the disquiet (or outrage for some) prompted by the president’s propensity to apologize for his country’s pre-Obama history, Americans increasingly sense that his administration is drifting from one foreign policy mistake to another. Worse, the current is growing swifter, and the threats more pronounced, even as the administration tries to turn its face away from the world and toward its domestic priorities. Foreign observers, friend and foe alike, sense the same aimlessness and drift. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had to remind Obama at a Sept. 24 U.N. Security Council meeting that “we live in the real world, not a virtual one.”

Examples of weakness abound, and the consequences are readily foreseeable.

Canceling the Polish and Czech missile defense bases is understood in Moscow and Eastern European capitals as backing down in the face of Russian bluster and belligerence. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened the day after our 2008 election to deploy missiles targeting these assets unless they were canceled, a threat duly noted by the Russian media when Obama canceled the sites. Given candidate Obama’s reaction to the 2008 Russia-Georgia war–calling on both sides to exercise restraint–there is little doubt that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s project to re-extend Russian hegemony over as much of the former Soviet Union as he can will continue apace. Why should he worry about Washington?

Obama’s Middle East peace process has stalled, most recently because he set a target for an end to Israeli settlement expansion, couldn’t meet it and then proceeded as though he hadn’t meant what he said originally. By insisting that Israel freeze settlements as a precondition to renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Obama drew a clear line. But when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withstood Obama’s pressure, Obama caved, hosting a photo-op with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that strengthened Netanyahu and weakened Abbas just when Obama wanted to achieve exactly the opposite. However one views the substantive outcome of this vignette, Obama himself looked the weakest of all. It could well be years before his Middle East policy gets back up off the ground.

On nuclear nonproliferation, North Korea responded to the “open hand” of engagement by testing its second nuclear device, continuing an aggressive ballistic missile testing program, cooperating with other rogue states and kidnapping and holding hostage two American reporters. Obama’s reaction is to press for more negotiations, which simply encourages Pyongyang to up the ante.

Iran is revealed to have been long constructing an undeclared, uninspected nuclear facility that makes a mockery of almost seven years of European Union negotiation efforts. Forced to deal publicly with this deeply worrying threat, Obama proposes the equivalent of money-laundering for nuclear threats: Iranian uranium enriched in open, unambiguous defiance of four Security Council resolutions will be enriched to higher levels in Russia, and then returned to be burned in a Tehran reactor–ostensibly for peaceful purposes. Sarkozy again captured the growing international incredulity in his noteworthy Security Council speech: “I support America’s ‘extended hand.’ But what have these proposals for dialogue produced for the international community? Nothing but more enriched uranium and more centrifuges.”

Finally, Obama’s agonizing, very public reappraisal of his own 7-month-old Afghanistan policy epitomizes indecisiveness. While there is no virtue in sustaining policy merely for continuity’s sake, neither is credit due for too-quickly adopting policies without appreciating the risks entailed and then fleeing precipitously when the risks become manifest. The administration’s stated reason for its policy re-evaluation was widespread fraud in Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential election. But this explanation is simply not credible. Did not the administration’s generals and diplomats on the ground, not to mention United Nations observers, see the election mess coming? Was the Hamid Karzai administration’s cupidity and corruption overlooked or ignored during Obama’s original review and revision of his predecessor’s policy?

The unmistakable inference is that Obama did not carefully think through his March Afghan policy, or did not have full confidence then or now in Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal or Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, or that it is now politically inconvenient among increasingly antiwar Democrats to follow through on that policy.

None of these explanations reflect credit on the president. He is dithering. Whatever decision Obama reaches on Afghanistan, his credibility and leadership have been badly wounded by his continuing public display of indecisiveness.

Our international adversaries undoubtedly welcome all of these “resets” in U.S. foreign policy, but Americans should be appalled at how much of our posture in the world has already been given away. If Obama’s first nine months indicate the direction of the next 39, we still have a long way to fall.


Goo-Goo Court Boosts Darfur Butchers

John R. Bolton |

Support for the International Criminal Court is an article of near-religious faith on the political left, a central component of its “global governance” vision. In actuality, however, the ICC has been marginally effective, poorly administered, and its priorities diffuse–much like its feckless, irrelevant sister, the International Court of Justice, and many other international bodies.

The ICC has avoided irrelevance in one key case–Sudan. But it has actually made that desperate humanitarian crisis harder to resolve.

Specifically, the ICC indictments in July 2008 for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and other regime figures accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity have clearly had the opposite of the intended effect: Rather than pressure Bashir to stop the killing, they’ve strengthened his domestic position and hardened his already intractable line on “concessions” to inhabitants of Darfur.

This sad turn of events has provided virtually clinical proof of warnings by ICC critics that the court’s “independence” was a defect, not a virtue–leaving it disconnected from the legitimacy of representative government, and also from the global reality of power and conflict.

Yet it is impossible to act responsibly in Sudan without an understanding of power and conflict. Although recent attention has focused on Darfur, in the country’s west, the ethnic and religious north-south conflict that preceded Darfur’s suffering is also a candidate for the “genocide” label and remains unresolved. A 2005 agreement halted it, but postponed resolving the underlying issue of independence for the south.

Add in the separatist tendencies in the eastern region of Sudan (exacerbated by the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict), and the country as a whole is a slow-motion disaster, with three potential breakaway regions.

Darfur’s day-to-day level of violence may be lower than at the height of the slaughter by Khartoum-backed militias, but millions are still in displaced-persons camps–their villages and livelihoods ruined; their security still uncertain.

Peacekeepers and outside political efforts, first from the African Union, then in a hybrid with the UN, have been ineffective, with “settlements” collapsing in the swirling, increasingly international conflict. The Security Council’s recent one-year extension of the UN peacekeeping mandate didn’t change these fundamental operational and diplomatic realities.

The Obama administration entered office seemingly determined to resolve the Sudan problem, but has instead suffered from public displays of internal disagreement.

Last week, Special Envoy Scott Gration suggested to Congress that Sudan be taken off the US terrorism list, thus laying the basis to lift heavy sanctions previously imposed on Khartoum. Gration’s outspokenness (which produced mass confusion at the State Department’s daily press briefing on Friday) revived his earlier disagreement with UN Ambassador Susan Rice on whether “genocide” in Darfur is ongoing or receding.

But these disagreements only mask a larger problem for both humanitarian and political efforts in Sudan–a problem centered on the ICC indictments.

Pressed by Europeans, the Bush administration was essentially cornered into supporting the investigation leading to the indictments. In fact, the ICC process simply provided a fig leaf for the Europeans, who wanted to avoid any serious action about Khartoum, while pointing to the ICC as “doing something.”

Tragically, however, by taking the focus off the hard, unpalatable choices that could have made a difference in the real world, the ICC indictments have backfired, making it harder to pry loose concessions that once seemed within reach. Moreover, the ICC’s approach generated support for the regime among Third World countries (particularly the African Union) that saw indictments and UN peacekeepers as “Western imperialism.”

Khartoum thus turned what Westerners thought would be their bargaining chip to leverage concessions from Sudan into a Sudanese precondition barring further progress until ICC investigations and indictments are quashed.

This political jujitsu has unnerved ICC supporters, but even their “bargaining chip” idea was far from the original robust arguments for the ICC. Indeed, it is (in Sudan and elsewhere) completely backward.

Since the ICC strategy itself was effectively a charade to hide the West’s continuing distaste for effective action (military or clandestine) against Khartoum, fears of imperialism were a fantasy. The indictments, a Western display of feel-good moralism, are now more than unneeded complications: They are insuperable barriers to real progress, political or humanitarian.

A real political resolution for Sudan requires a new regime prepared to hold al-Bashir and his cronies accountable, and to negotiate peacefully with the country’s separatist regions. But regime change won’t come without outside help, decidedly unlikely during the Obama presidency, which views such policy with undisguised distaste. As for the Europeans, rhetoric is too often the sharpest tool in their national-security arsenal.

Abetted by the ICC’s unfortunate intervention, the prospects for Sudan remain decidedly unhappy. We will now have to see whether President Obama can square his devotion to international law and “open hand” diplomacy with the reality of a ruthless regime accused of genocide.

Obama Has the CIA’s Back–in His Sights

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

The Obama administration and its congressional supporters committed major blunders last week by canceling, leaking and then deciding to investigate a highly classified program to eliminate al Qaeda leaders. Although much remains hidden from public view, the controversy highlights peculiarities in President Obama’s view of his responsibilities as commander in chief.

Consider the legality and morality of using intelligence agencies to try to kill or capture key terrorists. In the post-Watergate congressional frenzy following President Nixon’s resignation, House and Senate committees happily exposed formerly covert operations in full detail, including purported assassination plots against foreign leaders.

Although assassination attempts had hardly been commonplace and rarely had succeeded, Democratic legislators nonetheless mounted a substantial effort to prohibit them. President Ford countered with an executive order generally to the effect of blocking such actions in order to avert even more draconian Hill action. Mr. Ford succeeded, with the added advantage that his order and subsequent modifications were worded carefully to keep open the assassination option, at least in some circumstances.

Today, many in Congress are again saying they are outraged at the possibility of “targeted killings” of al Qaeda leaders by U.S. intelligence operatives. Why this should be so is puzzling. America’s military forces have properly and legitimately been hard at work killing terrorists and destroying their capabilities since the murderous attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Obviously, however, in the war on terror, al Qaeda leaders do not conveniently dispose themselves on military battlefields, so the intelligence community’s clandestine efforts appear perfectly suited to the “war in the shadows” that terrorists typically employ very well. Surely the terrorists care little whether they are being killed by CIA agents disguised as peasants or by grunts in camouflage uniforms and dirty combat boots.

America was attacked with deadly force on Sept. 11 and before, and we are entitled to respond in self-defense, including using deadly force, until the threat from the terrorists and their state sponsors is ended.

These are principles both moral and legal in the United States. Americans think their government should provide for their “common defense,” in the Constitution’s phrase, and they have little patience with politicians who cringe at taking the necessary steps to do so, in both defense and intelligence.

The Obama administration ignores this widespread and entirely understandable thinking at its peril. When and where clandestine operations, including assassinations, can be effective is obviously a difficult question but it is one that has to be answered based on the circumstances presented, not through partisan arguments couched at the bumper-sticker level. In fact, unlike the administration, most Americans probably were more surprised and distressed that the CIA assassination plan was never implemented than that it existed.

That is why leaking the program and attributing its “suppression” from public knowledge to former Vice President Dick Cheney and then launching full-scale congressional investigations are actions Mr. Obama and his supporters soon will regret.

Although the leaking of the clandestine program within days after CIA Director Leon Panetta briefed the congressional leadership will not have broad political effect, it demonstrates, yet again, that Congress seems institutionally incapable of overseeing sensitive intelligence or military matters.

Leaks in Washington are inevitable and have come from members of both political parties, but this leak was manifestly for partisan reasons, a poisonous and utterly indefensible reason. As a response, broader briefing about clandestine operations, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now proposes (which even Mr. Obama has threatened to veto), is hardly the answer.

Also, because it is the speaker herself who previously was not paying attention to precisely these types of briefing, even more restricted briefings are unlikely to be the answer, either. Congress simply has disqualified itself from serious involvement in covert operations, a grievous failing we ignore at our peril.

Another carnival-like investigation of clandestine operations may gladden anti-intelligence extremists who remember the mid-1970s carnage, but it should not deter those who support robust covert capabilities from welcoming a full and vigorous debate.

We have, in the public consciousness, come too far from the deadly attacks of Sept. 11. Americans are a vigorous, forward-looking people, and we occasionally need to be reminded even of the recent past. An open debate about how to defend ourselves and our allies against terrorists would be quite useful, reminding all of us exactly what the stakes are, what kind of enemy we face, and why this must necessarily be a sustained effort.

Mr. Obama is too smart a politician not to understand that a battle royal over al Qaeda will distract attention from his increasingly desperate efforts to make dramatic domestic changes in America. He will rue the day his administration decided to cancel this never-implemented anti-terrorist program and then gloat over it. He has thus likely conjured up a salutary public debate on the global war on terrorism, a phrase we need to hear repeated again and again.

Obama’s Foreign Policy Setbacks

John R. Bolton |  San Diego Union-Tribune

The Republican Party’s latest Internet video shows then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008 saying, “Guantanamo, that’s easy. Close down Guantanamo … ” This video is becoming an instant classic, as recent events in Washington demonstrated with sudden clarity.

Mainstream American opinion asserted itself, disproving conclusively the idea that the 2008 U.S. election constituted a dramatic shift leftward. To the contrary, the president’s efforts to appease the Democratic Party’s left wing on issues like detaining terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and “enhanced interrogation techniques” have backfired badly. For the first time since his Jan. 20 inauguration, President Obama is on the defensive politically. Washington’s “conventional wisdom” is now that, contrary to the campaign theme of “change,” President Obama has largely retained the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policy. Since it is still early in the Obama presidency, comparisons with its predecessor are not surprising. But the real issue is whether the president is losing so much political capital and credibility on national security that he cannot repair the damage. Consider the full measure of his political disarray:

First, by an overwhelming 90-6 vote, the Senate eliminated from the president’s budget all funds to close Guantanamo. As Daniel Inouye, the Democratic chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said, the president lacked “a coherent plan” for dealing with the detainees, a far cry from the “easy” decision to shutter “Gitmo.” Initially, therefore, Democrats sought to retain the funding by requiring the president to submit such a plan, but even that compromise was too hard. Democrats had to agree to eliminate the funding entirely to protect themselves politically.

Second, less noticed but perhaps more important, the Senate then voted 92-3 to require a classified threat assessment for every Guantanamo detainee before he is transported elsewhere. This has to be a frightening prospect for the administration. With the news media dutifully reporting the threat assessments (which will surely be leaked) before any arrive in America, this will become a story that never dies, to the president’s continuing political detriment.

Third, President Obama deliberately scheduled a speech defending his position immediately before a previously-scheduled speech by former Vice President Dick Cheney. The competing arguments were broadcast back-to-back by the major cable news networks, and received wide media coverage. But rather than calming the political environment, the contrast only made the issue more prominent, not least because of the unprecedented debate between a president and a former vice president. That is a new definition of a president on the defensive.

Finally, the substance of President Obama’s remarks showed how far he had shifted from the “easy” campaign days. He proposed to hold terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial, thus reaffirming one of the Bush administration’s core tactics. Civil liberties advocates reacted with horror; one of them said “if [the detainees] cannot be convicted, then you release them. That’s what it means to have a justice system.” This comment underlines the fundamental gap in perception between the Democratic Party’s left wing, and the Bush and Obama administrations (and the overwhelming majority of the American citizenry) on the other–namely, that the issue of terrorism is not about law enforcement, but about war. Before long, the debate moved to whether terrorists from Gitmo could be held in maximum-security U.S. prisons, another debate President Obama should not want. Federal courts could decide that the detainees’ legal status changes when they arrive on American soil, thus bringing many of them closer to release from prison. Holding them with other prisoners, rather than isolating them at Guantanamo, facilitates resuming contact with fellow terrorists and recruiting new adherents in the prisons. These dilemmas underscore that Guantanamo’s inmates are not common criminals, but a special threat that requires special treatment.

The war paradigm, based on state-versus-state conflict, is not entirely perfect for dealing with terrorism, but it is far superior to the law-enforcement paradigm. That is why enhanced interrogation techniques and detention facilities like Gitmo are required, at least until a new paradigm to deal with terrorists emerges, although none is in sight.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s recent confusion and embarrassment over the extent of her knowledge of “enhanced interrogation techniques” is yet another facet of her party’s dilemma. If these techniques are so obviously abhorrent, why did not Pelosi and others object to them at the time they were briefed? That is why she has so conveniently “forgotten” about the briefings.

Her troubles, however, and Obama’s, are far from over. Terrorists are not simply bank robbers or petty vandals, but enemies of Western civilization. They are the barbarians of our time, and the law-enforcement approach appropriate within constitutional democracies simply does not apply to their belligerent and uncivilized war of terror against us. To conclude otherwise would be to ignore the recent lesson in reality. Whether President Obama learned that lesson remains to be seen.

Where the Buck Stops

John R. Bolton |  National Review

The subject of Presidential Command, Peter Rodman’s last book, published posthumously, is especially timely as we await Barack Obama’s inauguration. John R. Bolton reviews Presidential Command: Power, Leadership, and the Making of Foreign Policy from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, by Peter W. Rodman.

Successfully exercising presidential power in national-security affairs is a political and constitutional imperative for American survival. Weak, corrupt, and incompetent Congresses can come and go–and often do–without fatally damaging us, but even one failed presidency, let alone a string of them, can cause enormous harm, as just four years of Jimmy Carter proved.

Thus, the subject of Presidential Command, Peter Rodman’s last book, published posthumously, is especially timely as we await Barack Obama’s inauguration. Rodman surveys the modern presidencies from Nixon to Bush 43, examining the factors that make for success in foreign-policy decision-making, but not rearguing the substantive merits of particular decisions. In academic hands, this could be the driest of exercises, encumbered with incomprehensible charts, graphs, and statistics, but Rodman’s experience in five of the presidencies he discusses, and his lucid style, keep the focus on reality and the narrative lively. Presidential Command is Peter’s last gift to the country he loved and served so well.

His central insight, which emerges in the well-wrought case studies and anecdotes that make up the bulk of this achingly brief text, is that the president himself makes all the difference. First articulated by Alexander Hamilton–in the Federalist Papers–as “energy in the Executive,” the insight bears endless repeating, since we seem so determined to forget it. Powerful and headstrong cabinet secretaries (or weak-willed ones, for that matter), the permanent departmental bureaucracies, the National Security Council and its staff, inter-agency decision-making mechanisms and conflicts, and leaks to the press and Congress all play on the foreign-policy stage, to be sure. But in the end, presidential success or failure rests with “the guy who got elected,” as Secretary of State James A. Baker III liked to call Bush 41.

Struggle over control of national security has pitted not just the White House against the bureaucracy, but also the president against Congress.

Rightly stressing that it is the president who holds both constitutional and democratic legitimacy, Rodman emphasizes that “political control over the bureaucracy may be one of the most significant challenges in modern democratic government in the 20th and 21st centuries.” In contemporary Washington, to listen to much of the media and many in Congress, you would think it was the other way around, with the bureaucracies (and their Capitol Hill allies) properly controlling “the guy who got elected” and his advisers.

The State Department’s unresponsiveness to presidential command emerges again and again in Rodman’s telling, not to mention the savaging of presidents by various dissident bureaucracies that aren’t getting their way. It was McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy’s national security adviser, not Jim Baker as I long thought, who first said “the secretary should always be the president’s agent in dealing with the bureaucracy, not the other way around.” Kennedy adviser Arthur Schlesinger Jr. went farther, opining that “the first lesson was never to rely on the experts.” Kennedy himself called the State Department a “bowl of jelly.”

Even before that, Harry Truman wrote: “The civil servant, the general or admiral, the foreign service officer has no authority to make policy. They act only as servants of the government, and therefore they must remain in line with the government policy that is established by those who have been chosen by the people to set that policy.” One wonders how long it will be before some secretary of state has those words carved on the walls of the Harry S Truman Building, the State Department’s home in Washington. (It should also be carved in the CIA’s marble entrance hall in Langley, Va.)

Presidents striving to ensure control over decision-making have tried a variety of techniques, sometimes using the NSC as an instrument of presidential command (Nixon), sometimes sending a strong secretary of state to tame the bureaucracy (Eisenhower/Dulles, Bush 41/Baker). Those who failed to realize that there was even an issue, such as Carter and, to some extent, Clinton and Bush 43, paid the price when difficult international issues threatened to overwhelm them.

Rodman’s studiously evenhanded and balanced style makes his zingers even more telling when they explode on the page, and he is especially acute assessing Republican administrations in which he served. For example, he describes Steve Hadley, Condi Rice’s deputy national security adviser, and still her deputy even when he assumed her title in Bush 43’s second term, as the administration’s “iconic figure,” and “the pursuer of bureaucratic consensus.” Obviously, Hadley did so at Bush’s and Rice’s direction, which makes all the more devastating Rodman’s conclusion that “as Ronald Reagan discovered, the pursuit of bureaucratic compromise can be a fool’s errand.”

Yes, indeed. Of course, a president’s not knowing all the options open to him has its costs as well, as in Bush 43’s second term, when Rice’s voice utterly dominated in the president’s ear. Rodman recounts that Eisenhower liked to hear the key issues argued out in front of him among his advisers–which risks bruised egos for the vanquished advocates, but gives the president a way of knowing the key views before making his decisions. Nixon demonstrated that he had learned well as vice president: “I refuse to be confronted with a bureaucratic consensus that leaves me no options but acceptance or rejection, and that gives me no way of knowing what alternatives exist.”

Struggle over control of national security has pitted not just the White House against the bureaucracy, but also the president against Congress. Nowhere has the latter struggle been more profound and more visible than over the intelligence community (IC). Rodman recounts the terrible weakening of presidential authority during the 1970s, through CIA director William Colby’s surrender to House and Senate investigating committees, over the repeated objections of the Ford White House. Colby later wrote that “I did not share the view that intelligence was solely a function of the Executive Branch,” which Rodman correctly labels “an extraordinary statement.” And Rodman is equally on target when he concludes that “Colby was simply more afraid of the wrath of Congress than of the wrath of the president.”

In Congress and far too widely in the IC, that attitude has persisted and even grown. Former director Robert Gates wrote that the CIA had moved to a position “roughly equidistant between the Congress and the President.” Strikingly, Gates then casually observed that “most of CIA’s senior professional career officers would accept this reality and do their best to serve two masters, however awkward.” One wonders whom Gates thinks he is now serving as secretary of defense–a question Obama might also want to ask. (Rodman says Gates inserted the word “involuntarily” in a printed version of the speech making the “equidistant” point. “Involuntarily” does not, however, appear in Gates’s 1996 book, From the Shadows, quoted above.)

Asserting that the CIA is somehow not responsible and answerable exclusively to the president is as ridiculous as Jimmy Carter’s idea of making the Department of Justice an independent agency, with the attorney general’s term different from the president’s. It is no wonder that Ford’s former chief of staff, Dick Cheney, has been so concerned with re-establishing the president’s constitutional authority, since he saw firsthand how those prerogatives were undermined. Unfortunately, presidential control over the IC has actually deteriorated further under Bush 43, despite–or in part because of–reorganization to create the new Director of National Intelligence position. Today, many in the IC believe it should be–and is–a kind of think tank, opining at will on topics of interest to itself, with the support of its congressional allies; and they are ever at the ready to object to the notion that the IC resides in the executive branch. As with Nixon’s opening to China, perhaps it will take the Obama presidency to bring the IC back into its proper orbit.

Peter Rodman and I were friends for many years, served in the last several Republican administrations, and talked about this book as he was writing it. So he would not be surprised to see me take issue with him on one point–I am sure he would be disappointed if I didn’t!–a point perhaps more a matter of characterization than of substance. In addition to constitutional and democratic legitimacy, Rodman posits “procedural legitimacy,” which he defines as bureaucratic acceptance of decisions contrary to the bureaucracy’s advice. Rodman correctly characterizes presidential concern for this problem as an element of “prudence,” or later as “regularity,” terms that strike closer to the truth than “legitimacy.” That the bureaucracy has the power–through leaks, disloyalty, and obstructionism–to battle with presidents even after decisions are made is unarguable, as the Nixon and Bush 43 administrations demonstrate, each in its own way. But such power–as real as anything in Foggy Bottom and other bureaucratic lairs–should certainly not be confused with “legitimacy.” As Rodman’s narrative proves repeatedly, the president and his political team really need prudence and bureaucratic skill–not concessions that bureaucratic subversion has some sort of “legitimacy.”

Ultimately, the real test is whether the president knows his own mind and acts consistently in policy formulation and implementation. Rodman is right on target when he says that “no structure or policy-making procedure” can make up for a president who does not “engage personally, consistently, and forcefully.” His dissection of the Carter presidency demonstrates this point evocatively, concluding that Carter exacerbated his own schizophrenic views of the world by his personnel choices. Rodman also shows how Bush 43 and Reagan faced the problems of divided government, with open warfare between cabinet secretaries and their subordinates dominating much of both presidencies. Both presented “the paradox of a leader capable of great decisiveness but who set up and tolerated a system that impeded his exercise of it.” When Reagan and Bush 43 did engage–most recently when Bush 43 obtained the Iraq “surge policy” by persistently cajoling the Defense Department to accept and then actually recommend it–they were far more successful. Reagan’s laid-back management style led Lou Cannon to observe (in a remark also applicable to Bush 43) that “he was better suited to leading the nation than commanding its government.” In all presidencies, Rodman concludes correctly, “splitting the difference between conflicting strategies can only produce incoherence.”

In fact, it is the Bush 41 administration that stands out not only for the clearest presidential leadership, but for the most effective national-security team. Certainly the contrast in effective presidential command between Bush 41 and Bush 43 could not be clearer, although there is little doubt that much of Bush 41’s success rests on the foundations constructed, however messily, during the Reagan years. Bush 41 also compared favorably with the informality of the Clinton years, which led to incoherence and failure in any number of areas for the president who came to office believing firmly that “it’s the economy, stupid.”

Foreigners, of course, also keep a close watch on presidential command, although their views necessarily emerge through the prisms of their interests. While the incoming Obama team seems to crave the approval of foreign governments, it should be attentive to at least a little history. French president Jacques Chirac could lament in the mid-1990s that Clinton’s indecision over Bosnia meant that “the position of leader of the free world is vacant.” That was a complaint we did not hear from Chirac during the Bush 43 administration. For now, we can only wonder what the foreigners will be saying about Obama’s presidential command, or lack thereof. As Americans, we can at least read Peter Rodman’s outstanding book, and judge accordingly.

Reflections on the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran

Michael Rubin, David Frum, Michael A. Ledeen | AEI Online

Three AEI scholars assess the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.
Michael A. Ledeen:

Those lively minds over at the (always capitalized) Intelligence Community have given us yet another of their entertaining estimates, this time about the Iranian nuclear weapons program. You know, the one the Iranians stoutly deny exists, the one they refuse to let inspectors examine, and the one they sometimes acknowledge when one or another of their leaders has a slip of the tongue. The Intelligence Community now favors us with slightly more than two pages of “key judgments” on this important subject.

Two years ago, the Intelligence Community–the same group that claimed to have detailed information about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), that famously missed the boat on al Qaeda, and that has had at least two spy networks inside Iran rolled up in the past couple of decades–told us it was all but certain that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons.” Yesterday, it reversed field. It said that, in fact, two years before the 2005 report, Iran “halted its nuclear weapons program,” and it said that the “halt lasted at least several years” and (although the Intelligence Community is less certain about this) is still in force. There is some disagreement within the community on this point, however. The Energy Department and the National Intelligence Council apparently agree that something was stopped but have at least some doubt as to whether the “halt” encompasses Iran’s “entire nuclear weapons program.”

The Iranians excel at deception, and we have been fooled about the nuclear programs of countries from the Soviet Union to India and Pakistan.

In short, some intelligence analysts think there is no covert nuclear arms program at all, while others are not so sure. In a moment of candor at a briefing on December 3, these gentlemen stressed that Iran has a “latent goal” to develop a nuclear weapon, that “gaps remain” in our information, and that Iran is “probably the hardest intelligence target there is.” And they warn us, in one of their key judgments, that the odds are that Iran will develop nuclear weapons. Parse this: “only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons–and such a decision is inherently reversible.” This seems to imply that the “halt” was a tactical move, not a strategic decision.

You certainly cannot criticize them for failing to cover their derrières. Nonetheless, despite the “gaps in intelligence,” and despite the Islamic Republic’s well-earned reputation for being one of the most deceptive on earth, the Intelligence Community goes right ahead and predicts that Iran is quite a long way away from being able to field nukes. The earliest possible–albeit “highly unlikely”–date at which Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon is late 2009, but it is more reasonable to look to the 2010-15 timeframe. Interestingly enough, this pretty much corresponds to the 2005 forecast, when they said that if Iran’s technical progress increased, they might have enough weapons-grade uranium “by the end of this decade.” And the Intelligence Community stresses that Iran has “the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity . . . to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.

All this deals with the Iranians’ ability to enrich uranium on their own. Of course, they could have obtained some from abroad, and the Intelligence Community admits that it cannot rule out the possibility that Iran has obtained an actual weapon “or enough fissile material for a weapon.”

More derrière protection, and there is still more. After all, the Iranians excel at deception, and we have been fooled about the nuclear programs of countries from the Soviet Union to India and Pakistan. Maybe we have been fooled again. The Intelligence Community does not think so, although, in its usual “on the one hand, yes; on the other hand, maybe” routine, officials responded to the question in the December 3 press briefing by reassuring the press that “we gamed more than half a dozen such scenarios.” But analysts reached the conclusion that such a scenario was “plausible but not likely.”

Tom Joscelyn has wisely warned us to be skeptical about anything that comes from the Intelligence Community, and he rightly asks about the sources for the new conclusion. There is no point guessing about this, and without such knowledge it is very difficult to assess the quality of the analysis. But whatever the spooks think they know has to be evaluated in the light of common sense, the views of other countries, and the history of nuclear proliferation. WMD programs are easier to hide than one imagines. After the first Gulf War, we were astonished to discover how far Saddam’s Iraq had advanced, for example. To claim we “know” that Iran no longer has a covert nuclear weapons program is quite a statement. (Remember how we used to say that you cannot prove a negative? The Intelligence Community seems to know better.)

Moreover, there is the old smell test. We went from zero to bomb in four years leading up to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at a time when nobody even knew if the thing was doable. On the Intelligence Community’s account, the Iranians have been at this since “at least the late 1980s.” (I actually think it did not get into gear until 1991, but let us not quibble.) During that time, almost everything was for sale (and Iran has lots of money), A. Q. Khan was running his bazaar, and Soviet nuclear physicists were hired by Tehran. And the Iranians themselves are very smart. Is it likely that Iran has not been able to build nukes in two decades? No way.

If this NIE is true, the evidence would have to be awfully good. And evidence of that quality has been in famously short supply. These are the same people who have been telling us for years that Sunnis and Shiites cannot work together, when they should have known that Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Shiites) were trained in the early 1970s by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah (Sunnis). Color me an unbeliever.


Michael Rubin:

Congressional Democrats have seized upon the latest NIE–which says Iran stopped pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003–with great relish. They suggest it proves that not only did the Bush administration exaggerate the threat of a nuclear Iran, but that the White House, in its drive for hard-line sanctions backed by military force, has been far too skeptical of diplomacy.

In a statement issued on December 4, Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chastised President Bush, saying his “actions are doubly dangerous because they undercut the cooperation we need from other countries for dealing with the real problems Iran continues to pose.” But Biden and all those who echo his thinking are wrong. In reality, the NIE shows just how costly diplomacy can be when it is not reinforced by strong sanctions and the credible threat of military force.

While Iranian leaders said their program was for peaceful uses, in 2003, inspectors found traces of uranium metal—an element important in nuclear weapons development but not in a civilian energy program—in their centrifuges.

The NIE timeline clearly describes the elaborate deception that occurred during the term of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, when Iran tried to build a nuclear bomb. It proves Iran was cheating even as well-meaning American diplomats believed promises that it was cooperating with the international community.

On August 4, 1997, Khatami declared, “We are in favor of a dialogue between civilizations and a detente in our relations with the outside world.” European diplomats, American academics, and even then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright applauded him. European statesmen opened palaces to him, and the Iranian president became the toast of Rome, Paris, and London.

In fact, to encourage Khatami’s promises of reform, the European Union nearly tripled its trade with Iran–and the Islamic Republic reaped a windfall. But rather than integrate itself into the family of nations, Khatami and the theocratic leadership he served invested the money in a covert quest for the bomb. The NIE proves once and for all that all of Khatami’s talk of dialogue and reform was little more than a smoke screen.

And let us not forget: Biden and Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) were the Iranian president’s chief cheerleaders on Capitol Hill. They may have been well intentioned, but, by caring more about what the Iranian leadership said than what it actually did, they became useful idiots for the regime. Like their European counterparts, they trusted too much and verified too little.

IAEA reports confirm the depth of Iranian subterfuge. While Iranian leaders said their program was for peaceful uses, in 2003, inspectors found traces of uranium metal–an element important in nuclear weapons development but not in a civilian energy program–in their centrifuges. A year later, the IAEA found that Iran experimented with polonium-210, an element used to start the chain reaction leading to the detonation of a nuclear bomb.

Just last month, IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei revealed that Iran had a blueprint for a nuclear warhead provided by disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan during a visit to Tehran in the 1990s. It is this episode more than any other that effectively renders the latest NIE moot. Sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies now assert Iran cannot build a bomb until at least 2010. But they all assume Tehran’s program is indigenous. That is a dangerous assumption indeed.

While Iranian minders usher the IAEA through the regime’s declared facilities, the Revolutionary Guard could simply buy nuclear fuel or components from rogue scientists in Russia, Pakistan, or Libya. The September 2007 revelation that North Korea likely supplied the Syrian government with a nuclear plant underlines this concern.

On December 4, Bush declared, “The NIE does not do anything to change my opinion about the danger Iran poses to the world–quite the contrary.” Other politicians should learn from their mistakes and not, as Biden and his colleagues now counsel, prepare to repeat them.


David Frum:

America’s new intelligence estimate on Iran changes nothing–and it changes everything. Last week, the Bush administration released large portions of its NIE on the Iranian nuclear program. The NIE concluded that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. It cautioned that there remained much to worry about. Iran could revive its weapons program at any time, and it continues to enrich uranium to levels that could serve as the fuel for a nuclear weapon.

Still, the NIE went far to lift the mood of imminent threat. The Iranian nuclear problem remains a huge problem–but maybe not an urgent problem.

It would be very unwise and irresponsible to mark the NIE down as the work of disgruntled internal political opponents in the bureaucracy.

Some have questioned the value of the NIE. No question, intelligence is a very imperfect art. Intelligence agencies often have institutional biases. The CIA in particular has been waging a long-term insurgency against the Bush administration through damaging leaks.

But an NIE is not a CIA product. An NIE represents the consensus view of the sixteen U.S. national intelligence agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the high-tech listening specialists at the National Security Agency. This particular NIE seems to owe a great deal to information provided by Ali Reza Asghari, the Iranian deputy minister of defense who defected to the United States in February 2007. It would be very unwise and irresponsible to mark the NIE down as the work of disgruntled internal political opponents in the bureaucracy.

The NIE is a foundational political fact that will make it politically impossible for the Bush administration to launch a strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities. Now in one sense, this changes nothing. Hype aside (and as I have been writing for eighteen months) the Bush administration has never had any real intention of striking the Iranian nuclear facilities. The new intelligence estimate makes it politically impossible to do something that was not going to happen anyway.

Yet the estimate also changes everything. So long as the world believed that the Bush administration might strike Iran, nobody attached much weight to the administration’s utter lack of nonmilitary policies toward the Islamic Republic. But with force off the table, suddenly the world is noticing that nothing much else is on the table.

Into the void have rushed a thousand policy suggestions. But few of these suggestions begin with a clear view of what the West needs to accomplish in Iran.

The problem in Iran is not the regime’s weaponry; it is the regime itself. Even without nuclear weapons, Iran supports terrorism worldwide. Between 1992 and 1996, Iran embarked on a terrorist rampage, carrying out attacks that killed some two hundred people in Argentina, Germany, and a U.S. base in Saudi Arabia, among other targets. The terror campaign temporarily subsided after 1996 only to resume in 2001, this time targeting first Israel and then Iraq and Afghanistan.

The idea that there is some kind of deal to be made with this regime is highly unrealistic. The Western goal, rather, should be to drive a wedge between the regime and its disaffected population–in the way that the Reagan administration worked to isolate and discredit Eastern European communist regimes in the 1980s. That means reassuring the Iranian population that the United States intends no violence against them–while maintaining economic pressure against the regime and supporting dissident broadcasting and political movements.

Despite rising oil prices, the Iranian regime is in terrible economic shape. (That may be one reason it suspended its costly nuclear program.) Wages are stagnant, inflation is worsening, unemployment is high, gasoline is in short supply. Foreign investors shun Iran not only because of economic sanctions, but also because the country offers a dangerous and unpredictable business environment.

With oil at $100 a barrel, the regime can probably afford to buy enough support to survive. But as it becomes clear that Washington is not planning to attack Iran, that price should decline–as oil prices always do when threat of war subsides. At $60, $50, $40, $30, the regime becomes steadily less durable; the population increasingly impatient; and the chances for change increasingly promising.

Change should be the goal of U.S. policy. Economic pressure and communications operations should be the methods. A “grand bargain” is the dead end to avoid. And war should be seen as what it always is: a sign of policy failure, rather than a tactic to be used for failure to imagine anything better.


Flaws in the Iran Report

John R. Bolton |  Washington Post

Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than “intelligence” analysis, and too many in Congress and the media are happy about it.

Rarely has a document from the supposedly hidden world of intelligence had such an impact as the National Intelligence Estimate released this week. Rarely has an administration been so unprepared for such an event. And rarely have vehement critics of the “intelligence community” on issues such as Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction reversed themselves so quickly.

All this shows that we not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than “intelligence” analysis, and too many in Congress and the media are happy about it. President Bush may not be able to repair his Iran policy (which was not rigorous enough to begin with) in his last year, but he would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function.

Consider these flaws in the NIE’s “key judgments,” which were made public even though approximately 140 pages of analysis, and reams of underlying intelligence, remain classified.

First, the headline finding–that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003–is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between “military” and “civilian” programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran’s “civilian” program that posed the main risk of a nuclear “breakout.”

The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs’ motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause.

Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point. Moreover, the risks and returns of pursuing a diplomatic strategy are policy calculations, not intelligence judgments. The very public rollout in the NIE of a diplomatic strategy exposes the biases at work behind the Potemkin village of “intelligence.”

Third, the risks of disinformation by Iran are real. We have lost many fruitful sources inside Iraq in recent years because of increased security and intelligence tradecraft by Iran. The sudden appearance of new sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism. In a background briefing, intelligence officials said they had concluded it was “possible” but not “likely” that the new information they were relying on was deception. These are hardly hard scientific conclusions. One contrary opinion came from–of all places–an unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency official, quoted in the New York Times, saying that “we are more skeptical. We don’t buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.” When the IAEA is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.

Fourth, the NIE suffers from a common problem in government: the overvaluation of the most recent piece of data. In the bureaucracy, where access to information is a source of rank and prestige, ramming home policy changes with the latest hot tidbit is commonplace, and very deleterious. It is a rare piece of intelligence that is so important it can conclusively or even significantly alter the body of already known information. Yet the bias toward the new appears to have exerted a disproportionate effect on intelligence analysis.

Fifth, many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran’s nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. In fact, these are precisely the policy biases they had before, recycled as “intelligence judgments.”

That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this “intelligence” torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.

John R. Bolton’s Acceptance Remarks for the 2007 Bradley Prizes Awards Ceremony

John R. Bolton |  2007 Bradley Prize Ceremony

John R. Bolton’s acceptance speech for a 2007 Bradley Prize.

Thank you all very much. It is a tremendous honor to receive the Bradley Prize, and to be joined by so many friends in these wonderful circumstances. I want to thank the Bradley Foundation and Michael Grebe, President of the Foundation, and of course the selection committee. The Bradley Foundation’s contribution to the intellectual defense of liberty in this country and around the world is beyond measure. Its support and persistence has been manifested in many ways, in particular such as its long-time partnership with the American Enterprise Institute.There are, of course, many other people I should mention. For example, I should note Senators Lincoln Chafee and Chris Dodd, who did so much to help make me eligible for this Prize. Prominent citizens of Pyongyang, Havana, Damascus, Tehran and elsewhere also pitched in, simply by being themselves. 

But while I am certainly gratified to receive this Prize, the fact of the award contains bad, indeed dangerous, news as well. No one has told me the reasons for the Bradley Foundation’s decision, but I don’t doubt that a significant factor was my service in the Federal government in this Bush Administration and earlier in the Reagan and Bush 41 years.

In my first significant government job, General Counsel of the Agency for International Development in 1981, I decided I should make decisions by asking myself, “what would Ronald Reagan decide if he were sitting in my chair?” I see nothing extraordinary or meritorious about following this course of action, which is a simple extrapolation from the democratic legitimacy constitutionally conferred on a President. The Supreme Court said as much in Myers v. United States: “Each head of a department is and must be the President’s alter ego in the matters of that department. . . .” In a specific example, in Ponzi v. Fessenden, the Court said: “The Attorney General is . . . the hand of the President in taking care that the laws of the United States be faithfully executed.” Below the Cabinet level, other Presidential appointees carry his democratic legitimacy deeper into the bureaucracy, and should have as their primary objective the implementation of the President’s policies.

Yet, we all know, especially in Republican Administrations, that too often this does not happen. Political appointees “go native.” They may be conservatives before they join the Federal government, and they may be conservatives after they leave, but while they are in service, they are simply filling chairs in large bureaucracies. They adopt the attitude of the bureaucracy where they work; they fight its turf fights against Presidential appointees in other bureaucracies, and even within their own Departments, rather than allying together in common philosophical struggles; and they leave their government service without having made the slightest imprint.

There are many excuses for this kind of behavior: the “missions” of their Departments do not give room for philosophical allegiance; their superiors dictate what they can do, and they have no room for maneuver; or, most depressing of all, they have been seduced by their bureaucracy into thinking they are carrying out the President’s policies. This last category is the most dangerous of all, but entertaining as well. I was never more amused in my government service than to hear bureaucrats explaining to me why what they had wanted to do through countless earlier Administrations was exactly what Presidents Reagan, Bush 41, or Bush 43 had in mind when they were elected, even though these same bureaucrats almost undoubtedly voted for their opponents.

To be sure, in most government agencies, conservatives generally find themselves in more or less hostile territory. After all, belief in limited government, as the Bradley Foundation holds, means there is not a government program or service that cannot either be eliminated, trimmed or made more effective. Without exception. Even more difficult is the policy arena, where some civil servants believe they should be fundamentally responsible for policy, rather than, in Jim Baker’s phrase, “the guy who got elected,” and his political appointees. And yet, for the most part, the permanent bureaucracy is content with policies and programs as they are. Ironically, there are many truly professional civil servants, ready to follow our policies, who are repeatedly amazed when we do not follow them ourselves.

In fact, some on the left go even further, arguing that a President should not even be allowed full control over the bureaucracy. In my case, Senators argued that an opponent of arms control should not be made Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, or that a UN critic should not be made UN Ambassador. Following this logic, if, in 1861, there had been a Cabinet Department of Slavery Affairs, Lincoln should have been required to name a pro-slavery Secretary. This line of argument is fundamentally anti-democratic and constitutionally perverse.

We are reminded of Britain’s “Yes, Minister” television series, where the senior career civil servant assures a new Minister that his entire job consists only of moving the pile of papers from his in basket to his out basket. No need to read, understand or modify them; just move the pile from one side of his desk to the other. The new Minister is delighted to hear this, and the career civil servant is delighted that the Minister accepts this “division of labor.” Too many of our political appointees took lessons from that program. I did not. I had my battles with the bureaucracy, which probably explains why I am here tonight. So let me make a confession. On many occasions, during this and prior Administrations, knowingly and willfully, I have committed acts of conservatism. It gets worse. I enjoyed every minute of it.

We must think ahead to future Administrations, not just to policy, and not just to personnel, which we now appreciate from bitter experience are synonymous. We must have people who are both “red and expert,” as Mao Tse-tung liked to say. But we need something more than that. We need people who are red, expert, and determined not to be absorbed into the wallpaper. I doubt that this characteristic is genetic, and I confess I am not exactly sure how to train and instill people with it. Nonetheless, if we find ourselves, sooner or later, with another conservative President, the real challenge is not just filling its senior positions with right-minded people. We must find ways to avoid the seduction of the permanent bureaucracy; to remind appointees that fighting bureaucratic turf fights is not why conservative Presidents are elected; and above all, to make their government service philosophically productive.

That is something to which many in this audience could and should contribute, a kind of basic training for political appointees. Success could be measured by the commission of so many acts of conservatism in government service, that there is no need to award future Bradley Prizes to note their uncommonness.

Thank you very much.

America’s First Elder Stateswoman

John R. Bolton |  Jeane Kirkpatrick Memorial Service


Today is Ronald Reagan’s birthday. I think that, at least on this day, it’s always “morning in America.” And if that doesn’t make you feel good, then I suspect Jeane Kirkpatrick might say, you must be a “San Francisco Democrat.”

Twenty-six years ago, we were two weeks into the Reagan administration, and Jeane had just started in New York as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, the initial step on her road to becoming America’s first “elder stateswoman.” She spent over four years in that job, at a contentious and difficult time in our history. Reagan had decided–contrary to the conventional wisdom, including from within his own party–that the Cold War was winnable. He wanted Jeane at the UN to handle that battlefield, which she did magnificently, although at times it could feel, to borrow a Civil War term, like the Wilderness Campaign.

But Jeane was born in Oklahoma, where they say that the only things between them and the north wind blowing out of Canada are a few tumbleweeds. Jeane wasn’t from Muskogee, but she nonetheless bore the imprint described in Merle Haggard’s song about her fellow Okies from that town. Like many Americans, however sophisticated and worldly they become, Okies know their roots, and they’re proud of them.

In fact, Jeane’s time at the U.S. mission on First Avenue in Manhattan–and across the street–could be descibed by a lyric from another Merle Haggard song: “When you’re running down my country, you’re walking on the fighting side of me.” And, let me assure you, that can be a full time occupation at the UN. As Jeane once said, “What takes place in the Security Council more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem solving.”

Despite her famous Dallas convention speech in 1984, Jeane worried more about ideas than party, largely because she believed that ideas–more than institutions–shaped the future. It was, of course, her ideas that brought her to Reagan’s attention, and then to the United Nations.

Central to that article in Commentary, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” was her support for John Stuart Mill’s three fundamental conditions for representative government: “One, that the people should be willing to receive it; two, that they should be willing and able to do what is necessary for its preservation; three, that they should be willing and able to fulfill the duties and discharge the functions which it imposes on them.”

These are tough and unpleasant truths, and hard tasks, the sort Jeane confronted unceasingly during her diplomatic and academic careers, never flinching from the consequences, yet always handling herself with grace and dignity. She inspired generations of students and research assistants; colleagues and adversaries; friends and family; and successors. We will all miss her.

God bless you, Jeane.


Risking NATO’s Future?

By John R. Bolton

As expected, the European Union’s leaders, meeting in Helsinki over the weekend, approved the creation of a 60,000-troop rapid reaction force, designed to act independently of NATO.

As expected, the European Union’s leaders, meeting in Helsinki over the weekend, approved the creation of a 60,000-troop rapid reaction force, designed to act independently of NATO. This decision follows an unprecedented meeting of the EU’s foreign and defense ministers, which appointed Javier Solana (formerly NATO secretary general) to head the long-moribund Western European Union, in addition to his new EU position as the impressively named “High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy.” It also follows French President Jacques Chirac’s provocative and openly anti-American speech in the first week of November.
As with many EU decisions, and especially those surrounding the European Security and Defense Identity (“ESDI”), considerable confusion exists as to the exact implications of the Helsinki decision. British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to calm American concerns by saying, “This is a move entirely complementary to NATO. It’s not against NATO or a substitute for NATO.” In fact, Helsinki effectively reversed the United Kingdom’s longstanding policy against a military role for the European Union. Mr. Blair’s decision, ironically supported by his good friend President Clinton, is a major step “into” Europe for the British, and, if implemented, a major step away from America.

Following Mr. Chirac’s Nov. 4 speech, a senior European diplomat was quoted in the media saying that “this issue could end up driving a stake through the heart of the alliance.” This is really the key point. If all of the recent European moves – from the announcement some years ago of a joint “Franco-German” corps, to last year’s St. Malo declaration, to the more recent agitation precipitated by the air campaign against the former Yugoslavia – were in fact purely and simply efforts to increase Europe’s contribution to NATO, America would be foolish not to agree. And it is certainly true that many Europeans, not just the Blair government, honestly and in good faith believe that ESDI is not inconsistent with NATO, and is not intended to weaken the alliance.

Of course, if the Europeans really wanted to make a larger contribution to NATO, they would substantially increase their military budgets, in virtually all areas (research and development, procurement and readiness), both in absolute dollar terms and as a percentage of GNP. Unfortunately, not only are they not doing so, but their total budgets, particularly Continental welfare systems, are more squeezed than before because of the effects of European Monetary Union, forcing painful budget restraints in politically popular domestic programs. It should, therefore, come as little surprise that defense budgets are likely to come under even greater downward pressure in the very near future. This fact, uncomfortable for both Europeans and Americans, is perhaps the strongest practical reason not to worry too much (for now, at least) about ESDI: European checkbooks simply will not match the political rhetoric.

But even impecunious budgets cannot obscure the basic political direction of key European leaders. Nor can the good faith of pro-NATO Europeans alter reality, and the reality is that a separate European defense “identity” whether as a “pillar” within NATO, or outside of the alliance, will inevitably change NATO forever, and perhaps eviscerate it. This is an inherent problem of alliance cohesion and management, and not something than can be papered over with the inevitable EU verbiage about architecture. If the Europeans desire and can actually achieve a separate, unified, military capacity, without recourse to the United States -which is what many say they want – then they have effectively eliminated the rationale for NATO as we have known it. It simply blinks political and military experience not to believe that a European “identity,” within NATO or not, would fundamentally change the relationship between the United States and the Europeans. Mr. Solana himself has said expressly he is aiming for “a new equilibrium between Europe and the United States and Canada.” That is also precisely what Mr. Chirac seeks, to end both American “dominance” of the alliance, and European dependence on U.S. capabilities and technologies.

Europeans are quick to remind Americans that we should not really take the French seriously, and that Mr. Chirac and his colleagues do not speak for all Europeans when, for example, they attack the United States as a “hyperpuissance.” Nonetheless, those closest to us in Europe are under no illusions about what is actually happening. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Conservatives, who have successfully frustrated Mr. Blair’s desire for British membership in EMU, are now beginning to make ESDI an important subject of debate. Shadow Defense Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith recently gave Americans a wake-up call in testimony to the House International Relations Committee, and Mr. Blair is clearly worried enough he has attacked the Tories as “mischievous and misguided” on the issue. Mischievous they might be, but misguided they certainly are not.

All of the responsible presidential candidates favor a strong NATO, but as the 2000 campaign gets under way, the alliance is unmistakably at risk. The candidates should understand that it is precisely the opposite of unilateralism to raise this concern, and to demand that the Europeans face the inherent consequences of enhancing politico-military structures independent of NATO. If the United States fails to take decisive action during the next administration, there is every possibility that within 10 years, NATO will lose its military rationale and its domestic political support here. We might well face the prospect that it is the WEU that is the real alliance, and NATO the appendage, rather than the other way around.