Friday, November 30, 2012

Britain's speech sickness and why Leveson would make it worse

'I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.'

Thomas Jefferson was right, free speech is not a perfect value. Because of the infinite subjectivity that defines free speech, sometimes its ideal can achieve a discord counter to the common interest. But when free speech is excessively restrained, society is also detained in a dark, stagnant cell of lost ideas and imprisoned truths. Sadly in Britain, the cell door is closing at an alarming rate.

In order to keep the cell door open, the British Parliament must first reject Leveson's advisory to establish a new press regulatory framework. If MPs follow his recommendations, they will weaken the 'scrutiny of power' that any functioning democracy requires. A new and expansive regulatory body will mean that the contours of 'legitimate' speech in Britain, are practically and (via the 'chilling effect') perceptively determined by the subjective opinions of regulators, rather than by the individual instincts of journalists. Hacking and harassment are already illegal under UK law and simply require more effective enforcement. New restrictions on press freedom would only serve to reinforce the terrible condition of the UK's present speech law.
For a timely example of the current law's negative impact, look to Lord McAlpine. After wrongly being accused as a sex offender, McAlpine's ensuing fury was obviously justified. Unfortunately, instead of pursuing vindication via the facts, McAlpine has gone far further. Seeking to take advantage of the thousands of twitter users who repeated the false allegations when they first made the news (and before the error became established), McAlpine's legal team have demanded that all these 'tweeters' pay a price. Tweeters must apologize, hand over their details and will then be required to make individually determined charity donations (plus an 'administration charge') in restitution for their sins.

McAlpine seeks to use the law for intimidation and profit. By attacking non-malicious speech by those who, albeit wrongly, believed they were speaking on a critical truth - a sex abuse scandal at the heart of the British political establishment, McAlpine is challenging the basic and larger presumption of free speech - 'scrutiny of power'. McAlpine could have accepted an apology and compensation from major media outlets. Instead, by the impact his lawsuits will have on 'chilling' future speech, the former Parliamentarian has struck another blow against free speech in Britain.

Beyond McAlpine's example, there are two overarching elements to Britain's present speech malady - the criminal element and the commercial.

First, the criminal side. This year, Britons have been arrested for an array of speech offenses. In March, a student was imprisoned for his racist tweets. In August, a seventeen year old was arrested and given a formal warning after he sent a taunting message to an Olympian. In October, a man was jailed for 12 weeks after he made jokes about a missing five year old girl. In November, a man was arrested after he set fire to a poppy and uploaded its photo onto Facebook. True, all these acts were affronts to common decency. But it's also true that in each case, the speakers words lacked a joined violent intention. By setting such a restrictive boundary for speech, English law asserts popular emotion at the cost of the individual's voice. Supporters of these restrictions would have us believe that the laws stabilize society by establishing norms of social interaction. They are wrong. By limiting speech on passionately held issues, the law drives the purveyors of such speech to burrow into hardened narratives of victimhood and to coalesce in new coalitions of anger and fear. Just look at the rise of the far right 'English Defense League'. For all its idiocy and evil, the group is still seen by its members as a voice for the 'oppressed'.

As history teaches us, excessive restriction of free speech can also quickly lead to a deeply unpleasant reality.

Now the commercial front to Britain's speech sickness.
Though obfuscated by the phone hacking scandal, over the past few years Britain's rich and powerful have increasingly pursued aggressive legal action against those who would threaten their 'brand image'. Using democratically ludicrous creations like the 'super-injunction', lawyers have gagged the public. At the same time, by restricting public awareness of public figures true personas and then simultaneously allowing those figures to make money off their false public images, the Courts have stood in defense of false corporate personalities. An example? Until his super-injunction cloaked extra-marital affair was leaked in Parliament, soccer star Ryan Giggs was viewed by countless parents as a role model for their children. When you consider Giggs's endorsement deals, his false personality certainly did no harm for his wallet.

So, thanks to the English Courts and their ally in Leveson, public access to relevant knowledge is being sacrificed at the false altar of 'private information'. The result? The English judiciary has become an absolute arbiter of 'fact', as well as a gleeful and in terms of 'binding the world', even global defender of misrepresentation. Thus far, the British Government has been an active ally to this agenda.

Aside from the philosophical-moral deficiency inherent in Britain's war on free speech, English law also reaps varied and highly destructive practical consequences for the UK. 


Fearing a defamation suit, The Sunday Times failed to print allegations that Qatar's soccer World Cup bid was being pursued via corrupt means. The impact? In 2022, the world's greatest supporting event might be the result of bribes.

Art critics are increasingly reluctant to report suspected forgeries.

Terrorism researchers writing thousands of miles away from Britain are summoned to pay defamation awards in response to their crucial analysis.

In 2008, Jimmy Savile (Britain's Sandusky) sued The Sun after it linked him to a sex abuse scandal. Savile effectively chilled future allegations and was able to escape justice for the many sex crimes it now appears that he committed.

And so, from art to criminal conduct, from sport to politics, the insidious face of British speech law is rendered apparent. Without tolerance for speech, British democracy will become little more than the servant of the lawyer and the bastion of the activist judge. Free speech imprisoned; debate will stifle, ideas will wilt and the powerful will reap the dividends of a society deprived of effective scrutiny.

The British Parliament must reject the Leveson report.

If you liked this piece, you might enjoy one of my other free speech focused pieces-
American Free Speech is Exceptional
Free speech in NYC
The most recent US free speech case. We are lucky to have The First Amendment.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Susan Rice and the Debt Negotiations

1) Susan Rice is facing some stormy waters in her move to succeed Hillary Clinton at State. Earlier today the Ambassador met with three top Republican Senators on Capitol Hill. The meeting didn't go well. A couple of weeks ago I blogged about why I didn't support Rice's nomination for State (and why I support Kerry instead). My feelings haven't changed. It should be evident even to hard-core Democrats that if Rice is incapable of talking privately with three Senators without infuriating them, then she probably isn't suited to the role of America's chief 'diplomat'.

2) The New York Times is reporting that the fiscal cliff negotiations are facing resistance by Democrats to entitlement reform. If the Democrats are unwilling to negotiate in good faith, the only option open to the GOP will be the cliff. It's either the cliff, or the abyss that will surely follow if we don't face up to our problems. I have long argued that Republicans must be willing to be make serious compromises as part of these discussions. But only if reciprocity is the tenor of the talks. Resolving America's fiscal crisis requires reform of Medicare. This is a truth that cannot be escaped.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chris Christie V Muslim hating morons

A reader has asked for my thoughts re- the attack by some 'conservatives' on Chris Christie's Islamic outreach program. Over the past couple of weeks, fringe GOPers have attacked Christie for supposedly supporting terrorists. These idiots hate Christie because he rightly opposed the GOP furor over the Park 51 Mosque. These attacks are absolutely absurd. Membership of a large Mosque is no grounds for an assault on the dignity of American citizens. Mosques, like large churches, often tend to have congregations that reach into the thousands. As we didn't judge Catholic congregations for the offenses of some Catholic priests, we shouldn't judge Muslim congregations for the offenses of individuals. To do so is intellectually defective and rooted in pure prejudice. As I opined a while back, Republicans must speak out against casual attacks on our Muslim fellow citizens.
Republicans should remember our history

Don't toss this coin - the terrible two sided face of nuclear proliferation in the Islamic world

Concerning the challenges to international security posed by nuclear proliferation, much greater attention must be given to the relationships between different Islamic extremist organizations.

Consider Hezbollah's attitude towards Al Qa'ida. If Iran attains a nuclear weapon, Hezbollah's peripheral access presents many problems. Such a capability (whether perceived or real) would enable Hezbollah to pursue nuclear blackmail against Israel and the United States, but also against Al Qa'ida. Rooted in a history of conflict and accentuated by years of recent and brutal Shia-Sunni sectarian bloodletting in Iraq, Hezbollah despises Al Qa'ida and its allies. Where the groups do sometimes co-operate, this co-operation is vested in shared short term interests. Hezbollah ultimately opposes Al Qa'ida's objectives, because Al Qa'ida seeks to destroy Hezbollah's on-going pursuit of greater Shia theological power in political Islam (see below). For Hezbollah, weakening Al Qa'ida isn't just a defensive objective, it's a means to pursue the precedence of Shia theology at the forefront of Islamic 'traditionalist' discourse. And in obvious terms, a nuclear weapon is a powerful tool for that agenda.

Next let's consider the Al Qa'ida perspective. Yesterday's news from Pakistan indicates that whether involving subscribers to Salafist (Al Qai'da) or fundamentalist Deobandi (Pakistani Taliban) theology, an embedded hatred underpins the outlook of many Sunni extremists when it comes to Shia Muslims. Anyone who doubts the strategic importance of this hatred should read Al Zarqawi's 2004/05 letters from Iraq. Should these individuals gain access to nuclear weapons, the outcome would be rather unpleasant. In such a scenario, while India, the US and Israel would certainly be in the crosshairs, major Shia Islamist groups like Hezbollah would also face a major threat. Thus is the understated point - Al Qa'ida would believe that they finally had the means to 'purify' Islam.

In essence, while nuclear proliferation in the Middle East obviously presents a profound challenge for international state security dynamics, it also portends a second, equally dangerous face. A security environment where non-state groups which idolize counter-intuitive notions of existential value, are armed with nuclear weapons and propelled by hatred, mistrust and irreconcilable ideologies. This would be a security dilemma on steroids- unrestrained, uncontrollable and a whisper away from nuclear war.

Post-update - See my related analysis on why Muslims must confront Islamic extremism
For my further thoughts on Iran- links here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cease Fire-Israel Hamas

We appear to have a cease fire. As I noted in posts below, at first appearance this agreement makes little sense from an Israeli perspective. Until you consider the following factors.

1) As I thought, the key reason for Netanyahu's acceptance of a cease fire was the pressure that the US placed on him to acquiesce to the Egyptian peace plan. Netanyahu knows he has to deal with a second term Obama and that he will need US co-operation on Iran going forwards. He evidently decided that he could not afford to alienate the President.

2) The Egyptian Government of President Morsi committed to the US and to Israel that he would prevent Hamas smuggling into Gaza from Egyptian soil. At least at the present level. Israel wants a positive relationship with Egypt and is evidently willing to bend in order to achieve this. Israel wants to see if Morsi can live up to his word. And as Netanyahu put it when announcing the cease fire, Israel has the power to use greater force against Hamas if it becomes necessary.

3) President Obama has committed to Netanyahu that he will increase US support for counter-Iran action vis-a-vis Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups. This is crucial for the Israelis. Linking to point 1, Netanyahu has obviously decided that the Gaza question is peripheral to the Iran question.

In conclusion, while by agreeing to the Egyptian accords Israel has granted Hamas an unprecedented propaganda victory, Israel also appears to have gained significant concessions from the US with regards to other Israeli national security concerns. In essence, the Gaza cease fire has its roots in concerns far broader than Israeli threat perceptions re-Hamas. As I noted a couple of weeks ago (see my latest daily caller piece), policy decisions in the Middle East are currently being made with reference to regional rather than local dynamics.

Earlier pieces - 
Israel Cease Fire
Israel-Hamas - what the bus bombing means
What Israel expects from a cease fire
Israel-Hamas conflict continues 
Israel-Hamas conflict begins

Israel Cease Fire

Israeli sources are reporting that Netanyahu has agreed to implement a unilateral cease fire, beginning later this evening. In addition, Israel will reportedly meet Hamas demands to relax border restrictions. If these reports are true (and I expect they are far too simple), Israel will have given Hamas victory from the jaws of defeat. The only explanation I can think of is that Secretary Clinton has told Netanyahu that he must terminate the Israeli operation. Let's see what happens.

Israel-Hamas - What the bus bombing means

Today's bomb attack on an Israeli civilian bus, apparently conducted by the Al-Asqa martyrs brigade, will weaken the short term prospects for a peace deal. That Al Asqa would conduct such an attack suggests the group is concerned with Hamas taking ownership of 'the resistance'. Al Asqa's links to the Fatah movement of President Abbas further accentuate my impression that there is a Palestinian political motivation behind this attack, as much as there is an anti-Israel component. As I have argued over the past few days (please see previous posts), Israel does not want a cease fire that has little durable meaning and power. Hamas does not want to be seen as weak, but also neither can continue to suffer such significant military losses. Fatah does not want to be seen as an impotent bystander. There is little question that Israel retains the upper hand with negotiations. The IDF is degrading Hamas power infrastructure and is thus affording a great deal of flexibility for Netanyahu's policy options. Israel can demand major concessions from Hamas as a condition for peace-expect a final cease fire to address Israeli concerns over Hamas smuggling operations from Egypt into Gaza.

In conclusion, I expect that today's bus bombing will cause an escalation in near term violence but that Hamas will ultimately make greater concessions over the next few days- leading to a cease fire. Hamas cannot continue to absorb the damage that they are suffering.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Israel - Hamas conflict - What Israel expects from a cease fire

The conflict between Israel and Hamas shows few indications of de-escalation. From my perspective, the Israelis are conducting an effective campaign against Hamas. The IDF is weakening Hamas military infrastructure, degrading Hamas command and control apparatus and exerting huge pressure on the group's fighters. As a result of these successes, the Israeli Government believes that it has the power to impose a tough price tag on Hamas demands for a cease fire. This was evident in yesterday's failed talks in Egypt. At the discussions, in addition to requiring that Hamas end their rocket fire as a prerequisite for a reciprocal halt to IDF operations, Israel also demanded a longer term Hamas pledge to disavow violence and accept that Israel would have the enduring right to launch pre-emptive attacks in case of 'imminent' threat intelligence. In essence, the Israeli leadership made demands that would fundamentally alter the status quo. Why? Israel does not want a cease fire which only allows Hamas time to regroup and reconstitute for future attacks. I'm sympathetic to this approach. A cease fire is supposed to be an agreed termination of combat, designed to provide political space for a broader negotiation framework. A cease fire is not supposed to exist as a tactical retreat which services the pursuit of Hamas broader strategic end; the destruction of Israel. This distinction is fundamentally important in driving Israel's perspective on when Operation Pillar of Defense can end. Put simply, Israel wants a cease fire that portends a more durable peaceful reliability.

As a side note, it is crucial to remember that Hamas and their allies are extremely astute to the regional and international political environment. They understand that media reporting of Palestinian casualties in Gaza produces diplomatic difficulties for Israel. They understand that engaging Egyptian and Turkish Government anger over Gaza, in turn increases pressure on the US/EU to then pressure Israel for a quick cease fire. This dynamic informs why Hamas and the PIJ use Gaza's civilian infrastructure for cover. For these groups, Gaza civilians are little more than a shield and a propaganda tool. Fortunately, even amidst Hamas efforts to immerse themselves among the people, Israel has been effective in their clinical application of force. For an example, see this morning's highly discriminate attack on an Islamic Jihad leader who was operating out of one floor of a media building.*

It is my opinion that until Israel believes a cease fire will be durable and will lead to a real rather than fake peace, the state will not accede to Hamas demands to end the violence.
*Contrary to what some might say, if an enemy agent is operating in a media capacity that focuses on the command and control and mobilization of his forces, then that agent is not a journalist protected under international law. He is an enemy combatant and a justified military target.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Israel-Hamas conflict continues

The conflict between Israel and Hamas shows no signs of abating. Neither Netanyahu nor Hamas believe that they can back down at this point. As I have written (see posts over past few days), both Israel and Hamas have broader reasons for their actions in this conflict. This overarching dynamic has not weakened, instead it is exacerbated with each new death. However, by effectively injecting themselves into the conflict, the Egyptian Government's actions will lead to two evolutions. First, Israeli-Egyptian relations will further deteriorate (both now and in the medium term): at some point this may lead to a skirmish along the Egyptian/Israeli border. Second, Egypt's engagement gives Hamas a huge, (although I would argue unwarranted) PR boost. Having said this, the Israeli Government will not significantly alter their operational planning because of the presence of Egyptian officials in Gaza. When the Egyptian PM visited Gaza earlier today, Israel implemented a cease fire. However, when Hamas continued to fire rockets during that cease fire, Israel responded with further air strikes. The Israelis will be anxious to send the message that they will not allow Egypt to provide a form of 'human shield' for Hamas. Earlier today a friend who lives in Jerusalem (and who is a top Israel-Palestinian conflict expert) told me that he cannot understand why Hamas is firing on Jerusalem. As he noted, many Palestinians live in that city and the rocket fire risks damaging the Dome of the rock. I think this shows the faux morality of Hamas 'liberation' narrative.

 I believe that this conflict will continue for at least a few more days; Israel's targeting of Hamas PM Haniyeh signals Netanyahu's strategic intent to strike a major blow against the group. But one thing is important. Regardless of individual attitudes surrounding the debate over 'right versus wrong' in this particular operation, it is important that observers do not become pawns for Hamas propaganda. 
           Hamas is not a liberation force struggling valiantly for freedom. They exist on a platform of overt hatred towards Jews, the destruction of Israel and the imposition of an ideological tyranny on the Palestinian people. Think about these truths. For Hamas, a bus is not a method of transport, but instead an opportunity for murder. A nightclub is not a place of celebration, but instead a place to blow up kids. An apartment block is not a place for living, but instead a place for a targeting post. A college is not a place for learning, but instead for a bomb factory. A Palestinian civilian is not a fellow citizen deserving of protection, but instead a human shield.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Israel, Hamas, Petraeus, Xi Jinping and BP

1) The conflict between Israel and Hamas is reaching new levels of escalation. As I predicted on Tuesday, the day before the conflict erupted, both Hamas and Israel have their own reasons for taking a tough stand. Regardless, in terms of my analysis now that the conflict is underway, I have a number of thoughts. First, in my view Hamas is to blame. Before Israel began to respond, Hamas had fired hundreds rockets at Israel settlements. No state can tolerate the continuation of such aggression. Israel had to respond. Now that Israeli forces are committed, Israel's objective should be to degrade Hamas ability to fire rockets at Israel and to challenge Hamas consideration of the consequences that such rocket attacks will incur. Second, in military terms, Israel should focus on air power rather than a ground force engagement. Facing an enemy such as Hamas, which revels in the use of human shields, any Israeli ground force action will inevitably cause significant civilian casualties (as well as put Israeli service personnel at far greater risk). In addition to the moral component of these casualties, Israel would suffer a strategic defeat in the public affairs narrative that would follow in media reporting. Populist sympathy among Palestinians would be driven towards Hamas and away from the more moderate leadership of President Abbas. Iran and Syria would attempt to use this narrative to drive a divide into the present anti-Assad alliance between Israel and Turkey. Iran and Syria would try to use such a narrative to distract attention away from their own activities in the region. In contrast to the risks inherent in a ground operation, the Israeli Air Force can continue to inflict severe damage on Hamas military infrastructure without ground force-comparative risks. The Israeli intelligence apparatus has extensive intelligence capabilities in Gaza and these assets enable effective targeting from the air.

2) The Petraeus 'scandal' rumbles along. It seems to me that this scandal represents the worst element of media sensationalism. The 'scandal' has seemingly not jeopardized any national security imperatives and yet the media are still baying for blood. General Allen, the ISAF commander, is now being dragged through the dirt for supposedly having committed the crime of the century - 'sending flirtatious emails'. Give me a break.

3) The coronation of the next Chinese leader is underway. Xi Jinping appears to be a pragmatist with some positive feelings towards the United States. We shall see. A strong relationship between China and the United States would be great for both countries. However, such a relationship must be built on a foundation of open dialogue and trust. Again, we shall see.

4) The BP settlement re- criminal justice sanctions, should draw a line under the Horizon explosion. Compensation has been paid, people have been fired. But we don't need a situation in which populist anger is allowed to drive the situation onwards into perpetuity.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

New Daily Caller Piece

UPDATE 11/14 Sadly, today's news shows that my analysis appears to be correct. Below is the text of my Daily Caller piece.

Tensions are escalating in the Middle East. Faced with a regional dynamic in which systemic political change beckons, state and non-state actors alike are increasingly resorting to the use of force to defend and assert their foundations of power.
Because of the complexity of Middle Eastern politics, it’s best to examine each actor in turn.

Iran. In recent weeks, Iran has dramatically increased its assertiveness in the region. Just before the U.S. presidential election, Iran attempted to shoot down a U.S. surveillance drone that was flying over international waters. In legal terms, this was an act of war. So, what’s behind Iran’s actions? The answer is pretty simple: It’s the economy, stupid. Western sanctions are exerting extreme pressure on the Iranian economy and, as a result, Iran’s government is facing growing popular unrest. Iran’s leaders feel that they need to alter the status quo. So Iran is trying to force the international community back to the negotiating table. Threatening conflict also tends to drive up oil prices and improve Iranian government balance sheets. Because I don’t believe that Iran will be willing to give up its nuclear program, I expect the sanctions to continue and Iran to continue lashing out.

Syria. In the past few weeks, Bashar al-Assad has shown an increased willingness to test the patience of neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Israel. This is deliberate. With its foreign capital reserves running dry, the Syrian regime is running out of time to defeat the rebels. Assad needs a Hail Mary. By threatening neighboring states, Assad does two things. First, he discourages those states from supporting the rebels. Second, he sends a message to the West that he will not give up power without a fight — and that his fall would have major repercussions.

Hezbollah. Because Hezbollah is both an overt political party and a covert terrorist group, analyzing its activities is difficult. However, Hezbollah seems to be pursuing a more hardline strategy now than it has in the past. For instance, the group recently flew a drone over Israel, and it appears to have played a role in the recent assassination of a senior Lebanese intelligence officer in Beirut. I think there are two reasons for this. First, Hezbollah is trying to act as a counterweight to Western pressure on Assad — essentially, Hezbollah is seeking to support Assad by threatening violent regional instability unless the West backs down from its efforts against him. Second, along with Hamas (see below), Hezbollah is attempting to reinforce Iran’s threats.

Hamas. Over the last few days, Hamas has been indirectly attacking Israel with rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip (Hamas claims that Islamic Jihad is responsible for these attacks, but Hamas controls Gaza). Again, why? I believe that Hamas is attempting to push Israel into an over-reaction that would distract the region from Assad and Hezbollah, while also providing moral support to Iran’s increasingly aggressive strategy. Hamas may also be trying to consolidate its political support in Gaza.

Israel. Israel is faced with a multitude of increasingly hostile enemies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to deter those enemies by projecting strength. Netanyahu’s aggressive stance may also be motivated by domestic political considerations.
Because the stakes in contemporary Middle Eastern politics are so high, actors are desperate to shape the evolving political environment in their favor. This is driving them to pursue increasingly risky courses of action.

New Guardian Piece

Check out my latest Guardian piece - The Republican Party needs a coalition beyond its core

Monday, November 12, 2012

Successors at DoD, State and CIA

The Washington Post is suggesting that Susan Rice, the current US Ambassador to the UN, will be President Obama's next Secretary of State (Clinton wants to retire). The Post is also reporting that Senator John Kerry is being actively considered to replace Leon Panetta as Defense Secretary (Panetta wants to go home to California). Both Clinton and Panetta have been impressive Secretaries who require worthy successors. 

These reports concern me a little.

First the Secretary of State. Susan Rice is evidently very bright. But her record at the UN has been far from stellar. Assad remains entrenched in power, China and Russia continue to prevent truly effective sanctions against both Assad and Iran. In addition, Rice's comments on Benghazi were poorly conceived and misled the American people (though I do not believe these comments were made with malicious intent). While many foreign policy powers are beyond the reach of an Ambassador, I lack confidence in Rice's record. Secretary of State Clinton's replacement must be an individual who possesses a strong reputation. I am not convinced that Ambassador Rice sufficiently meets that criteria. If I were the President (and IF I held Obama's foreign policy views), the top candidates on my list for State would be John Kerry, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton and Dick Lugar. All four of these individuals are extremely well informed on international relations and US foreign policy. All four would devote their focus to the major responsibilities of the office (they wouldn't get sucked up into the beltway bs flow).

With regards to the Secretary of Defense, I do not believe that John Kerry would make a good choice. Unlike with foreign policy, Kerry lacks a substantive background in defense issues and from my perspective would be far stronger interacting with diplomats than with generals. If I were the President (and IF I shared Obama's defense policy) I would have three names on my list. Colin Powell, Andrew Exum, John Nagl. Ignoring the fact that Exum would probably make the youngest SecDef in history, all three candidates would bring the drive, experience and intellectual understanding needed to effectively manage the US drawdown in Afghanistan and re-shape the US Military for the post Afghanistan-Iraq war environment.

On the CIA Director position, the President should short list John Brennan, Mike Morell (to go permanent), Dianne Feinstein and Cofer Black.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Petraeus - A great American

Like his Iraq counter-insurgent ally, Ryan Crocker, David Petraeus is facing some personal challenges. No one is perfect, but in terms of national dedication and distinguished service, few Americans come anywhere close to these two men. Navigating extraordinary political challenges abroad and domestic war weariness at home, they brought Iraq back from the brink and helped move Afghanistan towards a surer course. Back in May, I wrote an op/ed on their exceptional public service.

Their Iraq record speaks for itself

Iran and the Debt Negotiations

I am now in DC. Two stories are absorbing my interest at the moment.

1) Iran's attack on a US reconnaissance drone that was flying in international air space. 
 This incident doesn't surprise me. In fact, after the Beirut bombing a couple of weeks ago, I argued that in pursuit of weakening the international alliance opposing them, Iran, Hizballah and Syria were attempting to export violence and instability into regional political dynamics. Faced with crippling international sanctions in response to their nuclear program, Iran's economy is now in free fall. Inflation is exceptionally high, and Iran's oil export industry (the lifeblood of the economy) is struggling with unprecedented sanctions. Again, from my perspective Iran's latest action is unsurprising. I have consistently argued (see my guardian piece) that Iran responds to increasing sanction pressure with increasing aggression. The Iranians believe that Western fear of a war will lead to a collapse of the anti-Iranian alliance. Accepting this Iranian strategic understanding, the United States must respond carefully but robustly. While there should be no military response to this latest incident, the President should order USAF/USN fighter escorts for further drone flights over the next few weeks. If Iran attempts another attack, the President should order the US Military to take responsive defensive action.  
From a legal perspective, this attack was an act of war. However, it was one of many such acts that Iran has engaged against the US in recent years.

2) The looming debt negotiations. House Speaker, John Boehner, has signaled a willingness to re-engage serious debt negotiations with the President. This is a positive step. However, it will be important to see whether the president is serious about offering major reforms to Medicare (the core debt driver). The President must be honest and open in his dealings with Republicans. Sadly, this was not the case the last time debt negotiations took place.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Debate

My pre-election debate on BBC News, November 5th. I have to admit that my predictions were a little off.

Election Thoughts

Congratulations to the President and his campaign team. They fought a hard contest and implemented another extraordinary get out the vote effort.

Counter to my predictions as to what would happen, this was a major victory for the President. The swing states fell in his favor with relative ease.  Why did he win? I think in large part, Obama's victory stemmed from a general voter conclusion in the last week or two that the economy had finally turned a corner. In addition, clowns like Akin and Mourdoch did immeasurable damage to the Republican brand over the course of the campaign. These 'morons' (as I described them on BBC News a couple of days ago), lost two Senate races in which sane GOP candidates would have been firm favorites. In Mourdoch's case, not only is the Senate seat lost, but a great Republican statesman, Dick Lugar, has been lost as well. 

What does the Republican Party need to do now? First, we need to focus on the debt negotiations. House Republicans must protect the military from what would be catastrophic spending cuts. Second, we need to ensure that the party brand is not polluted by Akinesque individuals. We need to stand for freedom. The American people need to understand we are the party of freedom. Third, we need a hard headed but realistic approach towards our interactions with the President. Where real compromise is in the interest of the country - we must pursue that compromise. However, this willingness to negotiate MUST be a reciprocal arrangement. We need to see an evolution in the President's willingness to engage in serious negotiations. Failure to reach a negotiating reality will mean continued deadlock.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The six reasons why America will remain great

Today sees the end of what has been a tough and at times even vicious presidential campaign. With such serious issues at stake, it's understandable that much emotion is invested in this contest and its outcome. But we must be honest with ourselves. While today's election will determine our national leadership for the next four years, whoever wins, America will remain a great nation worthy our patriotism.

There are six nationally defining characteristics that explain why.

The first is Confidence. While the economic downturn has depressed short term optimism about the future, our enduring national confidence remains the envy of the world. Our affinity for confidence is one of our finest national traits. True, sometimes our optimism has more roots in fiction than in fact, but there is nothing bad in this. At worst, dreams are harmless fantasies, but at best, they are bold markers which encourage us (at times quite literally) to reach for the stars. Our confidence gives us the sustaining belief that our unending, challenging but rewarding journey of improvement and advancement is one worth taking.

The second is Commitment. Whether our commitment to the rule of law, to the ideals of freedom, or to each other, America is defined by commitment. American workers are among the most productive in the World. American athletes train and compete with incredible focus. American military personnel are the most relentless in the world. Americans don't like to give half-way effort or leave a task half complete.

The third is Community. Visitors to America are always struck by our national, state and local love of community. Whether in the national patriotism of flying a flag, or the simple act of supporting a school sports match, 'community' is central to our American identity. Our communities are the product of shared beliefs, shared interests and our shared respect for one another. In physical essence, Community is the physical expression of our national motto- 'E Pluribus Unum' 'Out of many, One'.

The fourth is Courage. Since the founding fathers rose to freedom by challenging the world's greatest empire, Americans have been defined by our courage. Since 9/11 we have seen abundant evidence that our national courage remains undiminished. From Todd Beamer to Mike Murphy and from Chesley Sullenberger to Wesley Autrey, American courage is alive and well. The reach of our courage extends not just to America, but also, as we see in Afghanistan today, to the acts of our citizens abroad.

The fifth is Creativity. Whether splitting the atom or developing the internet, inventing the plane or finding the cure for Polio, the Constitution or giving the world Elvis, in the short years of our young nation, America has lead the charge of human creativity. Across science, medicine, technology and culture, we drive forwards paying no heed to any obstacle except the limit of our own imaginations. This is a spirit with a motto - 'No limit on ideas, no lid on possibilities'.

The sixth is Compassion. Whether saving lives around the world after natural disasters, protecting Iraqis and Afghans from violent extremists or leading global efforts to train and improve the professionalism of foreign security forces, every day, the US Military provides a clear and undeniable expression of American compassion. Joined with USAID, American taxpayers provide critical support to strangers in great need. But these examples don't even begin to tell the whole story of American compassion. Taking into account private action, Americans are the most charitable of all the citizens of the world. The simple fact - both at the level of continents and individuals, Americans have been, are and always will be defined by our compassion. The combination of our unparalleled strength and our unequaled compassion makes our country an incredible force for good.

Sure, tonight is important. But we always need to always remember that ultimately, America's greatness finds its infinite source in the character of our decent and honorable people. Whatever happens tonight, this won't change.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Presidential Election Prediction

UPDATE (11/09) -  Not too great on this one. Pretty abysmal in fact. Lesson- 1) Don't listen to GOP operatives who speak against major sustained polling analysis.

Against all the odds (and perhaps some clamors of bias) I am predicting that Romney will win the Presidential Election by an electoral college margin of 295 - 243. I believe that his route to victory will be found via wins in the swing states of Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Here's how he wins. 

First- the 'swing' states that I believe are now 'safe' for each candidate. It is my opinion that the traditional conservative support which exists in Florida and North Carolina will place those states firmly in Romney's bracket. Conversely, I also now believe that Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan will go for Obama. The union presence and traditional Democratic affiliation of many voters in those three states will be a great boost for the Obama vote. 

Having banked the electoral college gold mine of Florida (29 EC VOTES), victory in the following swing states will enable Romney's victory.

COLORADO (9 EC VOTES) - Romney has closed Obama's lead in Colorado. Obama will be unable to replicate his 2008 voting success among younger voters, while Romney will attract greater support from independents and from a considerable Republican base which is far more energized than in 2008. Colorado will be close, but I believe it will fall into Romney's bracket come election day.

OHIO (18 EC VOTES) - By most estimates, Romney has closed the poll margins to within the margin of error. Winning Ohio will require a number of actions to fall in Romney's favor. First, Romney must be able to mobilize significant proportions of his base to get out to the polling booths. Based on the energy with which Republican leaning voters are now engaged in the election,  I believe this will occur. Today's New York Times has a good piece on both campaigns voter outreach efforts in Ohio. Second, Obama will need to see a depressed turn out of polled likely voters who currently say they will support him. I also expect that this will occur. Come election day, reduced enthusiasm for Obama will mean that a small but significant minority of his leaning supporters do not turn out to vote. Third, as yet undecided voters (who are a small minority of the likely voting total) must break heavily in Romney's favor. Again, I believe (and historic 'late undecided' trends suggest) that Romney will be able to persuade these voters to enter his name.
         To become reality, Romney's victory in Ohio will therefore center on three key actions- his campaign's ability to 'get out the vote', the Obama campaign's inability to motivate a comparative level of enthusiasm and the influence of undecided voters breaking in Romney's corner and turning up at the polling stations to reflect their decided opinion.

PENNSYLVANIA (20 EC VOTES) - For me, has become the most exciting state in the run up to election day. As recent polls have broken towards an increasingly pro-Romney trend, the Romney campaign has made Pennsylvania a major target. Interestingly, one of the most recent Pennsylvania polls has put the race at 47%-47%. The Romney campaign evidently made an error in not engaging a major focus on Pennsylvania before October. Regardless, now that the polls have tightened and the Romney campaign is expending resources in the state, I believe that Romney can pull out a shock win. Romney's victory in Pennsylvania will require that rural, conservative leaning voters turn out in significant proportions. In addition, Romney must undercut Obama's 2008 lead in urban/suburban areas. Ultimately however, I believe that Pennsylvania will go for Romney for the same reasons behind my suggestion of a Romney Ohio victory. Put simply, between likely voters and the few undecideds still in the race, I believe that Romney will be able to attract more voters than Obama. From research and from having spoken to people on the ground in Pennsylvania, I firmly believe that the Romney campaign has a statistically significant advantage over the Obama campaign in terms of voter enthusiasm. For me, enthusiasm is the crucial, always understated element of electoral success. Being a likely voter is NOT the same as turning up at a polling station.

VIRGINIA (13 EC VOTES) - As with the other swing states, Romney has closed the gap on Obama since the debates. The polls in Virginia remain very close - some show Romney leading, some Obama and some even. Ultimately, as with the other states, 'getting out the vote' will be critical for Romney if he is to win. Romney will need to generate high turnout in the traditionally more conservative southern areas of Virginia. In addition, Romney will have to undercut Obama's lead in Washington DC suburbs like Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington. Again, I believe that undecided voters will break in Romney's favor and that the enthusiasm of the Republican base will propel Romney to victory.

CONCLUSION - The above predictions are definitely bold. However, I believe that Romney can and will achieve an upset victory on Tuesday night. The enthusiasm of the Republican base exceeds that of the Democratic base. And enthusiasm gets voters to the polling station. Romney now has comfortable metrics in terms of likability, leadership and ideas. These strengths will place him in a good position to take advantage of undecided voters who get to the voting stations. Obama will be unable to rely upon the base of support he received from young Americans in 2008. He will also attract far less independent voters. Taken together, these dynamics matter. Voting wins elections, participating in a phone poll does not. And... as Harry showed us in 1948, it's not over until its over.