Author Archives: James Joyner

‘Bloody Nose’ Strike Illegal but Unstoppable


February 9, 2018

Eighteen Democratic Senators have reportedly signed a letter to President Trump informing him they are “deeply concerned about the potential consequences of a preemptive military strike on North Korea and the risks of miscalculation and retaliation.” Further, they assert, “without congressional authority, a preventative or preemptive U.S. military strike would lack either a constitutional basis or legal authority.”

They are certainly right. Under the provisions of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, “The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” While it has never been tested in court, there’s little question that this framing is Constitutionally sound. (The subsequent provisions giving Congress the power to force the president to cease hostilities after 60/90 days are much more contested.)

The problem, alas, is that there’s simply nothing the Senate, or the Congress as a whole, can do to stop the President from acting as he sees fit. The House could certainly impeach him after the fact for overstepping his legal authority and, subsequent to that, the Senate could punish him by removing him from office. But the strike itself would be a fait accompli—as would the almost certain international war that would follow.

The Constitution famously set forth, as Edward S. Corwin put it over fifty years ago, an “invitation to struggle” over foreign policy and military affairs. Article I gives Congress the power to declare war, control of defense appropriations, and all manner of authority to regulate the armed forces. Article II makes the President commander-in-chief. In theory, the legislature is much more powerful in peacetime and the advantage shifts to the executive when the nation is at war. The reality is not that simple.

The mere existence of a standing force gives the President enormous leverage. Teddy Roosevelt recognized this more than a century ago. In his memoirs, he described a standoff with Congress over sailing the Navy into the Pacific:

The head of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs announced that the fleet should not and could not go because Congress would refuse to appropriate the money—he being from an Eastern seaboard State. However, I announced in response that I had enough money to take the fleet around to the Pacific anyhow, that the fleet would certainly go, and that if Congress did not choose to appropriate enough money to get the fleet back, why, it would stay in the Pacific. There was no further difficulty about the money.

Roosevelt understood that, while Congress certainly had the power to withhold funds, it would have been politically impossible for them to do so. Realistically, then, a President’s action with a force-in-being is limited mostly by the political fallout that ensues, not the approval of Congress.

Historically, the size of the force was itself a powerful constraint. While the United States has maintained a sizable Navy for the last century and a half, the Army was typically a garrison force until Congress declared war and provided the authority and money to build it up. That tradition ceased with the advent of the Korean War in 1950. While the nation continued buildups for war and drawdowns after, the exigencies of the Cold War and the desired for continued global hegemony in its aftermath have kept the “peacetime” force massive by global standards. This has significantly enhanced the freedom of maneuver of the commander-in-chief.

The existence of nuclear forces complicates matters even more. The deterrence strategy of the Cold War depended on the President be able to order a massive retaliatory strike on the Soviet Union in short order. It was simply not feasible to involve Congress in the decision, given the exigencies of time. While the Cold War has been over more than a quarter-century, few questioned the notion that the commander-in-chief should retain that power until Trump assumed that post and began routinely issuing provocations via his Twitter account.

Hearings this past November before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee aimed at rethinking this policy. Senator Chris Murphy, a signatory to Monday’s letter, declared at the time, “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests.”

Alas, witnesses including the sitting and former commanders of US nuclear forces, former national security officials, and scholars were unanimous that there was little that could be done by Congress to prevent such a strike. While lawyers could advise the president against the action and civilian and uniformed professionals are duty-bound to refuse to follow orders they deem illegal or immoral, the entire system is predicated on swift obedience to the duly elected commander-in-chief. A President hell-bent on launching missiles would simply fire people until he got to ones who would carry out the order.

The bottom line is that absent radical disarmament on a scale that no serious analyst is calling for, the major restraint on a President’s war powers rests with his or her character and good judgment. The public ought to seriously weigh whether they trust a candidate to make life-and-death decisions before entrusting them with such awesome responsibilities. Failing that, the Constitution provides the extreme options of removal via the aforementioned impeachment process and the provisions of the 25th Amendment. Both of those are extreme options, however, that would undermine faith in our democracy if undertaken in other than the most exigent circumstances. Otherwise, we must wait until the next election and hope the public chooses more wisely—and that the commander-in-chief does not start World War III in the meantime.

Original article 

The New National Defense Strategy: Everything is a Priority

The National Interest

February 2, 2018

Lost to all but the most committed security wonks in the midst of the government shutdown debacle was the unveiling by Secretary Jim Mattis of a new National Defense Strategy. At first blush, it’s a bold declaration of the Trump administration’s priorities. In reality, there’s little new here—least of all a real strategy.

This is the first National Defense Strategy in nearly a decade. The last was published under the signature of Bob Gates in June 2008, during the latter days of the Bush administration. There was, however, a document published in January 2012 known in national-security circles, if not its cover page, as the Defense Strategic Guidance, which had a similar remit.

The most remarked-upon aspect of the new NDS is its declaration that “the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers.” But this isn’t really that remarkable. While it’s true that the 2008 NDS declares, “For the foreseeable future, this environment will be defined by a global struggle against a violent extremist ideology that seeks to overturn the international state system,” that’s hardly shocking given that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were in full swing. But even that document conceded, in the very next sentence, “Beyond this transnational struggle, we face other threats, including a variety of irregular challenges, the quest by rogue states for nuclear weapons, and the rising military power of other states.” Literally all of those remain, if in different sequence, in the 2018 version.

Similarly, the 2012 DSG mentions all the same threats. Most significantly, it takes increased notice of China’s rise, announcing the so-called “Asia Pivot.” It does, however, highlight the chief strategic blind spot of the Obama administration in its declaration “our engagement with Russia remains important, and we will continue to build a closer relationship in areas of mutual interest and encourage it to be a contributor across a broad range of issues.” That’s the only mention of Russia in the document, outshone in its wrongheadedness only by the president’s snide quip to Mitt Romney that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”

Regardless, while the Defense Department has devoted enormous resources to fighting violent extremism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, planning for war with near-peer adversaries has always been front and center—especially at the level of the service departments (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines), which are responsible for organizing, training, and equipping our armed forces. F-35 fighters and Ford-class carriers weren’t bought with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State in mind.

Earlier this week, Tom Spoehr rightly observes, “To have real-world value, a defense strategy must establish priorities. That requires making tough choices.” But I couldn’t disagree more with his assessment that “in this document those choices are made.” Yes, as Spoehr notes, there’s the aforementioned declaration that China and Russia pose the “central challenge.” But there’s nothing in either the document or the actions in the first year of the Trump administration to indicate that lesser challenges will receive any less attention than they have in the recent past.

While China—and especially Russia—are called out much more vociferously than in the previous two defense strategies and termed “principal priorities for the Department,” they’re also termed “long-term strategic competitions,” language very similar to those of the 2008 and 2012 documents. As to the lesser threats, “Concurrently, the Department will sustain its efforts to deter and counter rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, defeat terrorist threats to the United States, and consolidate our gains in Iraq and Afghanistan while moving to a more resource-sustainable approach.” Granting that one wouldn’t expect an unclassified, public-facing document to tell adversaries that they’re not a priority, it’s hard to read “sustain,” “defeat,” and “consolidate” as some sort of cutback.

Indeed, as Christopher Preble details elsewhere, aside from the standard lip service about bureaucratic efficiency (and yet another call for a Base Realignment and Closure process that Congress has signaled time and again it has no stomach for) there’s no concession anywhere in the document that there will be any prioritization at all. Indeed, it’s a veritable Christmas wish list. It declares that a “backlog of deferred readiness, procurement, and modernization requirements has grown in the last decade and a half and can no longer be ignored.” Accordingly, Mattis envisions that the 2019–2023 budget requests will call for “accelerating our modernization programs and devoting additional resources in a sustained effort to solidify our competitive advantage” across the entire spectrum of conflict. Among the highlights of the envisioned spending spree: “modernize the nuclear triad,” “investments in resilience, reconstitution, and operations to assure our space capabilities,” “invest in cyber defense, resilience, and the continued integration of cyber capabilities into the full spectrum of military operations,” “developing resilient, survivable, federated networks and information ecosystems from the tactical level up to strategic planning,” “layered missile defenses and disruptive capabilities for both theater missile threats and North Korean ballistic missile threats,” and “invest broadly in military application of autonomy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, including rapid application of commercial breakthroughs, to gain competitive military advantages.” That’s just a sampling from one section of the wish list.

While the above assessment sounds harsh, it’s not really a criticism of Mattis or the NDS. In point of fact, everything being asked for here is perfectly in line with not only President Trump’s recent National Security Strategy (which I wrote about last month) but the last several strategy documents, including those of the Obama administration (of which I was also quite critical).

If the United States wishes to have global hegemony, then it needs to do precisely what Mattis is asking for. Being able to deter and, if it comes to it, defeat major powers like China and Russia while at the same time constraining rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea, as well as non-state actors like the Islamic State and Boko Haram, and while maintaining access to the global commons of sea, space and cyberspace, is going to require that the United States spend a whole lot more money than it’s already spending. There is little evidence, however, that there is the political will to implement massive tax hikes or cut funding elsewhere in the budget in order to achieve that goal.

Original article

Who Suffers the Most from Government Shutdowns?

The National Interest

January 23, 2018

he federal government shutdown of 2018—or, at least, the first one—ended with only one workday missed. To the extent ordinary citizens noticed at all, they likely think it was no big deal. This is especially true with regards to the impact on the U.S. military, who they’ve been steadily assured went right on working, without so much as having to endure the hardship of missing the weekend’s NFL playoff games. In fact, however, millions of man-hours of productivity have been lost from this continuing crisis, with a real impact on readiness.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis issued a memorandum at the onset of the shutdown declaring, “We will continue to execute daily operations around the world—ships and submarines will remain at sea, our aircraft will continue to fly and our warfighters will continue to pursue terrorists throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.” While that absolutely happened—and would have continued for quite some time even in an extended shutdown—that’s not all his department does on a daily basis.

While current operations continue, many training and support activities cease—especially those that require travel. Military students at resident courses, including the one where I teach, are allowed to remain in place to continue their studies, but their civilian faculty are sent home. Ongoing field exercises are typically suspended, with personnel required to return to home station. And, depending on which pots of money they’re paid from, students at nonresident schools are often sent home mid-course, only to have to come back at a later date.

At my own institution, which has a roughly even mix of military and civilian faculty, we were able to weather the 2013 shutdown with only modest inconvenience. While we were in the middle of a block of instruction taught by civilian PhDs, we were able to slide lessons taught by lieutenant colonels and commanders to the left.

This go-around, we happen to be in an elective period, and because we have several outside faculty teaching, adjusting the schedule was impractical. Had the shutdown continued another day, the classes designed and normally taught by the furloughed PhDs would have been picked up mid-term by colonels and lieutenant colonels with twenty-four hours to prepare. It was likely the best out of a set of really bad options, but it would have not only been a suboptimal outcome for the students—themselves majors and lieutenant commanders deserving of the best education we can provide—and put the new instructors in an incredibly awkward position, but it would have taken up valuable preparation time for upcoming classes and exercises led by those same officers.

Additionally, while the military students would have remained in the course, their interagency civilian colleagues were furloughed for the duration. During the 2013 shutdown, which lasted sixteen days, this meant that not only were students from the CIA, State Department, and other agencies missing a significant chunk of the curriculum, but the military students were missing the invaluable perspective that they’re in the room to provide. And, because they’re staffed almost exclusively by civilians, the library and similar critical support facilities were closed, as were all manner of base programs and services for the troops and their families.

As I noted in this space after the October 2013 shutdown, the best estimates are that it costs between $2 billion and $4 billion to prepare for a government shutdown and the same amount to get back up and running. And, while this was the first actual shutdown since then, there have been more than a dozen near-shutdowns in the interim, as we continue to fund the government by continuing resolutions, often mere weeks at a time, and play a constant game of chicken with the debt ceiling.

Beyond the financial cost, of course, there is the impact on morale. DoD civilians constantly worry about being furloughed and whether the next paycheck is coming—including right before Christmas this past year. Then-SecretaryChuck Hagel declared “we can’t continue to do this to our people, having them live under this cloud of uncertainty.” If anything, it’s gotten worse, given the frequency of the brinkmanship.

Perhaps worse than the uncertainty is the constant reminder that we’re less valued. While we’ve finally gotten rid of the insulting “essential” vs. “nonessential” label, opting for the more sterile “exempt” and “nonexempt,” the fact remains that the vast majority of the civilian workforce is considered expendable while every single uniformed member of our armed forces is considered mission-critical—even though they’re frequently doing the identical job.

The flip side of that is that, as Mattis declared in his memo, “active forces will stay at their posts adapting their training to achieve the least negative impact on our readiness to fight.” For the duration of the shutdown—and, again, this one was thankfully short—our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen pull double duty, doing their own jobs while trying to cover for the furloughed civilians.

This is a great cost to the nation and its armed forces for no obvious gain. Historically, Congress has always authorized and the president always signed off on back pay for employees furloughed during a shutdown, so we’re actually paying people not to work. Like the debt ceiling, wherein Congress periodically has to authorize borrowing the money it has already voted to spend or else put the nation in peril, it’s an absurdity that needs to end.

In the meantime, we’re scheduled to go through this farce again on February 8.

Original article

How Trump’s National Security Strategy Breaks with the Past

The National Interest

December 19, 2017

President Trump unveiled a new National Security Strategy on Monday. Previews of the document, based on leaked drafts and backchannel interviews, had given the impression that it would be a bland continuity of previous administrations’ strategies, with a few sops to Trumpism thrown in to satisfy the boss. A careful reading, however, shows it to be the reverse: a radical departure from the past within a penumbra of stability.

Obama’s February 2015 NSS was an idealist wish list, bordering on constructivism. Trump’s is petulance and solipsism masquerading as realism.

Certainly, there is considerable overlap in the documents; all National Security Strategies to date have centered on protecting the physical and economic security of the American people, with the standard homilies on enduring threats and interests. And the current NSS, like other recent iterations, pays due homage to terrorism and cyber threats.

But this version is starkly different, repeatedly sandwiching Trumpian policy in between platitudes about long-standing American values. Of course we’re not racist—but no immigrants. Of course we love our allies—but they’d better stop freeloading. Of course we support free trade—but only if we come out ahead. Of course we continue to support global institutions—but only insofar as we win.

Trump’s cover letter declares, “The American people elected me to make America great again,” and brags, “During my first year in office, you have witnessed my America First foreign policy in action.” After a long litany of complaints about the ways the country had declined under his predecessor, he promises, “we are charting a new and very different course.”

And, indeed, he is.

Any previous NSS could have contained the sentence, “Americans have long recognized the benefits of an interconnected world, where information and commerce flow freely.” But it’s hard to imagine one that followed that sentence with, “Engaging with the world, however, does not mean the United States should abandon its rights and duties as a sovereign state or compromise its security.” Or one that then continued, “Openness also imposes costs, since adversaries exploit our free and democratic system to harm the United States.”

It’s only natural that the document would begin with the premise that “the United States is safer when Europe is prosperous and stable, and can help defend our shared interests and ideals” and “the United States remains firmly committed to our European allies and partners.” But, in true Trumpian fashion, that’s caveated: “The United States fulfills our defense responsibilities and expects others to do the same. We expect our European allies to increase defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024, with 20 percent of this spending devoted to increasing military capabilities.” None of that is new as a matter of U.S. policy, but it’s unprecedented for it to be so bluntly stated in our capstone strategic statement.

While no one would have been surprised to see the line, “The United States understands the contributions immigrants have made to our Nation throughout its history” in a previous NSS, it seems a departure from the rhetoric and policies of this president. But that nod to our better angels is quickly followed by the caveat that “illegal immigration, however, burdens the economy, hurts American workers, presents public safety risks, and enriches smugglers and other criminals.”

While averring that “the United States will continue to welcome lawful immigrants who do not pose a security threat and whose entry is consistent with the national interest,” the focus is on “enhancing the screening and vetting of travelers, closing dangerous loopholes, revising outdated laws, and eliminating easily exploited vulnerabilities.” It vows to “reform our current immigration system, which, contrary to our national interest and national security, allows for randomized entry and extended-family chain migration.”

Along those lines, the standard declaration that “the United States rejects bigotry and oppression and seeks a future built on our values as one American people” is used to set up the not-so-subtle anti-Islamist line, “We will deny violent ideologies the space to take root.”

There’s doubtless continuity in the line, “For 70 years, the United States has embraced a strategy premised on the belief that leadership of a stable international economic system rooted in American principles of reciprocity, free markets, and free trade served our economic and security interests.” Alas, that assertion serves merely to bolster the complaint that “the United States helped expand the liberal economic trading system to countries that did not share our values” and “espouse free trade rhetoric and exploit its benefits, but only adhere selectively to the rules and agreements.”

Likewise, the standard rhetoric, “Working with our allies and partners, the United States led the creation of a group of financial institutions and other economic forums that established equitable rules and built instruments to stabilize the international economy and remove the points of friction that had contributed to two world wars” is followed by the threat, “But the United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating, or economic aggression.”

The document explains that “a world that supports American interests and reflects our values makes America more secure and prosperous.” But that’s immediately followed by the declaration, “We will compete and lead in multilateral organizations” (pick one!) “so that American interests and principles are protected.”

Perhaps the biggest departure from the trend of sandwiching Trumpian policy between odes to classic values is the long tribute to America’s diplomatic corps, “our forward-deployed political capability, advancing and defending America’s interests abroad.” It declares that “diplomacy catalyzes the political, economic, and societal connections that create America’s enduring alignments and that build positive networks of relationships with partners,” “sustains dialogue and fosters areas of cooperation with competitors,” and “reduces the risk of costly miscommunication.”

There is no caveat to that homage, save perhaps a backhanded declaration that “we must upgrade our diplomatic capabilities to compete in the current environment and to embrace a competitive mindset.” But none of the listed reforms speak to ridding the State Department of its most experienced personnel, gutting the hiring of topflight young people, or failing to appoint key senior leaders.

That said, the section on diplomacy is buried in a chapter on “Preserving Peace Through Strength,” which, as one might expect, focuses heavily on the military instrument. The actions of the administration thus far, as well as the longstanding predilections of Congress, leave little doubt where the priority of resourcing will be.

Those who voted for Trump, especially those who took him both seriously and literally, should rejoice in this strategy. Those who did not can perhaps take some small comfort in the fact that these documents seldom have much influence on public policy. Regardless, elections have consequences, and this is undoubtedly a very different strategy than we would have seen had Hillary Clinton’s name been on the signature page.

Original article

Donald Trump and the Decline of the Ideas Industry


June 7, 2017

The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign pitted a wonk with decades of experience and fastidious command of public policy against a reality television star who not only eschewed nuance but seemed to take great pride in not reading or talking to experts. Whereas Hillary Clinton offered substantive arguments, Donald Trump countered with platitudes and invective. He not only won the election but has doubled down on that approach, staffing his administration almost entirely with people with no conventional political experience. And while his critics remain glued to every Twitter or TV tirade, hoping to extract even the smallest nugget of policy understanding, President Trump’s supporters tune into different news outlets altogether, making dialogue between the two camps nearly impossible.

How did we get here?

Author and academic Daniel W. Drezner offers a compelling explanation in his new book “The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas” (Oxford University Press).

Like Drezner, I’ve been part of that industry in some fashion for going on a quarter century. We’ve both been university professors, think tankers, op-ed writers, bloggers, and tweeters. He’s been wildly more successful at these enterprises, rising to become a full professor at a top public policy school, a blogger for the Washington Post, and a regular television commentator. Despite different vantage points, we’ve both witnessed the struggles of the academy, policy shops, and intellectual life firsthand and have been reading, thinking, and writing about these topics for quite some time. While much of what Drezner writes is therefore reminder rather than revelation, he provides substantial value simply by bringing it all together into a coherent narrative, in many cases making connections that hadn’t occurred to me.

Drezner’s central theme is that the media and economic environment has changed from one that rewards public intellectuals (“experts who are versed and trained enough to be able to comment on a wide range of policy issues”) to one that elevates “thought leaders” (“intellectual evangelists” who “develop their own singular lens to explain the world, and then proselytize that worldview to anyone within earshot”). Public intellectuals are “foxes” (who know a lot of different things), while thought leaders are “hedgehogs” (who know one thing very well). The former are “critics” while the latter are “creators.” The former are skeptics; the latter true believers. The former are deductive; the latter inductive. The former prioritizes expertise; the latter, experience. The former are pessimists; the latter, optimists.

Thought leaders have risen at the expense of public intellectuals due largely to three interlocking trends that configure the modern marketplace of ideas: the erosion of trust in authority, the polarization of American politics, and the dramatic increase in economic inequality.

This decline in expertise, which Drezner links back to the days of Vietnam and Watergate, has led to a public tendency to eliminate exposure to alternative viewpoints by selecting schools, news sources, authors, and pundits that amplify rather than challenge an individual’s worldview. Combined with the human tendency to prefer confident, bold predictions and pronouncements to nuanced concepts, it becomes very difficult for public intellectuals to persuade people to their side.

Drezner stresses the rise of economic inequality above all the other ailments in American public life. Essentially, everyone from professors to would-be authors to think tanks must now compete for funding from an increasing number of newly-rich billionaires. Rather than funding large institutions to do good work, as did their predecessors in the early part of the 20th century, this new class of plutocrats is seeking to fund those who will flatter them and reinforce their prejudices.

The book is organized topically, using the rise (and sometimes fall) of various thought leaders as illustrations. The first, and most detailed, is that of Jeffrey Sachs, “a brilliant economist, a fact that he is happy to tell you himself.” Sachs was on the path to being a superstar public intellectual, becoming a tenured full professor of economics at Harvard at the absurdly young age of 28, cranking out a prodigious amount of quality academic work, and advising heads of state. Over time, though, he would rise to fame with a series of books claiming — against all evidence collected by professionals in the field — that he had unearthed simple solutions to global poverty. He relentlessly and brilliantly promoted these books with constant speeches and media appearances, and by cultivating alliances with the rich and powerful, including the likes of Bono and George Soros. While leading economists were constantly raising red flags, Sachs managed for years to simply dismiss them with bombast. The experts had facts, data, and narratives but they were complicated, confusing, and told a depressing tale. Sachs was a better storyteller offering a happily ever after. While his star is not as bright as it once was, he’s still routinely quoted on television and cranking out book after book.

Perhaps the more cautionary tale is that of Dinesh D’Souza, who turned a stint at the Dartmouth Review in the early 1980s into a prominent career as a conservative public intellectual. He evolved into a thought leader and is now a convicted felon and laughingstock. His early works, while polemical, followed the conventions of the old system. His breakout book, “Illiberal Education,” was excerpted in The Atlantic Monthly and won praise in such outlets as The New Republic and the New York Review of Books. He soon realized, however, that he could make far more money generating controversy than by pleasing critics. He wrote ever-more-hyperbolic books and turned that into regular appearances as a television talking head and coveted speaker on the lecture circuit. While most serious intellectuals dismissed him as a hack — even prior to his criminal convictions for sexual misconduct and illegal campaign contributions — his books sell like hotcakes and have spawned cult documentaries. He has even given interviews from prison.

While nuance is still prized in the academy and some elite circles, the pressures of the ever-more-crowded marketplace of ideas push the media industry toward simplicity and confidence. A 300-page Academic Press book with 900 footnotes may win tenure, prizes, and prestige, but a 10-minute TED talk that goes viral will be more likely to gain the attention of those with deep pockets — and yield media interviews, speaking engagements, and invitations to hobnob with the elites at Davos and a dozen other conclaves that have sprung up to flatter the egos of the rich and powerful.

All of this means not only that the ideas that win the backing of the well-off are more likely to spread, but that those that don’t are less likely to get voiced at all, lest they offend the funders. Plutocrats, especially those who perceive their enormous wealth as self-made, will naturally have “a sense of meritocratic achievement,” an obliviousness to the advantages they had and the obstacles others face, and a real impatience with the notion that all problems lack an easy solution. Increasingly, they’re wealthy enough to bypass the state and the messiness of politics and process altogether, creating massive foundations to take direct action. This puts traditional public intellectuals, who are naturally skeptical of quick, easy solutions, at a tremendous disadvantage, while thought leaders are quite comfortable championing “disruption, self-empowerment, and entrepreneurial ability” to fix big problems.

This particular charge — that the academy has become too focused on quantitative data and specialized jargon — especially grates Drezner. While conceding that the slow nature of the peer review process and a penchant for hedging puts academics at a disadvantage in an arena that values real-time, simple, and confident answers to problems, he notes that many social scientists serve as important public intellectuals and also serve stints in government. Regardless, Drezner believes that traditional academics are losing out in the race for plutocratic investors to those, like economists, who proclaim confidently that government officials, corporate CEOs, and other decision-makers can improve policy outcomes by following simple advice.

The problems plaguing modern think tanks are also instructional. As Drezner explains, the old-time “universities without students” model of scholars working on research that interested them with few strings attached has morphed into one where funders — whether wealthy individuals, corporations, or governments — drive the train. This isn’t a wholly new phenomenon. The Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute were both founded in the early 1970s by wealthy funders with an ideological agenda. But even those institutions have become much more politicized and less amenable to scholarship that colors outside the lines in recent years. This is true even at nonpartisan think tanks. Because they compete with elite universities (which tend to have some insulation because of large endowments) and an incredible number of other think tanks for attention and funding, there is extreme pressure to satisfy clients and potential donors. This trend was exacerbated by the financial crisis of 2008, when many traditional funding sources dried up, further increasing the power of plutocrats and somewhat unsavory foreign actors willing to spend lots of money to bolster their causes and lend prestige to their ideas. Even the loftiest of think tanks — such as the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations — court the wealthy and powerful, showering them with privileged access. Worse yet, many of the scholars employed by these organizations do lucrative private consulting for industry, often without disclosing the inherent conflict while publishing under their researcher hat.

While I don’t believe I ever saw a scholar write something they didn’t believe in order to serve a client, I certainly saw reports written at the behest of clients on topics that had little bearing on the institution’s mission. Often, those reports were rather thin on research, transparently parroting the corporate views of the funder. Moreover, the existence of funding relationships essentially made it impossible to comment on topics that would otherwise have been in our wheelhouse; that was especially true in cases where the commentary would have put the funder in a bad light. Relatedly, because attracting high-profile policymakers to appear at events is an important part of the business model of most policy shops, there is substantial pressure to avoid alienating them.

The part of the industry least familiar to me is the relatively recent rise of for-profit thought leaders. While firms like McKinsey, A.D. Little, and Booz Allen have been around for years, they were initially engaged in management consulting in the private sector. Slowly, those firms, along with newer ones like the Boston Consulting Group, Eurasia Group, and a slew of firms started by former cabinet secretaries, have expanded their portfolios into direct competition with academics, public intellectuals, and think tankers, offering direct policy advice to governments. While their analysis is often, in the judgment of Drezner and others, shoddy by scholarly standards, it’s more desirable to policymakers and corporate decision-makers than that provided by the rest of the Ideas Industry. Because the analysis is ostensibly bespoke, it’s considered more valuable than generic analysis of a policy or business sector. They also tend to excel “at finding the one number, metric, or chart that will capture the attention of the audience, the ‘takeaway’ stat that even the innumerate can comprehend.” And, because someone is willing to pay for it, it is naturally perceived to be of higher quality than advice peddled for free. Further, because the information is proprietary, there is a built-in excuse to refuse to share the data and analytical methods with the outside world, making it next to impossible to scrutinize, much less falsify.

Drezner worries about the rise of individual “brands” and the dangerous incentives the phenomenon creates. He contrasts Walter Lippman, perhaps the prototypical public intellectual of the last century, with Fareed Zakaria, who is arguably the most noteworthy one of the current era. Both were and are relatively centrist and elusive ideologically, allowing them to be referenced by politicians and intellectuals of both parties. Both authored several books that were not only commercially successful but praised by policymakers and academics alike. But their careers highlight the stark differences in the intellectual environments in which they operated.

There was simply less competition, scrutiny, and potential to go astray in Lippman’s day. It was, in Drezner’s words, “a genteel oligopoly” in which a handful of gatekeepers decided whose ideas were worth spreading, a very narrow orthodoxy prevailed, and indiscretions were kept in-house. By contrast, the rise of 24/7 broadcast media and the Internet has removed the gatekeepers and created a free-for-all in which those who most successfully market themselves get the lion’s share of the attention and financial rewards that come with it.

A superstar brand — Zakaria, Thomas Friedman, and Niall Ferguson are highlighted  – can make $50,00 to $75,000 a speech and give variants of the same talk over and over to well-heeled audiences. But this has skewed the marketplace, making the books and articles that used to be at the heart of intellectual life mere “billboards for the messengers.” And, again, it helps if the message is one that those able to pay that kind of money want to hear — flattering to the plutocratic class and simplifying the world into pithy mantras that are easy to repeat.

Aside from the pressure to please the monied class, staying on top requires constant grinding. Those who turn down television appearances and speaking opportunities too often will soon start being asked less. At the same time, the books and articles need to be cranked out in order to provide fodder for these talks. Inevitably, this leads to cutting corners. Less research goes into the books. Or the research — if not the writing itself — gradually gets farmed out to assistants. In Zakaria’s case, this resulted in the plagiarism of others’ work, presumably because of shoddy practices by low-paid staffers rather than his own intention. In Ferguson’s and D’Souza’s cases, once-brilliant thinkers simply became hacks.

Drezner includes, as he puts it, “the Requisite Chapter on Social Media.” He focuses, naturally, on blogs and Twitter, media at which he’s not only excelled but on which he has built his brand over the last 15 years. Both have vastly expanded the marketplace of ideas, allowing intellectuals to tout their finished work, float raw ideas and improve them through feedback from a global network, and quickly find new information. While Drezner and I have both benefitted tremendously from these positive aspects, there is also a huge dark side to social media: its tendency to amplify the worst aspects of the human condition. The democratization that makes all the advantages of blog commentary and Twitter exchanges possible also means that there is no one to filter out inaccuracy, stupidity, bias, and venality. Those with larger followings — and especially those who aren’t straight white males — will inevitably face vicious attack and trolling. This not only “increased the costs of online interaction,” but forces writers to either expend mental and emotional energy dealing with abuse or to tune out the commentary entirely and lose feedback that is actually valuable. The problem is even worse in some fields of inquiry. Middle East scholar Marc Lynch, a prominent blogger and Tweeter, laments that many legitimate experts simply refuse to engage in debate on the region “because of the online cesspool such interventions inevitably attract.”

Drezner does not offer much hope for solving any of the problems laid out in his book, but he does caution that “we cannot and should not try to go back to the good old days” and that many of the trends are in fact irreversible.

“Things are not worse than they used to be. They are just bad in a different way,” writes Drezner. While trolling and the sheer quantity of dreck being produced are bad, there has been real social benefit to removing the old gatekeepers and allowing a much wider segment of the population to vie to have their ideas heard.

Will the public give genuine intellectualism a second chance? Alas, many of Drezner’s proposed solutions — larger endowments at universities and think tanks, a greater role for “philanthrocapitalists” — undercut the central critique in his book, offering up much of the same for a question still lacking an obvious answer.

Mattis Is Mostly Right on NATO


March 2, 2007

In his first speech to NATO defense ministers as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis suggested that, if Allies do not start contributing more by the end of the year, the United States might “moderate its commitment.” While the timing is less than ideal, given growing concerns about the Trump administration posture towards Russia, this message is a long time coming.

Mattis, who served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation in his penultimate assignment as a Marine general, assured his audience that, “The alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and the trans-Atlantic community, bonded as we are together.” But he followed that with a rather pointed caveat: “I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” Mattis said. “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.”

He bluntly declared, “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do” and stated that it is a “fair demand that all who benefit from the best defense in the world carry their proportionate share of the necessary cost to defend freedom.”

While American officials expressing their exasperation with free-riding has been a feature of NATO politics going back to the 1970s, it has certainly escalated in recent years.

Perhaps most famously, Bob Gates issued a blistering valedictory speech to NATO in his final days as defense secretary declaring that his longstanding fear of a “two-tiered alliance” was “no longer a hypothetical worry.” He bluntly called out “those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership – be they security guarantees or headquarters billets – but don’t want to share the risks and the costs,” declaring it “unacceptable.”

Gates noted that he was but “the latest in a string of U.S. defense secretaries who have urged allies privately and publicly, often with exasperation, to meet agreed-upon NATO benchmarks for defense spending.” He argued that Americans have reluctantly borne a disproportionate share of the burden because of the lingering memory of the two world wars and the reality of the Cold War but that, as those fade into history, “there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”

Gates ended his remarks by noting that, while he had “sketched out” a “real possibility for a dim, if not dismal future for the transatlantic alliance,” he did so as a wake-up call to avert that reality.  “Such a future is possible,” he declared, “but not inevitable.”

His successor, Chuck Hagel, would issue a similar warning three years later at the Warsaw Summit. He lamented that “many nations appear content for their defense spending to continue declining” even though “Europe still lives in a dangerous world. A world where peace must still be underwritten by the credible deterrent of military power.”

President Obama added while America’s commitment to Europe was unwavering, “every NATO member has to do its fair share,” committing “a proportional amount” of resources to the common security. Defending against future threats is “going to require every NATO member to step up.”  He noted that “We have seen a decline steadily in European defense spending generally” and exhorted “that has to change.”

While there have indeed been some modest increases in spending in response to these calls—and, more importantly, the heightened sense of threatened security brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—the basic situation remains essentially unchanged. Despite a longstanding commitment to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, only five of the Alliance’s 28 countries currently meet that threshold: the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia, and Poland. Among those falling short are wealthy countries: France (1.78 percent), Turkey (1.56), Germany (1.19), Italy (1.11) and Canada (.99).

It should not come as a surprise, then, that the long-warned-about American fatigue has finally arrived. Indeed, Mattis, who attended Gates’ 2011 speech as SAC-T, noted in Wednesday’s remarks that the future Gates warned of was now a “governmental reality.”

We should be clear that this new reality is not a threat to walk away from an alliance that has served us well for nearly seven decades. While Donald Trump made some inflammatory remarks about NATO on the campaign trail and even called it “obsolete” a few days before his inauguration, he has since moderated his tone, declaring, “We strongly support NATO.” His follow-up plea that “NATO members make their full and proper financial contributions” was, as we have seen, routine.

I share the concerns of my fellow Atlanticists that the Trump administration risks overplaying its hand. The desired end state must be to bolster NATO by turning more members into security contributors, not fracture it.

The Article 5 commitment at the heart of NATO that an armed attack against any member “shall be considered an attack against them all” must remain sacrosanct. And, it is worth reminding ourselves, the only time it has been carried out was when the other Allies came to American aid in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Still, that guarantee is much more valuable when backed by 28 countries pulling their weight rather than a handful.

As Gates noted in that famous speech six years ago, “true friends occasionally must speak bluntly with one another for the sake of those greater interests and values that bind us together.” Bluntness must not, however, give way to bluster. Which is certainly a danger with this new administration, headed by a novice president prone to early-morning Twitter fights with those who annoy him.

As Carleton political scientist Steve Saideman, co-author of NATO in Afghanistan, notes, spending as a percentage of GDP is not the only measure of contribution to NATO. Despite its woeful economic contribution, his own adopted country of Canada lost 158 dead supporting the American-led war in Afghanistan, which was more than any NATO member other than the US or the UK. And, on a per capita basis, tiny Denmark and Estonia lost more than any other ally.

Additionally, as Jim Townsend, who served eight years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO under President Obama (and a one-time Atlantic Council colleague), rightly points out, the flexibility and logistical capabilities provided by European basing rights is a tremendous contribution to not only the Alliance but also American power projection.

Additionally, decades of working together have brought enormous advantages in command and control and interoperability that must not be lost.

Mattis’ opening gambit struck the right tone, simultaneously reassuring Allies of American commitment to NATO while declaring that patience for free-riding has reached its end. Still, the political and fiscal realities in most NATO capitols are such that expecting a radical policy shift in a mere ten months is unrealistic. Julianne Smith, who had a major hand in writing Gates’ 2011 speech as Principal Director for European and NATO Policy, suggests 2020 as a more realistic deadline. That strikes me as more tenable.

Regardless, decades of begging the Allies to pick up a greater share of their own defense have simply not worked. It is well past time for a new approach.

Original article

Greater Deference to Generals Has Undermined Civilian Control of the Military

New York Times

December 6, 2016

With Michael Flynn already in place as national security adviser and names like Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Newt Gingrich being floated for key foreign policy posts, I breathed a sigh of relief when General James Mattis was announced as Donald Trump’s choice for defense secretary. Yet, while we could certainly do worse, we should be troubled by the prospect of a military man running the Pentagon at a time when the public is so isolated from its armed forces.

While I share the concern of “War on the Rocks” senior editor, Erin Simpson, about whether General Mattis is temperamentally suited to wrestle the Defense Department’s massive bureaucracy, his sterling reputation as a warrior-scholar would earn him instant respect. Yet there’s a reason that Congress, in establishing the position, was emphatic that it be “appointed from civilian life” and specified that the nomination would not be “within seven years [initially 10] after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.” The military exists to implement policies set forth by civilian leaders. Recently separated officers are likely to reinforce the advice given the president by the Joint Chiefs rather than offer a political perspective.

Kori Schake, who co-edited a recent volume on civil-military affairs with Mattis, assures us that he would be “superb” in the role and dismisses concerns about militarization of the post on grounds that Mattis scrupulously deferred to civilians as a general. Yet she also paints the picture of an American society where few are “directly affected by decisions about our military forces.” Not only is the public therefore “enormously deferential to the military” but “elected leaders seek greater legitimacy by wrapping themselves in public confidence for the military.”

The consequence of this attitudinal shift, completely understandable more than four decades into an all-volunteer military, is to turn the old presumptions about civilian control of the military on their head. While it’s true, as Schake notes, that the brass has been overruled on such issues as gender and homosexual integration, elected leaders show much more deference to generals and admirals than they do to senior bureaucrats in other agencies. This is also true of major news media outlets, who regularly lampoon Congress for having the temerity to buy weapons systems that the Pentagon didn’t ask for or refusing to close military bases the brass insists are excess. Generals who are particularly charismatic and good at courting the press, like David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal or Mattis, are especially influential.

America’s generals have mostly been appropriately deferential to their civilian masters. But the temptation to court a deferential public as an end-around is always there. President Obama was rightly furious when McChrystal’s ambitious Afghanistan surge plan was leaked at a time when the administration was considering moving in the opposite direction. The Pentagon, frustrated by sequestration, has openly challenged Congress, repeatedly exaggerating the consequences of a mere half trillion dollar annual budget and even threatening to close bases without legislative authorization if lawmakers don’t act.

Having a civilian perspective atop the department is vital in this environment.This is doubly important given Trump’s utter lack of knowledge of, or seeming interest in, national security issues. It’s highly problematic, then, that he will have to defer on these matters to his national security adviser and defense secretary, both recently retired generals.

Original article

Normalizing Hysteria

The National Interest

November 15, 2016

Critics of Donald Trump, of which I have long been one, have spent the past sixteen months arguing that he is manifestly unprepared by experience and unsuited by temperament to be President of the United States. The Republican national security establishment, in particular, has been at the forefront of the #NeverTrump movement. Now that he is president-elect, however, I think that constant comparisons of Trump to history’s worst monsters are bound to boomerang. The opponents of Trump say they want to avoid “normalizing” him. In fact their hysterical comparisons accomplish what they profess to want to avoid.

While most politicians are indeed playing the game by the ordinary rules of civility—those which, incidentally, we were warned would not be followed by Trump were he to lose, thus causing grave damage to our Republic—we’re certainly seeing a lot of the opposite from a smug commentariat.

Consider outgoing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. Not all that burdened by the bounds of comity even before retiring from office, he declared, “The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry [3]in America.” For good measure, he adds, “White nationalists, Vladimir Putin and ISIS are celebrating Donald Trump’s victory, while innocent, law-abiding Americans are wracked with fear – especially African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Muslim Americans, LGBT Americans and Asian Americans.”

While histrionic, that’s at least grounded in fact. But we’ve already reached Peak Godwin.

New York Times feature noting how badly the Newspaper of Record misdiagnosed the rise of Hitler [4] back in 1922 is again making the rounds [5].  The lede: “Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.”

Yet, given that Trump passed for decades on the Manhattan cocktail circuit as a social liberal, it’s quite possible that the vociferous nativism of Trump’s campaign was for show. More importantly, however, the problem with comparing people to Hitler is that, well, nobody else is Hitler. Compared to death camps that slaughter millions, anything that Trump might propose will seem reasonable by comparison. But, surely, Hitler isn’t the left limit of American democracy? (Of course, as Holocaust historian Gavriel Rosenfeld has noted, Hitler himself has been normalized [6] as fodder for humorous Internet memes.)

On a similar note, Esquire‘s Charles Pierce, who has called on the Electoral College to stage a coup [7] and elect Hillary Clinton president despite the election outcome, declared on his Twitter feed, “The hiring of Steve Bannon as a WH policy adviser is exactly the same as hiring David Duke [8].” He adds the obligatory, “Please don’t normalize this.”

The problem with this is that Duke is the very symbol of racism in modern America. He has been a leader of Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups going back nearly five decades. While he long ago denounced the violence of the Klan and eschewed hoods and bedsheets for suits and ties, he’s remained at the forefront of white nationalist and neo-Nazi movements. Bannon, by contrast, has run a website that gives free reign to white nationalists [9] and hosted a talk show that gives a platform to anti-Semites and Muslim bashers. That’s terrible.  I don’t think Bannon should be the chief political advisor to the president of the United States. But claims that he’s equivalent to David Duke actually serve to make Bannon seem reasonable by comparison. And, again, “well, at least he’s not David Duke” should hardly be the measuring stick for unacceptability.

Whether it’s refusing to release his tax returns; declining to say whether he would accept the outcome of either the Republican primaries or the general election if they didn’t go his way; not answering questions from reporters for months on end; or getting away with dozens of outrageous statements and flubs that would have surely sunk any other campaign, Trump has not played by the rules and he’s seemingly been rewarded for it. That’s infuriating. But the answer isn’t to refuse to normalize the elected president of the United States but to treat him precisely as we normally would a president.

New York Times political correspondent Maggie Haberman, frustrated at questions as to whether a dubious charge against Trump was actually true, answered, “Don’t you think the standard at this point needs to be that thepresident-elect clarifies or we print it [10]?”  While I share her frustration, the obvious answer is No. Journalists should actually do their jobs and investigate claims made by and about Trump.

At the same time, they should stop treating him as a reality show host making a playful run for the presidency and treat him as someone who has made a successful run for the presidency. The should absolutely dig into and expose the backgrounds of people Trump appoints to positions in his administration, certainly to include Bannon. They should demand answers to questions as to how or whether he’ll implement the rather vague policy pronouncements he made on the campaign trail.

Will he actually build (another) wall along the Mexican border, or was that just a campaign device? He now claims he’ll “immediately” deport three million illegal immigrants? How will he identify them? How will he do this without terrorizing those here legally?

What is his relationship with Vladimir Putin? What will his policies be with regard to our Article 5 commitments to our NATO allies? Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Our conflicting interests in Syria?

Is he really going to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal? If so, what’s his alternative plan for restraining the mullahs?

Speaking of nuclear weapons, is he really okay with proliferation to the likes of Saudi Arabia?

Is he really going to re-institute torture policies that have now been specifically prohibited under US law?

Those are just some of the most obvious issues just on the foreign policy front. Trump ran a campaign with no precedent in modern American history and we have reason for deep concern about his presidency. Yet there’s no escaping a modicum of normalization. Rather than crying “Hitler,” we must now be more vigilant. Let’s call Trump out if he puts unqualified or intemperate people into positions of power. Let’s push back on unwise policy proposals or executive orders. And let’s remember that the standard is not whether Trump’s policies resemble those of fascists and totalitarians but whether they’re in the best interests of the United States and our allies.

Original article

Clinton-Cartwright Comparisons Don’t Hold Up

James Joyner and Butch Bracknell

War on The Rocks

October 27, 2016

In the third and, thankfully, final presidential debate of the 2016 cycle, Republican nominee Donald Trump doubled down on his contention that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, “should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with e-mails and so many other things.” He had some new ammunition: a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Marine General James “Hoss” Cartwright, had just been criminally charged in relation to leaking classified information. While there are surface similarities, however, the cases are quite different.

Trump charged,

We have a great general, four-star general, today you read it in all the papers going to potentially serve five years in jail for lying to the FBI, one lie. She’s lied hundreds of times to the people, to Congress, and to the FBI. He’s going to probably go to jail. This is a four-star general, and she gets away with it and she can run for the presidency of the United States?

Josh Rogin of The Washington Post took a similar position in an article headlined “General Cartwright is paying the price for Hillary Clinton’s sins.” He contends, “The FBI’s handling of the case stands in stark contrast to its treatment of Hillary Clinton and retired General David Petraeus — and it reeks of political considerations.”

He cites Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, who argues, “There is a lack of proportion just based on the facts that one figure, Cartwright, is getting severely punished and others so far have escaped the process,” adding, “He is being singled out for prosecution and public humiliation. It’s an implicit rebuttal to those who argued that other senior officials such as Clinton or Petraeus got off scott free or got too light of a sentence.”

Cartwright’s sentencing reportedly will not take place until January 17, making a full comparison difficult. Still, the cases are sufficiently different to make Trump and Aftergood wrong on the merits.

Trump’s comparison between Clinton and Cartwright is the easiest to dismiss. While the FBI found that Clinton had repeatedly been “extremely careless” in her handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information,” there was no evidence — indeed, never even the suggestion — that she intentionally shared classified information with any individual not authorized to receive it. Her recklessness could well have compromised national secrets. Given the ubiquity of hacking, it might well have. But there is no evidence to support a criminal prosecution, as explained in depth by FBI Director James Comey and others.  (Now, conduct that doesn’t clear the bar for criminal charging may be deemed by voters to be disqualifying for President of the United States. But Clinton is running against Trump, not Cartwright.)

More importantly, despite Trump’s assertions to the contrary, there is no evidence nor, again, was there any credible assertion, that Clinton lied to the FBI in their investigation of the matter. That, after all, is what Cartwright was ultimately charged with.

As Lawfare’s Ben Wittes noted on a recent episode of the Rational Security podcast, lying to federal investigators is the surest way to get charged with a crime: “There is nothing in this world — not child porn, not terrorism, nothing — that the FBI is likely to insist you be indicted for than lying to the FBI.”  He argues this is not merely self-serving: “They can’t do their job if people don’t engage in investigations in a responsible or reasonable fashion.”

Beyond that, it seems obvious that charging someone for false statements to investigators is a convenient way to extract some punishment while avoiding the proof problems that may accompany the underlying conduct. By merely charging false statements to investigators, prosecutors simplify their case and avoid the need to declassify underlying evidence or to hold the court in a closed, secure session.

Indeed, Wittes argues, in the context of the handling of classified information, those questioned by the FBI would be best advised to be as forthcoming as possible. Not only will those suspected of dishonesty be ruthlessly pursued “for years” if necessary, but people are essentially never charged merely for the mishandling of information. When FBI Director Jim Comey explained that “no reasonable prosecutor” would have brought charges against Clinton, he noted:

All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice.

He declared, “We do not see those things here.”

The better comparison, then, is Gen. David Petraeus, whose mishandling of classified information was compounded by lying to investigators. While the Justice Department worked very hard to build a felony case against him, he was ultimately allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges and pay a fine.

His case centered around handing over his personal journals, which contained extensive classified information, over to his mistress Paula Broadwell to aid in writing her hagiography of him. Included in these books were “code words for secret intelligence programs, the identities of covert officers, and information about war strategy and deliberative discussions with the National Security Council.” The Department of Justice contended that the information, if disclosed, could have caused “exceptionally grave damage” to the national security.

The disclosure was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Broadwell, while having no official “need to know” and thus ineligible to receive the materials in question (“lack of access”), was an Army Reserve military intelligence officer with a security clearance, and thus highly trained to use discretion in the handling of classified materials. Additionally, Petraeus retained and used the right to vet the content of the book in detail before it was published. In the end, no classified material was used in the published book, and there is no evidence of foreign disclosure of the research materials.

As then-Attorney General Eric Holder observed, “There were some unique things that existed in that case that would have made the prosecution at the felony level and a conviction at the felony level very, very, very problematic.” Among these was a view by some in the Department of Justice that Broadwell was, technically speaking, a journalist and therefore essentially immune from prosecution under the Espionage Act for her own part in the crime.

Cartwright, meanwhile, talked to journalists about one of the government’s most closely guarded and highly compartmentalized secrets, the “Olympic Games” attack on the Iranian nuclear program using the Stuxnet virus. While Cartwright’s role in the leaks was murky, he noted he was not the original, primary leaker and was merely confirming information the journalists already had, and implied he was acting at the behest of the White House. But then why lie to investigators?

Again, we won’t be able to truly compare the treatment of the two generals until Cartwright’s sentencing. Among the factors — and likely the main factor — in Petraeus’ deal was his status as a public hero. It would have been very awkward politically to strip someone of his stature of his pension and prestige over an incident that most members of the public would find minor. We presume that Cartwright’s presentencing report will similarly speak in glowing terms about his four decades of exemplary service and would be surprised if he serves any jail time. His major penalty will be largely collateral to the offense — a minor loss of his Washington credibility and security clearance, at least for a few years, and an inability to work on classified matters for industry or think tanks, as retired generals often do. Unless a retroactive retirement grade review is ordered (unlikely in light of the Petraeus precedent), Cartwright’s pension will remain intact, and his professional prospects will either recover soon enough or not be appreciably damaged.

The more scandalous comparison, arguably, isn’t between Clinton, Cartwright, and Petraeus but between very senior officials like them and the mere rank and file. As The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris points out,  “The Obama administration has prosecuted more cases against government and military personnel for leaking than all other administrations combined.”

The most obvious are the very-high-profile cases of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden. They are sufficiently complex, unique, and politically charged that we’ll leave them aside for this discussion. The cases of intelligence community civil servant Thomas Drake and Marine Reserve Major Jason Brezler spring to mind as more typical cases.

Faced with misgivings about intelligence community spending and overreach into citizen privacy, Drake made a series of reports to various oversight entities, including the Department of Defense Inspector General. In alleged retribution for Drake’s later disclosures to The Baltimore Sun, the Justice Department brought a case against him which later fell apart into yet another misdemeanor plea deal — but not before Drake’s successful career and reputation were ruined.

Military servicemembers facing similar discipline and loss of a security clearance can, and often are, separated from service by virtue of their inability to perform their primary duties without access to classified information. Brezler has been the subject of administrative separation proceedings seeking to throw him out of the service over relatively minor and self-reported classified information disclosures and retentions. Brezler sent classified information over unclassified networks for the purpose of alerting colleagues in Afghanistan of an imminent danger posed by an Afghan security force member. After self-reporting, an investigation revealed Brezler unlawfully retained other classified information, possibly as research information to write a memoir. Unable to prosecute him by court-martial, the Marine Corps sought to fire him, which would spell the end of his service, the loss of any eventual pension, and loss of his security clearance for years.

For Drake and Brezler, once accused of improper handling and retention of classified materials, the hammer of justice has been somewhat severe.

The disparity between the treatment of senior leadership and those for whom they are supposed to set the example is uncomfortable. Partly, it’s a function of political connections; generals and cabinet officers are more likely than privates and ordinary bureaucrats to have friends in high places. Partly, it’s the fact that those who have risen to high rank typically have several decades of “wasta” to balance against poor decisions. This apparent say-do gap, while unfortunate, is probably inevitable.

Regardless, Clinton is getting no special treatment by the standards of her high-powered peers. Like Petraeus and Cartwright, she failed to safeguard the nation’s secrets to the appropriate standard. None of the three were charged for these failures. Unlike them, she did not get caught lying to the Justice Department. Thus, once again, the old Washington truism has borne out: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.

Original article

Generals and Political Interventions in American History

War on The Rocks

August 4, 2016

In a curt letter to The Washington Post, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, reacting to speeches by two recently retired generals — Michael Flynn and John Allen — before the Republican and Democratic conventions, declared that, “The military is not a political prize.” Dempsey explained:

The American people should not wonder where their military leaders draw the line between military advice and political preference. And our nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines should not wonder about the political leanings and motivations of their leaders.

Certainly, this is not a new controversy.  Way back in 1992, one of Dempsey’s predecessors Admiral William Crowe gave a speech endorsing Bill Clinton for the White House as the future president was facing criticism over his dodging of the draft during Vietnam.  He was soon joined by another 20 retired generals and admirals, many of whom, like Crowe, had seen their military advice overruled by Clinton’s opponent, sitting President George H.W. Bush.

Moreover, the United States has a long history, literally going back to the founding, of retired generals entering politics.  George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Franklin Pierce, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, and Dwight Eisenhower all rose to the presidency at least partially on the strength of their military records.  In recent times, Wesley Clark ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination and there was a serious effort to recruit Colin Powell to run as well.  Indeed, there was an effort this cycle to draft Jim Mattis, who showed no interest in the pursuit.

Retired generals have involved themselves into political debates in myriad other ways. Ten years ago, in what came to be called the “revolt of the generals,” when several just-retired generals, most of whom had been “in the inner circle of policy formation or execution of the Administration,” openly lambasted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, with whom they’d had disagreements while in uniform, over the Iraq War.  And, of course, the nickname of the controversy was a play on the “revolt of the admirals” of 1949, in which active and retired flag officers squared off against President Harry Truman over a decision to cut an aircraft carrier to fund a new strategic bomber.

The ethical norms around each of these political interventions differs and none of them are particularly well-settled. There is no serious question whether they have a legal right to do any of these things; they clearly do. Yet there is reason to be concerned about the impact on civil-military relations when the most senior officers join the political fray.

Clearly, there’s a distinction between declaring oneself a candidate for office and endorsing a candidate.   As Duke political scientist Peter Feaver notes, “When you stand for office you officially cross over and become a politician — you are viewed as a partisan politician and thenceforth can only speak as a partisan.”

But what about endorsing? Obviously, it makes no sense to declare a moratorium on any veteran or former soldier ever speaking about politics. That would disenfranchise a huge number of people and deprive the public debate of an important perspective.  And, indeed, it would be an odd argument for me to make, since I’m a former Army officer.

While there is no clear standard, the rank at which one separated from the service and the proximity of said separation are part of the equation.  Nobody seriously thinks someone who left active duty as a first lieutenant, as I did, represents the service.  And, even for very senior officers, that presumption fades with time.

Dempsey took a stab out laying out the distinction while he was still chairman. In a May 2014 session at the Atlantic Council, he observed:

If you want to get out of the military and run for office, I’m all for it. But don’t get out of the military – and this is a bit controversial, I got it – don’t get out of the military and become a political figure by throwing your support behind a particular candidate.

His rationale is spot on

[I]f somebody asks me, when I retire, to support them in a political campaign, do you think they’re asking Marty Dempsey, or are they asking General Dempsey? I am a general for life, and I should remain true to our professional ethos, which is to be apolitical for life unless I run.

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Doug Crowder, writing in Proceedings last November, expanded that argument, contendingthat those who wear stars on their shoulder boards “are not merely private citizens after retirement” but rather part of a unique vanguard:  a general or “admiral for life.”

Crowder explains that his view on the issue was informed by his experience serving on the Joint Staff early in the Clinton administration when a civilian staffer, annoyed at being told that an issue being proposed would be opposed by the chairman, responded, “Well, maybe it’s time we got some Clinton generals in here.”

He was aghast at the notion that the civilian leadership would think senior officers would fail to support the elected commander-in-chief for partisan reasons, until he remembered that Crowe had in fact joined the fray in endorsing Clinton during the campaign. Crowder writes, “I have never met a finer officer and gentleman, but I could see how the public could misunderstand why an admiral was making a public political endorsement of a presidential candidate.”

As Crowder notes, “the Crowe endorsement opened the floodgates for future retired flag and general officer political endorsements.” They are now routinely trotted out by both parties. During the 2012 cycle a full page newspaper ad ran “listing the well over 300 retired flag and general officers who ‘Proudly support Governor Mitt Romney as our nation’s next President and Commander-in-Chief.’”

Certainly the Republic has not crumbled as a result. And the military continues to be near the top of all institutions in terms of the confidence of the American public. Still, the next president will surely have cause to wonder about the loyalty of the senior officers upon whose “best military advice” they are counting.

There are few general officers, active or retired, whose judgment on national security matters I respect more than John Allen’s. While there are things in his convention speech with which I disagree, I share his assessment that Hillary Clinton is more fit to serve as commander-in-chief than Donald Trump (granted, a low bar).

But Allen didn’t simply present himself as a seasoned policy hand.  His very first words in his convention speech were,

My fellow Americans, I stand with you tonight as a retired four-star general of the United States Marine Corps, and I am joined bymy fellow generals and admirals, and with these magnificent young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan” [emphasis mine].

He thus wrapped himself not only in his own substantial personal credibility but in that of his profession.

That continued after the speech. Trump, as is his wont, counterpunched, calling Allen “a failed general.” In response, Allen invoked the prestige of his profession, retorting, “He has no credibility to criticize me or my record or anything I have done.” He continued, “If he’d spent a minute in the deserts of Afghanistan or in the deserts of Iraq, I might listen to what he has to say.”  Worse yet, he termed Trump’s comments “a direct insult to every single man and woman who’s wearing the uniform today.”

Now, Trump’s assertion that Allen is a “failed general” because we haven’t defeated the Islamic State is at best simplistic and arguably absurd. But, having joined the political fray in such a full-throated way, Allen is fair game. Hiding behind the armor of the uniform he proudly wore and the troops who now serve is highly problematic for the institution, which holds such high prestige and has such tremendous value in our system of government precisely because it is viewed as a loyal servant of the nation rather than a partisan tool.

Further, it makes Allen’s warnings that electing Trump could result in “a civil military crisis, the like of which we’ve not seen in this country,” especially ominous.  He was, rightly, pointing out the moral dilemma that would face the uniformed leadership were Trump to assume office and actually try and enact some of the off-the-cuff musings on international relations as policy. Were Trump to assume the mantle of commander-in-chief and issue an order the brass believed unlawful, they would have a duty to advise him accordingly and to abide by the laws of this nation and the laws of war. There are appropriate venues for airing that discussion, such as a Congressional hearing. A national political convention is not one of them. But, in context of a retired general who has just spoken as a party convention, it comes across as a warning that the military would be disloyal if a president of the wrong party were elected. This could lead to a calamitous state of affairs.

Meanwhile, Flynn not only spoke at the Republican convention but was purportedly on the short list to be Trump’s running mate. Even though he was not selected for the ticket, he has taken on an attack dog role, even carrying the fight to Twitter where, in what one hopes was a newbie’s incompetence, he enthusiastically retweeted an anti-Semitic attack on Clinton. That is, to say the least, not a good look.

Flynn, who retired as the three-star head of the Defense Intelligence Agency just shy of two years ago, has been an active opponent of the Obama White House almost from the moment he hung up his uniform. He declared last year that, “The people in the United States have lost respect and confidence in their government to be able to solve the problems that we face now and in the future.” Feaver warned at the time that Flynn’s aggressive criticism could undermine policymakers’ confidence in the brass: “If they suspect ‘this guy’s going to retire and then go on MSNBC and bash me,’ [they might decide] ‘let’s not have that person in the room when we’re really discussing the issues.’” That would be both understandable and catastrophic.

It is technically true, as Richard Swain argues, that “retired officers remain members of the armed forces by law and regulation” and it is therefore reasonable to assume that “they remain at least ethically obliged to observe the limitations imposed by commissioned service.” But there has been little precedent for holding them to that standard. Nor is it reasonable to expect, for example, a retired lieutenant colonel, who already rendered at least two decades of service, to continue to abstain from the full rights and privileges of citizenship for the remainder of his life.

Still, we can nonetheless formalize professional norms for retired generals and admirals. Don Snider, a retired Army colonel and longtime scholar of the profession, argues:

While retirement from active duty does make each one a newly nonpracticing professional, in the world of public perceptions they still act and speak, and are seen and heard, as an esteemed member of the military profession.

As such, they continue to have an obligation to ensure that officership is perceived as “a real profession as opposed to just another governmental bureaucracy.” Otherwise, they undermine the confidence of the civilian leadership, the American public, and rank-and-file soldiers.

We can begin with the distinction that holds for active duty officers and, to a lesser extent, civilian employees of the Defense Department between partisan politicking and issue advocacy. It’s perfectly reasonable and likely valuable for retired officers to weigh in on public debates on controversial issues, like gender integration or proposed military action, where it would be inappropriate or difficult for serving generals to weigh in where their civilian masters have spoken.  (Although, here, the rule may well be the opposite as that for partisan endorsements: the longer the officer has been out of uniform, the less valuable his expertise.)

At the same time, it’s clearly inappropriate for retired generals and admirals to endorse or oppose the re-election of officials they’ve recently served or worked alongside. It simply smacks of disloyalty and brings into retrospective question the advice they rendered while in uniform. Further, it gives the impression, true or otherwise, that their views are shared by their successors — especially those who were protégées. Relatedly, if the endorser is later appointed to a plum post in the administration, as Crowe was, then it looks very much like the imprimatur of the military profession has been auctioned off for advancement.

We already impose a statutory moratorium on certain senior officers from lobbying or accepting a contract from their former agency for two years after retirement. Adding a ban on using their title in partisan political activity for, say, five years would serve the same purpose — removing the appearance of impropriety — without permanently taking them out of the arena. This wouldn’t solve the problem entirely but would put some space between an individual’s time in uniform and partially mitigate the impression that they are speaking for those with whom they recently served.

In an ideal world, retired generals and admirals would simply refuse, as non-practicing members of the profession of arms, to refrain from endorsing political candidates or otherwise engaging in partisan activity.  A Flynn or Allen could still speak out on national security issues that concern them, including those that are part of an ongoing campaign, without explicitly endorsing candidates or appearing at a party convention.  Few would criticize them if they had instead appeared at a think tank or before Congress arguing for a more aggressive approach to fighting ISIL, warning of the dangers to embracing torture, or abandoning protections for non-combatants.

It is essential that our generals and admirals are perceived as loyal to the Constitution, not a political party. A commander-in-chief should have every confidence that they are receiving the best military advice from the chairman, the service chiefs, combatant commanders, and other senior military leaders. Otherwise, it would absolutely be appropriate for the next president to look for “Clinton generals” or “Trump admirals” to fill the top billets. And we clearly do not want that to happen.

Original article