January 18, 2011

Eisenhower's military industrial complex warning, 50 years later

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s infamous speech on the dangers of a military industrial complex. The outgoing president gave the speech just three days before President Kennedy’s inaugural and warned of the dangers of a growing military, even as he had presided one the fastest expansions of  nuclear arsenal in U.S. history. And yet in his speech, he seemed conflicted about what he had done and its impact on the future. That expansion was a product of the Cold War, and he asked the public to consider the costs. In his speech, he said:

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States cooperations -- corporations.

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.


Perhaps the most notable we say we see this growing complex today is in the use of contractors in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point during the Iraq war, contractors outnumbered soldiers. In Afghanistan, the ratio is currently 1:1. And yet contractors make far more and are not bound by the same rules of warfare as soldiers. In fact, some would argue they are free to behave as they like.

We see the military industrial complex in the defense budget as well, which has steadily risen in the last 14 years and is slated to go up again, albeit at a smaller rate. Given the nation’s current economic state and the fact that the DoD is expected to unveil its full budget in just a few weeks, on this anniversary it seemed appropriate to draw your attention to the speech, which still sparks debate. You can read the full speech here. And you can listen to an enlightening debate about the topic from On Point with Tom Asbrook here.

January 17, 2011

Palestinian flag to be raised in DC


We received an invitation over the weekend for a very interesting event on Tuesday. For the first time, the Palestinian flag will be officially raised in the United States. The event will take place at the Palestinian delegation to the United States in Washington, DC. 

The delegation--a sort of proto-embassy--dates to 1994, and came into being after the 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians. Prior to that, there had been a "Palestine Information Office."

According to Israel's Haaretz newspaper last year, the move stems from the Obama administration's decision to officially upgrade the status of the Palestinian mission.

January 13, 2011

U.S. diplomat warned of potential trouble in Tunisia nearly two years ago

If the Obama administration didn't see the anti-government riots now convulsing Tunisia coming, it should have.

That's because the former U.S. ambassador to Tunis, Robert F. Godec, warned his superiors nearly two years ago of rough times ahead for the country's authoritarian ruler, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

"President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor. Many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities," Goden wrote in a classified July 17, 2009, cable leaked last month by WikiLeaks. "Extremism poses a continuing threat. Compounding the problems, the GOP (government of Tunisia) brooks no advice or criticism, domestic or international. Instead, it seeks to impose ever greater control, often using the police. The result: Tunisia is troubled and our relations are too."

Godec went on to describe the country as "a police state, with little freedom of expression or association and serious human rights problems."

Godec, who became the State Department's deupty coordinator for counter-terrorism after leaving Tunis in 2009, reviewed some of the Tunisian government's more progressive policies, pointing to efforts to increase jobs, advance women's rights and a "long history of religious tolerance," including the protection of the Jewish community.

He lamented that U.S. relations with Tunisia were not better, but largely blamed the regime, which he said had resisted better ties and strictly limited contact by U.S. diplomats with Tunisian officials, opposition members and civil society activists.

"Too often, the GOT prefers the illusion of engagement to the hard work of real cooperation," he wrote.

Godec reported that Ben Ali and his regime were increasingly focused on "preserving power. And corruption in the inner circle is growing. Even average Tunisians dislike, even hate, First Lady Trabelsi and her family. In private, regime opponents mock her."

In his most prescient observation, Godec warned that "anger is growing at Tunisia's high unemployment and regional inequities. As a consequence, the risks to the regime's long-term stability are increasing."

Nearly two years later, the high jobless rate, soaring food prices and anger at government repression and corruption are being blamed for the worst anti-government unrest that Ben Ali has faced in almost 24 years in power. Whether he and his embattled regime will succeed in crushing the riots, in which more than 20 people had been killed as of this writing, remained to be seen.

One thing, however, seemed all but certain. As Godec wrote, "In the end, serious change here will have to await Ben Ali's departure."







January 12, 2011

Hillary: Tucson shootings "a form of extremism"

SecState Hillary Clinton, who has been traveling in the Middle East this week, has reiterated her comments that the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the deaths of six others were carried out by an "extremist."

In an interview with CNN while in Oman (full transcript available here), Clinton said that "when you cross the line from expressing opinions that are of conflicting differences in our political environment into taking action that’s violent action, that’s a hallmark of extremism, whether it comes from the right, the left, from al-Qaida, from anarchists, whoever it is. That is a form of extremism."

Clintion was referring to the alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner.



January 11, 2011

The last SecState visit to Yemen

As most of our readers surely know by now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a surprise stop today in Yemen, a country of growing counter-terrorism concern to the United States. According to the State Department Historian's website, it was just the third visit to Yemen by a U.S. Secretary of State.

The last was by Secretary of State James A. Baker III on November 22, 1990. It's worth recalling.

I travelled extensively with Baker during that period, especially following Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, although I wasn't on this particular trip. (My Reuters colleague at the time, Alan Elsner, was on the flight and recounted it last year for Huffington Post).

Baker was trying to get the maximum possible support for a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and he visited virtually every member at the time of the Security Council, including Yemen. As Elsner recounts, Baker warned Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (yes, he's still president now) that he risked $70 million in annual U.S. aid if he voted against the resolution.

When UN Security Council resolution 678 came up for a vote a week after the Baker visit, it got 12 votes. But Cuba and Yemen voted against, and China, which holds a veto as a permanent council member, abstained. Baker was reported to have told a Yemeni diplomat afterward, "That's the most expensive vote you ever cast."

Elsner, in his Huffington Post piece, quoted from Baker's memoir, The Politics of Diplomacy, about the SecState's reaction to the Yemeni UN ambassador's speech attacking the resolution and U.S. policy toward Iraq:

Baker wrote:  "I scribbled a quick note to Bob Kimmitt (a senior aide). 'Yemen's permanent rep. just enjoyed about $200 to $250 million worth of applause for that speech'." In a footnote, Baker explained that while Washington's aid amounted to around $70 million, other coalition partners and allies also had assistance programs which would now be affected.)

Of course, nations, as Lord Palmerston said, have no permanent friends or allies (the same could be said for enemies), just permanent interests. U.S. aid to Yemen increased significantly in fiscal year 2010 to about $67 million, and is due to increase in the current fiscal year to $106 million.

January 10, 2011

Gates' trip to China

Today, Secretary of Defense kicked off the first of his two-day trip to China, the beginning of his week-long visit through Asia. For many, this leg of his trip is the most important and yet no one knows how to measure whether it is successful or not. Here is a brief summary of the issues on this trip.

The United States wants to promote transparency and re-establish military-to-military relations. And yet it is unlikely that Gates will walk away with tangible progress. Rather, at best it will be the beginning of a long dialogue. As we watch the trip unfold, I think it is worth asking whether these efforts to improve relations will have a long-term effect. Gates is doing many of the same things he did during his last trip to China in 2007; indeed, his agenda even resembles former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to China.  And yet, there seems to be an annual ritual of the U.S. selling weapons to Taiwan, followed by a break in U.S./Chinese relations only to resume again. That is, despite all these visits, rather than improving military-to-military relations, they remain stagnate and disjointed.

That said, it is encouraging that China is even welcoming Gates, some believe. Others argue China is rolling out the red carpet for Gates in anticipation of President Hu visit to Washington next week.  In addition, China’s effort to mitigate North Korea’s act of provocation will also dominate discussion during this the trip, experts believe, even it is not the primary topic publically discussed.

You can read a fuller explanation of the first day’s event by my colleague, Tom Lasseter, here.

January 07, 2011

Retired Israeli spy chief: Iran still years away from having a nuke

Israel's premier intelligence agency has changed its estimate of when Iran could develop a nuclear weapon. Again.

Meir Dagan, who retired on Thursday as head of the Mossad, asserted in his final report to a parliamentary committee that Iran - which denies that it is seeking a nuclear arsenal - won't be able to develop a warhead until at least 2015, according to Israeli media reports.

Dagan's assessment for the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee reportedly said that Iran's effort has been dealt a series of setbacks, which were not disclosed.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad admitted in November, however, that a computer virus of mysterious origin, known as Stuxnet, last year struck the centrifuges that are producing low-enriched uranium that Tehran claims will be used to power civilian reactors. The same machines also can produce highly enriched uranium for bombs.

Israel has repeatedly revised its estimate of when Iran could produce a nuclear bomb. In 2003, Israel believed that Iran could have one within four years. It then put the date at 2009, and then at 2011. And less than two weeks ago, Israeli Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon, who also serves as deputy prime minister, told Israel Radio that Iran could have a weapon by 2013.

"These adjustments were not the result of mistaken evaluations, but due to difficulties Iran has encountered in advancing its program, largely because of the Mossad's efforts," said the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.


Dempsey slated to be next Army Chief of Staff

Overshadowed by yesterday’s announcement about budget savings and the like, there was some important news that came out of the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates nominated Gen. Martin Dempsey to replace Gen. George Casey as the Chief of Staff of the Army when Casey’s term expires in April.

Dempsey is one of the most well liked four-star generals in the service and has played a key role not only in the wars but in the training of the force. Indeed, over the last few yeas, he has been a part of some of the biggest challenges facing the Army. He will take over at a precarious time. As the military draws down in Iraq and presumably in Afghanistan, the Army will face greater budgetary pressures and calls to shrink. In addition, it will have to determine how to reshape itself in the post-conflict world. How much training should it give to traditional warfare versus counterinsurgency? How will it repair equipment worn down through a decade of war? And can the United States afford to continue to secure the world? If not, how will it adjust?

I unfortunately did not have time yesterday to properly write a story about this, but one of my favorite reporters, Spencer Ackerman, did so I am linking to his piece here for those of you who want to read more about Gen. Dempsey.

December 27, 2010

Julian Assange's book deal

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been forced, forced, forced to sign a $1.3 million book deal to pay his mounting legal bills.

New York publishing house Alfred A. Knopf confirmed Monday that it has signed Assange on to write his autobiography. There are no specifics on when it will be published.

"I don't want to write this book, but I have to," Assange told the Sunday Times in an interview. "I have already spent 200,000 pounds for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat." Assange has been charged with sexually assaulting two women in Sweden.

After being held in a London jail for a week, he was released on house arrest in a British mansion owned by one of his supporters. He has vehemently denied the charges, saying he is being chased for publishing government documents on WikiLeaks.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal had a piece recently that said Assange paid himself two-thirds of WikiLeaks budget for his salary or $86,000 in 2010.

I wonder how much he will really reveal in light of the furtive public life he has led so far. Either way, it is an interesting development that a man known for publishing what other people write will now have to final produce his own words.

December 24, 2010

Tracking Santa Claus' movements

Today’s posting is for those who truly believe in the spirit of Christmas. You can track Santa’s movement at this site, provided by NORAD, so you know exactly when he is coming to a chimney near you. For the first time, the site provides 3-D images of Santa, his sleigh and reindeer as they fly around the world. Since Christmas is about to begin in Australia, that is where he is at the time of this posting.

We would like to also use this opportunity to say Merry Christmas everyone, especially those of you serving overseas. We are also thinking about your families who will celebrate the joy of the holidays even as they miss you being home alongside them.  And to those who lost a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan or find themselves consoling a loved one injured in the wars, you are in our hearts and prayers everyday, but even more so at time of the year. We wish you all a peaceful holiday season. 



"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

jon, nancy & warren

Landay, Youssef and Strobel.

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