December 16, 2003

Giving the Dean His Due

Dr., Governor Howard Dean is the current front runner for the Democratic nomination to the presidency of the United States. No matter how much you think he's going to get buried in a landslide or that he suffers from various faults he deserves to be taken seriously and his words analyzed carefully. So I'm giving him his due and going through his recent security policy speech like he actually matters because win or lose, he does.

First the bad (which includes just those things that are wrong, and not the ungracious sections which are echoing Bush administration initiatives but don't give credit)

"An administration prepared to work with others in true partnership might have been able, if it found no alternative to Saddam's ouster, to then rebuild Iraq with far less cost and risk."

The problem is that there were always three alternatives and they remained until the first military units crossed the border in invasion, sealing our choice.

The alternatives were:

1. Continue as we were
2. Lift sanctions and normalize relations
3. Invade and depose the regime.

The truth is that we could have continued Iraqi sanctions as long as we've kept on with the embargo of Cuba. This could have lasted decades more. Howard Dean owes an explanation of what would have been the trigger making the status quo unacceptable.

There were significant forces, old allies like France and Germany, new allies like Russia, who were pushing for a lifting of sanctions. Howard Dean needs to make clear what would his response have been to these initiatives and, if he wouldn't have agreed, how would he have resisted sanctions busting efforts.

Finally, he needs to say how much humiliation and nose thumbing would he be willing to take from a rogue state. We took it for 12 years +. Should it have been 13, 14, 20, 40, before we said enough was enough and just ended it? With Cuba we had the USSR as a real reason restraining us. There was no like reason over Iraq.

"I also will get America's defense spending priorities straight so our resources are focused more on fighting terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and honoring commitments to our troops and less, for example, on developing unnecessary and counterproductive new generations of nuclear weapons."

I always worry when politicians are in denial about the laws of physics. The problem that needs solving is deep bunkers which conventional munitions can't reach and which could not be destroyed quickly enough by repeated hits to stop people from moving the bunker's contents elsewhere. Deep bunkers that our munitions can't meaningfully reach are a threat that needs to be responded to.

"Every President in that line, including Republicans Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the first President Bush demonstrated that effective American leadership includes working with allies and partners, inspiring their support, advancing common interests.

Now, when America should be at the height of its influence, we find ourselves, too often, isolated and resented.
Leaders of the current administration seem to believe that nothing can be gained from working with nations that have stood by our side as allies for generations."

This is just ahistorical. The difference between now and then is that Joska Fischer is in the halls of power representing Germany's official voice, not in the streets beating up policemen in demonstrations against America. Poland would have been opposed in the time of Reagan, now it is a stout ally, on a level of Italy or Spain. The map has been redrawn, the governments are different but the US is no more or less isolated than it was in the past. I do worry about a potential president that clings to our past allies more than our permanent national interests. Alliances can change (though they have changed less than many wail) but interests never do.

"Unlike the kind of pick-up team this administration prefers, alliances train together so they can function effectively with common equipment, communications, logistics, and planning.  Our country will be safer with established alliances, adapted to confront 21st century dangers, than with makeshift coalitions that have to start from scratch every time the alarm bell sounds."

This is something of a slap in the face to Spain, which fully integrated into NATO all of four years ago (1999) the even more recent NATO entrants and our non-NATO partners. In Gulf War I we absolutely did not limit ourself to NATO and asian partners. Is Howard Dean really arguing that we shouldn't have had Egypt or Saudi Arabia along in that war?

And speaking of Asia, Japan will be sending troops to Iraq. This marks the first time in half a century that Japan's military will be venturing past her shores and an even longer period since she has done it as part of a burden of responsible international action in support of justice.

Finally, there is France, which is simply not a 1st rank NATO player and has not been since 1966 when it withdrew from full integration. France has consistently refused to integrate into NATO for decades but Howard Dean seems to be preferring their prickly company to better integrated allies. I hope this is more than ignorance of the readily available facts of our military alliances but somebody needs to pin Dean down on it and clarify.

Fundamental to our strategy will be restoration of strong US leadership in the creation of a new global alliance to defeat terror, a commitment among law-abiding nations to work together in law enforcement, intelligence, and military operations. 

Such an alliance could have been established right after September 11, when nations stood shoulder to shoulder with America, prepared to meet the terrorist challenge together.  But instead of forging an effective new partnership to fight a common foe, the administration soon downgraded the effort.  The Iraq war diverted critical intelligence and military resources, undermined diplomatic support for our fight against terror, and created a new rallying cry for terrorist recruits.

Not only was such an alliance formed, it's still there, working. This is why, despite axis of weasels wording that many have used (including yours truly) there is a bedrock knowledge that our disagreement over Iraq is a bump in the road in our relationships with these dissenting countries and that the official voice of the United States has appropriately been much more moderate and conciliatory than the NY Post.

People often worry about the Arab street and have for decades. Today, French exporters worry about the American street because it's decimated their sales levels. French tourist businesses cry out to their government to appease us, not necessarily the government of the US, but the people of the US whom Chirac has grievously offended. We aren't falling in love with France again because France keeps ankle biting us and the people are awake, aroused, and are using pocketbook politics and will continue to do so.

This is an unusual situation which has been played rather well by this administration. A greater kowtow by official America will not necessarily placate our street. How Howard Dean plans to manage that, I can't imagine but his pretending the phenomenon does not exist is not encouraging. It seems to be ignoring the real-life political reality all around us. That's not good in a presidential candidate.

"Our administration will move swiftly to build a new anti-terrorist alliance, drawing on our traditional allies and involving other partners whose assistance can make a difference."

News Flash - all countries can provide finance routing, planning safe havens, and transit papers. There are no nations whose assistance cannot make a difference. This is just a gratuitous slap at smaller nations. I thought Democrats were the party of the little guy?

Our vigilance will extend to every conceivable means of attack.  And our most important challenge will be to address the most dangerous threat of all: catastrophic terrorism using weapons of mass destruction.  Here, where the stakes are highest, the current administration has, remarkably, done the least.

We have, rightly, paid much attention to finding and eliminating the worst people, but we need just as vigorous an effort to eliminate the worst weapons.  Just as important as finding bin Laden is finding and eliminating sleeper cells of nuclear, chemical, and biological terror.

Tell it to the Lackawanna six. There is a very fine line that has to be walked here. I think the government still owns the land they used for WW II internment camps and arab internment in Guantanamo like conditions would certainly allow for the sorting and filtering of innocents from the guilty but do we really want to go there? What sort of more vigorous action to uncover sleeper cells is being proposed here? For the sake of our freedom this has to get expanded on and talked about in detail.

From where I stand there isn't much more that can be done without damage to our freedom but if Howard Dean has some special insight, it deserves to be implemented regardless of election results. There are two risks here. This could be meaningless hot air or a threat to our freedom. Both risks need to be addressed.

A great deal of the problem is that you can make some awfully good weapons with what's available in a fairly typical US household. I won't go into detail here but the fellow in New Zealand who built a cruise missile in his backyard for under $5k was getting at exactly this point. Controls necessary to stop threats such as that would be profoundly intrusive and permanent. This is just the kind of restriction on freedom that is most difficult to recover from and thus should be regarded with the greatest suspicion.

"The tragedy is that, by its actions, its unilateralism, and its ill-considered war in Iraq, this Administration has empowered radicals, weakened moderates, and made it easier for the terrorists to add to their ranks."

Before our invasion of Iraq, there were suicide bombers in Israel getting posthumous $25k checks to their families from Saddam. Hamas, who bombed the US Marines in Lebanon, was getting support from Saddam. We have links to Iraq for the 1st WTC bombing and now recently there seems to be emerging documentation for links to 9/11. The money and training would have continued to flow absent an invasion.

Today, the palestinians are in mourning over the capture of Saddam and moderates all over the islamic world share in the joy that capture has brought Iraq. This is a section that should have been rewritten over the weekend after the capture of Saddam. The US excised a cancer on the world. Surgery hurts (as the good doctor should know), but the temporary pain is worth the long-term gain which is why we do it.

"And he must show by words and deeds that America seeks security for itself through strengthening the rule of law, not to dominate others by becoming a law unto itself."

And when international institutions are unwilling (not incapable, unwilling) to enforce their own mandatory decrees, are we to repeat the tragedy of the League of Nations to Mussolini's aggression in Ethiopia? That's not something that is acceptable. We currently have a shot at redeeming the UN. If Saddam had survived his last warning with his secret Mukhabarat weapons labs intact the community of tyrants would have known and taken note. The UN would have been finished.

"As President, I will work to narrow the now-widening gap between rich and poor.  Right now, the United States officially contributes a smaller percentage of its wealth to helping other nations develop than any other industrialized country."

The United States, as a nation, works a lot of things through private channels that are more effective than official government channels. Getting the job done right is more important than the official record books. Howard Dean should feel that too. It's a pity he doesn't.

"We also must bring skill and determination to a task at which the current administration has utterly failed:  We can and we must work for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians."

Two weeks ago, the Democratic candidates were united in calling our failure to capture Saddam a miserable failure. This descends beyond mere ungraciousness to a cheap shot using a throwaway line. We deserve better and need to hold Dean's feet to the fire to expound on what, exactly he would do that hasn't been tried and failed since 1948.

But it wasn't all cheap shots and bad policy. There was some good in there, sometimes in surprising places. In justice, that has to get noted too. It could form the basis of a renewed american bipartisan consensus in security/foreign policy. We desperately need that as a nation. Like the ungracious parts, the purely gracious parts like thanking the troops will be omitted as will the lighter than air truisms that are universally supported (are there actually any anti-rule-of-law candidates out there?).

"When it comes to our national security, we cannot afford to fail. September 11 was neither the beginning of our showdown with violent extremists, nor its climax. It was a monumental wake-up call to the urgent challenges we face."

Here is confirmation, Dean is not a complete moonbat. This is responsible and I hope he takes along the rest of his party to this position. Much of it is already there. Too much is not. Of the people who went back to sleep after 9/11, too big a chunk seem to be Democrats.

"Empowered by the American people, I will work to restore:
The knowledge that comes from first-rate intelligence, undiluted by ideology
First, we must strengthen our military and intelligence capabilities so we are best prepared to defend America and our interests.
Leadership also is critically needed to strengthen America's intelligence capabilities. The failure of warning on 9-11 and the debacle regarding intelligence on Iraq show that we need the best information possible about efforts to organize, finance and operate terrorist groups; about plans to buy, steal, develop, or use weapons of mass destruction; about unrest overseas that could lead to violence and instability."

I can only assume that this includes a repudiation of the Clinton administration position of handcuffing our intelligence services with impossible mandates to penetrate brutal terrorist organizations but have nothing to do with unsavory characters. This would be a welcome agreement with the Bush administration and should be made explicit.

"That means ensuring that our troops have the best leadership, the best training, and the best equipment."

I agree with Howard Dean here. Unfortunately, some Democrats do not. Dean needs to either get HR 3696 withdrawn or to denounce it.

It means ensuring that we have the right types of forces with the right capabilities to perform the missions that may lie ahead. I will expand our armed forces' capacity to meet the toughest challenges like defeating terrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction, and securing peace with robust special forces, improved military intelligence, and forces that are as ready and able to strengthen the peace as they are to succeed in combat.

With this statement, Dean signs on to an expansive vision of military transformation. As a Democrat, he has the liberty to do so without being tagged with the warmonger label that has traditionally handicapped Republicans. In the best of all possible worlds, this will be a consensus item and if George W Bush wins the presidency, Dean will work with other responsible Democrats to make sure this vision gets implemented no matter the party sponsorship of the legislation. The same goes for the Republicans.

"Rebuilding our alliances and partnerships is relevant not only in Europe and Asia. Closer to home, my Administration will rebuild cooperation with Mexico and others in Latin America."

It's going to be interesting to see the details of how the issues of illegal immigration and Brazil's attempt to form Mercosur as a competing trade block to NAFTA would get handled in a Dean administration.

"We will do more to protect our cities, ports, and aircraft; water and food supplies; bridges, chemical factories, and nuclear plants.

We will improve the coordination of intelligence information not only among federal agencies but also with state and local governments.
And we will enhance the emergency response capabilities of our police, firefighters and public health personnel. These local first responders are the ones on whom our security depends, and they deserve much stronger support from our federal government. A Department of Homeland Security isn't doing its job if it doesn't adequately support the hometown security that can prevent attacks and save lives"

My understanding is that the biggest hitch on these has been practical budgetary issues and assigning the dollars we have to where they will do the most good. It's a relief to hear that these issues will go away in a Dean administration. I'll be fascinated to hear the details of how the money will appear.

"Our global alliance will place its strongest emphasis on this most lethal form of terror. We will advance a global effort to secure the weapons and technologies of mass destruction on a worldwide basis.

To do so, we will build on the efforts of former Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And our effort will build on the extraordinary work and leadership, as Senator and as Vice President, of one of America's great leaders, Al Gore.
Our new alliance will call upon all nations to work together to identify and control or eliminate unsafeguarded components -- or potential components -- of nuclear, chemical and biological arms around the world. These include the waste products and fuel of nuclear energy and research reactors, the pathogens developed for scientific purposes, and the chemical agents used for commercial ends. Such materials are present in dozens of countries -- and often stored with little if any security or oversight
A serious effort to deal with this threat will require far more than the $2 billion annual funding the U.S. and its key partners have committed. We need a global fund to combat weapons of mass destruction not just in the former Soviet Union but around the world -- that is much larger than current expenditures"

Nunn-Lugar needs strengthening and expansion. Dean has a good idea here.

"We and our partners must commit ourselves to using every relevant capability, relationship, and organization to identify terrorist cells, seize terrorist funds, apprehend terrorist suspects, destroy terrorist camps, and prevent terrorist attacks. We must do even more to share intelligence, strengthen law enforcement cooperation, bolster efforts to squeeze terror financing, and enhance our capacity for joint military operations -- all so we can stop the terrorists before they strike at us."

No arguments from me on this one nor, I believe, would the Bush administration be against this. Civil liberties will be a continual issue here.

"The next President will also have to attack the roots of terror. He will have to lead and win the struggle of ideas."

The roots of terror are hiding behind the 1st amendment's free exercise of religion clause. This will be trickey surgery and I'm glad to see Dr. Dean making at least a basic commitment to this.

All in all, it's a step down from the current administration's security policy in my opinion but there's enough good there that Dean could play a constructive role in reigning in the loopy wing of the Democratic party.

Posted by TMLutas at December 16, 2003 07:03 AM