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Former Obama Defense Official Rosa Brooks: President Obama Is In Need Of An Intervention

by on Friday, October 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm EDT in Election 2012, Foreign Policy, Politics, World

Former Defense & State Dept Official Rosa Brooks

Rosa Brooks, who served under President Obama as Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and then Special Coordinator for Rule of Law and Humanitarian Policy, offered her former boss some long-overdue advice in her new Foreign Policy Magazine piece:

“[P]ush the foreign policy ‘reset’ button.”

In it, she recalls Obama’s principled vision for U.S. foreign policy during his 2008 campaign, which won over the American people and the world alike. It offered a fresh new worldview and policy platform that departed dramatically from his predecessor’s. She then contrasts that vision with where his foreign policy stands today — in shambles.

She highlights key regions that could be fairly portrayed as policy failures, including the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, China, Latin America, and Africa. On Obama’s expanding drone campaign, she describes “a counterterrorism strategy that has completely lost its bearings — we no longer seem very clear on who we need to kill or why.”

She lays these policy failures at Obama’s door, describing him as having been a “visionary candidate,” yet a President who “has presided over an exceptionally dysfunctional and un-visionary national security architecture — one that appears to drift from crisis to crisis, with little ability to look beyond the next few weeks.”

The United States, she says, “needs more than speeches and high-minded aspirations.” The President “needs to focus on strategy, structure, process, management, and personnel as much as on new policy initiatives.” 

Brooks pulls no punches in her “intervention” attempt. She provides him with a 6-point plan of action to turn things around, should the American people grant him a second term.

A central theme that spans across many of these recommendations is a dysfunctional foreign policy team in which well-respected strategists and visionaries have been mostly replaced by inexperienced political hacks.

She describes an environment where: 

  • “The Strategic Planning Directorate has been reduced to a speech-writing shop.”
  • The “National Security Staff (NSS) lacks the personnel or the depth of experience and expertise to be the primary font of policy.”
  • “Nepotism trumps merit.”
  • Cronyism “reigns supreme when it comes to determining who should attend White House meetings,” thereby shutting out dissenting voices, “along with the voices of specialists who could provide valuable information and insights.” This “guarantees uninformed group-think.”
  • Two of Obama’s three gatekeepers, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and his Deputy Denis McDonough, are allegedly “jerks” and despise one another. “The nastiness demoralizes everyone and sends the message that rudeness and infighting are acceptable.”

She describes the President as someone who, like his predecessor, has withdrawn into a bubble. He is heavily shielded by gate-keepers, rarely attends press conferences or interacts with members of Congress, never calls anyone.

She encourages him to implore staffers to play devil’s advocate — to challenge the polices that Obama and his close circle plan to pursue, if only to highlight their weaknesses, and to make those who have his ear actually have to defend them. In short, Obama needs more dissenting opinions in the room.

Perhaps her harshest critique of the President is one which many of his earliest supporters have long complained about: Obama lacks a backbone. 

President Obama has sound moral instincts, but he often backs away from them at the first sign of resistance. He came into office with a mandate and Democratic control of both houses of Congress. Had he been willing to use some political capital — and twist a few arms on the Hill — in those early months, Guantanamo would be closed, and the United States might have a more coherent approach to national security budgeting. But on these and other issues, the president backed off at the first sign of congressional resistance, apparently deciding (presumably on the advice of the campaign aides who already populated his national security staff) that these issues were political losers.

Of course, it was a self-fulfilling prophesy; the issues became losers because the White House abandoned them. Ultimately, Congress began to view him as weak: a man who wouldn’t push them very hard. As a result, Congress pushed back hard on everything, including health care, economic stimulus, and regulation of the financial industry, and Obama was forced to live with watered-down legislation across the board.

If he gets a second term, Obama needs to start thinking about his legacy, and that will require him to fight for his principles, not abandon them. Even if he fights, he won’t win every battle — but if he doesn’t fight, he won’t win any. 

Sound advice.

What Makes America Safer: Fiscal Stability, Or Chasing 100 Terrorists Around Afghanistan?

by on Friday, December 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm EDT in Afghanistan, Politics, World

In Obama’s Afghanistan speech at West Point, he announced he would be escalating our troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000-35,000 to ensure those who attacked us on 9-11 are resoundingly defeated.  ABC News notes that Obama conveniently left out a very significant fact, when making his case:

A senior U.S. intelligence official told the approximate estimate of 100 al Qaeda members left in Afghanistan reflects the conclusion of American intelligence agencies and the Defense Department. The relatively small number was part of the intelligence passed on to the White House as President Obama conducted his deliberations.

So, Obama is committing 30,000-35,000 new U.S. troops — at $1 million per soldier per year, which comes to $30-35 billion dollars in more U.S. national debt — to defeat 100 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan?  That works out to $300-350 million per Al Qaeda operative! Has he lost his marbles?!

Al Qaeda is a loosely affiliated network with operatives all over the world: Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany, Britain, Spain, United States, etc. and we’re to dig ourselves into an even greater financial ditch chasing after just 100 of these operatives who may very well be somewhere beyond the Pakistani border, or possibly now in Somalia, or Saudi Arabia?

Al Qaeda can nearly claim themselves ‘victors’ in their war against the world’s last superpower.  Not because of anything they did — 9-11 was mostly about inadequate airport security and a Bush Administration unwilling to read their national security memos, like the one entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” — a memo which sat on Condi Rice’s desk for one month and a week before the planes hit the twin towers.

Rather Al Qaeda is winning, because of our ineffective, money-bleeding, military occupations.  We have effectively self-destructed as the world’s largest financial power.  Essentially, we became so shortsighted — so determined to fix a menacing fly buzzing around our face, we reached for a twelve gauge shotgun, targeted the fly resting upon our forehead — and pulled the trigger.

American al Qaeda figure Adam Gadahn — no, I didn’t say Afghan, I said American — gloated in a recent video about how they were defeating the West:

Gadahn called on Muslims to support jihad with “men and money,” while claiming that the West was now on the verge of collapse under the strikes of the militants.

“The enemy under the leadership of the unbelieving West has began to stagger and falter, and the results of its unabated bleeding has began to show on its economy, which is on the brink of failure,” said Gadahn.

All they have to do is keep some operative alive, in some Muslim country, and America will fiscally come apart looking under every single rock until he’s found.

Is it any wonder that Americans have had enough of this lunacy?  New polls show Americans are turning sharply towards isolationism:

At the very moment when President Barack Obama is looking to thrust the U.S. ever more into global affairs, from Afghanistan to climate change, the American public is turning more isolationist and unilateralist than it has at any time in decades, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The survey by the Pew Research Center found a plurality of Americans — 49 percent — think that the U.S. should “mind its own business internationally” and leave it to other countries to fend for themselves.

It was the first time in more than 40 years of polling that the ranks of Americans with isolationist sentiment outnumbered those with a more international outlook, Pew said. […]

The shift in sentiment comes after more than eight years of war in Afghanistan and almost seven in Iraq, as well as the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Just 32 percent of the public favors increasing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and only 46 percent say it’s likely that Afghanistan will be able to withstand the threat posed by the Taliban.

The Hill reports that a significant majority of Americans now view overseas war expenditures as a direct threat to fixing a collapsing economic system here at home:

Seventy-three percent told Gallup in its latest measure, released Friday, that they were “very” or “somewhat” fearful the White House’s newly announced troop surge would make it difficult for Congress and the president to tackle such issues as healthcare and the economy in the coming months.

By contrast, only 26 percent signaled they were not concerned the new strategy’s cost — estimated to be about $30 billion — would in any way complicate domestic policymaking.

It would be wise to remember the former U.S.S.R.’s experience in trying to militarily tame Afghanistan:

It was Moscow’s Vietnam, we have come to accept. A bloody quagmire with disastrous consequences that left a million Afghans dead and a generation of Soviet men pulverised by trauma, as had happened to their American counterparts in southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s.  The conflict lasted 10 years and the Soviet army retreated only to see its very existence crumble a few years later with the collapse of Communism.

Mr. President, it’s time to bring our troops home, rebuild our economy and our health care system, and get our financial house in order.  I’ve never felt so insecure as an American in my life, and it has absolutely nothing to do with those 100 Al Qaeda cave-dwellers in Afghanistan.  Claim victory, and withdraw already.

UPDATE (Dec. 6, 2009):

Here’s a good read by Sam Stein / Huffington Post on Senator Russ Feingold’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos this morning.  Feingold makes a similar point:

Pakistan, in the border region near Afghanistan, is perhaps the epicenter [of global terrorism], although al Qaida is operating all over the world, in Yemen, in Somalia, in northern Africa, affiliates in Southeast Asia. Why would we build up 100,000 or more troops in parts of Afghanistan included that are not even near the border? You know, this buildup is in Helmand Province. That’s not next door to Waziristan. So I’m wondering, what exactly is this strategy, given the fact that we have seen that there is a minimal presence of Al Qaida in Afghanistan, but a significant presence in Pakistan? It just defies common sense that a huge boots on the ground presence in a place where these people are not is the right strategy. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Document Outlines Strategy to Avoid Permanent Peace Deal

by on Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 1:37 am EDT in Middle East, World

Naor Gilon, former counselor of political affairs for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, presented him with a document outlining the country’s future foreign policy strategy.  It reveals:

The government should not attempt to reach a permanent settlement with the Palestinians but rather focus on a temporary accord that would prevent US and European frustration.


“.. the attempt at imposing a settlement with the Palestinians has failed in the past”, and that future attempts would lead to more disappointment and frustration on the part of the US and Europe as well as a violent Palestinian response.


“We need a realistic attitude – the arrival at a temporary accord without dealing with the core issues. This is the maximum that can be achieved, if we want to be realistic,” the document states.

The document is expected to be approved by the ministry’s directorate within days as Israel’s official future foreign policy.

Meanwhile, Lieberman told journalists in Croatia two weeks ago that he was ready to enter peace  negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions, but said of Israel’s ongoing illegal settlement activity:

“It’s not a real problem … It’s only an excuse [for the Palestinians] to avoid direct talks.”