Ivan Eland: If it weren’t for the latest salacious bureau-gossip, the book would be rather boring—and tragic. Boring, not because the issues are uninteresting or because Woodward is a bad writer, but because the author records a dysfunctional White House internal decision-making process in which meeting after meeting features the same reasonable questions about the U.S. war in Afghanistan but in which nobody ever has very good answers to them.
Ivan Eland: Although David Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, recently peddled the notion that senior Taliban chieftains had made contact with senior Afghan government officials about the possibility of starting reconciliation talks, such talk of peace in our time is likely to be hype.
Ivan Eland: The U.S. Justice Department is apparently considering prosecuting Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which is a Web site that publishes classified documents from governments, under the rarely used Espionage Act of 1917. Such a prosecution would have adverse effects on the American people’s right to know what their government is doing in a republic that is supposed to be run by them.
Ivan Eland: The American media, and to a lesser extent the world media, focus on symbolism at the expense of underlying reality. And sometimes they can’t even make sense of the symbolism. The artificially generated controversy over a proposed mosque within about two blocks of the site of the 9/11 attacks is illustrative of this ignorance.
Ivan Eland: So the only thing the WikiLeaks documents reveal is how persistent the post-9/11 war and nation-building fever continues to be among the foreign policy elite—even in the face of the dismal results on the ground for almost a decade and a majority opinion in America that the war is not worth fighting.
Ivan Eland: In the wake of Israel’s botched attack on a Turkish ship bringing relief to Gazans from Israel’s (and Egypt’s) economic blockade of Gaza, the Israelis have responded to intensely negative world opinion by relaxing the blockade. That move may help Israel as much as Gazans. Ending the counterproductive economic embargo and blockade would help both parties even more.
Ivan Eland: The synchronized and unconscionable bombings by the Somali group al-Shabab—of people doing nothing more than watching soccer games in Kampala, Uganda—counterintuitively illustrates why the United States should not be fighting Islamic militancy worldwide. Many of America’s editorial writers are screaming for stepped-up U.S. counterterrorism strikes in Somalia against the group. This option would be the worst possible course of action.
Ivan Eland: With the justified firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his replacement with Iraq water-walker David Petraeus, it’s as if people are hoping for a second coming of Jesus in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the replacement may be similar to the second coming of the water-walking Joe Gibbs as coach of the Washington Redskins.
Ivan Eland: The sad truth is that if Iran wants a nuclear weapon, it will likely eventually get one. So the United States should quit wasting valuable political capital beseeching, threatening, and horse-trading with China, Russia, and other UN Security Council members to incrementally ratchet up likely futile multilateral economic sanctions against I
Ivan Eland: Just as he must have been pleased with Bush’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq generating more Islamist radicalism, bin Laden would like to bait the United States into attacking its affiliate local groups around the world for the same reason. Foolishly, Obama is obliging him.
Ivan Eland: The sacking of Dennis Blair, the third director of national intelligence in the position’s short five-year history, is one important indicator that the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004 has failed. That act was effective neither in achieving real reform of the sprawling intelligence bureaucracies nor in preventing terrorist attacks.
Ivan Eland: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently led a panel of experts in coming up with a report, “NATO 2020,” which will be used to draft a replacement for NATO’s current strategic concept, adopted in 1999. The report essentially advocates a continuation and expansion of NATO’s quest to be all things to all people. Unfortunately, this effort resembles the “expand or die” mantra that was applied to NATO as its primary mission—countering the Soviet Union—was tossed into the dustbin of history. Instead of expanding in territory and mission after the Cold War ended, NATO probably should have died back then and may die—or be severely crippled—by its likely loss in Afghanistan.
Ivan Eland: The U.S. government’s inability to distinguish between al-Qaeda, with global ambitions, and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, with their local goals, has merely made more enemies, including those who would begin attacking the United States. How are Americans being made safer by this war?
Ivan Eland: Although the Iraqi constitution creates a fairly decentralized state, the most worrisome development for Iraqi unity is Barzani’s increasing demands. Barzani’s electoral gains—and because of Iraq’s post-election political stalemate, his ability to be a king-maker in selecting Iraq’s next prime minister—make him and the Kurds more strident in their quest for autonomy, or maybe even independence, and to grab the ethnically-mixed but oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Ivan Eland: The tea sippers extended their pinkies in a salute to torture, harsh policies toward Iran, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They didn’t seem to mind the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping and vacuuming up of ordinary Americans’ phone calls either, according to Bovard. Yet of all the causes of big government in human history, warfare is the most important. The nation-state originally came into being because wars had become too expensive for mere kingdoms to handle.
Ivan Eland: Despite all the hoopla about President Barack Obama’s summit on nuclear security and a new arms control deal, the eventual results of his laudable efforts will probably be modest and will likely be dwarfed by the damage to nuclear security done by George W. Bush’s prior administration. . . . but at least Obama has refocused world attention on what is still the only existential threat in U.S. history—nuclear war—and the improbable, but potentially disastrous, threat of nuclear terrorism. In its pursuit of nation-building and military social work in overseas quagmires, the Bush administration had neglected both.
Ivan Eland: On March 31, 2010, the New York Times wrote an editorial that briefly expressed horror in response to the Moscow subway terror bombings, then warned that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin might yet again use terrorist attacks to further consolidate his power, and finally lectured Russia that the only way to defeat such extremism was to deal with the underlying causes. Such a sermonizing editorial by any Russian publication after the 9/11 attacks would have engendered outrage in America
Ivan Eland: Even though George H.W. Bush’s and Clinton’s original intentions of protecting international food aid using U.S. forces might have been high-minded, they then engaged in mission creep—with Clinton eventually taking sides in the Somali civil war, chasing around a warlord who was in U.S. disfavor, and ignominiously withdrawing U.S. forces when the warlord killed a small number of U.S. Rangers in the “Black Hawk Down” incident.
Ivan Eland: Although closing Guantánamo would be important symbolically, the law-free sanctuary that the Bush administration had achieved there has already been eroded by the Supreme Court’s demand that detainees have some legal rights. And even if the Obama administration closes Gitmo, some of Bush’s unconstitutional policies would continue in prisons around the United States—for example, the use of military tribunals for some detainees and the detention of some former Guantánamo detainees indefinitely without trial.
Ivan Eland: Unfortunately for the United States in Afghanistan, however, the label of “foreign occupier” is an albatross the U.S. will likely never be able to shake or mitigate. Although the Taliban is often brutal (but may now be toning this down in its own realization that it must win greater public support) and unpopular, so is the U.S. occupation and the corrupt client government of Hamid Karzai.
Ivan Eland: The Cold War is long over, and the concomitant rationale (dubious even then) for using an interventionist U.S. foreign policy to attempt to run the world is now obsolete and even dangerous in an era of blowback terrorism. Many empires throughout history have collapsed or withered away because their aspirations were too big for their wallets; the U.S. is in that perilous position now. Therefore, the United States should dramatically retract its defense perimeter, thus cutting the U.S. security budget by half and saving more than $500 billion a year.