President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite


Harry C. Blaney III


The recent debate over American policy in the Middle East and most recently the criticism of have engendered much debate, most of it misguided.  (See Post of 5/27/15)

There has been a profusion of comments and advocacy in our national security debate. They aimed at digging us deeper into a dangerous military alliance with those that do not share our values or interests and also a perverse kind of military adventurism beyond rationality.  In an area of conflicting powers, mixed loyalties and motives, and few  good, if any, national powers with the same outlooks and values of Western democracies, finding good partners for the long run will not be easy. But it is necessary to try. 

In the same vein, the critics recent simplistic and partisan knee jerk responses to the recent fall of the provincial capital Ramadi of Ambar province in Iraq and other events, underlines the absence of long-term critical thinking. Critics fails to look at the nature and depth of the Middle East’s woes and what can and can’t be done to mitigate these age old conflicts and their newer manifestations.

Further, there is no single leader, no single group, no single country, nor one single failure of society that can be attributed to all of the many sources of these upheavals and hatreds. Thus no single “silver bullet” exists to redeem these tragedies or can put to rest all the injustices and conflicts that we now see in this tragic “rotting” Middle East conundrum. 

The entire Middle East has and is undergoing cataclysmic changes and upheavals in local communities, within whole nations, and beyond national borders, indeed throughout the whole region.  Those causes of instability that otherwise might be seen in a century or more of violent change now appear rapidly and widely. 

Nor is there yet in sight a serious abatement of these conflicts, and the sad part is that “new” and “old’ regional leaders, with a few exceptions, do not seem able or willing to put a stop to these conflicts. Many leaders even have exacerbated them and contributed to their savageness.  

Forces and divisions long dormant have risen up. New political and military groups have asserted their power and used the tools of armed conflict, bigotry, religious extremism, and sectarian hatred to gain power and to enforce brutal rule without restraint. Powerful leaders without any moral sense have used the hatred of “the other” for narrow self-interested, and in the end likely self-defeating, political power.

All this is illustrated not only by ISIS and their mass killings, but in the mass convictions of a former prime minister and hundreds of citizens to death sentences in Egypt by a rigid authoritarian military regime. Not to mention the killings in Gaza of 1,200 largely civilians including woman and children by Israel and the use in the last election by the right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu of denigrating statements about Palestinians citizens within and outside Israel.  

Equally, this corrosive environment is shown by the deadly civil conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Syria and beyond.  This all indicates not only a new level of extreme mass killings by the jihadists but also official use of the power of the state to kill or jail political opponents. There appears to be widespread indifference to the value of life and sense of justice. Civil society and institutions have become weakened.

The lack of tolerance, reconciliation and of compromise among the conflicting parties of the region in recent years has only exacerbated the problem of poverty, un-employment, prejudice between sects and ethnic groups that have lived with each other for centuries and indeed millennium. Corruption also has undermined civil society as has sizable inequality.

So can any of this be solved by added American fighting troops alone? 

In these conditions it is hard to frame a workable let alone effective American and Western military strategy that can mitigate meaningfully the massive instability and brutality in the region. Those that think they have an answer appear to be critical of President Obama’s policies and action. They seem bent on actions that likely will do no good or do real harm and reflect a misguided ideology and narrow view that itself is destructive.

Above all for those supposed leaders who call for the use of U.S. active combat troops on the ground it seems that this is their only answer to these complex forces of unrest and upheavals. While some combat troops can help deal with specific events and crises, their insertion in areas with little understanding of the territory can do much harm.  Their actions too often have escalated the conflicts and problems. 

How can we trust them and our security with this simplistic view of massive complexity and many dangers? Some still think they have the right or arrogance to run for president and under the banner of more senseless war. 

In this context the question our next post will address is how we might advance some measure of actions and policies that might stop the stride toward endless war on this region.

We welcome your comments!


Egypt No Good Choices and No Likely Easy Solutions
Harry C. Blaney III

The events of the last week or so have underlined the difficulties of any good outcome in Egypt. They have also again highlighted the extremes of the arguments about what America should do. But the playing field has changed dramatically, events and forces both inside Egypt and without have increased the difficulties. Sadly, despite strong US warnings and hopes, the Egyptian military have indeed gone beyond any reasonable or needed use of brutal force and may have created their own undoing in the long run by going a bridge too far and closing the door on broad reconciliation necessary for a reasonably democratic and stable governance.

I agree also with many commentators that American leverage in Egypt at this point is minimal but to cut our dialogue off and gaining nothing in return is likely not a wise option for us or for our allies. We talked decades ago to the Soviets who have done worse, we recognized and talk all the time to the Chinese communist government that killed millions of their fellow citizens in the past, and dealt with right wing brutal governments in Latin America. If any action by us could save lives it likely would be worth the effort, but most experts in this area believe that given the financial support of some Arab states in the many billions of dollars and with the military leadership now cornered by their own acts, they are now acting in clear desperation to ensure they survive – literally. They are unlikely to back down now.

President Obama’s strategy has been of caution but we must remember that he and his key leaders have tried mightily to influence the military not to use brutal force. His opponents that blame him because he failed, neglect to recognize that we had almost no leverage given the assessment of the military of their domestic imperative to assert their rule and ensure the regimes security and restore order. But times change and so may their perception of Egypt’s and their own position.

Further, the other powers were playing contradictory or ineffective roles. Saudi Arabia and their Arab allies with their $12 billion have more influence on the Egyptian regime than we do. Even Israel, supposedly our ally and democratic, favors the military rulers over the Brotherhood. The EU shakes its finger but does nothing or very little. Both sides blame the US but some recognize that we tried to work with Morsi to be moderate and inclusive and tried to urge the military to bring back democracy quickly with broad participation of all parties. White not successful they were the right position for America to take.

As many have pointed out, it is Egypt, not America that has leverage – they give us preference in passage in the Suez Canal, in granting military overflights, and in still supporting the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and anti-terrorism efforts. But the key in the end is to remain able over the long run to influence events in a very volatile region.
Many have argued that building a decent democratic government is up to the Egyptians and we should keep our hand off of the entire situation. I do not share that view. Nor do I share the view that we should immediately cut our military assistance – at some point that may be necessary – but for the moment we might, just might, have a voice on some key actions and it is possible that the Egyptian military for reasons of their own and the necessities of reality and changing circumstances would not want to entirely cut their ties to us, and in time, want our support and listen to our views.

We need to play the long hand and urge still moderation and restraint as we have done. We need to keep out lines of communication with all parties in Egypt. We need also to address the problem of outside actors and see if they can be persuaded that their real interests are for a wide-based, democratic and rule of law future for the Egyptian government.

We welcome your comments!

The Multi-Billion Dollar U.S. Assistance to Egypt – Are there Conditions?

Egypt is heading toward another pivotal moment in its transition this week, as Egyptians aim to vote on whether to approve the country’s first constitution since the fall of the Mubarak regime. The constitution, written by an Islamist-led constituent assembly, has drawn sharp criticisms and protests from the opposition, who claim that the constitution ignores concerns by numerous groups and who object to its rapid passage. The referendum comes less than a month after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi announced and then partly rescinded a decree granting himself a wide range of powers.

Amidst these protests U.S. lawmakers have called on the administration to reevaluate its multi-billion dollar aid package to Egypt, which includes $1.3 billion in security assistance alone. Since the Egyptian transition began, numerous events have led both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to question the purpose of U.S. assistance. Some of these targeted US personnel in Egypt and led to the loudest calls from lawmakers, such as the prosecution of US funded democracy promotion organization in December 2011 and the storming of the American embassy in September by violent protestors objecting to an American-made film defaming the Prophet Muhammad. Meanwhile, moves by government institutions and leaders that appeared to arrest democratic progress, such as the prolonged handover of power to civilian control by the Egyptian military and the recent decree by President Morsi granting him near unlimited powers, have also inspired criticisms of U.S. assistance.

To clarify some details about U.S. assistance to Egypt, this post will highlight useful sources of information that nicely discuss this topic:

  • In October, ProPublica, an independent investigative journalism organization, released a simple FAQ about U.S. assistance to Egypt. It notes, for instance, that Congress has already placed conditional requirements on assistance to Egypt, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used her right to waive these requirements last March to assure the assistance went through.
  • The Congressional Research Service released its latest report on U.S.-Egyptian relations earlier this month, which outlines both the history and recent developments of this relationship. The report shows that military aid to Egypt has been very consistent over the past two decades, with Egypt receiving $1.3 billion each year in Foreign Military Financing funds that support the acquisition of U.S. military articles, services, and training. Economic aid, meanwhile, has declined in recent years, though the report lists several new initiatives by President Obama meant to support Egypt’s democratic transition.
  • A September fact sheet by the State Department lays out the U.S. government’s assistance efforts to Egypt since the Arab Spring. The fact sheet includes additional details about the new and ongoing initiatives mentioned in the CRS report.
  • The Project on Middle East Democracy released two backgrounders on the Egyptian campaign against Western democracy promotion NGOs in the country. The backgrounders, which contain a timeline of events as well as statements from lawmakers and administration officials from the U.S. and Egypt, highlight how controversial the issue of U.S. assistance was during the 2.5-month crises. The backgrounders note that while Press Secretary Jay Carney warned that the Egyptian decision might have “consequences” on foreign assistance programs, the administration eventually went through with its aid programs.
  • A November Brookings Institute U.S. Islamic World Forum Paper tried to answer the difficult question of how the United States can “effectively use [its] leverage with Arab governments to encourage democratization without being seen as infringing on national ‘sovereignty.’” The report examines this question in three distinct areas – economic reform, civil society, and regional security – and recommends that, “the terms of conditionality must be established through dialogue that focuses on the shared interests of both parties.”

In short, conditions (see P.L. 112-74, section 7041) already exist on U.S. assistance to Egypt that aim to assure Egypt’s commitment to its peace treaty with Israel, an speedy transition to civilian government, and basic individual freedoms. However, the administration has the authority to waive these conditions if it thinks the assistance is in the national security interest of the United States, which it did this past March. Moreover, as Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute argues in the aforementioned report, local activists in Egypt do not necessarily favor conditionality if it is seen as a tool to meddle in the country’s internal affairs. However, it is clear the issue of conditionality on U.S. assistance to Egypt will remain widely discussed as the Egyptian transition moves along.

Israeli-Gaza Crisis in Context


Current developments include rockets from Gaza into Southern

Photo belongs to CNN

Israel while Israel has continued rockets into Gaza and also bombardment from navy and by aid of planes. During day and night, the dead and injured are mounting in Gaza. The images from Gaza of death and injuries via the BBC here are horrendous. Just recently two media buildings have been hit in Gaza.

Obama said he would like to see all sides standing down. Obama has stated that Israel has a right to defend itself and the U.S. supports Israel’s right to defend itself.  He stated he was working with others for lowering of conflict in the region and has spoken with Israel, Turkey, and Egypt leaders. He called for Gaza to stop the rockets going into Israel, but Israel has said there would be no stop to their fire until all missiles coming in would stop and there was an agreement for a long term arrangement on a ceasefire.

The Gaza based missiles are both short range and medium range, the latter said to be from Iran, some reaching as far as Tel Aviv. The Israeli government said that in the last 24 hours over 70 missiles were directed towards Israel.  But Israel authorities said there would be a “significant expansion” of their offensive. Israel’s “Iron Dome” radar system has also been extremely efficient in intercepting at least 300 rockets in the last five days, a 90% success rate.

Developments in the on-going confrontation between Israel and Gaza point towards escalation including putting a ground force into a dense populated Gaza, yet there is also a possible move towards negotiations and perhaps a ceasefire.  An Israeli official stated they would prefer a diplomatic solution, but the fighting will escalate unless they see progress.

The British government here today has called for a de-escalation of the conflict and negotiations. The Egyptian government also is looking for a way out as the major danger that both the UK government and the Egyptians most fear is the threatened ground invasion of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces which are likely to cause a larger loss of life on all sides but particularly by civilians in Gaza.

The regional implications are large and could make future searches for peaceful solutions more difficult. One of the first agreements would be that there would not be any attacks from either side. Yet it would not take much for an increase in the conflict which could hurt Israel in the region as well as hope for peace in the region. Some wonder just why Israel has chosen what seems to be a dangerous long-term path. One Israel liberal commentator has said that the continued conflict can only hurt Israel in the region and its security.

One friend from Israel, a retired high official, commented that “The Mid-East problem is that the leaders (on all sides) are not rational people.

Gaza could have been turned into a Riviera – they have the beach and the climate but both of them are more worried about ‘honor’ and ‘winning’ like children in school.

The cost of this war could have covered decent housing and jobs for every one in this part of the region.

But for that, one needs to have rational people and not emotional ones.”

Clearly, there is need again for major efforts by both the West and the Arab League (Turkey and Egypt in particular) to dampen down this conflict and start a serious effort to seek a larger settlement and peace that includes a two state solution for the Israel-Palestinian problem and to end the killing in Syria. To provide a new government and get all parties to look towards cooperation in the region. That will take a lot of doing but it needs all parties to see the advantage of peace over conflict.


What are you thoughts about the situation? Do you think a diplomatic solution is possible?  Share your thoughts!

Syria Ablaze Again and Spreading, Geneva Meeting Meets Russian Intransigence: Another Fig Leaf, but a Solution Must Now Be Found Soon!

As predicted, the Syrian civil war (that is what it is) continues unabated with increased killings as some 100 people are dead even as the Geneva meeting took place.

The not really new and flawed Kofi Annan proposal for a Syrian transition was met with adamant opposition by Assad as the regime rejected any outside influence and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov stated that there was no requirement that Assad step down…….a stance that only permits more unrestrained killings. 

It seems now that Russia will not play a constructive role in Syria at least for the foreseeable future.  With arms supplies from Russia reported, it seems we will not see any early abatement in the carnage. This stance can’t but have wider repercussions for Russia in the Middle East and for its role as a responsible global player.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had harsh words for their stance and said Assad will still have to go. But not a word was said on actually making it happen.  Inevitably as the deaths rise and the conflict spreads the determination to find a solution will increase.

The inaction by outside powers has created a stalemate that will inevitably end in unneeded bloodshed, perhaps with one side triumphant over the other but ultimately over the bodies of their own citizens. This result will create conditions for future conflict and be a catalyst for hatred spreading throughout the Middle East.  Egypt’s new President gave rhetorical support to stopping the bloodshed but not much more.

Massacres are not the way to reach a political solution and the clear signal that the international community will not intervene only encourages more bloodshed by Assad.  The bet is he will not win in the end, but the real question is how long this process will take and how many will be butchered before the civil war ends.

At the moment, the United Nations, NATO, the Arab league, and Turkey are not willing to act directly to put a stop to the killing. Some countries are providing arms to the rebels, others as noted are doing the same to the Assad regime. This inaction will only further the mass carnage.

What is needed is an immediate call for a cease fire and a large peacekeeping intervention as well as humanitarian assistance that is protected by the international community. Additionally, it is necessary to put in place zones of protection and a “no fly zone” at least over key border areas of Syria, which means taking out Syrian air defenses and airfields. Only NATO has these capabilities, with Turkey and some other Arab countries, playing the major role on the ground.  The Syrian-Turkish confrontation adds further uncertainty and instability to the equation of the Syrian conflict and the region.

This peacekeeping force should be empowered to prevent sectarian conflict and reprisals.  They should help with the establishment of a transitional government of all groups dedicated to establishing a secure and peaceful new democratic government. The Syrians need to get their act together to this end and end their divisions. But the healing will take a very long time as the Kosovo example has shown.

We welcome your comments!

For more information on Syria, take a look at the Final Communique by the Action Group for Syria, posted in our Full Text Pieces Page!

Welcome 2012: A High Risk World Beckons!

Yes, we are likely to see this year be both a high risk environment on a global scale and a year filled with key events that will shape our international landscape for decades. Thus “rethinking national security” will be more necessary than ever!  Below is a “tour d’horizon” of the international environment that we are likely to encounter and its key risks, opportunities, and uncertainties. Over the coming months we will explore some ideas on how to deal with the coming challenges ahead for our nation and the international community. 

Not least, this year will determine the policies and role of America in world affairs.  This November’s election will decide what direction our nation will take for the next four years and beyond. This will be a key focus of this blog in the coming months, looking at the national security and foreign policy debate and issues raised by the candidates for elective office. Our thesis will be that in this high risk world we need the best minds, most experienced leaders, and a high level of wisdom and perspective for both short-range tactics and long-range strategy. 

The Impact of the Economic and Financial Crisis on Global Security and Stability

There is little doubt that 2012 will be again a very difficult and even unsettling year for the American and especially the global economy. Europe is facing a downward trajectory with its widespread harsh austerity policies, the Euro crisis, and the persistent high unemployment. Growth is predicted to be anemic at best, and the policies put in place in countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, Britain, Ireland, and even France are likely to make conditions worse before they get better. Indeed, the policies are likely to result in even higher ratios of debt to GDP for many of these countries.

The question is will the U.S. follow these policies and what are their likely consequences for our employment, growth, and stability? 

The key determinants of the future capacity of America to shape not only its own society but also the role it can play abroad will be the productivity, inventiveness, possibility of creation of sustainable and fair growth for all its citizens, the capacity to advance its educational infrastructure, and, not least, the ability to create new technologies and support key science fields.  

Thus the question is what policies and action are required to create these conditions. Also, what policies are likely to bring our nation down into a prolonged and sad downward spiral?  Stimulus or austerity? Development of useful products and technologies serving the entire nation and producing good jobs or mindless “paper creation” that burdens our economy rather than advances it?

Is bringing back the gold standard, cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, making health care more expensive and open to fewer people, lowering or abolishing the minimum wage laws, abolishing the Education Department, Environmental Protection Agency, USAID, The Fed, and HUD really going to advance us as a modern society and contribute to our stature and voice in the new complex modern world?

Nuclear Weapons, Non-Proliferation, WMDs, and Arms Control:

There are few more serious questions before the electorate than American strategic and nuclear policies. Key to these is our basic “strategic posture”: what wars may we face and how should we prepare for them? What kinds of wars might they be? What will our armed forces require in order to deal with future threats, contingencies, and natural disasters? Nothing in this regard is more important than our “nuclear posture” and our efforts to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destructions (WMDs), not least nuclear weapons.  

Further, the development of new arms control measures is a key component of any comprehensive strategic posture, and should, but is not likely, to be fully debated in the coming months.  Questions that should be asked is whether a presidential candidate will give up or further the New START Treaty, support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), support the Nunn-Lugar effort to decommission or better safeguard old Soviet nuclear weapons and material, and support a robust Non-Proliferation treaty process and negotiation to significantly reduce nuclear weapons in both US and Russian hands? 

We are likely to not get beyond accusations of “not being strong enough” or tough enough or not to be willing to “defend America.”  Related to this issue is the judgment to go to war. Be careful of those that “talk war,” remember that we went into the Iraq war on lies and the cost to us, our allies, and the Iraqi people was grave indeed. We need to hold our candidates to the fire on exactly when and how they are willing to go to war.  Are they willing to be peace makers and peace keepers rather than “war hawks”?

Environmental and Climate Change Risks and Challenges

One of the topics that are NOT likely to be discussed is the relationship of our national security to environmental changes and in particular climate change on a global scale. There are few greater risks to our fragile globe than what we are doing to our climate through the burning of fossil fuels and other impacts. The potential costs are lives, the destruction of our ecosystem, the impairment of global water supplies, the rising of ocean levels, catastrophic weather events, and a host of other changes that will impact billions of people. What would any candidate do to deal with the horrific dangers our poor earth faces if we do not address in a major way this coming catastrophe?  The sad part is that almost all of the remaining GOP candidates and their members in Congress, at this stage, are indifferent to these changes and support dirty fossil fuel projects. And what solutions would Obama now propose?

The Implication of the Elections in Russia for Building a More Secure World

In March Russia will hold an election of its president with the likely outcome of Vladimir Putin returning to the top post in the government. There is a dual question here. The first is what does this mean for Russia and its stance towards the outside world? Second, what can we and our allies do to address the challenges of this transition and to work to ensure that they influence a more responsible and cooperative Russian stance towards the international community and not one that threatens peace and stability?  It would be dangerous to try to “restart” the Cold War again rather than engage the Russian leaders towards solutions that serve the interests of all parties.                   

The Rise of China and American Interests

Like the Russian election, the planned transition of the Chinese leadership in 2012 will signal not only a new generation of leaders but the setting in place of new policies. These policies are still opaque but can either move towards reform, democracy, and social and economic fairness for a large proportion of the population that remains poor or towards a new destructive nationalism and militancy.

The transition in China to a new leadership and generation and the “challenge” of the so-called “Rise of China” has already been a cause of partisan debate here in theU.S. which offers little in the way of enlightenment about the real nature of China’s role in the world and its future direction. President Obama has rightly made Asia and engaging China to be a responsible partner a priority. Some, on the other hand, want to make China into an enemy for ideological and other narrow reasons as is the case with Russia. Yet that approach is a disaster for both nations. The question is whether there will be any discussion of how to approach China’s unquestioned growing role in the world. Engagement remains the best option but some on the Republican right seem to think that militancy on our part is in their interest if not that of America. We may get a glimpse in 2012 of the direction of the new leaders and a view of the inner debate.

Challenges of Security and Conflict in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, and Iran: A Conundrum for America

There is little doubt that this nexus of countries presents major challenges for regional stability with a likelihood of growing conflict and thus danger for U.S. interests and global stability. The region is a tinderbox of national, ethnic, religious, social discord, and hate. All the countries are interconnected. It is a region rife with terrorism and internal disquiet. America has a stake in each county and the region perforce. 

Further, there are few good or clear options. It has been a source of partisan and often outrageous statements. Ron Paul would blindly totally pull out and institute a global policy of isolationism, while Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney seem to take American militancy to a new high of blind American continued combat and ludicrous ignorance of the region. You can bet that in each of the countries 2012 will provide its own crisis which will generate likely statements to prove the candidate’s ignorance and muddy the waters for our interests. Obama has made clear that our military combat role in both Iraq and Afghanistan is ended or will end by 2014.  But under Obama our diplomatic and assistance presence will remain. We are fully engaged and focused on the nuclear capabilities of Pakistan, India, and, not least, Iran. Would a GOP president do the same?  Pakistan remains the most dangerous and volatile of all and no leader has easy answers when it comes to this hot spot.  

The Middle East, Arab Spring, and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The problems of this region are clear but solutions seem harder. The Israeli-Palestinian problem remains the linchpin of much of the other problems of the region. Yet under the right-wing trajectory of the present Israeli government and the weakness of the Palestinian regime the likely outcome is tragedy for all sides. Our candidates need to ask what can change this outcome and then state their policies. We are more likely to just get domestic posturing. What stance will they take on making war on Iran, supporting settlements on the West Bank, or support and resources to help shape a more just and safer Middle East for all?  What solution do we have to the Syria debacle? What about the democratic future for the countries of the Arab Spring, especially Egypt with its July presidential election that will likely be shaped by the events of 2012?   

The Role and Evolution of Developing Countries in Latin American, Africa, and Asia

While we are looking at the “rise of China” the other macro reality is also the rise (and in some cases fall) of the developing world and individual regions and countries.  The “emerging economies,” including the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), were called the “new rising global phenomena.” Other countries have also a claim on this category. Some argued they were immune from the global economic crisis, only to find that indeed they were an integral part of globalization which would impact them. 2012 will prove how they might fare in the event of a continued and prolonged downward trend in trade, investment, and a continued dysfunctional global financial sector. Some of these countries suffer from raw material dependence, huge populations in poverty and backwardness, political unrest, and corruption. Yet they are also among the most dynamic of societies, some with fast growth still, and others with highly skilled workers and rich natural resources. They are all likely to be affected by climate change but seem little inclined to fully do their part. They seek a larger global role but have still a very limited reach. They can’t be neglected, however, and deserve our attention during the election. Not least our relations with Mexico seem likely to be a focus of our 2012 debate to some extent.    

The Role of Emerging Science and Technology and Its Impact on National Security

In so many ways 2012 will likely be a year that will see large advances in technology, science discoveries, and new inventions which will transform our lives and, in some cases, help us live better but perhaps make our environment less safe. Some will mitigate risks and others will make a few richer and many poorer. Some will help the poor if they can gain access to these new technologies and if these technologies are directed to lifting the poor rather than enriching the already rich. Ignorance of science is one great problem in the U.S. and lack of support of education in these fields seems to be, in a larger sense, a national security weakness.   

Defense Spending and Priorities, the Debate on How Much is Too Much and What Is Really Needed in a Fast Evolving World

One of the key decisions in 2012 will be the budget for the military. Already cuts are in the works for DOD, but will they be about $400 billion over ten years or so, which still means some growth, or will it be the 10% mandated by the failure of the Super Committee?  Will the cuts be careful and rational or will they be like a sledge-hammer? Will the Afghanistan war finally wind down and prove a saving in both human and financial terms? 

Will we have a strategy for two or just one major war and two minor ones? Who indeed are our enemies and are they able to be a real challenge to our already unmatched strength? Who will be cut the most, the army, marines, air force, or navy? Will we cut our armed forces combat personnel and their capabilities and safety for unneeded big and expensive weapons systems that serve little role in our new world? What will be our most serious dangers in the decades to come and which will fade from the horizon? Do we need to maintain such a massive nuclear infrastructure?   

Who will determine our choices? Will it be a powerful military-industrial coalition allied with hawks in Congress supported by blind corporate contributions or a rational look at real risks, priorities, and a changing global landscape? Watch what presidential and Congressional candidates say but also how they voted and will vote and where they get their money. 

Thus are the questions about 2012 and “Rethinking National Security.” 

By Harry C. Blaney III.

Israel, Turkey and U.S. National Security

Two earlier posts on Israel (2/22/11) and Turkey (5/31/11) made the case to the best of my ability concerning the potential impact on U.S. national security of the policies of those two increasingly querulous and seemingly irreconcilable American allies.  In short, it seems that American leaders of all stripes are forever condemned to support or at best to ignore outrageous Israeli policies and actions because of the influence and power of a domestic constituency, while Turkey offers the best, and perhaps only, hope of ending Arab-Israeli enmity and demonstrating that Islam can peacefully co-exist with both democracy and the West.

Recent events have not advanced U.S. interests.  Following its review of the bloody Israeli interception on the high seas in May 2010 of a Turkish-flagged flotilla carrying non-military goods to Gaza, a UN panel has revealed its findings:  “The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”  This judgment on the legality of the Israeli action, which requires further examination, was tempered only in part by the panel’s finding that the Israeli force acted in ways that were excessive, unreasonable, unacceptable, and abusive (terms used in the report).

Much has been written about the dispute as to whether the Israeli expression of “regret” meets the Turkish demand for an apology for the killing of Turks aboard the ship boarded by Israeli forces.  The Turks, in any case, say not. The panel’s report also includes the following indictment:  “At least one of those killed, Furkan Dogan, was shot at extremely close range.  Mr. Dogan sustained wounds to the face, back of the skull, back and left leg.  That suggests he may have been lying wounded when the fatal shot was delivered, as suggested by witness accounts to that effect…No evidence has been provided to establish that any of the deceased were armed with lethal weapons.”  Dogan, nineteen- years-old at the time of his slaughter, was an American citizen by birth.  Did the U.S. demand or receive an apology from the executioners?  If so, it was done on the sly, with both President Barack Obama and his sworn enemies in and out of Washington choosing cowardice and disgrace over honor and certain confrontation with the untouchable Israeli Lobby.

In the end, of course, these considerations pale next to fast-moving events on the ground (and in the water) that pose very real threats to American interests. Turkey has expelled the Israeli Ambassador and his deputy and announced that its warships may increase “surveillance” in the Eastern Mediterraneanand even accompany any future Gaza-bound vessel.  And, it has been reported that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, having just put military and economic relations with Israel on hold, will conclude a military and economic pact with Egypt when he visits Cairo next week – the first such visit in fifteen years. Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly may vote overwhelmingly in favor of recognition of a Palestinian State later this month, isolating the U.S. yet further and decreasing its influence in the Middle Eastand the broader Muslim world in general.

How will the prospect of the 2012 American elections affect Obama’s reaction to this situation, and how will the opposition respond – again, given the power of the Lobby?  Might Iran creep into the equation as American neo-cons and Israel’s champions trumpet a nuclear threat from that quarter?  Will Turkey’s surrender of its mediating role in the region strengthen European objections to its accession to the European Union?  Are U.S.- European relations themselves in play?

The State Department’s statement of September 6 is encouraging in that it indicates very real, albeit tardy and frantic, concern in Washington over the Israeli-Turkish dilemma.  American diplomats are reportedly working overtime to head off a final break between these two allies (and to forestall any UNGA vote), and we can only hope they will succeed.  National security is at stake.

By Alan Berlind.