Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Agnew Reconsidered?

Spiro Agnew is the epitome of the inconsequential VP, who systematically blew whatever opportunities he had to influence policy. Nixon, by some accounts couldn't stand his mere presence. But I am reading Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary - which is really a fun, amusing read. Unsurprising, since Moynihan was a fun, amusing politician.

Moynihan had worked in the Nixon White House, sort of a house intellectual who had seen the collapse of the New Deal Democrats, and had found an intellectual refuge amongst the Republicans. He had some interesting things to say to and about Agnew. He deplored Agnew's aggressive, inflammatory rhetoric - but he seemed to have a certain respect for the man. In this letter to Agnew he wrote:
I have told a dozen colleagues here at Harvard that as a judge of political horseflesh I do not know your equal in American politics today, which is not to say I agree with you about many things, but simply that your judgment about who to have to lunch to talk about the world is in my view pretty damn good. But there are not half a dozen other Republicns who are in any way so disposed and so equipped. You are alone. You have no troops. No one carries on your argument, no one elaborates it, no one initiates comparable and parallel arguments. No journal of any intellectual status is open to your point of view....

If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. Begin talking about the complex problems we must now face... You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.
Perhaps just a bit of flattery as Moyhnihan tries to persuade Agnew to tone down his rhetoric? Probably - almost certainly. But now look at this (very lengthy) memo to Ehrichman and Haldeman trying to get the White House to develop a conservative intellectual approach to governance:
....Here permit me a sympathetic word about the Vice President. He alone of administrative spokesmen has sought to take up some of the intellectual issues of the time and to argue the conservative case. But it has been a disaster for the President. Many things the Vice President says are true, at least I would think so. But there does not now exist a spectrum of opinion in which his views are seen to be located in a particular point, a bit to the left of this reasonable person, a bit to the left of that one. Opinion is so concentrated on the liberal left that Agnew's mildly conservative positions are easily portrayed as the voice of the Radical Right. The Vice President has greatly contributed to this by attacking individuals by name. It might be argued that some had it coming to them...but the main point is that the attacks enabled the opposition to the administration to ignore anything of substance he said, and to depict even his most reasoned statements as the frenzied precursors of Fascist Repression....

The Vice President has assembled an advisory group of writers and professors. I have a rough idea of the panel and I would not hesitate to state that for sheer intellectual distinction is head an shoulders above anything any Democratic candidate for President is likely to assemble for similar purposes....
So I am pretty sure that 90% of what Moynihan is writing is an attempt to get Agnew's famously divisive rhetoric toned down. That he throws a fair amount of flattery into the mix is no surprise in the realm of court politics. Moynihan was on to something here. He saw the intellectual collapse of the New Dealers and recognized that a conservative intellectual cadre was needed for the Republicans to displace the Democrats. (This happened, not so much later.) He also recognized that a political spokesman who could articulate complex ideas in simple, popular terms, was needed. (This also happened.) With a bit of seasoning, could Agnew have done it? Was Moynihan trying to both quiet the rhetoric but also initiate a program to "train" Agnew?

Agnew had only been governor of Maryland for two years when Nixon plucked him from relative obscurity and nominated him to the vice presidency. Had he served a bit longer in office, perhaps he would have had a better sense of how to conduct himself. Or, perhaps, Agnew was doing exactly what Nixon wanted as a lightning - that Nixon had no time or inclination for a conservative intellectual project. (He certainly had the brains - Alan Greenspan says Nixon and Clinton were the two smartest presidents he worked with.)

Tough to know - of course Agnew would have been a flawed vessel for any such ambition. He was, as Jimmy Breslin stated, "A magnificent thief," who had payments delivered to the Old Executive Office Building.

Fort McHenry: Always Something New in History

Yesterday, to honor Memorial Day I visited Fort McHenry. I’ve gone there before for Memorial Day it is a fitting and inspiring place to honor those who have served. I missed Sarah Palin’s visit, a regret I shall carry to my dying day.

But I did catch the National Moment of Silence, a bagpiper and taps, staring at the massive flag waving above.

In my previous post on Ft. McHenry, I write about the fort’s fascinating history not only in the War of 1812, but also in the Civil War, when it was Lincoln’s Gitmo. He locked up many of Maryland’s most prominent citizens (who were also southern sympathizers) in order to keep Maryland in the Union and keep Washington DC from being surrounded. I forgot to mention that the star forts, of which Ft. McHenry is one of the most famous, inspired the Pentagon’s five-sided design.

Every visit brings new lessons. I knew Ft. McHenry had been an army hospital in WWI, but learned that it was the birthplace of occupational therapy. I also learned that during the War of 1812 and the Civil War, officers continued to carry swords to as badges of rank and pointers.

I always learn something new, but some things stay the same. There is a stunning new Visitors Center and a new movie about the battle. But when the movie ends, with the Star Spangled Banner the screen still rises to reveal, “that our flag was still there…”

If you are really interested in Fort McHenry and its history look for books by Scott Sheads. He is a ranger there. I met him touring the fort about 15 years ago and when I said I was writer he said he dreamed of writing books about Fort McHenry. Since then, he has (several more then me)! Check them out, here.

Finally, some other Memorial Day thoughts (inspired by movies and the slow fade of generations) are here and here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Reax to Obama's Speech

I jumped into The Arena with these thoughts in response to the question: Did Obama lay out a cohesive vision for the Middle East in his speech?

Calling Obama’s address a grand new vision of the Middle East is a bit of an overstatement. The peace process portion will be over-analyzed ad infinitum, when there is very little new in what Obama outlined on that front and it does not meet fundamental Palestinian requirements. The Palestinian Authority isn’t interested in land-swaps!

There were some particularly interesting points, however.

Calls to support development and the rights of minorities and women are encouraging. A presidential statement that these are American priorities is important and hopefully they will be backed by diplomacy. Unfortunately, development will be limited because – quite simply – the United States doesn’t have any money. ($2 billion is only a bare beginning for the level of investment needed.)

The discussion of trade was particularly interesting. Free trade can be important to both economic and political transformation. But the Middle East is not exactly a hotbed of export industries and the American political climate towards free trade is a bit chilly right now. Still, an emphasis on this issue is welcome and could reap important long-term benefits.

It is interesting that throughout the world in places as different as Asia and Latin America, the U.S. has threaded the needle and managed to ally with governments while at the same time pressing them towards greater respect for human rights and freedom. The Middle East has been the great exception. Is this only because of the American preference for stability? There have been limited efforts to foster change (anyone remember the Gore-Mubarak Commission?) They have borne little fruit.

It is good that the president re-affirmed the American commitment to freedom, but the Middle East labors under the weight of its history and culture. Hopefully there is real change for the better coming and the U.S. can help. But we must also be wary that history can take terrible turns.

Finally, Obama’s quoting the Declaration of Independence was welcome. Those words are beautiful and profound. Our lives are richer for hearing them anywhere and everywhere.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Institutional Overview of Israeli Politics

Not long ago I gave a presentation on the Israeli political system at a DC area synagogue. Discussions on politics often focus on policy and/or personality. Israeli politics is full of out-sized personalities and this is often the focus on conversation. Bibi is... Lieberman is... etc.

But institutions, the mechanisms by which decisions are made and decision-makers selected are critical to understanding politics. Israel has a truly unique system which, frankly, contributes to political fragmentation. I tried to emphasize that point in my presentation and in my ongoing effort to shed light not heat, my slides are below.

At the very end, I have a small note of hope!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Essence of DSK: Do Leaders Matter?

Following the DSK imbroglio, one related story is that during a period of international financial crises the IMF (a critical institution) is leaderless. Of course, they have a deep bench of technocrats to make the trains run on time. On the other hand the present multiple financial meltdowns may be so severe and fundamental that nothing the IMF does would really make a difference – there are grand historical forces at work.

I mention this because a fundamental tenet of bureaucratic politics is that individuals and their preferences matter. If there is a single aspect to that perspective rooted in data rather then anecdote it is the question of “who is in the room.” Does it matter that the IMF doesn’t have a person of top rank to sit in on meetings. There is, of course, a number two but will DSK’s top office effectively respond to the number two’s leadership style?

This could be boiled down to the perspectives offered in the poli-sci classic Essence of Decision.

Model 1 (Rational Actor) vs. Model 2 (Organizational Behavior): Does the IMF matter or are events being shaped by deeper forces?

Model 2 (Organizational Behavior) vs. Model 3 (Governmental Politics): Will the IMF pretty much do its thing regardless of its leadership, or does DSK’s personal influence matter?

Really, my whole point here is best summed up by a far wiser Frenchman then DSK. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:
I have come across men of letters who have written history without taking part in public affairs, and politicians who have concerned themselves with producing events without thinking about them. I have observed that the first are always inclined to find general causes whereas the second, living in the midst of disconnected daily facts, are prone to imagine that everything is attributable to particular incidents, and that the wires they pull are the same as those that move the world. It is to be presumed that both are equally deceived.
Sidenote, DSK's behavior is one good argument for the VP - someone needs to be available to step into the breach when less appealing aspects of human nature cause top leaders to be unable to attend to their duties.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Aaron Mannes in Politico on Defense Spending Priorities

Politico's Arena recently asked:
On Monday, May 9 POLITICO will publish a special section on defense. Assuming Leon Panetta is confirmed as defense secretary,with Congress looking to cut the budget, he'll face tough choices on which Pentagon programs to scrap or continue.

Which Pentagon weapons systems and other programs would you cut? Which would you keep?
Rather then arguing over specific weapons systems (about which I am not an expert, I gave a more conceptual answer:
It has been noted endlessly that the soon-to-be Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta does not have extensive military experience. But his time at OMB and as White House chief of staff means that he does know something about budgets and has demonstrated the political savvy needed to push through needed changes.

Panetta’s time at the CIA has introduced him to the capabilities, and limits, of drone warfare. This could be critical. There are a number of expensive platforms that could conceivably be replaced by robots. This will not be popular — pilots dominate the Air Force and ship captains command the Navy. But if drones and mines can do much of the work far more cheaply, then these options should be developed.

Another difficult area where programs are becoming expensive is DoD’s health care system. A former GM CEO once noted that he went to GM to build cars but found that he was running a health care system. DoD could be headed the same way. Just a year ago, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated, “Health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive.”

In the past decade, they have increased from $19 billion to $50 billion. No one would want our troops to get less than the best health care, but DoD also includes a vast number of civilian employees and their dependents. Determining ways to control costs while continuing to provide quality care would not only improve the Pentagon’s budget situation, it could also identify best practices for the rest of the health care sector.
On the robotics front, notice I focused on the Navy and Air Force. Because those abilities are somewhat proven. But robots that can carryout the OBL raid seem awfully far off. Also, there will always be a place for human-run ships and aircraft. But smaller platforms that let the drones and mines do their thing may be the way to go.

As for healthcare, this really is the strategic danger. If these costs cannot be controlled the US won't be able to afford anything - military or civilian. I do hope the DoD can be a national leader on this.

Friday, May 6, 2011

OBL's Demise: My Takes in Politico (and BBC!)

OBL's end has, unsurprisingly led to a run on terrorism specialists so that even yours truly has gotten some attention. One of my lifelong dreams has been to make it into BBC - I did it, sort of. I was quoted in BBC Mundo the Spanish language service (posted in at the end of this post.)

They must have seen what I wrote for Politico where I've joined The Arena. Here are the posts I wrote for them about the end of world terrorist numero uno.

Bin Laden Killed: First Reactions
First, justice has been done. Osama bin Laden was a mass murderer. Nothing should obscure or detract from the value of this fact.

That being said, the great danger from terrorism is not necessarily the ability of terrorists to strike the Western nations. This has become increasingly hard to do and Western societies are robust. The danger is how terrorism can destabilize already weak states. This is happening now in Pakistan and Yemen. The changes across the Middle East will create far more opportunities for these kinds of problems.

Collapsed states are not always a threat to international security, but sometimes can cause a cascading effect of tremendous international magnitude. Pakistan, in particular comes to mind – but imagine a state collapse in Egypt.

More pressure on Pakistan? What about Yemen?
President Obama now has enormous political capital, particularly on national security affairs. There is a good chance that the windfall of intelligence captured when OBL was killed will allow for a major string of successes against al Qaeda. At the same time, with Pakistan's double-game exposed there is an opportunity to place some pressure on that complicated country. Those factors will increase the effectiveness of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, which in turn will hopefully create a dynamic allowing a reasonable draw-down.

Long-term challenges remain. Afghanistan's government may not be viable. Pakistan and Yemen are increasingly ungovernable and there are innumerable other foreign policy challenges devouring the President's time and attention.

One question to be considered carefully is what the real dangers are. If it is strictly "homeland security" that is preventing attacks on U.S. soil, a light presence focusing on intelligence collection may be adequate. But an unstable Pakistan means loose nukes and an unstable Yemen could spill over into Saudi Arabia. These are major geopolitical concerns that defy easy solutions.


Obama gana puntos gracias a Osama
Rebeca Logan Washington
Última actualización: Miércoles, 4 de mayo de 2011

La euforia de los estadounidenses ha hecho subir la aprobación de Obama hasta el 59%

"Algunos dicen que soy arrogante, pero tengo una herramienta para curarme: Mi (bajo) índice de aprobación", comentó el presidente Barack Obama, menos de 24 horas antes de anunciarle al mundo que había ordenado el operativo que acabó con la vida del hombre más buscado del planeta: Osama bin Laden.

Obama hizo el comentario en tono de broma ante los periodistas de la Casa Blanca, tras una semana en que las críticas de los republicanos, los problemas fiscales, las luchas partidistas, el alza en el precio de la gasolina y la controversia en torno a su certificado de nacimiento, dominaron los titulares.

Pero todo esto cambió, cuando sereno y contundente, Obama interrumpió la programación del domingo en la noche, incluyendo el reality show de su rival republicano, Donald Trump, para declarar que bajo sus órdenes los militares de Estados Unidos le dieron muerte al fundador de la red al-Qaeda.

"Esta noche le puedo informar al pueblo estadounidense y al mundo que Estados Unidos ha realizado un operativo que mató a Osama bin Laden, el líder de al-Qaeda, y un terrorista que es responsable de la muerte de miles de hombres, mujeres y niños inocentes", dijo Obama a las 11:37 pm rodeado de cámaras.

Apoyo de todos lados
Los políticos, de ayer y hoy, y de ambos partidos, no demoraron en unirse al entusiasmo popular y lanzaron un coro de felicitaciones al presidente Obama y a su equipo militar.

Los titulares favorecen, por ahora, las aspiraciones reeleccionistas del presidente Obama

Los líderes republicanos del Congreso, que han sido un dolor de cabeza legislativo para la Casa Blanca, a su turno aprobaron la conducta del presidente, aunque dejaron sus mayores felicitaciones para los militares.

“Quiero felicitar y agradecer a los hombres y mujeres de nuestras fuerzas armada y a los servicios de inteligencia por su incansable labor”, declaró John Boehner, líder republicano de la Cámara de Representantes.

“También quiero reconocer al presidente Obama y su equipo, y también al presidente Bush, por todos sus esfuerzos”, agregó el legislador.

El capital político también se vence
“El presidente Obama tiene ahora un enorme capital político, sobre todo en asuntos de seguridad nacional”, explicó Aaron Mannes, profesor de relaciones internacionales y experto en terrorismo de la Universidad de Maryland.

“Además estos logros de inteligencia podrían llevar a nuevos golpes contra al Qaeda”, lo cual le favorece aun más al presidente, según Mannes.

Las primeras encuestas indican que no sólo los políticos apoyan al presidente.

Un sondeo del Washington Post y el Centro Pew, realizado después del anuncio de la muerte de Osama, indicó una escalada de nueve puntos en su nivel de aprobación popular. El 56% de los encuestados aprueba de la labor del presidente, los números más altos de Obama desde el 2009. Además, en cuanto a su manejo de la amenaza terrorista, el 69% tiene una opinión favorable, una cifra récord para Obama.

“En este tipo de instancias, los estadounidenses se unen alrededor de su líder en señal de solidaridad y apoyo”, explicó Frank Newport, experto de Gallup, entidad que se dedica a las encuestas.

Newport señaló como ejemplo de este fenómeno el aumento por siete puntos que vio George W. Bush luego de la captura del depuesto presidente iraquí Saddam Hussein en diciembre del 2003, evento que acaparó los titulares de los principales medios de comunicación.

Sin embargo Newport advirtió que estas ganancias en las encuestas se pueden esfumar sin dejar rastro y estima que los números más recientes de Obama no durarán hasta las elecciones del 2012, aunque falte poco más de un año.

Newport utilizó nuevamente al ex presidente Bush como ejemplo. Luego de visitar la zona cero en Nueva York tras los atentados del 9-11, Bush alcanzó un índice de aprobación récord de 90%, pero terminó su mandato como uno de los presidentes más aborrecidos de la historia.

La encuesta del Washington Post/Pew, también revela que la nueva popularidad de Obama tiene sus tintes partidistas. Mientras que el 81% de los republicanos opina que el ex presidente Bush merece parte del crédito por el golpe contra Bin Laden, sólo el 35% de los demócratas aceptan esa noción.

Y cuando se trata del tema que más preocupa a los votantes, la economía, las encuestas no se movieron ni un punto. Con o sin Bin Laden, menos de la mayoría respalda a Obama, quien sigue con los números económicos más bajos de su presidencia.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Aaron Mannes on FoxFive about OBL & Forensic Bingo

I appeared on the local Fox afffiliate this evening to discuss the impact of OBL's capture.

Analysts Look at Evidence Seized During bin Laden Raid: MyFoxDC.com

By BOB BARNARD/ myfoxdc
U.S. officials say in the commando raid on Osama bin Laden's secret Pakistani hideout a mountain of evidence was seized: several computers, numerous hard drives, mobile phones and computer disks.

Those and other materials that were at bin Laden's fingertips are now in northern Virginia, getting a close look by analysts with the FBI and CIA.

"I'm thinking forensic bingo!" says University of Maryland researcher Aaron Mannes who has written a book about terrorist networks.

"The world of cyber forensics is very advanced now," Mannes tells us. "Really impressive, Hollywood-esque things are happening."

Perhaps shining a light on other senior leaders of al Qaeda.

"The dream find would be where is Ayman al-Zawahri so we can find him and get him," Mannes says. "Because that puts the momentum on our side."

Adds Mannes: "Like everybody, I'm really interested in Pakistan. What are we going to find out?"

About the Pakistani government's possible role in aiding and abetting bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

"Maybe we'll find out something about their contacts in Pakistani intelligence," says Mannes "I mean really... we'll just get a whole picture of how this thing works - nuts and bolts - how they maintained organizational continuity despite enormous international pressure."

On Capitol Hill, Attorney General Eric Holder told congress a number of agencies are reviewing the evidence.

"As we glean information from that material," Holder says, "we will make appropriate decisions with regard to who might be added to the terrorist watch list and the no fly list."

"The question is what do you look for?" says Mannes.

"We're going to get a much better sense of where to point our capabilities and I think that's going to take a toll with some pretty devastating effect on al Qaeda."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Aaron Mannes on The Marc Steiner Show about OBL

Yesterday I appeared on the Marc Steiner Show, a Baltimore NPR talk show to discuss OBL's demise. I guess it was my second appearance there since about 15 years ago when I was living in Baltimore and going to St. John's I called in to the Marc Steiner Show - it was on WJHU then.

It was fun, doing radio usually is because you only have to worry about what comes out of your mouth and not whether you look funny. (Of course doing TV is fun too, because you are on TV!)

We covered a number of points, familiar to readers of this blog. Pakistan's complicated politics, the future of al-Qaeda etc. In particular, I think that revenge attacks are not likely. Al-Qaeda's capabilities have diminished substantially and the treasure trovve of documents captured with OBL will shed tremendous light into their workings. The ideology will continue, but al-Qaeda prime is in trouble. The podcast is here.

My parents listened and said I was really good!

So why the picture of famed New Yorker journalist A.J. Liebling?

The co-host asked me about world perceptions that Americans were rejoicing at OBL's demise and it looked bad. I quoted Liebling who, reviewing a Graham Greene novel, noted that since the dawn of civilization older declining cultures have questioned the maturity of the powerful rising nations. The Greeks did it to the Romans, the Italians to the French, the French to the Brits, and the Brits to us. Other countries love to see us as this immoderate cowboy culture unprepared for our power. But nearly every country in the world finds times and places for shows of national unity and jubilation.

Later, my wife observed that the crowds around the White House and in Times Square weren't shooting guns into the air or burning effigies or flags. Wish I had thought of that!

Monday, May 2, 2011

OBL, Pakistan and What's Next

The overwhelming question now is what exactly is our relationship with Pakistan? Bin Laden was not in a cave in FATA, but in a mansion in a major city. Are Pakistani security services so incompetent or is the whole country just pulling the wool over our eyes?

The reality is complicated (with Pakistan it is always complicated.) There are elements of Pakistan's ISI that have worked very closely with US intelligence. ISI HQ has been bombed by Islamists. There are other elements that have played a less positive role - certainly providing support to groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. Reports indicate that Pakistani intelligence provided tips to OBL's location but probably had to make sure their info didn't leak to other components of Pakistani intelligence.

So what does the US do about this difficult - and nuclear-armed - country?

It is certainly tempting to walk away from Pakistan, treat them like DPRK for supporting terrorism and proliferating nuclear technology. It might be the tough love Pakistan's leaders need to get their act together.

But Pakistan is sitting on a demographic cliff. The country is already struggling to feed itself and its population is going to double by 2050. Considering that the country is already ungovernable, with the longer-term trends how is this situation likely to go?

On the other hand, so far the US has been terrible at leveraging our aid to get Pakistan to do what we want. (Truth is this is tough to do - the US faced similar challenges fostering reform in Russia in the 1990s, see my analysis of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission.)

I expand on these thoughts in Politico's Arena where I am a contributor. Some other relevant thoughts along the lines of the geopolitics of terror are here.

Finally, here were my first thoughts on 9/11, seems fitting to repost them.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Asymmetric Lessons in Annapolis

Imagine a band of scruffy oddballs, obsessed with interpreting ancient texts challenging the most powerful fighting force in the world today and defeating it – time and again!

No, this is not the story of al-Qaeda and the thankfully late OBL – this is a good-natured tale. My alma mater St. John’s College defeated the U.S. Naval Academy in croquet yet again!

The story goes that back in the early 1980s when the commandant of the Naval Academy told a St. John’s freshman that the Middies would prevail over the Johnnies at any sport. The quick-witted Johnny replied, “What about croquet?”

So a tradition began.

Having two such different schools next to each other makes for easy allegories (Athens and Sparta is the obvious – although I always wondered if they were as different as they are caricatured, after all the males citizens of Athens were citizen-soldiers...)

But overall, relations were cordial and we had several Naval Officers in our classes earning their Master’s degrees to provide some perspective.

Perhaps we convinced ourselves that reading Great Books was the higher calling, unlike the mere technocrats across the street. I don’t know what the Middies thought of us, if at all. I can’t imagine they thought about much of anything since they were always running. No matter how late I stayed out at Little Campus (no longer with us) and then Chick and Ruth’s discussing Aristotle and Lucretius, there was always a Middie running by. But when you caught their eye and said hello they were always polite enough, but they usually had to get back to running.

But we read Thucydides and Homer and Hobbes, we had some idea of what they were up to and why it mattered. We knew that our search for the essential was a luxury (liberal arts relies on the word liberty – and freedom ain’t free.) As Orwell wrote
Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
It would be nice to think that the Middies next door saw our studies as a testament to what they were defending, and maybe that is the deep symbolism between having the two schools next to each other.

Perhaps the Croquet match serves the Middies, humbling them and reminding them of the danger of asymmetric threats. Or maybe it is just a good time.

But the Imperial Wicket reports that the Middies are getting better – the Johnnies too must remember that they are mortal.

A fitting thought as an evil scruffy oddball bites the dust at the hands of the United States. Herodotus said there is no justice – but sometimes there is.