Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Speculation Alert: Romney's Veepstakes

As obsessed as I am about the VP's relative increase in influence, the truth is a huge percentage of VP stories are reporters trying to fill space and - if they are lucky - make a story where there wasn't one. Now CNN pitches New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte as a possible - Romney states she is one of 15 possibles.

While Romney is the putative front-runner and there is still plenty of smart money on him, he hasn't actually won anything yet.

Let's hit some overall trends. Ayotte is from Romney's region. Geographic balance isn't an absolute necessity (see Clinton-Gore, two southerners) but New England is not an electoral power-house. Ayotte was elected in 2010 - she is probably a lot more seasoned then Palin, but she is still relatively inexperienced. Although Romney was born into a political family, he hasn't spent any time in DC - so he is still an outsider. Plus he needs someone with rock-solid conservative credentials to shore up party suspicions that he is really a moderate.

So he needs a southern conservative with DC experience. There are any number of possibilities to fit that bill - Jon Kyl and Lamar Alexander leap to mind. (Marco Rubio does not.)

One interesting character who fits it perfectly is actually Newt Gingrich - but something tells me that he isn't terribly interested in the number two slot. Gingrich is a brilliant idea machine, but even if he were interested, would number two be a good fit?

Speaking of which, I answered the Politico Arena question of the day:
Will immigration stance hurt or help Newt Gingrich?

It is likely that Newt's stance on immigration will hurt him with "the base." Fortunately for him his major rival has a number of weaknesses with the base as well. Part of the problem is that this base has calcified into a set of impossibly rigid positions that no candidate can realistically satisfy.

However, this position will serve Newt well if he can make it to the general election as it highlights him as an independent thinker and it reflects a more humane side to a Republican Party that is looking increasingly mean-spirited.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why Republicans love Coolidge

An article in Slate explores the Republican fascination with Calvin Coolidge. The author discusses how Reagan's biggest moves seemed to be ripped from Silent Cal's play book. But the veneration of Coolidge reflects something more profound then policy preferences.

Renown Presidential Scholar Richard Neustadt wrote that the President has been transformed from a leader to a clerk. Neustadt wrote in 1959:
A striking feature of our recent past has been the transformation into routine practice of the actions we once treated as exceptional. A President may retain liberty, in Woodrow Wilson's phrase, "to be as big a man as he can." But nowadays he cannot be as small as he might like....

In instance after instance the exception behavior of our earlier "strong" Presidents has now been set by the statute as a regular requirement. Theodore Roosevelt once assumed the steward's role in the emergency created by the great coal strike of 1902; the Railway Labor Act and the Taft-Hartley Act now make such interventions mandatory upon Presidents. The other Roosevelt once asserted personal responsibility for gauging and for guiding the American economy; the Employment Act binds his successors to that task. Wilson and FDR became chief spokesmen, leading actors, on a world stage at the heights of war; now UN membership, far-flung alliances, prescribe that role continuously in times termed "peace." ...And what has escaped statutory recognition has mostly been accreted into presidential common law, confirmed by custom, no less binding; the fireside chat and the press conference, for example, or the personally presented legislative programs, or personal campaigning in congressional elections.

In form all Presidents are leaders nowadays. In fact this guarantees no more than that they will be clerks. Everybody now expects the man inside the White House to do something about everything. Laws and customs now reflect widespread acceptance of him as the great initiator... A President today is an invaluable clerk. His services are in demand all over Washington....
Critical to this transformation was FDR and the massive expansion of the Federal government in response to the Great Depression and World War II. Coolidge (Republicans would prefer not to mention Hoover) was the last leader President and part of being a leader was the option not to take action. Consider a few choice Coolidge statements:
Four-fifths of all our troubles would disappear, if we would only sit down and keep still.

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.

Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.

They criticize me for harping on the obvious; if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.

In venerating Coolidge, more than merely approving cutting taxes and other pro-business policies the Republicans are harking back to an era where little was expected of the President, the government's role was not all pervasive, but at the same time when action was needed it was decisive.

Also, while Coolidge was seen as pro-business, this attitude was heavily tempered by a belief in morality:

Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.

It is only when men begin to worship that they begin to grow.

No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.

Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshipped.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Politico's Arena on the Perry Meltdown

This morning, the Politico Arena question of the day was Can Rick Perry recover?

My answer, in a word: No! The full answer is below:
Perry's campaign was always a long-shot because, quite frankly, Texas has had its turn in the White House. Voters are inclined to give other states a chance.

It is often remarked that the primary system the United States has is no way to pick a president. It is unclear if this system shows who is fit to be president, but it is safe to say that at least it shows us who is not up to the job.

Perry, unable to recite his own talking points, has shown the voters which category he best fits.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Iran's Nuclear Future & Pakistan's Present

The Iranian nuclear program is again in the news – it appears that the regime has made important technical progress in developing the capability to construct a nuclear weapon.

It is unclear how this will play out. Covert and overt action (like the Stuxnet virus or an Israeli strike) will delay, but not halt progress. At the same time, Iran may find it useful to maintain a state of nuclear ambiguity for some time. This policy will allow Iran to gain many of the benefits of nuclear power, while avoiding the worst of international opprobrium for violating the NPT.

It is useful to look at neighboring Pakistan for a picture of nuclear Iran’s future.

Pakistan faces and is obsessed with India, a far more powerful state that, with its own acquisition of nuclear capability cemented its superiority. Then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (father of the recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto) declared:
If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no other choice.
It is a prophecy that has come true. Pakistan’s nuclear capability has allowed it to continue a fruitless rivalry with India that has sapped the nation’s resource while abetting corruption and radicalism.

Part of Pakistan’s political culture is that the state was crippled in its very founding by India and its allies. Pakistan has sought the means to right this fundamental injustice. Weaker then India, Pakistan sought asymmetric means to balance India. Pakistan’s alliance with the US in the Afghan jihad was particularly instructive. The generals of Rawalpindi observed how a weaker power (that’s how the US was perceived) waged a low-level war, but kept the fighting within limits so as to prevent the situation from escalating. They perceived that nukes protected the US from more aggressive Soviet responses.

This is the strategy Pakistan has followed against India, low-grade war that, in Pakistani fantasies, will ultimately lead to the dissolution of India. Nukes allow Pakistan to continue a conflict (without nukes India’s ability to carryout devastating conventional retaliation would be a deterrent to Pakistan-backed terror). This gives Pakistan’s brass something to do and justifies their expanding hold on the country’s economy while helping Pakistan’s elites maintain the status quo (to the advantage of the traditional elites of course.) Meanwhile, Pakistan’s education system, infrastructure, and social services are sapped of resources.

On the international front, besides the general carnage caused by Pakistan backed terrorism, they have incubated jihadi groups to advance their aims in Afghanistan and India – but those groups have developed an impact beyond the sub-continent. At the same time, the ongoing tension between nuclear-armed rivals leads to the constant danger that the two sides will accidentally wander into a nuclear war.

This is all food for thought as Iran continues on its course. It is already a world champion supporter of terrorism. Will it feel even freer to do so if protected by a nuclear umbrella? Will nukes be the crutch that allows the corrupt and vicious Iranian regime to cling to power? Finally, will a nuclear Iran inspire other player in the region to follow suit – meaning more nukes and thus a greater chance for accidents?

Presidents and the Art of Mean

I enjoy Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, but today's column "A Machiavellian model for Obama is a bit off. Milbank writes:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

FARC Leader Killed: Background on Colombia's CT Strategy

FARC jefe was killed yesterday in a gun-battle with Colombian military commandos. This is by no means the end of the FARC – which, embroiled in the cocaine trade and taking advantage of Colombia’s vast territory and difficult geography continues to have the ability to fight and terrorize. Nonetheless, 15 years ago the FARC appeared to be capable of destabilizing the state. Now, while still dangerous its place in Colombia has been marginalized. The Colombian government has built some impressive military and technical capabilities. Hopefully, as the threat from FARC is reduced, these capabilities can be turned to Colombia’s many other internal challenges so that the country can consolidate its democracy and extend its writ throughout its territory.

The TerrorWonk has written quite a bit about FARC, so here is a short retrospective that will give some insight into the source of Colombia’s successes over the past few years. In some ways, it has been a model in that the US provided critical aid and resources – but the overall expenditures were relatively small – but the Colombians themselves did most of the work. It did require two important elements that are in short supply. First, it has taken over a decade – the relative inattention by the US public and media may have served the country well, allowing policy-makers to pursue a systematic, careful strategy without watching public approval. Also, Colombia’s political class has served up some very capable leaders including former President Alvaro Uribe and the current President Juan Manual Santos.

Here is a post discussing the DEA’s key role in assisting the Colombians.

Posts on the 2008 Hostage Rescue

Whenever there is a dramatic success against terrorists, someone assumes the Israelis are behind it. There was technical assistance, but there was something else as well:
Not every terror attack can be prevented, but Israel has stood in the forefront of reminding the world that force – properly and intelligently applied - can be used to neutralize terrorism, thereby setting the stage for last week’s dramatic events in Colombia.

This recap of the rescue gives a sense of how deeply Colombian intel had penetrated the FARC. A penetration that was critical to assassinated Cano:
Cesar, the commander of the FARC front holding the hostages put them on a helicopter after receiving an order he believed came from the FARC jefe Alfonso Cano. Consider the implications of this: it would be as if someone tricked a General into believing he had just received an order from the President. Such communications are not handled casually. The fact that Colombian intelligence could deliver this fake message probably indicates a very high-level of human and electronic penetration into the FARC’s communications networks.

This post gives some insight into how FARC’s limited WMD program and sheds light onto how the leadership was coming apart:
Reporting on Interpol’s assertion that the files on the captured FARC computers are authentic has focused on potential Chavez-FARC ties. But another bit of FARC news should be noted. Six of FARC commander Mono Jojoy’s bodyguards had plotted kill him, probably to collect the $5 million reward. The plot was discovered and three of the six were killed, the other three escaped and are now aiding the Colombian authorities. This plot was no doubt inspired by the death of another member of the FARC Secretariat, Ivan Rios – again at the hands of his bodyguards. The Colombian government’s decision to pay Rios’ bodyguards the reward no doubt encouraged Mono Jojoy’s bodyguards. This is roughly equivalent to Generals being shot by their own troops.

There is probably no better counter-terror strategy than to get a group to turn on itself. The campaign against the notorious Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) in the late 1980s was successful because the paranoid leader, the eponymous Abu Nidal (real name Sabri al-Banna) became convinced that his organization had been infiltrated by the CIA and his subordinates were plotting against him. He became unhinged and began burying them in wet cement. Reportedly, on one night he killed 150 ANO members.

While there are many more posts, This post gives an overview of how clever strategy turned FARC’s strengths into weaknesses:
The two of the FARC’s strengths were the vast territory of Colombia (more than two and a half times the size of Iraq), which gave them many places to hide and their ideological flexibility, which enabled them to enter the drug trade and link with international criminal networks. But Colombia’s size made it difficult for the cadres to meet in person. FARC operatives are vulnerable to interception by security forces when moving long distances. Turning to electronic communications only played into the strengths of the US, which has shared intelligence with the Colombians. With both personal and electronic communications under pressure the FARC’s command and control structure has deteriorated. In the 1990s the Colombian government granted the FARC a demilitarized zone. The re-establishment of a de-militarized zone is the FARC’s primary demand in negotiations over the approximately 700 hostages they hold. The need this zone to bring the leaders together – not necessarily for physical or weapons training – but for strategic communications.

The FARC’s engagement in massive criminal activity has been a strength because it kept the organization flush financially and created links for the organization to acquire new technology and skills. But this too has become a weakness. The massive involvement in narcotics trafficking has decimated any credibility the FARC might have once had with the Colombian people – now they are viewed as little more than another cartel. At the same time, the easy money has led to corruption and “lack of ideological rigor” among many FARC commanders. Also, the international criminal networks are subject to infiltration. Only days before the Raul Reyes assassination, the Department of Justice indicted 11 FARC commanders and collaborators based on information obtained from satellite phones purchased in Miami that were being monitored by the DEA. In 2001 the DEA managed to sell four tapped satellite phones to the FARC.

The tactical successes, such as infiltrating satellite phones are impressive. But the real victory, in turning FARC’s strengths to weaknesses, is at the strategic level.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Confluence of Veeps - Past & Present

In 1975, in the wake of Watergate, Congress began investigating the CIA. President Ford, a former VP replaced the CIA director with George H.W. Bush (a future VP.) Also, to head off the congressional investigations he assigned his own VP, Nelson Rockefeller, to head a committee. Reportedly the White House chief of staff orchestrated these moves. In the case of Rockefeller he was trying to weigh Rocky down with committee work so he couldn't get anything done as the chair of the Domestic Policy Council. Rumsfeld had also brough Bush into the CIA to hurt his future political career - Rumsfeld harbored presidential ambitions of his own. Decades later Rumsfeld's machinations were remembered and his appointment to Defense was not a popular move amongst the Bushies.

But Rumsfeld had an important ally in the Bush 43 administration. His old deputy and successor at the Ford White House, future VP Dick Cheney.

I can think of several points where two past, future & present VPs worked together (any where the President had been VP for starters) but FOUR on one particular issue must be some sort of record.

Pakistani Bombs (Nuclear & Demographic)

Jeffrey Goldberg's terrific piece in the Atlantic Monthly on Pakistan's nuclear program had an important detail. Since the raid on Abbotabad, in which OBL was killed, Pakistan's fears for its nukes have increased. They see the primary danger to their nukes as coming, not from jihadis, but from Indian or American agents. The OBL raid (on top of years of American drone strikes) demonstrated to the Pakistanis that they do not really have control over their own airspace. The response, Goldberg reports, is to shuttle nukes between various sites - by unmarked van. This may perplex US intelligence, but it dramatically increases vulnerability to Pakistani jihadis.

Of course, as Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling points out, possessing one nuke may not do a terrorist group much good. They are complicated devices and the only way to be certain it works is to actually detonate it. Still, the prospect of Pakistan's jihadis acquiring one is worrisome.

While American frustration with the Pakistanis is well-earned, Pakistani paranoia about the safety of their nukes is not completely irrational. It is difficult to imagine any nuclear-armed country being comfortable with the knowledge that another power can penetrate their airspace at will and carry out complex armed operations. Reportedly, for many Russians, the Nunn-Lugar program which was intended to help the Russians secure their nuclear infrastructure is seen by many "Russians on the street" is obviously being a devious American plan to secretly take control of their nukes.

For that matter, it is difficult to imagine Americans being sanguine in a comparable situation. That Goldberg provides some modest detail about what an American military plan to secure Pakistani nukes might look like cannot but further inflame Pakistani fears. Hopefully Pakistani leaders will also notice Goldberg's claim that China will tolerate an American effort against Pakistan's nukes. China and Pakistan have a long, deep relationship. Pakistan has touted China as a true friend and sought to turn to them to replace their American patrons who place all kinds of moral demands on them. But the Chinese aren't stupid. They do value Pakistan, as a balance against India and as an ally when approaching the Muslim world. But they almost certainly recognize the complexities of the place and don't want to get dragged in too deep.

Goldberg notes, and most observers share this view, that the focus on hitting al-Qaeda has prevented a wide-range of other key issues from being raised effectively with the Pakistanis. There are no shortage, of these issues - but the biggest one - as I've written before is Pakistan's slow motion collapse as a state. The combination of increasing economic pressures, environmental catastrophe, ethnic splits, and weakening institutions makes it tough to see how the state can hold together. Pakistan is more akin to a nuclear-armed Yemen. The whole state is a bomb.

One would like to think that a "Marshall Plan" for Pakistan could turn the place around. But the historic weakness of Pakistani institutions makes this unlikely. The resources exist within the country for a turnaround. About a quarter of the national budget is spent on defense, Pakistan's wealthiest don't pay taxes, and much of the economy is part of the unofficial sector. Properly harnessed and turned to critical needs - such as revitalizing agriculture and building a proper education system - and a more prosperous, stronger Pakistan could emerge. But these things do not occur quickly and the turnaround time is decreasing fast.

Friday, November 4, 2011

VP Garret Hobart - hot or not?

In my endless quest for vice presidential influence it is always a pleasure to learn something new and non-trivial!

Garrett Hobart, McKinley’s first vice president, mattered – his home (VPs had to arrange their own lodging until 1975) was called the “Little Cream White House” (which had once been McClellan’s HQ) and he was often referred to as “Assistant President.”

One newspaperman wrote:
For the first time in my recollection, and the last for that matter, the Vice President was recognized as somebody, as a part of the Administration, as a part of the body over which he presided.
Hobart had been the speaker of the New Jersey House, President of the New Jersey Senate, and was a wealthy attorney for the railroads. He was not McKinley’s choice for VP, but the Republican party needed New Jersey and he fit the bill (although he was caught between his desire to enjoy a private life and his ambition and sense of duty.)

What is fascinating (to me at least) are the sources of Hobart’s unique influence. He was by all accounts an engaging individual who gave prudent advice. His wife looked after McKinley’s wife, who was ill and found her duties has First Lady onerous. The Hobarts also entertained Washington, sparing the McKinley's that duty. Hobart also helped McKinley manage his investments. Was this personal connection sufficient to allow McKinley to break a decades-old institution of ignoring the VP? Does it also matter that Hobart, having never held national office, was not a political threat?

Rise of Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Hamas has been quiet, but Islamic Jihad has stepped up to the plate with attacks on Israel. Is HISH becoming IHIJ?

The intrepid Eli Lake has a report asking whether Hamas is moderating. Strictly speaking, no. But they are pragmatic. The Gaza faction is now finding itself running a mini-state and clashing with Israel is expensive. The Shalit deal is an incentive to kidnap more Israeli soldiers, but it also may buy Hamas some breathing space to begin working with Fatah again. Lake’s report focuses on Khaled Mashal, Hamas’ Damascus-based leader. The Damascus faction, recipient of Baathist largesse, usually spearheaded the toughest line against Israel. But Lake notes that the Syrian turmoil may be influencing Mashal’s outlook.

Again, Hamas is not suddenly becoming the Quacker Friends! But they may be seeking a modus vivendi like Hezbollah in Lebanon has achieved. They don’t love Israel, but they have other commitments that make open warfare expensive.

Islamic Jihad has no identity other then violence. Although smaller then Hamas, it has always focused on high-quality terror attacks. It also has been heavily sponsored by Iran – unlike Hamas and Hezbollah it does not have a broad social base of its own. An uptick of Islamic Jihad violence is likely as members of Hamas’ armed wing join up looking for action.

Meanwhile, Iran may be losing its most valuable ally in Syria and Hamas may have other fish to fry. But Iran still needs a stake in the conflict with Israel, thus Islamic Jihad fits the bill.

Meanwhile, turmoil in Sinai continues and the possibility of loose weapons of Qaddhafi’s arsenal ending up in Gaza remains – the spark to Gaza’s gasoline.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Simple Idea for Background Reading

I wandered by the UMD library today and picked up The American Presidency: An Analytical Approach, by UMD prof Irwin Morris (who I don't know.)

Writing about the VP, I need a decent foundation on the study of the president and the presidency. There are endless volumes devoted to the topic. But Morris' book, which is designed as a good undergrad textbook, provides a strong overview of theories and the state of the field.

For background reading, an up to date textbook is a good idea - I wish I had thought of it a few years ago - would have saved me a lot of time trolling around in back issues of Presidential Studies Quarterly.

Gaming LeT

The TerrorWonk has been busy lately, so I haven’t been blogging much (although I am going to try to turn that around for NaBloPoMo . One of the things I was busy with was a pair of papers on Lashkar-e-Taiba that were presented at EISIC/OSINT conference in Athens in September. One paper used SOMA to analyze the behavior of LeT. SOMA is a modeling system developed at UMD, we’ve gotten some interesting findings from it looking at other terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah. I’ve written a fair amount about SOMA and more is coming on LeT.

The other paper was a game theoretic analysis of LeT. This was a new area for yours truly and as the subject matter expert I developed the scenarios and payoff matrix (ie what are the different combinations of moves the different players could make and how happy (or unhappy) in each combination is each player. Basically the study found that situations where LeT’s best option was to disband its armed wing were situations in which the US and India double-teamed Pakistan so that the military cracked down hard on LeT. Several papers in India interviewed us and discussed our work (see the LCCD homepage for links), but of them The Telegraph of Calcutta article included this very nice graphic that nicely encapsulates the project.

Two particularly interesting things struck me (as a novice to game theory) about this project. First, in game theory the players seek the Nash equilibrium (named for the Nobel prize winning mathematician) in which no actor can increase their payoff without causing a decrease in some other player’s payoff. But our work included “mixed equilibria” in which players did not simply adopt one strategy but shifted between strategies. This better reflects how nations act. Sometimes, nations systematically switch between policy options. In other cases different components of the state pursue different strategies – some elements of the Pakistani military crackdown on LeT while others continue to provide support.

The other point is that one criticism is that it did not include several key players such as China or Pakistani public opinion. True enough – but in some regards that only strengthens the overall concept. That is, with five actors and 13 possible actions between them there were hundreds of possible combinations. More players and actions means even more combinations – more than a person can systematically analyze.

So, as I’ve written before, models can’t necessarily replace human judgments but by systematically analyzing enormous combinations of data and scenarios they can identify possibilities that humans might miss.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Implications of VPs as a punchline

I like the funnies, and Frazz is a good one. But I was a little bummed to see them go for the easy laugh here. Sure memorizing vice presidents is pointless, but strictly speaking so is memorizing presidents, state capitols, mythological deities. Multiplication tables and poetry may, in fairness, make some sense. But on the off-chance one finds themselves in a profession that requires knowledge of the 50 state capitols (or the VPs like yours truly) pick it up in on-the-job-training.

My different selves are caught on this. The academic in me wants to right the wrong of VP inconsequence mostly to expand my own academic micro-niche. But the small government conservative says, it is a good thing that government officials are not taken too seriously - government should matter less, not more. But the policywonk in me has a deep respect for people who, as Teddy Roosevelt says "is in the arena." Full quote is here:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Geriatric Terror?

A quartet of senior citizens in Georgia (the state) were recently arrested for plotting massive terror attacks. They were pseudo-militia types, concerned about the expansion of the US government into a tyranny and inspired by Tim McVeigh. They had a bucket-list of officials they hoped to target.

In some regards they followed the typical profile for far-right terror in the US -that is expansive and violent goals - with limited capability. By comparison leftist terrorists in the US (say ALF/ELF) tend to be well educated, disciplined, and focused in their targeting and operations. As one analyst who has studied domestic terrorists, the rightwingers are dumb but unstable and violent.

The prospects for their plots' success, including making a WMD from ricin (which has proven pretty much undoable even for nation states), were very low. The FBI spent months infiltrating their meetings at the Waffle House and their homes. One is forced it wonder exactly how the FBI came to be aware of this cell of geezers.

Overall, terrorism appears to be a young man's game. The leaders may be older, but the actual operatives tend to be young. There is no obvious reason for this (unless the plan is specifically for fedayeen attacks). Elderly operatives should be less suspicious when reconnoitering targets or planting explosives. But there are few cases of this occurring.

The image of an angry young men spouting nihilistic radicalism is common, and even a bit sympathetic. The same anger coming from someone forty years older seems only pathetic.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Response to WaPo on VP Selection

A few weeks ago The Washington Post Outlook section ran a lengthy article arguing that party conventions should select the vice president, rather then the presidential nominee. The key was that the office was too important to leave to presidential whim and the convention delegates would select stronger candidates more fit for the presidency.

I dashed off a letter to the editor disagreeing, but it was not printed. So, here goes:
Mr. Leahy's recent Outlook feature argued that party conventions should select the vice president. This idea appeals to political journalists because it would make conventions interesting. But it would not result in better vice presidents. The conventions selected some vice presidents of great ability such as Teddy Roosevelt, but also many non-entities and a few scoundrels (consider Aaron Burr or Schuyler Colfax.)

More importantly, the era of party selected vice presidents was characterized by poor relationships between the two nationally elected officials. Coolidge's Vice President Charles Dawes’ refusal to attend cabinet meetings illuminates this situation. Dawes (an outstanding figure who won the Nobel Peace Prize, was a WWI hero, and popular composer - but an utter failure as vice president), did not want to set a precedent of vice presidential attendance because, he wrote, the relationship between a President and his advisors “…is a confidential one, and the selection of a confidant belongs to him who would be injured by the abuse of confidence-however unintentional. Suppose, in the future, some President, with this precedent fixed, must face the alternative of inviting a loquacious publicity seeker into his private councils, or affronting him in the public eye by denying him what has come to be considered as his right-how embarrassing it would be!”

Presidents should continue to choose their running mates because a President that does not have complete confidence in the
vice president’s discretion and loyalty will exclude the vice president from the decision-making process. In the modern complex world the United States cannot afford an ill-informed vice president ascending to the nation’s highest office.

Light Footprint/Right Footprint in Counter-Terror Deployments

Walter Pincus’ national security column today ended on an oddly discordant note. Overall the column discussed the challenges the military will face maintaining skilled personnel in the face of likely budget cuts. This is particularly challenging because top-level NCOs and mid-level officers take a long time to train and really bring up to speed. Fifteen years (at least) go into developing a Major, even more into training a ship commander. Capable individuals who will flourish in these roles will also do well in the civilian world.

These are excellent points that should be of real concern to defense policy wonks. But then he veers off to criticize the recent deployment of 100 special forces troops to Uganda to help fight the Lord’s Resistance Army. Pincus concludes:
Step back for a moment. A small group of concerned Americans teamed up with members of Congress to pass the bill that authorized the anti-LRA deployment. The Pentagon had prepared specially trained units to carry out what is now designed as a narrowly focused training mission. How many other ungoverned parts of the world exist where leaders can say their enemies represent a terrorist threat and they need U.S. military assistance?

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent the 82nd Airborne into the Dominican Republic to prevent what he called a second Cuba. He told Sen. J.W. Fulbright (D-Ark.) that if he hadn’t had the deployment-ready military units, he would have had to rely on diplomacy to solve the problem.

Fulbright later told me that both nations would have been better off had the 82nd Airborne not been there to make the military solution easy when diplomacy appeared more difficult. It’s a lesson remembered and reinforced by the last 10 years of warfare.
That comparison does not quite hold. The deployment of the 82nd Airborne was a large-scale use of military force, sending 100 special forces on a training mission is a much less extensive and expensive endeavor. It is true that the US military cannot make even small such small deployments to every ungoverned space on earth, but if a relatively modest commitment can help an ally (Uganda is a playing a useful role in Somalia) then it seems reasonable.

Of terrorist groups and insurgencies around the world the LRA is one of the very, very nastiest and is destabilizing a region of the world that has suffered so much in the past few decades. Quite frankly, diplomatic solutions for the LRA are probably not realistic.

It is fair to say the US diplomacy has become overly militarized in the past decade. But deploying small numbers to Special Forces trainers to strengthen local capabilities seems like exactly the strategy the United States should be pursuing (it was the US strategy in the Philippines among other places). It is repositioning the military to support diplomatic efforts – righting the past decades unbalance in State-Defense operations.