Archive for April, 2006

CIA Partisans and White House

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Up until the nineteenth century, federal jobs were patronage positions awarded on the basis of a spoils system. When a president took office, he filled federal positions with those who had supported him. The result was that jobs could be filled with incompetent, yet politically loyal partisans. As the government grew, this lack of professionalism became a greater and greater disadvantage. To alleviate this situation, Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Act in 1883 to protect federal workers from political influence and to create a Civil Service that hired and promoted on the basis of merit rather than political connection.

The Civil Service System protects both federal workers and politicians. While political appointees are responsible for representing the policies of elected officials, the bulk of the Civil Service can provide professional, non-partisan support. Of course, most federal positions do not require any particular political perspective. The day-to-day operations of most aspects of government are apolitical.

However, at the higher echelons of government the distinction between the political and the professional begin to blur. Policy and the implementation of policy are so intertwined that non-political appointees may influence policy. Nonetheless, whenever civil servants believe that it is within their prerogative to deliberately circumvent policy from elected officials, they begin to undermine both democracy and the Civil Service. This becomes particularly dangerous when this happens in intelligence agencies. A Commerce Department that strays is not nearly as dangerous as an intelligence agency that seeks to directly circumvent the direction of elected officials. This is what makes the most recent actions by individuals in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) so worrisome.

Some of the current problems began with Ambassador Joseph Wilson. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, on the basis of his wife’s recommendation, Wilson was sent to Niger to look into the extent that Iraq was seeking uranium yellow cake. This might indicate Iraq intentions with regard to Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The selection of Wilson for the trip was peculiar at best given that he had no background in investigation or nuclear technology. When he returned, he was not required to file a written report on this sensitive issue. Even more abnormal was the fact that Wilson was not, as is the usual practice, compelled to sign a confidentiality agreement. This left him free to pen a Bush-bashing piece in the New York Times. Over time, the 9/11 Commission Report debunked much of what Wilson wrote. However, given all the irregularities, as Victoria Toensing, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan Administration explains, the “CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft.”

Before the 2004 election, the book Imperial Hubris, critical of the Bush Administration was published anonymously by a CIA employee. Ultimately, Michael Scheuer revealed himself as the author. CIA employees sign a confidentiality agreement which requires that any open publications be vetted by the CIA. Usually such vetting is a pull-and-tug affair with disagreements at the single-word level. Scheuer first had problems when speaking publicly about the book when the CIA thought it was being criticized, but according to Scheuer, “As long as the book was being used to bash the president, they gave me carte blanche to talk to the media.”

Most recently, Mary McCarthy was fired from the CIA for leaking highly-classified information. The popular assumption is that she was the source of the leaks about the CIA detention of high-level Al Qaeda operatives in East European facilities. McCarthy was on the Clinton Administration National Security Council under Sandy Berger who was last seen pleading guilty to the unauthorized removal of classified documents. After the Clinton Administration ended, McCarthy found her way back to the CIA, but remained politically active, contributing substantially to the John Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee. There is some suspicion that her leaks were politically motivated to embarrass the Bush Administration.

The leaks from McCarthy were especially troublesome because it revealed an ongoing covert operation and identified companies that were involved. This certainly added risk to individuals acting on behalf of the United States.

Some argue that Mary McCarthy was a whistle blower nobly revealing inappropriate and perhaps illegal government activity. However, such an argument ignores the special and unique position of trust Mary McCarthy held. She was entrusted with classified information, upon which perhaps people’s lives and intelligence sources depend.

If McCarthy was acting on the basis of conscience, there are a number of honorable actions she could have taken. She could have vigorously fought within the CIA for her position. She could have gone with her concerns to members of the Senate or House Intelligence Committees who had the appropriate clearances. Finally she could have resigned in protest. By not following this route she undermines her case for conscientious objection. Instead, she hid in anonymity and selectively leaked to the press. Perhaps she was brave in risking exposure, but certainly her acts were not principled, noble, or honorable.

One can measure the transformation of the Left over during the Bush Administration. The Left once considered the CIA the embodiment of evil, but now is happy if certain members of the CIA deliberately undermine civilian leadership, so long as that leadership is President George W. Bush.

Some Generals Complain About Rumsfeld

Sunday, April 16th, 2006

“However, I can tell you that beyond the Beltway in dusty and dirty places like Ft. Benning, Ft. Stewart, Ft. Hood, Ft. Campbell and Ft. Bragg, where officers wear BDUs instead of Class Bs that there are tens of thousands of Officers, Commissioned/Warrant/Non-Commissioned, that would go to hell and back for this Secretary.” — Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army.

Even at the beginning of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure in early 2001, Washington insiders expressed doubt that Rumsfeld would survive in office very long. The reason the press was uncharacteristically infatuated with the elderly secretary was the same reason that some believed he was not long for his position. In the early days of the Bush Administration, the press was supportive of Rumsfeld because he was perceived to be fighting the generals. Now that he is pursuing policies the main stream media disagrees with, these same people eagerly rush to find generals willing to criticize Rumsfeld.

From the beginning, Rumsfeld wanted to transform the military from the slow and powerful behemoth necessary to counter the heavy military of the Warsaw Pact to a lithe and rapid force more suitable for dealing with the asymmetric threats the US was more likely to face. He wanted to grant more discretion to the war fighters on the ground rather than to maintain a highly-centralized command protocol. As opposed to having many specialized units controlled by a remote command structure, Rumsfeld preferred smaller more self-contained, self-directed, and independent units.

Independent of the merits of such a transformation, Rumsfeld was bound to encounter stiff resistance from military officials skilled and comfortable with the status quo. The fact that Rumsfeld was insistent and even arrogant in pushing for this transformation does not mean that his approach is correct, but it does mean that he made, and apparently continues to make, enemies.

That some generals are disgruntled with civilian leadership in the conduct of the Iraq War is not surprising. Such tension is nearly as old as the Republic:

* The most conspicuous case was General George McClellan who led a lackluster and passive effort for Union forces in the Civil War. McClellan would refuse to attack even with superior forces and would always find ways to blame others for his lack of success. After being dismissed by President Abraham Lincoln, McClellan ran as the Democratic nominee against Lincoln in 2004 calling the Civil War a “failure” and urging “immediate efforts for a cessation of hostilities” on the basis on negotiations with the South.
* Certainly, General Douglas MacArthur believed his strategy in Korea was superior to President Harry Truman’s and did not feel constrained by Truman’s directives. Truman was finally forced to recall MacArthur from Korea.

* Whether in fact true or not, there was a conventional wisdom in the military that political leadership did not allow the military to execute a victory strategy.

In Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, Eliot Cohen, of Johns Hopkins University, examined four cases of war time political leadership: American President Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War, the Wartime Premier of France, Georges Clemenceau in World War I, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in World War II, and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in the Israeli War of Independence. Cohen’s thesis is that while military strategy is important, ultimately war is a political enterprise, best led by political leaders. In some sense, acquiescence to the generals is not even possible because military advice from different experts is often contradictory, and partially based on institutional rivalries. Sometimes the best military tactics are not the best political options, effective civilian leadership does not just leave war fighting to the generals.

Questions about tactics for the Iraq War remain an important question for scholarly debate and consideration. Some believed we should have gone in with more force. Some more recent analysis suggests that the US footprint was too big. However, to debate these strategies in the public context of trying to force a Rumsfeld resignation in the midst of a war is more political than analytical. A thoughtful critique would have postponed excessive consideration of past tactics and constructively focused on using what we have learned to implement improved strategies. As Victor David Hanson has commented:

“Equally fossilized is the ‘more troops’ debate. Whatever one’s views about needing more troops in 2003-5, few Democratic senators or pundits are now calling for an infusion of 100,000 more Americans into Iraq. While everyone blames the present policy, no one ever suggests that current positive trends — a growing Iraqi security force and decreasing American deaths in March — might possibly be related to the moderate size of the American garrison forces.”

Though no one can be very sure about the complete motives of others, the very personal nature of the attacks on Rumsfeld suggests that more than military strategy is at play here. A few generals from those forces that are being the most radically transformed by Rumsfeld’s emphasis on a leaner force — the Army and the Marines — generals with the most vested in the status quo force strategy are the source of anti-Rumsfeld antipathy. There is information inherent in the fact are no recently retired admirals and air force generals among those calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation.

Al-Arian’s Plea Embarrasses the Left

Sunday, April 16th, 2006

The Left has the inconvenient habit of racing to the reflexive defense of anyone accused of working secretly against the United States. Perhaps best known is the case of Alger Hiss. Hiss was an urbane US State Department official accused of being a spy for the Communists. He was eventually convicted of perjury in 1950. For decades afterwards, where one stood on the innocence of Hiss was a reliable measure of where one stood on the political spectrum. The Right viewed Hiss as an example of the enchantment of some on the Left with Communism, while those on the Left saw Hiss as a person persecuted by excessive American fear of Communism. Since the end of the Cold War formerly classified documents have become available, particularly those of the Verona Project. The evidence of Hiss’s guilt from these documents is now dispositive to all but the intentionally intransigent.

Generations later, some on the Left have stumbled into the same trap with regard to Sami Al-Arian, the former computer science professor at the University of South Florida (USF). Al-Arian made the mistake of appearing on the O’Reilly Factor. Al-Arian did not fair very well under critical questioning by host Bill O’Reilly. Al-Arian could not adequately explain his association with people involved in terrorist organizations. Perhaps most damning were Al-Arian’s past public shouts of “Death to Israel.” Al-Arian pathetically excused such rhetoric as a metaphor for disagreement with Israeli policies. I am sure Al-Arian would not consider shouts of “Death to Al-Arian” made to enthusiastic cheering crowds as simply expressing disagreement with Al-Arian’s political positions. I am sure he would feel directly threatened.

In the immediate aftermath of the interview, Al-Arian was dismissed from USF. The ostensible reason was that Al-Arian had not explicitly made clear that he was speaking for himself and that his positions did not necessarily represent those of the USF. Apparently, for security reasons, Al-Arian was directly not to return to campus. By returning to campus, he gave the university administration yet another excuse to dismiss him.

Al-Arian’s defenders included the liberal Salon Magazine, the American Association of University Professors, and the American Civil Liberties Union, who portrayed the dismissal of a tenured professor for controversial remarks as a violation of Academic Freedom and, because the USF is a public institution, a violation of the First Amendment.

There is a legitimate point buried here. The reasons for dismissal were contrived and certainly would not have been applied to a more mainstream character. The question is whether Al-Arian was being dismissed for having controversial opinions or for the intimidating and threatening way in which they were expressed. Chants of “Death to Israel” are, to any reasonable person, inflammatory and not merely the expression of opinions within a community of scholars.

Conservatives should be a little apprehensive of embracing Al-Arian’s dismissal for clearly inflammatory remarks. Given the occupation of college campuses by the extreme Left Wing, it is not hard to imagine even mainstream Conservative thought being unfairly labeled as “hate speech.”

Recently at Ohio State University a librarian was charged with “sexual harassment.” Librarian Scott Savage was part of a committee deciding on books for freshman to read. He suggested The Marketing of Evil by David Kupelian, The Professors by David Horowitz, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis by Bat Ye’or, and It Takes a Family by Senator Rick Santorum. Some professors described the books as hate literature to which tolerance should not be extended. At a university, where the widest possible latitude for the civil exchange of ideas ought to be allowed, the suggestion that certain books be read becomes a crime. Charges were dropped, but a chilling effect remains on any similarly-minded librarians.

The temptation to come to the defense of anyone being prosecuted by the Bush Justice Department was just a little too great for sober minds to prevail. Unfortunately, the defense of Al-Arian did not solely remain centered on free speech issues or the question academic of freedom. It is possible to defend the free speech of despicable people. But that was not enough here. Al-Arian was described as an innocent professor devoted to increasing the understanding between peoples, persecuted by anti-Islamic bigotry in the aftermath of September 11th. The Left let its view of Americans and the American government as mean spirited dolts overwhelm the common sense notion that one should wait until the entire case is adjudicated before running to the defense of someone they really do not know very well.

Al-Arian was acquitted on 8 of 17 charges for helping a known terrorist organization. There was a deadlock on the remaining charges. The much ballyhooed vindication was short-lived. Al-Arian has just pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds for the benefit of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Islamic Jihad is a designated terrorist organization. There is no longer a question of fact. Al-Arian was using the United States, his position at USF, and gullible Leftists to provide material support to Islamic terrorist organizations. Those who supported Al-Arian as a put upon innocent have once again allowed their instinctive reaction to assume the worst of Americans to corner themselves into the uncomfortable position along side a convicted criminal.

Linking Amnesty to Border Security

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

When issues become complicated, sometimes it is necessary to return to common sense notions to sort through conflicting priorities. At present, Congress is debating what to do about high levels of illegal immigration and a large number of illegal immigrants who have already made lives in the United States. The best current estimates indicate that there are approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Approximately 500,000 additional illegal immigrants make it to the United States each year, mostly from Mexico. This number is supplemented by 800,000 more legal immigrants. These numbers are causing economic disruption, particularly in border states. Moreover, a certain disrespect for the law is cultivated when so many people bypass normal, albeit cumbersome, legal immigration procedures.

Most Americans are ambivalent. Being a nation of immigrants, we recognize that immigrants rejuvenate and enrich the country. In the short term, immigration may suppress wages, but in the long term immigrants add wealth. Without immigrants, Americans would not be reproducing themselves. Young immigrants will provide an important source of income that will support retiring baby boomers. However, illegal immigration is unfair to those who wait in line and it permits no way to appropriately vet and assimilate new immigrants.

No rational immigration policy, whether to increase or decrease the immigration rate, can be implemented without first controlling the borders. Indeed, one of the defining obligations of a sovereign nation is to control its borders. The question of what levels of immigration are desirable and manageable cannot even be properly posed unless borders are controlled. Hence, the first goal of immigration legislation must be to secure the borders. The exact manner of achieving this is an empirical question that can be explored. Certainly it will involve some combination of barriers or fences, increased border patrols, and high-tech surveillance. No border will ever be entirely secure, but the 500,000 per year number needs to be radically reduced.

The more difficult question is what to do about the immigrants that are already here. Simple justice would demand that they be deported. However, the numbers are so large as to make this impractical. America would not want to become the sort of intrusive state necessary to locate and deport 11 million people. Humanitarian issues would dreadfully complicate matters. Many illegal aliens have children who were born here and thus American citizens. One would be faced with the prospect of splitting children from parents or forcing young American citizens to accompany their parents to Mexico or some other country.

On the other hand, to grant even an “earned” amnesty to these people would encourage others to cross the borders in the hopes that one day they also would be granted amnesty. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, with the promise that future immigration would be controlled. Whether because of government lethargy or the tremendous allure of jobs in the United States, that promise was never kept. The public is, therefore, realistically reluctant to accept similar assurances now.

A reasonable compromise would be to tie the effectiveness of border control directly to amnesty. Consider the present 500,000 number of illegal aliens crossing the border each year as a starting point. Allow one year for the implementation of effective border control. After that point, make sure that the sum of the estimated number of illegal immigrants per year, plus the number of increased allowed immigration, plus the number of current resident illegal immigrants granted amnesty totals 500,000. If the illegal border crossings do not decrease then there would be no amnesty and no increase in the number of allowed immigrants.

For example, if the border enforcement is say 80% effective then 100,000 illegal immigrants would still be illegally entering the country. In such a case, we would add 200,000 to the additional number of legal immigrants allowed and 200,000 current resident illegal immigrants would be granted amnesty. If the border enforcement effectiveness wanes, then so to would the number of illegal immigrants granted amnesty.

This plan would have the virtue of making it in the best interest of current resident illegal immigrants and those who wish to legally immigrate to support effective border patrol. It would also provide continuing leverage on the federal government to maintain border security.

The numbers proposed here are just notional. One could imagine giving different weights to increasing the number of legal immigrants or legitimizing the ones already here. If the borders seemed secure over an extended number of years, the process of granting amnesty could be accelerated. Since there would likely be more applicants seeking amnesty than might be granted, one could give priority to those who had assimilated by learning English and who had been here the longest.

In any case, acceptable and reasonable immigration reform begins with a secure border.

Imperial Islam

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

`I was ordered to fight all men until they say, `There is no god but Allah.”’ — Prophet Mohammed.Islam is radically distinguished from its sister religions, Christianity and Judaism, by the political circumstances of its origin. Judaism and Christianity were at various times persecuted religions. In one of the key narratives of Judaism, Hebrews were slaves to the Pharaoh in Egypt before they were delivered by God. In the defining narrative of Christianity, Christ is put to death by the Romans. Although His Resurrection represented a triumph over death, it did not represent a political victory. By contrast, the rise of Islam, under the leadership of Mohammed, combined religious conversion with military triumph. Even decades after Christ, Christians remained a minority sect subject to the rule of the Romans. While within a couple of decades, Islam had spread, largely by force of arms from Iraq to Egypt. Within a century, the Islamic Empire had spread to India, North Africa and Spain. In its largest extent, the Islam Empire sandwiched Europe between Spain and Constantinople.

To be sure there were times when Christianity and Judaism claimed both religious and political power. The Pope at times has exercised both political and religious authority and to this day rules the small sovereign principality of Vatican City. Judaism’s kings are chronicled in the Bible, perhaps the most well known being David. In modern Israel, rabbis still do exercise some authority with respect to some civil matters like weddings, but religious freedom is institutionalized. Despite the occasional overlap between religion and state, in the ethos of Judaism and Christianity the two remain different spheres.

Until perhaps the death of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, there was no real separation between religious and civilian authority in the Islamic world. Certainly, there is little indigenous Islamic philosophy and theology to support such a separation.

Such a separation, or at least a distinction, had long been recognized in Judaism and Chrisitianity. Since its Diaspora, Judaism has largely remained a modest-size religion with limited or no direct political power. With the rise of the Enlightenment, Christians in particular created a philosophy and theology that not only recognized the different roles of state and religion, but also the necessity of religious freedom. Authentic faith cannot be reached by force, but only by persuasion and personal witness.

Modern Muslims, many who have migrated to the West (formally Christendom) have internalized this same perspective. However, in much of the Middle East, there has been less reconciliation between political and religious authority.  Although freedom of religion is ostensibly codified in the Afghan Constitution, the current case of the forty-one-year-old Abdul Rahman, who faced death in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity is a sad reflection of the intensity of a medieval perspective on religious freedom.

In the current issue Commentary Magazine, Efraim Karsh’s “Islam’s Imperial Dreams” explains how the ideology of Imperial Islam animates much of Islamic terrorism. Dreams of conquest both religious and political motivate Islamofacism that seeks the restoration the Islamic Empire and the imposition of Sharia Law.

Perhaps these grandiose ambitions are partially fueled by the conspicuous disparity between the fortunes of many Islamic nations and their self-image. It could once be reasonably claimed that the Islamic Empire represented one of wealthiest and most technologically advanced civilizations in the world.  Now, many such nations are dependent upon the West for technology and most of what wealth there is relies on the depleting good fortune of sitting upon oil reserves. The modern lands of the former Islamic Empire are not an important the source of art, literature, science or technology. If one ties worldly success and religious righteousness, Islam is not fairing particularly well.

Karsh notes that this sort of tension has been a continuing source of violence:

“In the long history of Islamic empire, the wide gap between delusions of grandeur and the centrifugal forces of localism would be bridged time and again by force of arms, making violence a key element of Islamic political culture.”

Here in lies Karsh’s key warning. The West cannot hope to cope with Islamic terrorism until it recognizes how tightly coupled are visions of an Islamic Empire and violence.

Islamofascism and its attendant terrorism may be suppressed and isolated, but it will continue until there is a widespread acceptance in the Muslim world of key tenets of modernity: a separation of religion and civil law and religious tolerance.