Day: September 9, 2012

GOP critique: leaks and cuts

This is the third installment of a series responding to the Romney campaign’s list of failures in Obama’s foreign and national security policies.

Failure #3: “Unconscionable” Leaks Of Classified Counterterror Information From The White House That Have Been “Devastating”

Here I find myself in agreement with the Republicans:  there have been too many leaks of apparently classified information.  The trouble is this complaint comes from people who never said a word about leaks during the Bush administration.  So to give the complaint more credibility, I think I’ll just reproduce word for word the main allegations, without the partisan hyperbole:

The damaging leaks include:

  • Operational details about the Osama Bin Laden raid.
  • Existence of a Pakistani doctor who assisted the United States in finding Bin Laden and who was later arrested and jailed in Pakistan.
  • Revelation of a covert joint U.S.-Israeli cyber operation to undermine Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
  • The existence of a double-agent who was key to unraveling the second underwear bomb.
  • The White House’s process for determining the targets of drone strikes.

The Republican memorandum also cites Democratic concern:

  • John Brennan, President Obama’s own counterterror chief and Deputy National Security Adviser, has called the leaks “unconscionable,” “damaging,” and “devastating.”
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has criticized the leaks and stated that they are coming from the White House. She said, “Each disclosure puts American lives at risk, makes it more difficult to recruit assets, strains the trust of our partners, and threatens imminent and irreparable damage to our national security in the face of urgent and rapidly adapting threats worldwide.”

The remedy the Republicans suggest is the right one:

Despite the damage done, President Obama has refused to support the appointment of a special counsel to investigate these leaks and hold those responsible accountable. The special counsel mechanism is designed for just such circumstances where the impartiality of normal prosecutors may be compromised because someone in the high chain of command in the White House may be implicated.

Holding people accountable for leaks of truly valuable classified information is a vital component of protecting national security.

Failure #4: “Devastating” Defense Cuts That Will Cede Our Status As A “Global Power”

I confess that my wonkiness does not really extend to budget, which I find fiendishly complicated even if arithmetically simple.  The “massive cuts” President Obama has allegedly instituted to the defense budget are all cuts from projected increases, not cuts in the present budget.  The Republicans cite two “cuts” in 2011:  one of $78 billion and one of $400 billion.  But they neglect to mention that the former would take place over 5 years and the later 10 years.  They also neglect to mention the massive Pentagon increases over the previous ten years.  Then they hold Obama responsible for the $500 billion in cuts (over 10 years) not yet made but scheduled for the January “sequester” if Congress does not pass a budget.

How is President Obama exclusively responsible for the sequester agreement passed in both Houses of Congress?  Not clear, but Governor Romney is alleged to have opposed the agreement, which is easy enough since he is not a member of Congress.  The President however failed to “steer” the Congressional super-committee to an agreement and has not accepted the Ryan budget plan:

In short, the Commander in Chief is holding our national security and our commitment to veterans hostage to his agenda of tax increases.

It would be at least as correct to say that the Republicans are holding our economy hostage to their agenda of tax cuts.

In all this budget talk, some fundamental facts are lost:  the United States spends more on defense than the next 17 countries in the world combined, and all but a handful of those are allies or friends.  There is little sign on the horizon of any conventional military threat to the United States for at least 20 years.  The only immediate potential military challenge other than the war we are finishing in Afghanistan is the Iranian nuclear program, which is a war we or ally Israel will initiate.  The Republicans know this, and the Ryan budget actually proposes a cut in Defense spending for fiscal year 2013, which starts on October 1:

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Conventional military challenges may be few, but there are lots of non-conventional and largely non-military challenges in today’s world:  weak and failing states, states transitioning to democracy, regional instability in the Middle East and East Asia, terrorist havens, economic collapse, pandemic disease….  The Pentagon budget is not going to help a lot with these challenges, and for many it is the most expensive, not the most cost-effective, way to go.  Romney supports the Ryan budget, which makes massive cuts in the kind of civilian foreign affairs spending that would help us to meet those challenges.

The Republicans complain that the only program Obama is all too willing to cut is our military. This is not true.  As the GOP never tires of pointing out, he has proposed (and convinced the Congress to pass) $716 billion in cuts to Medicare. The defense budget is by far the largest discretionary slice of Federal spending.  There is not credible way to cut Federal expenditures and leave it untouched, much less pay for the increases that the Ryan budget plan proposes in the out years.

Obama’s purported defense budget “cuts” made so far would not cut the defense budget at all, but only slow its increase.  The GOP allegation that the president is pursuing a policy of unilateral disarmament is false, as is the allegation that he has sent a message of weakness abroad, leading our friends to question our staying power and emboldening our adversaries.  Our allies and friends in Europe and Asia are sticking close by and our adversaries–if you count as such al Qaeda, Iran, and North Korea–have a good deal to fear from an administration that has been tough-minded about tightening the screws.

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My Kosovo, past and future

Friends in Pristina asked me for a personal reflection on Kosovo’s past and future on the occasion of the end of supervised independence, to be marked tomorrow.  I prepared this:

I first saw Kosovo sometime in 1998.  It was at war.  Less than 15 years later, it is not only at peace but also an independent state capable of fulfilling the complex and difficult requirements of the Comprehensive Peace Settlement that Belgrade rejected but Pristina accepted.  How did Kosovo get from there to here, and where does it go next?

My memories of that first visit to Kosovo are now hazy.  But it would be hard to forget visiting the Council for Human Rights and Freedoms, where our U.S. Institute of Peace delegation was shown documentation of human rights abuses.  We also visited the Serbian administration of the province, which denied the abuses and refused our invitation to visit the Council less than 200 meters away.   We drove out to Malisheva, where there had been vicious attacks by both Albanians and Serbs.  We ran into a Kosovo Liberation Army contingent as well as the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM).

After the war, I would focus on restoring relationships:  first among Albanians at Lansdowne in 1999, then between Kosovo and Belgrade Serbs at a meeting in Sofia in 2000, and later between Serbs and Albanians in Gjilan/Gnijlane and other municipalities as well as at the Kosovo-wide level (Airlie House).  Throughout I had the support of both Serbs—several of whom were senior fellows at USIP—and Albanians.  The Bajraktari brothers worked for me in the 2000s, got masters’ degrees at Princeton and Harvard and now serve as U.S. government officials in the White House and Defense Department.

Later I would go back to the same building in which I had met the Serb administrators to see Jock Covey, Gary Matthews, Bernard Kouchner and Hans Haekkerup, the UN administrators.  Michael Steiner, with whom I worked at Dayton, had moved to a different building, now being renovated for the Kosovo Foreign Ministry.  I don’t remember having had the pleasure of seeing Soren Jessen-Petersen in Pristina, but he would come for private chats from time to time in Washington, as did Kai Eide, Nebojsa Covic, Dusan Batakovic, Father Sava, Bishop Artemije, Ramush Haradinaj, Veton Surroi, Rada Trajkovic, Hashim Thaci, Alush Gashi and many others.  On visits to Pristina I would call on Ibrahim Rugova, who served Coke and loaded my pockets with rocks—they are still here in my office.

Gradually, it became far more important to talk with Kosovans (I gather that is the dissonant but accepted non-ethnic term for those who regard Kosovo as their home) than with internationals.  Today the American Ambassador still carries great weight in Kosovo, but she will be the last of the internationals to trump the locals.  Pieter Feith, who had “Bonn”-type powers to legislate and remove officials, wisely never used them.  The termination of his International Civilian Office is a sign of real progress, even if some see the glass as half empty.  The UN Mission in Kosovo has only a minor role.  EULEX, the European Union Rule of Law Mission, still provides international prosecutors and judges, but its overstaffing is now being reduced.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe (OSCE) will likely be one of the last pillars standing among the internationals, as its democratization efforts are all too obviously needed to support free and fair elections, free media and an open society.

There is real progress in Kosovo, but it is not enough to satisfy me.  I have two concerns:  international and internal.

The ninety-odd international recognitions that Kosovo rightly vaunts have not been easy to get, but the country needs more.  The Belgrade campaign against recognition and UN membership is unworthy of a good neighbor, but it has been more successful than many of us expected and is likely to continue.  Rather than entering easily into the General Assembly without many bilateral recognitions, as so many new states do, Kosovo is going to have to accumulate the 130 or so recognitions required for a 2/3 majority.  Even then, the problem of the Russian veto will make approval in the UN Security Council a matter for high-level diplomacy.

The internal problems are also important.  There can be no doubt about the legitimacy of Kosovo’s institutions for the overwhelming majority of the population.  No one even proposed a referendum on independence because the outcome was so obvious.  But legitimacy has to be maintained, not just won once.  There are two sets of issues, one old and declining, the other newer and growing.  The first is among the Serbs.  The second is among the Albanians.  The issues are related.  Both also affect the question of international legitimacy.

Few Serbs welcomed Kosovo independence, but many south of the Ibar river have accepted it.  They enjoy their rights to self-governance under the Ahtisaari plan and participate in Kosovo institutions, but there are too few of them.  Belgrade never hesitates to cite the low numbers of returns and the high, often exaggerated, numbers of refugees still in Serbia proper, but of course it does not encourage returns because that would legitimize the Kosovo institutions.

It is the duty of the loyal Kosovar to try to repair this situation by making it clear that Serbs are welcome to return.  This means treating them properly, protecting them from abuse and respecting their rights.  I understand that for some people this is difficult, because of the bad treatment of Albanians under the Serbian administration.  But it is the right thing to do, and the best thing for the sake of Kosovo and international recognition.  No one in Madrid is going to consider recognizing Kosovo if there is even a hint of Serbs being mistreated there.

There is a second problem among Albanians.  The Kosovo state is independent, but it is still limited in some respects.  I see the glass as half full.  Some of the limitations most people in Kosovo welcome—I don’t know anyone who wants NATO to leave.  It is very convenient to have international prosecutors and judges in the Kosovo judicial system, so that inter-ethnic cases can be handled and the constitutional court can make difficult decisions.  But other restraints are perceived by many Kosovars as unjust.  Some would even resort to violence to change the situation, for example in the north.  Others might like Kosovo, in contradiction of its constitution, to give up on independence and join Albania.

Apart from the international constraints, there is also a strong feeling in parts of the Albanian population that the Kosovo state has not created sufficient economic opportunity and is corrupt.  As a foreigner who does not have investments in Kosovo, it is hard for me to know how bad the situation is, but when a prominent lawyer suggests to me that no prisoner can hope to get an easy sentence without paying a bribe, I get worried.  I worry too about rumors of trafficking in people and drugs, about reports of nepotistic hiring, about apparent irregularities in government procurement.

Let me be clear.  Do I know that things are worse in Kosovo than in Serbia, Macedonia or Albania?  I do not.  Years ago when I complained to a Serbian deputy prime minister about corruption in Kosovo he replied:  don’t kid yourself, all the organized crime bosses are still in Belgrade.  But Kosovo is still a new and not yet firmly established state, one that desperately needs international recognition.  To get what it wants, Kosovo needs to show that it can clean its own house.

I speak bluntly.  It is my way.  But I also dream big.

My dream is that Kosovo, having worked itself out of international supervision, continues to do the right things:  it treats Serbs correctly and gets more of them back to their homes, it protects the churches and monasteries, it conducts a serious effort against corruption and organized crime, it cleans up its elections, it finds a way to cooperate with Belgrade in implementing the Ahtisaari plan and establishes the rule of law on its entire territory.  Foreign investment pours in, factories and call centers go up, agriculture thrives.  The Kosovo security forces, finding little role for themselves at home, begin to deploy in NATO operations.  Kosovo joins Partnership for Peace, becomes a candidate for NATO and EU membership and gets a date to begin EU negotiations.

Time flies.  It is 2020.  Kosovo is now a member of NATO, which has withdrawn KFOR.  Pristina has accelerated its preparations for European Union membership and is now catching up with Belgrade.  The two presidents decide to meet EU demands for good neighborly relations by recognizing each other and establishing diplomatic relations.  The American ambassador, respected but no longer a viceroy, is surprised but pleased.  Some aging Kosovar politicians insist on a referendum on EU membership and on recognition of Serbia, which passes overwhelmingly.  Membership is scheduled for 2022.  I’d like to be in Pristina for that!


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