Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category

Will the Administration Resist Calls for More Troops?

October 5, 2009

The Obama administration may be preparing to resist calls for more troops in Afghanistan.  Senior military leaders have suggested that more soldiers and Marines are needed to prevent defeat at the hands of the Taliban.  Gen. Stanely McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, recently requested 40,000 additional troops to augment counterinsurgency efforts, and the administration is debating whether to agree to the proposal.

Many Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain, are also calling for more troops.

But some civilian leaders are wary of the idea, including Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. President Obama reportedly shares some of their concerns.

Recent comments by senior officials suggest that the administration might be preparing to deny Gen. McChrystal’s request. 

Yesterday, retired Gen. James Jones, the president’s national security adviser, said that he disagreed with Gen. McChrystal’s assessment that Afghanistan is in “imminent danger” of falling to the Taliban.  He also said that Gen. McChrystal’s views are merely “his opinion” of “what he thinks his role within that [Afghanistan] strategy is.”

Gen. Jones and other senior administration officials have recently claimed that the threat posed by Al Qaeda has severely diminished because of better intelligence capabilities and airstrikes by remotely-operated drones.  Such claims might be used to justify a decision not to send more troops.

If Secretary Gates and Gen. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly express doubt that deploying more soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan is a good idea, it will be a strong indicator that President Obama has rejected Gen. McChrystal’s proposal.

Robert Gates: Mystery Man

September 22, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is highly regarded by members of both political parties.  He has served in Republican and Democratic administrations (he succeeded Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense in 2006 during the George W. Bush administration), and he is not a controversial figure despite his support of controversial policies.  He reportedly is more respected and has more clout at the Pentagon than many of his predecessors (his nickname there is “the Godfather”).  He is considered a moderate who is somewhere between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden on the hawk-dove spectrum.

Yet it is unclear exactly what Mr. Gates’ philosophy is when it comes to key defense policies.  During the Bush administration, he supported the troop surge in Iraq and the decision to build missile defense sites in Eastern Europe.  But now that President Obama is in office, Mr. Gates is wary of sending more soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan, and he has advocated a major alteration in America’s missile defense strategy.  The Bush missile defense system in Eastern Europe was aimed against potential intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) launched from Iran, but the new system will be based at sea (and possibly in Turkey) and will be designed as a shield against short-and-medium-range missiles that Iran is developing.

What explains Mr. Gates’ shifts in opinion?  Is he is a pragmatist who believes that situations have changed and therefore policies must change?  Or is he a strategic chameleon who simply reinforces the views that the president already holds?  For example, President Bush was inclined to increase troop levels in Iraq, but President Obama (who was against the troop surge in Iraq) is hesitant to send more soldiers to Afghanistan, and Mr. Gates has seemingly shared both opinions which are contradictory in terms of what he believes the size of America’s footprint in foreign countries should be.  Does he believe that the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan are fundamentally different?  Or has he merely been mirroring two different presidents?

Mr. Gates has not been a flip-flopper across the board.  He has been consistent when it comes to the force mix of the military.  He has put a greater emphasis on small-wars and counterinsurgency capabilities vis-a-vis large-scale conventional warfare capabilities ever since he took the job of defense secretary.  And he has advocated greater civilian involvement in nation-building efforts throughout his tenure.

I am not anti-Gates, nor am I trying to denigrate him regarding specific policies.  Perhaps he is a very pragmatic man who is not bound by rigid philosophical beliefs, which is a valuable trait in a defense secretary.  But it would be interesting and helpful to know if he has a vision for the long-term development of the military given the importance of his position in that regard.

Obama Announces New Missile Defense Plan

September 17, 2009

Today, President Obama announced that his administration will not pursue the missile defense plan of the George W. Bush administration, but it will develop a different one.  The old plan was to base an advanced radar system in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland.  The new plan is to deploy S-3 interceptor missiles at sea and eventually on land, most likely in Turkey and Southern Europe.  The new system is designed to defend against medium-range ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear warheads.  The old one was designed to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the US.  

The Bush system was intended to thwart a missile attack from Iran, and the new one has the same purpose.  Intelligence officials believe that Iran is much closer to developing medium-range missiles, and therefore those weapons currently pose the greatest threat.  Intelligence officials also believe that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge which the Iranian government denies, and this assumption has created a sense of urgency among American policymakers to deploy a missile defense system as soon as possible.  The first deployment of the S-3s will likely be completed by the end of 2011, with additional deployments of more advanced technology to follow.  This first deployment will occur seven years before the Bush system was to become operational.

The new system was the brainchild of Dean Wilkening, a Stanford University physicist.  Mr. Wilkening argued that basing radars and interceptor missiles closer to the Middle East made more sense than placing them in Central Europe given the nature of the Iranian threat.

The alteration of the missile defense plan could have several positive consequences.  One is that it could help improve American relations with Russia, a country that had vehemently opposed the deployment of a missile defense system close to its borders.  It could also help dissuade Israel from launching a preemptive attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, an act which could have devastating consequences for the region and the US, because the new system could at least theoretically defend Israel from a medium-range Iranian missile attack.  On a related note, the system could also potentially defend Arab countries, a fact that might convince them that they do not need to possess nuclear weapons to deter Iran.

A possible downside to the change is that Poland and the Czech Republic might feel like the US is less committed to their defense.  The administration has denied that that is the case, and reminded other nations that under the NATO charter the US is required to defend its alliance allies from any external attack. 

One way to alleviate Czech and Polish concerns would be to permanently station American troops in those countries.  Such a symbolic deployment would almost certainly convince America’s Central European allies that the US would defend them against an attack launched by Russia or another power, because any American administration would certainly not refrain from rushing to the defense of its military forces in response to an act of aggression that threatened them.

Fight Breaks Out in South Korean Parliament

July 22, 2009

Earlier today, a fight broke out in South Korea’s parliament over a media reform bill that would loosen restrictions on ownership of television networks.  Opposition parties attempted to block legislators from the ruling National Party from entering the assembly room by stacking furniture near the entrance to the chamber.  National Party members managed to overcome the obstacles and enter the room, where they successfully passed the bills and precipitated a melee.  Injuries were reported and one woman was taken to the hospital.

This is not the first time that legislative contoversy has resulted in violence among South Korean parliamentarians.  Last year, opposition party members pounded their way into a committee room with sledgehammers in an effort to prevent the ruling party from drafting a bill to ratify a free trade agreement with the US.

Major confrontation is much more prevalent in legislative assemblies in many foreign countries than it is in the American Congress.  Multiple fights have occured in South Korea.  Earlier this year, there was a physical clash between lawmakers in Malaysia.  Scuffles also broke out in Japan and India last year.  In 2007, Turkish lawmakers got in a fistfight, and a Ukrainian politician was attacked by a member of a rival party after complaining about the vote for prime minister.  In 2006, a fight broke out in the Afghan legislature and violence occured in the Iraqi parliament over a politician’s ringtone on her cell phone.  In 2003,  Venezuelan assemblymen came to blows.  These are just a few examples of literal legislative fights.

There have been no serious physical altercations in the US Congress since the 19th century.  The most infamous one occured in the 1850s, when Rep. Preston Brooks beat Sen. Charles Sumner with a cane over the issue of slavery and almost killed him.