Bill Frist As Sudan Envoy Has Some Things Going For It
  I've spilled a lot of words in this space about the degree of overlap between Presidents Obama and Bush on national security and foreign policy, and others have started to notice the same thing. But there's a fine line between doing the same thing as one's predecessor and acting in a nonpartisan spirit.

The notion to appoint former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican, as special envoy to Sudan would appear to be the latter. It's only a proposal so far, from Rep. Frank Wolf, an influential member of Congress on human rights. Wolf, though, says the administration likes the idea. Some Democrats may have leftover hard feelings about Frist, but on Darfur, Frist was ahead of the curve.

Any real skepticism about Frist's appointment has more to do with institutional questions: "An effective special envoy generally requires two important features: 1) diplomatic experience 2) access to the president. It strikes me that former Senator Frist possesses neither."

But it might be offset by the signal Frist's appointment would send: America is united on Darfur, left and right.
Tim Starks 28.02.2009, 15:40 # 2 Comments
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Foreign Policy + Everything
  During the campaign on this blog, I spent a lot of time talking about the way foreign policy linked to lots of other issues. The economy. Global warming. Etc.

As of Obama's State of the Union speech (I know, I know, he didn't call it that), it's clear that the president sees all those issues as interrelated, too.

As Heather Hurlburt noted over at Democracy Arsenal, the blog of the National Security Network: Her final thought, after "having sat through the whole thing, is to point out how we are moving toward a worlcd (sic) where there is no 'foreign policy section' because the issues are woven seamlessly through a framework of issues affecting America, energy security, global warming, and other issues."
Tim Starks 26.02.2009, 01:37 # 0 Comments
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All Foreign Cars For Auto Industry Task Force, But Does It Mean Anything?
  In a clever bit of populist/hometown reporting, the Detroit News found that most of the members of the president's task force on the auto industry owns foreign cars. Also cleverly, the paper just put the information out there -- no analysis, no experts quoted on whether this was a good or bad thing. Just information. Only the lede hints at a viewpoint, and even then it's carefully couched -- "The vehicles owned by the Obama administration's auto team could reflect one reason why Detroit's Big Three automakers are in trouble: The list includes few new American cars."

That's where everyone else comes in.

Automobile magazine suggests maybe there's something wrong with the team driving foreign cars: "As there seems to be little familiarity with the automotive world on this task force, we hope these guys and gals have some serious business and economic savvy."

Autoblog is less convinced: "Between the flow of bailout bucks and the economic turmoil threatening to topple the Detroit 3, you'd figure the investigative efforts of the Detroit News would be better spent digging through the viability plans of Chrysler and General Motors, delving into the minutia that could make or break the domestic automobile industry. Apparently not."
Tim Starks 24.02.2009, 00:34 # 5 Comments
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Obama: "Wolf In Sheep's Clothing" Regarding War, Anti-Terror, Hawkish Rhetoric
  The New York Daily News' sharp James Gordon Meek has a piece up expanding on a theme I've returned to here numerous times: That is, whether President Obama is as dovish and different from President Bush on national security as anyone perceived.

Raising points I haven't in previous posts, Meek directs readers' attention to a few items. Hillary Clinton's warnings to North Korea. The hawkish argument for getting out of Iraq to focus more on Afghanistan. That rather than waiting for enemies to "test" him, Obama is putting those enemies on their heels.

It's a typically excellent piece from the NYDN man. Read it here.
Tim Starks 22.02.2009, 16:43 # 1 Comment
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On Burma, An Early Test Of Obama Policy, And An Overlooked, Difficult Problem
  With President Obama's trip to Canada hogging most of the headlines about U.S. foreign relations, it was only natural that Hillary Clinton's announcement that the United States was looking at a shift on Burma policy didn't get much play in the news.

The country's repressive regime hasn't gotten the kind of attention here that other countries with human rights challenges have, like Sudan. The U.S. has been hitting Burma's junta with economic sanctions, recently strengthened, to no avail.

Now, Clinton won't won't rule out the easing of sanctions or direct diplomacy. It's a somewhat intractable problem, Burma, and it's complicated by the fact that Congress may not be all that interested in undoing its recent strengthening of those sanctions.

The Washington Post this morning editorialized on the subject: "PRESIDENT OBAMA'S inaugural address made the world's tyrants a proposition. 'We will extend a hand,' Mr. Obama said, 'if you are willing to unclench your fist.' It now appears that Burma could be one of the first test cases for this approach."

As the Post notes, there's been no fist unclenching it can detect.
Tim Starks 20.02.2009, 21:48 # 0 Comments
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Harmony Between U.S. And Canada On Trade, Or Signs Of Trouble Ahead?
  It's very interesting to behold most of the headlines about President Obama's trip to Canada. "Obama reassures Canada on open trade," the way Reuters went, was typical. Usually, the stories include an emphasis up high on the pro-trade message Obama sent: "'Now is a time where we have to be very careful about any signals of protectionism,' Obama told a joint news conference after several hours of talks with [Canadian Prime Minister Stephen] Harper on his one-day visit to Ottawa. 'And as obviously one of the largest economies in the world, it's important for us to make sure that we are showing leadership in the belief that trade ultimately is beneficial to all countries,' he said. He stressed the United States would meet its international trade obligations and told Harper he wanted to 'grow trade not contract it.'"

By contrast, I liked the "but wait" approach taken by The Guardian. Its headline instead reads, "President Barack Obama raises Nafta renegotiation during first official visit to Canada." Obama, the paper wrote, "tried to square a campaign pledge to renegotiate the agreement while at the same time avoid sparking a trade war with Canada. Obama told reporters at the press conference in Ottawa he wanted to begin talks on adding provisions to the agreement relating to workers and to the environment. 'My hope is as our advisers and staffs and economic teams work this through that there's a way of doing this that is not disruptive to the extraordinarily important trade relationship that exists between the two countries,' he said."

This is going to be a very difficult balancing act. On the campaign trail, Obama threatened to pull out of the trade agreement within six months unless it was renegotiated, and he cited a variety of concerns, many of them coming from skepticism that NAFTA had benefited the United States. It's one thing to express opposition on Thursday to "protectionism," but unless Obama is prepared to ditch his campaign pledge, his stance on renegotiating NAFTA will one day soon send exactly the opposite "signals."
Tim Starks 20.02.2009, 01:38 # 0 Comments
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Like I Was Saying, Afghanistan Proves Obama And Bush Are Totally Different On Foreign Policy
  Yes. So. Yesterday I was raising questions about whether President Bush and President Obama are very different on foreign policy -- or, more correctly, I was pointing you to points raised by others.

Today, a contrasting view must be offered. The 17,000 troops Obama plans to deploy to Afghanistan is a very, very different approach toward that country. Certainly, Bush shifted some troops there several months ago. But this is a far bigger deployment, signaling a big break on one major issue from Bush on foreign policy.

By itself, the move doesn't rebut the point of the points made by Stratfor that I linked to yesterday. There is still, in many categories, "continuity" between Bush and Obama. But as of today, there is one fewer.
Tim Starks 18.02.2009, 03:47 # 1 Comment
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Overlap Between Obama, Bush On Foreign Policy, National Security
  I wrote a piece for CQPolitics.com about how there are many areas of intelligence policy where President Obama is either much the same as President Bush or has left open the option of doing much the same as his predecessor: rendition, interrogation, surveillance, etc. You can read it here.

But the trend apparently extends to the entire international arena. At least, that's the implication of a Strafor piece you can read here. It argues of Vice President Biden's speech in Munich: "Most conference attendees were looking forward to a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration. What was interesting about Biden’s speech was how little change there has been in the U.S. position and how much the attendees and the media were cheered by it."
Tim Starks 16.02.2009, 21:01 # 0 Comments
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Worldwide Threat -- The Testimony
  I could write a dozen blog entries on the latest annual "Worldwide Threat" briefing -- there's something in there about a great many countries, and various pieces of it have been broken out about India, Latin America and everywhere else -- or I could just point you to it in case you haven't seen it yet.

It's here.
Tim Starks 15.02.2009, 07:54 # 0 Comments
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More On Travel Plans: No Trip To A Muslim Capital In The First 100 Days
  Just to follow up on Michael's post, it is not just the lack of travel to Europe by Hillary Clinton that is worth a little examination. It very much appears that President Obama will not, after all, give a policy speech in a Muslim capital in his first 100 days, an idea that the campaign had mulled at one point.

Of course, he did give his first interview to a Middle East news outlet, which perhaps had a similar effect: communicating that Obama would pay close attention to and open a dialogue of sorts with the Muslim world.

And you can't exactly call it a broken campaign pledge, because it was only ever a discussion by aides that was reported by the New York Times.

There's a secondary question of whether Obama will follow through on a proposal to hold a summit with Muslim leaders.
Tim Starks 13.02.2009, 01:35 # 0 Comments
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More On The Military/State Division Of Labor
  Because I've returned to the subject from time to time, this Walter Pincus piece on the question of shifting responsibilities back from the Pentagon to State is worth reading.

Noteworthy: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also thinks that foreign policy has become too "militarized."

But having folk in the military world on board so as to avoid turf wars is just step one in the transition. Even in ideal circumstances, and these are not ideal circumstances, it's going to be hard to scale back the Pentagon role in favor of State and other agencies. Funding is another part of the equation, and that won't be easy. Yet another, which I hadn't thought of until reading the piece, is the idea that Defense has a unique culture that makes it easier for it to perform overseas roles.

"Although the problem is recognized, [Adm. Michael] Mullen said, 'We're a good decade away before we've created . . . the capacity and the career paths [for] young people who will come into the Agriculture Department and say, 'Part of my life is, I expect to go to Afghanistan for a year out of every four or five.' . . .That is not what they thought their career path would include at this point.'"
Tim Starks 11.02.2009, 02:19 # 0 Comments
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Cybersecurity Increasingly The Hot Intelligence Issue
  On Monday, President Obama announced a 60-day review of federal cybersecurity programs. It was but the latest uptick in federal government concentration on protecting computer networks.

Given increasing reliance on those computer networks, it's already unsurprising that there would be an increasing focus on cybersecurity as an intelligence issue. The campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain were hacked at one point, and recently news surfaced of breaches in Congress' cyber defenses. Both nominees to Obama administration top administration posts told the Senate that cybersecurity was high on their list of issues, and the last director of National Intelligence said it was one area he wishes he was further along on before stepping down.

The future of what the United States will do on this front is ambiguous, but it's clear that the attention is only going to increase. In fiscal 2009, the top item in the intelligence budget was a cybersecurity initiative, according to the House Intelligence Committee. And Reuters reported: "Industry executives say the sector will be one of their fastest-growing markets in coming years, and analysts say it could generate over $10 billion in contracts by 2013."
Tim Starks 10.02.2009, 02:52 # 0 Comments
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Cheney Goes A Little Off Message On Terror War-Rights Debate
  Ex-vice president Dick Cheney's interview this week has been discussed nearly to death, but there's a point I haven't seen raised about this quote:

"When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry."

Obviously, Miranda rights don't enter into this, so Cheney is talking generally here about rights vs. security. But Republicans always say that's a false choice, and that the controversial programs of the Bush administration both protected rights and ensured security. So is Cheney now saying that security trumps rights?

It's possible he's resorting to administration legal arguments that terrorists fundamentally don't have rights, and not saying you have to pick between security and the rights of citizens. But it's ambiguous enough that it made me wonder if, outside the message-massaging Bush White House, whether Cheney honestly has always thought you have to sacrifice one to get the other. (That's an argument anyone is welcome to have, but it's a different argument altogether.)

That's the way Obama administration CIA pick Leon Panetta took it, anyway, at the confirmation hearing I attended today: "I was disappointed by those comments, because the implication is that somehow this country is more vulnerable to attack because the president of the United States wants to abide by the law and the Constitution. I think we’re a stronger nation when we abide by the law and the Constitution."
Tim Starks 06.02.2009, 01:39 # 0 Comments
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Judd Gregg Gives The Obama Administration Its Biggest Advocate Of Free Trade
  Judd Gregg's selection for Commerce secretary closes the loop on a subject I've written about in this space a couple times. The Obama administration has filled some key trade-related positions with people who are on all sides of the trade debate, and I'd wondered whether the president would replace the departed pro-"free trader" Bill Richardson with someone who's more in the "fair trade" camp.

Nope. Obama could hardly have picked a more pro-free trade Commerce secretary. In the past 15 years or so, Gregg has voted against only one major free trade deal. You can check out his entire record here.
Tim Starks 04.02.2009, 05:29 # 0 Comments
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Obama-Iran Talks Already Happened (Maybe)
  We link, you decide.

AFP: "US President Barack Obama has already used experts within the last few months to hold high-level but discreet talks with both Iran and Syria, organizers of the meetings told AFP."

Mere Rhetoric: "Any meetings that happened between November and the inauguration - that was merely Obama circumventing and potentially undermining a sitting Commander In Chief."

The Cable: "'All the reports that say ‘Obama talks secretly with Iran' are wrong,' Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, the secretary general of Pugwash and the key mover behind the dialogue told The Cable Monday. 'These were not official negotiations. First of all, the dates of all our meetings were in 2008,' when the Bush administration was still in power."
Tim Starks 03.02.2009, 05:00 # 0 Comments
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"Buy American" Debate Hits The Stimulus
  A "Buy American" provision in the stimulus has provoked a heated debate inside and outside Congress, with even the Obama administration taking two seemingly different stances.

ABC News has the best take on the domestic dispute. The International Herald Tribune has the best take on the international backlash.

It's still early, but with fire coming from a few different directions over this bill, enough opposition to the provision could force its removal, lest it threaten to help sink the overall legislation. There is some divide over this issue domestically, and many past Buy American feuds have ended in a standstill -- although that was in a different economic environment.
Tim Starks 02.02.2009, 01:25 # 0 Comments
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Progressives Voice Complaints About Obama Foreign Policy Picks
  Yes, it's a trend, at least of perception. No more question marks, like the one that accompanies a recent post. There is at least a significant segment of the left that views the Obama foreign policy team as hawkish, whether it is or not.

That, in fact, is the very premise of this AlterNet piece. The author, Stephen Zunes, views essentially every Obama pick on foreign policy as highly interested in military intervention, and explains why. One way of looking at it, which even Zunes acknowledges, is that Obama establishes his non-ideological approach to things by picking people who lean right (or lean more right than some of the left would like).

Why does this matter, beyond the mere labels of things? Because if enough progressives mount complaints like this, it could have an impact on the shaping of policy. It is at least arguable that pressure from progressives already derailed the prospective nomination of John Brennan as director of the CIA.

And Zunes spells out the strategy: "Another reason that an Obama administration will not likely be as far to the right as these appointments may imply is that his electoral base – energized by popular opposition to the Iraq War – is perhaps the most progressive in history when it comes to foreign policy. It is also the most engaged and organized base the party has ever seen. Once the relief of Bush's departure and the glow of Obama's inauguration has worn off, he will have to face the millions of people responsible for his election who will expect him to keep his word regarding 'change you can believe in'... As a result, what may be most important will not be the people that Obama appoints, but the choices we give them."
Tim Starks 01.02.2009, 01:34 # 0 Comments
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