The Netanyahu Speech: Protocol is a Diversion

So here, again, are the facts: John Boehner invited Bibi to speak on an issue of national importance to both the United States and to Israel, and Bibi accepted. The White House was informed of the invitation in advance, as is proper. Democrats were not consulted. Tzipi Livni, Buji Herzog, Jonathan Greenblatt, and the editorial board of the New York Times were not consulted either. This is all according to custom and according to precedent. Any other reading of this story is a violation of protocol.

The True Rift Between Netanyahu and Obama Is About Policy, Not Politesse
Liel Leibovitz
Tablet Magazine
ebruary 12, 2015

Leibovitz and I share a deep discomfort with Netanyahu, and in matters of policy do not usually count ourselves among Bibi’s defenders.

But this meme that somehow the White House was “snubbed” in this process, or that inviting the Israeli Prime Minister to speak to Congress (and his acceptance of that invitation) was a violation of protocol is factually incorrect. Liebovitz explains why, and in great detail.

And this is vital. If what Liebovitz says is true, than one could conclude that the White House and/or its allies are inflating this non-issue as a means of distracting from the real matter at hand: the administration’s policy toward Iran.

The Administration seeks to pursue a relatively novel policy toward Iran and its ability to manufacture nuclear arms. The Administration appears to be of the opinion that “normalized” relations with Iran are of such value that it is worth allowing an unstable theocracy that pours its national treasure into non-state actors who are destabilizing the region and terrorizing the world to become a nuclear power.  That approach is at odds with decades of US policy.

Congress has an advise and consent role in the conduct of foreign policy. Liebovitz points out that Netanyahu, representing the one nation on earth most threatened by an Iranian bomb, has a point of view on the matter that is worth considering as Congress takes on its lawful role as overseer of foreign policy. Given that “March 24 is the deadline for the framework agreement in the coming negotiations with Iran,” the timing for the Prime Minister to air his concerns and for Congress to debate their veracity and their relevance to US foreign policy is entirely appropriate.

I have been against the idea of this speech, and not because I am concerned about protocol. Rather, I am concerned about how Bibi’s speaking gives ammunition to those who believe, as does John Mearsheimer, that American policy toward Israel is driven by AIPAC and the desire to court what is anachronistically referred to as “the Jewish Vote.”

I retain those concerns. The Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House tread on extraordinarily thin ice with America here. No foreign power should ever be allowed undue influence over American policy, and no special interest group (even my own) should be able to compel the government to conduct a policy inconsistent with the principles and broader interests of the American people.

The Prime Minister must use his time to make a policy case, not a political one. He must lay out what is at stake, why Israel is so threatened by Iranian Plutonium, and why the end of an American policy that has shielded Israel from harm must send Israel on a pathway that diverges from that of the Administration.

This may be the most important speech of Netanyahu’s career. Not because his political fortunes at home are at stake, but because the future of Israel’s relationship with America is in the balance.

Enough of the caterwauling: let the man speak his piece. And may he speak it well.

A Better Defense


To me the courage to rethink defense must include over a dozen major reforms inside the Pentagon, but more importantly a strategic one: we need to stop being interventionists, covert warriors, world police. There will always be a need to keep a sharp spear, but we are engaged in far too many places for reasons that defy any reasonable definition of the national interest.

Pentagon Problem Number One: Sycophants and Careerists


Three years later, a broadside called Self-Destruction: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army During the Vietnam Era, by a military officer writing under the pen name Cincinnatus (later revealed to be a lieutenant colonel serving in the reserves as a military chaplain, Cecil B. Currey), linked problems in Vietnam to the ethical and intellectual shortcomings of the career military. The book was hotly debated—but not dismissed. An article about the book for the Air Force’s Air University Review said that “the author’s case is airtight” and that the military’s career structure “corrupts those who serve it; it is the system that forces out the best and rewards only the sycophants.” (emphasis mine)

James Fallows
The Tragedy of the American Military
The Atlantic
anuary/February 2015

Nobody understands the dysfunctions in the Pentagon better than Fallows. He has been following the story for nearly four decades, and has perspective that few of us can match.

His point here about the corruption of careerists still applies. You can bet that not everyone with rank is a bootlicking mediocrity – I know several exceptions that disprove the rule. But the nature of the military’s career management system turns out a hugely disproportionate number of officers and top NCOs who are little more than self-interested careerists.

The officer procurement, development, and retention systems for each service are in desperate need of reform. That will demand political will and imagination. Eisenhower might have pulled it off. It will take a leader with great trust in the military to pull it off.

The A-10 Proves that the Air Force is a Careerist Service

The USAF’s leadership wants the A-10 Warthog retired seemingly at all costs. Now it appears that USAF went far beyond broken logic and used-car salesmanship to make their anti-Warthog case, cooking the books and apparently putting an informal gag order on officers that may otherwise tell the truth about the jet’s indispensable performance to Congress.

via At What Point Does The USAF’s War Against The A-10 Become Sabotage?.

Mind-boggling article and phenomenal reporting by Tyler Rogoway, who through offers the attempted purge of the A-10 from the US inventory as proof of a fundamental problem in the thinking of the US Air Force.


Is Hillary a closeted Neocon?

These conventional formulas stress Clinton’s exceptionalist faith in America’s unique responsibility for ‘global leadership’. There was a time when this meant leading by example, but since the Second World War, the phrase ‘global leadership’ has served as a euphemism for military intervention – multilateral if possible, unilateral if necessary. Indeed, exceptionalism has proved a durable justification for unilateralism. Presidential candidates from both parties have long felt obliged to pay homage to the exceptionalist creed, but Clinton’s attachment to it is obsessive.

via Jackson Lears reviews ‘Hard Choices’ by Hillary Clinton and ‘HRC’ by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes · LRB 5 February 2015.

Hillary will not be the only exceptionalist running for the presidency in 2016. As a matter of principle, though, we need to hold all of our candidates accountable if they retain this Kennedy-esque belief that the proper foreign policy direction of the nation is to use our might for right anywhere in the world where there is a decent LZ or a gently sloping beach.

Or where a very important donor has a personal interest.

A New Kind of Realism

It is necessary to present an alternative to the bipartisan foreign-policy consensus that has caused the United States to bounce from one ill-conceived military intervention to the next, with results that range from inconclusive to disastrous. Since the most extreme version of that consensus dominates Republican thinking, it would be optimal for the alternative to take root in the GOP.

Here’s How Rand Paul’s Conservative Realism Could Change the GOP”
W. James Antle III

The American Conservative
October 27, 2014

Exactly. I’m not ready to support Rand Paul – not by a long shot. But what he’s saying on foreign policy makes sense, and it behooves all of us in the GOP to see this as a welcome step away from the tired, disproven tropes of neoconservative foreign policy.

The Failure of COIN-based Foreign Policy

Revenge of the COIN Doctrine
Kelley Vlahos
The American Conservative
October 31, 2014

I grew up with the doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN). I have a decent stack of doctrine publications and field manuals on the topic, and I have to confess an attraction to the idea that better strategic approaches can beat an insurgency, one village at a time. There was enough evidence from the later years in Vietnam to suggest that, wheile we learned our lessons late, we learned our lessons. It was really hearts and minds, not kinetic weapons.

But the evidence coming in from a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has pulled the bung plug out of the bottom of the COIN boat. Whatever the tactical, short-term value that COIN may have, the shortcomings are enough to send military thinkers back to the drawing board.

The ugly truth – proven in Vietnam, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan – is that no level of success in winning hearts and minds at the village level can translate into nation building unless we have the wherewithal to turn a failed state into a successful one. Our lengthening string of failures since 1945 suggests that we do not have that wherewithal. It is, perhaps, time to stop trying.

Or, to put it more succinctly: we must stop basing our foreign policy decisions on the expectation that we can fix broken states. The money spent in the attempt is clearly better used at home.


The Military and Militarism

A major barrier to civilized, intelligent debate arises when we fail to see critical nuances, and when we lump together viewpoints that seem similar but that really have substantial differences.

An example: one of my big pet peeves is the conflation of “military” and “militarism,” as if anyone who ever put on a uniform or led people in uniform was by definition a militarist. In truth, the vast majority of people who make a career defending their countries do so with no other agenda than to keep their nation safe and try to make the world a better place.  It is a truism that nobody hates war more than a warrior: they are the most exposed to and impacted by the unrestrained horror of combat.

In fact, the greatest militarists in history were not soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines: they were politicians, pundits, demagogues, and defense contractors. Today, that list includes a broad range of the American citizenry, and even evangelicals. If you want to understand from whence cometh the American desire to wield the hammer of kinetic power, Andrew Bacevich’s superbly researched The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War points to the sources of militarism, and the average person in uniform doesn’t even figure.

Why is this important? Because when we start making the military equivalent to militarism, we undermine the legitimacy of providing for our own national defense. Militarism is a bad thing. But let us not forget that the US armed forces have stood against some of the largest sources of militarism in history. When by action or neglect you defang your military, you simply telegraph an invitation to the nearest militarist to use your country as a doormat.

Both a wise citizen and a capable statesman should stand opposed to militarism and should guard against it in themselves. But that is not the same as seeing the armed forces as a hammer and all of the worlds problems as a series of nails.

Ebola Demands Science First, not Politics

Nassim Taleb: What People Don’t Understand About Ebola”
Shane Ferro

Business Insider
October 17, 2014

One of the reasons that it is unconscionable to take a gratuitously partisan position on the current Ebola outbreak is that genuine dialogue is obscured by politically-motivated posturing. Let’s be blunt: anyone taking a position on Ebola to either attack or defend the current administration is taking away from our ability to address the problem, and you would be advised to shut up. You’re not helping.

And let’s be clear: some of the rhetoric being tossed about in an effort to calm the hype has shot into logically-indefensible territory. Shane Ferro quotes Nassim Taleb, he of The Black Swan, in the latter’s effort to shut down the “nothing to see here” crowd.

The argument that the US should be more worried about a disease like cancer — which has more stable rates of infection than Ebola does currently — is a logic that Taleb calls “the empiricism of the idiots.”

The basic idea: The growth rate of Ebola infection is nonlinear, so the number of people catching it doubles every 20 days. Because of this, you have to act quickly at the source of infections, he says. “The closer you are to the source, the more effective you are at slowing it down … it is much more rational to prevent it now than later.”

Isolate the source of the disease, address it there. The longer we wait to do these things, the more pain we are buying the planet.

A Better Way to NATO

Professor James R. Holmes writes in The Diplomat (“A Clausewitzian Biew of NATO”) that it is time we put Europe on notice: if you are not going to pay to defend yourself, neither are we. We will match our spending levels to yours, but we will not fight your wars for you. Brilliant.

Let’s tell our “allies” in Asia the same thing. We will always stand by our friends, but friends don’t let frends become free-riders. Not when it comes to treasure, and never when it comes to blood.