Kevin Drum

The Mullen Doctrine

| Tue Mar. 16, 2010 12:27 PM EDT

Spencer Ackerman reports today on the Mullen Doctrine, unveiled in a speech at Kansas State University earlier this month. Echoing Clausewitz, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told his audience that war is diplomacy by other means:

Perhaps Mullen’s most provocative “principle,” as he called it in the speech, is that military forces “should not — maybe cannot — be the last resort of the state.” On the surface, Mullen appeared to offer a profligate view of sending troops to battle, contradicting the Powell Doctrine’s warning that the military should only be used when all other options exhaust themselves. Powell’s warning has great appeal to a country exhausted by two costly, protracted wars, one of which was launched long before diplomatic options had run out.

But Mullen’s aides said the chairman was trying to make a subtler point, one that envisioned the deployment of military forces not as a sharp change in strategy from diplomacy but along a continuum of strategy alongside it. “The American people are used to thinking of war and peace as two very distinct activities,” said Air Force Col. Jim Baker, one of Mullen’s advisers for military strategy. “That is not always the case.” In the speech, Mullen focused his definition of military force on the forward deployment of troops or hardware to bolster diplomatic efforts or aid in humanitarian ones, rather than the invasions that the last decade saw.

Italics mine. To be honest, I'm not sure the American people do think of war and peace as two very distinct activities. America has sent troops into significant combat actions eight times over the past three decades — more depending on what you count as "significant" — which means that the American public is pretty damn used to the idea of troops being sent overseas at virtually the drop of a hat. Sending troops into trouble spots is very much the norm for Americans, not an unusual occurrence. Mullen seems to be acknowledging this more than he is trying to change public perceptions about it.

Now, Mullen tempered his advice by suggesting we shouldn't send troops to war unless and until all the related civilian agencies were ready to go too:

Mullen’s major proposal is that the military should be deployed for future counterinsurgencies or other unconventional conflicts “only if and when the other instruments of national power are ready to engage as well,” such as governance advisers, development experts, and other civilians. “We ought to make it a precondition of committing our troops,” Mullen said, warning that “we aren’t moving fast enough” to strengthen the institutional capacity of the State Department and USAID in order to lift the greatest burdens of national security off the shoulders of the military.

Is this something that mitigates Mullen's seeming willingness to use military force more frequently? I'm not so sure. Partly it's just the same sniping between the Pentagon and the State Department that's been around forever but has become especially acute over the past decade. But it's also partly a positive recommendation that we beef up our civilian capacity so that we can intervene overseas more effectively. Mullen is apparently afraid that lack of civilian capacity will hamstring our ability to use military force in short, intense bursts, something that he thinks we should be better at.

This ought to be more controversial than it is. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars have made it clear that the occcupation phase of wars is as important as the main combat phase, so it makes sense to focus on improving that. At the same time, those wars (as well as Kosovo) have also made it clear just how difficult and resource intensive long-term occupations are. Getting "better" at it will be immensely costly.

So: just how good do we want to be at this stuff? Good enough that we can continue to intervene frequently in overseas conflicts? Or just good enough that we can do a decent job on the rare occasions when we really need to intervene overseas? I'd vote for the latter, but in any case, it's not a decision that should be made without lots of public buy-in in the first place.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Deem and Pass

| Tue Mar. 16, 2010 11:33 AM EDT

If you have a life, you don't care about the subject of this post and have never heard of it. But then there are the rest of us, the people who read (and write!) this blog, and for us the issue of the day is "deem and pass":

After laying the groundwork for a decisive vote this week on the Senate's health-care bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Monday that she might attempt to pass the measure without having members vote on it. Instead, Pelosi (D-Calif.) would rely on a procedural sleight of hand: The House would vote on a more popular package of fixes to the Senate bill; under the House rule for that vote, passage would signify that lawmakers "deem" the health-care bill to be passed.

The tactic — known as a "self-executing rule" or a "deem and pass" — has been commonly used, although never to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health-care bill. It is one of three options that Pelosi said she is considering for a late-week House vote, but she added that she prefers it because it would politically protect lawmakers who are reluctant to publicly support the measure.

For Republicans, this is the latest sign of a liberal apocalypse. Here's Sarah Palin tweeting frantically: "Listen2 MARK LEVIN radio;he argues Obamacare passage plan UNCONSTITUTIONAL (will Dems care about that?) Art. I is clear how bill becomes law"

Well, whatever. Republicans have used this procedural tactic before too, Democrats have challenged it, and the Supreme Court ruled that it was fine. So they're on thin ice both on grounds of partisan hypocrisy and legal fundamentals. Still, it's remarkably tone deaf for Democrats to do this. Like it or not, process has become a big issue as healthcare has dragged along into its second year, and the public really does seem to have grown weary of endless procedural wankery. What's more, there's no benefit. Any Democrat who thinks that Republican attacks this fall are going to be blunted even a smidge because, technically, they voted for the package of fixes, not the main bill, is living in fantasy land.

In fact, it will probably just make things worse. They still will have voted for the Senate bill, but it'll look like they're trying to hide the fact. That's the worst possible tack they can take. For the fence sitters, their best hope is to pass the bill — through gritted teeth if they must — and then come out of the House chamber smiling broadly and proclaiming it a historic advance for ordinary Americans of all incomes etc. etc.

To summarize then: deem-and-pass won't help anyone, puts process back in the news, will give Republicans another free shot at Democrats, and makes individual House members look like cowards. But other than that it's a great idea.

End of Day Roundup

| Tue Mar. 16, 2010 1:55 AM EDT

Late night tab dump:

  • Healthcare. Is California a bellwether for the nation again? From the LA Times: "The state's uninsured population jumped to 8.2 million in 2009, up from 6.4 million in 2007....Among those over age 18, nearly 1 in 3 had no insurance for all or part of 2009, the UCLA researchers found. The ranks of uninsured children also grew."
     
  • The Middle East. Gen. David Petraeus recently dispatched a team to the Pentagon to carry a message: lack of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is endangering American troops. "The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises....The Mullen briefing and Petraeus's request hit the White House like a bombshell."
     
  • Debt Bomb. We all know about the coming wave of option ARM resets and commercial real estate defaults. But in 2012 a huge pile of junk bonds are going to come due too. "With huge bills about to hit corporations and the federal government around the same time, the worry is that some companies will have trouble getting new loans, spurring defaults and a wave of bankruptcies....Even Moody’s, which is known for its sober public statements, is sounding the alarm. 'An avalanche is brewing in 2012 and beyond if companies don’t get out in front of this,' said Kevin Cassidy, a senior credit officer at Moody’s....The result is a potential financial doomsday, or what bond analysts call a maturity wall. From $21 billion due this year, junk bonds are set to mature at a rate of $155 billion in 2012, $212 billion in 2013 and $338 billion in 2014."

And in other news, Federal Express says that my new computer will arrive tomorrow. Hooray! Or maybe not. If I disappear from the intertubes but you hear lots of swearing and broken crockery from the general direction of the Pacific Ocean, you'll know that things aren't going so well.

From the Annals of Laughable Threats

| Mon Mar. 15, 2010 7:16 PM EDT

A bunch of people have already commented on this, but it's hard to resist piling on. On Sunday, Sen. Lindsay Graham warned that if Democrats push through healthcare reform via reconciliation, "it's going to poison the well for anything else they would like to achieve this year or thereafter." Today, Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation agreed: "If they pull off this crazy scenario they are putting together, they are going to destroy a lot of the comity in the House."

Reasonable guy that I am, I'll concede that there's a colorable argument that Democrats haven't really tried all that hard to be genuinely bipartisan. Still, that pales compared to what Republicans have done. The GOP caucus voted virtually unanimously against a stimulus bill that was 40% tax cuts. They voted against the Waxman-Markey climate bill. They pretended to negotiate for months in the Senate over healthcare reform before Max Baucus finally figured out they weren't serious. Then they voted unanimously against it. Then they did the same thing to Chris Dodd over financial reform. They've held up nominees out of sheer pique. They've filibustered everything in sight, even bills they approve of, just to clog up the Senate calendar. If Democrats float a Mother's Day resolution this year, the GOP will probably filibuster it on the grounds that it doesn't explicitly exclude illegal immigrants.

So what can Graham possibly be talking about? I mean, we're talking about the guy who floated the notion that if Obama agrees to try al-Qaeda suspects in military tribunals then he'll round up Republican support for closing Guantanamo Bay, even though he must know full well that he can't possibly hold up his end of that bargain. The well was poisoned long ago. There's no comity left. Who do these guys think they're kidding?

An On Time Departure for Iraq?

| Mon Mar. 15, 2010 2:08 PM EDT

Juan Cole provides a quick update on how things are going in Iraq:

Al-Hayat [Life] is reporting in Arabic that Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby now says that the US military withdrawal from Iraq is on schedule and that only 50,000 US troops will be in the country by the end of August. He also affirmed that the Iraqi military and police are now capable of keeping order in Iraq, saying that the role they played in providing security during the March 7 elections shows that they have made a big advance in their capabilities.

....The parliamentary election has also not developed into an obstacle to withdrawal. Indeed, it is likely to produce a government that looks somewhat like that of summer, 2006, with Nuri al-Maliki again prime minister....That al-Maliki is likely to get a second term has pros and cons for Washington. The pros are that there will be continuity in Iraqi politics, that al-Maliki has gotten control of the armed forces and will remain in control, and that while he has good relations with Iran, he is not as close to Tehran as some of the fundamentalist Shiite parties in the Iraqi National Alliance. The cons are that al-Maliki has shown little interest in reconciliation with secular, Arab nationalist Sunnis, that he has cultivated tribal militias loyal to himself, and that he has not shown very much interest in or capacity for starting and speeding along projects key to Iraq's economic infrastructure. Washington would no doubt prefer to have an anti-Iran prime minister like Allawi, and one less hostile to Israel.

On the troop question, this jibes with various reports out of the region, including one highlighted by Marc Lynch a few days ago. As for Maliki, my instinct is that the election might actually have gone as well as we could have hoped. A Maliki win provides some stability, which Iraq needs, but a close Maliki win means he still has to pay some attention to the Sunni bloc. There were plenty of worse outcomes possible.

Quote of the Day: Crying on Demand

| Mon Mar. 15, 2010 1:37 PM EDT

From Howard Kurtz, writing about Glenn Beck's on-air pyrotechnics:

Some staffers say they have watched rehearsals, on internal monitors, in which Beck has teared up or paused at the same moments as he later did during the show. Asked about this, Balfe responded sharply: "Glenn reacts the same way to issues whether he knows people are watching or not, and is proud to show his emotions, unlike the cowardly, two-faced critics who hide behind anonymity."

Take that, you cowardly critics who don't practice your tearing up to make sure you get it right when the cameras are rolling. Beck is just a perfectionist in a fallen world.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Israel and Congress

| Mon Mar. 15, 2010 1:23 PM EDT

For reasons that I assume are obvious, I don't blog much about Israel. One of those obvious reasons is that it's just too depressing: in pretty much every year for the past half century, I think you could legitimately wish that we could turn back the clock a decade. No matter how unlikely peace seemed at the time, it always seems less likely now.

Still, I'm trying to get my arms around the latest contretemps. Israel's humiliation of Joe Biden during his trip there last week really defies anything I can remember in recent memory. I mean, deliberately choosing that exact moment to announce a new development in East Jerusalem, the one policy that Obama had made clear was his highest priority? It's hard to imagine any other ally doing such a thing. Even China treated Obama better.

AIPAC, of course, thinks the real problem is with the U.S. reaction to Israel's announcement:

The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State....The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests.

Yeah, it's just AIPAC being AIPAC. This is what they do. But it's also remarkably tone deaf. No other ally in the world would treat us this way, and if they did you can be sure the Wall Street Journal editorial page wouldn't be defending them. I don't suppose Israel's relationship with the U.S. is in any real danger, but stuff like this makes me start to wonder. At some point even Congress is going to sit up and take notice, and we might be closer to that point than Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC think.

Where Are Obama's Nominees?

| Mon Mar. 15, 2010 12:21 PM EDT

James Oliphant writes in the LA Times about President Obama's difficulty getting judges confirmed. Republican obstructionism is part of the problem, but so is Obama himself:

During President Obama's first year, judicial nominations trickled out of the White House at a far slower pace than in President George W. Bush's first year. Bush announced 11 nominees for federal appeals courts in the fourth month of his tenure. Obama didn't nominate his 11th appeals court judge until November, his 10th month in office.

Moreover, Obama nominees are being confirmed at a much slower rate than those of his predecessor, largely because of the gridlocked Senate.

....Other matters have clearly taken priority in the Obama White House, including healthcare and economy. Obama's top lawyer, Gregory Craig, who departed in November, was consumed with issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison. The judicial nomination machinery has cranked up under his successor, Robert Bauer, and now the administration is trying to make up for lost time. The White House named two new appeals court judges just last week.

This is something I just don't get. Sure, the White House has been busy with stimulus and healthcare and climate change and financial reform. But judges get vetted by a whole different group of people. Did Craig, all by himself, really hold up things that much? Aren't there other staffers and DOJ folks who can keep this sort of thing rolling with only occasional input from the top folks?

What's more, it's not just judges. As Jonathan Bernstein pointed out a week ago, "The problem of unfilled executive branch positions is to some extent the Senate's fault, but to a much larger extent Barack Obama's fault. It's hard to blame the Senate for failing to confirm people who haven't been nominated....In my view, this has been Obama's biggest failure as a president to date."

So here's an assignment desk for our nation's press corps: stop writing profiles of Rahm Emanuel and instead give us a really good look inside the White House appointment process. Is Obama himself the problem? His staff? Is it really getting hard to find good people willing to serve, as goo-goo types have been warning about forever? What's really going on there?

Healthcare, Typos, and You

| Mon Mar. 15, 2010 11:35 AM EDT

Apparently, when you're drafting a bill nowadays, you have to explicitly say that no federal funds may be used for abortion services in every single provision of the bill. Otherwise, who know? Maybe this provision or that provision is exempt! It's not, actually — HHS money is all subject to the Hyde amendment regardless — but that's not stopping the anti-abortion folks from leaping on a typo in the Senate healthcare bill as if it's evidence of a secret conspiracy. Nick Baumann has the story.

A Story About My Congressman

| Sun Mar. 14, 2010 8:33 PM EDT

Mike Konczal tells us about his appearance on NPR a couple of days ago:

There’s a really awesome moment in it. They asked me about the House’s CFPA exemptions that have been carved out by special interests, and I mention how auto loans have been exempted. I told them that it was put in by a congressman from California who owned a bunch of car dealers, but I wasn’t sure of the congressman’s name.

So they had two additional interviews lined up after me, Rep Brad Miller (D – NC) and Rep John Campbell (R – CA), congressmen they discuss issues with for Planet Money, and right before they start the interview with Campbell their producer figure out it was Campbell who put in the auto loan exemption! So if you listen you can hear him defend it after being called out as the pointman of the exemption I advised Planet Money to watch for. Heh.

Here’s my real problem, and it’s a serious one. Campbell asked for an auto loan exemption to be put into the CFPA, moving it into the direction of a crony corporate welfare bill....Follow this pattern, but in slow motion. It shows up in health care, the stimulus and everywhere else in 2009, but with financial reform it is very easy to see. Democrats wants a bipartisan financial reform bill. So they take a good CFPA and water it down and give all kinds of crony exemptions so Republicans like John Campbell will support it. Then Republicans vote against it anyway.

....As a machine, it’s amazing.

Yes indeed. And that's my congressman he's talking about. I'm so proud.

The problem, though, is: what's the alternative to dealing with guys like Campbell? Mike thinks Sen. Chris Dodd did the right thing when he decided to give up on negotiating with Republicans over financial reform and go it alone, and I agree — even though Dodd on his own still isn't exactly a Wall Street banker's worst nightmare. But what happens then? Answer: Dodd finishes up his bill, it gets reported out of committee, and 41 Republicans vote against it. Financial reform fails.

In the end, I think this is worth it. It's better to make Republicans own their vote against regulating the industry than it is to pass the only kind of bill they'd support: one that's so watered down as to be useless at best and actively harmful at worst.

But we're still left with the question of how to keep 2008 from happening again. In the same way that they've convinced themselves that global warming is just a gigantic hoax, Republicans have also convinced themselves that 2008 wasn't really as bad as everyone made it out to be — and in any case, it was the CRA that sparked it and federal bailout action that poured fuel on the fire. If we'd just left everything alone, the free market would have sorted things out. This is fantasy thinking, but that's where we're at. What's the solution? I'm stumped.