Why We Fight

It’s no Kony 2012!

I’m enough of a cynic to know that no one learns anything from the past, at least Eugene Jarecki can sleep well knowing he was right.

While Jarecki’s documentary “Why We Fight” was released in 2005, it (sadly) seems just as fresh as it did seven years ago. Featuring: John McCain, the late Chalmers Johnson, Richard Perle, William Kristol, Gore Vidal, Joseph Cirincione, Karen Kwiatkowski and the family of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(Hat tip to Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich)

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead

In an otherwise OK report on the attorney general’s assassination address, Adam Serwer of Mother Jones quips, “There won’t be any drone strikes in Denver anytime soon.” I say, “Wanna bet?”

I mean it. I assume that “Denver” is a synecdoche, so Serwer just needs to clarify “soon” and we can start haggling over the extent to which his wealth will be redistributed.

Better make that Afterlife Advice video soon.

Let’s run down what we know: The current administration has asserted the legal authority to assassinate U.S. citizens without any external oversight. Non-citizens might as well be insects; they can be obliterated at the whim of a lowly joystick operator. Even if you trust Barack the Benevolent to draw some bright line at drone use within the borders of the United States, he may not be president 10 and a half months from now, and he certainly won’t be five years from now. Drones are proliferating among domestic law-enforcement agencies at all levels. So far, these craft are unarmed, but how long before some smart manufacturer or deranged authoritarian suggests using armed drones to preserve the sanctity of the Rio Grande? Wouldn’t that save the lives of our brave ICE officers? And so on, with the DEA, the FBI, and the rest.

The first drone assassination on American soil may not happen on Obama’s watch, but it will undeniably be part of his legacy.

Beltway Braces for a Very Cratchit Christmas

Today’s Washington Post informs us that “for the holidays, the spies say they’ll scrimp.”

This year's CIA party will be much more subdued.

[W]ith budget cuts looming, party plans are being pared back for the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA. …

Under then-director Leon E. Panetta last year, the CIA brought in shipments of California wine, and served fried oysters, grilled shrimp and quesadillas. His predecessor, Michael V. Hayden, made sure there were musicians playing Irish music while stations set up inside the agency’s cavernous headquarters hallway served drinks and hors d’oeuvres. …

But the CIA and DNI both acknowledged this week that the events this time around will be smaller, cheaper and off-limits to the press. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the holiday austerity reflects the nation’s financial condition.

“Scaling back our holiday celebrations is just another small example of our commitment to making sure that we continue to make wise fiscal decisions across the board,” Clapper said in a prepared statement.

The measures come at a time when the Obama administration is also probably eager to avoid any appearance of opulence amid the sour economy and soaring national debt.

Tiny Tim celebrates the good fortune of the military-industrial complex.
Elsewhere in the Post, though, we read that while “home prices continue to fall, D.C. bucks trend.” And — oops! — I left out the last graf of that other story:

Indeed, the party savings are probably more meaningful symbolically than financially. A U.S. official said the annual DNI party typically cost about $50,000, or roughly the cost of a single Hellfire missile, and a fraction of the $54 billion spy budget this year.

(Second link via David Friedman.)

The Future Affordability of US National Security

That’s the title of a timely paper by MIT researcher Dr. Cindy Williams [.pdf]. The summary points:

1. The United States currently devotes about 4.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to national defense and another 1.5 percent to broader security efforts, including international affairs, homeland security, veterans’ affairs, and intelligence.

2. What share of GDP will be affordable for security over the long term depends on a variety of factors, including:
– Public perceptions of the security threat;
– The degree of debt-induced fiscal and economic risk policy makers are willing to run;
– The level of taxation the public is willing to bear;
– Whether and how much the costs of federal entitlement programs, particularly Medicare and Medicaid, can be reined in; and
– How much money is devoted to running the rest of the federal government.

3. Putting federal budgets on a sustainable path will require shifting about six percent of GDP into revenues or out of spending, relative to their likely current course, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

4. Depending on how that shift is distributed among taxation, entitlement spending, defense spending, and nondefense discretionary spending, an affordable long-term level for national defense will be between 1.6 percent and 2.6 percent of GDP.

5. An affordable long-term level of total security spending might thus be between 2.1 percent and 3.4 percent of GDP.

Read the rest here. (Via Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives.)

Puppets breaking strings?

As the Iraqis find the back-door to getting U.S. troops out of their country, is Afghan President Hamid Karzai trying a different tack – – –

"God forbid, if a war breaks between Pakistan and America, we will side (with) Pakistan," Karzai said, according to a transcript released yesterday by his office. –Karzai Says Afghanistan Would Help Pakistan Against U.S. Attack – Businessweek

VIDEO: Karzai vows to support Pakistan vs. U.S. if war

Are the puppets breaking their strings?

Was it the promise or was it the SOFA?

On Friday, October 21, 2011, Mr. Obama, invoking one of his campaign promises, announced the complete withdrawal of all U.S. Troops from Iraq by "the [Christian] holidays." Over the weekend, he and his media arm further spun the story, claiming the deadline had been negotiated by G.W. Bush.

Behind the scenes — later paragraphs — we discover that the Pentagon wanted to keep at least 3,000 to 5,000 troops on Iraqi soil. The true number was significantly larger. But they’re all leaving. Why?

It was almost certainly the S.O.F.A., the acronym for "Status Of Forces Agreement."

Obama’s announcement signals that US officials have been unable to negotiate with Iraq’s leaders a renewal of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) governing the stationing and mission of American troops on Iraqi soil. Pentagon officials in particular, backed by a number of congressional leaders, had called for leaving a force of between 3,000 and 5,000 in Iraq for an extended period. –Iraq withdrawal: With US troops set to exit, 9-year war draws to close – CSMonitor.com

A key provision of any SOFA is exempting occupying soldiers from the laws of the country being occupied. It was this provision that Iraqi negotiators refused to renew. Thus, for example, once the old SOFA expired, U.S. soldiers who killed an Iraqi could be tried for murder under Iraqi law.

The Iraqis, it seems, found the back door to get rid of occupying U.S. troops.

This would likely work in other countries as well.

But that still leaves the drones.