Opinion

David Rohde

Make allies, not kill lists

David Rohde
Jan 31, 2013 23:49 UTC

Viewers of Thursday’s  confirmation hearing of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel can be forgiven for thinking they were watching a years-old C-SPAN rerun. The importance of America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles dominated initial questioning. Then the war in Iraq was debated. In the end, the issue that most concerned senators from both parties was Hagel’s loyalty to Israel.

During an eight-hour hearing, the difficult decisions that the U.S. military now faces received scant attention. Vast budget cuts loom. Suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder rates are appallingly high. Diverse security threats ranging from Iran to cyber-attacks to al Qaeda in North Africa must be countered.

Overall, a more nimble, modern and smaller American military is needed, but you heard little of that in Thursday’s marathon hearing.

The senators would have benefited from a conversation with a retired American Green Beret whom I interviewed earlier this week. After serving in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and Mali, he has a unique view on the strengths – and limits – of U.S. military power. His advice was simple. Long-term training of foreign military forces is more effective and less costly than deploying large numbers of American ground forces.

“It’s the cheapest and the best solution in the long term,” he told me.

Failures, of course, happen. Seth Jones, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, points out that billions of dollars have been spent on a largely failed effort to create a professional police force in Afghanistan. Peter Singer, an expert at the Brookings Institution, correctly argues that the key issue is our relationship with foreign governments, not how much military training we provide.

The Hillary doctrine?

David Rohde
Jan 24, 2013 21:18 UTC

The partisan political theater, of course, was top-notch. Rand Paul’s declaration that he would have fired Hillary Clinton; her angry rebuttal of Ron Johnson’s insistence that the administration misled the American people about the Benghazi attack; John McCain’s continued – and legitimate – outrage at the slapdash security the State Department provided for its employees.

Amid the posturing, though, ran a separate question: what strategy, if any, does the United States have to counter the militant groups running rampant across North and West Africa? Clinton herself summed up the sad state of play during her tense exchange with McCain.

“We’ve got to get our act together,” she said.

While the attention of American politicians has rightly focused on the safety of American diplomats, the key players in battling Africa’s jihadists are local leaders and security forces. The record of the United States and its allies in training security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is checkered at best. Africa will be yet another test.

Why intervening in Mali was the right thing to do

David Rohde
Jan 17, 2013 22:37 UTC

The question from a colleague – one whose work I admire – could have come from anyone in the United States.

“So the French,” he asked, “now have their own Afghanistan?”

The answer is yes and no. Western military interventions should be carried out only as a last resort. But Mali today is a legitimate place to act.

Several thousand jihadists threaten to destabilize Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Algeria. Beyond the human rights abuses, their attacks will discourage foreign investment, paralyze local economies and produce vast numbers of refugees. Skeptics play down the threat, but the instability these extremists create will spread over time.

Clinton: International portfolio, domestic concerns

David Rohde
Jan 11, 2013 00:22 UTC

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday hosted a working dinner here for Afghan President Hamid Karzai – one of her last official meetings with a foreign head of state.

On paper, Karzai’s talks with Clinton are historic. A famed American political figure is helping negotiate the end of the longest war in U.S. history – a 12-year odyssey that has claimed 2,100 American lives and more than $600 billion in treasure.

But Karzai’s visit is being greeted with a yawn. There has been more media coverage of Clinton’s exhaustive travel, physical appearance and political prospects in recent days than her wartime diplomacy.

What next? Reforming corporate taxes and entitlements

David Rohde
Jan 3, 2013 22:18 UTC

Nancy Pelosi, of all people, got it right Thursday morning. In an interview broadcast on National Public Radio, the liberal House Minority Leader agreed that spending cuts and entitlement reforms are necessary.

“The size of our deficit is an immorality, we should not be heaping those responsibilities onto the future,” Pelosi said, sounding oddly Republican. “Finding reductions, subjecting every federal dollar spent to harsh scrutiny as to whether the taxpayer is getting full value for the dollar, is very important. And that holds true in defense as well as on the domestic side.”

Pelosi, of course, could simply be spouting rhetoric. In the same interview, she called for Republicans to “take back your party” from “anti-government ideologues,” praised Tuesday’s last-minute budget deal for creating “more fairness in our tax code,” and said the goal of entitlement reform must be to “strengthen” Medicare and Social Security, not slash them.

A year when government failed us

David Rohde
Dec 28, 2012 19:49 UTC

Barack Obama said it himself in his first post-election press conference. Speaking at the White House on November 14, Obama said conversations with families, workers and small business owners along the campaign trail had left him convinced that average Americans deserved more from Washington.

“When you talk to these folks,” Obama said, “you say to yourself, ‘Man, they deserve a better government than they’ve been getting.’”

Exactly.

As 2012 comes to a close, partisanship is slowing our economy, making our children unsafe and reducing our confidence in the future. In 2008, egregious behavior by bankers and regulators could be blamed for gutting the economy. In the 1970s, high union wages could be blamed for reducing the competitiveness of American industry. Today, our political dysfunction is our biggest economic and social liability.

State fixes are long overdue

David Rohde
Dec 20, 2012 20:32 UTC

This week’s scathing report on the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya – followed by the resignation of one department official and removal of three others – confirms that the United States has an underfunded State Department is in decay. It also gives the clearest understanding yet of where fault lies for four unnecessary deaths in Libya and how the U.S. can do the vital work of diplomacy in dangerous areas.

The goal of the attackers was to drive American diplomats and aid workers out of Libya. We must not let this happen. Washington’s most effective weapon in the post-Arab Spring is promoting economic growth, trade and technology ‑ not mounting invasions. Diplomats and aid workers are the vital heart of that effort.

Some takeaways from the independent review board’s report:

     The State Department has struggled to obtain resources for years. This long-running Washington dynamic played a role in department officials’ decisions to decline requests for additional security personnel in Benghazi:

For many years the State Department has been engaged in a struggle to obtain the resources necessary to carry out its work, with varying degrees of success. This has brought about a deep sense of the importance of husbanding resources to meet the highest priorities, laudable in the extreme in any government department. But it has also had the effect of conditioning a few State Department managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation.

In Turkey, Erdogan disrespects dissent

David Rohde
Dec 14, 2012 13:14 UTC

Instead of leading the post-Arab Spring Middle East, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting a sad new standard for gratuitous intolerance. Three weeks ago, Turkey’s dominant political figure took time out of his busy schedule to threaten the makers of Turkey’s most popular soap opera.

The program ‑ “Magnificent Century” ‑ is a titillating weekly series that exaggerates the romance, intrigue and sex life of Suleiman the Magnificent, a revered 16th century Ottoman leader. Hugely popular in Turkey and the Middle East, the show is broadcast in 43 countries and watched by 200 million people.

This spring, I interviewed the directors and actors who create “Magnificent Century,” toured their lavish set and lauded the program and other Turkish soap operas for creating new roles, new heroes and new cultural norms in a rapidly changing region. Erdogan views the program as seditious.

The trouble with democracy, from Cairo to Johannesburg

David Rohde
Dec 6, 2012 23:24 UTC

The return of protests, tanks and death to the streets of Cairo this week is harrowing. So is the power of the rampant conspiracy theories that cause Muslim Brotherhood members and their secular opponents to sincerely believe they are defending Egypt’s revolution. Both sides are behaving abominably.

Criticisms of President Mohamed Mursi’s foolish and unnecessary power grab and rushed constitutional process are legitimate. So are complaints that the country’s secular opposition is poorly organized, lacks majority support and refuses to compromise.

Barring a surprising change in direction, Egypt’s experiment with democracy is headed toward failure.

Will the fiscal cliff raise taxes on the middle class?

David Rohde
Nov 29, 2012 21:46 UTC

With rising Democratic opposition to cuts in social spending and Republican leaders reiterating their opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy, talks on avoiding the fiscal cliff were at a standstill Thursday.

Officials on both sides of the debate say the political jockeying is likely to continue this week. But they warn that the details of a compromise must emerge next week if an agreement is to be reached in time.

Erskine Bowles, the co-chair of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction task force, said on Wednesday that he was skeptical that a deal would be reached. Bowles put the chances of an agreement before the end of the year at roughly one in three.

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