January 30, 2008

Think Tanks and U.S. Foreign Policy

Fortunately, right-wing tanks have been more successful at shifting the political landscape than those in the center or left, in part, because they are far better at attracting funds but more importantly, because American Interests are best served by them.

U.S. Foreign Policy is influenced and shaped by a complex array of informal networks and Think Tanks that extend American Power and interests through the design and augmentation of a consensus consistent with, America’s worldview. Collectively they form a foremost source of ideas that are often weighted in the Washington policy making apparatus. In some ways, we may refer to them as both official and unofficial lobby groups and/or professional pressure groups that exert intellectual force on elected officialdom on a variety on issues.

Apart from creating a common worldview amongst their own, that is, those who share similar political and ideological viewpoints, they also enhance relationships between business and Government through more than common interfacing. They actually steer policy through meetings and research projects. Apart from operating on a trans-national platform, they also lubricate intellectual understandings and perceptions within a globalized world. Many a conspiracy theory has flourished because of there very existence for their essential qualities dictates that associations are often guarded, almost secretive.

Interestingly, and as a example and quasi-addendum to this post. After taking on some wider reading about neo-conservatism I stumbled across many an article that referred to its exponents and there collective actions as an “informal network” and/or “influential group in Washington”, “largely responsible for the push toward war in the Middle East”.

More precisely, I would venture to suggest that the neoconservative establishment is a political movement more so than a Think Tank group or network, formal or otherwise. One that concededly, but not to suggest, of detriment to the U.S., has gained traction in both Bush presidencies and the Reagan administration earlier.

Critics, particularly of liberal ranks have oft criticized neocons of being part of the pro-Israeli lobby for American Middle East policy. While some Jewish interests are, present within neocons judgment, this accusation, apart from being disparaging, is not accurate. Joshua Maravchick in an excellent 2007 article, “The Past Present and Future of Neo-conservatism” says, “that the “neoconservatives” in question were in reality a group of Jews who were attempting to divert U.S. policy in the interests of Israel. This particular bit of slander ignored, among other things, the fact that the neoconservative position on the Middle East conflict was exactly congruous with the neoconservative position on conflicts everywhere else in the world, including places where neither Jews nor Israeli interests could be found—not to mention the fact that non-Jewish neoconservatives took the same stands on all of the issues as did their Jewish confrères."

Some praiseworthy Think tanks and lobbies that impact U.S. Foreign Policy:

Heritage Foundation – “Founded in 1973, The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute - a think tank - whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” It was the architect of the 1980’s Reagan doctrine and supportive of the policies of George W. Bush.

Rand Corporation - Conducts research and provides analysis to address challenges that face the United States and the world. Originally a scientific advisory service to the U.S. armed services, it now develops systems analysis to commercial organizations as well. Most of its work relates to national security an issue of which most is highly classified.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies – Seeking to “advance global security and prosperity in an era of economic and political transformation by providing strategic insights and practical policy solutions to decision makers.” It looks to the future to anticipate change.

The Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee - Providing the Secretary of Defense with advice on issues important to strategic planning. Its former chairperson, Richard Perle was a key figure in George W. Bush’s policies and is also "... a core representative of the neoconservative political faction; playing a "central role in championing the war in Iraq and an aggressive war on terror centered on the Middle East in the wake of 9/11."

American Israeli Public Affairs Committee - For more than half a century, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has worked to help make Israel more secure by ensuring that American support remains strong. From a small pro-Israel public affairs boutique in the 1950s, AIPAC has grown into a 100,000-member national grassroots movement described by The New York Times as "the most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel."

Project for the New American Century – “Established in the spring of 1997, the Project for the New American Century is a non-profit, educational organization whose goal is to promote American global leadership.” I for one won't argue with that...

Bilderberg Group – “…a group of influential people, mostly politicians and business people, whose existence and activities are private, and due to its secretive nature is the subject of numerous conspiracy theories. The group meets annually at five-star resorts throughout the world, normally in Europe, although sometimes in America or Canada.”

Bohemian Grove – “An all male membership includes many prominent business leaders, government officials (its membership has included every U.S. president since the Kennedy’s), and senior media executives. As a measure of the club's exclusivity, it is reported the waiting list for membership is from 15 to 20 years .. An initiation fee of $25,000 as of 2006 is required in addition to yearly membership dues. Elected members are allowed to prorate the initiation fee into equal annual payments until they reach the age of 45.”

Carlyle Group - A Washington, D.C. based global private equity investment firm with more than $74.9 billion of equity capital under management. It specializes in politically sensitive areas such as aerospace, and mainly has interests in military contracts.

These networks certainly influence a climate of opinion and ideas however indirectly; but they do not actually write the script for policy makers. Thus it could be argued that the influence of think tanks maybe sometimes, overstated. Nevertheless, they represent an important component of the decision making process as, ideas factories. Fortunately, right-wing tanks have been more successful at shifting the political landscape and impacting policy than those in the center or left, in part, because they are far better at attracting funds but more importantly, because American Interests are best served by them.

Comments welcome...

January 12, 2008

Summer Vacation 2008

It is mid summer in Australia, I will be vacationing on the coast for three entire weeks and blogging will resume thereafter. As noted in the image, my pen is down, yes, I do intermittently scribe some first post drafts in ink before that is, editing on the keyboard. I want to thank all my readers and commenter’s for making American Interests.blog a meaningful venture.

I leave you with my latest post; five days ago, the U.S. Navy came impetuously close to armed conflict in the Straits of Hormuz, the subject of my latest post, “The way to war”.

Once again thank you, and God bless.

January 11, 2008

The way to war

..."the world came very close to war on Sunday"... "From the 18th century to the present day, threats to American ships and maritime commerce have been the way most U.S. wars start"...

Newly released footage of the 6 January Persian Gulf incident, wherby Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps speedboats raced toward US naval vessels shows that the Iranians got very close. The four-minute video condenses what US officials have described as a 20-minute stand-off. U.S. Naval Commanders showed great restraint and ought be commended, indeed the thoughtless Iranians are fortunate that things did not get out of hand for they were messing with fire.

Said Walter Mead of the provocation:

"It was a dangerous gesture," said President George W. Bush about Sunday's incident that involved five vessels, apparently under orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, harassing U.S. naval forces in international waters in the Straits of Hormuz. They broke off moments before the Americans opened fire."

"An ordinary occurrence," said a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry."

"There will be serious consequences if they attack our ships," Mr. Bush countered.
Mr. Bush is right, and the world came very close to war on Sunday. From the 18th century to the present day, threats to American ships and maritime commerce have been the way most U.S. wars start. "

He correctly goes on to add:

"Those who interfere with American maritime activity, whether naval or commercial, strike at a vital interest that Americans for more than two centuries have consistently defended by, if necessary, war. Such crises tend to unite American opinion behind even unpopular presidents. Two centuries of experience have created a broad consensus in the U.S. that the freedom of the seas cannot be compromised or abandoned. The link between global freedom of the seas and foreign policy has been a driving force in modern world history. "

"The Straits of Hormuz, site of the weekend provocation, are exceptionally sensitive. The ability of the U.S. to protect the free flow of oil through these waters is absolutely vital to the global economy. Any U.S. military response to a challenge there would be swift and overwhelming -- perhaps far greater than the Iranians expect."

"The danger of war between the U.S. and Iran over free passage in the Straits is very real. Iranian authorities may not fully understand the political and military consequences of such raids."

"The commanders of the maritime forces of the Revolutionary Guard, by all accounts less professional than the commanders of Iran's regular navy, may be operating without central authority, and may have underestimated the likelihood and the scale of the probable U.S. response. Believing that retaliation would be minor and half-hearted, they may even be seeking a limited confrontation with the U.S. for domestic political reasons."

"Last weekend, the Iranians fled before shots were fired. Good for them. If Iran wants a large-scale military conflict with a U.S. that is angry, aroused and united, endangering American naval vessels in the Straits of Hormuz is the right way to get one."

Read the whole article here.

With memories of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 sailors, it's only natural that the officers onboard the U.S. destroyer, cruiser, and frigate took the matter very seriously.

As explained by Admiral G. Roughead, chief of naval operations, to the Boston Globe, U.S. commanders have no systematic way to halt a conflict if it begins to spiral. "I do not have a direct link with my counterpart in the Iranian Navy," he said. "I do not have a way to communicate directly with the Iranian Navy or [Republican] Guard." According to one report, one of the captains was seconds away from firing when the Iranian's turned away.

The fact that Iranian officials played down the event, calling it an "ordinary occurrence", shows how little they understand.

What do you think...

Pakistan's deepening security crises

..."Shortly before she was assassinated, Benazir Bhutto warned that, left unchecked, Taliban forces would be marching on the Pakistan capital, Islamabad, within two to four years."

While recent and present headlines about the U.S. are focused on the White House Race, Bush's visit to the Middle East and that gutless attempt to stir the U.S. Navy by Iranian speedboats, opinion columnists are increasingly pointing out how imminently dangerous Pakistan is becoming. In an short op-ed piece, this mornings Australian reminds us that Taliban elements are on the rise and pose a very real threat to security interests.

"As US President George W. Bush makes a nine-day visit to the Middle East in an attempt to reactivate the stalled Annapolis Israeli-Arab peace talks and bolster the alliance of moderate Arab states against Iran, the more pressing developments continue to unfold further to the east, in Pakistan. The head of the UN atomic watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, has put his name to what has until recently been the world's great unspoken fear - that al-Qa'ida could use the deepening security crisis in Pakistan to seize the country's nuclear arsenal. Many of Pakistan's nuclear warheads are in regional areas where support for the Islamic extremists has been growing unchecked by an increasingly ill-disciplined national army."

"There is a growing consensus that what were once considered unreasonable fears about the extent of the threat posed to Pakistan by Islamic extremists are no longer quite so far-fetched. This is particularly so given the Pakistan media's increasingly brazen reporting of "the extent of the penetration of state machinery" by radical Islamic militants. Shortly before she was assassinated, Benazir Bhutto warned that, left unchecked, Taliban forces would be marching on the Pakistan capital, Islamabad, within two to four years."

In the meantime, my fear as that world Governments are watching, noting with too little comprehension. Pakistan owns a small nuclear arsenal and both past and current events remain unsettling. We recall how they supplied crucial elements of North Korea's nuclear programme. AQ Khan, the nations foremost nuclear scientist was selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea throughout the 90's, something he admitted in 2004.

Yesterday the BBC reported that, "Pakistan has strongly criticised remarks by the head of the UN nuclear watchdog that its nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist groups. The concerns were expressed by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper."

Pakistan remains a tough call, for the nation is not unstable enough to warrant direct intervention but nevertheless, too disorderly for our comfort and nothing about its present state of democratic progress instills confidence.

For previous posts on Pakistan click here, here and here.

January 9, 2008

Political Philosophy made simple...

"Political Philosophy made simple?", now there's an oxymoron...

Seriously though, which candidate best represents your political philosophy?

Visit Electoral Compass USA to accurately discover your position on the political landscape. Thirty six questions covering issues such as gun control, environment, income, Iraq, economy, health care, national security, family, immigration, law and order, education and terrorism.

Current U.S. Presidential hopefuls are represented graphically with the horizontal axis stretching from economic left to economic right and the vertical axis from Social Liberalism to Social Conservatism.

Click here to take the test.

Which candidate best represents my views? Well, according to the compass it was Mitt Romney. Was the survey accurate for me? Not quite but it came very, very close.... I should point out that today's New Hampshire result was pleasing...

Alternatively you may wish to take the world's smallest political quiz here.

Feel free to comment...

January 7, 2008

UN‘s incessant appetite for cash

"Government spending will not be curbed by wishful thinking." President Ronald Reagan

The UN General Assembly has recently approved a two-year UN budget of 4.17 billion U.S. dollars in the face of resistance from the United States. The budget, proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was approved by a vote of 142 to one.

Heritage Foundation senior fellow and former deputy assistant secretary of defense, Peter Brookes tells us that, over the last five years, the UN's budget has grown an average 17 percent a year while the US (wartime) budget has grown just 7 percent. Over the last decade, the UN's purse has ballooned more than 190 percent!

"Even more frustrating, about 75 percent of the base 4.2 billion budget is for staff costs. That is, the bulk goes to pumping up the size of the UN Secretariat's swollen bureaucracy, not to humanitarian aid or development. Meanwhile, the Secretariat undertook no significant efforts to find substantive budget "offsets" or to set priorities among the UN programs and activities."

"For years, America has pushed for zero growth in the UN budget, seeking fiscal restraint and encouraging better management and reform - which we've seen shamefully little of. Indeed, you might not mind a UN budget hike if you thought you were going to get an equal improvement in performance or return on your hard-earned tax dollars. No such luck."

Read the whole piece here

Is anyone concerned about this?

What else can I add, except perhaps, for the bleeding obvious...

Over to you...

January 6, 2008

Glorious Guardians of Freedom

"Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world."

Occasionally one comes across those kinds of posts that leave one in awe at the bravery, dedication and out-and-out allegiance of those willing to sacrifice all to defend our freedoms, our way of life. Truly amazing young men and woman serving America’s, and indeed the world’s interests in far away terrains.

One such post about a certain Maj. Andrew J. Olmsted, 37, of Colorado Springs, Colo. who sadly along with Cpt. Thomas J. Casey, 32, of Albuquerque, N.M. “died Jan. 3 in, As Sadiyah, Iraq, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked their unit using small arms fire during combat operations. Both Soldiers were assigned to the Military Transition Team, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas.”

Major Andrew J Olmsted had a blog and on it, left us an, 'in case of my death post' – like Flag Gazer, I draw your attention to this amazing young man and post:

“I suppose I should speak to the circumstances of my death. It would be nice to believe that I died leading men in battle, preferably saving their lives at the cost of my own. More likely I was caught by a marksman or an IED. But if there is an afterlife, I'm telling anyone who asks that I went down surrounded by hundreds of insurgents defending a village composed solely of innocent women and children. It'll be our little secret, ok?”

“…while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.”

"I write this in part, admittedly, because I would like to think that there's at least a little something out there to remember me by. Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world."

Read the whole post here

They are now walking with the master, God bless them and their families…

Comments appreciated…

January 4, 2008

Voting for Euro Missile defense systems

"Perhaps the reason for the renewed impetus has political considerations in mind; establishing permanent, lasting defense links before November would make it difficult for the next U.S. administration to annul..."

Contrary to the popular view that little gets done in Washington during the “silly season”, particularly pertaining to matters national security, U.S. and Czech negotiators are stepping up plans to complete plans for the establishment of the Administration's "third site" for its missile defense system in Europe.

European press reports that the Czech Government will attempt to finalize its negotiations with Washington sooner rather than later:

“The Czech prime minister Mrek Topolanek has said he plans to tie up negotiations on a planned US defence shield before the end of President George W. Bush's administration and intends to visit Washington next month. Topolanek told the Hospodarske Noviny business daily he will fly out on February 27 on an official visit with the aim of pushing through a deal on hosting a missile tracking radar as part of the US plans. "At this stage there is no threat that the radar question will be postponed to a new American administration, we want to deal with this during this administrative term," he said.

“Chief US negotiator on the shield, John Rood, said during negotiations in Prague mid-December that the "finish line (for a deal) is certainly within view" but refused to give a target date. The US says it wants to extend its anti-missile shield to the two former Soviet bloc countries to counter the threat of an attack from "rogue" states such as Iran.”

Apparently the Czech leader wants to bring together plans with Poland where the Bush administration is pressing ahead to secure rapid funding to allow Boeing to start constructing its proposed base. The 10 anti-ballistic missile interceptors in Poland are meant to protect against a possible future threat to the U.S. by nuclear-armed Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Perhaps the reason for the renewed impetus by the Czechs has political undertones; establishing permanent, lasting defense links before November would make it difficult for the next U.S. administration to annul.

I do not believe Prague should be overly concerned about a Democrat conquest of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just yet; however notwithstanding political factors, the establishment of a missile defense system is Europe is a positive move for U.S. and Western interests in spite of Russian or for that matter, any resistance.

Comments welcome...