Friday, March 30, 2012

Clear and Present Safety The United States Is More Secure Than Washington Thinks - Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen

Last August, the Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney performed what has become a quadrennial rite of passage in American presidential politics: he delivered a speech to the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. His message was rooted in another grand American tradition: hyping foreign threats to the United States. It is “wishful thinking,” Romney declared, “that the world is becoming a safer place. The opposite is true. Consider simply the jihadists, a near-nuclear Iran, a turbulent Middle East, an unstable Pakistan, a delusional North Korea, an assertive Russia, and an emerging global power called China. No, the world is not becoming safer.”

Not long after, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta echoed Romney’s statement. In a lecture last October, Panetta warned of threats arising “from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from rogue states to cyber attacks; from revolutions in the Middle East, to economic crisis in Europe, to the rise of new powers such as China and India. All of these changes represent security, geopolitical, economic, and demographic shifts in the international order that make the world more unpredictable, more volatile and, yes, more dangerous.” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concurred in a recent speech, arguing that “the number and kinds of threats we face have increased significantly.” And U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reinforced the point by claiming that America resides today in a “very complex, dangerous world.”

Within the foreign policy elite, there exists a pervasive belief that the post–Cold War world is a treacherous place, full of great uncertainty and grave risks. A 2009 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 69 percent of members of the Council on Foreign Relations believed that for the United States at that moment, the world was either as dangerous as or more dangerous than it was during the Cold War. Similarly, in 2008, the Center for American Progress surveyed more than 100 foreign policy experts and found that 70 percent of them believed that the world was becoming more dangerous. Perhaps more than any other idea, this belief shapes debates on U.S. foreign policy and frames the public’s understanding of international affairs.

In the United States, the chances of dying from a terrorist attack or in a military conflict have fallen almost to zero.

There is just one problem. It is simply wrong. The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, and even in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S. economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive. Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens and can be managed with existing diplomatic, economic, and, to a much lesser extent, military tools.

This reality is barely reflected in U.S. national security strategy or in American foreign policy debates. President Barack Obama’s most recent National Security Strategy aspires to “a world in which America is stronger, more secure, and is able to overcome our challenges while appealing to the aspirations of people around the world.” Yet that is basically the world that exists today. The United States is the world’s most powerful nation, unchallenged and secure. But the country’s political and policy elite seems unwilling to recognize this fact, much less integrate it into foreign policy and national security decision-making.

The disparity between foreign threats and domestic threat-mongering results from a confluence of factors. The most obvious and important is electoral politics. Hyping dangers serves the interests of both political parties. For Republicans, who have long benefited from attacking Democrats for their alleged weakness in the face of foreign threats, there is little incentive to tone down the rhetoric; the notion of a dangerous world plays to perhaps their greatest political advantage. For Democrats, who are fearful of being cast as feckless, acting and sounding tough is a shield against GOP attacks and an insurance policy in case a challenge to the United States materializes into a genuine threat. Warnings about a dangerous world also benefit powerful bureaucratic interests. The specter of looming dangers sustains and justifies the massive budgets of the military and the intelligence agencies, along with the national security infrastructure that exists outside government -- defense contractors, lobbying groups, think tanks, and academic departments.

There is also a pernicious feedback loop at work. Because of the chronic exaggeration of the threats facing the United States, Washington overemphasizes military approaches to problems (including many that could best be solved by nonmilitary means). The militarization of foreign policy leads, in turn, to further dark warnings about the potentially harmful effects of any effort to rebalance U.S. national security spending or trim the massive military budget -- warnings that are inevitably bolstered by more threat exaggeration. Last fall, General Norton Schwartz, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said that defense cuts that would return military spending to its 2007 level would undermine the military’s “ability to protect the nation” and could create “dire consequences.” Along the same lines, Panetta warned that the same reductions would “invite aggression” from enemies. These are a puzzling statements given that the U.S. defense budget is larger than the next 14 countries’ defense budgets combined and that the United States still maintains weapons systems designed to fight an enemy that disappeared 20 years ago.

Of course, threat inflation is not new. During the Cold War, although the United States faced genuine existential threats, American political leaders nevertheless hyped smaller threats or conflated them with larger ones. Today, there are no dangers to the United States remotely resembling those of the Cold War era, yet policymakers routinely talk in the alarmist terms once used to describe superpower conflict. Indeed, the mindset of the United States in the post-9/11 world was best (albeit crudely) captured by former Vice President Dick Cheney. While in office, Cheney promoted the idea that the United States must prepare for even the most remote threat as though it were certain to occur. The journalist Ron Suskind termed this belief “the one percent doctrine,” a reference to what Cheney called the “one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon.” According to Suskind, Cheney insisted that the United States must treat such a remote potential threat “as a certainty in terms of our response.”

Such hair-trigger responsiveness is rarely replicated outside the realm of national security, even when the government confronts problems that cause Americans far more harm than any foreign threat. According to an analysis by the budget expert Linda Bilmes and the economist Joseph Stiglitz, in the ten years since 9/11, the combined direct and indirect costs of the U.S. response to the murder of almost 3,000 of its citizens have totaled more than $3 trillion. A study by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimated that during an overlapping period, from 2000 to 2006, 137,000 Americans died prematurely because they lacked health insurance. Although the federal government maintains robust health insurance programs for older and poor Americans, its response to a national crisis in health care during that time paled in comparison to its response to the far less deadly terrorist attacks.

Rather than Cheney’s one percent doctrine, what the United States actually needs is a 99 percent doctrine: a national security strategy based on the fact that the United States is a safe and well-protected country and grounded in the reality that the opportunities for furthering U.S. interests far exceed the threats to them. Fully comprehending the world as it is today is the best way to keep the United States secure and resistant to the overreactions that have defined its foreign policy for far too long.


The United States, along with the rest of the world, currently faces a period of economic and political uncertainty. But consider four long-term global trends that underscore just how misguided the constant fear-mongering in U.S. politics is: the falling prevalence of violent conflict, the declining incidence of terrorism, the spread of political freedom and prosperity, and the global improvement in public health. In 1992, there were 53 armed conflicts raging in 39 countries around the world; in 2010, there were 30 armed conflicts in 25 countries. Of the latter, only four have resulted in at least 1,000 battle-related deaths and can therefore be classified as wars, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program: the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia, two of which were started by the United States.

Today, wars tend to be low-intensity conflicts that, on average, kill about 90 percent fewer people than did violent struggles in the 1950s. Indeed, the first decade of this century witnessed fewer deaths from war than any decade in the last century. Meanwhile, the world’s great powers have not fought a direct conflict in more than 60 years -- “the longest period of major power peace in centuries,” as the Human Security Report Project puts it. Nor is there much reason for the United States to fear such a war in the near future: no state currently has the capabilities or the inclination to confront the United States militarily.

Washington should not assume that every problem in the world demands a U.S. response.
Much of the fear that suffuses U.S. foreign policy stems from the trauma of 9/11. Yet although the tactic of terrorism remains a scourge in localized conflicts, between 2006 and 2010, the total number of terrorist attacks declined by almost 20 percent, and the number of deaths caused by terrorism fell by 35 percent, according to the U.S. State Department. In 2010, more than three-quarters of all victims of terrorism -- meaning deliberate, politically motivated violence by nonstate groups against noncombatant targets -- were injured or killed in the war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia. Of the 13,186 people killed by terrorist attacks in 2010, only 15, or 0.1 percent, were U.S. citizens. In most places today -- and especially in the United States -- the chances of dying from a terrorist attack or in a military conflict have fallen almost to zero.

As violence and war have abated, freedom and democratic governance have made great gains. According to Freedom House, there were 69 electoral democracies at the end of the Cold War; today, there are 117. And during that time, the number of autocracies declined from 62 to 48. To be sure, in the process of democratizing, states with weak political institutions can be more prone to near-term instability, civil wars, and interstate conflict. Nevertheless, over time, democracies tend to have healthier and better-educated citizens, almost never go to war with other democracies, and are less likely to fight nondemocracies.

Economic bonds among states are also accelerating, even in the face of a sustained global economic downturn. Today, 153 countries belong to the World Trade Organization and are bound by its dispute-resolution mechanisms. Thanks to lowered trade barriers, exports now make up more than 30 percent of gross world product, a proportion that has tripled in the past 40 years. The United States has seen its exports to the world’s fastest-growing economies increase by approximately 500 percent over the past decade. Currency flows have exploded as well, with $4 trillion moving around the world in foreign exchange markets every day. Remittances, an essential instrument for reducing poverty in developing countries, have more than tripled in the past decade, to more than $440 billion each year. Partly as a result of these trends, poverty is on the decline: in 1981, half the people living in the developing world survived on less than $1.25 a day; today, that figure is about one-sixth. Like democratization, economic development occasionally brings with it significant costs. In particular, economic liberalization can strain the social safety net that supports a society’s most vulnerable populations and can exacerbate inequalities. Still, from the perspective of the United States, increasing economic interdependence is a net positive because trade and foreign direct investment between countries generally correlate with long-term economic growth and a reduced likelihood of war.

A final trend contributing to the relative security of the United States is the improvement in global health and well-being. People in virtually all countries, and certainly in the United States, are living longer and healthier lives. In 2010, the number of people who died from AIDS-related causes declined for the third year in a row. Tuberculosis rates continue to fall, as do the rates of polio and malaria. Child mortality has plummeted worldwide, thanks in part to expanded access to health care, sanitation, and vaccines. In 1970, the global child mortality rate (deaths of children under five per 1,000) was 141; in 2010, it was 57. In 1970, global average life expectancy was 59, and U.S. life expectancy was 70. Today, the global figure is just under 70, and the U.S. figure is 79. These vast improvements in health and well-being contribute to the global trend toward security and safety because countries with poor human development are more war-prone.


None of this is meant to suggest that the United States faces no major challenges today. Rather, the point is that the problems confronting the country are manageable and pose minimal risks to the lives of the overwhelming majority of Americans. None of them -- separately or in combination -- justifies the alarmist rhetoric of policymakers and politicians or should lead to the conclusion that Americans live in a dangerous world.

Take terrorism. Since 9/11, no security threat has been hyped more. Considering the horrors of that day, that is not surprising. But the result has been a level of fear that is completely out of proportion to both the capabilities of terrorist organizations and the United States’ vulnerability. On 9/11, al Qaeda got tragically lucky. Since then, the United States has been preparing for the one percent chance (and likely even less) that it might get lucky again. But al Qaeda lost its safe haven after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and further military, diplomatic, intelligence, and law enforcement efforts have decimated the organization, which has essentially lost whatever ability it once had to seriously threaten the United States.

According to U.S. officials, al Qaeda’s leadership has been reduced to two top lieutenants: Ayman al-Zawahiri and his second-in-command, Abu Yahya al-Libi. Panetta has even said that the defeat of al Qaeda is “within reach.” The near collapse of the original al Qaeda organization is one reason why, in the decade since 9/11, the U.S. homeland has not suffered any large-scale terrorist assaults. All subsequent attempts have failed or been thwarted, owing in part to the incompetence of their perpetrators. Although there are undoubtedly still some terrorists who wish to kill Americans, their dreams will likely continue to be frustrated by their own limitations and by the intelligence and law enforcement agencies of the United States and its allies.

As the threat from transnational terrorist groups dwindles, the United States also faces few risks from other states. China is the most obvious potential rival to the United States, and there is little doubt that China’s rise will pose a challenge to U.S. economic interests. Moreover, there is an unresolved debate among Chinese political and military leaders about China’s proper global role, and the lack of transparency from China’s senior leadership about its long-term foreign policy objectives is a cause for concern. However, the present security threat to the U.S. mainland is practically nonexistent and will remain so. Even as China tries to modernize its military, its defense spending is still approximately one-ninth that of the United States. In 2012, the Pentagon will spend roughly as much on military research and development alone as China will spend on its entire military.

While China clumsily flexes its muscles in the Far East by threatening to deny access to disputed maritime resources, a recent Pentagon report noted that China’s military ambitions remain dominated by “regional contingencies” and that the People’s Liberation Army has made little progress in developing capabilities that “extend global reach or power projection.” In the coming years, China will enlarge its regional role, but this growth will only threaten U.S. interests if Washington attempts to dominate East Asia and fails to consider China’s legitimate regional interests. It is true that China’s neighbors sometimes fear that China will not resolve its disputes peacefully, but this has compelled Asian countries to cooperate with the United States, maintaining bilateral alliances that together form a strong security architecture and limit China’s room to maneuver.

The strongest arguments made by those warning of Chinese influence revolve around economic policy. The list of complaints includes a host of Chinese policies, from intellectual property theft and currency manipulation to economic espionage and domestic subsidies. Yet none of those is likely to lead to direct conflict with the United States beyond the competition inherent in international trade, which does not produce zero-sum outcomes and is constrained by dispute-resolution mechanisms, such as those of the World Trade Organization. If anything, China’s export-driven economic strategy, along with its large reserves of U.S. Treasury bonds, suggests that Beijing will continue to prefer a strong United States to a weak one.


It is a matter of faith among many American politicians that Iran is the greatest danger now facing the country. But if that is true, then the United States can breathe easy: Iran is a weak military power. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran’s “military forces have almost no modern armor, artillery, aircraft or major combat ships, and UN sanctions will likely obstruct the purchase of high-technology weapons for the foreseeable future.”

Tehran’s stated intention to project its interests regionally through military or paramilitary forces has made Iran its own worst enemy. Iran’s neighbors are choosing to balance against the Islamic Republic rather than fall in line behind its leadership. In 2006, Iran’s favorability rating in Arab countries stood at nearly 80 percent; today, it is under 30 percent. Like China’s neighbors in East Asia, the Gulf states have responded to Iran’s belligerence by participating in an emerging regional security arrangement with the United States, which includes advanced conventional weapons sales, missile defenses, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises, all of which have further isolated Iran.

Of course, the gravest concerns about Iran focus on its nuclear activities. Those fears have led to some of the most egregiously alarmist rhetoric: at a Republican national security debate in November, Romney claimed that an Iranian nuclear weapon is “the greatest threat the world faces.” But it remains unclear whether Tehran has even decided to pursue a bomb or has merely decided to develop a turnkey capability. Either way, Iran’s leaders have been sufficiently warned that the United States would respond with overwhelming force to the use or transfer of nuclear weapons. Although a nuclear Iran would be troubling to the region, the United States and its allies would be able to contain Tehran and deter its aggression -- and the threat to the U.S. homeland would continue to be minimal.

Overblown fears of a nuclear Iran are part of a more generalized American anxiety about the continued potential of nuclear attacks. Obama’s National Security Strategy claims that “the American people face no greater or more urgent danger than a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon.” According to the document, “international peace and security is threatened by proliferation that could lead to a nuclear exchange. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, the risk of a nuclear attack has increased.”

If the context is a state-against-state nuclear conflict, the latter assertion is patently false. The demise of the Soviet Union ended the greatest potential for international nuclear conflict. China, with only 72 intercontinental nuclear missiles, is eminently deterrable and not a credible nuclear threat; it has no answer for the United States’ second-strike capability and the more than 2,000 nuclear weapons with which the United States could strike China.

In the past decade, Cheney and other one-percenters have frequently warned of the danger posed by loose nukes or uncontrolled fissile material. In fact, the threat of a nuclear device ending up in the hands of a terrorist group has diminished markedly since the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was dispersed across all of Russia’s 11 time zones, all 15 former Soviet republics, and much of eastern Europe. Since then, cooperative U.S.-Russian efforts have resulted in the substantial consolidation of those weapons at far fewer sites and in comprehensive security upgrades at almost all the facilities that still possess nuclear material or warheads, making the possibility of theft or diversion unlikely. Moreover, the lessons learned from securing Russia’s nuclear arsenal are now being applied in other countries, under the framework of Obama’s April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, which produced a global plan to secure all nuclear materials within four years. Since then, participants in the plan, including Chile, Mexico, Ukraine, and Vietnam, have fulfilled more than 70 percent of the commitments they made at the summit.

Pakistan represents another potential source of loose nukes. The United States’ military strategy in Afghanistan, with its reliance on drone strikes and cross-border raids, has actually contributed to instability in Pakistan, worsened U.S. relations with Islamabad, and potentially increased the possibility of a weapon falling into the wrong hands. Indeed, Pakistani fears of a U.S. raid on its nuclear arsenal have reportedly led Islamabad to disperse its weapons to multiple sites, transporting them in unsecured civilian vehicles. But even in Pakistan, the chances of a terrorist organization procuring a nuclear weapon are infinitesimally small. The U.S. Department of Energy has provided assistance to improve the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and successive senior U.S. government officials have repeated what former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in January 2010: that the United States is “very comfortable with the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”

A more recent bogeyman in national security debates is the threat of so-called cyberwar. Policymakers and pundits have been warning for more than a decade about an imminent “cyber–Pearl Harbor” or “cyber-9/11.” In June 2011, then Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said that “bits and bytes can be as threatening as bullets and bombs.” And in September 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described cyberattacks as an “existential” threat that “actually can bring us to our knees.”

Although the potential vulnerability of private businesses and government agencies to cyberattacks has increased, the alleged threat of cyberwarfare crumbles under scrutiny. No cyberattack has resulted in the loss of a single U.S. citizen’s life. Reports of “kinetic-like” cyberattacks, such as one on an Illinois water plant and a North Korean attack on U.S. government servers, have proved baseless. Pentagon networks are attacked thousands of times a day by individuals and foreign intelligence agencies; so, too, are servers in the private sector. But the vast majority of these attacks fail wherever adequate safeguards have been put in place. Certainly, none is even vaguely comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11, and most can be offset by commonsense prevention and mitigation efforts.


Defenders of the status quo might contend that chronic threat inflation and an overmilitarized foreign policy have not prevented the United States from preserving a high degree of safety and security and therefore are not pressing problems. Others might argue that although the world might not be dangerous now, it could quickly become so if the United States grows too sanguine about global risks and reduces its military strength. Both positions underestimate the costs and risks of the status quo and overestimate the need for the United States to rely on an aggressive military posture driven by outsized fears.

Since the end of the Cold War, most improvements in U.S. security have not depended primarily on the country’s massive military, nor have they resulted from the constantly expanding definition of U.S. national security interests. The United States deserves praise for promoting greater international economic interdependence and open markets and, along with a host of international and regional organizations and private actors, more limited credit for improving global public health and assisting in the development of democratic governance. But although U.S. military strength has occasionally contributed to creating a conducive environment for positive change, those improvements were achieved mostly through the work of civilian agencies and nongovernmental actors in the private and nonprofit sectors. The record of an overgrown post–Cold War U.S. military is far more mixed. Although some U.S.-led military efforts, such as the NATO intervention in the Balkans, have contributed to safer regional environments, the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have weakened regional and global security, leading to hundreds of thousands of casualties and refugee crises (according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 45 percent of all refugees today are fleeing the violence provoked by those two wars). Indeed, overreactions to perceived security threats, mainly from terrorism, have done significant damage to U.S. interests and threaten to weaken the global norms and institutions that helped create and sustain the current era of peace and security. None of this is to suggest that the United States should stop playing a global role; rather, it should play a different role, one that emphasizes soft power over hard power and inexpensive diplomacy and development assistance over expensive military buildups.

Indeed, the most lamentable cost of unceasing threat exaggeration and a focus on military force is that the main global challenges facing the United States today are poorly resourced and given far less attention than “sexier” problems, such as war and terrorism. These include climate change, pandemic diseases, global economic instability, and transnational criminal networks -- all of which could serve as catalysts to severe and direct challenges to U.S. security interests. But these concerns are less visceral than alleged threats from terrorism and rogue nuclear states. They require long-term planning and occasionally painful solutions, and they are not constantly hyped by well-financed interest groups. As a result, they are given short shrift in national security discourse and policymaking.

To avoid further distorting U.S. foreign policy and to take advantage of today’s relative security and stability, policymakers need to not only respond to a 99 percent world but also solidify it. They should start by strengthening the global architecture of international institutions and norms that can promote U.S. interests and ensure that other countries share the burden of maintaining global peace and security. International institutions such as the UN (and its affiliated agencies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency), regional organizations (the African Union, the Organization of American States, the European Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and international financial institutions can formalize and reinforce norms and rules that regulate state behavior and strengthen global cooperation, provide legitimacy for U.S. diplomatic efforts, and offer access to areas of the world that the United States cannot obtain unilaterally.

American leadership must be commensurate with U.S. interests and the nature of the challenges facing the country. The United States should not take the lead on every issue or assume that every problem in the world demands a U.S. response. In the majority of cases, the United States should “lead from behind” -- or from the side, or slightly in the front -- but rarely, if ever, by itself. That approach would win broad public support. According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ most recent survey of U.S. public opinion on international affairs, less than ten percent of Americans want the country to “continue to be the pre-eminent world leader in solving international problems.” The American people have long embraced the idea that their country should not be the world’s policeman; for just as long, politicians from both parties have expressed that sentiment as a platitude. The time has come to act on that idea.

If the main challenges in a 99 percent world are transnational in nature and require more development, improved public health, and enhanced law enforcement, then it is crucial that the United States maintain a sharp set of nonmilitary national security tools. American foreign policy needs fewer people who can jump out of airplanes and more who can convene roundtable discussions and lead negotiations. But owing to cuts that began in the 1970s and accelerated significantly during its reorganization in the 1990s, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been reduced to a hollow shell of its former self. In 1990, the agency had 3,500 permanent employees. Today, it has just over 2,000 staffers, and the vast majority of its budget is distributed via contractors and nongovernmental organizations. Meanwhile, with 30,000 employees and a $50 billion budget, the State Department’s resources pale in comparison to those of the Pentagon, which has more than 1.6 million employees and a budget of more than $600 billion. More resources and attention must be devoted to all elements of nonmilitary state power -- not only USAID and the State Department but also the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the National Endowment for Democracy, and a host of multilateral institutions that deal with the underlying causes of localized instability and ameliorate their effects at a relatively low cost. As U.S. General John Allen recently noted, “In many respects, USAID’s efforts can do as much -- over the long term -- to prevent conflict as the deterrent effect of a carrier strike group or a marine expeditionary force.” Allen ought to know: he commands the 100,000 U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Upgrading the United States’ national security toolbox will require reducing the size of its armed forces. In an era of relative peace and security, the U.S. military should not be the primary prism through which the country sees the world. As a fungible tool that can back up coercive threats, the U.S. military is certainly an important element of national power. However, it contributes very little to lasting solutions for 99 percent problems. And the Pentagon’s enormous budget not only wastes precious resources; it also warps national security thinking and policymaking. Since the military controls the overwhelming share of the resources within the national security system, policymakers tend to perceive all challenges through the distorting lens of the armed forces and respond accordingly. This tendency is one reason the U.S. military is so big. But it is also a case of the tail wagging the dog: the vast size of the military is a major reason every challenge is seen as a threat.

More than 60 years of U.S. diplomatic and military efforts have helped create a world that is freer and more secure. In the process, the United States has fostered a global environment that bolsters U.S. interests and generally accepts U.S. power and influence. The result is a world far less dangerous than ever before. The United States, in other words, has won. Now, it needs a national security strategy and an approach to foreign policy that reflect that reality.

Friday, March 23, 2012

National Defense Authorization Act - Senator Carl Levin, (D - Michigan)

Earlier this month, with his piece "The NDAA Makes It Harder to Fight Terrorism," Brian Michael Jenkins added to the confusion surrounding the military detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act by promulgating the unfounded allegation that the NDAA exposes American citizens to arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention.

The new law does no such thing.

At its core, the NDAA reaffirms already existing U.S. law on the military detention of individuals captured in the country's fight against al Qaeda. Jenkins writes, "A fair way to assess this bill would be to ask, had this law been in effect since 2001, what would it have achieved?" His answer: some 20 "jihadist terrorists," including U.S. citizens and lawful resident aliens, who are today in civilian custody would instead "be in military custody."

The problem with Jenkins' hypothetical is that U.S. citizens and lawful resident aliens are expressly excluded from section 1022 of the NDAA. The law applies only to a narrow category of foreign al Qaeda members who participate in planning or conducting attacks against the United States and are "captured in the course of hostilities." And although section 1021 of the statute does not exclude U.S. citizens, this provision does not change existing military detention authority. The law specifically states: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States." In sum, neither section would have changed the outcome of any of the cases Jenkins wants to suppose.
The issue of indefinite detention arises from the capture of an enemy combatant in a war. According to the law of war, which, in the United States, dates back to the American Revolution, an enemy combatant may be held until hostilities come to an end. (See the 2004 case Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.) That did not change with the enactment of the Authorization for Use of Military Force in 2001, which authorized military operations against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces, and it did not change with the enactment of the NDAA.
Unfortunately, Jenkins is not the only one making this error. Activists on both the right and the left have alleged that the NDAA contains new authority for the military to detain American citizens. But the provision at issue repeats, word for word, the language that the Obama administration started using in federal court in March 2009 to delineate existing detention authority.

In fact, the White House's official statement on the NDAA -- released long before Obama decided to sign the bill -- expressly acknowledged that "the authorities codified in this section already exist." As if this were not enough, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and I added an amendment on the Senate floor, which specifically states that the provision does not change "existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States."

The Senate rejected a different amendment, offered by Feinstein, to exclude U.S. citizens from military detention. To the extent that such detention was authorized before the bill was enacted, it remains permissible today. However, that is very different from creating new or expanded authority for such detention. As Feinstein explained when the final bill was approved by the Senate, "[W]e have agreed to preserve current law for the three groups specified, as interpreted by our federal courts, and to leave to the courts the difficult questions of who may be detained by the military, for how long, and under what circumstances."

Prior to the NDAA, existing law authorized the military detention of U.S. citizens, at least in some cases. In 2004, the Supreme Court held, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, that "There is no bar to this nation's holding one of its own citizens as an enemy combatant." The defendant in the Hamdi case was a U.S. citizen captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan after taking an active part in hostilities against the United States. I believe that the Supreme Court's rationale in that case would apply to a U.S. citizen who joined al Qaeda and participated in an attack against the United States, whether the attack took place inside or outside the United States. Whether I am right or not, the existing authority was not changed in any way by the enactment of the NDAA.
The military did not engage in the arrest or apprehension of American citizens inside the United States before the enactment of the new law, and the new law does not authorize them to do so after. The posse comitatus law and associated policies precluding our military from engaging in law enforcement activities inside the United States remain in force, unchanged, as they should.

If an occasion did arise in which executive branch officials believed that a U.S. citizen had joined in an enemy attack against this country and should be held in military custody, the detainee would have access to legal counsel and could challenge the lawfulness of the custody in federal court pursuant to a writ of habeas corpus. Such an individual could not be held until the end of hostilities on the basis of a "suspicion" or "allegation," as some have argued -- but only if the government could prove on a habeas corpus challenge that the detainee had participated in hostilities against the United States and that the detention was constitutional.

The bottom line is that the NDAA puts Congress on record in support of existing military detention authority for individuals captured in the fight against al Qaeda, as set forth by the Obama administration and upheld by the federal courts, giving added legitimacy to ongoing military operations and preventing future administrations from adopting more expansive and problematic interpretations of military detention authority. That strengthens the fight against terrorism and makes the United States safer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs - Greg Smith

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of advising two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia. My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.
Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.

These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.
When I was a first-year analyst I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a derivative was, understanding finance, getting to know our clients and what motivated them, learning how they defined success and what we could do to help them get there.

My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.

The Great Recession - Economic Policy Institute

The Great Recession—which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009—began with the bursting of an 8 trillion dollar housing bubble.  The resulting loss of wealth led to sharp cutbacks in consumer spending.  This loss of consumption, combined with the financial market chaos triggered by the bursting of the bubble, also led to a collapse in business investment.  As consumer spending and business investment dried up, massive job loss followed.  In 2008 and 2009, the U.S. labor market lost 8.4 million jobs, or 6.1% of all payroll employment.  This was the most dramatic employment contraction (by far) of any recession since the Great Depression. By comparison, in the deep recession that began in 1981, job loss was 3.1%, or only about half as severe.


Even after the economy stopped contracting in the summer of 2009, its growth has not been nearly strong enough to create the jobs needed simply to keep pace with normal population growth, let alone put back to work the backlog of workers who lost their jobs during the collapse. In the post-World War II recessions before the early 1990s, it took an average of 10 months for the economy to regain the jobs it had lost during the recession.  But after the early 1990s recession, it took nearly two years, and after the early 2000s recession, it took over three-and-a-half years. Unfortunately, the recovery from the Great Recession is following the sluggish pattern of these last two recoveries, but likely with an even longer timeline.  In October 2010, 16 months after the official end of the recession, the economy still had 5.4% fewer jobs than it did before the recession started.  Thus, the Great Recession has brought the worst of both worlds: extraordinarily severe job loss, combined with an extremely sluggish recovery.

The job loss during the Great Recession has meant that family incomes have dropped, poverty has risen, and adults as well as children have lost health insurance. The bursting of the housing bubble and the drop in the stock market has meant that family wealth has dropped dramatically, as well. This feature highlights the impact of the Great Recession on the labor market and on working families.

Job loss in the Great Recession was by far the most severe of any recession since WWII.  In the two years from December 2007 to December 2009, the labor market shed 6.1% of all payroll employment.  By comparison, in the deep recession that began in 1981, job loss, at 3.1%, was about half as severe. 
While the peak unemployment rate was slightly higher in the 1981 recession than in the Great Recession, the increase in unemployment associated with the Great Recession was the largest increase in any recession in 70 years.

Racial and ethnic minority workers tend to have much higher unemployment rates than white non-Hispanic workers.  For example, the black unemployment rate is generally around twice as high as the white unemployment rate, regardless of whether the economy is in an expansion or a recession.  This means that during recessions, black workers experience much larger increases in unemployment. 


It is impossible to capture the strength or weakness of something as complicated as the U.S. labor market with one number.  Therefore, it is important to look not just at the unemployment rate, but also at a host of measures of labor market health.

The chart above shows a more comprehensive measure of labor market slack than the unemployment rate.  It includes not just the officially unemployed, but also “involuntary part-time” workers—those who want a full-time job but have had to settle for part-time work; and “marginally attached” workers—workers who want a job, are available to work, but have become so discouraged that they have stopped actively seeking work and are consequently not counted as officially unemployed.

Around 27 million workers—roughly one out of every six U.S. workers—are either unemployed or underemployed.   Importantly, this is a very conservative measure of the total number of underemployed because it does not include workers who have had to take a job that is below their skill or experience level.
The Great Recession has broken all records related to duration of unemployment. The chart below shows the share of the unemployed who have been jobless for more than six months.  This share has been over 40% for all of 2010, far above its prior peak of 26% in the summer of 1983.

Once workers gets laid off from a job in this labor market, the odds are stacked strongly against them finding another one anytime soon.


Job seekers outnumber job openings by a significant margin—in September 2010, the ratio was 5 to 1.  Importantly, this isn’t the number of applicants per job opening—that number is much higher, as one unemployed worker applies for many jobs.  The 5-to-1 ratio means that for four out of every five unemployed workers, there literally are no jobs.  That is actually a substantial improvement over late 2009, but it is still far higher than the worst month of the previous recession and over three times as high as in 2007, before the Great Recession started.

This chart shows payroll employment over the 2000s.  As of September 2010, the U.S. labor market still had 7.8 million fewer jobs than it did when the recession started in December 2007.  But importantly, because the population is naturally increasing all the time, the U.S. labor market must add around 100,000 jobs every month just to keep the unemployment rate stable.  From December 2007 to September 2010, the labor market needed to add around 3.4 million jobs simply to keep pace with population growth, creating a combined jobs hole (population growth plus jobs lost) of over 11 million jobs in that time.  To fill in that gap in five years, the labor market would have to add around 300,000 jobs per month for that entire period.
While the previous figures have shown that, on aggregate, we have a huge jobs deficit, could it also be true that the Great Recession has caused profound structural changes that the aggregate numbers are masking?  Is there evidence that part of today’s unemployment is the result of firms having job openings but can’t find appropriate workers?   This chart shows the number of unemployed workers and the number of job openings by sector.  If today’s unemployment is predominantly structural, then one would expect to find some sectors where there are many more unemployed workers than job openings, and some sectors where there are more job openings than unemployed workers.  In other words, for structural unemployment to be a key part of overall unemployment, one would expect to find labor shortages in some areas because employers with job openings couldn’t find suitable workers.  But there are no major sectors where that is happening—unemployed workers dramatically outnumber job openings in every sector.  In other words, the main problem of the Great Recession isn’t that the economy is lacking the right workers, but instead that it is, across the board, lacking jobs. 


The labor market is the foundation of income for the vast majority of families.  Family incomes are affected by weak labor markets, both through job loss and through hours and wage cuts for those who have work.  This chart shows median, or typical, household income, both overall and for working-age households.  The typical working-age household saw an income decline of $2,700 from 2007 to 2009.  Furthermore, given that this recession came on the heels of one of the worst business cycles (2000-07) on record in terms of job creation, the typical working-age household brought in roughly $5,000 less in 2009 than it did in the year 2000.   
Because racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately hit by job loss in recessions, their incomes drop further than that of whites.  African Americans in particular have seen very large income declines during the Great Recession.

The Great Recession has seen a substantial rise in poverty.  In 2009, one in seven people were living in poverty, and one in five kids under the age of 18 was living in poverty.  Young kids have been the hardest hit, with nearly one in four children under the age of 6 living in poverty.

Racial and ethnic minority families are much more likely to be living in poverty than non-Hispanic workers, regardless of whether the economy is in an expansion or recession.  In the Great Recession, however, Hispanics in particular have seen large increases in poverty.  Roughly one in four Hispanics and African Americans are living in poverty.


With the bursting of the housing bubble, the decline in the stock market, and the weakness of the labor market, household wealth has taken a substantial hit in the Great Recession. The median net worth of whites fell by around a third from 2004 to 2007, dropping from around $150,000 to around $100,000.  The median wealth of blacks, historically much lower than that of whites, took an even bigger hit, dropping by over three-quarters, from around $10,000 to around $2,000.

As most Americans, particularly those under 65 years old, rely on health insurance obtained through the workplace, it is no surprise that employer-sponsored health insurance fell dramatically in the Great Recession.  The share of Americans under age 65 who are covered by employment-based health insurance fell from 62.9% in 2007 to 58.9% in 2009.  Some of that decline was offset by increases in public insurance coverage, but nevertheless in 2009 there were 50.7 million people, 7.5 million of them children, without any type of health insurance.

The last two recessions have been characterized by very slow labor market recoveries.  If job growth is similar to that of the last two recoveries (early 1990s and early 2000s), then the much greater scale of job loss in the Great Recession means it could be well into the next decade before we make up all the jobs lost.


Note: the charts do not necessarily correspond to the text. We felt the text itself was powerful enough. Should you wish to see the corresponding charts, please visit 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Move to Amend the Constitution

 The National Campaign to End Corporate Personhood and Demand Democracy! Move to Amend
   About | Donate | Get Involved

Over 2600 people have already signed up to participate in Resolutions Week this spring and fall. If you haven't yet signed up to help Resolve to Amend in your community, please do it today! The campaign gets started next week with our first conference call for participating activists. Below is the message we sent out on Wednesday announcing the campaign - please join us!
Dear friends,
Since the Move to Amend coalition launched in 2010, our grassroots activists have successfully passed dozens of community resolutions declaring public support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. FEC by establishing that a corporation is not a person, and money is not speech!
Move to Amend organizers won these efforts through both city council resolutions and citizen's initiatives placed directly before voters. 

Help Your Community Resolve to Amend the Constitution!

This spring, we’re planning a push to pass 100 new local resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment. Will you join us? 

Partnering with other ally organizations, we’ll work with you to hold organizing meetings, conduct outreach to supportive local officials and generate media attention for your local resolution efforts.
Our goal is to have a critical mass of resolutions introduced the week of June 11th, including many new resolutions directed by city councils to go on local ballots this November.
Would you like to help organize your community to push for a local resolution calling for an amendment as part of "Resolutions Week" (June 11th-15th)? Sign up now and we'll be in touch soon with details about next steps.

Thank you for all that you do for the Move(ment) to Amend!

Nancy Price, Laura Bonham, Lisa Graves, Leesa "George" Friday, Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, Jerome Scott, David Cobb, Ben Manski
Move to Amend National Executive Committee

PS - 
On Tuesday, 64 Vermont towns moved to amend in town meeting after town meeting, across the state

Now they're headed to the Vermont State Legislature to support a resolution by State Senator Ginny Lyons calling on Congress to pass an amendment! We'll keep you posted. 
Let's follow their lead and initiate resolutions from coast-to-coast for "Resolutions Week" this June! 

Shout out to all our partners in Vermont (Public Citizen, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Vermont Peace and Justice Center, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, VPIRG, Occupy Burlington, Common Cause Vermont, Rural Vermont, Vermonters Say Corporations Are Not People, Vermont Action for Peace, Vermont Workers Center, and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield - co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream) and to all the super amazing grassroots activists who got it done in Vermont!!

PO Box 610, Eureka CA 95502  |  (707) 269-0984 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

United Voices, - Manal Fakhoury

I'm shockedI'm speechless, I'm upset and I've just had enough.

I've had enough of the madness coming out of Tallahassee. I've had enough of their dirty politics. But all that could not have prepared us for what just happened in the Florida Senate. As Senators get ready to debate and vote on SB1360, the Senate is swamped with anti-Islam hate-filled booklets, flyers and posters.

We've been sounding the alarms, mobilizing, rallying and lobbying people in Florida against SB1360. It's sponsor Senator Alan Hays, has said over and over that the intended purpose of his bill is to protect American and Florida laws from "Foreign" laws.  We've repeatedly pointed out that his legislation is a version of David Yerushalmi's model legislation that's designed to target Muslims and Islamic practices.

Now that his legislation, SB1360, has been sent to the Senate floor and will be voted on in the next two days, WHAT DOES SENATOR HAYS DO

According to the Miami HeraldSenator Hays' office has flooded the Senate with a booklet titled “Shari'ah Law: Radical Islam's threat to the U.S. Constitution.”He said his intent is to educate people on Islam and Sharia Law, a Koran-based code followed in some Islamic countries.

But that's not all Florida Senators found in their mailboxes and in hallways today.  Accompanying Senator Hays' booklet, are VERY DISTURBING AND HATEFUL posters. One poster urges the reader to "SAVE US FROM THE PERSECUTION OF ISLAM" and claims that "ISLAM.. IS THE ENEMY OF THE UNITED STATES" that's "DETERMINED TO OVERTHROW OUR STATE AND COUNTRY."

Another poster, scares the reader with "Under Shariah law, non-Muslims are subject to banishment, amputation and death." Click here to see the posters for yourself.


Our supporters (you) have generated over 10,000 emails to the Florida Senate over the last 2 days. Now we need to generate hundreds of phone calls. Can I count on you to make at least 5 phone calls today?

Below are the names and phone numbers of the The Florida Senate Leadership. Traditionally, lawmakers will follow their party leadership when it comes to voting on issues. If the leadership opposes SB1360, the other Senators will also oppose it.  The Democratic leadership has already indicated that they oppose the bill. Which means we need to put pressure on the Republican leadership starting with the Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senator Bennett, Senator Gardiner and Senator Benacquisto.  We've included their phone numbers below.


Mike Haridopolos
Mike Haridopolos
(850) 487-5229
Mike Bennett
Mike Bennett
President Pro Tempore
(850) 487-5078
Andy Gardiner
Andy Gardiner
Majority (Republican) Leader
(850) 487-5047
Andy Gardiner
Lizbeth Benacquisto
Deputy Majority (Republican) Leader
(850) 487-5356

Evelyn J. Lynn
Evelyn J. Lynn
Conference Chair
(850) 487-5033
Nan H.  Rich
Nan H. Rich
Minority (Democratic) Leader
(850) 487-5103
Arthenia L. Joyner
Arthenia L. Joyner
Minority (Democratic) Leader
Pro Tempore
(850) 487-5059



Manal Fakhoury
United Voices

P.S. Regardless of where you live, we need your financial support to continue this political fightCAN YOU MAKE A DONATION OF $50, $100 or $250 in order to mobilize more people, grow this campaign and defeat this law in Florida?