Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm almost afraid to wade into this issue, as I'm sure I will anger many (I invite your comments!), but this issue is too important NOT to post on. Below is my analysis of the Obama Administration's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian courtroom in lower Manhattan.

Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a criminal? Yes -- and, in a perfect world, he should get his day in court. He should be tried by an impartial jury lead by an impartial judge, and legally collected evidence should be presented for and against his guilt. The findings of the court should reflect the strength of our constitution -- finding someone guilty of a crime despite all of the protections afforded the accused.

How beautifully normative -- huh?

But we have problems here. Alot of them.

The Obama Administration has put on their normative caps (something I usually applaud) for exactly the wrong issue, at exactly the wrong time. Unfortunately, they have also pinned alot of their credibility and political capital to this trial.

Beyond moving the trial to the remotest corner of the globe, into a village without Internet, TV, radio, telegraph, semaphore, or word of mouth -- you are not going to find an impartial jury, much less an impartial judge. By holding the trial in Lower Manhattan a few blocks from ground zero, you raise the absurdity of this fact. Anyone who can swear in court that they are able to render an impartial verdict for KSM (especially in NY) is a liar. Can you bar the jurors from visiting something as innocuous as wikipedia?

Then there is the "evidence" issue. Will the transcripts of KSM's Gitmo interrogations be allowed? How do you transliterate the sound of water flowing over someone's gagged mouth? I would think that any lawyer would argue that there are some serious 4th and 5th amendment issues at play there. Should a judge rule that they are admissible, can a proper chain of custody be established over the content of the transcripts without violating alot of people's TS/SCI clearances?

Was KSM mirandized?

What evidence can be presented in open court? Will the government be granting temporary clearances to the jurors?

But more importantly, this trial will run the risk of perhaps the greatest opportunity for jury nullification even witnessed. Will this be a trial of a Terrorist, or a trial on Waterboarding? Will this be a trial of the 9/11 plotters, or an indictment of Gitmo?

Ultimately, I think this unlikely. KSM will be found guilty because he is guilty, but the issue is this: if the result of the trial is a foregone conclusion, is it a trial? The jury, upon entering the courtroom will not be questioning KSM's guilt or innocence, but rather how long they have to sit there before they can say "guilty" and go home.

Will the US government be issued a gag order on talking about terror, al Qaeda, KSM et al. during the trial to avoid charges of jury tampering?

This will be a show trial. Which is the polar opposite of what the Obama Administration wants, and it is a tragedy. We cannot find him innocent -- but we cannot give him a fair day in court either. What kind of defense will KSM present for his actions? Even scarier, what kind of defense will he be ALLOWED to present?

Ultimately, I don't know how else we can approach this mess. It seems that if we are to try terrorists like KSM in civilian court, they must be treated as criminals from their arrest to their incarceration. Since the Bush Administration failed to do this, we cannot attempt to reverse engineer a trial for those detained before Obama took office. This is something it appears the current President is seeking to rectify with the UndieBomber, but will a free and fair trial for terror suspects even be possible in this media environment?

In the words of my colleague Jeremy, that's my 50 cents (inflation...)

If you've got a better idea, let me know.

 
My colleague Jeremy has a great post about the range of options available to Washington in dealing with the nuclear problem in Tehran.  I agree with him that a military strike is an undesirable option.  It is unlikely to succeed, and could be counter-productive by persuading the Iranians that it is in their vital national interest to go nuclear.  I also agree with him that the Iranian economy is terribly vulnerable, especially to gasoline sanctions.  The Obama Administration seems to share his enthusiasm for sanctions.  Secretary Clinton recently came out in support of "targeted sanctions," which would attempt to punish the decision-makers in Iran, such as the Revolutionary Guard, but not harm the average Iranian.  However, this approach is not without risks.

Firstly, an effective sanctions regime requires cooperation from the entire international community.  If sanctions are to target gasoline, then oil-producing and refining nations are the key participants - without their support, any sanctions effort would fail.  Saudi Arabia would most likely help any effort to stymie their Iranian nemesis, but other oil-producing states, such as Venezuela, may not be so forthcoming.  The major question marks, as always, are Russia and China.  If they can be persuaded to accede, sanctions stand a chance of squeezing Tehran.  But if they, or large MNC's based in their territories, don't buy in, sanctions will be ineffective.

Secondly, economic sanctions against Iran are a risky gambit with the potential for severe blowback.  The Iranian regime is internally isolated and faces a strong and growing opposition.  Most reports speculate that the faltering economy is a key issue for the opposition movement and a significant source of dissatisfaction.  The majority of the populace faults the government, not the international community, for their economic difficulties.  This is notable because the trump card that the Iranian regime has often played in the past is to blame everything on "The Great Satan."  By shifting responsibility for any and all woes that everyday Iranians face to the United States, the government has been able to shore up their domestic credentials and remain in power. 

That tactic is currently failing.  The Iranian government has been unable to convince the populace that America is behind their problems, and as a result the opposition movement continues to gather strength.  Economic sanctions could reverse this trend, and enable the regime to shift blame onto the international community.  While "targeted" sanctions solve this problem in theory, in practice it is difficult if not impossible to limit the pernicious effects of sanctions to a select few.  Furthermore, the key is not who is actually affected by sanctions - it is who thinks they are being affected.  The current dynamic faults the Iranian government, but it is a fragile consensus.  Public opinion is notoriously fickle, and the mere existence of a publicized sanctions program could be enough to tilt the balance of blame onto the international community.

I don't mean to suggest that sanctions should be taken off the table.  In a problematic situation, sometimes the least-bad option is the best.  But any move towards sanctions must acknowledge and address these concerns or risk failure.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

From the ever-so 'pithy' Michele McPhee a conservative radio 'host' up here in Boston:

“As liberal a bastion as we are, I think people take umbrage, whether you are left or right, at Khalid Sheikh Mohammed laughing his head off in a taxpayer-funded cell at a billion dollars a year. Even the biggest moonbat can’t wrap their arms around that,” McPhee said. “It’s symbolic of how out of touch some politicians are.”

Oh Man!

Is the cost of Gitmo or a Supermax measured only in dollars and cents? While there are several valid arguments both for and against trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court (see my next post!), I think its important to approach this quote (and the general FOX News kerfufflery around trying KSM and the UndieBomber in civilian court) with the gravitas that it deserves:

Stop being silly.

Lets talk about cost-benefit here. We can calculate this in the nice quantifiable black and white numbers -- but we would be missing the whole picture. In the past few years, billions of dollars have been spent having KBR/Haliburton build up our internment facilities in Cuba, but the cost to the United States has been much more than the dollars spent.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, our past approach to shadowy apprehensions, semi-legal interrogation techniques, and secretive military tribunals has become a constant motivator and recruitment tool for Al Qaeda and its affiliated movements -- and has fueled dijihadis and third-generation self-starter terrorists around the globe.

But perhaps even more concerning, Guantanamo has become a recruitment center, training camp, and radicalization zone for all alleged enemy combatants -- whether they were rightly 'charged' or otherwise. It is an uncomfortable truth -- without due process or access to legal aid, many innocents have found themselves in Gitmo for a stay. How many walk out innocent is another matter. There has been, in the past few years, a steady stream of ex-Guantanamo inmates who have participated in 'martyrdom ops', or been arrested mid-plot. Still skeptical? Use the google!

Specifically, AQAP has been revitalized with ex-Gitmo recruits, and if you want a more direct example of what Gitmo may have cost us so far, the man who trained Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (our least favorite example of the efficacy of Liar Liar Pants on Fire) was a former inmate at Gitmo.

AQAP's media wing Malahem has celebrated the impact that Guantanamo Bay has had on their recruitment and strength, most memorably in last year's video "From Here We Begin, at Al Aqsa We Shall Meet". In it, Abu Sufian al Azdi Saeed al Shihri (a former Gitmo resident) stated:

"We assure our leaders Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, may God protect him, and Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, that we shall continue to follow the path of jihad. By God's will, our imprisonment has only made us more resilient and more committed to our principles that we fought jihad and were taken prisoners for"

al Shihri (by the way) is now AQAP's number 2. He has gone from Gitmo to XO quite fast.

But this is merely one example of what Gitmo has cost this nation. It has also driven a wedge between the US and it allies, and has soured many NGOs and IGOs about participating in stability operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where they are desperately needed. Today marks a year since President Obama pledged to close Gitmo in that time, and it is my hope that that pledge will be realized in the future. However, that leaves us with the most pertinent question:

What now?

While there are many things that can (and will be) said about the civilian trial of KSM, I don't think it particularly Moonbatty to think we need a new approach to how we deal with captured terror suspects -- one that does not fuel our enemies, or lessen our national security.

Don't worry, you read all those zeros correctly - $2.5 billion.  That's the estimated amount of bribes paid by Afghans in 2009, according to a recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

As I wrote earlier, corruption is a major problem in Afghanistan.  It saps what little legitimacy the Karzai government retains and prevents the regime from providing even the most basic services to the populace.  To put that figure in perspective, it constitutes roughly 23% of GNP.  Spending 23% of GNP on a single sector is problematic for any economy, but spending it on bribes in an already faltering and fragile state is disasterous.

Rory Stewart highlighted this problem in a recent article, writing,

The effective, legitimate Afghan government, on which the entire counterinsurgency strategy depends, shows little sign of emerging, in part because the international community lacks the skills, the knowledge, the legitimacy, or the patience to build a new nation.
His whole article is well worth reading, but the takeaway remains the same - no amount of American intervention can succeed without a real government in Afghanistan.

I'd like to make everyone out there aware of something pretty amazing that is happening on the Fletcher campus right now. As we speak dozens of graduate students are combing through thousands and text messages and tweets sent from Haiti and using them to direct search and rescue teams on the ground to people in need. This is an unprecedented event that I am positive will soon become the norm for international incident response.

Fletcher students have taken software that was initially designed to plot crisis incidents in Kenya and have transformed it into something that is actually helping first responders in real time. For years, experts in the security community have wondered how best to coordinate civilian and military efforts in a way that is helpful to both the military and civilian communities without compromising either communities independence or ability to function. Ushahidi has for the first time transformed crowd sourcing into the ideal link between civilian and military networks. Through various media networks, Fletcher students have gotten the word out to people on the ground in Haiti that if they text 4636 on their cell phones they will reach the Ushahidi network, which is mostly being run out of the graduate dorm on the Fletcher campus, but is also reaching volunteers in Geneva, and various countries in Africa as well. These texts communicate locations where people are either trapped under rubble or are in need of various supplies and or medical attention. Students at Fletcher then use Google Earth and various other mapping software to locate exact GPS coordinates for those in need of help and plot that location on a map located on a dedicated Ushahidi website (see the attached link). Numerous international organizations and militaries ranging from SOUTHCOM to the American Red Cross use these geo cordinates to launch aid missions to these exact locations. So far Fletcher students working through the Ushahidi network are responsible for at least 14 lives being saved. In other instances orphanages have texted that they are in dire need of water and within hours trucks arrive with the neccessary supplies. My hat goes off to these dedicated students who are litteraly working around the clock to supply teams on the ground with the appropriate coordinates.

In addition to text messages, the Ushahidi network is also monitoring twitter and facebook to find people who are in need of help. When not enough information is provided to pin point an exact location, Fletcher students write back to those who are twitting and facebooking to garner more precise information. I have to reiterate once again that as far as I know such a response has never been coordinated to a disaster using such social networking sites.

In another unprecedented move, the US military has released all of its satellite data for Haiti to allow people involved in crowd sourcing such as the Ushahidi network to actually plot where structures have collapsed and identify which roads are useable to deliver aid.

Currently, the following organizations are responding to geo-coordinates delivered by Fletcher students through the Ushahidi network:

Red cross
United Nations Foundation
Plan International
Charity Water
Clinton Foundation
US State Department
International Medical Corps
AIDG
USAID
FEMA

Ultimately, I believe that a conference involving multiple government agencies and leading NGO's will need to be conducted in order to discuss the effectiveness of crowd sourcing for future disaster response. Hard questions will need to be asked such as, were more lives saved due to exact coordinates being provided or were more people lost because teams were directed to a particular spot where 50 people were starving instead of another closer community of 500 simply because the smaller community possessed a cell phone? Once again though I have to say regardless of the outcome that my hat goes off to the innovative individuals who decided to try to make a difference if they could, and in my opinion their contribution has been outstandingly signifigant.

To leave you with one thought, I wonder if this is something that has been so successful mostly on account of the fact that it is so new. By this I mean that because this is such a new idea that only those in need and those responding to them are yet aware of this network. With every great idea we must consider the downsides. If for instance this same crowd sourcing system is used again to respond to incidences of violence in post election Kenya, do we run the risk of playing into the hands of people with bad intentions who do not wish to see people helped and thus text and tweet in false reports in order to divert the attention of first responders to those in need? This is an issue that certainly needs to be addressed in the future and I hope to see some dialogue started in the comments section of this blog. But for now my best goes out to those people struggling to survive in Haiti, the first responders on the ground and the tireless students at Fletcher.

And that's my fifty cents (inflation...)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon threatens to ignite a nuclear arms race across the Middle East. The U.S. cannot tolerate the level of instability that would result from Middle Eastern states developing nuclear weapons, as the region remains vital to the energy security of the United States. Sanctions placed on Iran by the international community have thus far been unable to force Iran into a position where it is willing to seriously negotiate. It is my opinion that more direct action is needed to force the hand of Iran’s leaders.

Iran perceives itself as being a rising regional hegemon and is determined to play a dominant role in the Gulf. The Iranian state believes that the United States is intent upon acting on its stated policy of regime change in Iran and thus views the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as the greatest threat to its national security. Iran also sees itself as being surrounded by unfriendly neighbors, two of whom –Israel and Pakistan- are armed with nuclear weapons.

Available intelligence suggests that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. This evidence includes:

  • Iran’s building of a nuclear enrichment plant in the desert at Natanz. The facility is designed to house 54,000 centrifuges but only 8,000 are believed to be operational. The fact that this facility has been converted into an underground bunker and is surrounded by antiaircraft guns strongly suggests that the nuclear activities contained within are not IAEA compliant.
  • Data extracted from Iran’s computer networks in 2007 showed the Iranians to be in possession of blueprints for a nuclear warhead.
  • The recent discovery of a hidden nuclear enrichment plant located inside an Iranian Revolutionary Guard base about 20 miles from the town of Qum.

While the previous administration recognized the Iranian threat, the Bush policy of placing conditions on negotiations has only allowed the Iranians to progress further on their timeline toward achieving a weapon. Furthermore, what seemed like early success on the part of the Obama administration in getting the Iranians to return to the negotiating table was actually just another attempt at stalling.

While air strikes have long been the solution of choice for dealing with Iran's nuclear program, expert analysis has shown that at best a coordinated air strike would merely delay Iran's acquisition of a nuclear device by approximately three years. Secretary if Defense Robert Gates is also an advocate of this analysis. I propose that the US use "smart power" instead to drive the Iranian economy to near collapse through a "Price Attack."

While Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon appears likely, I believe that Iran’s desire for nuclear energy is genuine. Oil industry experts are predicting that Iran’s oil exports will decline to zero by 2014-2015. This comes as a result of domestic energy demand growth (6.4%) exceeding supply growth (5.6%) every year since 1980. Iran’s dependence on its shrinking oil export revenue suggests that the regime may be more vulnerable than previously believed.

Iran’s oil export crisis is a strategic opportunity

  • The US should undertake a non-violent economic attack on the Iranian government that seeks to collapse their economy thereby denying them the resources to pursue a nuclear weapons program
  • A price attack seeks to erode market power and reduce the price of oil. This can be accomplished through the adoption of increased fuel efficiency standards that overtime will decrease the demand for oil and force cartel producers to defend price by reducing supply. This is exactly what happened to Saudi Arabia in the 1980’s. Eventually Saudi Arabia was forced to increase production in order to reclaim market share and stave off bankruptcy, which caused the price of oil to drop further
    • The goal of a price attack would be to force Saudi Arabia to repeat this behavior. As a result, Iran’s oil revenues would collapse because unlike other OPEC countries, Iran cannot increase production to compensate for falling price due to its crumbling infrastructure
      • According to a report published by the National Academy of Sciences, a 50% increase in U.S. fuel efficiency standards would be enough to lower global demand by 2%-3% in 5-7 years, which historically has been enough to trigger a price defense by the cartel

Policy Implications

  • Likely to constrain Iran in the long run, while simultaneously yielding monetary savings for the U.S.
  • There is a chance that the price attack may be too successful and lead to the complete collapse of the Iranian state resulting in a regional power vacuum
  • Policy relies upon Iranian oil exports continuing to decline due to a lack of investment in infrastructure. However, Europe and China continue to defy sanctions by investing in Iran’s energy sector

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

While I had a great plan for my first D&D blogpost, it is tough to get scooped by the WSJ, NYT, TPM, and Jarret Brachman. Thus, my amazing piece on AQ joining the big-boy counterintelligence leagues through mole-running has since passed its prime, all while I wiled away my weekend in a shitty B&B in NH (never stay there).

Instead, there is something incredibly important that has happened today. Senator Elect Scott Brown (R-MA), has become a symbol -- and a worrying symbol for all of us interested in Counter-Terrorism. Below is my open letter to him.

Dear Mr. Senator Elect:

The “independent majority” thing aside, there are a few things you need to know before you decide to keep spouting off about waterboarding, Gitmo, that pesky ‘rule of law’ and civilian trials issue, and all the rest – you have toed your Roveian, Cheneyian line on “international” security, but, as Beau has so aptly pointed out here, you have a lot of flash, but not too much substance.

Tonight, you told us that our "tax dollars should be spent on weapons to stop them [terrorists], not on lawyers to protect them." You need to think harder on this. Here are some things to think about:

  1. On 22 October, 2009, Mr. Terek Mehanna of Sudbury MA was arrested while plotting to carry out sniper-style attacks on Massachusetts shopping malls. Mr. Mehanna is an American citizen, and while he sought support and training from Al Qaeda Central, he was unsuccessful in doing so. This appears to not have deterred Mr. Mehanna, who intended to arm himself and carry out his terrorist attack on his own initiative.

  1. On 5 November, 2009, Major Nidal Hassan (US Army) killed 13 and wounded 38 during a shooting spree at a military processing center located on Ft. Hood US Army Base, Killeen TX.

  1. On Christmas Day, 2009 – a middle class Nigerian gentleman lit his underoos on fire.

This has gotten serious. In the past few years, the number of plots targeting the West have originated not from the AQ hardcore in Waziristan, nor from AQAP in Yemen, but from isolated, online, angry groups of young men (and women) who seek to replicate the actions of the Global Jihad Movement. Waterboarding AQ Global Jihadis, detaining them, renditioning them, and disapearing them, will NOT deterr Al Qaeda's "new wave", instead, it will strengthen the movement.

The “new wave” of Al Qaeda (if we can call it such) rising in the West is comprised of homegrown, self-radicalized Western citizens who have taken up the call to jihad. This new wave of Al Qaeda is decidedly different from past iterations in three primary ways:

They are citizens of the countries they desire to attack, and have lived in these countries for a majority of their lives.

In the past seven years, multiple terror cells have been identified and neutralized in Spain, the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Greece. Europe has also fallen victim to multiple terrorist incidents from the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands, to the 7/7 and Madrid bombings in the UK and Spain. Each of these groups were comprised of European nationals who had self-radicalized, and carried out their attacks largely on their own initiative, without prompting or aid from Al Qaeda Central in Afghanistan/Pakistan. They are reacting to their families’ (only sometimes) perceived marginalization within Western European states, along with their perception of a Western waged War on Islam.

They have little or no direct contact with Al Qaeda hierarchy.

Al Qaeda Central did not target these men for recruitment, but instead has, more recently, taken a passive approach to jihad – allowing their ideology and grand narrative to attract men like these to “apply” for training and aid only after they have self-radicalized and selected possible targets. It is likely that even without this training, these men would carry out attacks without any tangible aid from Al Qaeda – possibly with larger consequences, since many were identified and apprehended as a result of their travel to Pakistan, thus eliminating or mitigating their effectiveness. In fact, it stands to reason that Al Qaeda Central will continue to maximize its passivity with these groups, limiting or eliminating any direct geographic contact or tangible funding, so as to avoid future detection of their members by Western security personnel.

They are strengthened, rather than weakened, by US military action in Iraq and the Af/Pak regions.

While US military actions have, to some degree, limited the threats presented by groups like Al Qaeda Central to US civilians and critical infrastructure, these actions have had the opposite effect on radicalized and radicalizing individuals in Europe. The images of Americans killing Muslims (be they radicals or otherwise) inflames these young men, and further convinces them of the accuracy of Al Qaeda’s grand narrative.

The presence of Western troops in Muslim regions further creates the perception of a Global Crusade, and provides these men misguided justifications for their own violent aspirations. These men are further radicalized by their own perceptions of being equal victims of Western aggression due to their own marginalization within European society. Furthermore, these men are able to act independently from Al Qaeda Central, and thus are not impeded by military actions intended to isolate men like bin Laden and al Zawahiri from their overseas cells. In fact, US military operations have strengthened these groups by swelling their ranks with local, home-grown recruits and financial sources.

These new terror cells represent a clear danger to Western civilians. Not only are they not dissuaded or deterred by Western military operations and "quasi-legal" detentions, they are emboldened by them. Furthermore, they present a much more dangerous group of operatives, due to their familiarity with Western culture, language, values and local infrastructures. They are able to travel freely and covertly within the West, and are incredibly difficult to detect until they have entered the final preparations for their attacks. They present a challenge that cannot be defeated with military action.

But, what can be done immediately to defeat the dangers presented by the UndieBomber and the serious cadres of ‘angry young men’? How can the threat they present be mitigated, or stopped altogether? It seems to me that the answer lies in 3 key areas:

The first two are too technical to enter into here (A Retasking of HUMINT, SIGINT, and Digital Monitoring). The third, sir, rests squarely in your bully pulpit’s jurisdiction.

We Need New Frameworks for Cooperation between Intelligence and Law Enforcement for Constitutional and Transparent Neutralization

The application of intelligence gained from new SIGINT and HUMINT sources will require the creation of new frameworks for cooperation between intelligence communities, local law enforcement, and judiciaries to ensure that these individuals and groups are neutralized through constitutional means, denying the dijihad of any examples of perceived Western anti-Islamic aggression or racial hypocrisy. In this, transparency will be key in shaping the perceptions of minority populations within the west.

This effort is critical, since a failure to accomplish this goal will result in the ‘hydrafication’ of Al Qaeda-oriented terrorism. Should one head be cut off poorly, two may grow in its place. These actors must be proven criminals, not ‘disappeared martyrs’. The process in which these self-starters are neutralized must be seen as objective, swift, and constitutional.

Intelligence Operatives may collect and analyze data, but it must be Law Enforcement Officials who carry out arrests, and Judicial Authorities that try and imprison suspects. Any system that deviates from this framework will inculcate – within a sector of the population -- a sense that secretive Western governments are waging war not on terrorists, but Islam itself, and are doing so through shadowy means. This will not only be counterproductive, but likely lead to a growth in dijihad activity, and more self-starter terrorists.

Think hard on this, Mr. Senator Elect -- your defense of waterboarding, rejection of civilian trials, and Tea-Baggerish support of a Cheneyish National Security Paradigm will make us LESS SAFE against the most likely threats to this Nation, not the opposite.

Good Luck Sir. Good Luck to Us All.

Amid the hubbub about the US Senate special election today, foreign policy seems to have taken a back seat in the contest between Democratic State Attorney General Martha Coakley and Republican State Senator Scott Brown. The lack of emphasis on foreign policy by the Coakley campaign stems from her opposition to the President’s Afghanistan policy and the minimal foreign policy effect of this special election. It also bodes poorly for any hope of a future unified Democratic front on national security policy.

Scott Brown’s announcement that he would be the 41st vote against health care legislation in the Senate has become a rallying cry for both Democrats and Republicans. The last minute barrage of ads in Massachusetts includes one by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that makes specific reference to the now (in)famous quote by Brown – “I would be the 41st vote. I would actually stop it.” Other pro-Coakley campaign ads address Brown’s policies toward taxes, job creation, financial oversight, and emergency contraception for rape victims. Domestic policy issues dominate this campaign, only six short weeks after President Obama announced the new war strategy in Afghanistan and with additional US troops already deploying to the mountainous central Asian nation.

Avoiding foreign policy issues, especially Afghanistan, seems to have been a strategic choice made by both campaigns to avoid what would have otherwise been an awkward situation. Democrat Coakley opposes President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, while Republican Brown supports it. Although much domestic policy will be affected if Scott Brown is elected, President Obama would actually gain a supporter on national security issues in the Senate were the Republican to triumph in today’s polls. But, the fact that President Obama was in Boston on Sunday offering a full-throated endorsement of Coakley points to the simple fact that the smart folks in the White House are more worried about having a 41st Republican in the Senate than they are about Coakley opposing the President’s war plan. Obama lost the support of some congressional Democrats because of his plan to increase troop levels, but he gained just as much, if not more, Republican support in the process. Conversely, Republicans were understandably reticent to have the theme of Scott Brown’s campaign be anything approximating support for President Obama.

The Massachusetts special election does not portend well for Democrats and their unity on national security issues. Coakley, as mentioned above, opposes the president on Afghanistan, which forced her to mostly duck the issue during the campaign. The 2010 mid-term elections will happen only a few short months after President Obama’s August 31, 2010 deadline to end the “combat mission” in Iraq – pushing foreign policy issues again to the fore. If this election is any indication, the party will be extremely divided on national security issues, further dimming their already dark electoral prospects. President Obama must secure some degree of Democratic unity on Afghanistan, the major foreign policy issue of the day, to avoid an opposition Congress for the rest of his first term.

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