Responding to Republican Diggs Brown: A smart, realistic foreign policy
I always appreciate a chance to increase public debate, so I was pleased to discover (via a post on our Facebook fanpage) that Republican candidate Diggs Brown decided to post his response to our candidate questionnaire publicly. He is running in the Republican primary for the 4th congressional district of Colorado, a seat once held by the notorious right-winger Marilyn Musgrave, now held by Democrat Betsy Markey.
We sent him a questionnaire as part of our work to promote a foreign policy based on eliminating nuclear weapons, protecting human rights, and resolving conflicts with diplomacy. Each election year, our PAC endorses candidates who will promote that agenda in Congress. When we are interested in a race, I send questionnaires to all candidates involved to give each person an opportunity to share his or her views on our priority issues so we can weigh them in our endorsement decision.
I thought I would take this opportunity to respond directly to some of Mr. Brown’s decidedly misguided statements about American foreign policy.
Let the fun begin. Mr. Brown starts his response with this:
I’m a Green Beret. You’re something called “Peace Action West”. This is not going to be pretty.
So let me say to Mr. Brown:
I am an advocate of a smart foreign policy that actually makes Americans safer. You’re someone who thinks a 30,000-pound bunker-busting bomb is a “diplomatic tool.” This is not going to be pretty.
Question 1: The Future of International Nuclear Weapons Policy
To his credit, Mr. Brown supports some reductions of US and Russian nuclear arsenals. However, he goes on to add:
As for the “elimination of nuclear weapons,” are you kidding me?
It takes a pretty naïve outlook to assume that we live in a warm and fuzzy world where Kim Jong Il isn’t a lunatic dictator who’s starving his own people and blackmailing the Pacific Rim with nuclear threats.
I invite Mr. Brown to call up Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Hagel, General Anthony Zinni and the countless other people from all political backgrounds who support the call for the global elimination of nuclear weapons and tell them how hopelessly naïve they are.
The fact of the matter is that nuclear weapons are a liability for US security, not an asset. As Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn wrote in their much-lauded 2007 Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal:
Reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage. The effort could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations. Without the bold vision, the actions will not be perceived as fair or urgent. Without the actions, the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible.
We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal, beginning with the measures outlined above.
Question 2: A Nuclear Test Ban
In response to the question on ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, first let me address a sentence in Mr. Brown’s introductory paragraph:
Hitler signed a piece of paper agreeing to “peace in our time.”
I will point Mr. Brown to the corollary of Godwin’s law, which states that whoever makes an irrelevant Hitler reference has automatically lost the debate. The fact that Hitler once signed a piece of paper does not negate the positive benefits of treaties.
However, to take on the substance of his objection to the CTBT:
We must learn from history. We must continue to develop the most state-of-the-art weapons systems and we should be testing them.
What’s the use of having weapons if we’re not sure that they’ll work? More importantly, what’s the use of having weapons if our enemies aren’t sure that they’ll work?
The US hasn’t tested nuclear weapons since 1992, and the independent JASON scientific advisory board confirms that there is no reason to doubt the safety and reliability of our stockpile. As former Utah Republican Senator Jake Garn recently wrote:
Today, we stand to gain more than any other nation from a global, verifiable ban on all nuclear weapons testing. After more than 1,000 nuclear explosions, many of which produced deadly fallout on our state, we ended nuclear testing in 1992 and four years later signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which “prohibits any nuclear weapon test explosion” and establishes a powerful global network to verify compliance. However, in 1999, the Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty over issues regarding the long-term maintenance and viability of our arsenal in the absence of testing, and concerns about the ability to detect surreptitious nuclear weapons tests by “cheater” nations.
Over the past decade, advances in our stockpile stewardship program mean that we do not need nuclear explosive testing to maintain the effectiveness and reliability of our remaining arsenal, which is the most fearsome and effective in the world. In 2006, the Department of Energy released the finding of lab studies that show that key plutonium parts in warheads last at least 85 to 100 years, which is much longer than previously thought.
The global network of seismic and other monitoring stations set up to verify compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, together with U.S. intelligence, mean that no would-be cheater could confidently conduct an undetected nuclear explosion large enough to threaten our security. Once the treaty enters into force, we would also have the option to pursue short-notice, on-site inspections to investigate suspicious events.
As far as whether our “enemies” aren’t sure if they would work, there are some atomic bomb survivors in Japan who could tell the US government just how devastatingly “effective” US nuclear weapons have proven to be.
Question 3: The Future of the US Nuclear Stockpile
Since Mr. Brown offers support for new nuclear weapons without much explanation, I would encourage him to go back and read the text of the question laying out the scientific evidence asserting that there is no need to develop new nuclear weapons. Mr. Brown has plenty of harsh words for Iran, but does not seem to realize that the US has an enormous credibility gap in prohibiting the development of nuclear weapons by other countries while adding to a stockpile that could already blow up the world several times over.
Question 4: US-Iran relations
As the cornerstone of my negotiations with Iran, I would speed up the development and production of the Massive Ordinance Penetrator, a precision-guided, 30,000-pound bunker-busting bomb (the “MOP”) capable of destroying their underground nuclear facilities.
Bringing the MOP to the negotiating table would be an extremely effective “diplomatic tool”.
There would be a single precondition for negotiation: The immediate and unconditional cessation of all nuclear activities and the granting of full access to our weapons inspection teams. If Mahmoud Ahmedinijad does that, we can talk further.
Those poor Iranian students who Ahmedinijad’s henchmen were slaughtering in the streets of Tehran this summer (and who President Obama ignored because he was so afraid of offending the Iranians and damaging our “negotiations”) would be overwhelmed with gratitude if someone actually stood up to the tyrant running their country.
Do I laugh? Do I cry? This idea is not based on any credible interpretation of US-Iran relations. We saw how well threatening the Iranian regime worked under the Bush administration, during which the US made zero progress in resolving tensions or concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The Ahmadinejad regime feeds on that kind of hostility and would use national pride to cling to its nuclear program if faced with the MOP. There are few credible experts who think a military attack on Iran would be viable. The neoconservative Robert Kagan recently said of an air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, “That would provide a huge boost to the Tehran regime just when it is on the ropes — and for what? The uncertain prospect of setting back the nuclear program for a couple of years?”
With all due respect to Mr. Brown’s support for the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy, it is naive to think the Iranian people would be “overwhelmed with gratitude” if the US threatened to bomb Iran with a massive bunker-busting bomb. Nobody I met while traveling in Iran thought that the Bush administration’s aggressive posture toward Iran had been at all productive, and many of them resented the double standard the US applied to Iran’s nuclear program. Iranians are not desperate for someone to “[stand] up to the tyrant running their country.” They’re doing it themselves. And while they want global support for their cause and protection of their human rights, they don’t want US threats or military intervention.
Question 5: Sanctions on Iran
I support any and all sanctions on Iran, unilateral if need be. However, any sanctions should be backed up with the “diplomatic tool” of the MOP.
Why not pile sanctions on top of this disastrous “diplomatic” strategy? I have argued repeatedly that broad, unilateral sanctions against Iran won’t work, and will most likely backfire.
The US has to engage in smart, tough-minded diplomacy—the other options of sanctions and military action are not feasible. That means serious engagement that involves offering incentives as well as requiring changes in the Iranian regime’s behavior, as laid out by Iran experts Hillary Mann Leverett and Flynt Leverett.
Question 6: The War in Afghanistan and the War on Terror
I spent a tour of duty in Afghanistan. I helped rebuild a school there, one of the first in the nation that allowed girls to get an education. I saw the Afghans enjoying art, music and freedom of expression for the first time in a generation. I saw Afghan villagers walk miles in bare feet to get their first medical care in years. I saw the overwhelming generosity of the American people who opened their hearts and their wallets to ship school supplies to help children they’d never met.
All of that was made possible by the United States Military, and I saw the gratitude of the Afghan people who saw the American Soldier as their best hope for a better future. The chants of “Thank you America!” still ring in my ears.
I respect Mr. Brown’s record of service. I don’t doubt that there are many good-hearted soldiers in Afghanistan who honestly want to make life better for the people they encounter there. And there are surely some Afghans who are supportive of the US presence. However, the idea that chants of “Thank you America” are ringing out in Afghanistan is an view that glosses over an incredibly complex situation and growing resentment against the United States. The good intentions and the most committed, admirable efforts of individuals on the ground can’t fix the fact that the overall US approach is not only failing in its stated goals of defeating the threat of terrorism, it is contributing to instability and undermining US security by increasing anti-American sentiment.
In fact, Afghanistan expert Gilles Dorronsoro argues that the military presence is the number one factor in the resurgence of the Taliban, and the best way to defuse the insurgency is to reduce direct military confrontations.
Mr. Brown and I agree that we want to improve the lives of the Afghan people. However, I also agree with people like Afghan Parliamentarian Malalai Joya, a woman who faces death threats for her attempts to increase democracy in Afghanistan,, who argue that military occupation is exactly the wrong way to do that.
Question 7: Increasing civilian capacity in Afghanistan
Send in a bunch of civilians to get shot and blown up because there’s not enough military support to protect their butts? What could ever go wrong with that plan?
You are aware that there are very bad people who are trying to kill us, right? That’s why they call it a ‘war.’
I suggest that Mr. Brown (and everyone reading this for that matter) read US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry’s eloquent cables to the State Department arguing against a troop increase and arguing for civilian alternatives. Eikenberry served two tours of duty in Afghanistan as a commander:
In particular, we should weigh whether a relatively small additional investment in programs for development and government would yield results that, if not as visible as those from sending more troops, would move us closer to achieving our goals at far lesser cost and risk, both in lives and dollars. Accelerating our work on signature projects to deliver greater access to electricity, water, and education could have a high payoff in stability over the long term. With a greatly stepped-up development effort we could be in a position at some point to call off further troop deployments, as Afghans begin to see their lives improving and their needs addressed.
Question 8: Air strikes and drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan
You guys spent the first few years of the war complaining that too many of my brothers and sisters in the military were getting killed. Frankly, the use of military dead to make your political points is disgusting to me. Some of those men and women were my friends, and they would never want their sacrifice to be used to further your political agenda.
So now the Pentagon figures out way where a pilot can sit in a comfortable chair in Nevada and provide us air cover with a Nintendo controller, and you still have a problem?
What’s your plan? Sit back and “hope” that our enemies will learn to “Coexist” instead of murdering civilians, torturing women and plotting to plunge the world into a 7th Century theocracy?
This is where I really start to question the potential for a substantive debate. I encourage Mr. Brown to show me where on our blog or website we outline how we will hope so hard that everyone will start to coexist peacefully. Disagreeing about the approach in Afghanistan does not imply vapidity; there are numerous experts with direct experience in Afghanistan who are offering viable alternatives to the current approach in Afghanistan.
We have mourned and continue to mourn the loss of American life in Afghanistan, as well as the Afghans, Pakistanis and others who have died needlessly in this conflict. Counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen has condemned drone attacks for the way they undermine US security, and Jane Mayer in the New Yorker starkly laid out the longer-term impact on our society and the global community if we continue to go down the road of robotic warfare.
Question 9: Foreign Assistance and National Security
“Reestablishing civilian control of humanitarian and development efforts…” So the next time there’s an earthquake in Haiti or a Tsunami in Thailand the civilians will be the first responders?
Maybe the civilians will airdrop supplies from their massive fleet of civilian CH-47D Chinook helicopters? Or maybe the civilians will roll up onto the beaches in their civilian rigid-hull fast boats? Or maybe civilian paratroopers will secure the airfields for incoming flights of civilian C-130 cargo planes?
Mr. Brown appears to find the idea of civilian humanitarian efforts hilarious. However I, along with millions of generous Americans, funneled our money to those efforts through the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health, and other civilian organizations that are doing amazing, life saving work on the ground in Haiti.
We would have many more inspiring stories of the US government partnering with people on the ground in other countries to address problems like disease and poverty if our government committed the necessary resources to building civilian capacity. Secretary of Defense Gates has recognized the need for civilian instruments of national security and is a strong proponent or increasing funding for these programs:
“Funding for non-military foreign affairs programs… remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military. Consider that this year’s budget for the Department of Defense—not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—is nearly half a trillion dollars. The total foreign affairs budget request for the State Department is $36 billion … [T]here is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security.”
In his conclusion, Brown states, “It sounds like you and I have very different ideas about how the world works.”
That is certainly true: our vision for American foreign policy is based on learning from past successes and failures, adapting to the new geopolitical landscape of the 21st century, and investing in tools that have a track record of success. We advocate for developing tools other than the blunt instrument of military force, using smart diplomacy to resolve conflict, supporting local development efforts abroad, and using our tax dollars that would be wasted on military misadventures to improve the quality of life for all Americans. We will continue to work with our supporters and elected officials to steer this country away from the dangerous and misguided path that Mr. Brown so strongly supports.