Grim talk in aid of a good cause

Madeline Albright says that the war in Iraq is over.
Iran won.

Jane and Marc Nathanson hosted a fundraiser this evening for Jane Harman’s SecureUS PAC, with Madeline Albright as the guest speaker and two live Congressional candidates: retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charlie Brown, running to replace John “Pay the Lady” Doolittle (one of Abramoff’s friends, likely to be indicted after the election if not before) and Steve Filson, a former Navy flier and airline pilot who’s trying to unseat Richard Pombo, the chief of the Congressional branch of the Republican environmental-wrecking effort, a champion GOP fundraiser, and another Abramoff crony.

SecureUS has as its mission to help the Democrats displace the Republicans as the party Americans trust with their national security. (And no, that doesn’t mean acting like Joe Lieberman; it was Harman who labeled GWB the “leaker-in-chief.”) SecureUS is providing funding and technical assistance on security issues to thirty-two Democrats seeking Republican-held House seats. (SecureUS is not helping Harman herself, who faces a primary challenge from an “out of Iraq now” candidate, in the great tradition of the Democratic circular firing squad.)

Albright made three central points:

1. The war in Iraq was a war of choice, not of necessity. (“I understood the ‘Why?’ What I didn’t understand was the ‘Why now?’ and the “What next.”) But managing the situation in Iraq now is a necessity, not a choice.

2. The big winner from our invasion of Iraq was Iran.

3. We can’t bomb Iran out of its nuclear-weapons program. We might be able to negotiate Iran out of its nuclear-weapons program, if we were willing to offer a security guarantee in return. “The lesson if Iraq, for other countries, was that if you have a nuclear weapon the U.S. doesn’t invade you, and if you don’t have a nuclear weapon the U.S. does invade you.”

To that, Harman added two more:

4. The current round of sabre-rattling is strengthening, not weakening, Ahmadinejad in terms of Iran’s internal politics.

5. The intelligence base underlying the claim that Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon and is close to doing so is no stronger than the intelligence base underlying the claim that Iraq had an active nuclear-weapons program in 2002. It might be true, but we’re woefully underinformed.

Harman and Albright agreed on a sixth point, one I’ve heard echoed by everyone close to official and political Washington: the atmosphere there is more toxic than anyone can remember.

In political terms, I think the evening’s headline is that even hawkishly-inclined Democrats think that military action against Iran now would be a terrible mistake. I strongly agree, though I’m not so sure about options for the long run. And after the Iraqi debacle, that position might even be politically salable. “Don’t let George W. Bush lie us into another war” isn’t a terrible slogan, if Bush elects to make Iran the issue.

If you’re in the position, and the mood, to write a check, you could find lots of worse outfits to write it to, at least if you’d like the Democrats to be able to boast that they’re “tough enough to pull the trigger and smart enough to hit the target.”


A few weeks ago, I was on a blogger conference call to introduce SecureUS to the ‘sphere. I failed to write it up, an omission I regret. Having been on several such calls by now, I recall it as easily the most informative. Here are some of my contemporaneous notes:

Goal: “Getting more Democrats elected to Congress who can discuss security issues in depth.”

Current administration claims a monopoly of national security

Protecting America in war and peace has been a bedrock principle of the Democratic Party

Gaping holes in our homeland defense

Cronyism, incompetence, rigid ideology, and a lack of vision

Programs and slogans:

1. Iraq exit strategy: no permanent bases, no designs on oil, internationalizing security, power sharing.

2. Tough enough to pull the trigger, smart enough to hit the target. Soft power.

3. Proliferation

4. Accurate actionable timely intelligence

5. Strategy for homeland security


— revised after 2001: claim that the act was designed for an earlier era is simply false.

— Gang of Eight is no substitute for the full intelligence committees. Information a Member can’t share with staff can’t be acted on.

Advisory board:

Graham Allison

Bob Graham

Gary Hart

Richard Holbrooke

Claudia Kennedy

William Perry

Bernard Schwartz

Talk by Bob Graham (who made me really, really regret he wasn’t the VP candidate in 1992 or 2000 or the Presidential candidate in 2004):

Diverting attention from al-Qaeda to Iraq “the most significant foreign policy mistake made in my lifetime; a weak and vacillating decision.”

“The President has said that we’re fighting terrorists in Iraq so we won’t have to fight them here. That proposition is nonsense. We are training terrorists in Iraq that we will have to fight here.” Insurgents aren’t the same as jihadists, unless we insist.

NSA warrantless wiretapping: “An overstretch of the truth.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

Comments are closed.