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Saturday, December 30, 2006

The "7-Year-Old's Soccer Syndrome"

Continuing with the practice of listening to people who got things right about Iraq and terrorism instead of the usual gang who mostly got it wrong, this is Richard Clarke on the "7-year-old's soccer syndrome." Since this is an economics site, the theme is the "opportunity cost" of the war in Iraq:

While You Were at War . . . , by Richard A. Clarke, Commentary, Washington Post: In every administration, there are usually only about a dozen barons who can really initiate and manage meaningful changes in national security policy. For most of 2006, some of these critical slots in the Bush administration have been vacant, such as the deputy secretary of state ... and the deputy director of national intelligence... And with the nation involved in a messy war spiraling toward a bad conclusion, the key deputies and Cabinet members and advisers are all focusing on one issue, at the expense of all others: Iraq.

National Security Council veteran Rand Beers has called this the "7-year-old's soccer syndrome" -- just like little kids playing soccer, everyone forgets their particular positions and responsibilities and runs like a herd after the ball.

In the end, there are only 12 seats at the conference table in the White House Situation Room, and the key players' schedules mean that they can seldom meet there together in person or on secure video conference for more than about 10 hours each week. When issues don't receive first-tier consideration, they can slip by for months. ...

[Due to] the distraction of the Iraq war, ... seven key "fires in the in-box" national security issues remain unattended, deteriorating and threatening, all while Washington's grown-up 7-year-olds play herd ball with Iraq.

Global warming: When the possibility of invading Iraq surfaced in 2001, senior Bush administration officials hadn't thought much about global warming, except to wonder whether it was caused by human activity or by sunspots. Today, the world's scientists and many national leaders worry that the world has passed the point of no return..., but ... Iraq squeezes out the time to discuss the pending planetary disaster.

Russian revanchism: When Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bush leave office in rapid succession in 2008 and 2009, it seems likely that Russia will be less of a democracy and less inclined to cooperate with Washington than it was six years ago... Given her extensive background in Soviet studies, Condoleezza Rice would have been a natural to work on key U.S.-Russian issues... But the focus on Iraq has precluded such efforts, even as the troubling issues multiply...

Latin America's leftist lurch: In the years before the Iraq war, U.S. presidents were welcomed at summits throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Indeed, the attacks of Sept. 11 found then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in South America, visiting one area of the world where U.S. policies had worked. Friendly, democratic governments were in power in every nation in the hemisphere except Cuba. ... Washington seemed confident that ... when Fidel Castro died ..., even Cuba might join the democracy/free market club.

Today, Castro has been replaced... The leader of the hemisphere's new anti-Yankee alliance is Hugo Chávez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Chávez's anti-U.S. campaign is supported by Cuban intelligence and Venezuelan oil money. By 2006, ... kindred spirits have been elected in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. ...

Africa at war: The genocide spilling from the Darfur region of Sudan into neighboring Chad has captured attention in the United States mainly because of (belated) media coverage and an aggressive advocacy campaign by concerned groups, but the prospects of Washington dealing with the problem seem slim. Darfur, however, is only one of a pox of conflicts that, together with HIV/AIDS, are depopulating parts of Africa and robbing it of potential wealth from mineral, oil and gas deposits. Wars have also raged in Chad, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. Were it not for the Iraq war, Washington may have acted to stop what the Bush administration admits is genocide in Darfur, or taken steps to prevent the chaos sweeping Somalia after a group affiliated with al-Qaeda took over the country and left Ethiopia no choice but to invade... Unfortunately, even designating a small presence of U.S. Special Forces to lead a U.N.-approved peacekeeping force in Darfur appears beyond the capability of the badly stretched American military.

Arms control freeze: Once atop several administrations' national security agendas, international arms control has received little White House attention since the Bush administration decided early on to walk away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley has extensive government experience working on arms control and he began to focus on this turf in early 2001, when he was number two at the National Security Council. But after 9/11, Hadley has had little opportunity to advance international efforts to control biological weapons, nuclear testing and proliferation, or the threat of nuclear or radioactive terrorist weapons. For a long time, the White House outsourced dealing with Iran's nuclear weapons to the Europeans, just as the onus of stopping North Korea's nuclear development was placed on Asian nations. The sustained senior-level attention that is needed to stop two nuclear weapons programs at the same time has simply not been available -- because of Iraq.

Transnational crime: In a nationally televised address in 1989, President George H.W. Bush held aloft a bag of cocaine that had been sold near the White House and declared a "War on Drugs." That initiative was later enlarged to target the international criminal cartels engaged in human trafficking, gun and contraband smuggling, money laundering and cyber fraud. The ... White House leadership necessary to coordinate dozens of U.S. agencies and mobilize other nations has dissipated. Moreover, the world's international crime cartels received a major shot in the arm with the occupation of Afghanistan by NATO forces. ... Afghanistan's economy is now dependent upon the widespread cultivation of heroin that is flooding black markets in Europe and Asia. With most of the U.S. Army either in Iraq, heading to Iraq or returning from Iraq, insufficient U.S. forces were available to prevent the once-liberated Afghanistan from morphing into a narco-state.

The Pakistani-Afghan border: Afghanistan increasingly receives the attention of senior U.S. policymakers ... mainly because the once-defeated Taliban again threaten Afghan and coalition forces. ... Dealing with that problem is more than Washington has been willing or able to handle, for it involves the complex issue of who governs nuclear-armed Pakistan and how.

Thus far, Washington has accepted Gen. Pervez Musharraf's half-hearted measures for dealing with the nuclear proliferation network of A.Q. Khan, addressing the terrorist involvement of Pakistani intelligence and controlling the Taliban/al-Qaeda bases in Waziristan. Getting Pakistan to do more would require a major sustained effort by senior U.S. officials, including addressing the longstanding tensions with India. Because of Iraq, Washington's national security gurus do not have the hours in their days to manage that -- nor the troops needed to secure Afghanistan.

As the president contemplates sending even more U.S. forces into the Iraqi sinkhole, he should consider not only the thousands of fatalities, the tens of thousands of casualties and the hundreds of billions of dollars already lost. He must also weigh the opportunity cost of taking his national security barons off all the other critical problems they should be addressing -- problems whose windows of opportunity are slamming shut, unheard over the wail of Baghdad sirens.

I don't necessarily agree with each and every suggested action or solution, but his point about the "7-year-old's soccer syndrome" is correct. In that regard, another important area that has been ignored is the economic problems faced by the middle class and the poor due to globalization, technology, declining health and retirement insurance, and declining economic security. These important problems have received very little focused attention from the administration since there just wasn't time to deal with them.

When we add up the costs of the war, we can never know for sure how much we have given up, what could have been had we focused our efforts and resources on other areas instead of devoting the vast majority of our time and resources to one cause. If the administration had brought the same energy, effort, and resources to solving domestic economic problems, rebuilding infrastructure, enhancing educational opportunities for the disadvantages, helping displaced workers, finding a workable solution for health costs, you know the long list of problems, how much progress could we have made? We'll never know, because we didn't really try.

Update: Pentagon to Request Billions More in War Money "If approved, the $99.7 billion request, detailed in a 17-page internal Defense Department memorandum, would set a record for war-related spending."

    Posted by on Saturday, December 30, 2006 at 08:10 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (32)


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