National Security Experts


Ron Marks

Biography provided by participant

Ronald "Ron" Marks currently serves as Senior Fellow at George Washington University for the Homeland Security Policy Institute and as an Executive Advisor for Zeta Associates, a northern Virginia signals software company with extensive business in the Intelligence Community. A former senior CIA official currently living outside Washington, D.C., Ron is native Oregonian, born in Portland, Oregon and raised in Gresham. He graduated from Gresham High School in 1974 and received his Bachelors in Business Administration and Economics from Lewis and Clark in 1978. Ron went on to the study at the Northwestern School of Law and took his Masters in Economics at the University of Oregon in 1982. Since 1983, Marks has lived in Washington, D.C., where has been married to his wife, Suzanne, an attorney, for 20 years. Ron spent 16 years with the CIA. During that time, he occupied a number of increasingly senior positions including as Intelligence Counsel to former U.S. Senator Bob Dole. During his CIA career, Marks was also: Special Assistant to the ADCI for Military Support, U.S. State Department Program Director for Law Enforcement Issues in Russia and Eastern Europe and a senior budget director at the National Reconnaissance Office. Since leaving government in 1999, Marks has been a senior defense contractor and a software executive who has testified before Congress and commented extensively on defense and intelligence issues on television and radio as a National Security Commentator for the Fox News Channel. He has appeared on NBC Nightly News, MSNBC and numerous radio news and talk shows. In addition, he has written editorials for the Washington Times on intelligence matters, and the Christian Science Monitor on homeland security issues. He has also commented on C-Span's Washington Journal, NPR and Public Radio International. Ron has been quoted on national and homeland security matters in U.S. News and World Report, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Journal, Government Executive, various Newhouse Newspapers, and Insight Magazine. In 2005, Marks established the Open Source Intelligence Forum to promote open source information use in the public and private sector. Marks is also an Adjunct Professor at the National Defense University (NDU) where he teaches on Intelligence Matters. Ronald has also written for scholarly journals such as the Washington Quarterly and Cambridge University International Review. He has lectured on national security matters at Christ Church College, Oxford University; the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Heritage Institute, the National War College, Georgetown University, George Washington University, The Rand Corporation, as well as at several US national security agencies. Marks is a 2008 Senior Fellow at the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, the Chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance on Open Source Information, an Associate Member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and is a Senior Steering Committee member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Transnational Threats Board. Ron also served on the Lewis and Clark College Board of Alumni - 2005-07.

Recent Responses

December 6, 2011 01:53 PM

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, the notion of nation-state borders and laws are being challenged from all corners and greatly eroding. The United States, which gained its power in the late 20th century, is having trouble coming to grips with these new facts of life. Welcome to the Brave New World of "same world."

Same world exists to a large extent in the ever expanding cyber world. This is a world where non-nation states like AQ or "flash mobs" like the cyber raiders Anonymous, can ply their trades with ease. They can reach out to anyone with a computer. They can recruit and wreak havoc in ways that leave little space or time for a slow moving nation state to deal.

Same World also exists in real space. Our borders are porous no matter how many Customs, Border and TSA agents are assigned. We have enemies that try to strike our interests from overseas. We have the same enemies trying to strike our interests at home. And they show little mercy in their methods or their goals. They wish to kill us and drive us out of the

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September 14, 2011 03:13 PM

The challenge of getting older in D.C. is seeing the same patterns repeated with the same results -- yet people expect a different result. In other places, that behavior is called insanity. In Washington, we call it policy.

I lived through the supposed sensible cuts of the 1990's. They started in the George H.W. Bush administration for FY 1991. Sat in a number of sessions for various parts of the national security community. I participated in the hearings on the Hill. Even testified on some issues. We were all going to be sensible and logical in our cuts for the Peace Dividend. And, of course, Congress and the Adminstrations (Bush I and Clinton) then "salami sliced" or "peanut butter spread" (or whatever your food choice) -- everyone got to do more with substanitally less. And we were made unsafe.

What happened in the next eight years of reductions to personnel and program still effect us to this day -- especially regarding experienced mid level personnel or should I say the lack thereof. The wrong people travel and the wrong people al

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July 18, 2011 11:05 AM

After the end of the Vietnam War, Frank Snepp wrote a controversial book called "A Decent Interval." Snepp put forward some disputed proof that our withdraw from Vietnam was premised on getting out and allowing the North Vietnamese to conquer the South -- at a decent interval from our withdrawal.

The facts were the Untied States got out totally by the end of 1973. Congress hamstringed a return. And, by April 1975, Hanoi entered Saigon and the war was over.

I think the American people are sick to death of our commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. With Bin Laden's death, a lot of the support has faded and we want to get our troops home.

Extending the commitment in Iraq will not be tolerated and is especially not going to work in an election year. We will get out of Iraq when we said we would -- and hope they will give us a decent interval before all hell breaks loose there.

As John Kennedy said regarding South Vietnam, in the final analysis, it is ultimately their war. Ultimately, it is the Iraqis peace to win or lose. The Iraqi need to bal

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June 20, 2011 10:48 AM

In 1995-96, I had the pleasure of serving Robert Dole and Trent Lott as Intelligence Counsel. I was asked during the Clinton Administration's perambulations through southeast Europe to do a study of the War Powers Act. So, like the good soldier I am, I went ahead banging through the material and seeking the advise of various lawyers around town both left and right. The conclusion of the paper was simple -- if challenged at the Supreme Court level, it would likely be unconstitutional. In the court of public opinion, a likely different result.

The 1970 War Powers Act was the result of a Congress weary of writing a blank check for the Vietnam War and a feeling its constituents were as well. In essence, it was forcing the Nixon Adminstration -- in light of the recent surprise move into Cambodia -- to notify it of further action. The result of a notification not being done in a certain time frame would be the cut off of funds. Nixon recognized both the legal and political ramifications. He chose to go with the political and not challenge the bill, but go with the spirit

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May 9, 2011 09:51 AM

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Osama Bin Laden was killed by us and dumped in the ocean. A fitting end to someone who gleefully killed as many Americans, Europeans and Muslims as he could.

There is also something deliciously ironic about the fact, Osama spent the final years of his life trying to control Al-Queda and its affiliates from a run down "mansion" in Pakistan. May Osama have an eternity in the hell he deserves.

As for the future, I am sorry to say I don't see that much changing immediately. Osama was as much a symptom as a leader. The bottom line is that a portion of Islam is dead set against what it views as "Westernization" of its life. It is proposing a return to a vauge kind of imaginery Caliphate. And it intends to do it anyway it can. The war is not over and we remain the prime targets.

Though it will be interesting to see what the results of the Arab Spring will be. Westerners have been over joyed by the new efforts at democratization. I think it is still way too early to call the results on this gallan

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April 25, 2011 11:24 AM

A wise man once said, after losing large, that he was but "another tired man to lay down his hand and quit the holy game of poker." America is losing a bundle in the poker game of Afghanistan. And Pakistan is one of the main causes. Sadly, we cannot quit this "holy game" and Islamabad is unlikely to change.

Let's not mistake one fundamental fact in this current "poker" game -- the Pakistanis will do what is best for them and when it is best for them. While Washington might decry their duplicity, the Pakistanis know we will not be in the region forever. And that the Taliban are closer at hand in the FATA and more likely to kill them and their families. Thus, that border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is going to remain "porous" to say the least.

So what does it mean for us. We cannot fully disengage from Afghanistan as our enemies will continue to use it as a base to attack us. We do need to continue focusing our efforts on hitting high value targets among our enemy. The Afghans will tolerate it because they need and w

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April 11, 2011 10:08 AM

I am personally a little sad to see Bob Gates leaving the political stage for likely the last time. He is 67 years old and had a spectacular career even in advance of his stellar performance at DOD. Admittedly, I am a fan. I worked Congressional affairs for him for two years at CIA. He understood instinctually what he needed to do politically and we did well and good for CIA,

Gates is also a master of good timing. The SecDef job is about to get a lot less fun. The budgets are going to have to decline in the face of Iraq winding down and appeasing the budget deficit gods. Commitments overseas will be judged much more harshly as we now enter campaign 2012. So who in the world would l pick to replace Gates -- a logical choice would be John Hamre.

Hamre currently heads tthe Center for Strategic and International Studies. So, he has kept his fingers in the policy pot. As for the ugly business of a declining budget -- he oversaw the terrible days of the 1990's in the Pentagon through his various senior policy and budgetary position and fought hard for sensible c

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April 4, 2011 09:02 AM

One of the more delightful aspects of Washington D.C. punditry is that few make any money by providing a positive outlook. So, here I go, about to lose money again.

I think Japan will come back from this current mess. But, it will be a slow slog based on the difference in generations within Japan with a potential political upsurge among the youth of Japan. Nothing in this mess will be easy.

The current generation of Japanese leadership has been stunted by an economy that collapsed from superstardom in the 1980's. What could be best described as a series of land/stock deals build up a balloon that collapsed and never reinflated. And a population faced with an economy stuck and the high costs often associated with an export lead growth now mired in higher costs -- well, they simply cut back on families and children. The ten dollar term for the current Japan is stasis. Or as we called it as kids -- they are stuck.

The youth of Japan -- and there are plenty of them in their 20/30's -- are getting fed up with this continued muddling through. The current re

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March 21, 2011 10:35 AM

The writer and film critic Robert Benchley once wrote a review for a Broadway play. It was one word -- "no." And so I feel about our current approach to Libya -- no.

Why is it that Democrats like to be partners of weak coalitions and Republicans charge like Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill alone. You'd think both sides would learn by now that a careful balance works -- especially if it lead by the Americans.

NATO has not had a real purpose since the end of the Cold War. We pushed it into Afghanistan where it has reluctantly remained., We are now pushing it into the lead against Qadaffi. No. This is an organization that, like its political equivalent the EU, loves to debate and dither. Soon enough France and the UK will split from the rest and soon they will split with each other.

At some point, this Adminstration is going to realize that we are the indispensible man. It is up to us to lead -- period. While we can and should not charge off on our own, we can''t allow NATO to dither. There has been enough of that already.

This dec

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March 14, 2011 10:22 AM

It is obvious that over the weekend, the dictator Quadaffi is beginning to gain the upper hand over the opposition forces. That is not good. When you shoot at the king, you better not miss. The shot was fired and its appears the shooter missed.

So what, if anything, can the West (namely NATO and the U.S.) do. Well, short of a "no-fly"zone and a commitment of troops not much. I also don't expect much more from the Arab League. I suspect condemnation exhausted their limited efforts. After all, a number of them are also in the gunsights of the freedom movements.

Where does this all leave us? Well, the situation is hopeless (for now), but not impossible. Whatever happens in Libya, the fuse of overturning these dictatorships has been lit. The greatest hurdle, that it can be done, has already passed with the fall of the governments of Tunisia and Egypt.

This is not going to be an easy road. The rest of the countries in the Middle East are going to crack down hard or give limited concessions to buy off their people. I don't think the people ar

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March 7, 2011 11:10 AM

For those of use who play poker, we all know at some point we need to ante up to stay in the game. With regards to Libya, Washington needs to ante now.

Since 9/11, America's explicit policy has been to "promote" democracy in the Arab World. Obama went to Cairo to re-inforce that message. Hilary Clinton has pushed forward with a "soft power" support to the message. Bob Gates has been in lock step on this one as well.

So, we asked for and now we got it. And, how have we reacted so far -- timidly would be to put it kindly. I suspect once again we are trying to please the Saudis who are sitting on their own inevitable powder keg. But, the Arab World has a long memory. And they will remember how we came late to the Mubarek "party."

Libya is a chance to make up for this. Nobody likes this guy -- except maybe the British who cut a series of disgraceful deals with Qadafi and his cronies for oil. Supporting anyone who wants to get rid of him should be our main goal.

Arms, training and shoulder launched missiles should do

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February 1, 2011 10:45 AM

Watching the riots expanding across Egypt this weekend, I could only think of how sometimes history does repeat. How many times have we watched long-standing dictatorships begin to slowly crumble like a weak earthen dam? First, a few small cracks of protests appear. Then, the word gets out and the cracks – riots/protests – begin to expand. The local government throws its troops into the streets to control the situation. But, the situation is well out hand and it is but a matter of time before the entire thing collapses.

The implications of the likely Mubarak government’s collapse are mind bending – any way they go. Do we end up with a radical Muslim government in one of the largest Arab states in the Middle East? What if the new Cairo government leans toward Iran? What if the idea of this revolt – now spurred by 21st century means of communications spreads to Jordan or Saudi Arabia? And what, if anything can the U.S. do about it?

Every foreign policy official in the Obama Administration is no doubt sweating the answer to these questi

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November 15, 2010 08:32 AM

Old story: A dog runs down the road chasing cars. Never catches one. Then, one day, the dog finally catches a car’s bumper. Oops, says the dog, now what?

So, the Tea Party Republicans have now captured the bumper of the American government. They have persuaded a justifiably angry portion of the electorate they can do the job of running the Federal government. Sadly, the Party folks are now faced with the ugly prospect that follows running for office – they now have to run the government. And, boy, are they ever in for it now.

There will be nothing pleasant about dealing with Washington’s budget problems. We are not in crisis yet, but we are sure drifting there fast. Our budget deficit is not sustainable. The economy is unlikely to provide relief for the immediate period by growing quickly enough and providing additional revenue. And, the Federal government outlays are just not that politically easy to cut – rhetoric be damned.

The basic facts are ugly. Two-thirds of the Federal budget is tied up in social security, Medicare and debt

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November 8, 2010 11:17 AM

Those great British philosophers, Sir Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, once said, “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes if you try, you might find, you get what you need.” And so it is with America in Asia.

We spent a lot of time, money, blood, tears and rhetoric over the years exclaiming how we wanted Asia to stand on its own. We wanted India to feed itself. We wanted China to throw off the yoke of communism and join the capitalist world. In both cases, we wanted democracy to reign.

In the case if India, it always has. In the case of China, the Central government still controls. But everyone in Beijing knows that democracy is a matter of time no matter how oppressive the leftovers from the old days hang on to power.

As for capitalism, we they are pushing aggressively in the world economy and are being rewarded handsomely for it. Despite India’s British inspired tangle bureaucracy, business is prospering and there is a substantial growing middle class. China, while practicing a 21st Century form of mercantilism, is also the

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October 27, 2010 08:15 AM

I have spent a lot of time in England over the last 30 years. My father's family is from Manchester and London. I worked for several British firms here in the United States. So, I come to my conclusions about the UK with both a lot of baggage and a heavy heart.

First of all, many Americans have a strange notion that the British are Americans who live in an island off Europe. They also have the quaint notion of an Empire and can-do attitude from a far away place. TCM is not helping showing the Littlest Princess all the time.

No, the reality is the UK is a European country that speaks English. It is one -- despite the efforts of Thatcher and Blair -- that is mired in a form of European welfare state mentality. As one of my friends says, the place has a union shop steward mentality. Work to rule and no more. Welcome to the Continent.

Second, the UK has been punching above its weight for years. It has been nearly 55 years since the debacle at Suez where the U.S. and Russia asserted their authority and told the UK to sit down and shut up. What foreign

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October 12, 2010 07:33 AM

The late comedian George Gobel once told a story about how he felt like a pair of brown shoes in a room full of tuxedos. That, most sadly, is the story of Jim Jones as the Obama NSC advisor.

First of all, let’s make it clear; Jim Jones was a fine general. He ran his commands well, was respected and liked. And, also let’s face it; you don’t get to be a four star general without some form of political prowess. However, I think Jones was outgunned and outmatched in his Advisor position from day one. It is a different game at the White House.

The role of the national security advisor is a combination of bartender/psychiatrist to the President and he must be a savvy political insider. At their best, like Sandy Berger, Henry Kissinger or Brent Scowcroft, a National Security Advisor must have the ear of their boss. The President must trust them, their judgment and their expertise. They must also navigate the deep waters of politics in Washington’s foreign policy community.

Foreign policy is an insular

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September 27, 2010 10:56 AM

We tend to view the world of the World War II with rose-colored glasses. Of course, we won over the evil Nazis. Had to happen. Well not really. Sometimes it was a near and close brush with defeat.

One of the issues that World War II tactics limned out was the usefulness of the air and fast ground movement in battle. It took us awhile, but we did figure it out. A practitioner of this new war was General George Patton. Among his many famous (and infamous) quotes he noted, “fixed fortifications were a tribute to the stupidity of mankind.” That statement is even truer today than it was in 1944.

America is a mature superpower. It got that way fighting and struggling in traditional arenas of 20th century power projection – land, sea and air. We even added space to our repertoire though it was more an extension of air. Cyberspace is a new dimension with which we have yet come to grips.

Cyberspace has been a lawless frontier from the beginning by design. Those who established it saw it as a boundless field with free sharing of information at its c

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September 20, 2010 12:19 PM

I just got back from a conference in Oxford, England last week. It was the usual fair of academic experts examining and “profounding” on a number of different issues about which they knew much or little.

On one issue, however, they sputtered like an old car engine – the American Tea Party. So discombobulated were they, it was like watching the old Monty Python show sketch on how to confuse a cat. The Tea Party has these boys floored. And much fluffing went on about what it meant for American foreign policy.

I grew up out West in the suburbs and the countryside. The Tea Party folks represent what I heard growing up on Internet steroids. Tired of big government, tired of being ignored by Washington, tired of being tired. Seen it. Got it. Yes some members are eccentric and the liberal media is making much of that. Most are not and they deserved to be listened to agree or not.

As for their foreign policy, don’t be fooled. The rhetoric of the Tea Party is primarily domestic, not foreign. The foreign policy advisors at the head of this gr

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September 7, 2010 10:07 AM

One of the many aspects of Washington politics I find amusing is when rhetoric and reality run smack into each other. So, the Obama Adminstration is fiddling with its "get out of Dodge" routine in Iraq. We are not getting out anytime soon and nor can we.

Obama's people are caught out. They have tried to please their left as much as possible -- except when Robert Gibbs has a well planned public temper tantrum to quiet them down. However, this election upcoming is likely to throw a total wrench into any further swift Obama initiatives. At best, there will be a split in the Congress with the Republicans and at worst the Dems will lose both houses. In either case, precepitous pullouts due to rhetoric on not likely on anyones agenda.

Of course, a lot depends on what you mean by pulling out. I will be curious to see how many advisors, aid workers and spies we leave behind to support the government. Let's face it. Obama is not going to want to go into the 2012 election with Iraq in an uproar because we pulled out "too early." Boy, would I

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August 9, 2010 12:36 PM

This summer's reading, if you can forgive a personal commercial, will be devoted in part to finishing my book on the current and future implacations of domestic intelligence -- "Spying In America in the Post 9/11 World." Praegar Publishing will be putting it out in late October.

On a less commercial note, I am already reading "In the Graveyard of Empires," by Seth Jones. A fascinating and slight disconcerting book on Afghanistan, it has some cogent insights we should be paying attention to as we push ahead.

I am also reading Chris Hitchens' book, "Hitch-22." He is a fascinating character though I understand we may be losing him as cancer seems to be taking him from us.

On the movie front, I am going to review carefully the "Fog of War." This Errol Morris movie about Robert McNamara is a fantastic person portait of the man. It is also a study of power and how decisions can go terribly wrong with the best of intentions.

On the same front, I hope to watch both the "Hurt Locker," and plow through my DVD

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July 26, 2010 10:34 AM

Quoting that Great American philosopher and ballplayer, Yogi Berra, it is deja-vu all over again on the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK scream bloody murder and threaten the U.S. and South Korea with destruction over some event. We saber rattle back at them. And Beijing, like a husband caught in an argument between his wife and mother-in-law, placates both sides. In a month, Pyongyang will be gunning for more aid from us.

The underlying principle of Pyongyang and the Kim Dynasty is survival. The Kims and their henchman know they would get wiped out in a final confrontation with us. However, this is a time of transition in North Korea. The elder Kim is likely dying by inches and needs to get his 27 year old son in place. The military must be placated and the younger Kim must show strength against the enemy.

Taking history as a guide, when Kim Il-Song wanted to boost the current Kim into place, he allowed a number of provocative activities to take place -- bombings with few tell tale traces for example. The South Korean ship sinking has all the classic marks of a

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July 25, 2010 02:42 PM

I am a child of Vietnam. My first memories of the 1960's revolve around rising troop commitments, endless bombing raids and declarations of victory. It was a war that lasted too long without any concrete goals or results. So when I hear of quick, neat solutions for nearly insolvable problems, I cringe and remember.

In many ways, Washington has yet to come to grips with the limited "possible" in Afghanistan. The possible is nearly what we have. The central government in Kabul is there and will likely remain though weak and corrupt. Kabul will control at best the major cities and some portion of the countryside. Aid programs on our part will help a little bit to maintain whatever weak control there is.

Washington will also need to come to grips with the idea that our main realizable goals of keeping the Taliban at bay and Al Queda mostly on the other side of a very porous border are the best we can achieve. On that account, we are going to need to have some form of presence there for some time to come. The aerial shoot and kill philosophy imposed aga

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July 12, 2010 07:44 AM

In 1897, Mark Twain read his obituary in the paper. Still in relatively good health, he fired a note to the mistaken publisher of the article saying, “the report of my death was an exaggeration.” So it goes with human spying thought by many Americans to be dead and buried with the end of the Cold War. The latest example of the busted Russian spy ring in New York and Washington is but a small indication that the game is still alive and well.

Now, I have my biases as an aging Cold War era spy. Yes, before you ask, I enjoy James Bond as the spy porn that it is. Still prefer Connery to the rest of them – though Daniel Craig is rather good, if too serious.

However, on a more serious note, the DNA of spying is not about glamour and games. It is about gathering intentions and information. It is also about suspicion and questioning motivations. As the old saying goes, it is about smelling the roses and looking to see where the funeral is. As long as people keep secrets, there will be spying.

In the 1990’s, the Clinton Administ

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June 14, 2010 07:40 AM

As I watch my twenty-something staff run around the office some days, I muse on their vitality, certainty, universal connectivity and hope for the future complete with I-Pads, I-Pods and I-Phones. Their fifty something boss is less vital, knows not to be certain about anything, and is wary of the future especially where everyone is interconnected.

So, I try daily to chastise myself to remember it is to the young a Brave New World and change is a necessary and crucial part of life. And remember, for myself, the Dylan line that "the old road is rapidly changing." America too needs to think about that in its relations with the rest of the world. Frankly, we are beginning to get middle aged and rusty.

We all live by our myths. For America, the myth (and quite a good one) is that we are a shining city on the Hill. We are a beacon of freedom and an example of what the world should be as a democratic, secular and capitalist state. The evidence of the desire of people around the world wanting to come here or otherwise participate in this dream is still pretty

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June 1, 2010 10:55 AM

One the interesting parts of being a member of the chattering class is to listen to certain lines being flogged over and over again. One is the decline of America and its consequent decline/overexposure on the world stage. Always a good money maker. But, slightly misquoting Mark Twain, the reports of our death are greatly exaggerated.

Ok, let's get some facts on the table before we start talking national security strategy. We are still the largest economy in the world with one of the highest GDP's per head. We have 300 million people who are mostly middle class. Our society is fairly lacking in wholesale political corruption. And no one is touching the dollars in terms of a worldwide currency. GDP devoted to defense is still running about 3-4 percent -- low versus Cold War and certainly to major conflicts like WW II and VIetnam.

On the lousy side, we have a big debt left over from the Bush Administration's refusal to bump up taxes to pay for a war on terror and a very badly timed tax cut. And we are paying for the financial excesses of banking system t

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May 26, 2010 06:05 PM

As usual, I am impressed by my colleagues insights, wit and strength of argument. Sadly, I am getting to be an old grouch -- like the two old man puppets grumbling in the balcony of the Muppet Show. So, here I grumble.

The Atlantic piece on the White House reaching out to the PIAB is interesting if true. It provides them some intellectual cover and buys some time to make a decision about the DNI. As flawed as the DNI is, and as much change needs to be made, this little venture is not going away any time soon.

The DNI was established under Public Law 108-458. This means it is statutorily established in the U.S. government. When you start fooling around with USG structure, you need to get the Hill involved. While I would hope the Hill would join quickly in this effort, I sincerely doubt they could even get started on considering any type of major reform in an election year.

This does leave the Executive Order route where the present rules with the force of law on a given issue. There have been a number of so-called E.O.'s over the years that effe

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May 24, 2010 07:30 AM

In the final year of the failed Nixon Administration a wit said that, “Richard Nixon was the dead mouse on the kitchen floor of America that no one wished to pick up.” Given the resignation of Admiral Dennis Blair from the post of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), you have to wonder the same about the whole concept of the DNI.

Blair is the third DNI in less than six years. Amb. John Negroponte and Adm Mike McConnell, Blair predecessors, were both highly experienced government players. Both appeared to be glad to get out of the job. And, if you believe the rumors, dozens of people under both Bush and Obama Administrations have turned down the job.

So, what is making this DNI job so tough that it makes senior bureaucrats tremble? Most simply, the legislation that created the position in 2004 was fatally flawed. D.C. is about power, position and money. Beside a great title, the DNI has none of the three.

Contrary to the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, the Congress created an underpowered beast that had little control over

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May 17, 2010 07:40 AM

Nobel Prize winning economist Herb Simon was great observer of human and organizational behavior. He was one of the few non-mathematical economists to win a major prize in the last twenty years as the already down on its luck profession was trying to change a social science into a pure science – and losing.

Simon had a phrase that encapsulates the Obama Administration policy toward the Afghans and the Karzai government – Satisficing. Satisficing, according to the dictionary definition, is what you do when “decision-making strategy attempt to meet criteria for adequacy, rather than to identify an optimal solution.” The definition goes on to say we usually “do not know the relevant probabilities of outcomes, we can rarely evaluate all outcomes with sufficient precision, and our memories are weak and unreliable.” In current policy terms this translates to: why let Karzai talk to the Taliban? Oh sure, what the hell, why not?

The current dynamic between the Obama people and Karzai has been fascinating to watch. Karzai knows he is a ma

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April 26, 2010 09:54 AM

One of America's major challenges in the next decade will be for us to stop thinking so much like a secular national state and start thinking more like non-nation "zealot states" such as Al Queda.

I can think of few more worthy goals in the world than killing members of Al Queda. They are, for the most part, thugs whose distortion of Islam is a travesty. We have plenty of weapons to keep on killing them. And the killing obviously keeps them tacticly off balance and shows us as strong in a region that appreciates strength.

However, for all of Bin Laden's grand gesturing and murderous ways, Al Queda is a symptom of a larger problem. Islam is in a battle with itself. This is a battle over accepting the modernism exemplified by the West or returning to the more traditional values of Old Islam -- the latter an embellished time of the Caliphate, which spread across the belt of the world from Spain to India. Al Queda is committed to making that mythical return to glory.

If we are to take a part in

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April 20, 2010 09:03 AM

America has had trouble dealing with the Kim Dynasty of North Korea since its inception in 1948. We fought a war with them to a stalemate in 1950-53 (with more than a little help from their Maoist Chinese friends.) They took the signals intelligence ship the USS Pueblo in 1968. They have pressed us on the South Korean border for years periodically engaging in ax murders and fire fights. Most recently, they have rattled their swords with long distance missiles and the likely production of nuclear weapons. And, we have responded with forceful shows -- at least 26,000 troops remain in South Korea and a Pacific Command is aimed at them. And, we have responded with various levels of "carrots" including oil, food and visits by various prominent politicians.

So why does the Kim Dynastry -- which likely sunk a South Korean vessel deemed too close to the North - continue what appears to be illogically aggressive to the West and us. In a simple word, the Kims want their dynasty to survive.

We are now at the cusp of the passing of the torch to a new gene

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April 12, 2010 07:22 AM

As a thirty-year veteran of Washington politics, I have become a jaded sort. My wife thinks of me as a balding version of Oscar the Grouch; though my McLean “garbage can” is on substantially higher taxed land than Sesame Street.

So when I think of the upcoming Nuclear Conference/Summit this week, my mind turned in several grouchy personal directions. First, how in the world am I going to get to my appointments downtown? Second, how busy are all the good restaurants going to be? And third, and this is really important, is this good for the Willard Hotel, the Hay-Adams and the Four Seasons. I suspect the answer is yes, very yes.

As for the substance of the summit, I wonder what old Cold Warriors like Reagan and the recently deceased Anatoly Dobrynin would make of it. In a way, it was a dream goal of reducing nuclear weapons to zero. At Reykjavik in October 1986, Reagan certainly made a very hard effort to rope the Russians into doing something. Gorbachev stunned by the proposal and in no political position to accept it, pushed it off. Eventua

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March 29, 2010 09:14 AM

During the 1984 election, the Reagan campaign put out a commercial about a bear in the woods. A dangerous bear that only through diligence and strength could be dealt with. And so, among many factors, Reagan was reelected to deal with Moscow. It collapsed of its own foolish weight and lethargy in a few years. It lived -- but stumbled around. We then proceeded to treat the Bear with neglect. That time is well passed. The Bear is dangerous again and we better come to grips with it.

So what kind of dangers does the Bear present. In non-nuclear terms, it is very much a lesser power. The invasion of Georgia was a military misfire. While it did send a message to the "near abroad" that Russia would react militarily, Moscow's troops could barely handle a well trained Georgian military. (Think the US being defeated by Canada.)

The wild cards here are a corrupt society fueled by oil money, an aging military structure chocked full of nuclear weapons and restless minority groups On the first point, the late Russian expert George Kolt noted that after

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March 8, 2010 07:39 AM

The last hit song in the Beatles’ extensive music catalog was the "Long and Winding Road." It was a mournful tune about the end of a long relationship. And so we stand with the nations of Western Europe today. As Donald Rumsfeld once said derisively "the Old Europe."

I agree with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The time has come for the United States to seriously look at our arrangement of alliances around the world; and particularly at NATO and the political and militarily flaccid Western European countries within.

Our current military and diplomatic needs must reflect the realities of the 21st century world. The up and comers like Brazil and India matter far more going forward than a prostrate Germany or a bellicose, but ineffective France. Our interests lie in alliances in the politically and economically vibrant areas of Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Let the Western Europeans stir in their own lethargic juices and continue to extend help to those in Eastern Europe who see us as their active ally.

There was inevitability

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March 1, 2010 10:04 AM

Following up on my good friend Chris' comments regarding Gen. Sherman, allow me remind everyone that Sherman said in May of 1880 speech that "there is many a boy here today that who looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all hell." Sherman was but one of a long line of generals and leaders who needed to face the balance of winning against an implacable enemy or holding back and risking delay or loss.

So where do we stand in Afghanistan, a country where hard war is not uncommon and everyone from Alexander the Great through the Russians have tried to conquer or pacify. Sadly, we simply have to grasp that war is hell. And holding back, sending a political message, and showing the enemy that we are willing to compromise simply shows not mercy, but weakness. Sometimes in the dirty business of war, innocent civilians die. And you hope, in the end, to save the lives of many, many others by your action.

The Vietnam War was a tribute to this kind of micro-management of war by politicians in DC trying to send a message to the enemy. 55,000 troops d

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February 25, 2010 10:56 AM

Anytime you start looking in the crystal ball about any country --even our own stable little island of peace -- you are at best guessing and at worst reflecting your own prejudices. So let me introduce my prejudices up front before my guessing -- I think we should have gone into Iraq, I think the way we did it stunk. And I think it is going to be a simmering and sometimes boiling mess for some time to come no matter how long we stay.

Let's face it, we are not dealing with a country. We are dealing with a set of borders around an area occupied by three groups who dislike each other at best and hate each others guts most of the time. It is in many ways the Yugoslavia of the Middle East. Held together by a brutal dictator, the glue of that nasty piece of work Saddam Hussein is now gone. And no one is going to put this egg back together the way it was.

So what do we consider a success future out of this boiling cauldron. First, let's lower the expectations. The government in Baghdad will likely hang together by a thread. The balance of power to maintain a

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