March 3, 2023
Welcome to Home & Away. Sometimes the two domains come together, and this was one of those weeks.
Here at home we are seeing signs of a gradual weakening of public support for Ukraine. Polls are revealing rising concern over the economic cost of the war, which shows no sign of ending after one year of fighting. Few Americans see the war as a priority, something that gives a good deal of latitude to those in Congress or those vying for the Republican presidential nomination who favor reducing the U.S. commitment to Ukraine. Some of this trend may be attributable to far-right sympathy for Russian authoritarianism and reflexive opposition to anything the Biden administration does, but even more it is likely to be a sign of the continuing lure of traditional isolationism to much of the political right and some on the left.
My sense (and concern) is that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain support for current, let alone increased, levels of economic and military aid. A renewed focus on the debt as Congress takes up the debt ceiling issue will add to this (even though aid to Ukraine is in no way a major driver of the federal debt). So too will the growing bipartisan concern with Chinese behavior. I testified this past week before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and one theme I heard from congressmen was that support for Ukraine is diminishing U.S. readiness to deter or if need be defend against the “real” threat, namely, Chinese aggression in what used to be called Asia or the Pacific but which has been renamed by the U.S. government as the Indo-Pacific. They argue that the war in Ukraine has overtaxed a U.S. defense industrial base that is woefully unprepared for another major war, while Department of Defense stockpiles are dangerously low as weapons are transferred to Ukraine, and conclude that the United States will not have what it needs to defend Taiwan if China attacks in the next few years. Their analysis is mostly right even if one disagrees, as I do, with their prescription that we ought to do less to assist Ukraine.
The likelihood that the year ahead will be one more of stalemate and slog rather than breakthrough for Ukraine will add to the perception that more assistance will not bring more in the way of results. One reason this prediction may prove true is China. Xi Jinping sided with Putin from the outset, and even if their “no limits” friendship pact has some limits, Xi has a major stake in Putin not losing. China also arguably benefits from a war that could increasingly distract and divide the United States and reduce its military readiness. There are already reports that China is shipping commercial and dual use items to Russia through third countries, and I would expect China to ship arms and ammunition to Russia much the same way with the aim of helping Russia without inviting sanctions on itself.
The Biden administration thus faces the difficult or more accurately daunting task of maintaining or even augmenting support for Ukraine against a backdrop of increasing pressure within the United States. My guess is that this will increase calls for diplomacy (already being voiced in parts of Europe), something that could cause Putin to dig in as it will reinforce his view that he is better positioned to withstand the effects of time than Ukraine and the West. Diplomatic pressures could also cause a breach with Ukraine as there is a strong and understandable desire there to regain territory that is rightfully Ukraine’s as well as see the Russians be held liable for the costs of the war and accountable for war crimes. How to manage this dilemma is something I have been giving a good deal of thought to and plan to write about soon.
The big news closer to home this week was the announcement of my successor here at the Council on Foreign Relations, where I have been fortunate and then some to serve as president for twenty years. Mike Froman, the former US Trade Representative and currently Vice Chairman at Mastercard, brings to the job (a great one by the way) a rare blend of experience and knowledge. That he also is blessed with a generous and open demeanor gives me confidence that CFR’s board of directors made a great choice.
Let me end this edition with the text of my statement to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. I also have included a review of The Bill of Obligations that ran in the Wall Street Journal. And last but not least, I provide some links to podcasts (one of which is an informative but also entertaining conversation with Kara Swisher on “On”) and shows in which I was asked about various things at home, away, or both.
Prepared statement by before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee: Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the state of the intelligence community (IC).
We meet over two decades after the last major reform of the community following the 9/11 attacks. I lean against another major reorganization of the IC at this time. This is not meant to suggest that what we now have is optimal— being neither a producer nor a consumer, I am not in a position to judge—but that there is simply too much going on of consequence in the world just now to be distracted and disrupted by wholesale organizational change. It tends not to be a good idea to rebuild the operating room when a patient in critical condition is on the operating table.
That said, the Committee should look at the authorities of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) when it comes to funding and personnel and explore whether the resources given to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) are adequate. I would think it makes sense to speak with former and current producers and consumers of intelligence. Consumers should include both military and non-military, i.e., those at the National Security Council and the various departments. Such an assessment could and should also consider reforms undertaken subsequent to the creation of the ODNI.
I would also encourage the Committee to look at how the IC has performed since the creation of the ODNI. Above all, I would examine the record of analysis. How did the IC do when it came to predicting the outbreak and the course of the Arab Spring? Changes to China’s domestic and foreign policies under Xi Jinping? The fall of Afghanistan? The quality of Russian armed forces? North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs? Protests in Iran? Brazil’s politics?
Mexico under AMLO, India under Modi, and Germany under Scholz? Post-Brexit UK? Global action (and inaction) vis-à-vis climate change and the pandemic? Where there were mistakes, was the problem organizational, procedural, personnel, cultural, or something else? What seems to account for when the IC got it mostly right?
I would also suggest the committee take a good look at the allocation of assets and how this matches up against the world. This is a demanding time. China is the most important “target” for analysis, yet as important as it is and will be to the security of this country, we simply do not have the luxury of devoting the preponderance of intelligence assets to that country. Power in the world is too widely distributed in too many forms—what I have described as non- polarity—to allow for that. We cannot afford to replicate the sort of emphasis and focus we maintained on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Nor should we maintain the focus on counter-terrorism and the Middle East that characterized the post-9/11 era.
Going forward, the first priority for analysis should be on the principal geopolitical actors: China, Russia, Europe, Japan, and India. The IC should seek to assess these countries’ internal political, economic, and societal strengths and weaknesses as well as their national security intentions and capabilities.
A second priority should be weak states: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, South Africa and a good many others. Here one would want to know their likely trajectory, what explains it, and the probable consequences of further weakening or even failure.
A third focus would be on so-called middle powers, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, North Korea, and Iran. Again, one would want to know the likely trajectories of their capabilities and behavior.
A fourth focus should be global challenges, above all climate change and both infectious and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). What is likely to affect the pace and consequences of climate change? What can we expect from particular governments? From particular technologies? Regarding disease, it would be useful to assess lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic, prospects for future outbreaks, and assessment of the likely consequences. It is also important that the IC continue to look at NCDs given their enormous economic consequences.
A fifth realm of focus might be described as factors or phenomena with large consequences. For example, we live in a dollar dominated world. What is the possibility this might not endure? What would accelerate any transition away from the dollar? What would be the likely alternatives and with what consequences? Or take sanctions, a frequently used or arguably over-used instrument of foreign policy. What have we learned about their impact? To this list one could add democratic backsliding, both what is causing it and what can be expected. There is the growing importance of non-state actors. Demographic trends also call out for sustained analysis, as do expected innovations in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, and other emerging technologies.
I would think this committee would look at resources available to intelligence. This is a demanding world. One can imagine major military operations in three geographies: Europe as we are already experiencing, as well as the Indo- Pacific and the Middle East. Do we have sufficient funding and do we have personnel with the language, area, and technology skills adequate to the moment and to what is anticipated? If not, how might this gap be closed? Is there enough opportunity to bring in functional and regional specialists from the outside for projects or limited terms?
Throughout history there was often the challenge of too little information; in today’s world there is the opposite reality, one of massive information availability and flows. Does the IC have a good handle on open-source information? Is there a bias in favor of secret material that is no longer warranted? Is open-source and classified material adequately integrated? Such questions suggest that the more important reforms are likely cultural and procedural rather than organizational. My sense is to avoid creating a stand-alone open-source-only agency, something that would seem to compound the problem rather than address it, and instead to focus on the effective integration of classified and non-classified material by analysts.
One final subject for committee scrutiny comes to mind. Over the last year we have seen growing use of selective release of classified material in order to alter behaviors of friends and foes alike. A year ago it involved Russian preparations for war and more recently China’s consideration of increased help to Russia. What have we learned about this tool and how should it be employed in the future? Have we done a good job of weighing the potential costs to sources and methods against the potential benefits of sharing this intelligence? A related inquiry might focus on the question of alleged over-classification of material.
There are of course any number of other subjects that could be usefully addressed, and I look forward to discussing the topics I have raised as well as others. Thank you for this opportunity to meet with you today.
In the news
Friday, February 24, 2023: CNBC Closing Bell: Overtime, CNN The Situation Room
Monday, February 27, 2023: MSNBC José Díaz-Balart Reports, Twitter Space with E.J. Dionne, CaMMVets Media on WVOX AM-1460
Wednesday, March 1, 2023: MSNBC Morning Joe
Thursday, March 2, 2023: MSNBC Way Too Early, ABC News Live Prime with Linsey Davis
The Chatter Podcast by Lawfare
On with Kara Swisher
Wall Street Journal ‘The Bill of Obligations’ Review: We’re All in This Together