TIME TO CONSIDER THE FATE OF OUR DEMOCRACY

                 AS A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE       

  • By Richard W. Mueller

Recently the National Security Forum polled our members to ask about national security issues that will impact us significantly and that ought to be addressed in a future Forum.

I realize that the suggestion I am offering here may seem to take the Forum away from its traditional focus on military, economic, terrorism and other politico-military topics.  And yet in the same way Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of the Great Powers made the case that a strong economy is a key to maintaining a strong military, I believe a supportive, engaged citizenry is also required to sustain consistent and effective national security policies.

While there is no end to discrete national security issues, I would argue that NSF should also give priority to stimulating productive, collaborative, on-going and friendly exchanges about the future of our democracy and democratic processes.

Without strengthening and improving those processes, we face deadlock and decline in our political life and society, with an inevitable undermining of our national security.

I believe that what unites us as Americans far exceeds what divides us.  

Sadly, we’ve lost sight of that truism and taken ourselves to a place where demonizing others and resorting to harsh and personal attacks have become a norm.  Too often we don’t really listen to each other, much less engage in conversation and debate with a view to building bridges, collaborating, and even compromising.

I would urge the Board of Trustees to create discussion groups consisting of people of varying opinions and ask them to work through some objective options to strengthen our democracy.  Think of the range of experience and insight NSF members could offer.  The aim would be to talk about what makes for good democratic processes for the good of all and not only for the ends of politicians, ideologies, or political parties.

There’s no one solution or magic bullet.  Working together to change opinions and institute new practices will take time.

But we must add urgency to this effort.   

Here are some of the disturbing and even dangerous trends we must address:

— How do we square the Electoral College with the popular vote?  Twice in recent years the winner of the popular vote did not win the presidential election (Gore and Clinton).  Does the principle of one person/one vote not matter?  How do we justify devaluing so many voters?  Cynicism is growing that those who benefit from this inequality are happy to continue because they retain greater power beyond their numbers.

— How do we reduce significantly the gerrymandering of districts by incumbent parties?  There is less and less true competition for political office for the House, Senate, and local government offices.

— How do we reduce the outlandish cost of elections?  If we were buying a better democratic system with all those billions of dollars, that would be good.  But clearly we are not.  I know from personal experience talking with members of Congress that they themselves feel the enormous, negative burden of having to raise ungodly amounts of cash every day. Of course those donors expect pay back.  I’m aware of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Still, we must find a way. How about limiting members of Congress to accepting campaign contributions only from people in their own districts or states? How about more mandated free access to the media?

— How do we increase effective civics education in schools and more broadly?  Does the general population have a good understanding of what our democracy entails?  Does it understand the importance of wrestling with issues and VOTING?  How do we create easy access to voting for all qualified Americans?  How about making voting mandatory as is the case in some democracies?

— How will we hold our leaders/politicians to a high standard of truth-telling?  We are seeing how social media facilitates the passing on of false information in a damaging way.  Repeating falsehoods or misleading information for political ends should carry a price.

— Where will we find the honest, ethical leaders/politicians of the future?  Far too many young people and others refuse to subject themselves to what they see as the dreadful process of raising money and putting themselves and their families through endless agony of personal attacks, etc. We must attract our best and brightest to political leadership.

— Do words matter?  Does character count?  It’s appalling how candidates can say some of the most egregious things, reveal real character flaws and still be rewarded.  What’s happened to our political discourse that it has been so cheapened and coarsened?

— How do we reduce the continuous political campaigning that helps make virtually every issue a potentially partisan one?  When the focus is on who will run and who will win, attention is shifted from dealing seriously and even collaboratively with our challenges.   Already speculation about the 2020 presidential race has begun.

— How do we show the world that democratic systems really are superior, over the long term, than others?  Too many autocrats abroad are arguing that they can make superior decisions and implement them expeditiously.  We need to brighten the wattage of America’s shining city on a hill.  The world is watching!

— Can we stop using political science terms like liberal, conservative, leftist, rightest, progressive, socialist, libertarian, green?  Not one has a fully defined set of principles or beliefs that reasonably tell the voter what he or she will be getting, particularly in our increasingly complex, fast-changing society.  Instead, let’s demand our candidates address issues and provide evidence, for example:  Will reducing taxes grow the economy?  Are Americans willing to put larger numbers of combat troops into the Middle East and, if so, to what end?  What are the scientific facts about climate change?  Do charter schools produce better student learning outcomes?  How do we build critical future relationships with China?

The questions above are meant to be non-partisan. There is plenty of criticism to direct at everyone, including ourselves, the voters.  I’m not trying to eliminate the often rough and tumble of politics and debate; they are inevitable.  I’m looking for ways to improve our democracy and democratic processes for everyone.

Such NSF discussion and study would be a great service by helping people of goodwill, even with differing opinions, to talk to each other and work together for the long term good of our country.

Let’s remember the task set for us by Benjamin Franklin when asked what kind of government had been created.  His answer:  “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Let’s find good ways to update and keep it!

Richard Mueller is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer and educator. His 32-year career focused on China and Asia, serving in Canberra, Saigon, Taiwan, Beijing, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Early in his career he worked for Secretary Kissinger and later for Secretary Shultz and Secretary Baker.  He capped his diplomat career as American Consul General and Chief of Mission in Hong Kong in the years leading up to the territory’s reversion to China in 1997. 

Subsequently, for fifteen years Richard was head of school at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, Hong Kong International School, and most recently Shanghai American School.  Richard and his wife, Claire, have just settled in Golden, Colorado to be close to family and grandchildren. 

Do you agree with Richard that this is a topic suitable for NSF discussion and debate?

Save the Date for these Future NSF Programs!

RUSSIA AT 25

A Quarter-Century After the Collapse of the Soviet Union

Vladimir Putin’s Russia Becomes More Aggressive

Even as it Faces Daunting 

Economic and Demographic Challenges

with

Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb

The Ramada, Friday, December 16, 9:00 am

Moscow is challenging US and Western interests in very provocative ways, including threats to employ nuclear weapons, troop movements toward NATO allies, and military assistance for our adversary in the Mideast, Syria’s Assad. At the same time, Russia faces severe challenges at home, including an economy that has shown little if any growth, a rapidly expanding Muslim population as the Russians themselves are not reproducing, and an increasingly authoritarian regime under Vladimir Putin.

Former Special Assistant to President Reagan for Soviet, European and Canadian Affairs Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb will discuss recent aggressive acts by Putin, but will also describe a society under increasing stress from demographic changes and economic uncertainties. He will ask if a Trump administration can fashion a new, more productive relationship with Putin and temper Russian provocations.

///////////

National Security Challenges 

Facing the Trump Administration:

 Threats and Uncertainties

with

Keith Hansen

Former National Intelligence Officer for Strategic Programs & Nuclear Proliferation

Tuesday, January 17, The Ramada, 9:00 a.m.

Donald Trump will be sworn in as President on January 20, and will be facing a number of threats and challenges his national security team must immediately address. That includes cyber warfare, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, Russian aggression, Chinese island-building, Iranian (Shia) and Sunni state rivalries and non-state movements in the region (ISIS. Al-Nusra, etc.), and North Korean instability and nuclear weapons provocations.

Keith Hansen will lay out the primary challenges facing the Trump national security team, and will address possible actions and policies the new administration may take. In his 30-year government career, Hansen served as the NIO for Strategic Programs & Nuclear Proliferation, as the Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence, and as a participant in several arms control negotiations, including SALT II, INF, and CTBT.

No Need to RSVP Now—Just Mark the Dates on Your Calendars

Summary of Nov 16 NSF presentation by Ted Morse on….

 “ISIS AFTER IT IS MILITARILY DEFEATED”

Ted Morse retired from the Foreign Service after more than 37 years of service, much of those in Moslem countries in Asia and Africa. He did two tours in Iraq during the overthrow of Saddam, as CPA Coordinator and Mayor of Baghdad. He has over 50 years experience in conflict-ridden areas of the world!

His presentation postulated that ISIS would be militarily defeated in Mosul and Raqqa, but would continue to be a real terrorist threat to the world, including the US. Morse postulated that ISIS will morph into a very active guerrilla organization in terrorist pursuit of jihad, even after it loses its political and geographical bases of the declared Caliphate.

Major Concerns Regarding the Region 

After ISIS is Defeated

Morse presented three concerns about the post-Mosul defeat of ISIS. First, there is no agreement in the battle plan on how the multi-ethnic, second largest city in Iraq would be governed following the expulsion of ISIS. This is because of sharp differences among the 19 sectarian and non-sectarian parties participating in the Mosul battle, who likely will stay to aggressively pursue their own specific agendas.  Second, there are few provisions for re-settling 500,000 refugees and internally placed people once the battle is over, leading to their disillusionment with the replacement of ISIS. Third, ISIS is already disbursing hundreds of followers throughout Iraq to undermine the Shia-led government, and to demonstrate their continued strong commitment to renewed terrorism. These destabilizing conditions will leave openings for ISIS to mount continuing violent terrorism in Iraq and Syria.

Similar conditions will prevail after ISIS is defeated in Raqqa.  This will be complicated by the likelihood that thousands of ISIS remnants will join the Sunni based rebels fighting Assad’s government, including the al-Qaeda affiliate, Al Nusra. This will confront the new American administration with tough Foreign Policy and Security decisions: Does the US-led 62 nation Coalition join Syria, Russia and Iran in fighting these integrated rebels, to further degrade ISIS’s capability to conduct worldwide terrorism? Or does the US and the coalition support the integrated rebels against Assad, thus risking all out war with Syria and its supporters?  Or do we withdraw believing that the US has no over-riding national security interests in Syria once ISIS is defeated militarily?

ISIS will have the intent and capability to aggressively continue worldwide radical Islamic terrorism, and will be even fiercer as it competes with al-Qaeda for international jihad leadership.  ISIS will call on its 33-40 worldwide affiliates to join this crusade. On the eve of the Mosul and Raqqa battles, in his first public pronouncement in almost a year, ISIS leader al-Baghdadi has called for this uprising, especially for “home grown” terrorists to attack in Europe and America.

This is the imminent threat even after ISIS is defeated militarily. From decentralized underground locations, it will exploit the social media (use of which it has perfected) to inspire and direct international terrorism in pursuit of its commitment to the goal of reestablishing a Caliphate governed by the strictest interpretation of the Koran.  American security leaders have recognized this threat and have successfully responded with improvements in intelligence, technology, partnerships and community outreach. Recent terrorist incidents and political rhetoric have fueled fear among 62% of polled Americans (Pew Research). The reality is there have only been eleven radical Islamic terrorist attacks in America since 9/11. These have all been by radicalized Americans. Inasmuch as there are more than sixty thousand American deaths per year from automobile accidents and suicides, this fear of Islamic terrorism does not seem to be based on reality.

Terrorism is the “ism” of this generation and will be with us for decades unless several challenges are addressed:

  •   First, ISIS and its affiliates must be annihilated by international, multiple approaches wherever they are located.
  •  The 1.3-1.4 billion Moslems in the world must unite to continually delegitimize ISIS as not representing their religion. Over the longer term, Islamic leaders must undertake a reformation to relate their religion to 21st century life to replace reliance on centuries’ old interpretations.
  •  We Americans must improve understandings to respect diversity, to be more inclusive not exclusive, to support community and family outreach to Americans vulnerable to ISIS propaganda. We should draw on the Abrahamic values instilled in Judaism, Christianity and Islam to defeat radical Islamic terrorists like ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The link to Ted Morse’s PowerPoint is below.

isil_future_nsf_morse_16nov16

Morse also suggests NSF participants might read this piece which came out right after his talk:

Baghdad, Kurds at odds over control of post-ISIL Mosul – News from Al Jazeera

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/baghdad-kurds-odds-control-post-isil-mosul-161117150810662.html

Memorandum for: All Participants in the National Security Forum

Colleagues,

We have been able to present several very timely and professional discussions regarding critical national security issues, ranging from cyber threats to the future of the Caliphate state to confrontation with China in the Western Pacific.  With the advent of a new administration in Washington, we can anticipate that President-Elect Trump and his team will be defining their own national security agenda and the critical issues it will address early on.

We would appreciate hearing from our participants regarding suggestions for topics that the National Security Forum itself might address in the near future.  In addition to topics, if you have thoughts regarding experts who might join us to present a program on that topic, that would be appreciated.  Please do keep in mind that we do not have the resources to bring in a Colin Powell, for example, who generally receives honorariums in the range of $100,000 for his appearances.

If you have any ideas, please send them to:

info@nationalsecurityforum.org

Many thanks for your thoughts,

 

Jim Megquier                                                      Tyrus W. Cobb

Chairman                                                              Founder

This is the final announcement for this most interesting presentation on….

ISIS Will Be Defeated on the Battlefield

So What Happens Next?

with

Ted Morse

The Ramada, Wednesday, November 16, 2016, 9:00 a.m.

ISIS, or the Caliphate State, has suffered a number of defeats on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria.  The militant Sunni group appears to be on the verge of losing its control of Mosul, and Raqqa could fall within 18 months.  While that is certainly welcome news, the question then arises, “What happens next”.  Will this provide an opportunity for Shia groups under Iranian direction to move into northern Iraq and confront the Kurds and Sunnis for control there?  Will an ISIS defeat in Syria do anything to stop the multi-faceted war there against Assad?  What role will regional states, including Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, play?  Will this present an opportunity for cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, or will it be another battle ground where Moscow and Washington collide? Most importantly, how do we prepare now for ISIL affiliates and ISIL inspiration of greatly expanded “home-grown” terrorism after ISIS is defeated?

Distinguished retired US Senior Foreign Service Officer, Ted Morse, will address the rapidly changing situation in Syria/Iraq and possible implications for U.S. national security policy.  Morse had two tours in Iraq and has had extensive post-conflict experience for 50 years around the world.

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served. We recommend that you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some breakfast, coffee and conversation.

You are encouraged to RSVP by clicking HERE. You may also RSVP by e-mailinginfo@nationalsecurityforum.org. Just a reminder, after the forum, we will be offering membership applications for the July 1, 2016– June 30, 2017 period.  Forms will be available at the forum, though you can also access the application form by clicking HERE. For your convenience, we accept cash, check and credit card payments for both the breakfast and membership fees.