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Liveblogging: Obama Defense Adviser Richard Danzig « The Washington Independent

DENVER, Colo. — Here at the Curtis Hotel, a chief Obama defense adviser, Richard Danzig, is about to hold forth with Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry, at a packed luncheon sponsored by the Truman National Security Project. What kind of event is this? The kind with red, white and blue napkins artfully arranged next to the flavorless grilled-chicken salads and tablescapes featuring the setboard from the game Battleship.

Here’s Perry: “Iraq is not our only security challenge… the biggest challenge our next president will phase is rebuilding our ground forces… preventing a new Cold War, preventing nuclear terrorism” and environmental damage. Each of these problems worse than before the Age of Bush. … Bush simultaneously placated and antagonized Russia. “Now they apparently feel it’s payback time.”

12:38: McCain even worse. He’s “proposed removing Russia from the G-8, which is even more feckless and dangerous.” Future security depends “on cooperation with Russia” on Iran, North Korea, proliferation. And here’s Perry’s signature issue: nuclear terrorism. “Prevent [al-Qaeda] from getting a bomb or fissile material… and we — cannot– do that — by — ourselves.”

12:41: Perry on Obama. Obama doesn’t accept lack of progress on climate change, anti-Americanism, etc. Perry’s big on energy alternatives, portraying it as a national security issue. Political progress on energy lags behind technological progress. “We need a president who will meet the challenge of inspiring our body politics [sic] to be as good as our technology.” He ends with a corny yes-we-can.

12:45: Moderator Joe Klein asks Danzig about counterinsurgency lessons from Iraq on Afghanistan. “Its excellent to see John McCain talk about Afghanistan,” Perry says impishly. “More and more it seems like he’s taking his cues from Barack Obama,” who’s focused on South Asia from jump. Obama wants to redeploy troops to Afghanistan. On COIN: “I don’t think this is the property of the Bush administration or Sen. McCain.” Colonels “and more junior officers” developed COIN doctrine now… “We in the Obama campaign have very much supported that counterinsurgency doctrine.” Hear that, General? … Specifically in Afghanistan, Danzig wants to accellerate the training/mentoring of the Afghan Army, which is a consensus position. “We know what we need to do here,” Danzig says, “we just need an administration that’s prepared… to follow through.” Bush and McCain have paid “virtually no attention to Afghanistan.”

12:49. First question goes to Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Bringing up the Truman Project’s namesake, Skelton wants an “overall national-security strategy for the nation.” Where do we go from here? Danzig: “It’s particularly wonderful to answer your questions without a gavel in your hand.” Big-if-polite laugh, typical of these rooms. Substantively, Danzig says it’s myopic to build a theory for national strategy around a single issue, since it makes us “inclined to over-respond” to the crisis-of-the-moment. But a fundamental theory animates Obama, in three parts. 1) “We can’t do all this ourselves” — multilateralism; 2) “Indirection” — getting, as in counterinsurgency, indiginous partners to take the lead. Seems to suggest an idea of John Nagl’s: making training/advisory missions a core military competency; 3) Getting the civilian elements of national power in the fight. “Using all these elements in a cohesive fashion.” Good luck!

12:58: The eternal question: How to get the country to trust a Dem on national security? Danzig: the quality of Obama’s character. “The evenness of temperament… to contrast with what I’ll call the other candidate.” Oohhhhh diss! The dude asking the question is like a Tupac overdub: Say his name! “It didn’t strike me that I was being subtle,” Danzig says. Big laughs. “John McCain is well known for his ability to lose it.” Also: Obama likes dissent, disagreement, contentions among his advisers. “This quality of ability to listen” is an important Obama-attribute. He adds that military people see the difference between McCain and Obama’s temperament and intellectual competence “and it’s building [Obama] a military constituency.”

1:04: Anne-Marie Slaughter says she likes strategic leadership. How do we do more to support democratic allies abroad while still talking to non-democratic powers? She says “we’re not for the League” — that is the League of Democracies that McCain proposed and I thought Slaughter supported. Danzig doesn’t bite.

1:07: A congressman asks about what to do about Pakistan. Danzig looks like Albert Pujols with a high inside fastball. Bush focused way too much on Musharraf — hey, I agree! — “so inconsistent with American values, but also American interests in Pakistan” when it comes to “our relationship with the population as a whole.” In the end, he says, Pakistanis will have to sort out their internal dynamics, “but we can very strongly make evident what we support and what needs to change to get our support.” Biden proposed tripling aid to civil-society pillars in Pakistan; pushing the Pakistani Army to conduct counterinsurgency operations in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas where bin Laden is; getting the Army to respect civilian control.

And then! “I think also there is a role for force, and Senator Obama has been clear about this.” Where there are al-Qaeda elements and Pakistan won’t move against them “we have to be honest in saying we have some values that are at play there.” A euphemistic way of saying an Obama administration will grip up and be ready to ride.

1:10: Joe Klein asks: what’s a High Value Target? Bin Laden? Or a training camp? Danzig: “There are very delicate lines to be drawn, and need to recognize only in extremely important circumstances” can we talk about unilateral military action in Pakistan. There could be a lot of collateral damage. “I don’t think the range of targets can be very great.” So no specificity there.

1:13: Danzig on recruitment. “Human assets are the lifeblood of our military… if we squander that by lowering standards… I think we just squander our most important asset. So you need to put the resources into that and have some imagination.” Brags about turning around recruitment shortfalls during his tenure as Clinton Navy Secretary.

1:20: Bloomberg’s Janine Zacharia (a neighbor of mine in D.C.!) asks about Nato expansion in the Mideast, and whether the panel is taking a soft line on Russia. “I’m appalled by the Russian actions in Georgia,” Perry says. “We have a fair amount of leverage with Russia,” but we’re squandering it by not talking. “We must stand with Georgia now.”

1:26: I ask about how to stop al-Qaeda recruitment and growth potential. Danzig: “A very apt question.” Woo! “One of the important things is to make the existing institutions [globally and domestically] to work better.” Obama offers a clean break “and it’s evident that Senator McCain does not offer that.” The alienation produced around the world “contributes to the radicalization of populations on the streets of Pakistan and the Islamic world.” Obama “articulates a different view of the world” and understands the Muslim world “having grown up, part of his youth, in Indonesia.” Obama would convene a meeting “of Islamic countries and talk about how counter to Islam so many of these kinds of notions are, of terrorism and the like.” Also will set up an education fund to creat an alternative to the radical madrassas “because we have no secular educational” alternative. “Your question is entirely apt.” Awww go on.

1:33: Danzig’s final comment. “I think it’s quite odd” that there’s a position “that Democrats aren’t strong on national security.” After all, he says, Perry was a visionary defense secretary: “There was, I think, a magnificent performance over those years,” and the inheritance of them has been a “wisdom and credibility” among a new generation of Democratic defense experts. So pat yourselves on the back, Dems! You know how to do this! You got this! “There is no secretary of defense who has done as well as Bill Perry did, and that was a Democratic secretary of defense, Bill Perry.” But the challenge is “really using all elements of national security… bringing civilians and the military… in proportion.” Only spending $38 a year for State, USAID, etc., while spending half a trillion-plus annually on the military and intelligence communities. “At the same time, we ought to recognize that the military’s been allowed to deteriorate… [thanks to] the [Bush] administration’s tendency to live for today and not for tomorrow…. I’d think about Sustainable Security, or Balanced Security” as a Democratic security message. “We know how to do this better than the other people who have done it… and certainly better than John McCain.” And we’re out.

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