James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

Friday File: Will We Come to Regret the Raid on Abbottabad?

by James M. Lindsay Friday, May 13, 2011
A policeman walks in front of the compound where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad.

A policeman walks in front of Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. (Faisal Mahmood/courtesy Reuters)

Above the Fold. Actions, even virtuous ones, have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are both unintended and undesirable. The CIA-engineered overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh was cheered in 1953; it looked like a strategic error when Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979. Ditto the U.S. support for the mujahideen fighting the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan. They morphed into the Taliban. Could the Abbottabad raid follow the same trajectory from elation to misery? Many Pakistanis have long worried that the United States seeks to steal their country’s nuclear weapons. SEAL Team 6’s daring raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound has moved that fear out of the realm of paranoid fantasy. Washington demonstrated both the capacity and the nerve to strike deep inside Pakistani territory. That has prompted speculation that the Pakistani military will seek to foil any U.S. attack on its nuclear stockpile by dispersing it to a wider range of hiding places. But dispersal increases the risk of theft, diversion, or unauthorized use. And Pakistan’s nuclear program is substantial; it could soon have more nuclear weapons than Britain. How likely is it that Pakistan will change its nuclear command and control procedures in the wake of Abbottabad? It’s hard to say. The Pakistani military keeps its nuclear program under tight wraps, and whatever the U.S. intelligence community knows it is keeping to itself. But at a minimum, be prepared for revisionist histories to emerge in the coming months that argue that Obama should have bombed bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound because that would have done less to spook Pakistani military leaders.

CFR Event of the Week. The raid that killed Osama bin Laden reflected years of work by the U.S. intelligence community. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, came to CFR this week to discuss the lessons intelligence professionals will draw from the long search for the world’s foremost terrorist. You can download the audio or watch the full video. In the clip below, Rogers discusses the often controversial interrogation methods that have been used on suspected terrorists in the years since 9/11.

Click here to view this video on YouTube.

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Newt Gingrich Makes It (Facebook) Official

by James M. Lindsay Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Newt Gingrich speaks to reporters after a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on March 18, 2011.

Newt Gingrich speaks to reporters after a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on March 18, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/courtesy Reuters)

It’s official. Newt Gingrich announced today via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube that he is running for president. As the New York Times’s Matt Bai points out, if Gingrich succeeds, he would be the first person since Dwight D. Eisenhower to win the presidency without previously being elected to statewide or national office.

I wrote Monday that I don’t see Gingrich duplicating Ike’s feat. Here are four reasons why:

1. He has alienated people who can help him win. Sarah Palin isn’t a Gingrich fan. She referred to him and other Republican colleagues in a 2009 email as “egotistical, narrow-minded machine goons.” Don’t ask New York Times columnist David Brooks for a Gingrich endorsement. He recently told Time: Read more »

TWE Remembers: The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

by James M. Lindsay Friday, May 6, 2011
Composite of cartoons on Chinese immigrants in the United States; published 1880. (J. Keppler/courtesy the Library of Congress)

A composite of cartoons from the 1880s warning of the “dangers” that Chinese immigrants posed to the United States. (J. Keppler/courtesy the Library of Congress)

Immigration is a hot topic in America. That’s nothing new. We are a nation of immigrants that has been arguing for more than a century over who should be the next group to be allowed into the country and in what numbers. Regrettably, our immigration debates have not always shown America at its best. Racial and ethnic stereotypes frequently drive the discussion. A case in point came on May 6, 1882, when President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The first Chinese immigrants started arriving in the United States in 1820. They came to escape poverty in China, and they took on low-skilled, low-paying jobs. Their numbers began swelling in the 1850s, first with the California Gold Rush and later with the construction of the transcontinental railroad. By 1880, there were 105,462 Chinese living in the United States out of a population of slightly more than 50 million.

Chinese laborers built the Central Pacific Railroad, which famously linked with the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869, allowing Americans for the first time to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific by rail. But the growing number of Chinese and their “otherness” stoked nativist anger, especially in California. They endured blatant legal discrimination: Read more »

The World Next Week: The Arab League, the Debt Ceiling, and Chatting with China

by James M. Lindsay Thursday, May 5, 2011
The National Debt Clock, which hangs from a building near Times Square in New York.

The National Debt Clock, which hangs from a building near Times Square in New York. (Joshua Lott/courtesy Reuters)

The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I talked about the scheduled meeting of the Arab League’s foreign ministers; Washington’s imminent encounter with the national debt ceiling; the upcoming China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue; and the Cannes Film Festival, which neither of us has tickets to. Perhaps next year.

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The highlights: Read more »