Voice

Why I don't care about the midterms

I know that the good editors of this magazine have a series of U.S. election articles offering advice and analysis on the midterm elections and their effect on foreign policy.

I also know that even if this turns out to be a big "wave" election, things aren't really going to change all that much on the foreign policy front. This is for the following two reasons:

1) Congress doesn't have too much sway over foreign policy. Sure, things like foreign aid and treaty ratification rely on the legislature, and the election results will affect those dimensions of foreign policy. But think back to 1994 and 2006, in which both houses of Congress turned over to the opposition party. Was there any real change in U.S. foreign and security policy? The Clinton administration was still able to send troops to Bosnia, and the Bush administration was able to launch its "surge" strategy.

Foreign economic policy might be an exception. After both of those elections, the president found it harder to get trade deals through Congress. Given that this president hasn't been all that keen about trade anyway, I don't think the midterms will matter all that much -- though the South Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) might finally be put to a vote with the hope of securing GOP support.

2) In a sour economy, presidents don't get much of a bump for foreign policy successes. The best foreign-policy president of the past four decades was George H.W. Bush. How many terms did he serve? [Hey, this sounds familiar! -- Ed. Click here to see why. The only things that have changed since that post simply reinforce my thesis.] See Aaron David Miller's FP essay for more on this point.

Enjoy watching the returns, poll-watchers -- I'll be going to bed early, secure in the knowledge that U.S. foreign policy will persist in its current form.

Daniel W. Drezner

I'm still waiting to be scared

Stephen Colbert's Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's attempt to rally fear in the hearts of Americans through its foiled toner cartridge gambit continues to reverberate in homeland security circles. Clearly, there are still a few bugs in the system. That said, here are my quick takeaways:

1) Al Qaeda failed… again. Seriously, if al Qaeda is ostensibly the New York Yankees of terrorism, the Steinbrenners would have fired the GM and coach years ago.

2) As this New York Times round-up suggests, al Qaeda has had to adopt new tactics because its preferred tactics have been thwarted:

[It was] a rare attack aimed at the air cargo system -- one of the foundations of the global economy -- rather than the passenger system, which has received the most attention from governments working to avoid a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Times story goes on to bemoan the failure to ratchet up security in the cargo system, which is a fair point. An implicit conclusion to draw from this switch in tactics, however, is that al Qaeda-affiliated groups are being frustrated on the passenger front.

3) Will Juan Williams now be fearful every time he sees a toner cartridge, even though most toner cartridges are not evil?

4) A common mantra about combating terrorism is that homeland security officials have to aim for a 1.000 batting average, while terrorists just need to get lucky once. I wonder if this is really true, however. Each time a new type of attack is thwarted, government officials learn a great deal about new tactics and methods, and a treasure trove of intelligence can be quickly generated. Failed attacks are likely to discourage some al Qaeda sympathizers, leading to more informants.

No, al Qaeda doesn't need a perfect track record, but failure after failure does carry strategic and operational costs.

5) The Saudi counterintelligence effort is getting an awful lot of good press.

Am I missing anything?