Choosing the Enemy in Cold War 2.0

Michael Klare - July 3, 2015


America's grand strategy, its long-term blueprint for advancing national interests and countering major adversaries, is in total disarray. Top officials lurch from crisis to crisis, improvising strategies as they go, but rarely pursuing a consistent set of policies. Some blame this indecisiveness on a lack of resolve at the White House, but the real reason lies deeper. It lurks in a disagreement among foreign policy elites over whether Russia or China constitutes America's principal great-power adversary.

Knowing one's enemy is usually considered the essence of strategic planning. During the Cold War, enemy number one was, of course, unquestioned: it was the Soviet Union, and everything Washington did was aimed at diminishing Moscow's reach and power. When the USSR imploded and disappeared, all that was left to challenge U.S. dominance were a few "rogue states." In the wake of 9/11, however, President Bush declared a "global war on terror," envisioning a decades-long campaign against Islamic extremists and their allies everywhere on the planet. From then on, with every country said to be either with us or against us, the chaos set in. Invasions, occupations, raids, drone wars ensued -- all of it, in the end, disastrous -- while China used its economic clout to gain new influence abroad and Russia began to menace its neighbors.

Among Obama administration policymakers and their Republican opponents, the disarray in strategic thinking is striking. There is general agreement on the need to crush the Islamic State (ISIS), deny Iran the bomb, and give Israel all the weapons it wants, but not much else. There is certainly no agreement on how to allocate America's strategic resources, including its military ones, even in relation to ISIS and Iran. Most crucially, there is no agreement on the question of whether a resurgent Russia or an ever more self-assured China should head Washington's enemies list. Lacking such a consensus, it has become increasingly difficult to forge long-term strategic plans. And yet, while it is easy to decry the current lack of consensus on this point, there is no reason to assume that the anointment of a common enemy -- a new Soviet Union -- will make this country and the world any safer than it is today.

Choosing the Enemy

A Critique of Palestinian Nationalism

Dan Illouz - July 2, 2015

One of the strongest arguments of the Zionist Left is based on the very principles that lie at the foundation of Zionist nationalism and the right to self-determination.

The Zionist Left argues that Zionism doesn't just allow for the creation of a Palestinian state, it mandates it.

How so? If Zionism is based on the universal belief in the righteousness of nationalism and in the right to self-determination of all nations, including the Jewish nation, how can a true Zionist be opposed to this same right when it comes to the Palestinian people? This argument is quite convincing, especially to all those who seek in Zionism some universal values that transcend the traditional Jewish attachment to the Land of Israel.

However, this argument is also based on some flawed assumptions that need to be deconstructed.

Beyond the Greek Impasse

George Friedman - July 1, 2015

The Greek situation - having perhaps outlived the term "crisis," now that it has taken so long to unfold - appears to have finally reached its terminal point. This is, of course, an illusion: It has been at its terminal point for a long time.

The terminal point is the juncture where neither the Greeks nor the Germans can make any more concessions. In Greece itself, the terminal point is long past. Unemployment is at 26 percent, and more than 50 percent of youths under 25 are unemployed. Slashed wages, particularly in the state sector, affecting professions including physicians and engineers, have led to massive underemployment. Meanwhile, most new economic activity is occurring in the untaxable illegal markets. The Greeks owe money to EU institutions and the International Monetary Fund, all of which acquired bad Greek debts from banks that initially lent funds to Greece in order to stabilize its banking sector. No one ever really thought the Greeks could pay back these loans.

The European creditors - specifically, the Germans, who have really been the ones controlling European negotiations with the Greeks - reached their own terminal point more recently. The Germans are powerful but fragile. They export about a quarter of their gross domestic product to the European free trade zone, and anything that threatens this trade threatens Germany's economy and social stability. Their goal has been to keep intact not only the euro, but also the free trade zone and Brussels' power over the European economy.

Germany has so far avoided an extreme crisis point by coming to an endless series of agreements with Greece that the Greeks couldn't keep and that no one expected them to keep, but which allowed Berlin to claim that the Greeks were capitulating to German demands for austerity. This alleged capitulation helped Germany keep other indebted European countries in line, as financially vulnerable nations witnessed the apparent folly of contemplating default, demanding debt restructuring and confronting rather than accommodating the European Union.

The Russia-Led Economic Union Is in Trouble

Luke Rodeheffer - July 1, 2015


Russia and Kazakhstan officials claim there is no trade war between their two countries, but the behavior of the two governments follows a pattern of trade disputes between post-Soviet states in which imports are banned for alleged health and safety violations.

Russia and Kazakhstan deny there is a trade war between them - that is what officials from both Astana and Moscow have stated over the past several months.

Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov has claimed that such statements "are quite a big exaggeration," while the governing organ of the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC), which now unites Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia, has rejected any suggestion of a trade war.

Moscow and Astana exchange first volleys in a trade war

The Eurozone Needs a Fundamental Rethink

Anton Muscatelli - July 1, 2015

We are approaching the end game in the conflict between Greece and its creditors. How likely is it that Greece will leave the euro? It is much more likely now than ever before. Brinkmanship is a national sport in the EU, but we are now at the limits of what is negotiable.

The banking system has basically been suspended until the referendum on July 5 following the introduction of capital controls on Monday June 29, caused by the European Central Bank’s freeze on emergency liquidity assistance at current levels. Everyone knows that Greece is insolvent if there is a No vote. I cannot see the eurozone countries renegotiating the bailout deal in the event of that happening, so a No vote would probably be the beginning of the end.

If there is a Yes vote to endorse the bailout deal, it’s clear from the most recent statements that there will be a political crisis in Greece: the ruling government will not wish to impose further austerity, which it regards as unacceptable, and which some economists see as having worsened the plight of the Greek economy. (Greece’s GDP has shrunk by 25% between 2008 and 2015.) This could then lead to political stalemate in Greece which might mean the crisis is merely postponed.

Where No leads

If Grexit happens, it will not be costless. A return to a (massively devalued) drachma will not engender competitiveness overnight. The level of competitiveness measured by Greece’s GDP deflator relative to the EU has already dropped by 8%-9% since 2014: a real devaluation. But it would need more than this, and it would take a long time to feed through to net exports given Greece’s loss of competitiveness in the decade before.

Time for the U.S. to Back African Democracy

James Glassman - July 1, 2015


For the first time in the history of Africa's largest country, a challenger defeated a sitting Nigerian president via the ballot box. The losing incumbent in the March 28 election, Goodluck Jonathan, graciously conceded defeat to Muhammadu Buhari, offered his best wishes, and urged supporters to follow due process. Nigeria's accomplishment is all the more remarkable in the face of terrorist threats from Boko Haram.

Yet in much of Africa, democracy remains an empty word. The phrase that U.S. diplomat Edward Djerejian coined in 1992 -- "one person, one vote, one time" - is the more established rule. Leaders, once elected, to contrive to stick around for decades, defying term limits, and rigging elections. For example, the president of Burundi, Pierre Nkrunziza, is standing for election to a third term on July 15, in defiance of constitutional limits. The European Union has withheld funds to conduct the election, and, already, violence has broken out at polling stations. 

In Togo recently, President Faure Gnassingbe won a third term. He and his late father have been running the country now for 48 years. Indeed, nine African countries have a leader who has been in power for 21 years or more. 

According to The Guardian, only one African country, Mauritius, qualifies as a "full democracy." Some 27 sub-Saharan nations are "ruled by an authoritarian regime or nominal democracy," and 13 countries have no presidential term limits. 

The US Steps Up Big. Will Europe Follow?

Steven Keil - June 30, 2015


WASHINGTON - Two years ago, worries mounted inside NATO about how much the Alliance would still matter after it wound down its mission in Afghanistan. In the months leading up to last year's NATO summit in Wales, U.S. officials grappled with how to make the Alliance seem relevant. The twin crises to NATO's east (Ukraine) and south (North African instability) put those existential concerns to rest, and today the discussion about NATO's future has changed dramatically. Now everyone recognizes NATO's indispensability, but worry whether it will be able to step up to today's challenges.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter spent last week in Europe on his first major trip to the continent - and it was one of the most consequential European visits by a Pentagon leader in several years. Carter's trip illustrated the complex and paradoxical picture that is today's transatlantic security landscape. The spectrum of threats facing the transatlantic alliance is the most perplexing since the end of the Cold War. At the same time, it has energized the relationship. For Washington policymakers, these challenges have underscored the need for strong security partners in Europe. For European leaders, they are a stark reminder of the importance of U.S. leadership.

Carter's stops in Brussels, Berlin, and Tallinn reassured allies about the U.S. commitment to their security. He used his trip to introduce some of the most forward-leaning U.S. military measures to date to respond to the threat posed by Russia, such as the deployment of prepositioned equipment to help support training and exercises and reinforce military readiness. This equipment will help supply the U.S. forces that will continue to deploy on NATO's eastern flank in the months to come.

The U.S. defense chief also promoted what he described as a new post-Cold war era "playbook." He highlighted this at a meeting with the defense ministers from Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway in Münster, to visit NATO's new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), as well as his visit to Estonia, where he highlighted the need for greater cyberdefense. Carter concluded his trip last Friday by visiting the Grafenwöhr training facility in Germany - one of the most important U.S. military training sites during the Cold War - where he observed the Exercise Combined Resolve IV, a U.S. Army live-fire exercise involving nearly 5,000 troops from 14 nations aimed to enhance interoperability and multinational force cohesion.

Greece and the Nattering Nabobs of the Anglosphere

Daniel Woker - June 30, 2015

English is, fortunately, the global lingua franca. Thus, comments on current events made in English are the final arbiters for most of the world. This is mostly for the good but can misfire. Where the EU is concerned, the nabobs in London, Washington and elsewhere in Tony Abbott's Anglosphere don't get it, as shown by recent comments on events in Greece and on Germany's role in Europe.

No soccer match, tennis game or golf play-off would ever dare to go into the number of prolongations we are all exposed to by the interminable tragi-comedy of Greece vs Europe. At the time of writing, Greek banks are closed but the final outcome is still far from clear. We don't know if there will be a clear cut 'Grexit', the much discussed exit of Greece from the euro. What will certainly ensue, however, is a prolonged period of muddling through, with severe capital controls and budget policies.

Since the beginning of the prolonged negotiations between the present Greek Government and the 'troika' (the European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF), there have been three main reasons why too much leniency for Greece (including a debt 'haircut') was impossible.

First was the fear of precedent. A European backdown on Greece would have been intolerable for other European countries that had already swallowed bitter budget medicine, mainly Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

Greece's Bizarre Referendum

Tristram Sainsbury - June 29, 2015

For those who missed the press coverage over the weekend, the Greek Government has scheduled a referendum for Sunday (5 July), with the Greek population being asked a bizarre question: will they accept the latest creditor proposal, of 25 June, which details the terms of an extension of the Greek bailout package?

Why bizarre? Greece needs to repay a €1.6 billion loan to the International Monetary Fund by Tuesday (30 June), and the bailout package Greece is meant to receive from the Eurogroup will expire on 30 June. So by referendum day, the conditions underpinning the terms the Eurogroup extended for its package will have fundamentally changed. In short, the referendum will be based on a meaningless and out-of-date question.

If Greece does miss its payment, the IMF board will probably enact its normal process for dealing with payments in arrears. This does not necessarily represent a technical default in the eyes of credit agencies, but Greece will find it harder to negotiate with creditors.

In the face of an intensifying bank run, the Greek Government has had to close its stock market, declare a bank holiday and impose severe capital controls (a maximum of €60 can be withdrawn from an account in one day and overseas transfers of cash are prohibited, aside from vital pre-approved commercial transactions). These developments will likely result in economic conditions in Greece deteriorating quickly in the coming week.

This Is How Grexit Happens

Robert Kahn - June 29, 2015


This is how Grexit happens. Following the collapse of negotiations between Greece and its creditors, the European Central Bank (ECB) has halted emergency liquidity assistance. Facing an intensified bank run, the Greek government on Sunday introduced banking controls and declared a bank holiday. With substantial wage and benefit payments due this week and local banks out of cash, economic conditions are likely to deteriorate quickly in Greece ahead of a planned referendum for July 5 asking Greek voters whether the government should accept a creditor-backed reform plan.

Creditor governments have left the door open for an agreement, one that if fully implemented and coupled with debt relief could be transformative for Greece. But that deal never seemed close and now seems out of reach. I am skeptical that economic or political conditions exist to allow a prolonged period of controls (e.g., Cyprus). Pressures to exit the euro and monetize government spending will become acute, and could outpace the sort of political transition or realignment within Greece that would allow a deal.

Where are we?

First, here's a quick review of the weekend.

Our Jihadis and Theirs

Tom Engelhardt - June 23, 2015

Consider this paragraph a holding action on the subject of getting blown away in America. While I write this dispatch, I'm waiting patiently for the next set of dispiriting killings in this country. And I have faith. Before I'm done, some angry -- or simply mentally disturbed -- and well-armed American "lone wolf" (or lone wolves) will gun down someone (or a number of people) somewhere and possibly himself (or themselves) as well. Count on that. It'll be my last paragraph. Think of it as, in a grim way, something to look forward to as you read this piece on American armed mayhem.

National security officials and politicians have been pounding home the message that the "greatest threat" to Americans is an extreme and brutal jihadist movement thousands of miles away and the videos and social media messages its followers produce that make it seem close at hand. With that in mind, let's take a look at a few of the dangers of armed life in these United States, a quick survey of national insecurity in a country armed to the teeth.

I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that, in the first half of 2015, there's been a plethora of incidents to draw on. There's the killer still on the loose in northern Colorado who shot at people in cars or out biking or walking late at night. There's the suspected serial killer who dumped seven bodies behind a strip mall in New Britain, Connecticut, and may now be in jail on unrelated charges. There's the ongoing trial of James Holmes who blew away 12 moviegoers and wounded 70 in a multiplex in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012. There was the mass killing of seven people in February in the tiny town of Tyrone, Missouri, by Joseph Aldridge, an armed recluse who then killed himself. And don't forget Sudheer Khamitkar, who shot to death his wife and two young sons and then himself in Tulsa in April, or Christopher Carrillo, who murdered four of his family members and then turned his gun on himself in a Tucson home in May. And many others.

In such a list, there should be a special place for a phenomenon that, though largely untabulated, has been gaining attention in recent years as ever more Americans "carry" in ever more places. This means ever more loose guns lying around. I'm talking about the mayhem committed by toddlers (or perhaps they should be thought of as American lone wolf cubs). Toddler shootings range from the two year old who killed his mother in a Walmart in Idaho with the gun she was packing in her purse as 2014 ended to the three year old who discovered a gun in a purse in an Albuquerque motel room in February and wounded his father and pregnant mother with a single shot. Such a list for this year would have to include the Florida two year old who found his father's gun in the family car and killed himself with it in January, the three year old who picked up an unattended gun and killed a one year old in a Cleveland home in April, the Virginia two year old who found a gun on top of a dresser and killed himself in late May, and the four year old who, at about the same time in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, picked up a shotgun at a target shooting range and killed his 22-year-old uncle. Toddler killings have been commonplace enough in these pistol-packin' years that they now significantly outpace terror killings in the U.S.

What Borders Mean to Europe

George Friedman - June 23, 2015

Europe today is a continent of borders. The second-smallest continent in the world has more than 50 distinct, sovereign nation-states. Many of these are part of the European Union. At the core of the EU project is an effort to reduce the power and significance of these borders without actually abolishing them - in theory, an achievable goal. But history is not kind to theoretical solutions.

Today, Europe faces three converging crises that are ultimately about national borders, what they mean and who controls them. These crises appear distinct: Immigration from the Islamic world, the Greek economic predicament, and the conflict in Ukraine would seem to have little to do with each other. But in fact they all derive, in different ways, from the question of what borders mean.

Europe's borders have been the foundation of both its political morality and its historical catastrophes. The European Enlightenment argued against multinational monarchies and for sovereign nation-states, which were understood to be the territories in which nations existed. Nations came to be defined as groupings of humans who shared a common history, language, set of values and religion - in short, a common culture into which they were born. These groups had the right of national self-determination, the authority to determine their style of government and the people who governed. Above all, these nations lived in a place, and that place had clear boundaries.

The right of national self-determination has created many distinct nations in Europe. And, as nations do, they sometimes distrust and fear one other, which occasionally leads to wars. They also have memories of betrayals and victimizations that stretch back for centuries before the nations became states. Some viewed the borders as unjust, because they placed their compatriots under foreign rule, or as insufficient to national need. The right of self-determination led inevitably to borders, and the question of borders inevitably led to disputes among states. Between 1914 and 1945, Europeans waged a series of wars about national boundaries and about who has the right to live where. This led to one of the greatest slaughters of human history.

Understanding How ISIS Sees Itself

Ronald Tiersky - June 23, 2015

The self-labeled Islamic State has always been a mystery to Americans. The group has built itself into a vicious warfighting machine, but from the beginning, the joy its fighters take in beheading hostages, prisoners, and captured civilians has been incomprehensible. Do the group's leaders and fighters have no sense of pity, or of mercy? Do they not see that they and their own families might also become victims of some other group - their wives enslaved, their children stolen? As is the case in analyzing any human behavior, one must begin by understanding the Islamic State, or ISIS, as its leaders and fighters understand themselves.

Looking back A year after ISIS emerged out of the chaos of Syria's civil war, some perspective is possible. ISIS is basically new wine in an old bottle. Its savagery issues from an apocalyptic "End of Days" mentality - a self-righteous belief in one's own truth combined with a ferocious will to power. ISIS conceives its struggle as a historic fight of Truth against Error; in this case, their version of Islam, pitted against the world. The Islamic State's first enemies are, unexpectedly, not the United States or even Israel. Theirs is a war against other Muslim sects for total absorption. Sunnis who resist (including al Qaeda), and all Shiite Muslims, are their primary target, with Iran obviously first of all. They care nothing for the rules of war, whether those be informal historic codes, or norms codified in international law.  War is always hell, but war properly defined is waged with a sense of limits - goals and methods of fighting. War is a "civilized" human activity in the sense that it is common in human history, it is fought within constraints, and combatants wage war with the goal of achieving peace, whether that be in victory, defeat, or sometimes mutual exhaustion. Annihilating the enemy is not a goal of war properly defined. Civilized war defines honorable and dishonorable ideas of combat. For example, don't harm prisoners of war, and, today, don't use weapons of mass destruction. Against this background, the Islamic State straddles the boundary between war and barbarism. As a movement with a plan for organizing a redeemed, perfected society, the Islamic State offers just the latest form of totalitarianism, and as with each previous version, it finds its own justification. Earlier forms included Nazism, based on the idea of a master race, and Communism, based on the idea of a historically predestined social class, the Proletariat. The Islamic State uses religion to justify its totalitarianism. Genocide, which is not war but a massacre of innocents, can be the methodical work of a totalitarian state (the Jews massacred by the Third Reich) or it can come of ethnic or religious hatred that erupts in an orgy of bloodletting (Rwanda in 1994). Examples of savagery used as a method of battle include the practices of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, or of some groups in Africa during the blood-diamond years, and of Boko Haram today.

Unleashing hell for the sake of utopia

The ideology of a perfected society is also nothing new. The Islamic State's "caliphate," headed by a caliph (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who in 2014 proclaimed himself "Caliph Ibrahim," i.e. Caliph Abraham), is based on an idea that reaches a long way back. The caliphate was an essential feature of Islamic empire, beginning with the Prophet Mohammed's successors in the 7thth century. Muslim caliphs were never so powerful as Hitler or Stalin, neither within their own government nor across national boundaries. The last caliphate, based in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, was abolished by the secular Kemal Ataturk in 1924 after he declared the Turkish Republic. The caliph is a lesser figure compared to the major historical prophets of "religions of the book:" Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed. In other words, Baghdadi doesn't claim the stature of Mohammed. Other would-be prophets have done so. In the mid-19thth century alone there was the Muslim Mahdi in Sudan and the benevolent Muslim Persian Bahai prophet Bahaullah. The Chinese Taiping Rebellion's leader from 1850-1864, Hong Xiuquan, claimed to be Jesus's younger brother. ISIS is only the latest version of a historically recurring pattern. It manifests a familiar human desire for transcendence and personal holiness. If it were local and peaceful no one would object, so long as it respected the rights and security of others. ISIS of course does the opposite. But it's not true, as many Americans have assumed, that beheadings, crucifixions, and other horrors perpetrated by ISIS fighters are simply barbaric behavior, the actions of young men plumbing the depths of human nature's dark side. In Islamic State's ideology, savagery is authorized, glorified, indeed blessed by Allah.

How to Turn a New Page in U.S.-Israeli Relations

Zalman Shoval - June 22, 2015

Already in the 1940s, even before the end of World War II, David Ben-Gurion had come the conclusion that the realization of Jewish statehood and the security of the future Jewish state were closely linked primarily to the United States, not Britain as Chaim Weizmann, among others, still believed. Israel's policies, with one exception in 1956, have adhered to this understanding - and will not and cannot diverge from it - even though there have also been and probably will continue to be disagreements on certain issues.

This basic conclusion leads, among other things, to upholding the principle of Israeli bipartisanship toward American politics - even if American politicians themselves do not. Over the years it has become a virtual truism that the basis for the Israeli- American relationship is shared values and common strategic interests.

As to the values, this basically means democracy, human rights, equality before the law, freedom of religion, etc. On the whole, the criterion of common values does reflect reality in Israel - and I shall not go into the question to what extent it still fully and practically reflects reality in a changing America.

By the way, I think it was a wonderful thing that the congregation at my former synagogue in Washington, DC, Adas Israel, was lately given an opportunity to hear a very erudite and eloquent speech on the question of values and on common American-Israeli concerns, though it would have been unfair to the speaker to expect from him or some of his advisers a real, visceral understanding of what being Jewish is all about - or of the real concerns and hopes of Israel, as opposed to their representation in the articles of Peter Beinart or Jeffrey Goldberg.

Can France Shake Up Israeli-Palestinian Talks?

Piotr Smolar - June 22, 2015

This article first appeared in Le Monde

PARIS - We've reached the point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where time can no longer be allowed to run its course. And so despite rampant pessimism, France is working to bring forward a new resolution with a strict deadline to the United Nations Security Council by the next General Assembly in September. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is expected to present the outline of the new peace plan on Sunday to leaders in the region when he visits Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The French resolution will propose to set both the parameters of a negotiated end to the conflict and a limited timeframe of 18 months for these negotiations to take place. But contrary to the demands of Palestinian Authority's President, Mahmoud Abbas, it doesn't include a date for the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The resolution calls for the creation of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders, with exchange of territories agreed by both parts. This Palestinian state would be demilitarized but Israel would pledge to pull out its troops, during a transition period.