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November 30, 2008

Russia: Georgia Is Unforgiven

Russian Federation cannot and most likely will not forgive Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili for the August 2008 war, and Russian media take every opportunity to criticize his actions this past summer, blaming him for the Russo-Georgian war. This past week, news on Georgia and the aftermath of the August war were front and center in many Russian publications.

Since the United States continues to back territorial integrity of Georgia, President-elect Barack Obama is often cited in articles associated with the Georgian head of state. Daily Dni.ru cites Saakashvili's recent interview with an Italian newspaper, in which Saakashvili described his recent conversation with Obama, when American President-elect "pledged to support Georgia with all strength at his disposal." Dni quoted Saakshvili saying that while he now takes the blame for starting the conflict, his actions nonetheless were "inevitable ... and adequate in order to defend the integrity of his country."

The article further quotes Dmitry Rogozin, Russian representative at NATO, saying that "when he talks to leading politicians and diplomats - even those who supported Saakashvili initially - they are now starting to laugh at him. Georgia's friends are disappointed with everything having to do with Saakashvili. It seems that Washington "Center," as we kindly call it, has already made a different decision. We [Russians] think that the next President [of Georgia] will be Nino Burdzhanadze." According to Mr. Rogozin, Ms. Burzhdanadze already visited the White House, where she received a blessing from the American leadership to be the next Georgian President.

Dni reported further on the escalating rhetoric between Russia and Georgia. President Saakashvili , in the above-cited interview, made statement that his country had to take "adequate measures" against Russia in the August war because Moscow already begun moving heavy military equipment to the breakaway region of South Ossetia. His words were criticized by Assistant Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Russian Federation General Nogovitsin, who said that Saakashvili's words are "... paranoia. It's not curable. Saakashvili has no other choice but to say all that."

More interestingly, this article also cites former Georgian Ambassador to Russia Erosi Kitsmarishvili. According to Amb. Kitsmarishvili, Georgia was the first to start the August 2008 war, because "... Saakashvili took Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's visit to his country in July 2008 as the blessing to start the operation in South Ossetia. Moreover, Tbilisi may have had military plans for Abkhazia because Georgian President wanted to move the capital of the country to Sukhumi [now the capital of Abkhazia]."

The same article reported that Saakashvili, his closest supporters and his government are preparing to flee Georgia, and have already started moving money to international banks. The article cites Georgian political opposition's statements that "tens of millions of dollars are being moved to Mexican and Swiss banks. ... We [Labor Party] have enough proof already."

Daily Izvestia.ru printed the interview with the above-mentioned Dmitry Rogozin, Russian Representative to NATO. Rogozin told Izvestia that the current American administration is trying to leave President-elect Barack Obama "with a difficult inheritance when it comes to relations with Russia, Eastern Europe and Western Europe. ...The faster Ukraine and Georgia become part of NATO, the easier will it be for the [NATO] allliance to hide the evidence of its preparation for attack on South Ossetia and its participation in the "Orange Revolution," [which in 2004 brought pro-Western Ukrainian government to power]. That is why Rice has been constantly on the phone with her European colleagues." Asked why Secretary Rice is trying to pressure Europeans to admit Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, Rogozin replied that "lately, something strange is happening with her. It is important to understand this woman who until recently had the whole world in her pocket. And now that Senator McCain lost, she again has to earn a living by reading lectures."

All attention to Georgia notwithstanding, Izvestia reported on the results of the Russian fleet's recent visit to South America. The paper reported that Russian fleet, headed by the rocket cruiser "Peter the Great," is ready for the first-ever joint Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises. Former Assistant to Naval Chief of Staff Admiral Igor Kasatonov was quoted saying that "We [Russia] are a great naval power, and should be able to cooperate with any country's fleet, especially in regions that are located far from Russia's shores."

France: Mumbai Attack Monopolizes News

Following news outlets worldwide, the French press was in shock this week on the brutal terrorist attacks that took place in Mumbai. There were strong reactions to the survivors who flew back to Roissy on an Air France plane and regarding Pakistan's presumed involvement in these senseless killings.

First, France received and gave assistance to 77 survivors of the attacks (among them 29 French, 19 Italians, 17 Spanish, and 5 Germans) Saturday. A French tourist traveling in Mumbai, Johanna, 24, relates how she witnessed the atrocities in Le Figaro:

"We were eating when our attention was caught by many young people who came in with huge backpacks on their shoulders. They took heavy weapons from their bags, threw 3 grenades and started shooting at everybody with their machine guns. The gunmen were not hiding their faces, looked Indian and particularly young. Some people got out running, others, like us, hid under the tables. All those who took refuge in the kitchen were killed."

But this story is far from unique. Accounts such as this one are, in fact, numerous. And it always poses a problem for the press: how much can you ask of survivors who are still in shock? Among the survivors who came back to France Saturday, a woman answered in her own way by telling the reporter: "This is too much! Leave me alone!"

Now, aside from the individual horror stories, the French media have been keen, as have the Indian ones, to quickly point a finger at Pakistan's fundamentalist-infiltrated secret service. Based on what? On the fact that the only terrorist caught alive who is now in custody is Pakistani and admitted his membership in Lashkar-e-Taiba, a jihadist-separatist group operating in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Le Monde reports that this militant terrorist group had had links with elements from Pakistani secret service.

On top of all that, Indian security sources have confirmed that the terrorists could not have carried out such an attack without undergoing military training: they were using heavy weapons, communicated and attacked like professional army commandos. These facts do add to the suspicion towards the Pakistani secret service.

Therefor the Al-Qaeda lead has mostly been pushed aside in favor of indigenous terrorist organizations such as Lashkar. Which pushes to ask the burning question: is the epicenter of jidahist terrorism slowly but surely moving towards South Asia?

Chinese Sphere: Reactions to Mumbai Attacks

The Mumbai terrorist attacks figured prominently in the international sections of Chinese language newspapers. In the Southern Metropolis Daily, one of China’s leading commercial newspapers, Zhuang Liwei asserts that while outside groups may have aided the attackers, their primary motivation should be attributed to longstanding discrimination against Muslims in India’s predominantly Hindu society: “Before this Mumbai attack occurred, incidents of Muslim villages being burned, Muslims being murdered, and Muslims being evicted from their homes were occurring on a regular basis. Although the Indian government had made efforts to restrain Hindu radicals, they were of only limited effect because of Hindu’s political influence.

"Overall, Muslim radicals who found themselves disadvantaged had no choice but to resort to a strategy of bloody attacks in order to carry out a balanced resistance. At the same time, the intervention of external Islamic forces also enabled the Indian Muslims to obtain support and resources to continue their hardened resistance against the Hindu camp.” Zhuang goes on to forecast a round of revenge attacks and counterattacks between India’s Hindus and Muslims.

In the Liberty Times, one of Taiwan’s leading dailies, Lee Cheng-hong believes that India’s attribution of the attacks to external forces is a way of covering up its internal contradictions: “India may choose to take the more attractive American path and call the Mumbai attacks India’s 9-11 and put the finger on Pakistan as the mastermind. Thus, India’s next step would be to raise tensions with Pakistan and perhaps even engage in armed conflict. The logic for this course of action is simple and it would work towards sidestepping internal political crises and shift the focus outwards.” Lee also sees this as President-elect Obama's first major foreign policy test.

An editorial in Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore’s leading Chinese-language daily, interestingly blames India’s democracy for the attacks: “Many things about India tell us that oftentimes this ‘world’s largest democratic country’ is confounded by democracy itself. Even today it has still been unable to transform the benefits of democratic theory into reality for managing the nation and improving people’s lives. Instead, certain political forces and special interest groups force the nation’s political machinery to a standstill in pursuing their own interests. This renders the government unable to enact or execute policy, and the natural result in the end is that interests of the majority and all of society are harmed.

"With regards to the Mumbai incident, people cannot assign the entire blame to the lack of efficiency in India’s political system, but there is one point that cannot be denied: if a nation’s policymaking and execution functions are weak and powerless, or are constantly paralyzed, than it would naturally become an easy ‘soft target’ for terrorist organizations or other evil forces to attack. For India, this should be a lesson. For other countries, should this also not be a warning?”

November 28, 2008

Reading Too Much Into Obama's Cabinet

As someone who has written approvingly of Bush 41, I have to say that E.J. Dionne goes too far:

In electing Barack Obama, the country traded the foreign policy of the second President Bush for the foreign policy of the first President Bush.

Can we at least wait for the Obama Administration to govern before making claims on their behalf? Yes, "realists" are represented in the upper echelon of Obama's cabinet. Just as they were in President George W. Bush's.

November 26, 2008

Di Rita: Rumsfeld Multi-Tasked During the Wars

National Review hosted a symposium on Obama's retention of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. It generated this response from Rumsfeld aid Lawrence Di Rita:

Secretary Gates, together with some new military leadership in key positions, provided those sets of eyes and President Bush’s revised strategy in Iraq has been a success. But the success in Iraq is not without cost — less focus on everything else.

When Gates took office, the national-security apparatus was undergoing the most rapid and profound transformation since the Department of Defense was established in 1947. Rumsfeld was acting at President Bush’s direction to bring the institution into the 21st Century. A partial list of the Bush/Rumsfeld program: the most extensive global military base closure and realignment since World War II; the complete realignment of the global U.S. force posture in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East; the expansion and modernization of U.S. special forces; the redesign of the United States Army; the most significant reduction in strategic forces in the nuclear era; the implementation and deployment of a basic system of defense against ballistic missiles; the creation of an entirely new civil-service system for the Department of Defense; the establishment of new military commands for the Homeland, and Africa; the list goes on.

This is quite a remarkable paragraph. What Di Rita is saying is that while two massive military engagements were underway, Rumsfeld had better things to do. He admits up front that this inattention led to ruin in Iraq and Afghanistan and was temporarily fixed when a defense secretary took over who actually paid attention. And he's suggesting that's a bad thing. One shudders to think of the consequences if Secretary Gates continues to pay attention to winning the wars instead of winning procurement battles, we may actually be able to remove our forces from Iraq and Afghanistan before the end of the century.

Rumsfeld's penchant for doing things other than attempting to win the war he pushed for in Iraq was also documented, albeit less charitably, by Washington Post Magazine writer David Von Drehle. Drehle noted how the secretary viewed his job as ensuring that the Iraq war did not siphon off funds and resources destined for "transformative" weapons systems.

It just so happens that I agree with much of what Rumsfeld was trying to do vis-a-vis restructuring the U.S. military. I also think Di Rita's list of achievements would, in another time, be a praiseworthy legacy.

But if you're the Secretary of Defense and your boss puts the nation into two major ground wars (one of which you championed), you ought to focus on getting that job, and only that job, done and restructure forces at a more propitious moment.

November 25, 2008

Can We Sustain the War on Terror?

Judah Grunstein makes an astute point:

Seven years and a misguided redirection of resources to Iraq later, we essentially face the same strategic situation in Afghanistan that we did on Sept. 12, 2001, with the major difference being that the hard to reach locations have been shifted eastward into Pakistan. The question isn't whether the goal of a stable, less oppressive Afghanistan is a noble one, but whether it is an essential one, and if so, whether it is achievable with the resources we (and our NATO and Afghan allies) are able and willing to commit. I'd argue that the answer is no, no (no and no), and no. In that order.

Two weeks ago James Joyner observed of CIA Director Hayden's speech that the logic of America's counter-terrorism policy was to, in effect, remove every possible lawless and ungovernable sanctuary that jihadists could take refuge in around the world.

Of course, it's not really possible to erase every possible terrorist sanctuary. Let's posit the most spectacular turnaround for Afghanistan and the destruction of al-Qaeda sanctuaries in the FATA in Pakistan. Does al-Qaeda quit? Of course not. The rump elements travel to Sudan or Somalia or Yemen or Lebanon or Iran. When you consider that technology will enable smaller groups to communicate and coordinate more effectively with fewer resources, a "safe haven" can be an Internet cafe in Hamburg.

However, it's easy to see why such a posture enjoys bi-partisan enthusiasm. On the left, people like Susan Rice (potentially our UN Ambassador) can funnel money into aid and nation-building projects they would have championed irrespective of the terrorist threat under the rubric of counter-terrorism. On the right, it's an opportunity to extend and entrench our military hegemony. And, like many government programs, it has completely unrealistic aims which ensures an open-ended commitment of resources. Everyone wins!

November 24, 2008

Scowcroft's Cadres

"Second, and relatedly, Obama's radicalism, beginning with his Alinski/ACORN/community organizer period, is a bottom-up socialism. This, I'd suggest, is why he fits comfortably with Ayers, who (especially now) is more Maoist than Stalinist. What Obama is about is infiltrating (and training others to infiltrate) bourgeois institutions in order to change them from within — in essence, using the system to supplant the system." - Andrew McCarthy, National Review, Oct. 8, 2008.

And right on cue, Obama has begun staffing his administration with radical cadres:

Many of the Republicans emerging as potential members of the Obama administration have professional and ideological ties to Brent Scowcroft, a former national-security adviser turned public critic of the Bush White House.

Mr. Scowcroft spoke by phone with President-elect Barack Obama last week, the latest in a months-long series of conversations between the two men about defense and foreign-policy issues, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Peace Process: Kashmir Edition

The New York Times had an interesting report Sunday on the pervasive fear in Pakistan that the U.S. is in cahoots with Afghanistan and India to break up their country. To put Pakistan at ease, some are calling for U.S.-led efforts to "regionalize" the problem:

American military commanders, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, have started to argue forcefully that the solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, where the American war effort looks increasingly uncertain, must involve a wide array of neighbors.

Mr. Obama has said much the same. Several times in his campaign, he laid out the crux of his thinking. Reducing tensions between Pakistan and India would allow Pakistan to focus on the real threat — the Qaeda and Taliban militants who are tearing at the very fabric of the country.

“If Pakistan can look towards the east with confidence, it will be less likely to believe its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban,” Mr. Obama wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine last year.

Daniel Larison, rounding up reaction among a number of Indian writers, says the prognosis for such a gambit is grim.

Should we be heartened or disheartened that what began seven years ago as a military effort to kill or capture a few hundred jihadists has blossomed into what could potentially be one of the most difficult diplomatic gambits in history?

November 23, 2008

France: Whither the Socialists?

Is the Socialist Party Headed for Collapse?

This resounding question was asked this weekend in an op-ed piece in Le Figaro. To the outside observer, another question comes to mind: How could François Mitterand's party slide down so low on the slippery slope of divisions?

Of course, left-wing parties are known worldwide for their lack of discipline when compared to their right-wing counterparts. But this time, the French Socialist Party is evenly - and bitterly - divided between two powerful blocs: center-leftists who support Ségolène Royal and leftists who support Martine Aubry. Indeed, after a vote in which almost 140,000 Socialists cast their ballots in favor of either candidate, Aubry came out on top with a 42-vote majority, a margin of 0.04% between the two candidates!

Such a result was bound to reinforce the growing feeling of distrust between the two coalitions, but the situation has worsened as Ms. Royal has legally challenged the results, which are now being recounted. As they often do in those kinds of situations, accusations of fraud have flown from both sides, contributing to the growing feeling of animosity that has now overwhelmed the Socialist Party.

Indeed, things are definitely looking awful for the Socialists. On the other side of the question, Le Monde asks if Mr. Sarkozy's UMP will be able to benefit from their political foes' misfortune. Of course, UMP officials were eager and satisfied to tell the press that the Socialists had shown the worst side of themselves and that socialism itself was outdated in France.

In my opinion, those left-leaning French electors who may be embarrassed by the main opposition party's divisions are not likely to jump in the UMP boat. In fact, in the same article, Le Monde suggests that such rivalries within the left might spark some "anarcho-unionized" troubles, suggesting that France could be headed for a wave of public strikes. For Le Monde, the only real winners from such a volatile situation on the left are François Bayrou from MODEM (centre) and Olivier Besançenot from LCR (extreme-left).

But for now, all of this is speculation. First of all, we have yet to find out who the real winner of the Socialist race for leadership is and for that, we have to wait for the results of the recount and of possible judiciary actions coming from either Aubry or Royal. Second, European elections will take place next year and they will give us a glimpse of what the balance of power has become on the left side of French politics: Will the extreme-left be able to garner support among disillusioned Socialists? That much will be told by European elections.

However, this much is clear: It's not a good day to be a French Socialist.

Chinese Sphere: Financial Crisis Hits Home

At the outset of the financial crisis, many China-based media commentators were exuding a sense of self-satisfaction toward the troubles the U.S. economy was going through and looking forward to a reconfigured international order with a weakened U.S. and stronger China. However, with recent news this past week of rising unemployment and factory closures in China, the media has dialed back its triumphal declarations and is, instead, calling for businesses to do the right thing and keep their workers on the dole.

In an editorial titled, “Committing to No Layoffs Is an Expression of Corporate Social Responsibility,” the Chinese government’s official Xinhua News Agency writes, “In the face of economic crises, corporations, especially privately-run businesses, can choose to layoff workers in order to reduce risk and costs and achieve the goal of self-preservation. This is a common approach taken by corporations in developed Western nations. However, a responsible corporation should look after the overall interests of the nation and society. It should tightly tie its own fate to that of the nation and the people. … The greater the crisis, the tougher will be the test of a corporation’s moral fiber and social responsibility.”

With Singapore now officially in a recession and one of its largest banks announcing layoffs, leading Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao is also using similar language in pleading for businesses to go easy on the layoffs: “Corporations may pursue profit, but they must also be socially responsible. They should care for the welfare of their employees and their families. … In the midst of the rapidly deteriorating global economic situation, it would be unrealistic to expect companies not to engage in any layoffs at all. … However, we sincerely hope that during these difficult times company managers will be able to think carefully and long-term. Value and respect the labor-management-government tripartite negotiation channels and make use of its special advantages. Adopt a ‘tripartite’ approach in dealing with issues such as crisis response and employee lay-offs in order to set a good example of a manager.”

An economic policy consisting of entreaties to businesses to refrain from taking measures perfectly consistent with free market principles would be received with ridicule in Taiwan, so the government can only hope to use fiscal measures to soften the impact of the global economic downturn. However, President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration has resorted to a curious combination of both massive government spending and large tax cuts in hopes to stimulate the economy.

The Taiwan-based China Times writes, “Cutting taxes is like smoking opium. In some situations tax cuts may have a stimulatory effect, but they also have very obvious negative consequences: they decrease government revenue, worsen the nation’s financial state, add to the debt burden of future generations, seep away funds for infrastructure development, and weaken the investment environment. Overall, it causes long-term damage to economic fundamentals. Short-sighted political hacks get caught up in the applause over tax cuts, but they ignore the after-effects of shocks to government debt and infrastructure development. … When our government officials wish to adopt the most appealing policies of America’s Democratic and Republican parties by both increasing spending and cutting taxes, does President Ma not feel the least bit of discomfort? Is there such a thing as a free lunch?”

Russia: Events in Near Abroad Take Center Stage

Russian newspapers are commenting on a wide variety of topics, with the effects of the financial crisis and events in its near-abroad taking center stage.

One of the more important stories over the past week is the difference of opinion between Russian and American presidents over what Ukraine calls "Holodomor," an artificially induced famine by the Soviet government in 1932-33 that killed millions of Ukrainians (and millions of other people across the Soviet Union). The famine's title is a Ukrainian word made up of "Holocaust" and "mor," or famine. Russian daily Dni.ru reported that President George W. Bush addressed Ukrainian people marking the 75th anniversary of the event, stating "solidarity of the United States with the Ukrainian people seeking to remember millions who perished when Stalin's regime created an artificial famine. ... The people of Ukraine are participating in advancing freedom across the world and America is proud to call Ukraine its friend."

The famine of 1932-33 created a huge row between Ukraine and Russia because Moscow refuses to accept blame for the events from seven decades ago, stating that it was the crime of the Communist regime at that time, that millions of other victims of Stalin's brutality perished across Soviet Union in regions besides Ukraine. Moscow therefore refuses to see the Ukraine "Holodomor" as Ukraine sees it - a pre-determined action emanating from Moscow intended to destroy Ukrainian people.

The paper quoted Russian President Medvedev's letter to Ukrainian President Yuschenko: "... Kiev's stance on this famine is meant to sow differences between our countries. ... It is time to look for collective approaches to this issue. The tragic events of the 1930s are being used, in our opinion, in order to achieve short-term political gains." Medvedev is further quoted as saying that "those who are using 'Holodomor' are not interested in scientific and historic data. They misstate facts and falsify victims' numbers. ... To say that there was a predetermined goal to destroy the Ukrainian people is to misstate facts and those who do it seek to create a nationalist subtext for the overall tragedy. ... The actions of Ukrainian leadership are meant to divide (Russian and Ukrainian) our people, united by centuries of cultural, historic and spiritual connections."

Dni reported that Georgian opposition has addressed Georgian people with the calls for President Saakashvili's resignation. The opposition also wants to try American politicians who "brought Saakashvili to power and supported him for the past five years." The opposition hopes that "arrival of Obama would mean the departure of Saakashvili," whom the opposition blames for worsening economic and political situation in the country. At present, Moscow considers Georgian leadership fully responsible for the August 2008 war in the breakaway region of South Ossetia that brought Russian military deep inside Georgian territory.

Daily Gazeta.ru commented on the recent speech by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the annual meeting of the country's largest party, "Ediniaya Rossiya." (United Russia) Putin addressed the party delegates in his new role as "the slayer of crisis," referring to the effects of the current global financial crisis on the Russian economy and society. The paper commented that the "tandem democracy" in Russia became more clear, "with President Medvedev controlling the institutions of power, while Prime Minister Putin controls the finances." The paper argues that Putin's speech to the party and the Russian people underscores the fact that the financial crisis is now directly affecting the country, and that government must do everything it can not to repeat the economic collapse and shocks of the 1990s. The paper further states that Putin's always-high popularity ranking among Russian people will remain high, and may even rise now that Putin has pledged to fight the effects of the global crisis.

Daily Vremya Novostei reported on one of Putin's acts to combat the crisis - Russian income tax will be lowered by 4%, quoting Putin's address to the party delegates: "That means that 400 billion rubbles will remain with the companies and industries and will continue to circulate in the economy."

Daily Izvestia published an interview with Duma Deputy Sergey Markov about the results of the recent G20 economic summit. Markov talked about the "rescue models" for the re-launch of the global economy, stating that US will either accept large-scale investments from China and Muslim countries, or that new "alternative capitalism " models will be explored by a working group proposed by French President Sarkozy. According to Markov, "Russia risks to be on the periphery of these discussions. Its position is right so far - greater cooperation, multipolarity of global centers, greater amount of reserves. Most importantly, we should depend less and less on the US economy." He further stated that "it is important for Russia to change its (economic) ideological orientation and to propose global solutions."

November 21, 2008

The Root Causes of Defense Spending

Matthew Yglesias charts some public opinion data on defense spending that indicates a willingness to pare back the Pentagon. He observes:

"The serious point, politically, would be that on this issue — like many others — politicians actually have an enormous amount of leeway. A decision to pare back the defense budget would meet a lot of criticism, but the public seems perfectly open to it."

I would caution Democrats that any effort to make a headlong charge at the defense budget absent a broader critique of America's international responsibilities is going to run aground fast.

The defense budget is symptomatic of a larger issue - America's international responsibilities and self-described interests around the world. You can attempt to cut the budget all you want (and good luck with that) but doing so in the absence of a coherent and well-articulated strategy to delegate more responsibilities to allies (or a professed willingness to accept more short-term instability in certain regions of the world) is going to look scatter-shot and irresponsible.

November 20, 2008

Quebec Sovereigntists Mounting Comeback

As most of our readers are aware, there are about 9 millions North Americans who share French as a first language. Among them, 6.5 millions of them live in Quebec, a Canadian province which came very close to gaining its independence in 1995 (the NO got 50.4% and the YES got 49.6%).

Since then, the sovereigntist movement has suffered from diminishing enthusiasm, not to mention two electoral defeats for the Parti Québécois (PQ), leader of the movement. In fact, in the last Quebec general election, the PQ got 29% of the vote and 36 seats in the National Assembly (out of 125), its worst showing in 40 years.

However, the party that represents the sovereigntist movement on the federal level, the Bloc Québécois, has won landslide majorities both in terms of popular vote and seats in the latest federal elections. Will the PQ be able to pull itself up in Quebec City the way the Bloc did in Ottawa?

For now, it does not seem likely. The Quebec campaign, already halfway through, has garnered very little enthusiasm from Quebecers. And who could blame them? Before the Assembly was dissolved by Quebec PM Jean Charest (Liberal Party), a poll showed that 75% of Quebecers opposed elections. But this does not seem to have translated into a tangible anti-Liberal feeling among the population, since today's Léger Marketing poll shows Mr. Charest gaining traction among some voters:

Liberals : 44%
PQ : 33%
ADQ : 15%

However, the remaining half of the campaign might have a few surprises up its sleeve. For starters, the PQ is still ahead by a 2-point margin among Francophones, the ultimate key constituency that must be won for any party that wants to form a majority government. Indeed, 80 of Quebec's 125 seats are occupied by overwhelming Francophone majorities. That is why, even with an 11-point lead among Quebecers overall, the Liberal party might still fall short of a majority (63 seats). democraticSPACE's latest seat projection did give them a majority, but by such a slight margin that a minority government remains likely:

Liberals : 65 seats
PQ : 50 seats
ADQ : 10 seats

Looking at these numbers, some may conclude that the sovereingtist movement is on the decline. But what is interesting though is that independence remains popular among Francophones (close to 50% of them remain in favor of it), even more popular than sovereingtist parties themselves. Therefore, it seems that it is the PQ that's pulling independence downward, and not the other way around. With renewed leadership and upcoming tough fights between Quebec City and Ottawa, who knows what could happen? In 1994, independence was at 38% in the polls. A year later, the referendum got 49.6% support.

Conclusion: You can't kill a people's aspiration for independence.

As Jacques Parizeau, former Quebec PM and leader of the PQ during the 1995 referendum, once famously said : "Let us never underestimate the capability of the federal government to disappoint us."

USSR Blockbuster: '20th Century Pirates'

In August 1980, a new film was released in the Soviet Union, shattering any blockbuster records in the USSR and becoming an iconic feat of Soviet cinematography - "Pirati 20 Veka (20th Century Pirates). This was the first domestically produced "boyevik" - an action thriller - and it became an instant and long-lasting success.

The film, almost three-decades old, has the feel of being "ripped off the headlines." Today's Russia is taking an active role in combat international piracy off the coast of Somalia. Its Navy is participating in protection, search and destroy missions, and along with its American and British counterparts, and has already enjoyed limited success.

Russia's mission is important for at least two reasons. First, after months of belligerency with the West over its war in US-backed Georgia, Russia is seen as a responsible stakeholder and a key state providing security in violent seaways. Second, the fact that Russian blue-water navy is operating freely half-way around the world brings much-needed pride to the Navy that has been slow to modernize, slow to change and has only recently begun to assume its Cold War swagger of being capable of operating anywhere around the globe.

"20th Century Pirates" literally exploded on the domestic scene - the film had a very "un-Soviet" look to it. 'Till that time, the action thriller style has been a solely Western monopoly, and films with chases, explosions, gun fights, outright violence and international intrigue- all taking place in exotic locations- were never before produced in the USSR.

The film plot could have been taken from today's newspapers - or from the headlines 30 years ago. A Soviet tanker with a large load of opium for the pharmaceutical industry is leaving a South Asian port through the Straits of Malacca. Shortly afterward, its crew picks up a shipwreck survivor. All was not what it seemed - the actor playing the survivor was "Soviet Bruce Lee"- Talgat Nigmatulin, a USSR martial arts champion. His character secretly destroys the ships' communication equipment as the Russian ship is suddenly attacked by what appeared to be large luxury yacht passing near by. Most Soviet crew dies in a violent gun battle with the well-armed pirates. The opium is transferred on the pirate ship, while the Soviet vessel is sunk.

However, a few crew members manage to survive and decide to track down and exact revenge on the pirates. The Soviet survivors make their way to the pirate hideout, somewhere amidst numerous islands near the Indonesian archipelago. There, the real action starts.

The film thrilled the Soviet moviegoers of all ages. Practically every teenager in the USSR in the 1980s has seen the film at least several times. According to official data, every third person in the USSR managed to see the film in its year of release. With repeat viewers, that number reached almost 100 million people. After the first screening of the film for the state censorship agency in the Central Communist Party Committee of the USSR, the film was "cursed out" and almost shelved. The probable reason was the movie's very "American" look and absence of any real Communist propaganda of any type.

However, one of the agency's officials took the matters into his own hands and sent the copy of the film to the summer home of Leonid Brezhnev, then leader of the Soviet Union. Brezhnev got very excited after watching the action thriller, and shortly afterward the film was released country-wide. That year, Soviet officials often had to cancel morning showings, since students of all ages would skip school just to watch the film.

"20th Century Pirates" remains the highest-grossing and most-attended film for the entire 70 years of Soviet cinema. Not surprisingly, it still looks modern even today. And while some parts of it now may seem "campy," it is still relevant to today's global events, when every week, newspapers report of yet another international vessel captured by the Somali pirates, prompting US, European or Russian naval vessels to give chase. It would not be surprising that a sequel to the Soviet film is somewhere in the works or is on the drawing map in Hollywood- after all, the story simply writes itself.

Goldberg on Clinton at State

The Atlantic Monthly's Jeffrey Goldberg, seemingly excited about the prospect of Hillary Clinton at Foggy Bottom, praises Clinton's "acute understanding" of what makes Middle East peace negotiations work. Apparently that "understanding" is rooted in this statement:

You do not get people into a process or to the table to make any kind of tough decisions, including compromises, unless the other side knows that your commitment to Israel is unshakable.

To me that suggests precisely why negotiations to foster peace have failed. The U.S. is not an honest broker and doesn't pretend to be. Note that Clinton wasn't suggesting that this unshakable support was for the benefit of the Israelis who would have to make some tough choices and would need some security assurances before committing themselves to any deal. What Clinton was in fact suggesting was that the Arab world and the Palestinians in particular should know that the U.S. enters the process committed to backing the Israelis no matter what.

Now, that may be a reasonable position for the U.S. as general matter of policy, but it's a self-evidently counter-productive posture if you're attempting to mediate a dispute between two parties.

November 19, 2008

Al Zawarhi Channels Harry Belafonte

Al Qaeda has now been reduced to this:

Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader used a racial epithet to insult Barack Obama in a message posted Wednesday, describing the president-elect in demeaning terms that imply he does the bidding of whites. The message appeared chiefly aimed at persuading Muslims and Arabs that Obama does not represent a change in U.S. policies.

Ayman al-Zawahri said in the message, which appeared on militant Web sites, that Obama is "the direct opposite of honorable black Americans" like Malcolm X, the 1960s African-American rights leader.

In al-Qaida's first response to Obama's victory, al-Zawahri also called the president-elect _ along with secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice _ "house Negroes."

Which prompted this from Adam Serwer: "There's been a lot of skepticism about an Obama victory shifting the Muslim world's view of the United States, but judging by this statement at the very least it's made Al Qaeda's efforts to develop a compelling rhetorical indictment of America visibly more difficult."

I'm reluctant to draw any sweeping lesson from this other than the obvious one that this is not going to win Zawahri many U.S. recruits.

Video here:

November 18, 2008

About That Late Night Call...

Rasmussen Reports asked some folks about where Obama's 3 a.m. phone call will likely come from:

Twenty-seven percent (27%) say terrorists are likely to test Obama first, while 26% say Iran is more likely to do so, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Russia is the choice of 15% of voters. Seven percent (7%) say North Korea is likely to be Obama’s first international test, and six percent (6%) say it will be China. Nearly one-out-of-five voters (18%) are undecided.

RAND's Brian Michael Jenkins puts his two cents in here.

I guess no one's worried about the Jerky Boys.

Too Many Chefs at State?

I'll outsource my thoughts on Hillary Clinton at State to David Ignatius:

The game changer in foreign policy is Barack Obama himself. Traveling in Europe earlier this month, I was stunned by the excitement he has aroused. The day after the election, the French newspaper “Le Monde” carried a cartoon atop its front page that showed Obama surfing a red, white and blue wave. Above him, it said: “Happy New Century!” You can sense the same enthusiasm around the world -- in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia. Even among the followers of radical groups, such as Hamas and the Taliban, Obama has inspired a sense of change and opportunity.

Given this ferment, the idea of subcontracting foreign policy to Clinton -- a big, hungry, needy ego surrounded by a team that’s hungrier and needier still -- strikes me as a mistake of potentially enormous proportions. It would, at a stroke, undercut much of the advantage Obama brings to foreign policy. And because Clinton is such a high-visibility figure, it would make almost impossible (at least through the State Department) the kind of quiet diplomacy that will be needed to explore options.

My thoughts exactly. I've often heard that there tend, historically speaking, to be three mission types at the State Department: 1. The White House-driven model, 2. The grand 'emissary' model and 3. The autonomous secretary model.

Can President Obama maintain his foreign policy vision (model #1) with such a dynamic, strong and equally ambitious figure (model #3) in Foggy Bottom?

November 17, 2008

Can U.S. Aid Dollars Promote Democracy

Shadi Hamid at Democracy Arsenal picks up on a point I made earlier concerning the argument about democracy promotion in the Middle East. I think the near term imperatives that require the cooperation of undemocratic regimes would swamp any attempt to cleverly use American aid to promote their liberalization.

Hamid says that cooperation and liberalization are not, in fact, mutually exclusive if you take a long enough time horizon:

It is true that any transition to democracy, to be considered as such, will have to ultimately result in peaceful rotation of power, but this would happen within the framework of an understanding between regime and opposition about the rules of the game, and would probably include power-sharing guarantees that would ensure that erstwhile autocrats maintain some influence in the new regime. But all of that is far, far down the road.

It's possible that the incumbent regimes will get to a place where they are willing to peacefully transition out of power. But outside of Egypt, which has a developed opposition, could something similar happen in Jordan or Saudi Arabia? I mean, what do you even call Saudi Arabia if the monarchy ends?

American Withdrawal from Iraq

Following the news that the U.S. and Iraqi government have settled on a Status of Forces agreement that could - in theory - have all U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011, Andrew Sullivan writes:

This is important because it removes from the hard right the possibility of playing the Dolchstoss card. The usual suspects - Reynolds, Hanson, Krauthammer, Kagan - will be unable to say that the chaos and mass murder that will almost certainly follow in 2010 and 2011 is Obama's responsibility. It isn't.

They will try to argue that Obama's choice to withdraw has led to a victory for al Qaeda and that the Democrats have stabbed American troops in the back. (You can almost write Palin's primary campaign message three years ahead of time.) But now that the Iraqis themselves have insisted on total US withdrawal by 2011 regardless, the neocons will not be able to play that card - or at leat [sic] play it with any credibility.

Well, color me skeptical. To the extent this card has any credibility will depend on the views of the broader public. But I'm fairly confident that the same people who embraced the "freedom agenda" for the Middle East will play such a card with gusto. In fact, we already see the contours of the new neoconservative argument: the views of the Iraqi government are subordinate to America's interests in the region and therefore, we must stay no matter what they say.

We already saw it happening before the campaign. Here's the American Enterprise Institute's Thomas Donnelly contrasting John McCain's approach to Iraq with Barack Obama's:

It was also revealing to note where the speeches sought sources of authority for their arguments. Senator McCain cited Gen. David Petraeus and “our troops on the ground when they say, as they have on my many trips to Iraq, ‘Let us win. Just let us win.’” Senator Obama noted that Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, has embraced his 16-month withdrawal timetable.

Here's AEI's Danielle Plekta in testimony before Congress:

The question of the extension of the United Nations mandate that governs the allied presence in Iraq has received undue attention, and distracted from the very real question of American interests. Presumably, one's position on the wisdom of the initial decision to topple Saddam Hussein notwithstanding, few responsible American leaders are interested in leaving Iraq if in so doing they create an environment that poses a threat to American security or that of our allies.

The same voices that cried out for "democratizing" the Middle East will smoothly transition into accusing Obama of selling out America's strategic interests to the Iraqis and their Iranian masters. Unlike the "democracy promotion" argument, this one will have the convenience of appealing to "Jacksonian" conservatives who never cared much for the "freedom agenda" in the first place.

Safe Haven for Mullah Omar

I wonder how Dave "the Taliban must be annihilated" Dilegge at the Small Wars Journal is taking this news:

Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, said Sunday that he would guarantee the safety of the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if Mr. Omar agreed to negotiate for a peaceful settlement of the worsening conflict in the country....

...He added, “If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices: remove me, or leave if they disagree.”

How long, precisely, would Karzai survive absent the international community?

Middle East History in 90 Seconds

I stumbled across this interesting map of the imperial history of the Middle East from 3000 B.C. to the present day. Note the overlap of all the various kingdoms:

Pretty neat, huh?

November 16, 2008

Chinese Sphere: World Order and Law and Order

On the heels of the announcement of the Chinese government’s massive stimulus plan, many domestic newspapers weighed in with commentary on the global financial crisis and its potential effect on the nation. The official government newspaper, People’s Daily, sees in the crisis an opportunity to test and strengthen Chinese business enterprises and government officials that survive this crisis. It also sees a vindication of China’s development path:

“Socialism with Chinese characteristics is unprecedented in the history of mankind. We acknowledge that our social structure is not perfect and contains all sorts of inadequacies and problems. However, it does not follow that we should question the path we have taken, nor should we automatically regard the Western model as superior. … We must get past the fallacious notion that ‘all that is Western is advanced,’ and face others with objectivity and rationality. We must be practical and sensible in taking stock of ourselves, forgo superstition, and not blindly follow the crowd.”

Singapore’s leading Chinese-language daily, Lianhe Zaobao, sees China advancing in international stature through this crisis: “In the midst of the bleak outlook surrounding the global economy, the unveiling of Beijing’s market bailout plan has shown that it marches to the beat of a different drummer. China perhaps feels that it needs to let the world know once more that not only is it able to take care of itself, but that the nation’s stability and development is its most concrete contribution to the world economy. Consequently, in the international economic order of the future, China has reason to occupy an important role.”

Meanwhile, Taiwanese society is reverberating from the aftershocks of protests surrounding the November 3rd visit of a Chinese official and last week’s detention of former president Chen Shui-bian on corruption charges. Chen joins seven other current and former government officials, all members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who have either been arrested or detained during the past few months on separate charges, raising suspicions that government prosecutors have been solely targeting opposition figures.

In an editorial, the Apple Daily, a popular tabloid in Taiwan, writes, “It is a fact clearly witnessed by all that the judiciary has only been going after [opposition party members] and ignoring [ruling party members.] Consequently, the judiciary has gained for itself the unsavory reputation of a political hit man. This has seriously affected the independence and dignity of the law. When the law is unable to remain politically neutral, it will deepen social fissures, lead to further polarization, and betray its mission as society’s arbiter.”

While it may be a stretch to conclude that the judiciary is being controlled by the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), it is even more difficult to attribute the one-sidedness of these recent prosecutions to mere coincidence.

France: 21st Century Socialism

This week, the French newspapers were so full of 'isms' such as 'socialism', 'capitalism' and 'liberalism' that one could have believed to be living the 60s all over again. But in the end, the word that got the most traction is 'socialism', for two main reasons.

First, this week featured the opening of the congress of the Socialist Party (France's main opposition party, left-wing). But we'll get back to that.

Second, President Sarkozy has been criticized heavily by some in his own party and abroad (including the U.S. president) for his promotion of a 'renewed capitalism' in the face of the financial crisis. These critics have pointed out that the Bretton Woods capitalist system has been remarkably successful since the end of World War II and that wealth redistribution and protectionist policies do not offer future safeguards against financial crisis such as the one we are facing right now.

The reason why the reform of capitalism was on the agenda this week has a lot to do with the financial crisis itself, but also with the G20 meeting that occurred to find solutions regarding this very crisis. Regarding the meeting, nothing substantial came out of it. The only point of interest from a French perspective was that it gave an updated view of France's diplomatic power. To that effect, Le Figaro reported on the most difficult and the friendliest relations with foreign countries:

- Difficult relations with: Hu Jintao from China, Angela Merkel from Germany, Dimitri Medvedev from Russia and King Mohamed VI from Morocco.

- Easy relations with: Gordon Brown from the U.K., José Luis Zapatera from Spain, Luiz Ignacio 'Lula' Da Silva from Brazil and Silvio Berlusconi from Italy.

As Mr. Sarkozy was making headlines in international news, his political foes from the opposition Socialist Party were making their own in the domestic front as they gathered in Reims to give their party a new program and renew its leadership. Sign of changing times, the race for the job of Party First Secretary after François Hollande called it quits features two women as the front runners. The first is of course Ségolène Royal, who represented her party in the 2007 race for president. She still has charm, wit and charisma, but she carries her unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2007 as a weight that is turning off many socialist militants. Also, she has been accused within socialist ranks of 'moving towards the center,' or worse: populism!

Her opponent, Martine Aubry, is not as well known by the general public as Royal. However, she is gaining traction among some socialists by running as a 'true socialist' and criticizing Royal's 'move towards the center.' ... So between a center-left candidate who could not gather enough centrist votes to win two years ago (Ms. Royal) and a pure leftist candidate in a country where there are already at least four other parties who rally extreme leftists, my guess is that the Socialist Party is, despite encouraging results in the last municipal elections, going to continue to marginalize itself in the left corner of French politics.

So as much as he wants to reform capitalism abroad, President Sarkozy does NOT want French socialists to reform themselves, because their moving further to the left only strengthens his grip on the presidency. Of course the presidential election is still three years from now, Mr. Sarkozy thus has plenty of time to make gaffes. But if the Socialist Party of 2012 looks anything like that of 2008, he will prevail, once more.

Russia: G20 Summit Takes Center Satge

Now that the US election is over, Russian papers are commenting on the daily issues of concern to Moscow, most notably the G20 summit currently taking place in Washington and the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Vgzlyad paper noted one of the first meetings conducted by President-elect Obama's representatives was done with the Russian delegation, represented by the officials from Medvedev's office as well as new Russian Ambassador in the United States, Sergey Kilsyak. The paper also commented on the protests taking place near the summit, as well as citing Venezuelan President Chavez's desire to conduct an alternative summit in his country's capital.

Other papers are actively commenting on the possible makeup of the Obama Administration. Daily Gazeta again reiterated earlier sentiments that Joe Biden will be a hawkish Vice President, reminding its readers that he actively supported "Republican initiative of" Kosovo independence against Russian ally Serbia. The paper also stated that the future Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel is a staunch pro-Israel politician and "an advocate of a harsher line in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," earning the moniker "aggressive Democrat." The same paper also notes Senator Clinton's good chances of beings chosen as the next Secretary of State, quoting her statements that she would like to be a "good partner to President-elect Obama."

Daily Izvestia wrote about Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's desire to be the mediator in US-Russia relations. It cited his fears that the placement of Russian short-range missile in the Kaliningrad region is a "return to the Cold War fears." The paper quoted Berlusconi's statement that he "advised Obama to stop escalation of negative rhetoric towards Russia - I think that is more important than Iraq." Izvestia then commented that it was not clear what was Obama's reaction to that conversation after the Italian PM called Obama a "young, handsome and well-tanned politician."

Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that US General Henry Obering is "provoking" President-elect Obama by stating that US strategic interests will be diminished if Obama "freezes the anti-missile defense initiative in Europe. "Obering called on the Democratic administration to ignore Moscow's protests and to realize the radar deployment in the Czech Republic and the interceptors in Poland. The same paper discussed in a different article an idea that America does not fear Russia because the current financial crisis will hit Russian's military the hardest, thus diminishing Moscow's ability to actively compete with the United States.

However, the paper proposed that the Russian government will not change its budget, even in crisis, because to do so would be to first admit that Moscow did not adequately prepare for global financial upheavals (which Kremlin will never do); and second, Russian government is actively and successfully "exporting the ideal of a besieged fortress ... surrounded on all sides by Western allies and their anti-Russian satellites, Russia is now rising in global prominence. ... In these conditions, it is simply unthinkable not to give adequate share of the budget to the Russian military."

November 14, 2008

Al-Qaeda's Image Problem

C.I.A. Director Michael Hayden spoke at the Atlantic Council yesterday. James Joyner was on the scene. He quotes Hayden as saying that he believes "the last year has provided 'clear and mounting evidence' that we're winning here because 'authentic voices' -- respected Muslim leaders -- are speaking out against the "un-Islamic" barbarity of al-Qaeda. The upshot of this is that it "can only subsist beyond the reach of civilization and the rule of law."

I wonder if these voices are speaking out against al-Qaeda barbarity writ large, or against al-Qaeda's violence perpetrated against other Muslims. That's an important distinction. World Public Opinion has some numbers - albeit from April 2007 - that paint a mixed picture. On the one hand, publics in Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco and Indonesia, reject violence against civilians. On the other hand, most endorse al-Qaeda's goals:

Large majorities in all countries (average 70 percent or higher) support such goals as: "stand up to Americans and affirm the dignity of the Islamic people," "push the US to remove its bases and its military forces from all Islamic countries," and "pressure the United States to not favor Israel."

Pew Research also has some numbers from 2008 that similarly offer a reason for both hope and dismay.

We may not be winning the ideological battle per se so much as al-Qaeda is losing it. Again, that's an important distinction, because new leaders could direct the group away from attacks against fellow Muslims and back toward Western targets (which is what Ayman al Zawahiri urged the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to do in Iraq). That, in turn, would improve al-Qaeda's standing in the Muslim world and put the U.S. back on square one.

See also: Patrick Barry.

Putin's Hang Up

Here's one way to get your point across:

With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia’s Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. “I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” Mr Putin declared.


November 13, 2008

Talking to Tehran

Mehdi Khalaji on talking to Iran's Supreme Leader:

Based on past experience, as long as the Iranian supreme leader does not see dialogue with the United States as necessary for the survival of the regime, he will be unlikely to make much effort to alter the status quo. Of course, receiving an offer from the next administration for unconditional negotiations will place Khamenei in a difficult position. He has always tried to portray America as responsible for the strains in U.S.-Iranian relations. Asking him to negotiate would undercut this argument and place the burden of responsibility on him for the lack of dialogue.

Khamenei's management model in the past two decades has been to have as much authority as possible with as little responsibility as possible. The first step for dealing directly with the Iranian government is to make its supreme leader responsible. Addressing him directly and publicly with a call to initiate a dialogue will close the exit doors available to him and require him to make a decision. In dealing with the United States, Khamenei's ideal scenario has been "no war, no peace." This strategy has allowed him to continue the nuclear program and minimize the damage associated with it. Given the fact that Iran could well obtain the ability to produce a nuclear bomb in the near future, the United States has to convince him that the "no war, no peace" strategy will no longer work, and that he has to choose either war or peace.

This is indeed the problem with the so-called "Grand Bargain" approach to Iran, as I've mentioned here in the past. The tiny, cultish cabal that runs the Islamic Republic of Iran needs self-imposed isolation in order to rationalize its existence. They resent and loathe "Westoxication," but they more importantly need it in a peripheral sense in order to retain control of their country. It is the yin to their totalitarian yang. The constant threat of Western encroachment is far more valuable to them than its actual defeat. This is why Iranian democrats and human rights activists ask the West to stay out of Iranian affairs -- it only serves to bolster the reactionaries in power.

And it's becoming abundantly obvious that a U.S. president willing to call Tehran's bluff frightens them. Barack Obama presents a legitimate soft-power threat to the Khomeinists, and forces the regime to be either at war or at peace. Iran's happy in-between could soon collapse. No matter the rhetoric, one thing must be understood: Iran doesn't really want to engage in serious, comprehensive negotiations. To do so would undermine their national ideology.

This puts President Obama in a bind. Rapprochement with Iran will cause domestic discontent politically, and it may yield little reciprocation. Should he continue the George Bush/Robert Gates policy of isolation, pressure and carrots, or must President Obama dump more carrots on the table? Which policy path does he choose?

We may soon find out, as President-elect Obama decides whether or not to keep Secretary Gates as a member of his administration.


Spencer Ackerman offers a false choice on the matter:

All of a sudden, you’re deprived of a method of demagoguery that’s aided your regime for a generation. And if you refuse to negotiate, you’ve just undermined everything you told the international community you wanted, and now appear unreasonable, erratic, and unattractive to foreign capitols. Amazing how the prospects for peace are more destabilizing to the Iranian establishment than any inevitably-counterproductive-and-destructive bombing campaign or war of internal subterfuge.

The latter is debatable (we don't know that American involvement in the Iranian east will end under President Obama, and I don't know that Obama has promised to halt democracy promotion inside the republic's borders), and the former is mostly a manifestation of marginal neoconservative think-tanks and jittery leftists. President Bush categorically denied talk of an Iran attack, and the administration's behavior has been one of international compliance and pressure. They realize that the Iraq campaign has handcuffed them.

The real choice here, as I noted above, is whether or not to demand a halt in uranium enrichment prior to negotiations. The UN has called for it. The IAEA acknowledges that Iran has been uncooperative. If President Obama hopes to restore the validity of the international non-proliferation regime, well, wouldn't Iran be a good start? Does Tehran's disregard for said system bode well for future non-proliferation efforts?

Ed Morrissey shares my cynicism.

Two Kinds of Change

Ilan Goldenberg laments the "lazy no change stories" that argue that President-elect Obama won't really change much in the realm of foreign policy. He follows that up with a more sustained attack on Newsweek's John Barry for making the "no change argument."

With all due respect, I think Goldenberg is missing the forest for the trees here. Obama will unquestionably change things about U.S. foreign policy. Closing Guantanamo Bay, "surging" into Afghanistan, opening a more sustained and direct dialogue with Tehran - these are all serious, and to my mind, mostly welcome, policy shifts.

But any foreign policy is anchored in something deeper than policy. It is anchored to an understanding of American national security interests and it is here where it is very difficult to discern any major "change" in Obama's approach. Oh sure, there is plenty of rhetoric about "dignity promotion" and the like, but that only underscores the fact that Obama shares his predecessor's capacious view of what America's "vital interests" are.

As I wrote earlier:

The defining feature of America’s post Cold War political debate is that while every campaign pays rhetorical homage to the “new world” we live in, none appear interested in actually pondering its strategic significance. The global defense obligations that America assumed as a direct response to the urgent threat of Soviet communism have morphed into the hubristic conceit that it is incumbent upon the U.S. to be, as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright put it, “the indispensable nation.”

Thus, Obama proclaims that “the mission of the United States is to provide global leadership grounded in the understanding that the world shares a common security and a common humanity.”

Obama wants to change how America leads the world. He has nothing to say on whether this is a proper or sustainable role for a democratic republic. Fair enough, of course. There are certainly circumstances where I think global activism and leadership are warranted.

But it's not enough to wave around serious (although still prospective) policy changes as proof that Obama is a transformative change agent. There's more to "change" than that.

About That Energy Crisis...

Just when you thought you could stop worrying about energy (at least for a day or so), here comes the International Energy Agency:

A lack of investment in new sources of oil risks a supply crunch worse than the problems that pushed prices to $147 a barrel this summer, the developed world’s energy watchdog said on Wednesday.

The International Energy Agency warned that cuts and delays in investment that were prompted by the fall in oil prices and the credit crunch had put the world “on a bad path”.

Nate Hagens at The Oil Drum says that "this report shatters the global illusion that oil resources magically turn into cheap flow rates." The Oil Drum has a more detailed look at the report here.

Michael Kanellos at Seeking Alpha says "we're on a collision course with ourselves."

What the IEA is calling for is investment to stave off a much larger supply crunch when the global economy eventually rights itself and demand ramps back up. It is asking governments to take the long view.

Good luck with that.

November 12, 2008

Obama, Osama and Pol Pot

Noam Scheiber over at TNR's The Stump on President-elect Obama's Osama focus:

I'm all for catching the guy, and for shaking up an effort that appears to have stalled out under Bush. On the other hand, as intelligence officials tell the Post, "the decentralized al-Qaeda network would remain a threat without him." On top of which, you have to figure the Bushies were dying to catch bin Laden--it would have been a symbolic victory they could use to divert attention from their many national-security failures. If they weren't able to do it with that motivation, you have to figure it's pretty damn hard. [Emphasis my own. KS]

And here I believe Noam touches upon why it's imperative that President Obama capture or kill Osama bin Laden. While it's true bin Laden's tactical involvement in al-Qaeda remains unclear, it's also pretty clear that his hovering presence over the war on terrorism affects both the tangible and less tangible elements of the conflict. I believe Peter Bergen summarized the former pretty well back in July:

As has always been true in shadowy, borderless wars, measuring the strength of the enemy isn't an exact science. It's true that many of the "leaderless jihadis" have set up operations independently of al-Qaeda, but when they turn to bin Laden's organization, it's not just for inspiration but also for training, assistance and direction — in short, for leadership. Many are able and willing to do bin Laden's bidding; they pay very careful attention to his Internet postings and follow his instructions. And although their targets have generally been close to home, their association with al-Qaeda has tended to take their ambitions beyond their borders. What's more, many of these homegrown wannabes live in the West.

It was al-Qaeda's direct involvement that helped a leaderless group of British jihadis mount the multiple London bombings on July 7, 2005, that killed 52 commuters. Two of the bombers had traveled to Pakistan, met with al-Qaeda commanders and made martyrdom tapes with al-Qaeda's video-production arm there. A year later, British investigators uncovered a plot by another cell of British Pakistanis to bring down seven American and Canadian passenger jets. According to Lieut. General Michael Maples, head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, the plotters received direction from al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Bin Laden's interest in British jihadis didn't end there. Jonathan Evans, head of MI5, said last year that "over the past five years, much of the command, control and inspiration for attack-planning in the U.K. has derived from al-Qaeda's remaining core leadership in the tribal areas of Pakistan."

Implementation aside, bin Laden's interminable presence also does a psychological disservice to America's security endeavors abroad. Tora Bora was widely viewed as a military failure that exposed the apex of America's ability to prosecute those whom do her harm. It was the tip of the American saber, and since then - in both Afghanistan and Iraq - our substantive gains and accomplishments have been mixed.

When you attack the United States, it has been said, you run the risk of awaking a "sleeping giant." That line - often attributed to Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto following the empire's attack on Pearl Harbor - rang true then and continued as such until the Vietnam War.

America faces another ambiguous ending once again in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether we stay or we go, it's pretty obvious that Iran's influence in Iraq is a foregone conclusion. Whether or not we've truly accomplished any of the enumerated goals outlined during the 2003 invasion of Iraq is uncertain. Afghanistan is a failing state in turmoil. How these two fronts have safeguarded the American people from another attack is unclear. Yamamoto's alleged faith in America's retaliatory might stands in question today, as the American superpower seemingly stumbles and swipes at every perceived phantom around the globe.

The nation that won two world wars and destroyed fascism, communism and took the world's reins in the 20th century has been cowered by the aura of a man in a cave. To call this a step backward would be a gross understatement.

In 1998, the unsatisfying campaign in Southeast Asia was perhaps concluded with the equally unsatisfying death of Cambodian Prime Minister Saloth Sar - also known as Pol Pot. The man whose Khmer Rogue militia murdered over a quarter of their fellow Cambodians - only to flee when a victorious and emboldened Vietnam invaded his nation - died quietly that year, perhaps naturally, in a small Cambodian village. The world has often been robbed of the chance to directly redress the actions made by some of its worst wrongdoers. Pol Pot's death - whether it was natural, self induced or internal betrayal - left a lasting and unpleasant taste in the mouths of policy makers. It encapsulated an opportunity lost, and perhaps closed the parenthesis on America's Southeast Asian adventurism.

This is why President Obama must capture, and if necessary, kill Osama bin Laden. Dead or alive, show the world he has been detained or terminated. Make him take the global perp walk if possible, and give Americans the justice often denied the victims of global atrocities. Doing so will not make up for other blunders conducted abroad, but it just might prove once again that the "Sleeping Giant" always gets its man.

Some (Late) Veterans' Day Thoughts

It's difficult to say much useful about our military's sacrifices and values in this day and age. Not because superlatives are so difficult to come by, but because they are so easy. So many people have said such true and moving things that it is difficult to add to them. Me, I've spent much of the day reading ruminations* on Armistice Day from Britain - the language and the loss seemed to have met there in a particularly fitting way. In the United States, we are apt to think of the Great War as the debut of our nation in the role of superpower and world-shaper, which is in many ways accurate.

For Britain and France (and Germany and Italy and Austria-Hungary and Russia, actually), the conflict was an end much more than a beginning though - the end of an era, and of an entire generation. For both Britain and France, the scale of bloodshed makes even World War II pale in significance. That, somehow, seems to capture the role of the soldier particularly well - he (or, in modern times at least, she) doesn't know, or really care, what direction the geopolitical situation is shifting. He is defending her homeland and countrymen - and the sacrifice is awe-inspiring, regardless of whether or not the politicians or generals have their heads' screwed on right. Even more amazing when they don't, frankly. It could be the beginning of an empire or the end, the private doesn't know or really care. He cares about home, and the guys next to him.

I don't know what I would have done had I been sent to the trenches, though I've thought about it many times since I first read Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" in 11th grade English - a poem which I've reread every year, and never ceases to amaze me in its sympathy for the soldier and hatred for war. Reality is, no one would know what they'd do in the trenches until they're there, I guess.

Anyway, it hasn't been my fate to find out, yet, thankfully; I'd be singularly unsuited to military life. I realized this fact with clarity when, in 12th grade, it was pointed out to me by my parents how early soldiers get up and how much they run and how much they have to listen to orders. An early riser I am not, still less a runner. And no one has ever accused me of being too eager to follow orders when I think them stupid, which is often. Maybe always.

But over the years I've come to be good friends with a good many of our sailors, soldiers, and airmen. Other good friends from the past have themselves become servicemen whom I respect and admire and secretly envy for their courage, and for the weighty impact their lives have on those around them.

And today I can at least unabashedly say how much I admire them their courage and their commitment. And say, in a way that I hope none of them will rag on me for the next time we drink together, thanks.

*By Alex Massie, at Culture11. He's too good a writer not to cite by name, but it didn't fit in the flow of the post, hence the unusual footnote.

What Should We Remember?

Today is Remembrance Day. So let me just start by honoring all soldiers who died defending their country during war, be them Quebecers, Canadians, Americans, Frenchmen, Japanese or Russians. On a more personal note, I would like to honor my two great grandfathers who served in the Canadian army during the First and Second World War. I am honored by their sacrifice and will forever cherish the freedom that they fought to protect.

But this day is also a good day to reflect upon the apparent changes in Canadian foreign policy since the coming-to-power of the Harper government in 2006. I'm writing this because many progressive Canadians and Quebecers believe that what used to be a peacekeeping Canadian army has, under Harper's leadership, turned into an Americanized, ruthless killing machine. In fact, I think this assertion is wrong: Aside from a surge in spending, there are not that many differences between the way things are right now and what they supposedly were in the "golden age of Canadian peacekeeping."

First of all, a lot of this perception has to do with the Canadian army's presence on Afghan soil. May I remind our readers that it was in 2001, under Jean Chrétien's Liberal government, that Canadian soldiers were sent to Kabul? It was only weeks after the tragedy of 9/11, and most Canadians were at that time eager to serve along their American allies and friends in capturing or killing those responsible for the death of 3,000 innocents. I would also keep in mind that during the last general election campaign that took place just a month ago, the differences between Harper and Stephan Dion on Afghan policy were almost nonexistent. Both agreed on a 2011 withdrawal from combat missions, both draped themselves in Lester B. Pearson's legacy of a peacekeeping and democracy-protecting Canadian army.

Second, under any Canadian government, the Arctic Sea would have been militarized. Paul Martin's government gave such signals in 2004 and 2005, and Harper effectively captured the issue during the 2008 campaign. So here again, not much difference.

Third, does anyone believe that after stretching our army into Afghanistan and suffering a toll of more than 100 casualties, Canadians wold be ready to embark upon dangerous peacekeeping missions in Darfur or Congo? I think not!

I'll just conclude with these words from an op-ed piece in the National Post this morning:

For too long, our politicians, academics and educators have tried to bury or even deny our true military history, insisting we have never been a warrior nation. And while it is true that we have never as a culture glorified war, neither have we backed away.

Lest we forget.

November 11, 2008

The False Hope of Democracy Promotion

Shadi Hamid at Democracy Arsenal is an ardent and eloquent proponent of democracy promotion in the Middle East. Not the gun-barrel variety, either.

Still, try as I might, I cannot square this circle:

Committing ourselves to real support for democracy and democrats in the Middle East is urgent for other reasons. Obama has a window of opportunity. Like all windows, this one will close. For the first time in recent memory, Arabs and Muslims are cheering on an American president (and, for that matter, praying for him). One of their longstanding grievances has been American support for dictatorships in the region. This isn’t to say we’re going to stop working with the Egyptian government (we need their cooperation on key national security issues). But it is to say that we should be making clear - not just with rhetoric but through policy changes on the ground - that we care about the state of human rights and political reform in the region.

Can you really have it both ways? I think that you're either serious about democracy promotion (i.e. regime change) or you're serious about cooperating with the existing rulers to advance key national security issues. You are not going to have both. The region's dictators are many things, but they're not foolish. If the U.S. were to truly press them on reform - particularly by making our generous financial and military aid conditional - I suspect that intelligence cooperation would simply dry up. Why should they help the U.S. when the U.S. is intent on subverting their rule?

Fast forward to 2011. You're the National Security Adviser and the Secretary of State and you're appearing before the National Committee for the Investigation of the Terror Attacks on the United States on July 4, 2010. You tell the committee members that cooperation with the Saudi and Egyptian intelligence services atrophied because you had preferred to use the leverage of American aid dollars to empower civil society groups working to undermine their regimes.

I suspect no on in an Obama administration would be willing to make such a trade-off.

Furthermore, as I said earlier, the U.S. is going to be paying increasingly less attention to the internal dynamics of the various Sunni Arab tyrannies as Iran progresses toward a nuclear weapon and we scramble to erect some form of containment regime. I personally believe this is mistake, but I'm also convinced it will happen and it will almost certainly vitiate any serious attempt to press these regimes to open up their politics - after all, it will make them considerably more vulnerable to Iranian-sponsored subversion, particularly in states like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with large numbers of Shiites.

The great irony here is that we need the cooperation of Egypt and Saudi Arabia to protect us from a movement that is riled up precisely because we cooperate with Egypt and Saudi Arabia (among other grievances, real and imagined). We should spend less time worrying how to finesse their internal politics to bring our favored groups to power and instead spend time figuring out ways to disentangle ourselves from the region.

November 10, 2008

Which Devil Should the U.S. Dance With?

Judah Grunstein points to this interesting article by James Brazier on the brewing Saudi-Iranian Cold War.

Brazier concludes:

Ultimately, the winner of this strategic tussle will be decided by the U.S., whose dedication to destroying the Taliban is beginning to wane. Some in Washington, like Korb, believe that Barack Obama’s new administration should embrace Iran, whose strategic priorities clearly overlap in part with those of the U.S. Others, however, remain convinced that Iran is a greater long-term problem than the Taliban, and that the U.S. would be wise to balance Iranian influence with the Sunni hardliners preferred by Riyadh.

Am I the only person flummoxed by the notion that Washington would even contemplate backing "Sunni hardliners preferred by Riyadh" to counter Iranian influence? To recap: 19 "Sunni hardliners" plowed hijacked aircraft into American targets on September 11, 2001, resulting in the greatest terrorist massacre in U.S. history.

Just the kind of people we need on our side!

Seriously, though, according to Brazier's report, there's apparently no one in Washington who thinks that taking sides in this dispute is a bad idea. Obviously, insofar as we have forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we're not disinterested observers. But if two of the world's leading sponsors of violent Islam want to go toe-to-toe, why stand in the way?

Right about now is where you quote Henry Kissinger's famous phrase about the Iran-Iraq war: "too bad they both can't lose."

Of course, the U.S. didn't content itself to sit back and watch both sides bleed. Instead, we interceded on behalf of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The long-term consequences of that decision, I'd argue, have not worked out well for the U.S.

I'm hard pressed to understand why we think we're going to do a better job at "balancing" the Middle East's various thug-states and theocracies this time around.

Obama's National Security Team - Rumors Edition

Laura Rozen rounds up the rumors. From her gloss it sounds like James Steinberg will be National Security Advisor, Bob Gates could stay in as SecDef if he wants to, but rumors abound about Secretary of State.

Apropos the swirling rumors of who is going where, Steve Clemons defends the role that personalities play in the formation of policy. Clemons writes:

We have already seen that John Bolton differed from Zalmay Khalilzad. Bob Gates was a radical departure in views and performance from Don Rumsfeld. The battle over John Bolton's confirmation at the United Nations in which this writer and blog were so involved was never about John Bolton personally, it was about stopping the further ascension of Jesse Helms-style pugnacious nationalism.

Dennis Ross, in the Democratic Party case, has different views of global affairs and a different sense of strategic priorities and how to approach them than James Steinberg. Susan Rice, who along with Gayle Smith, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Anthony Lake and Samantha Power, is a harbinger of an important new discussion the nation needs to have on 21st century national security threats and global justice does not have the same "structuralist" and "realist" tilts of a Charles Kupchan, Rand Beers, Robert Hutchings, Fareed Zakaria, or Gregory Craig.

Richard Holbrooke and Rahm Emanuel convey different approaches to national security and the conduct of power than a Tom Daschle and Chuck Hagel.

Very true. Of course, when President Bush appointed Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld to key positions, I assumed we'd get the hard-headed yet "humble" foreign policy we had been promised. So we shouldn't over-determine outcomes based on personalities either...

UPDATE: Joe Klein makes the case for Richard Holbrooke as Secretary of State.

November 9, 2008

Russia: No Major Changes Expected

Reality is catching up fast for the Russian Federation, which begun to slowly orient its expectations towards Barack Obama's win about two weeks prior to November 4. As the Russian government and its policy analysts expected, Obama's nascent presidency will have mixed results for US-Russia relations, though cautious optimism is starting to take hold. One issue that is already grabbing headlines in Russia is the American attitude towards anti-missile shield in Europe.

As reported by the Daily Vzglyad, Obama reiterated his commitment to the Patriot missile batteries in Poland, signed earlier in August by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The paper commented on Western Europe's desire for a "new beginning in relations between Russia and the US," but remained convinced that President-elect's desire not to deviate form the previous administration's plans signaled that major changes in US-Russia relations are not expected to take place anytime soon.

This attitude is highlighted by another analysis in Vzglyad, in which Russian foreign policy specialists are openly saying that they do not hope, at present, for any warming in US-Russia relations. Mikhail Margelov, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Duma Senate (upper chamber of the Russian Parliament) is quoted as saying that major changes will not take place because "too many disagreements have piled up between our countries. ... We are expecting that the US will continue the policy of selective cooperation with Russia, particularly in the area of nuclear non-proliferation and anti-terrorism initiatives." He also called on his colleagues not to "take [Obama's] election promises seriously, since they were only declarations, which are primitive in context - while the reality is always more complex."

An even more direct opinion was voiced in the same article by Alexander Hramchikhin, director of analysis at the Center of Political and Military Studies: "Obama is inexperienced in foreign policy, and will have to heavily rely on his advisors, like Senator Biden, who is more of a hawk than McCain. ... Obama himself is a "black box" - we are not talking about the color of his skin, but about the lack of knowledge on what he will be like as President, since he has absolutely no relevant experience."

Still, there was some cautious optimism voiced by the Russian political establishment. In the same article, Konsantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Duma (and counterpart to Congressman Berman of the House Foreign Relations Committee) stated that "Obama's victory gives hope for a new reality in US-Russia relations, but it's premature to predict when that would actually take place. Obama will be under pressure from his team of advisors, whose approaches to Russia do not differ significantly from that of the Bush Administration." On the other hand, Mr. Kosachev highlighted Obama's biggest advantage in foreign policy: "Obama's thinking is not influenced too much by the Cold War. Senator Obama did not engage in openly hostile rhetoric towards Russia, which gives hope for the strengthening of our cooperation on key issues." More cautious optimism was also voiced by Sergey Markov, Duma Deputy, who stated that he "could actually imagine a personal friendship between Presidents Obama and Medvedev, since they belong to the same generation. ... They are both Internet users, and probably listened to similar music and watched similar films."

Daily Izvestia reminded its readers that Barack Obama was more popular in Russia than John McCain, citing the polling numbers by the official Levada Center. The polls were conducted in late October in eight largest cities across the Russian Federation, and 27% of Russians were favorable towards Senator Obama, while 15% were favorable towards Senator McCain. More than half of the Russian respondents could not say with which American political party can Russian government better deal with; 39% stated they prefer the Democratic party, while only 11% named Republicans.

Daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta attempted to predict that Obama's policy towards Russia will be constructive and will revolve around issues such as nuclear non-proliferation. Assistant Director of Russian Academy of Sciences Viktor Kremenyuk stated that the "starting point in US-Russia relations is now very low, and its up to the leadership of America and Russia to raise our relations to a new level. With Obama as President, both sides can continue working on issues laid out by President G. W. Bush."

Kremenyuk stated that Obama will pay attention to Russia' internal processes, but will not seek to interfere in them. On the other hand, Sergey Karaganov, Chairman of Foreign and Defense Policy at the Duma Senate stated that real changes in US-Russia relations could take place no earlier than in half a year from now. He also stated that "there will be positive changes, but Russia too will have to work hard to escape this "confrontational spiral."

Chinese Sphere: Trepidation over Obama

As with the rest of the world’s media, the Chinese-language press weighed in on what changes, if any, President-elect Obama would bring to US foreign policy. There seems to be an overall sense of appreciation for the historical significance of the election, but also some trepidation over whether an Obama administration would upset the relatively stable relationship that currently exists between the US and China, attested by the fact that the topic of these relations barely came up during the course of the campaign.

In Hong Kong’s Ming Pao, Dong Sheng writes, “In general, there is always bound to be a degree of uncertainty when the US changes presidents. Nevertheless, if the Sino-US relationship was able to emerge from the shadow of the (Yugoslavia) embassy bombing and spy plane incident and develop into what today appears, at least on the surface, to be one based primarily on cooperation, than in the near term there will be no dramatic changes in US-China relations.” The writer is still concerned, however, over how Obama will handle the financial crisis, especially with relation to his expectations of the Chinese government’s role.

Over in Singapore, leading Chinese language daily Lianhe Zaobao expresses concerns over Obama’s trade policies. “Traditionally, the US Democratic Party has a protectionist image, and in the midst of this financial and economic situation those protectionist feelings can be easily stirred up. Consequently, as the guardian of market economics, America needs to continue to speak out for free trade and attack protectionism.”

Taiwan is also nervous about the incoming Democratic administration because the party is seen to be more accommodating to China than the Republicans. The Taiwan-based China Times states, “Obama’s election win has given Taipei some cause for concern for the future development of US-Taiwan relations. This is completely understandable because Obama is a center-left liberal, and this will also be the ideology of his officials who will take over the handling of the US-China-Taiwan relationship. It is likely that in their consideration of US national interests that those of Taiwan's would be neglected.”

An op-ed column in the Chinese government’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, drips with scorn for Obama’s declaration of change. “Obama is a typical American political hack. There is no difference between his thinking and that of the members of the US Congress. If anyone thinks he will change America, he will probably be sorely disappointed.” One of the examples the writer gives is Obama’s conception of America’s role in foreign affairs. “America’s interference around the world will not change. Intervening in the Kashmir issue is part of Obama’s platform. His reasoning, unbelievably, is to enable Pakistan to focus its efforts on fighting terrorism. Americans are still making up reasons to reach their hands into all sorts of places. Sometimes there will not be any valid reason, so they will make something up to convince themselves and ignore what others think. Obama and Bush are the same. Democrats and Republicans are the same. They think America should be in charge of everything that goes on in this world.” The writer concludes, “In seeking out peaceful coexistence and prosperity for mankind, one should not place their hopes upon any country or even any particular leader. People need to work together so that a multipolar world can constrain rogue nations, and universal values can curb unilateral policies.”

France: Obama, Refugees and Internet Jihad

Three big subjects in the French media this week : Barack Obama's historic election, the expulsion of Afghan refugees and Internet Jihad.

I'll pass quickly on the first subject; most everything has been said and done about Obama's victory last Tuesday. Of course, from left to right, the French media are ecstatic. Questions have started to fuse: Would France be ready for a black president? Would France be ready for a female president? In a country where Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National (far-right) was able to gather 17% of the vote in 2003, it is a legitimate question.

The other big story on the international front was the expulsion of Afghan refugees. The hard-heartedness of France's immigration ministry lived up to its reputation this week: 57 illegal Afghan refugees will be sent back to Kabul, among them a parentless child no older than 10 years old. The left is trying to mobilize its supporters around this issue, but for now, apathy is what seems to be prevailing in the Hexagon.

Le Figaro published Friday a new report titled "Jihadist Propaganda on the Internet: Diagnosis and Perspectives". Among other things, the report states that France is the country with the fifth-most clicks on jihadist web sites, ahead of even Egypt and Saudi Arabia! It also reports that in the last five years, jihadist servers have grown from 75 to almost 200 worldwide.

Also, the report suggests that jihadists have been keen on using the web 2.0, as Ayman Al-Zawahiri did when he chatted and blogged with supporters in 2007 and 2008. But these web sites aren't only used for propaganda; they are now used as much for recruiting and training purposes.

Scary, isn't it?

November 8, 2008

Public Sizes Up Obama's National Security Potential

Rasmussen Reports takes a look at what people expect from Obama in the arena of national security:

With President-elect Barack Obama already facing challenges from aboard, nearly half of voters (47%) say he will do a good or excellent job handling national security issues.

While 30% say he will do an excellent job, 34% expect the Democrat to do a poor job on national security, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken Thursday night.

Of course, the partisan break-out is sharper:

Not surprisingly, Republicans are not convinced Obama will handle national security issues successfully, with just 15% who say he will do a good or excellent job. Sixty percent (60%) of Republicans say he will do a poor job. By contrast, 55% of Democrats say he will do an excellent job handling national security matters, and another 23% expect him to do a good job. Forty percent (40%) of unaffiliated voters think Obama will do a good or excellent job versus 36% who think he will perform poorly.

In other words, he's going into office with a decent degree of confidence among independents. Given the terrain he faces, that in and of itself should be heartening for an Obama administration.

November 7, 2008

Michael Gerson's Iraq Miracle

In the Washington Post, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson channels the divine in an effort to absolve the Bush administration of any harsh judgment that history may render on the Iraq war. That's because Iraq, he writes, is on the verge of a "miraculous peace."

Indeed. Here are some recent Iraq-related miracles headlines from the New York Times:
"Sadr Followers Reject Security Pact"
"Blast Kills 3 in Baghdad"

"Bombs Kill 15 as Violence Rises in Baghdad"
"Rejection of Oil Law and Move to Create Tribal Councils Add to Tensions With Kurds"

Well, God does work in mysterious ways.

The Honeymoon Might Be Short in Asia

David Pilling, writing at the FT, bravely points out that, popular adulation aside, key Asian governments are not likely to be thrilled with the actual policies of an Obama administration.

For all the faults of the Bush administration, it actually proved quite adroit at maintaining support from the region's three big powers:

In New Delhi, Mr Bush was almost revered for clinching the US-India civil nuclear deal. In Beijing there was appreciation of his pragmatism as early rhetoric about China being a strategic competitor gave way to an alliance based on mutual interest. In Tokyo, Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister for five and a half years of the Bush presidency, gained much political mileage (plus, admittedly, a little derision) by portraying himself as the US president’s buddy-in-chief.

Despite all of his multilateralist rhetoric, Obama has indicated that his policy inclinations actually run counter to a lot of the priorities of these key countries. No recitation of his economic policy passes without a threat to cut off the creation of jobs in China and India. His instincts on trade seem to be fairly unilateralist. Repeated statements by the President-elect against expanding nuclear power under current technology must give India pause. And, though he hasn't addressed the Japanese alliance in his campaign that I've seen, the Japanese government is likely to be nervous that any "change" to the current defense stance in Asia would be to their detriment.

None of this is meant as an implicit criticism - these policy preferences might or might not be good ones. But, whatever policy he embarks on, it bears remembering that current US policy is actually surprisingly in synch with these countries' interests. There are a lot of ways these policies can change that would kick up a fuss that might surprise all of the people cheering in the streets the other night.

November 6, 2008

Public More Upbeat on Iraq

Rasmussen Reports is out with some fresh data:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 51% of voters now expect the situation in Iraq to improve over the next six months. That’s up two percentage points from the preceding week.

Just 17% of voters now say the situation will get worse in the coming months, while 16% say things will stay about the same.

Forty-two percent (42%) now believe the U.S. mission in Iraq will be judged as a success while 40% hold the opposite view and say it will be judged as a failure.

Unfinished Business from World War II

President Dmitri Medvedev's announcement that Russia intends to deploy missiles "near Poland" sent shivers through Eastern Europe and drew condemnation throughout the West.

The term "near Poland" is misleading, for it doesn't even begin to convey the historic significance of exactly where Russia plans to place the missiles. It's a misstep in history that continues to exact a price to this day.

Russia wants to move these missiles to the Kalinigrad Oblast, an exclave that's physically separated from Russia proper after the disintegration of the Soviet Union that led to the independence of Lithuania. It's a sliver of land that used to be part of German East Prussia. "Kalinigrad" is better known as Konigsberg.

At the Potsdam Conference after World War II ended in Europe, the Soviet Union demanded, and received, considerable concessions from its western allies. Half of what used to be Poland was annexed by the Soviet Union, East Prussia was partitioned, and Poland was given most of German Pomerania and Silesia as compensation.

Not quite three months on the job, an eager yet naive President Truman proclaimed that Stalin was someone he could "do business with." He thought "(Stalin's) very honest, but he's also smart as hell."

With an ace in the hole (the A-Bomb), or so he thought, Truman was bent to play his hand to impress his Soviet counterpart. But Stalin was a much better poker player, for his spies in Los Alamos allowed him not to fold. Instead, he got what he wanted out of Truman: A Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe that today's Russia aches to reclaim.

Misreading Russian leaders, and their intentions, apparently is an American pastime. President Bush famous noted that when he looked Vladimir Putin in the eye, he found Putin to be "very straightforward and trustworthy. I was able to get a sense of his soul."

What will an earnest President Obama see in the eyes of Medvedev?

Secretary Rice in the Middle East

AP is reporting that Secretary Rice is "conceding" that she will be unable to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of the year.

This is likely to be spun as some kind of "failure" on the part of the Bush administration. But that would be a mistake. No U.S. administration has been able to truly bridge the gap between the Israelis and the Palestinians, despite considerable effort. Secretary of State Kerry will fare no better.

November 5, 2008

NAFTA, Canada and Obama

It is now official. Barack Obama will become the 44th US President in January. Up north, this was largely expected and hoped for. When reading newspapers across the board (from left to right, sovereigntist to federalist) this morning, one could not come across anything remotely resembling bitterness over McCain's defeat.

Of course, we all know that if it were the free world that elected its leaders, only Democrats would sit in the White House. The same is true in Canada and Quebec. For instance, the political arch-enemies that are Parti Québécois (sovereigntist) and the Québec Liberal Party (federalist) would definitely be on the same side - the Democrats' side - were they involved in US politics.

Le Devoir, a Quebec sovereigntist newspaper, reports that "A Democratic Wind Has Swept the United States," while the National Post (right-wing federalist) reports that "Obama's Victory is a Proud Day for America."

One thing is obvious: Canada would have overwhelmingly supported Obama. With the expectations very high, let's just hope that the 44th President will not impose a renegotiation of NAFTA, as he has promised, as this would deliver a crippling blow to his popularity in Canada.

It was probably good news for most Canadians to learn that the GOP was able to retain four seats in the Senate. This could prevent Mr. Obama from applying his protectionist policies; potentially halted by a coalition of free-trade Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

But for now, enough about politics; for now, let's congratulate Mr. Obama on his incredible campaign and for the historic moment we all witnessed last night. Hats off!

November 4, 2008

Election Night Live Blog

RealClearWorld will conduct a live blog on the night of the US Election, Tuesday, Nov. 4. Panelists will include RCW editors and bloggers.

Please join us for the live blog, beginning at 6:45 p.m. ET until the presidential and congressional races are settled. All commenters are welcome!

The View from Abroad: France

For a long while before the appointed time has come, the election becomes the important and, so to speak, the all-engrossing topic of discussion. Factional ardor is redoubled, and all the artificial passions which the imagination can create in a happy and peaceful land are agitated and brought to light. ... As the election draws near, the activity of intrigue and the agitation of the populace increase; the citizens are divided into hostile camps, each of which assumes the names of its favorite candidate; the whole nation glows with feverish excitement; the election is the daily theme of the press, the subject of every private conversation, the end of every thought and every action, the sole interest of the present. It is true that as soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is dispelled, calm returns, and the river, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level; but who can refrain from astonishment that such a storm should have arisen.

Some typically prescient commentary from that old hand at observing US politics: de Tocqueville. Michael Cohen, writing at the New York Times, hauls out the Frenchman's take on the 1832 election to remind us just what a remarkable thing US presidential elections are, and have been for quite some time. Cohen adds:

Whichever candidate wins; simply the opportunity to ensure that our voice is heard and that our vote is counted is today’s greatest and most lasting gift.

It's been quite a ride. After all the shouting and silliness and triumph and disappointment, the fact that we really do get to decide this thing, one filled-in oval or pulled lever or pushed button at a time, is still pretty amazing. And something to be proud of.

An Historic Day - For the Chinese

While the world had its eyes peeled to the US election, riveted by the yearlong drama finally coming to a close, November 4, 2008 will be remembered for something else in Chinese history.

For the first time since 1950, direct air, shipping and mail links will be established between Taiwan and mainland China. The agreement came swiftly, on just the second day of the direct talks between Chinese and Taiwanese representatives in Taipei. The deal will be in effect within 40 days - before the end of 2008.

It was a win-win of sorts. For China, the symbolic agreement at least provides the perception that Taiwan, separated from the mainland at the end of the Chinese Civil War, is coming to a closer embrace. For Taiwan, the benefits are more tangible, as the island's economy is now inextricably linked to that of the mainland, and these links will allow Taiwan to serve as the gateway to the burgeoning mainland market.

Not everybody in Taiwan is happy about closer ties to China. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party is making its living off stirring anti-China sentiments. But for the majority of the island's 23 million residents there is an understanding that whether they like it or not, China will be in their future - for better or for worse - so they may as well make the best of it.

America's Priorities in the Middle East

Over at the Council on Foreign Relations, Aaron David Miller offers some sage advice to the next president on U.S. policy in the Middle East:

We also need to be clear about our priorities. Governing is about choosing. And we need to identify those priorities and then try to own the issues we want to try to affect. This means working with our friends, the Arabs and the Israelis, and others but not allowing their priorities to dominate ours, or to let others shape our tactics and strategies when it’s not in our interests. In short we need an American narrative about what constitutes our interests and how important the Middle East really is to the next administration and to the American people. The next president must begin to articulate that narrative and sell it early and often to build the base of support for whatever he wants to do. None of this guarantees success. But without these adjustments, particularly a policy that is tough, smart and fair, and which keeps our national interests paramount; we will certainly guarantee another string of failures. [Emphasis mine.]

That's exactly right. But I think such an argument only works in the context of an administration that wants to disengage from the region (i.e. it is not applicable to either Senator McCain or Senator Obama). It would work for an administration that wanted to argue that America's over-riding interest was not oil or the security of Israel but winning the war on terrorism.

Today, I think there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that you can't have all three. Securing Israel and policing the Gulf on behalf of incumbent oil producers increases America's vulnerability to Islamic terrorism by dealing a lethal blow to the U.S. in the arena that counts: the war of ideas. Because the Middle East has its own narrative - about the impact outside powers have played in shaping events. It is a narrative that is being exploited by our enemies. The only way the U.S. is going to emerge victorious in its conflict with radical Islam is if it fundamentally reshapes Muslim perceptions of American foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond. And those perceptions won't change unless the U.S. recasts its interests in the region and disavows the Cold War-era power balancing that has, at least in part, led us to our present impasse.

The next administration could change course and worry less about oil (which has to be sold on world markets to be worth anything to its producers) and Israel (whose precise borders with the Palestinians will only impact U.S. security to the extent we have an active hand in drawing them) and more about winning the war on terrorism. I just don't think such an about-face is very likely.

First Call for the New President: Help Russia?

That the crises a president faces are rarely those he campaigned on has become a commonplace. So perhaps on this election eve it's worthwhile to take note of a one possible angle to the global financial crisis that has gotten little attention so far: Russia's possible economic collapse. Time's Yuri Zarakhovich paints an incredibly bleak picture:

The hydrocarbon windfall that fueled the Russian state's recent revival appears unable to offer a solution to the crisis. Russian foreign-currency reserves that stood at almost $600 billion last August have shrunk to $485 billion as the state has been forced to spend to bail out state-run banks and prevent abrupt devaluation of the weakening ruble. There is no telling if the policy has worked, though, and there's worse to come: major state-run corporations such as Gazprom and Rosneft, as well as Russia's regional governments, have accumulated debts amounting to some $448 billion that can't be paid without the help of the federal government. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin has just called for another $100 billion to bail out major companies, which can expect to jump ahead of the regions in the line for government assistance. If the federal government declines to bail out the regions, however, the consequence could be the "soft" disintegration of the Russian Federation, says one savvy business executive — the regions could begin to withhold some of the taxes they collect on Moscow's behalf. Already, some regions in Russia's far east are more integrated into the Chinese economy than the Russian one.

Privately, bankers and businessmen warn of a lack of currency to import food and the failure of local producers to replace imports. The supplies of foodstuffs available on Moscow supermarket shelves are shrinking as importers struggle to raise credit to replenish their stocks. Even the vodka has disappeared from the shelves of my two village stores — they can't raise credit to pay their supplier. And at least two major national alcohol producers have recently folded.

Just a few months ago Russia had shocked with the world with its willingness to use a rejuvenated military might based on an economy hopped up on oil and gas revenues. But what if, just as was the case with the Soviet Union in the '70s and '80s, the short spike in petroleum revenues only set the Russian system up for collapse? Given the enormous bad will that Russia's aggression has generated, would the IMF consider intervening? Would the US or EU? What if Russia's troubles threaten to pull down other regional economies? What if Russia claimed that, without access to credit, it couldn't continue gas shipments to European consumers?

I'm not actually predicting any of this will happen - but it is increasingly becoming a possibility, and that alone should be humbling to anyone who tries to anticipate what's going to happen out there. And I'd wager that the possibility of a need to consider any help for Russia, of all places, has occupied precisely none of the time of the candidates', or their advisers', thoughts about the future

November 3, 2008

Case for Khalidi

I believe Christopher Hitchens sums it up pretty well:

Rashid Khalidi's family is a famous one in Jerusalem, long respected by Arab and Christian and Jew and Druze and Armenian, and holding a celebrated house and position in the city since approximately the time of the Crusades. I have had the honor of being invited to this very house. If Rashid chooses to state that he doesn't care to be evicted from his ancestral home in order to make way for some settler from Brooklyn who claims to have God on his side, I think he has a perfect right to say so. I would go further and say that if Barack Obama was looking for a Palestinian friend, he could not have chosen any better. But perhaps John McCain has decided that he doesn't need any Palestinian friends and neither do we. Perhaps he thinks it's all right to refer to refugees and victims of occupation, who have been promised self-determination and statehood at the podium of the United Nations and the U.S. Congress by George Bush and Condoleezza Rice, as if they were Hitlerites. How shameful. How disgusting. How ignorant.

A Small War in Afghanistan

Nir Rosen's lengthy article on the Taliban in Rolling Stone has generated some controversy. To quickly recap, Rosen embedded himself with the Taliban to provide a behind the scenes look at their insurgency against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

This prompted an interesting reaction from several contributors to the Small Wars Journal, including Dave Dilegge who wrote:

If there was ever a grouping of individuals and supporters that deserved complete annihilation (yea - I said the A word) – the Taliban and their support structure would and should be up front and center. It will take quite some time (that is why it is called The Long War) and there will most certainly be peaks and valleys along the way – but we must - and will - win this one and we will write the last chapter of the history book reserved for the victors.

This was followed by Bing West, also at Small Wars:

"I am a guest of the Taliban." Rosen wrote. Supposing in 1944 he had written, “I am a guest of the Waffen SS.” It is doubtful if Rolling Stone would have published Rosen’s article during World War II. The norms and values of American society have changed enormously in the past half-century.

I don't have much to say on the question of Rosen's journalistic ethics, but I do think it's curious that writers for a journal that bills itself as devoted to "small" wars would retreat to World War II for their historical comparisons.

To defeat the Waffen SS and the entire Nazi regime, the Allies killed several million Germans and laid waste to the country's urban and industrial centers. Our air force blanketed German cities with bombs and incendiary devices. Civilians were included in the carnage in an effort to break the will of the German people.

Is this what the folks at Small Wars (!) envision for Pakistan (which is, after all, the "support structure") and the Pashtun population on either side of the Durand Line?

It's easy to talk about "annihilation" and make strident calls for "moral clarity" without owning up to the implications of your own rhetoric.

November 2, 2008

France: Palin, Joe and Bradley

Time for a last review of the French press' cover of the US elections ...

In the last two days the big story both for the left (Libération) and the right (Le Figaro) was the succesful trick pulled on Sarah Palin and the Secret Service by a Quebec comic duo known here in Montreal as Les Justiciers Masqués. Indeed, Marc-Antoine Audette from CKOI radio station was able to trick the Secret Service and Governor Palin and make them believe that he was in fact the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The conversation lasted six minutes in which the Alaskan Governor did not notice that she was on the laughable end of the joke.

Among other things, the fake Sarkozy told Governor Palin that he sees her becoming President one day. "Maybe in eight years", she replied. They then went on discussing how much they both loved to "Kill those animals," the imposter gleefully adding that it would be wise not to bring along Dick Cheney.

On a more serious note, most leading French newspapers seemed to be obsessed with Joe the Plumber. Interestingly enough, this fact does underline the clear differences between American and French political cultures. In France, the main opposition party is socialist. In the US, socialist means anti-American. In the US, most presidential candidates run as populists. In France, populism is one of the most effective argument that can be made against any candidacy. Hence, Joe the Plumber and his mesmerizing effect on the French press: "Only in the US," they say!

On matters of foreign policy, Le Monde argues in an op-ed piece that Barack Obama will restore broken links with Europe. Indeed, for Felix Marquardt, an Obama presidency would restore America's soft power and trans-Atlantic links. The argument goes as follows: "There is no doubt that the rejection of unilateralism that is present in the speeches of the Democratic candidate will allow the trans-Atlantic links to gain strength. Europeans but above all Americans, who did not imagine that their hyperpower status would be questioned so soon, badly need it to be so."

Finally, and this is where American and French politics meet - the French media made a lot of noise around race, the Bradley effect, racism and so on. I was happily surprised to notice that the "holier-than-thou" attitude which was often present in the French reports concerning race in America has mostly disappeared. Perhaps the recent racial riots that took place in the poorest Paris and Marseilles suburbs made a lot of Frenchmen realize that race and identity were not exclusively American hot topics; they are explosive subjects in France, too. Nevertheless, the overwhelmingly pro-Obama media outlets in France are concerned and fearful of the Bradley effect. I guess we now just have to wait and see.

Chinese Sphere: All Eyes on November 3

There has been a significant thawing of relations between China and Taiwan ever since Ma Ying-jeou assumed the presidency of Taiwan back in May. Formal channels of communication between the two sides, dormant for eight years during the administration of Ma's predecessor Chen Shui-bian, have suddenly been revived.

The key difference has been that Ma has hewn to his Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) traditional stance towards the status of Taiwan, which is that the island is a part of China, and the rightful ruler of China is the Republic of China (ROC) government. Disagreement over the "rightful ruler" part notwithstanding, this is good enough for the government of People's Republic of China, which prefers Ma's stance much more than Chen's past insistence on upholding Taiwan's sovereignty and independence.

The topic of cross-Strait relations has been a hot topic in the Chinese-language media this past week, especially in anticipation of Chen Yunlin's Monday visit to Taiwan. Chen is the chairman of the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), the body in charge of conducting relations with Taiwan. The visit will be of particular historical significance because he will be the highest-level Chinese official to set foot on the island. An agreement is expected to be signed that would clear the way for direct air, shipping, and postal links between the two sides as well as the creation of a food safety mechanism.

Singapore's leading Chinese-language daily, Lianhe Zaobao, is very upbeat on this meeting. An October 29th editorial states, "From an objective standpoint, this pragmatic cooperation will most certainly bring about tremendous and long-ranging benefits for the two sides of the Strait. It will especially inject vitality into Taiwan which has limited room for development. This kind of mutually beneficial win-win cooperation is also helpful for maintaining stability and peace in the Taiwan region."

However, not everyone in Taiwan is happy about the rapprochement with China. Taiwan's main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), staged a protest on October 25th which generated a surprisingly large turnout of 600,000. In the October 30th edition of Apple Daily, one of Taiwan's largest circulating tabloids, Lee Wen-chung writes, "Over the course of 12 years of Lee Teng-hui and eight years of Chen Shui-bian's presidencies, Taiwan completed its transition to a democracy in the midst of hardship and formed a shared community. No matter whether your preference is for 'Taiwan' or 'Republic of China,' the names all refer to this land and its people; the dispute over the future of Taiwan can be handled through a democratic process. However, the Ma administration's disregard and concessions over national sovereignty has severely undermined the consensus over this community."

The "concessions" that the writer is referring to include Ma's referral to Taiwan as a "region" in an interview and his willingness to allow Chen Yunlin to address him as "Mr. Ma" instead of "President Ma." The October 30th editorial of the Taiwan-based China Times newspaper declares, "If the Chinese Communist authorities truly understood the Taiwanese people, they should know that there is nothing that can take the place of dignity. Furthermore, if Chen Yunlin is unable to address Ma Ying-jeou as 'president' when they meet, than there is no need, nor is it appropriate for the two men to meet. Ma Ying-jeou is the leader chosen by ballots cast by the people of Taiwan. He is a representative of our national sovereignty. If he is not able to be properly addressed in his own country and is even willing to be called 'Mr. Ma' or other substitute titles, than not only is that a personal insult, but it is also an insult to Taiwan's sovereignty."

The controversy over titles stems from the Chinese government's refusal to acknowledge Taiwan as an independent country. Therefore, Taiwan is always referred to as "the Taiwan region" and its president is referred to as the "leader" in the Chinese media. An op-ed column by Chien Han-sun in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the Chinese government's official newspaper, gives an example of this: "Ever since Mr. Ma Ying-jeou assumed the leadership of the Taiwan region, cross-Strait relations have been developing in a positive direction."

Along the same vein as the Lianhe Zaobao editorial mentioned above, the writer plays up the economic benefits that closer economic integration will bring to the two sides. His conclusion, however, would not only worry independence supporters in Taiwan, but also the majority that just wishes to keep the status quo of the relationship between Taiwan and China: "I often hear that the 'status quo' should be maintained in the cross-Strait relationship. This simply does not make any logical sense because the 'status quo' changes with time. Yesterday's 'status quo' is different from today's, and todays 'status quo' will be different from tomorrow's. For every single day of the past eight years the DPP had tried every which way to shift Taiwan's 'status quo' closer towards 'Taiwan independence.' Now that the KMT is in power, I hope that every day they will pull the 'status quo' back upon the path of peaceful unification. It is only in this way that the 'status quo' will be meaningful. Otherwise, we will fall into the 'Taiwan independence' trap."

Russia: US Vote Impact Unknown

Russian newspapers seem to be summarizing the impending victory of Senator Obama. Rossiskaya Gazeta (Russian Gazette) cites that Obama may have gotten as much as 55% in early voting drive across the country - noting also that 17% of the people already cast their vote.

The same publication described Obama's enormous campaign finance advantage over Senator McCain - hinting that such advantage may translate into a victory for the Democratic candidate. But it finished the analysis by noting the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" photo-op that marked perhaps the biggest American surprise over the last 60 years.

Daily Utro (Morning) publication described a conference titled "Russia's Choice- Obama or McCain," in which the participants concluded that regardless of who will occupy the White House, America's pressure on Russia will increase. The experts concluded that Obama will pay more attention to Russia's internal politics, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press; while McCain will be busy constructing "cordon sanitaire" around Russia by solidifying the alliances with Ukraine and Georgia. Either scenario is deemed unwelcome in Moscow, but the article cites Andrei Kokoshin, Duma Deputy, stating that Russia is willing to continue dialogue with Washington after the November 4 elections.

Daily Vzglyad publication cites that Senator Obama is alreday putting together a White House team that will include Rham Emmanuel as the Chief of Staff. The confident tone of the article suggests a foregone conclusion about the elections.

In a separate Vzglyad analysis titled "Elephants are Hoping for a Miracle," the authors suggest that a McCain victory will be just as unexpected as Harry Truman's 1948 upset over Thomas Dewey. The article notes that so far, McCain is behind by only 5% and he can overcome this gap at the last moment:

At this point, the real nail-biting in the Russian media will begin on Monday, when the U.S. voters will be less than 48 hours from the final decision. Most news outlets at this point are limiting themselves to reports of the early voting results and major polling numbers, which so far put Senator Obama ahead of Senator McCain. At the same time, Russian are no longer optimistic that McCain's possible loss would mean "easier" relations with Obama's administration. The reality of the overall complexity of US-Russia relations is sinking in for Moscow.

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