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July 31, 2009

Poll: Obama Slipping on National Security

Rasmussen shows some softening of the public's approval for President Obama's national security management:

Forty-one percent (41%) of U.S. voters now rate President Obama’s job performance in the area of national security as good or excellent, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

This is the president’s lowest finding on national security since taking office in January. With the exception of a bounce last week, his numbers on national security have been trending down steadily since mid-June.

Thirty-five percent (35%) now say the president is doing a poor job on national security.

From January to mid-May, over 50% of voters regularly gave Obama good or excellent marks for his handling of national security.

And the partisan breakout:

Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Democrats say the president is doing a good or excellent job in terms of foreign policy. Fifty-eight percent (58%) of Republicans say he’s doing a poor job.

Voters not affiliated with either party are more closely divided: 32% view the president’s performance as good or excellent, while 34% say it’s poor.

Photo credit: AP Photos

Biden & the Russian Sphere


Responding to my piece on VP Biden's rhetorical bombshell on Russia, Daniel Larison wonders why we are even worried about a Russian sphere of influence in the first place:

If the tables were turned, it would be as if the U.S. were forbidden from wielding influence over the Caribbean and Central America while the Russians insisted that Cuba and Mexico be permitted to join a military alliance organized to defend against American imperialism. Then imagine that Russia and its allies around the world portrayed the routine exercise of regional power that most Americans take for granted as insidious aggression and sought to penalize America for doing what Russia does as a matter of course in its neighborhood. There would be a much less hazardous diplomatic minefield if we did not insist on having our maximal demands for projecting our power and influence met as the sine qua non of any relationship and simultaneously portray another great power’s natural exercise of regional hegemony as something perfidious and evil.

It seems lost on much of contemporary Washington that the original worry about Russia's "sphere of influence" circa 1946 was that it was on behalf of an ideology that envisioned further territorial conquests. Today, whatever else can be said of Russia, they're not bent on global conquest.

Photo credit: AP Photos

Biddle on Afghanistan: We Can Win. Maybe.


Yesterday, the Council on Foreign Relations hosted a conference call with CFR senior fellow Stephen Biddle, fresh off a month-long stint in Afghanistan where he and other policy professionals worked on a strategic review of the war. Biddle's assessment was stark: the challenges are immense, the prospects for success are slim but on balance it's worth attempting a counter-insurgency strategy to stabilize the country.

Biddle argued that the U.S. had two reasons for sticking it out: 1. to prevent al Qaeda from regaining a state sanctuary in the event Afghanistan collapsed; 2. to prevent Taliban elements from taking root that could destabilize Pakistan.

It was this second factor which loomed larger for Biddle. He suggested that to leave Afghanistan only to watch Pakistan implode would be a foreign policy blunder far worse than the Iraq war.

But if those are the stakes, laboring to bring forth an Afghan government that is competent, moderately less corrupt and capable of governing the entire country is a sizable challenge, Biddle said. It is arguably more difficult than defeating the Taliban itself, he added.

Key to that effort will be to predicate American assistance on changes in Afghan behavior. We have "enormous leverage" over events there, he said. Biddle suggested as an example, withholding travel visas to the children of prominent Afghan officials to the U.S. unless they clean up their corruption.

Biddle covered some of the same ground that he had sketched out in his article in the American Interest, which is well worth reading.

Either way, Biddle said that the clock is ticking and that if our new strategy does not show serious progress in 12 to 24 month, we should be ready to liquidate our presence there.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai with supporters at a campaign rally. Photo credit: AP Photos

Venezuela: Chávez's War Against Free Speech


Having decreed the closing of RCTV in May 2007 and theatened to close Globovision, Hugo Chávez is now pushing through laws that would limit broadcasting rights and make them subject to mandatory jail terms through a Projecto de Ley Especial Contra Delitos Mediáticos (Special Law Project Against Media Crimes).

The proposed law, which you can read here in Spanish (pdf file), includes all media and applies to not only owners and publishers but also reporters, freelancers and anyone making a statement that could be interpreted as (my translation) "any person who manipulates or distorts the news, creating a false perception of facts... as long as there is damage to social peace, national security, public order, or the mental health or public morals."

The charge carries a compulsory 2-4 year prison sentence.

Things are getting tough enough that even the UN is complaining. They specifically referred to the Globovision case:

An independent United Nations human rights expert today described the situation of justice in Venezuela as “worrying,” citing political interference with the work of judges and prosecutors in the South American nation.

Leandro Despouy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, expressed particular concern over the removal of some provisional judges and prosecutors, without cause, without procedure and without effective judicial recourse.

“The right of every person to justice should include the existence of independent and impartial judges, and for this, the stability of judges is an essential element,” Mr. Despouy said in a news release.

He cited the case of Judge Alicia Torres, who says she was pressured by a superior to prohibit the head of the Globovisión television channel, Guillermo Zuloaga Núñez, from leaving the country and was dismissed after she refused to do so.

According to media reports, prosecutors have accused Mr. Zuloaga of usury and conspiracy to commit a crime – accusations stemming from the recent seizure of 24 new vehicles on his property. Mr. Zuloaga denies any wrongdoing, saying the accusations are politically motivated, and that President Hugo Chavez is using prosecutors and judges to bring trumped-up charges against prominent opponents.

Don't expect Chávez to lose sleep over Mr. Despouy's statement.

The Projecto de Ley Especial Contra Delitos Mediáticos (Special Law Project Against Media Crimes) was presented to the National Assembly this morning by Venezuela's General Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz. It is expected to pass.

U.S. Says Russia Could Join NATO

But will the Russians say "nyet?" Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday during the House International Relations Committee hearing that the United States would consider Russian membership in the very institution that has given Russia so much headache over the past 18 years. Gordon added that "if Russia meets the criteria and can contribute to common security, and there is a consensus in the alliance, it shouldn't be excluded."

It's an interesting turn of events, one that is surely to be debated for a while in the halls of power here in D.C. What are the circumstances that can create such a move by Russia - after all, NATO was created to counter a threat, in this case, Soviet Russia itself. One scenario for such a drastic eastward expansion by NATO was once outlined by Tom Clancy in his political thriller "The Bear and The Dragon." In that novel, Russia is admitted to NATO in order to repel Chinese invasion of oil-rich Siberia. If the Americans and Russians are indeed serious about expanding NATO, let's hope it would be done under more peaceful circumstances. But is this idea fully viable, considering how some countries- such as Georgia and Ukraine - are eager to join the military alliance precisely to keep Russia off their back? We shall see.

July 30, 2009

The Mission in Afghanistan


Via Judah Grunstein, Sam Roggeveen raises an important question about whether the rationales for staying in Afghanistan would pass muster as a cause for going to war initially:

I wonder how convincing such arguments would be if we weren't in Afghanistan already. Would we now advocate an invasion and long-term occupation of Afghanistan to stabilise the Indian Ocean region, reduce the chances of nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, disrupt drug supplies, protect energy sources, substitute for the lack of a regional security framework and discourage Pakistani cooperation with the Taliban? More to the point, have any of these problems been reduced or made more manageable by the Western presence in Afghanistan? How?
Grunstein adds:
So to take Sam's thought experiment one step further, imagine that if instead of invading Afghanistan in 2001, we'd managed to destroy al-Qaida's base structure and safe haven there through precision air and missile strikes, with the same result of displacing AQ to the Pakistani FATA. What about the current situation in Afghanistan would argue for the introduction of a massive U.S. and allied military presence there, as opposed to military assistance to Afghan opposition forces of the sort that effectively defeated the brutal Soviet occupation in the 1980s?

And if the answer to that question is that we could accomplish whatever is realistically possible in Afghanistan indirectly through Afghan proxies, what about that answer is inconsistent with beginning a responsibly paced drawdown now?

Good questions.

Photo credit: AP Photos

Iraq Moves on MEK


The recent move by the Iraqi government to uproot the anti-Iranian terror group People’s Mujahedeen underscores one of the looming challenges with the Obama administration's nascent Iranian containment scheme, and that it is America's relations with Iraq.

By virtue of geography and history, Iran is going to exercise some degree of influence inside Iraq. To the extent that we are going to define our Middle East policy around the containment of Iran, it seems inevitable that tensions between Baghdad and Washington are going to flare.

Photo credit: AP Photos

July 29, 2009

Rocket Launchers Sold to Venezuela Went to FARC


Rocket launchers sold to Venezuela went to FARC

Swedish-made anti-tank rocket launchers sold to Venezuela years ago were obtained by Colombia's main rebel group, and Sweden said Monday it was demanding an explanation.

Colombia said its military found the weapons in a captured rebel arms cache and that Sweden had recently confirmed they originally were sold to Venezuela's military.

The confirmation strengthens Colombian allegations that Hugo Chavez's government has aided the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and exacerbated tensions between the neighboring nations over an imminent agreement to expand the U.S. military's use of Colombian air and naval bases.

But the news was supposed to be kept quiet,
President Alvaro Uribe complained over the weekend that if Colombia had kept quiet about the weapons "they'll fire them and obtain more and no one in the international community will halt their sale.
Of course Chavez (again) recalled the Venezuelan ambassador from Bogota and threatened to halt Colombian imports after Colombia made this information public.

Now Colombia has announced that it's seeking to replace its business ties with Venezuela and Ecuador with new markets in Central America and the Caribbean countries, and

Además de los mercados de Centroamérica y el Caribe, los exportadores colombianos también buscarán nuevos socios en mercados como el de Estados Unidos, la Unión Europea y Canadá.

My Translation: In addition to the Central American and Caribbean markets, Colombian exporters will seek new partners in US, European Union and Canadian markets.

Right now would be an excellent time for Congress to finalize and approve the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, wouldn't it?

Leaving Afghanistan to Those Who Live There

Simon Jenkins has a blistering piece in the Guardian about the British commitment to Afghanistan:

When Britain ruled the adjacent Punjab, its power was based on a large land army and the belief that it would never leave. It sent out its brightest and best. They stayed, and those who collaborated with them prospered. Today those who collaborate are murdered and night letters are pinned to their doors.

Everyone knows that the British will go but the Taliban will stay. That is why the strategy of take, hold and build is mere pastiche imperialism. It relies on the palpable nonsense that the Afghan army, a drugged militia of little competence and less loyalty, will fight and defeat its Pashtun cousins. It will not.

The British may leave, but I'm not altogether sure the U.S. will. Again, it all comes back to a admittedly complicated cost benefit analysis. After we pour billions of dollars and suffer hundreds more casualties, will we be correspondingly safer from Islamic terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland? I'm not sure.

The body of a suspected Taliban fighter lies on an Afghan roadside. Photo credit: AP Photos

Reports on the Russian "Reset"

This week, US government officials are reporting to the US Congress on starting a new "era" in US-Russia relations. Yesterday, on July 28, House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing titled " The Reset Button Has Been Pushed: Kicking off a New Era in US-Russia Relations." The opening statement by Congressman Robert Wexler, who chairs the Subcommittee on Europe, is available, while the full transcript of the hearing should up on the Committee website in a few weeks.

On Thursday, July 30, House Armed Services Committee will hold its own hearing on the US security relationship with Russia and its impact on the transatlantic security structure. More details to follow.

The Obama Defense Budget


Michael Goldfarb complains that "cutting" the Pentagon budget after it grew 80 percent from 2001 is tantamount to "gutting" our defense. It takes a very expansive view of what is necessary for America's defense to argue that our needs cannot be met with a multi-billion dollar budget that vastly exceeds the spending of all our potential adversaries combined (to say nothing of the already huge lead we enjoy).

But let's put that aside for a minute. I do think there is a very valid complaint about the trajectory of the Obama administration's defense investments. To wit: we're not unwinding the manpower and resource intensive nation building/counter-insurgency missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, we're reallocating resources to fight these kinds of missions and paring back investments in our technological and strategic strengths.

Liberals, bizarrely, are cheering this as they apparently envision the future of warfare as entailing widespread occupations of distant, hostile lands. Conservatives are complaining because they want to fund both wasteful nation building projects and a robust, technologically superior conventional military force. And both have larger constituencies than those calling for a superior conventional force that avoids costly nation building.

The F-22 Raptor. Photo by: Rob Shenk used under a Creative Commons license.

July 28, 2009

The Two Irans

Francis Fukuyama on Iranian constitutionalism:

The Iranian Constitution is a curious hybrid of authoritarian, theocratic and democratic elements. Articles One and Two do vest sovereignty in God, but Article Six mandates popular elections for the presidency and the Majlis, or parliament. Articles 19-42 are a bill of rights, guaranteeing, among other things, freedom of expression, public gatherings and marches, women’s equality, protection of ethnic minorities, due process and private property, as well as some “second generation” social rights like social security and health care.

This is a fair point, but a tad misleading. Yes, the Iranian constitution can be confusing, until one understands the evolution of the document. Its first manifestation - mostly a product of the revolutionary coalition's democrats and secularists - was ultimately rejected by Khomeini and the clerical class. The Assembly of Experts edited and remodeled the document, infusing it with Khomeini's principles of Islamic appellate authority.

And the document's enumerated powers didn't matter much in those early days anyway. Even in the republic's infancy, 'justice' was in fact administered at a grassroots level by the clerical class and their loyalists. There have always been two Irans -- one deliberative and perfunctory, the other anti-democratic and cruel.

Fukuyama goes on to suggest amendments to the current document:

Iran could evolve towards a genuine rule-of-law democracy within the broad parameters of the 1979 constitution. It would be necessary to abolish Article 110, which gives the Guardian Council control over the armed forces and the media, and to shift its function to something more like a supreme court that could pass judgment on the consistency of legislation with Shariah. In time, the Council might be subject to some form of democratic control, like the U.S. Supreme Court, even if its members needed religious credentials.

Eliminating religion altogether from the Iranian Constitution is more problematic. The rule of law prevails not because of its formal and procedural qualities, but because it reflects broadly held social norms. If future Iranian rulers are ever to respect the rule of law as traditional Muslim rulers once did, it will have to be a law that comes from the hearts of the Iranian people. Perhaps that will one day be a completely secular law. That is unlikely to be the case today.

This is pretty spot on. In many ways, it was The Shah's own misuse of the clerics that led to his undoing. He adopted his father's quasi-fascistic program of secular, western modernization, but lacked the competence and the sophistication needed to assuage the state's religious elites. By ostracizing, marginalizing and essentially defrocking the state-sponsored holy men, he inadvertently turned Shiism into a populist outlet for domestic discontent. Ironically, Pahlavi's disdain for the company and advice of the faithful contributed to his own undoing. By pushing them out of the royal tent, he ultimately gave a face to the revolution.

And as Dr. Fukuyama notes, it's crucial to remember that this is a popular component to the national identity. Secular liberalism - be it the 1906 constitutionalists, or even the 1979 coalition - has never had staying power in Iran. At its core, this is an Islamic country, and any reforms made in the future will likely reflect that.

I like Fukuyama's structural suggestions, and I recently made a few of my own along the same lines. Taking this a step further, what if Pahlavi had remained in power, but ceded authority at an earlier date? What if he had instead held the hand of the reform movement in 1969, rather than allowing the movement to boil over in 1979? My guess is it might be a more secular and freer Iran, but still decidedly Islamic in its governance (perhaps relegated to the judicial system).

Hypotheticals such as this one are amusing, interesting, but ultimately futile -- especially when they pertain to Iran. Those of us with an academic and/or policy interest in the country tend to see in Iran the regime we want, while ignoring the regime we actually have.

This brings us to the current unrest, and serves as a reminder of the constant diligence and perspective required whenever one discusses "reform" in the Islamic Republic. If Mir-Hossein Mousavi were somehow appointed Iranian president today, the regime would still be a source of regional instability, and it would remain a looming nuclear challenge for the international community. The IRGC, Basij and internal security forces would still operate with thuggish semi-autonomy, and Ali Khamenei would still be calling the final shots on foreign policy.

A Nuclear Arms Race in the Gulf? Not So Fast


One of the legitimate worries about a nuclear Iran is that it will spark a regional arms race whereby Saudi Arabia and Egypt would seek their own nukes to deter Iran. This is in part the rationale behind Hillary Clinton's statement that the U.S. would put these nations and other allies in the gulf under the U.S. "defense umbrella" should Iran acquire a nuke.

Now Thomas Lipmann of the Middle East Institute is out with a report (pdf) on how Saudi Arabia might react to Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, and he pours some cold water on the idea that the Saudis would develop a weapon of their own (or import one "off the shelf" from Pakistan).

More broadly, aside from the fact that nuclear proliferation is a bad thing in and of itself, it's worth asking why we're particularly concerned with nuclear weapons in the hands of countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Could it be that given the illegitimate nature of both governments and the anti-Americanism of both populations, we're worried about those weapons falling into the wrong hands? And shouldn't that give us pause before we rush in to defend these regimes from Iran?

Photo credit: AP Photos

Poll: British Sour on Afghanistan

On the heels of UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband's address to NATO on how the West can prevail in Afghanistan, a new poll finds that the British are skeptical:

The ComRes poll for The Independent newspaper says that more than half of those questioned -- 52 percent -- say British troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan right away.

The polling agency says that 58 percent of those surveyed viewed the war as unwinnable. The poll of more than 1,000 people conducted last week had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Full poll results here.

Photo credit: AP Photos

July 27, 2009

Iraq as Korea


Matthew Yglesias flags the Philippines analogy in this Ross Douthat column but I actually think the reference to the Korean war is more apt:

These twists and turns make Iraq look less like either Vietnam or World War II -- the analogies that politicians and pundits keep closest at hand -- and more like an amalgamation of the Korean War and America’s McKinley-era counterinsurgency in the Philippines. Like Iraq, those were murky, bloody conflicts that generated long-term benefits but enormous short-term costs. Like Iraq, they were wars that Americans were eager to forget about as soon as they were finished.

And like Iraq, the war in Korea never formally ended and the U.S. never left. To this day North Korea remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world despite a formidable American military presence in Japan and South Korea. Many decades after the end of the Korean War, it still falls mainly to the United States to take the lead in cajoling the North Koreans to stop acting crazy.

All of which is to say that even an ideal long term outcome will still be messy.

The Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Photo credit: AP Photos.

Who's Watching Obama on YouTube

Via Nina Hachigian, here's a map that mines YouTube user stats to illustrate how many global Internet viewers President Obama has enjoyed for his various speeches.

Kids Today

Peter Feaver, formerly of the Bush administration, laments the fact that the world is lacking grownups:

I point out that one important and under-appreciated source of transatlantic friction during the first Bush term was President Bush’s willingness to do roughly what Biden described -- telling them to “belly up to the bar and pay their dues” -- when it came to dealing with the security problems bequeathed from the previous administration (rogue state proliferation, state-sponsorship of terrorism, the Afghanistan sanctuary for Al Qaeda, the second intifadah, etc.). This, I argue, was tantamount to asking an adolescent heading out on a date to pay his own way, and doing so publicly in front of his girlfriend even when it was clear that he couldn’t afford to pay. The result was predictable: adolescent tantrums.

The key to dealing with adolescents is to treat them in public as if they were responsible adults, but privately to hedge against expected irresponsibility. Of course, the way to deal with adolescents is not to call them adolescents.

Funny, I thought conservatives disliked and distrusted the nanny state. Oh well.



The Hudson Institute's Herbert London isn't happy with the Obama administration's approach to foreign policy:

But there is an underlying philosophical view that has become alarmingly apparent: preemptive declinism, a belief that the United States is not an exceptional nation and is not entitled by virtue of history to play a role on the world stage different from other nations. As Obama sees it, American is merely one of many.

That America is the balance wheel in an unstable world, creating equilibrium out of chaos, is an anachronistic position for this administration. It would seem that it is more desirable to envision a political vacuum or other world powers emerging than assert American influence.

Therefore the Obama administration acts as if it had less leverage in international affairs than it actually has. It appears timorous and fearful sending a signal, willy nilly, that the United States cannot be depended on.

I don't really agree with most of this but I do agree with the final sentence - and that is the perception of American reliability. One of the problems with America's promiscuous use of security guarantees and promises of support is that those on the receiving end of those promises are going to take you at your word. This was the unfortunate fate of Georgia in August 2008 when, after hearing the Bush administration loudly insist that they should be in NATO and are a vital interest of Washington, we did nothing when Russia invaded.

At that moment, Russia effectively called Washington on its rhetoric. But now we're in a position where we've already put our prestige on the line. We'll either have to back down and prove, as London says, an unreliable ally. Or we'll have to continue with the absurd fiction that the security of Georgia is so vital to the United States that it's worth alienating Russia over.

And I think the mixed messages coming from the Obama administration - with Biden poking Russia in the eye and Obama taking a more conciliatory tone - are reflective of the fact that it's not sure how to handle this situation.

Photo credit: AP Photos

July 26, 2009

Tehran-ology and the Friedman Unit, Ctd.

Scott Lucas of Enduring America responds to my initial post:

The primary issue for me, as one of the bloggers mentioned in the piece, is not Iran's nuclear programme. That may be the foremost concern for many in Washington, but I suggest that it is not for most of those demonstrating in Iran --- their chief concern is the legitimacy of their Government and system.

Our decision to feature Iran on a "rolling update" basis, along with in-depth analysis of the political, religious, and ideological issues, is to give due recognition and attention to those concerns. And when the "mainstream" media was crippled and then blinded by the Iranian Government's restrictions, we pressed harder to ensure that the story did not disappear. If we had the time and resources, we would do the same for a situation like Sri Lanka --- it just so happens we have specialist expertise and connections in the case of Iran.

With respect, I think the call to "stand down" points more to the nuclear-centric bias of many of those commenting from the US rather than an appreciation of the issues inside Iran. Instead, I suggest that standing down is a political, if not a moral, abandonment of those issues.

You can follow the rest of our exchange in the comments section.

So Much for the Reset

Reading Vice President Biden's interview excerpts in the WSJ I think it's safe to conclude that whatever platitudes the administration may mouth concerning U.S.-Russian relations, the atmosphere of mutual distrust and antagonism is going to endure.

July 24, 2009

Tehran-ology and the Friedman Unit

Joe Klein writes the following on Iran:

A wiser alternative may be to stand down, for a while. "Turn away and whistle," an Iranian academic suggested recently. Don't abandon the nuclear-sanctions process, but don't force it, either. Don't pursue negotiations. Let the disgraced Iranian government pursue us, as it might, in order to rebuild credibility at home and in the world — and then make sure the regime's interest isn't just for show. After all, Iran isn't the most frightening nuclear challenge we're facing. That would be the next country over, Pakistan. In the latest National Interest, Bruce Riedel — who led the Obama Administration's Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review — suggests that a coup led by Islamist, Taliban-sympathetic elements of the Pakistani army remains a real possibility. Pakistan has at least 60 nuclear weapons. The chance that al-Qaeda sympathizers might gain access to those weapons is the real issue in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For the moment, it is far more important than anything happening in Iran.

I think Klein makes some good sense here (there's some nonsense to the article as well, but I'll set that aside for now). I see a problem in the way various bloggers and pundits have been offering seemingly nonstop, live-blogged accounts of everything happening in Iran on an almost daily basis.

I'm as big a Tehran-ologist as the next guy, and I find Iranian internal politics incredibly fascinating. But when even respected Iranian scholars are waxing hyperbolic over the latest speech, or the latest warning, or the latest repudiation, I then begin to wonder if we've let our passions and our biases get the better of us as analysts.

I think a good case could be made here for applying the Friedman Unit. In other words, and in all seriousness, the next six months -- note, not the next six minutes, hours or days -- just might be "the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy" regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran.

There are bigger geo-political questions that need answering here than whether or not Iranian insiders -- unhappy with other Iranian insiders -- can or can't usurp the power of Supreme Leader Khamenei. And more to the point, the United States will not answer those questions by getting bogged down in the daily twists and turns of the Iranian reform movement.

Unlike Klein, I take the Iranian nuclear program rather seriously. However, he's in part right to propose a cooling off period of American involvement.

Perhaps The Huffington Post could instead do a daily live-blog of the displaced in Sri Lanka, or the contested election in Kyrgyzstan. They -- along with a few others -- have an amazing ability to reach so many, and their efforts could go a long way toward educating people on problems in other parts of the world.

It's Not About Israel


Reading Steve Clemons and Ben Katcher in the Washington Note tee off on Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu, it's quite easy to see why Israeli attitudes are hardening against the Obama administration (and, by extension, any short-term prospect for peace).

Clemons compares Benjamin Netanyahu to former Soviet Premiere Khrushchev and insists that Obama must "politely crush" Netanyahu. Katcher describes the Israelis as "immature" and unable to act in their own best interest.

What's interesting to me is how much this view is the mirror image of neoconservatism in that it endorses the view of Israel as an American client state in the Middle East. Notice that nowhere do Clemons and Katcher argue that the Obama administration should veto any congressional appropriations for Israel. Instead, they expect to browbeat and threaten the Jewish state until it gets in line.

But why do that? If you believe, as Clemons apparently does, that America's security interest are being harmed by Israel's behavior, then wouldn't the simpler route be to change America's involvement in that behavior? After all, we don't have a mandate to tell the Israelis where to build houses, but we do have a mandate about how we dispense taxpayer dollars.

Photo credit: AP Photos

July 23, 2009

U.S. Image on the Mend

Amb. Richard Williamson writes that under President Obama, America is turning its back on human rights:

Shouts for freedom have become tentative whispers. The clarion call for human rights has faded. The values and impulse of idealism that animated United States foreign policy have flatlined. Fidelity to realism and pragmatism abroad has resulted in infidelity to our better selves. If this is “change” we can believe in, it certainly is not the change voiceless victims of repression and abuse around the world had hoped for nor what they have come to expect from America, the shining city on a hill.

Now, for the sake of argument, let's say that this is correct. What to make of this:

The image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world, reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama. In many countries opinions of the United States are now about as positive as they were at the beginning of the decade before George W. Bush took office. Improvements in the U.S. image have been most pronounced in Western Europe, where favorable ratings for both the nation and the American people have soared. But opinions of America have also become more positive in key countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well.

Could it be that the rest of the world has seen America turn its back on human rights and freedom, and cheered?

The War in Pakistan


The Center for American Progress has a very useful interactive map showing the territory of various Pakistani militant groups. They also have a list and short bio of the major Taliban leaders.

In related Pakistani news, the Long War Journal takes a look at America's air war against the these groups, noting this statistics:

Beginning in August 2008, the US began stepping up strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda elements in the tribal agencies. There were 28 airstrikes in the tribal agencies between August and December 2008 – nearly double the total number of airstrikes in the previous four years combined (the first recorded Predator strike in the tribal agencies took place in June 2004). There was one recorded strike in 2004, one in 2005, three in 2006, and five in 2007.

In 2009, the frequency of Predator strikes in Pakistan has continued to trend upwards. There have already been 31 Predator strikes in Pakistan this year (as of July 18) – nearly matching the total of 36 strikes for all of 2008.

If airstrikes continue at the current rate, the number of strikes in 2009 could more than double the dramatic increase in Predator activity seen in 2008.

There are two main schools of thought regarding these drone attacks. One is that the long term costs to Pakistani stability are not worth the short term gains. The other, that these strikes are an effective, low-cost means of keeping the Taliban and al Qaeda off balance without the more destabilizing step of sending troops into Pakistan.

I happen to think that, given that the government of Pakistan is more or less on board with these strikes, it's the best of a lot of bad alternatives.

Photo Credit: AP Photos

July 22, 2009

Remember 9/11


So Hillary Clinton thinks the U.S. will have to extend its defense umbrella to the impoverished, democratic, liberal autocracies of the Middle East if Iran succeeds in obtaining a nuclear bomb. Which got me thinking:

Just to recap: On September 11, 2001, 15 Saudis, one Egyptian, one Lebanese and two citizens of the United Arab Emirates crashed hijacked airliners into American targets, murdering close to 3,000 people. All 19 were Sunni Muslims, followers of a puritanical strain of Islam developed in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The ideology of jihad that lures recruits from the suburbs of London to the hinterlands of Waziristan is promulgated by Sunni Imams and financed overwhelmingly (if indirectly) by the Persian Gulf monarchies we're presently clamoring to reassure.

The two architects of 9/11 and the masterminds of the global jihadist movement - Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri - are Saudi and Egyptian, respectively. The captured "enemy combatants" in Guantanamo Bay hail from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and even Australia. There is not a single Iranian among them. Nor have there been any Iranians implicated in the recent terrorist plots uncovered in Europe and the U.S.

In short, the global jihad that so directly threatens the American homeland and American interests around the world is not an outgrowth of Iranian-sponsored radicalism, but Saudi-sponsored Sunni fundamentalism. And one of the principle (though by no means exclusive) rallying cries behind this jihad is American support for the illiberal autocracies of the Gulf and, more broadly, American interference in the Middle East.

But maybe I'm missing something.

Photo credit: AP Photos

Save Save Darfur?

John Boonstra believes it may be a critical moment for Darfur advocacy:

Most savvy Darfur advocates already know this, but the time for sloganeering and awareness raising is long past (and endured well past what should have been its expiration date). In some respects, the kind of misguided, generalist "stop genocide" tactics that one could find in early Save Darfur campaigns and that are so maligned by critics like Mahmoud Mamdani have affected the position we find ourselves in now, in which rhetoric that generates a lot of heat but no light can supplant directed action. This is not entirely the fault of vapid aims by advocacy organizations, to be sure; policymakers actually need little excuse to make noise instead of policy, and stopping genocide provides the perfect soundbite.

Darfur advocacy organizations for the most part adapted their tactics, targeting their energies and substantial constituencies toward specific aims, such as deployment of UN peacekeepers and the provision of long-needed helicopters. Some have had more, and some less, success (and in ways intended and unintended) than others, but the trickiest of them has always been the promotion of a robust peace accord.

This may be simply past the ability of advocacy organizations to effect, as Mark suggests, but it could also represent a stunning opportunity for transforming the nature of grassroots foreign policy campaigns. If the "Darfur movement" is successful in navigating the complicated and unsexy terrain of policymaking, then it will be a major victory for Darfur, for citizen activism, and for democracy.

Does Hypocrisy Matter?


In May, Vice President Joseph Biden traveled to Lebanon and inserted himself directly into that country's elections, telling Lebanese voters which parties the U.S. favored and which it did not. Biden clearly conveyed to the Lebanese people that if it voted in parties that Washington favored, it could expect aid. If it did not, the U.S.might just have to take its money elsewhere.

A staple of Washington policy in the Middle East is to subsidize parties and regimes that are supportive of us and our goals and to castigate and sanction those that are not. None of this terribly objectionable as a general principle (who else would we support?) and it's not as coercive as, say, overthrowing regimes with which we disagree with. But it's very clear that we do not take a "hands-off" approach to the Middle East, nor do we allow the nations of the region to freely chart their own destinies.

Now, Mr. Biden is in Ukraine, decrying power politics:

"We do not recognize -- and I want to reiterate it -- any sphere of influence. We do not recognize anyone else's right to dictate to you or any other country what alliances you will seek to belong to or what relationships you -- bilateral relationships you have."
The U.S. is under no obligation to be consistent in its dealings with the world. We can play down and dirty in the Middle East and then prance piously throughout Eastern Europe condemning Russia's aggressive influence-peddling. But just look at the contortions our rhetoric is forcing us into. Here's Antony Blinken, Biden’s national security adviser, as quoted by the New York Times addressing U.S. policy in Eastern Europe:
“We’re not trying to build our own sphere of influence,” he said. “The partnerships aren’t being built against anyone. They’re being built for the purpose of addressing common challenges that Russia also faces.”

Anyone who has looked at this issue for more than a millisecond understands quite clearly that Ukraine and Georgia want to join NATO so they can be defended against Russia. That is the purpose of NATO.

Photo credit: AP Photos

Biden's Statement on Ukraine in NATO

Vice President Biden, in Ukraine, made a statement reaffirming America's support for bringing Ukraine into NATO.

Full text of the statement below.

Mr. President, thank you very much for your hospitality. And on behalf of President Obama, I want to express our admiration, as well as our thanks -- our admiration for what you and your colleagues began in what was an inspiration to other parts of the world and your neighbors, the Orange Revolution, and also thanks for your cooperation and help in the Balkans and Iraq and Afghanistan. And I agree with you, I think we had a very productive meeting.

I come to Kyiv, Mr. President, with one simple, straightforward message that I don't want anyone to misunderstand. That is, the United States is committed to a strong, democratic and prosperous Ukraine.

Your success, Mr. President, we believe will be our success. We in the United States are trying to build a multi-partner world in which we work with like-minded countries to make common cause on common challenges. And quite frankly, the stronger our partners, the more effective that partnership will be.

We worked together to tackle, as I referenced earlier, common security problems -- threats in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan -- and we meet what President Obama and I believe is one of humanity’s greatest challenges, and that is reducing nuclear arsenals and securing nuclear materiel.

We consider, Mr. President, Ukraine to be a vital European partner for advancing stability, prosperity and democracy on the continent. And the President and I agreed that the United States and Ukraine will work together in the months and years to come to strengthen the strategic partnership.

It is not for the United States to dictate what that partnership will be but to reiterate. And President Obama and I have stated clearly that if you choose to be part of Euro-Atlantic integration -- which I believe you have -- that we strongly support that. We do not recognize -- and I want to reiterate it -- any sphere of influence. We do not recognize anyone else's right to dictate to you or any other country what alliances you will seek to belong to or what relationships you -- bilateral relationships you have.

I reaffirmed to the President what I said in Munich, as I said, in the earliest days of our administration, and it's worth repeating again in a brief statement, and that is -- and President Obama, I might add, made it clear in his visit to Moscow this month -- the United States supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and freedom, and to make its own choices -- its own choices -- including what alliances they choose to belong.

We're working, as you know, Mr. President, to reset our relationship with Russia. But I assure you and all the Ukrainian people that it will not come at Ukraine’s expense. To the contrary, I believe it can actually benefit Ukraine. The more substantive relationship we have with Moscow, the more we can defuse the zero-sum thinking about our relations with Russia’s neighbors.

We also talked about many important challenges facing Ukraine today, made more difficult by the economic crisis the world is facing. And we discussed ways in which the United States can help Ukraine undertake what are obviously tough reforms needed to build its democracy and economy and to strengthen its energy sector.

To that end, I was pleased to learn that the government has taken the final decision necessary to bring the Overseas Private Investment Corporation back to Ukraine. That will make it easier for American companies to reinvest in Ukraine, and invest in the first place, which will help both our economies in the current downturn.

I know it's hard, I know it's hard, and these are tough decisions that your government has to make. And I also know from experience of being in public life for a long time, it's harder to make tough decisions in election years. It's a difficult time in any democracy. I told the President what I will tell other officials with whom I'll be meeting today, that working together, especially in times of crisis, is not a choice, it’s an absolute necessity. And compromise, I might add, is not a sign of weakness, it is evidence of strength.

Ukraine has come a long way in the short time since declaring independence in 1991. And Ukraine’s vibrant civil society -- and it is vibrant -- its engaged and free media, as we witnessed here today -- and its lively democracy show the world that Ukraine will continue on its chosen path toward a prosperous future as an integral part of Europe.

The United States, Mr. President, is committing to walking that path with Ukraine to see to it that it becomes a vital part of Europe.

And again, Mr. President, I want to thank you for your hospitality. I look forward to continuing the discussions we had today at a working group level, and I am -- I'm confident that Ukraine's democracy will take deep root in the 21st century.

Thank you, Mr. President.

July 21, 2009

Goodbye F-22, Hello Protracted Counter-Insurgencies!


It appears that President Obama and Secretary Gates have successfully killed the F-22 fighter plane (with help from Senators McCain and Levin). As a famous Secretary of State once observed, I don't have a dog in that particular fight, but I do think this interpretation from Democracy Arsenal's Max Bergmann seems about right:

But this fight was more than just about the F-22. It was also about whether the Pentagon would be able to institutionalize the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan and finally move out of the Cold War strategic mindset that still dominates. Gates has sought to institute a strategic shift within the Pentagon, focusing on developing a more balanced force that is not only capable of fighting conventional wars, but is capable of doing the full spectrum of operations. The military has begun to transition toward this new outlook - moving out of the mindset that labeled stability operations as "operations other than war" and that has focused on big ticket conventional items.

Here's what I can't understand: Obama ran for president based partly on his opposition to the Iraq war. It was this opposition that rallied many self-styled national security progressives to his side. Now President Obama is proposing to reposition America's armed forces to better fight future Iraq style wars.

This seems to me to misread the lessons of Iraq. If the U.S. had heeded Obama's advice in 2003 and not invaded and occupied Iraq, then very few of the strains that have bedeviled America's ground forces would have occurred. We would still be worrying about "full spectrum operations" in the context of Afghanistan, but I suspect with not nearly the urgency we do today.

There may be plenty of good reasons to dump the F-22, but doing so as part of a broader effort to get the U.S. better equipped at waging counter-insurgencies in Muslim lands strikes me as a misguided use of our resources. It's particularly bizarre to hear Obama supporters champion this: how many other countries are they interested in invading and occupying?

An Iraqi Army tank patrols Baghdad. Photo credit: AP Photos

Our Future Air Force vs. "Theirs"?

As the U.S. Senate voted down extra funds for the wavering F-22 Raptor program - planes designed to give the U.S. unmatched air superiority in the coming decades - questions abound as to what kind of aircraft will fight our future wars - and against whom? With Defense Secretary Robert Gates shifting funds to the efforts needed to fight today's wars, who may potentially go up against American air machines in the no-too-distant future?

The F-22 aircraft was designed for a manned, conventional combat against multiple air and ground targets, but its primary roles was to achieve combat superiority against enemy fighters. Today, the majority of the world's most advanced military jet fighters are produced by Western, mostly pro-American, U.S.-friendly nations, such as the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Brazil, Italy, South Africa, Israel, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. These countries may sell large quantities of these aircraft to mostly U.S.-friendly states, like India, or deliver small quantities to potential combatants, like Iraq and Syria (though never in numbers large enough to threaten American interests). Possible exceptions may be Pakistan and Egypt, countries experiences significant internal difficulties and who operate American fighter planes. All in all, U.S. jet fighters reign supreme across the globe because of an extensive logistical and support network that spans the entire planet.

The only remaining true "enemy" combatants to the F-22 are planes designed for actual combat with the American Air Force. The list is small, and consists of aircraft either with a proven quality track record, or features new machines that have never been combat-tested. They are Russian Su-30, Su-35, Su-37 fighters - currently being exported around the world - and Chinese J-11 and J-10 aircraft. There are no other takers, possibly for a long time. Iran is developing and fielding its own jet fighters, but they are more along the aircraft designed by Americans in 1970s-1980s. Chinese aircraft may look like their Western counterparts, but have no real combat experience to speak of, at least for now.

Adding to more questions about the F-22's fate are plans by the United States Air Force to field an all-UAV lineup by mid-century, "potentially replacing every manned aircraft in its inventory." Given the fast pace of air drone development - and unmatched American leadership in this cutting-edge technology - this plan may come to fruition much sooner than the Air Force predicts. However, Russia and China are not stopping their development of modern manned air fighters, at least not for the next two-three decades. So if the F-22 actually flies into combat, who will it be facing it on the other side? For now, it seems, that could be Russian or a Chinese-made aircraft, no doubt about it.

Foreign Policy as Empty Moralizing


Jonah Goldberg takes note of the awful barbarity of the North Korean gulag-state and then concludes that "we have a lot to be ashamed of." Goldberg writes:

Our collective, bipartisan failure to deal with the human suffering in North Korea is chalked up to the fact that Kim Jong Il's nuclear program is a far more pressing concern than is the brutalization and murder of North Korean citizens.

This is simply not correct. The U.S. has not dealt with the human suffering in North Korea because any efforts to deal with it forcefully (i.e. removing the regime that perpetrates these awful barbarities) would quite likely entail a war - a war that would have devastating consequences for South Korea, Japan and U.S. forces in Korea. If there was a way that the U.S. - or international community - could alleviate North Korea's suffering without courting a massive military action in the heart of Asia, I suspect they would have done it.

And indeed, nowhere in Goldberg's article is there any hint of just how the U.S. is supposed to reverse North Korea's heinous human rights abuses. It's easy to scold us for "failing to bear witness" to North Korea's atrocities, it's quite another to actually grapple with the difficulties and costs that such a policy would entail.

Goldberg thinks realism is the "worst thing" about the Republican party. It's fair to ask how much worse realism is than an ideology which values empty moral posturing over any serious consideration of the difficult choices policymakers face.

Photo Credit: AP Photos

Did North Korea Fake its Nuclear Test?


Via Robert Farley, Geoffrey Forden sounds a skeptical note about North Korea's most recent nuclear test:

Let us suppose, for the moment, that the DPRK actually did explode 2,500 tons of TNT instead of a nuclear device. How could they load a tunnel with so much conventional explosive and not be detected by the West’s satellites? This was the real reason I was so sure it had been a nuclear explosion. I was convinced, unfortunately before doing a very simple calculation, that the trucks filled with high explosive (HE) would be detected.

However, it is not all that much HE. If TNT was used, as opposed to a higher density explosive like RDX, North Korea would only have to excavate a cavity 12 meters on a side and fill it with high explosives.

If four 10-ton trucks delivered their load each night (with a fifth truck coming every 10th day) they could drop off all the HE within two months. Using RDX, or some other higher density explosive, could significantly decrease this time. That seems quite doable and to be potentially undetectable by the West.

From one standpoint, it would make sense for the North Koreans to try to fool the world: they could potentially extract more generous concessions and, in light of the ongoing question of succession, it could keep potential external aggressors at bay. Still, as Forden notes, to really get clarity you'd have to get soil samples from the North's underground testing facility. Somehow, I don't see that happening any time soon.

Photo credit: AP Photos

Running on Empty

Praveen Ghanta uses the BP Statistical Review of World Energy to compile a list of countries that are pumping far less oil than they were at the peak of their production. About 60 percent of world oil output is coming from countries past their peak production (however from looking at the list you can imagine a few countries swinging back into the black, so to speak).

It's with this in mind that we turn to Stephen Hayward, who takes aim at Jimmy Carter's "malaise speech" and the notion that America should live within its means:

"People who talk about an age of limits are really talking about their own limitations, not America's." So said Ronald Reagan, whose first act on entering office 18 months later was to decontrol oil prices by executive order (a step Mr. Carter had refused). Liberals predicted $4-a-gallon gasoline. Instead, oil prices fell for a decade, along with what was left of Mr. Carter's reputation on energy issues.

This is a bit of a dodge, because the U.S. enjoys "cheap oil" only insofar as we refuse to price in the costs of our military presence in the Gulf and any negative externalities associated with our Middle East policies. Factor those in and the price environment changes.

I was barely sentient when Carter made that speech, so I can't comment on the mood at the time, but I cannot for the life of me understand why the notion that the U.S. must align means with ends is so anathema to so many people.

Photo credit: AP Photos

July 20, 2009

U.S.-India Joint Statement Text

The State Department released the text of a joint statement from the governments of the U.S. and India. The text is below:

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today committed to building an enhanced India- U.S. strategic partnership that seeks to advance solutions to the defining challenges of our time.

They agreed to strengthen the existing bilateral relationships and mechanisms for cooperation between the Government of Republic of India and the Government of the United States of America, while leveraging the strong foundation of economic and social linkages between our respective people, private sectors, and institutions. Recognizing the new heights achieved in the India - U.S. relationship over the last two Indian and U.S. Administrations, they committed to pursuing a third and transformative phase of the relationship that will enhance global prosperity and stability in the 21st century.

Minister Krishna and Secretary Clinton will chair an “India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue” that meets once annually in alternate capitals. This dialogue will focus on a wide range of bilateral, global, and regional issues of shared interest and common concern, continuing programmes currently under implementation and taking mutually beneficial initiatives that complement Indian and U.S. development, security and economic interests.

Secretary Clinton looks forward to welcoming Minister Krishna for the first round of the Strategic Dialogue in Washington, D.C. in the coming year.


Recognizing the shared common desire to increase mutual security against the common threats posed by international terrorism, Minister Krishna and Secretary Clinton reaffirmed the commitment of both Governments to build on recent increased coordination in counter-terrorism. Secretary Clinton invited Home Minister Chidambaram to visit Washington in the near future. External Affairs Minister Krishna and Secretary Clinton also reaffirmed their commitment to early adoption of a UN Comprehensive Convention against International Terrorism which would strengthen the framework for global cooperation.


Noting the enhanced co-operation in defence under the Defence Co-operation Framework Agreement of 2005, External Affairs Minister and Secretary Clinton reiterated the commitment of both Governments to pursue mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of defence. External Affairs Minister Krishna announced that both sides had reached agreement on End Use Monitoring for U.S. defense articles.


India and the United States share a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. With this goal in sight, Minister Krishna and Secretary Clinton agreed to move ahead in the Conference on Disarmament towards a non-discriminatory, internationally and effectively verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. India and the United States will also cooperate to prevent nuclear terrorism and address the challenges of global nuclear proliferation. A high-level bilateral dialogue will be established to enhance cooperation on these issues.


Building on the success of the India –U.S. Civil Nuclear Initiative, on July 21, India and the United States will begin consultations on reprocessing arrangements and procedures, as provided in Article 6 (iii) of the 123 Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation between India and the United States.


Secretary Clinton affirmed that multilateral organizations and groupings should reflect the world of the 21st century in order to maintain long-term credibility, relevance and effectiveness, and both Minister Krishna and Secretary Clinton expressed their interest in exchanging views on new configurations of the UN Security Council, the G-8, and the G-20.


As members of the G-20, India and the United States have pledged to work together with other major economies to foster a sustainable recovery from the global economic crisis through a commitment to open trade and investment policies. Minister Krishna and Secretary Clinton reaffirmed the commitment of both Governments to facilitating a pathway forward on the WTO Doha Round.

They pledged to co-operate to not only preserve the economic synergies between the two countries that have grown over the years, but also to increase and diversify bilateral economic relations and expand trade and investment flows. The two sides noted that negotiations for a Bilateral Investment Treaty would be scheduled in New Delhi in August 2009. They resolved to harness the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the private sectors of both countries with a newly-configured CEO Forum that will meet later this year.


External Affairs Minister Krishna and Secretary of State Clinton affirmed the importance of expanding educational cooperation through exchanges and institutional collaboration, and agreed on the need to expand the role of the private sector in strengthening this collaboration.


Recognizing the great potential in India-U.S. science and technology collaboration, the two sides have concluded a Science and Technology Endowment Agreement, and signed a Technology Safeguards Agreement that will permit the launch of civil or non-commercial satellites containing U.S. components on Indian space launch vehicles. Both sides welcomed India’s participation in the FutureGen Project for the construction of the first commercial scale fully integrated carbon capture and sequestration project and India’s participation in the Integrated Ocean Development Project, an international endeavour for enhancing the understanding of Earth and Ocean dynamics and addressing the challenges of climate change.


Noting the high potential that exists due to the complementarities in the knowledge and innovation-based economies of the two countries, it was agreed that the agenda and the initiatives in the bilateral High Technology Cooperation Dialogue should continue, with the objective of facilitating smoother trade in high technology between the two economies reflecting the present strategic nature of the India-U.S. relationship.

It was also agreed that working groups would be formed to focus on new areas of common interest in nano-technology, civil nuclear technology, civil aviation and licensing issues in defence, strategic and civil nuclear trade.


Minister Krishna and Secretary Clinton pledged to intensify collaboration on energy security and climate change. Efforts will focus on increasing energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean energy technologies through the India-U.S. Energy Dialogue and a Global Climate Change Dialogue.

Both sides also agreed to launch a process of bilateral scientific and technological collaboration to support the development, deployment and transfer of transformative and innovative technologies in areas of mutual interest including solar and other renewable energy, clean coal and energy efficiency, and other relevant areas.

India and the U.S. affirmed their commitment to work together with other countries, including through the Major Economies Forum, for positive results in the UNFCCC Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009.


The two sides noted the valuable engagement between both Governments on global issues of common concern such as strengthening democracy and capacity building in democratic institutions as co-founders of the UN Democracy Fund.

The two sides agreed to develop a Women’s Empowerment Forum (WEF) to exchange lessons and best practices on women’s empowerment and development and consider ways to empower women in the region and beyond.


Minister Krishna and Secretary Clinton reaffirmed that the excellent relations between India and the United States rests on the bedrock of kinship, commerce and educational ties between the Indian and American people.

Secretary Clinton thanked External Affairs Minister and the people of India for their warm reception and hospitality.

Nicaragua: Look Who Wants A Referendum?

A Chavez buddy has plans, and this time it's not Zelaya:


Nicaraguan leader seeks referendum for reelection

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega announced Sunday, on the 30th anniversary of the leftist Sandinista revolution he led, that he would seek a referendum to change the constitution to allow him to seek reelection.

Following in the footsteps of elected regional allies, Ortega told thousands of supporters here that he would seek a referendum to let "the people say if they want to reward or punish" their leaders with reelection.

His close leftist allies who have had rules changed enabling them to remain in power include presidents Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.

In the last month President Manuel Zelaya in neighboring Honduras was ousted in a coup by his own military after seeking similar action.

The BBC has a video report.

However, disaffected Sandinistas say Daniel Ortega has become a dictator, accusing Ortega of abandoning the revolution while advancing personal power.

Now Ortega wants a referendum to extend his term. Call it the electoral wash-rinse-repeat cycle.

State vs. Non-State

One thing that strikes you when reading this intriguing report on recent revelations about Soviet espionage against the United States during the Cold War is how serious the threat was.

Put in a contemporary context, it's clear that "non-state actors" like al Qaeda could not penetrate high levels of the U.S. government or have an extensive network of well-placed sympathizers. China, however, could.

That doesn't mean that non-state actors aren't dangerous, but it does put the threat in perspective.

Poll: Czechs Want Vote on U.S. Missile Base


One of the most contentious issues between the U.S. and Russia is the placement of missile defense batteries in the Czech Republic and Poland. But it's not simply a thorn in Russia's side. The Czechs are wary too:

People on the Czech Republic remain skeptical about a plan to participate in the U.S. missile defence shield, according to a poll by CVVM. Only 26 per cent of respondents support the construction of a base in Czech territory, and 71 per cent believe the issue should be decided in a referendum.

The Obama administration has been coy about missile defense in Eastern Europe. But a referendum could complicate matters, particularly if the Obama administration reverses course and decides not to build and the Czech public decides they want American interceptors on their territory.
Photo credit: AP Photos

July 19, 2009

Ron Paul's World View

Back during the early days of the Republican primary season, I posted an analysis of Rep. Ron Paul's foreign policy agenda. Or, more precisely, his lack thereof. In short, my argument was that someone like Ron Paul is great at what they do while in Congress, but in substance and in practice couldn't seriously handle one of the most powerful executive offices in the world.

Presidents, like any executive, CEO or manager, are expected to act. You could argue that this is an inevitable result of bureaucracy, and with good reason. Nevertheless, Americans look to their presidents for a certain degree of clarity, for a platform and a plan.

Unlike any other elected office in the country, we judge this person nationally, and as a result expect motion, maneuvering and action. I saw very little foreign policy vision of value in the candidacy of Ron Paul.

It's obviously neither here nor there at this point, as Paul has now been repeatedly repudiated on the national stage, and represents only a marginal and minor viewpoint in the country. But it's with a certain sense of validation that I now, finally, get a deeper understanding of Paul's world view:

I don't know that this video proves Ron Paul to be a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. It does however prove that Ron Paul understands his constituency rather well; enough not to dismiss one random crank and her concerns about 9/11 "truth" while being videotaped.

Paul actually made points I agreed with both then and now about America's role in the world. But it's the company he gladly keeps that makes him the marginal figure he is, and this video only reaffirms what Republican voters thought of Paul back in 2007 and 2008.

The country - and the world - are better off for their sound judgment.

(h/t Hot Air)

Russia: Sexy Young Governors and Misfired Missiles

Russia is on course to lower the official age of political participation to 18 - according to President Medvedev. At the meeting of the State Council on Youth Issues, Dmitry Medvedev proposed to reduce the minimum age for election to local government posts to 18 years and urged the governors to appoint those wishing to serve the state without waiting "until they reach retirement age." Russian Duma Deputy Svetlana Horkina got the special attention of President on that issue.

The President discussed civic engagement of young people. According to Medvedev, it is necessary to actively involve youth in political and public life, especially since 27% of the population is between 14 and 30 years of age. Medvedev called for the establishment of a uniform age for election to local government: "I propose to establish in all regions of the Russian Federation a single age for election to representative bodies of municipal government. I think that any citizen who has attained the age of 18 should have the right, should be allowed to be elected in this municipal body."

He recalled that, at present, the minimum age for such election is 19-20 years."This, to some extent, restricts the rights of young people. A person can move about the country alone or with parents. And it is understandable that under these circumstances it is desirable that the rules relating to the possibility to be elected to representative bodies of municipal formations should be standardized... This does not only relate for public office, but also concerns community-based organizations and business structures - we need to select the most prepared and well-educated young people to ensure that they get job placements."

In this regard, he drew the attention of the State Council to the participants invited to the meeting of the State Duma, including a 30-year old former Olympic athlete and champion, and now Member of Duma (United Russia party) Svetlana Horkina. (Clicking on the left side of Horkina's website takes you to her "social life." Clicking on the right side of the screen takes you to her official Russian Parliament page.) With a charming smile, Medvedev noted: "The meeting has traditionally official, attended by respectable-looking people, and many are probably surprised to see that we have in attendance two fascinating women. I am referring to Marina Zademidkova and Svetlana Horkina. You two are a natural fit here, may I appoint you to the post of governor?" Of course, the efficiency of such a young and attractive governor can be questioned, but if she could be appointed by Medvedev himself, surely her assets then are credible enough?

This past Thursday, the nuclear strategic missile cruiser "Dmitry Donskoy" again was unable to launch a new "Bulava" intercontinental ballistic missile. According to official recording, the missile self-destructed on in the 21st second of flight. Out of a total of eleven "Bulava" test launches - considered to be the most promising Russian ICBM - only two were found to be partially successful. This time, however, Russian authorities are taking a page out of a political thriller, calling this particular rocket failure an act of possible sabotage. Russian secret services are officially joining the investigation, according to RIA Novosti news agency. According to a source in one of the special agencies, the missile could fail due to a defective part, "because of the lack of effective control over the quality of either the manufacturer or with the direct assembly of missiles. In this case, given the state importance of adopting a new missile for maritime strategic nuclear forces of Russia, both possible factors could be regarded as acts of sabotage."

The source also noted that the reason for allowing the defective part into the production of missiles could be criminal negligence, and could also be considered as sabotage. Meanwhile Interfax news agency, citing sources in the Military-Industrial Commission, reports that a possible cause of the failed launch of Bulava "was a an internal fire inside the rocket itself. Because of this, the rocket's flight path has changed, prompting an on-board computer to issue a self-destruct command." The source also noted that due the failed missile launches, there could be changes made at the management level of the "Bulava" missile program. Intercontinental sea-based ballistic missile R30 3M30 "Bulava-30" was developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Engineering (MME) under the leadership of chief designer Yuri Solomonov. "Bulava" was to equip the next generation of strategic nuclear submarines "Yury Dolgoruky," "Alexander Nevsky" and "Vladimir Monomakh," currently being built and tested in Severodvinsk Yard.

In a step to further antagonize relations between Russia and its Baltic neighbors, former Estonian anti-Soviet guerrilla fighters - and German sympathizers during WWII - calling themselves "the former forest brothers and fighters for freedom of Estonia" appealed to the city of Tartu Town Hall to change the inscription on the monument to Soviet soldiers who died during Second World War. The monument in question has an inscription: "The Great Patriotic War. The City of Tartu is forever grateful to its defenders and liberators, the sons of all the peoples of the USSR." Authors of the appeal offered to change the inscription - in their view, the monument should say "The victims of Soviet occupation, rest in peace." Otherwise, the monument should be moved elsewhere.

However, the city administration did not support this proposal. Mayor of Tartu Urmas Kruuze opposed "starting a crusade against the monument, and thus creating tension in society." Estonia's Chief Inspector of the Department of the Protection of Monuments Myaesalu Alam said that the monument in the Raadi Park has artistic value, so "as an exhibit, it should remain in its present form." Over the past few years, many Soviet monuments in Estonia were vandalized. In some cases, nationalist appeals against these monuments were supported by local authorities. The worse case of this kind was the transfer of the monument to the fallen WWII Soviet soldiers and their graves from downtown Tallinn. The decision of the authorities to dismantle the monument and start early excavations at the site of the burial sparked riots in Estonia's capital.

Taking the page from their Japanese and South Korean counterparts, members of the Ukrainian Parliament started a big fight at the last day of their session. First, two members of the Regions Party wanted to prevent the Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn from leaving his office. The Speaker had to be escorted to the main hall by two security guards, especially trained for this sort of emergency. Then the fight moved into the conference room. The deputies belonging to the Regions Party tried to block Speaker's Podium, but Litvin entered not through the door - which was already barricaded with chairs - but through a secret entrance. As Litvin opened the meeting, he was immediately surrounded by representatives of the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, since the "Regionals" wanted to pull him down from his official chair. Failing to physically remove the Speaker, the Party of Regions then occupied parliament seats, preventing other MPs from speaking. The "Regionals" repeatedly disabled Speaker's microphone and damaged electronic voting system. No one was clear as to the cause of the fight, which ended as suddenly as it has begun. Ahhh, democracy in action....

July 18, 2009

Central & Eastern European Leaders' Open Letter to President Obama

A group of distinguished luminaries from Central & Eastern Europe penned an open letter to President Obama on the future of the Transatlantic relationship:

We welcome the "reset" of the American-Russian relations. As the countries living closest to Russia, obviously nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we do. But there is also nervousness in our capitals. We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. Today the concern is, for example, that the United States and the major European powers might embrace the Medvedev plan for a "Concert of Powers" to replace the continent's existing, value-based security structure. The danger is that Russia's creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region. There are differing views within the region when it comes to Moscow's new policies. But there is a shared view that the full engagement of the United States is needed.

The full text is below the jump.

We have written this letter because, as Central and Eastern European (CEE)
intellectuals and former policymakers, we care deeply about the future of
the transatlantic relationship as well as the future quality of relations
between the United States and the countries of our region. We write in our
personal capacity as individuals who are friends and allies of the United
States as well as committed Europeans.

Our nations are deeply indebted to the United States. Many of us know
firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was
during the dark Cold War years. U.S. engagement and support was essential
for the success of our democratic transitions after the Iron Curtain fell
twenty years ago. Without Washington's vision and leadership, it is doubtful
that we would be in NATO and even the EU today.

We have worked to reciprocate and make this relationship a two-way street.
We are Atlanticist voices within NATO and the EU. Our nations have been
engaged alongside the United States in the Balkans, Iraq, and today in
Afghanistan. While our contribution may at times seem modest compared to
your own, it is significant when measured as a percentage of our population
and GDP. Having benefited from your support for liberal democracy and
liberal values in the past, we have been among your strongest supporters
when it comes to promoting democracy and human rights around the world.

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, however, we see that Central and
Eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign
policy. As the new Obama Administration sets its foreign-policy priorities,
our region is one part of the world that Americans have largely stopped
worrying about. Indeed, at times we have the impression that U.S. policy was
so successful that many American officials have now concluded that our
region is fixed once and for all and that they could "check the box" and
move on to other more pressing strategic issues. Relations have been so
close that many on both sides assume that the region's transatlantic
orientation, as well as its stability and prosperity, would last forever.

That view is premature. All is not well either in our region or in the
transatlantic relationship. Central and Eastern Europe is at a political
crossroads and today there is a growing sense of nervousness in the region.
The global economic crisis is impacting on our region and, as elsewhere,
runs the risk that our societies will look inward and be less engaged with
the outside world. At the same time, storm clouds are starting to gather on
the foreign policy horizon. Like you, we await the results of the EU
Commission's investigation on the origins of the Russo-Georgian war. But the
political impact of that war on the region has already been felt. Many
countries were deeply disturbed to see the Atlantic alliance stand by as
Russia violated the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter
of Paris, and the territorial integrity of a country that was a member of
NATO's Partnership for Peace and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council -all
in the name of defending a sphere of influence on its borders.

Despite the efforts and significant contribution of the new members, NATO
today seems weaker than when we joined. In many of our countries it is
perceived as less and less relevant - and we feel it. Although we are full
members, people question whether NATO would be willing and able to come to
our defense in some future crises. Europe's dependence on Russian energy
also creates concern about the cohesion of the Alliance. President Obama's
remark at the recent NATO summit on the need to provide credible defense
plans for all Alliance members was welcome, but not sufficient to allay
fears about the Alliance´s defense readiness. Our ability to continue to
sustain public support at home for our contributions to Alliance missions
abroad also depends on us being able to show that our own security concerns
are being addressed in NATO and close cooperation with the United States

We must also recognize that America's popularity and influence have fallen
in many of our countries as well. Public opinions polls, including the
German Marshall Fund's own Transatlantic Trends survey, show that our region
has not been immune to the wave of criticism and anti-Americanism that has
swept Europe in recent years and which led to a collapse in sympathy and
support for the United States during the Bush years. Some leaders in the
region have paid a political price for their support of the unpopular war in
Iraq. In the future they may be more careful in taking political risks to
support the United States. We believe that the onset of a new Administration
has created a new opening to reverse this trend but it will take time and
work on both sides to make up for what we have lost.

In many ways the EU has become the major factor and institution in our
lives. To many people it seems more relevant and important today than the
link to the United States. To some degree it is a logical outcome of the
integration of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU. Our leaders and
officials spend much more time in EU meetings than in consultations with
Washington, where they often struggle to attract attention or make our
voices heard. The region's deeper integration in the EU is of course welcome
and should not necessarily lead to a weakening of the transatlantic
relationship. The hope was that integration of Central and Eastern Europe
into the EU would actually strengthen the strategic cooperation between
Europe and America.

However, there is a danger that instead of being a pro-Atlantic voice in the
EU, support for a more global partnership with Washington in the region
might wane over time. The region does not have the tradition of assuming a
more global role. Some items on the transatlantic agenda, such as climate
change, do not resonate in the Central and Eastern European publics to the
same extent as they do in Western Europe.

Leadership change is also coming in Central and Eastern Europe. Next to
those, there are fewer and fewer leaders who emerged from the revolutions of
1989 who experienced Washington's key role in securing our democratic
transition and anchoring our countries in NATO and EU. A new generation of
leaders is emerging who do not have these memories and follow a more
"realistic" policy. At the same time, the former Communist elites, whose
insistence on political and economic power significantly contributed to the
crises in many CEE countries, gradually disappear from the political scene.
The current political and economic turmoil and the fallout from the global
economic crisis provide additional opportunities for the forces of
nationalism, extremism, populism, and anti-Semitism across the continent but
also in some our countries.

This means that the United States is likely to lose many of its traditional
interlocutors in the region. The new elites replacing them may not share the
idealism - or have the same relationship to the United States - as the
generation who led the democratic transition. They may be more calculating
in their support of the United States as well as more parochial in their
world view. And in Washington a similar transition is taking place as many
of the leaders and personalities we have worked with and relied on are also
leaving politics.

And then there is the issue of how to deal with Russia. Our hopes that
relations with Russia would improve and that Moscow would finally fully
accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the
EU have not been fulfilled. Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power
pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods. At a
global level, Russia has become, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at
a regional level and vis-a-vis our nations, it increasingly acts as a
revisionist one. It challenges our claims to our own historical experiences.
It asserts a privileged position in determining our security choices. It
uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from energy
blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media
manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the
transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.

We welcome the "reset" of the American-Russian relations. As the countries
living closest to Russia, obviously nobody has a greater interest in the
development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow
and the West than we do. But there is also nervousness in our capitals. We
want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does
not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. Today the concern is, for
example, that the United States and the major European powers might embrace
the Medvedev plan for a "Concert of Powers" to replace the continent's
existing, value-based security structure. The danger is that Russia's
creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time
lead to a de facto neutralization of the region. There are differing views
within the region when it comes to Moscow's new policies. But there is a
shared view that the full engagement of the United States is needed.

Many in the region are looking with hope to the Obama Administration to
restore the Atlantic relationship as a moral compass for their domestic as
well as foreign policies. A strong commitment to common liberal democratic
values is essential to our countries. We know from our own historical
experience the difference between when the United States stood up for its
liberal democratic values and when it did not. Our region suffered when the
United States succumbed to "realism" at Yalta. And it benefited when the
United States used its power to fight for principle. That was critical
during the Cold War and in opening the doors of NATO. Had a "realist" view
prevailed in the early 1990s, we would not be in NATO today and the idea of
a Europe whole, free, and at peace would be a distant dream.

We understand the heavy demands on your Administration and on U.S. foreign
policy. It is not our intent to add to the list of problems you face.
Rather, we want to help by being strong Atlanticist allies in a
U.S.-European partnership that is a powerful force for good around the
world. But we are not certain where our region will be in five or ten years
time given the domestic and foreign policy uncertainties we face. We need to
take the right steps now to ensure the strong relationship between the
United States and Central and Eastern Europe over the past twenty years will

We believe this is a time both the United States and Europe need to reinvest
in the transatlantic relationship. We also believe this is a time when the
United States and Central and Eastern Europe must reconnect around a new and
forward-looking agenda. While recognizing what has been achieved in the
twenty years since the fall of the Iron Curtain, it is time to set a new
agenda for close cooperation for the next twenty years across the Atlantic.

Therefore, we propose the following steps:

First, we are convinced that America needs Europe and that Europe needs the
United States as much today as in the past. The United States should
reaffirm its vocation as a European power and make clear that it plans to
stay fully engaged on the continent even while it faces the pressing
challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the wider Middle East, and Asia. For
our part we must work at home in our own countries and in Europe more
generally to convince our leaders and societies to adopt a more global
perspective and be prepared to shoulder more responsibility in partnership
with the United States.

Second, we need a renaissance of NATO as the most important security link
between the United States and Europe. It is the only credible hard power
security guarantee we have. NATO must reconfirm its core function of
collective defense even while we adapt to the new threats of the 21st
century. A key factor in our ability to participate in NATO's expeditionary
missions overseas is the belief that we are secure at home. We must
therefore correct some self-inflicted wounds from the past. It was a mistake
not to commence with proper Article 5 defense planning for new members after
NATO was enlarged. NATO needs to make the Alliance's commitments credible
and provide strategic reassurance to all members. This should include
contingency planning, prepositioning of forces, equipment, and supplies for
reinforcement in our region in case of crisis as originally envisioned in
the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

We should also re-think the working of the NATO-Russia Council and return to
the practice where NATO member countries enter into dialogue with Moscow
with a coordinated position. When it comes to Russia, our experience has
been that a more determined and principled policy toward Moscow will not
only strengthen the West's security but will ultimately lead Moscow to
follow a more cooperative policy as well. Furthermore, the more secure we
feel inside NATO, the easier it will also be for our countries to reach out
to engage Moscow on issues of common interest. That is the dual track
approach we need and which should be reflected in the new NATO strategic

Third, the thorniest issue may well be America's planned missile-defense
installations. Here too, there are different views in the region, including
among our publics which are divided. Regardless of the military merits of
this scheme and what Washington eventually decides to do, the issue has
nevertheless also become -- at least in some countries -- a symbol of
America's credibility and commitment to the region. How it is handled could
have a significant impact on their future transatlantic orientation. The
small number of missiles involved cannot be a threat to Russia's strategic
capabilities, and the Kremlin knows this. We should decide the future of the
program as allies and based on the strategic plusses and minuses of the
different technical and political configurations. The Alliance should not
allow the issue to be determined by unfounded Russian opposition. Abandoning
the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting
Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United
States across the whole region.

Fourth, we know that NATO alone is not enough. We also want and need more
Europe and a better and more strategic U.S.-EU relationship as well.
Increasingly our foreign policies are carried out through the European Union
- and we support that. We also want a common European foreign and defense
policy that is open to close cooperation with the United States. We are the
advocates of such a line in the EU. But we need the United States to rethink
its attitude toward the EU and engage it much more seriously as a strategic
partner. We need to bring NATO and the EU closer together and make them work
in tandem. We need common NATO and EU strategies not only toward Russia but
on a range of other new strategic challenges.

Fifth is energy security. The threat to energy supplies can exert an
immediate influence on our nations' political sovereignty also as allies
contributing to common decisions in NATO. That is why it must also become a
transatlantic priority. Although most of the responsibility for energy
security lies within the realm of the EU, the United States also has a role
to play. Absent American support, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline would
never have been built. Energy security must become an integral part of
U.S.-European strategic cooperation. Central and Eastern European countries
should lobby harder (and with more unity) inside Europe for diversification
of the energy mix, suppliers, and transit routes, as well as for tough legal
scrutiny of Russia's abuse of its monopoly and cartel-like power inside the
EU. But American political support on this will play a crucial role.
Similarly, the United States can play an important role in solidifying
further its support for the Nabucco pipeline, particularly in using its
security relationship with the main transit country, Turkey, as well as the
North-South interconnector of Central Europe and LNG terminals in our

Sixth, we must not neglect the human factor. Our next generations need to
get to know each other, too. We have to cherish and protect the multitude of
educational, professional, and other networks and friendships that underpin
our friendship and alliance. The U.S. visa regime remains an obstacle in
this regard. It is absurd that Poland and Romania -- arguably the two
biggest and most pro-American states in the CEE region, which are making
substantial contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan -- have not yet been
brought into the visa waiver program. It is incomprehensible that a critic
like the French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove does not require a
visa for the United States but former Solidarity activist and Nobel Peace
prizewinner Lech Walesa does. This issue will be resolved only if it is made
a political priority by the President of the United States.

The steps we made together since 1989 are not minor in history. The common
successes are the proper foundation for the transatlantic renaissance we
need today. This is why we believe that we should also consider the creation
of a Legacy Fellowship for young leaders. Twenty years have passed since the
revolutions of 1989. That is a whole generation. We need a new generation to
renew the transatlantic partnership. A new program should be launched to
identify those young leaders on both sides of the Atlantic who can carry
forward the transatlantic project we have spent the last two decades
building in Central and Eastern Europe.

In conclusion, the onset of a new Administration in the United States has
raised great hopes in our countries for a transatlantic renewal. It is an
opportunity we dare not miss. We, the authors of this letter, know firsthand
how important the relationship with the United States has been. In the
1990s, a large part of getting Europe right was about getting Central and
Eastern Europe right. The engagement of the United States was critical to
locking in peace and stability from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Today the
goal must be to keep Central and Eastern Europe right as a stable, activist,
and Atlanticist part of our broader community.

That is the key to our success in bringing about the renaissance in the
Alliance the Obama Administration has committed itself to work for and which
we support. That will require both sides recommitting to and investing in
this relationship. But if we do it right, the pay off down the road can be
very real. By taking the right steps now, we can put it on new and solid
footing for the future.

Valdas Adamkus - Former President of the Republic of Lithuania
Martin Butora - Former Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the United States
Emil Constantinescu - Former President of the Republic of Romania
Pavol Demes - Former Minister of International Relations and Advisor to the President, Slovak Republic
Lubos Dobrovsky - Former Defense Minister of the Czech Republic, former Ambassador to Russia
Matyas Eorsi - Former Secretary of State of the Hungarian MFA
Istvan Gyarmati - Ambassador, President of the International Centre for Democratic Transition in Budapest
Vaclav Havel - Former President of the Czech Republic
Rastislav Kacer - Former Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the United States
Sandra Kalniete - Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia
Karel Schwarzenberg - Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Czech Republic
Michal Kovac - Former President of the Slovak Republic
Ivan Krastev - Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria
Alexander Kwasniewski - Former President of the Republic of Poland
Mart Laar - Former Prime Minister of Estonia
Kadri Liik - Director of the International Centre for Defense Studies in Tallinn, Estonia
Janos Martonyi - Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hungary
Janusz Onyszkiewicz - Former Vice-president of the European Parliament, former Defense Minister, Poland
Adam Rotfeld - Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Poland
Alexandr Vondra - Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, Czech Republic
Vaira Vike-Freiberga - Former President of the Republic Latvia
Lech Walesa - Former President of the Republic of Poland

U.S. and Israel Grow Apart


Foreign Policy's David Rothkopf is worried about the drift in U.S.-Israeli relations:

Clearly this is a relationship in flux at a time when the stakes are high all around. And while there are no doubt many in the U.S. (and in the FP audience) who welcome the apparent changes, be careful what you wish for. One does not achieve "balance" in the U.S.-Israel relationship by off-setting the perceived "pro-Israel" slant of the past with a broadly "anti-Israel" stance today. Indeed, as any realist will tell you, we don't need balance for balance's sake. We need what will work to advance U.S. national interests.

The first thing to note about this is that there isn't a "perceived" pro-Israel slant in American policy. There is an objective pro-Israel slant. There's nothing wrong with that per-se, but it's important to emphasize that it's not a function of perception. It's the reality.

It's a further disservice to this debate to characterize those who want to recalibrate America's relationship with Israel as being "broadly anti-Israel." That sets up a convenient false choice: either you're a defender of the current "pro-Israel" status quo or you're throwing Israel under the bus. But surely there's a middle ground between the current status quo and a policy that could honestly be called "anti-Israel."

What's more, while I think Rothkopf is correct that the Israelis are not going to be in the mood to make concessions for peace if the U.S. is starting to take a less accommodating stance toward them, that's Israel's problem, not ours. They have to live with the Palestinians. If the Israelis want to "naturally" grow their settlements, let them. If the Palestinians want to wage war on Israel, or continue to make demands which the Israelis have repeatedly said they will not accede to, let them.

They have to live there, not us.

July 17, 2009

Indonesia: Democracy & Terror


It's only a coincidence that former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has an op-ed out today extolling the virtues of Indonesia's "Muslim democracy" when the country suffers a serious terrorist attack. But this coincidence does underscore the problematic nature of linking the advance of democracy to the defeat of Islamic terrorism - a linkage that Wolfowitz himself was a proponent of.

Photo credit: AP Photos

Rafsanjani Makes His Move


The most important takeaway message from Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani's Friday sermon in Iran today is that the regime now faces one of the most important crisis since the inception of the Islamic Republic.

This is in direct contrast to President Ahmadinejad, who has dismissed the events as marginal and minor incidents. By using the word 'crisis' in front of millions of Iranians, Rafsanjani's biggest target was Ali Khamenei. Sending a direct message to the Supreme Leader, Rafsanjani made it clear that unless a solution suitable for both sides is found, the situation will continue, and this could be dangerous.

His warning was backed up by an example about the Shah, about whom he said “it was the presence of people on the streets which broke the back of arrogant Shah's regime."

Looking for Leverage

By calling for the release of imprisoned protesters, Rafsanjani is hoping that the demonstrators will see him as their backer, and therefore, that they should continue demonstrating. This is the most critical part of his strategy, to align himself with the people on the streets and to bring out as many people as possible. This is most probably why he came close to tears when he calling for their release. Everyone knows that Rafsanjani himself does not have a good human rights record. In fact, during his own presidency he was responsible for the murder of some prominent reformists in the late 90s, in what became known as the “Chain Murders." However, the wave of arrests after the recent elections has made him look less brutal, and now he wants to use this in order to improve his bargaining position vis-a-vis Khamenei. It must be noted that this is not about regime change, but rather, about leverage to be used in a domestic balance of power politics. Rafsanjani knows very well that if the regime goes, so will his own political standing as well his multimillion dollar empire. All he is looking for is a stronger hand.

Reinforcing The Clergy

Another target audience for Rafsanjani was the clergy. "The term Islamic Republic," noted Rafsanjani, "is not a ceremonial title. It is both a republic and Islamic." Both "have to be together. If one is damaged, then we will no longer have a revolution and an Islamic Republic." Rafsanjani knows that many clergy feel left out, and the fact that Khamenei has been taking economic and political power away from them has been interpreted as an assault against the very Islamic institutions which started the revolution. The clergy also feel bitter because the revolution was not brought about by the Revolutionary Guards. They came after the clergy struggled for many years in their mosques to bring Islam into Iranian politics. They feel that Iran under Khamenei is relying less and less on its Islamic institutions, especially when it comes to making important decisions. The clergy feel that after the recent elections, decision making is based less on consensus (i.e., involving them), as Khomeini had intended for the Islamic revolution.


The overall goal of Rafsanjani's speech today was first and foremost to increase his own power base, and his own hand. This was done in a careful manner. Unlike Ahmadinejad, he did not accuse anyone of corruption; though he certainly could have. He tried to stick to the matter at hand, that being the demonstrations, with the hope that legitimacy can return to the current system.

Ayatollah Khamenei once said that the Islamic Republic is like a bird -- It needs two wings to fly. Khamenei and Mousavi are important part of its left-wing. Although the Supreme Leader has veered to the right recently, he should not amputate his regime's other wing. Rather, he should return to a steady course. Today, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani offered him an opening to do precisely that.

Photo credit: AP Photos.

Poll: Likud Remains Popular

As President Obama tilts at the Middle East peace windmill, polls out of Israel shows Likud remains popular:

A prospective tally of seats shows that the Likud party would get 29 seats in the next election to the Knesset.

Kadima is second with 23 seats, followed by Israel Our Home (Yisrael Beiteinu) with 16, the International Organization of Torah-observant Sephardic Jews (Shas) with 12, Labour with 10, Yahadut Hatorah (United Torah Judaism) with six, Vitality-Together (Meretz-Yachad) with five, and both Jewish Home (Habayit Hayehudi) and National Union (HaIhud HaLeumi) with four. The Arab parties would get 11 seats in the Knesset.

As committed as the Obama administration may be to make peace, at the end of the day it's going to be up to both parties to buy in. Support for Likud doesn't automatically translate into a lack of support for the peace process, but it does suggest that pressuring Netanyahu (who himself is holding up OK in the polls) may not be the best way to bring Israel along.

Photo credit: AP Photos.

All Eyes on Rafsanjani


Ali Rafsanjani lead Friday prayers in Iran, raising questions as to whether he'll give a boost to the reformers or simply cover his hide. Kareem Sadjadpour:

On the one hand, this election was a tremendous personal affront to him. He and his family were publicly maligned by Ahmadinejad during the campaign, who accused them of being not only corrupt but also traitors to the revolution. His children were harassed, and in some cases, briefly imprisoned. I have no doubt he has tremendous personal disdain not only for Ahmadinejad, but also for Khamenei. Certainly this has to do with power and greed, but there are also pronounced differences in their world-views.

On the other hand, the continued survival of the regime has always been paramount for Rafsanjani. He’s always seen himself as one of the protectors of the revolution and doesn’t want to take action that could hasten the demise of the entire Islamic system. In the past he has tended to tread carefully in his public statements about domestic politics, while continuing to operate behind the scenes.

But this Friday is probably the most important speech of his career. He’s nearly 75 years old, and his legacy has always been important to him. If he complains about personal slights and electoral improprieties but submits to the will of the Leader ‘for the sake of the ‘glorious revolution’,’ history will remember him not only as a crook but also a coward. I’ve learned to have low expectations of the courage and integrity of Iranian officials, and hope that I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I'm not a close student of Iranian politics, but I've learned that low expectations are always the way to go.

Update: Nico Pitney cobbled together a rough take on the speech through various sources.

Update II: Protests erupted after prayers.

Photo credit: AP Photos

July 16, 2009

Venezuela and Cocaine

Corruption at the Venezuelan National Guard, which controls "Venezuela's airports, borders and ports" and answers only to Chávez, among the reasons why Venezuelan cocaine trans-shipments have soared more than fourfold from 2003 to 2007:


U.S. Slams Caracas on Drugs

Venezuela is fast becoming a major hub for cocaine trafficking in the Western Hemisphere, according to a report written by the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress. The report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office is sure to raise tensions between Venezuela and the U.S. at a delicate moment in the two countries' often testy relations. ...

"A high level of corruption within the Venezuelan government, military and other law enforcement and security forces contributes to the permissive environment," says the report, scheduled to be released this month. Many of the drug shipments come from Colombian "illegal armed groups" such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the report says, which the Venezuelan government provides with "a lifeline" of support and a haven within Venezuela. FARC is a communist guerrilla group.

Regular readers of The Compass blog may remember that I have posted in the past on how Chávez offers sanctuary to FARC leaders.

In addition,

The biggest problem: corruption of Venezuelan officials at all levels, according to the report. Corruption within the Venezuelan National Guard "poses the most significant threat," the report says, because the "Guard reports directly to President Chávez and controls Venezuela's airports, borders and ports." In some cases, the report says, drugs captured by the National Guard and Venezuela's Investigative Police, who are often themselves involved in drug trafficking, aren't destroyed, but are taken by the officials or returned to drug traffickers.
As you may recall last March I posted on the Venezuelan military takeover of the country's major airport and maritime hubs.

The WSJ article also points out Chávez's involvement in Honduran politics and his support of ousted president Mel Zelaya, adding,

In the past few years, drug trafficking through Honduras has risen sharply, with many shipments of cocaine arriving in flights from Venezuela on their way to Mexico and the U.S., say officials in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.
Back in 2006 I was saying
Hugo [Chávez] needs money for financing his “Bolivarian Revolution”, i.e., his desire to control all of Latin America’s politics. For that he needs money. A huge amount of money. The drug trade is one source.
And he's not going to stop.

You can read the GAO report here.

Deconstructing Hillary


Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, Hillary Clinton laid out the Obama administration's approach to American leadership:

The same forces that compound our problems - economic interdependence, open borders, and the speedy movement of information, capital, goods, services and people - are also part of the solution. And with more states facing common challenges, we have the chance, and a profound responsibility, to exercise American leadership to solve problems in concert with others. That is the heart of America's mission in the world today....

The question is not whether our nation can or should lead, but how it will lead in the 21st century. Rigid ideologies and old formulas don't apply. We need a new mindset about how America will use its power to safeguard our nation, expand shared prosperity, and help more people in more places live up to their God-given potential.

President Obama has led us to think outside the usual boundaries. He has launched a new era of engagement based on common interests, shared values, and mutual respect. Going forward, capitalizing on America's unique strengths, we must advance those interests through partnership, and promote universal values through the power of our example and the empowerment of people. In this way, we can forge the global consensus required to defeat the threats, manage the dangers, and seize the opportunities of the 21st century. America will always be a world leader as long as we remain true to our ideals and embrace strategies that match the times. So we will exercise American leadership to build partnerships and solve problems that no nation can solve on its own, and we will pursue policies to mobilize more partners and deliver results.

Given the venue, one wonders if she hasn't been cribbing from Leslie Gelb. It sure sounds like it.

The challenge with the Clinton/Obama approach isn't that it will fail, but that any successes will be so modest that they'll easily be lampooned as failures. It will be success of the lowest common denominator variety, which doesn't sit comfortably within the historical framework of "American leadership."

I think that Clinton is correct to argue that the U.S. can only lead if others will follow, but we need to be realistic about what this means. When the world was confronted with the unambiguous threat of Soviet tanks in Eastern Europe, it rallied. But even then there were fractious disputes among allied powers. Turning to contemporary issues, we have seen time and again that the so-called global threats of proliferation, climate change, terrorism and disease simply do not galvanize the world to rally behind America's preferred solutions.

Give that, as Clinton noted, most of these major global problems cannot be solved by the U.S. alone, it will become increasingly necessary to simply accept that the low bar of consensus solutions is going to be the rule, not the exception, and then spell out a subset of interests that cannot be sacrificed on the altar of global consensus.


Photo credit: AP Photos

July 15, 2009

"There is growing uneasiness as to the course of affairs in Afghanistan."

The Irish Times reprints an editorial from 1880.

Great Headlines of the Day

Both courtesy of the National Post:

France's 'relatively calm' Bastille Day: Just 500 cars torched

In China, Madoff would be executed 2000 times.

Obama, The Cold War and American Exceptionalism

Pejman Yousefzadeh returns to Liz Cheney's case against Obama's Cold War revisionism:

Of course, no one thinks that Barack Obama is not a patriot, but it is not patriotism that is at issue here. Rather, the issue is the power of rhetoric and the degree to which the President–ironically, well-known for being an excellent rhetorician–is not using the power of rhetoric to advance American values and ideals, or to convince the rest of the international community of America’s indispensable and exceptional status amongst nations.

I think this goes back to the point David Calleo was making (and the case that Doug Bandow from Cato makes here) that it's no longer in America's strategic interests to convince the world we're "exceptional" and "indispensable." It made sense during the Cold War, when we had to keep nations in our orbit. But is it really in America's interest to continue underwriting global security, when there is no longer a threat to world security even remotely on par with Soviet Communism and even as our own balance sheet sags under the enormous weight of debt?

Relatedly, RCP contributor Cathy Young takes to the virtual pages of the New Republic to defend Obama's speech in Moscow from Liz Cheney.

Photo credit: AP Photos

The Gums of War

Here's one for the conspiracy theory fans:

Hamas suspects that Israeli intelligence services are supplying its Gaza Strip stronghold with chewing gum that boosts the sex drive in order to "corrupt the young," an official has said.

I don't think the young need gum for this.

July 14, 2009

Is Obama Managing American Decline?

David Calleo writes:

Thus, despite all his talent and vision, Obama is unlikely to lead us back to the glory days of the Cold War. His fate is to guide the nation through a painful adjustment to a more plural world. His best strategy will be to lead the U.S. away from an isolated and militarized pursuit of global hegemony. This will be the right policy for us as an overextended nation, but doubtless will be intensely criticized at home. Abroad, it will also disappoint the comfortable expectations of those who expect Obama's America to reaffirm its role of deus ex machina in charge of world order. With luck, however, Obama may prove the president needed for our times: one who can bring America back to balance while inducing all the world's great powers to join in a concert to define and pursue their collective responsibilities and interests. [emphasis mine]

I suspect President Obama would have an easier time paring back America's overseas commitments if he approached America's domestic budgetary over-extension with the same sense of urgency.

In this vain, Stephen Walt offers up some lessons he's gleaned from his summer reading on the British Empire:

Britain's leaders fretted constantly about any erosion in their image of superiority, fearing that one or two setbacks might lead their subjects to rise up or encourage other great powers to poach on Britain’s holdings. As a result, Britons found themselves fighting to defend marginal possessions in order to preserve their position in the places they believed mattered. Ironically, the refusal to liquidate far-flung commitments early so as to focus resources on more vital interests may have hastened Britain's imperial decline.

I suspect future historians will look back on America's obsession with the Middle East in much the same way. In thirty years, will the Middle East matter more to the lives of Americans than Asia?

The Shake Up in Japan

Dan Twining writes about the political tsunami nearing Japan:

In the event of an LDP loss next month, the Obama administration will be forced to grapple in the near term with the DPJ's pledge to renegotiate the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that has governed the terms of the U.S. troop presence in Japan since 1960. As part of these discussions, Japan will insist on renegotiating the way the two countries share the cost of the U.S. military presence in Japan. DPJ leaders argue that the current formula, in which Japan funds the garrisoning of U.S. forces because they are there to protect Japan, must be rebalanced. This is not the message American taxpayers will want to hear.

The DPJ also wants to further reduce the footprint of U.S. troops in Okinawa, particularly with regard to military and training operations from Futenma air base. Putting the closure or relocation of Futenma at the top of the U.S.-Japan security agenda -- after years of painful negotiations toward an acceptable compromise between American and Japanese counterparts -- risks reopening a raw wound in the alliance. At a time of grave security challenges to Japan stemming from ongoing North Korean missile launches and China's aggressive military buildup next door, a public spat over U.S. basing arrangements in Okinawa risks sending the wrong message to Japan's adversaries.

I don't pretend to be an expert on U.S.-Japanese relations, so here's what I don't understand. Why do we presume to know the correct remedy to the "grave security challenges" facing the Japanese?

And if the Japanese want us to pony up more money to pay for bases on their territory which are in place ostensibly to defend Japan, why shouldn't we bow to their wishes and lower our footprint? It would seem odd indeed for President Obama to argue that the U.S. needs to go even deeper in debt to underwrite the security of Japan when the Japanese no longer want to pay for the privilege and are in any event insisting we downsize.

Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso. Photo Credit: AP Photos

The Roots of Radicalism

Robert Wright picks up on a theme raised yesterday about the religious underpinnings of terrorism:

The Israeli and American right join Dawkins in stressing religious motivation in the Middle East, and there's a reason for that. The people there whose political grievances are most conspicuously caught up with religion are Muslims. If the problem is that Muslims are possessed by this irrational, quasi-autonomous force known as religion, then there's no point in trying to reason with them, or to look at any facts on the ground that might drive their discontent. And there are facts on the ground in the West Bank that the Israeli and American right don't want to talk about. They're called settlements.

And so too with discontent throughout the Muslim world: If religion is the wellspring of radicalism, why bother paying attention to any issues in the actual material world? Why, for example, would you do what President Obama has done, and address a longstanding Iranian grievance by admitting that the US played a role in a 1953 coups that replaced Iran's democratically elected leader with a dictator?

As a practical policy matter, it makes more sense for the U.S. and the West in general to focus on the material/political grievances rather than the religious zealotry simply because we can only impact the former, not the latter. There isn't much we can do to convince a wild-eyed jihadist that his religion does not compel him (or her) to murder Jews and infidels. But we can address the political context in which this violence operates.

[Hat tip: Matthew Yglesias]

July 13, 2009

Killing Terrorists Enjoys Bipartisan Support


To return briefly to Liz Cheney for a moment. Yesterday she suggested that Democrats are "uncomfortable" with the idea of killing al Qaeda terrorists. "I think they really are uncomfortable with the notion that we have to capture and kill al-Qaeda," she said.

Cheney goes onto say that much of this discomfort stems from their desire to treat terrorism as a law enforcement matter and not as an act of war.

I think there is an element of truth in this, at least insofar as it concerns Congressional Democrats and insofar as it relates to the legal framework of the war (or non-war) on terror.

However, Cheney's charge collapses at the level of executive branch Democrats who have, since President Clinton, shown a willingness to use lethal force against al Qaeda (the effectiveness of said force is another matter). President Clinton let fly with several cruise missile salvos against bin Laden when he was in office. Under President Obama, there has been a serious expansion of Predator Drone attacks in Pakistan that are, as the Wall Street Journal approvingly editorialized, killing a lot of terrorists.

I'd also note that the U.S. killed a large number of terrorists inside Iraq from 2003-2006 without making a noticeable dent in the insurgency. It was only until Iraqi's Sunni population decided they hated al Qaeda more than us that we began to make serious inroads. The notion that it's about wracking up a body count is belied by the success of the surge - a success that conservatives like Liz Cheney have been eager to embrace.

Photo credit: AP Photos

Russian Investment Boosts Facebook Value

This is one of those zen moments when you say to yourself - I wish I had invested in this venture back in the day ... Add a bit of globalization, and you have a powerful mix - Russian money invested in what is arguably one of the flagship industries of the Western world. Russia's Digital Sky Technologies said it will pay $14.77 a share for Facebook common stock, boosting its stake to as much as 3.5 percent and valuing the world's largest online social network at about $6.5 billion.

More from Yahoo Tech news: While that is below the $10 billion valuation set by Digital Sky's May investment in Facebook, which was for preferred shares, investors have been valuing the social network's common stock at less than $5 billion in secondary markets in recent weeks.

Digital Sky, a Russian investment firm, bought $200 million worth of preferred shares in Facebook in May and said it would buy another $100 million worth of common shares from Facebook employees and ex-employees.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Digital Sky will pay $14.77 per common share. A representative for Digital Sky confirmed the terms, and said the tender offer begins on Monday and runs through August.

Liz Cheney On Obama & the Cold War


Liz Cheney takes to the Wall Street Journal to denounce President Obama's speech in Moscow:

The basis of the Cold War was not "competition in astrophysics and athletics." It was a global battle between tyranny and freedom. The Soviet "sphere of influence" was delineated by walls and barbed wire and tanks and secret police to prevent people from escaping. America was an unmatched force for good in the world during the Cold War. The Soviets were not. The Cold War ended not because the Soviets decided it should but because they were no match for the forces of freedom and the commitment of free nations to defend liberty and defeat Communism.

It is irresponsible for an American president to go to Moscow and tell a room full of young Russians less than the truth about how the Cold War ended.

I agree that President Obama gave a highly sanitized version of the Cold War. But if Liz Cheney were President, would she stand before a lecture hall full of young Russians and tell them that their country was engaged in brutal repression at home and abroad and that they should be deeply ashamed of themselves and that they should forever go forth into the world carrying the heavy moral baggage of their Communist history?

And what would such a speech accomplish, other than alienating these young Russians?

I'm very doubtful that the president's solicitousness is going to truly transform America's relationship with the rest of the world or meaningfully advance international cooperation on the thorny issues like Iran and North Korea. But the conservative criticism of this approach is unmoored from any serious suggestion of an alternative. Other than giving us a momentary frisson of self-righteousness, what would denouncing Russia in Russia in front of young, impressionable Russians, actually accomplish?

Jihad: Made in America

The New York Times has a worrisome story about several young Somali-Americans who traveled back home to fight with the Islamic Courts Union against the provisional government of Somalia.

This passage is key:

While Somali nationalism had initially driven the men, a friend said, their cause eventually took on a religious cast. They became convinced that Somalia’s years of bloodshed were punishment from God for straying from Islam, the friend said. The answer was to restore the Caliphate, or Islamic rule.

“They saw it as their duty to go and fight,” the friend said. “If it was just nationalism, they could give money. But religion convinced them to sacrifice their whole life.”

There is a tendency in the U.S. to treat the interplay of these two forces - nationalism and religious fervor - as distinct when discussing the threat from radical Islam. Realists and many liberals tend to dismiss the religious underpinnings of terrorism and focus on the political drivers, while neoconservatives tend to dismiss the political drivers and focus only on religious radicalism. But it's impossible to really divorce the two.

July 12, 2009

Post-Obama Russia Gets Back to Basics

Russian political establishment is musing over what has and has not been accomplished at past week's summit. Colonel-General (Ret.) Leonid Ivashov, Vice-President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, spoke to daily "Vglyad," insisting that interpretations of what the parties called "breakthroughs" and "steps to compromise" will vary greatly for the Americans and Russians.

Ivashov stated that the signing of a Framework Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms agreement "... was better than we expected. We feared that in the framework agreement each side would be allowed only 1,000 warheads, which would not be beneficial for us. The accepted bilateral communiqué demonstrates that a compromise was found between the administration of the Russian President, government and military community, with all sides is realizing that we must not achieve rock-bottom in numbers of armaments when it comes to these agreements."

On the allowed transit of American military transports bound for Afghanistan, Ivashov stated that: "... for us, this agreement is the continuation of previously chosen policy. After the tragedy of September 11, and under the emotional perception of attacks on the Twin Towers, we succumbed to the temptation to help America and accepted the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. And today, we are still tied to this commitment. As for how we will be affected as the country of transit of American goods, depends only on us - or under what conditions we will sign this agreement. In addition, this kind of an agreement must be followed by reciprocal steps. We provide the transit - so, Americans should limit the number of drugs that are entering Russia and CIS from northern Afghanistan, and to ensure that Taliban would not appear on the borders of our allies. Americans should also think about revising their attitudes towards Georgia. If we would be able to reach a number of such compromises, then for us, this Afghan transit issue will be very beneficial."

Asked whether Moscow shows solidarity to Washington on Pyongyang's and Tehran's nuclear programs by promising efforts to fight against nuclear proliferation and suppressing the activity of "nuclear" terrorists, Ivashov answered: "Thus-stated official language is an error of our foreign policy line -or maybe this is where we chose to compromise. The fact remains: neither Iran's nor North Korea's nuclear program is a threat to us. In both cases, these are bilateral conflicts. Iran conflicts with Israel, which has a capable nuclear capability. And North Korea is not satisfied with the presence of American nuclear weapons in South Korea. Its not worth it for us to intervene in these conflicts - they pose no threats to Russia. Moreover, both problems can be solved quite simply. Americans need to withdraw their tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea. And Israel should start the process of nuclear disarmament, or at least put its nuclear weapons under strict international control. After that, the problem of Pyongyang or Tehran will be off the table. And talking about the creation of a joint missile defense is absurd - we can put our money to better uses."

When asked what negotiating tactics work best with Americans, Ivashov remembered: "I sat a lot at the negotiating table with the Americans. And I can tell you: they do not react to any emotions, to any smiles. For them, there is only a factor of balance of forces and interests. When we created a new R-36M "Voevoda" missile, which they dubbed «Satan», Americans understood that they have nothing to oppose such a weapon. It could carry 24 warheads and 40 false targets. It was impossible to intercept. This missile was sufficient to cause a collapse of the United States and thus bring them to the negotiating table. When they see that we are quickly advancing in certain developments, they propose - let's stop and retreat to the original positions. So if we do not find solid arguments in politics or military strategy, the Americans will not negotiate with us on anything."

Russia is still working on entering the World Trade Organization, something that has been denied to it by the United States since the collapse of USSR in 1991. Currently, Russia is trying to create a Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Last month, Russia proposed that all three countries enter WTO as a block, but the idea faced massive criticism overseas and in Russia proper. Recently, President Dmitry Medvedev said that it was "more realistic" for Russia to seek WTO entry on its own. He added that Russia will discuss entry conditions with Belarus and Kazakh representatives of the Customs Union: "It is possible, by agreeing on some common standards and positions within the Customs Union troika, to act unilaterally, which, in my opinion, is simpler and more realistic, but subject, of course, to certain the rights and interests of other parties."

Controversial Russian ambassador to Georgia has been reassigned as ambassador to neighboring Republic of Armenia. Vyacheslav Kovalenko represented Russian Federation in Georgia from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that he held the post in Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs that dealt with former Soviet states.

Kovalenko's stay in Tbilisi was accompanied by a number of scandals related to Russia-Georgia conflict, as well as affected by his own actions. In September 2007, he was summoned to the Georgian Foreign Ministry for explanations in connection with his speech at a conference organized by the Foundation of Unity of Russian and Georgian Peoples. Back then, Russian Ambassador then reportedly stated: "You, the Georgians, are now only three million people, you have become a relic and an endangered people. Russia will be able to overcome its demographic difficulties, but you, Georgians, cannot not deal with this problem, you will vanish." Later, the Russian Embassy acknowledged that "this sentence was indeed pronounced," but that it has been allegedly "wrongly interpreted" by journalists and "taken out of context."

In September 2006, Kovalenko was recalled from Tbilisi, when Georgia detained several Russian servicemen on charges of espionage. The servicemen were later released, and the Russian side responded to their detention by winding down diplomatic contacts and launching economic sanctions against the republic, moreover, Russia also responded with an anti-Georgian campaign across the country Part of the sanctions were later lifted, and the Russian Ambassador returned to Tbilisi in February 2007.

Vyacheslav Kovalenko finally left Georgia in September 2008, after the Russian-Georgian war that was followed by official severance of diplomatic relations between two countries. Russian Embassy in Tbilisi and Georgian Embassy in Moscow are not currently working, and consular functions for the citizens of both countries are done the Russian and Georgian sections in the Embassies of Switzerland.

July 11, 2009

Would the GOP Turn on Afghanistan?


Stephen Biddle has a must-read article in the current issue of the American Interest examining whether the war in Afghanistan is worth the costs. He concludes that it is, barely. But since this is a blog, let's pull out one the one questionable passage shall we:

The coming Afghanistan debate is unlikely to get as vitriolic as the one over in Iraq in 2006–07. That affair erupted from a potent mix of partisanship and anger at perceived deceit, and so is unlikely to recur. But the political problems the new antiwar movement will pose for Obama could actually be harder to overcome than those the Iraq opposition posed for Bush. After all, Bush was able to circle the wagons, rally his base, and push an unpopular position through Congress by holding the Republican Party together, thereby forcing congressional Democrats to either unite behind a different approach to Iraq or acquiesce in Republican policies. Democrats chose the latter, giving President Bush the freedom to conduct the war as he wished.

Obama, by contrast, heads a Democratic Party that is already divided on the Afghan war and likely to grow more so over time. He also faces a series of domestic crises that will require him to spend political capital in order to win support for his governing agenda. Republicans have shown little willingness to cooperate on anything else, and the Administration’s new ownership of the Afghanistan war gives the GOP another opportunity to retreat into opposition as the news from the front gets worse. Obama could face a situation in which a bipartisan antiwar coalition threatens the majority he will need to maintain funding for an increasingly unpopular war.

Does this sound plausible to you? The Republicans have spent an awful long time attacking the Democrats on their withdrawal proposals for Iraq. I would think it would be hard for them to suddenly pivot and demand a withdrawal from Afghanistan. But politics is a funny business and Republicans may suddenly rediscover their well founded skepticism of nation building. Unfortunately, it will be many years too late.

Photo credit: AP Photos

High Crime Rates in Russian Army

Responding to official reports that officer-committed crimes in the Russian Army have reached a 10-year high, Gennady Gudkov, Assistant to the Chairman of the Duma Security Committee, told daily "Vzglyad" that no one should be surprised at this outcome: "The number of young officer who refuse to continue their military service, is increasing."

Gudkov stated that "Unfortunately, general military reforms undertaken by the government do not solve the main tasks: improving the quality of the officer corps and improving the general living conditions of our officers. It is sad but true.

... And today we are faced with the fact that we had to face for a while: the deterioration of the quality of the officer corps. This happened because the Army has long been neglected. All these recent years we have fought for an increase in military spending, I have twice made requests to the State Duma with a bill that would establish the best ceiling of expenditure on armaments and to the army in the amount of 3.5% of GDP. And all the time I was faced with resistance from within the Russian Federation Government, especially from the Ministry of Finance. We were always being told that everything is great and the Army is improving. As a result, today we see that the recovery is heading entirely in the wrong direction."

In answering a question about physical assaults by officers of their subordibnates, Gudkov commented: "The Army has remained 'made up of workers and peasants' in the worst sense of the word, including, let's speak frankly, the make-up of the officer corps. There is an erosion of quality of personnel in the Army ranks. I do not want to offend all: there are many honest, smart, intelligent, competent officers, but they do not have enough authority in the Army. The same applies to many senior officers. Our generals are often not promoted because of personal qualities, but because of some special devotion or ability to exercise it at certain points. In the end, 'the congregation is defined by its priest,' so to speak."

When asked about new ideas to improve the situation, Gudkov noted: "In my opinion, the Army needs to enhance the educational structures, it is necessary to give them more opportunities to influence the moral-psychological situation in Army ranks. Unfortunately, not everyone understands this. Additionally, we need public support and social control: if we have officers leaning towards corruption and crime, then someone has to monitor them."

July 10, 2009

Poll: Netanyahu Beats Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may (or may not) think the Obama administration is chock full of "self hating Jews," but he does seem to get some domestic love:

Many people in Israel think Benjamin Netanyahu is doing a better job than his predecessor Ehud Olmert, according to a poll by Dialog published in Haaretz. 43 per cent of respondents share this view, while 30 per cent say the incumbent prime minister is performing worse than Olmert.

Photo Credit: AP Photos

Re: Iran "Concerned" Over Chinese Crackdown

Greg, you are correct -- a true pot/kettle case. But there's more going on here than just the ironic audacity; this public expression of concern from Tehran over the Xinjiang violence may have been an indirect swipe at the Saudis.

The Uighurs, after all, are predominantly Sunni. Normally, a situation like this would be ideal for Saudi Arabia to step in and exert their soft power role over the faith. But most of the Sunni Arab regimes have remained silent on the crackdowns in Xinjiang, and the Saudis in particular are much too economically wed with Beijing to speak out.

This opened up a great window of opportunity for Iran to be the principled voice on the matter, and a true spokesman for “the rights of Chinese Muslims.”

The "Lighter" Side of US-Russia Relations

This commercial from an English-language school speaks for itself:

What better advertisement than Russian babushkas singing Britney Spears???

Iran "Concerned" Over Chinese Crackdown

From the "you have to read it to believe it" files:

Iran has voiced concern over the recent clashes in China's northwestern province of Xinjiang where up to 150 people have been killed...

In a telephone conversation with Secretary General of the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki voiced Iran's support for “the rights of Chinese Muslims”.

$20 Million!? Just to Go to the Dumb Moon!?


A Russian TV channel has reportedly cut a segment of the ribald U.S. cartoon comedy South Park that appeared to mock Vladimir Putin.

The channel "2X2" reportedly cut material from the show that aired Tuesday, portraying Putin as a greedy and desperate leader — a decision that prompted criticism and furious discussion on Russia blogs.

It was unclear whether the decision, involving an episode that originally aired in the United States in 2005, was made by channel executives or regulators. Channel executives could not be reached for comment Friday.

A spokesman with Russia's broadcast regulator, Rosskomnadzor, said he knew nothing of the incident.

"We have never interfered with editorial decisions," Yevgeny Strelchik said.

And for proper context, I give you South Park:

The Future of Iraq

So much of the public discussion of Iraq is backward-looking. Who was wrong about what, when. And since no one party to the Iraq debate has covered themselves with glory, there are ample opportunities for point scoring.

Unfortunately, while the U.S. begins to remove itself from the front line, there are still some vexing issues in the country which could lead to renewed violence and, potentially, renewed American involvement. Exhibit A, as the New York Times reports, is Kurdistan:

With little notice and almost no public debate, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders are pushing ahead with a new constitution for their semiautonomous region, a step that has alarmed Iraqi and American officials who fear that the move poses a new threat to the country’s unity.

The new constitution, approved by Kurdistan’s parliament two weeks ago and scheduled for a referendum this year, underscores the level of mistrust and bad faith between the region and the central government in Baghdad. And it raises the question of whether a peaceful resolution of disputes between the two is possible, despite intensive cajoling by the United States.

What is America's role in Iraq if this issue comes to a violent head?

July 9, 2009

Michael Jackson Ahead in Mexican Protest Vote


Following last Sunday's election, Mexico's Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE, the Federal Electoral Institute), has found that Michael Jackson was the top write-in candidate, according to Mexico's Reforma.

Noticias 24 explains that write-in votes nullify the ballots. Blank ballots, which are considered a protest vote against political parties, are also null.

The IFE estimates that a total 1,839,971 votes were null. In Mexico City, the estimate is close to 10 percent of the total ballots.

Jacko was ahead of Jimmy Neutron, Batman, and Mexican wrestler Rey Misterio, probably because of the news coverage on his demise.

Quid Pro Quo?


Two thirds of people detained during post-election unrest in Tehran last month have already been freed and another 100 will soon be released, Iran's police chief was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

"One hundred more will be released in the next two days," state broadcaster IRIB quoted Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam as saying in the northwestern city of Qazvin.


U.S. forces on Thursday released five Iranian officials who were detained in January 2007 in northern Iraq on suspicion of aiding Shiite Iraqi militants, Iranian and Iraqi officials said.

Don't want to speculate too much on this, but it's fair to say that both these matters would have been mutually understood roadblocks to future negotiations between Iran and the United States. Obviously, Iran disputed the arrest of its officials. As for the US, the prolonged and indefinite incarceration of Iranian demonstrators would certainly have made diplomatic overtures tricky for President Obama.

Both gestures make matters a little easier.

(h/t Uskowi)

When Ignorance is Not Bliss

Jonathan Tobin isn't happy with George Will's reluctance to start a war with Iran:

It’s true that we don’t know exactly what will happen if tough international sanctions are placed on the regime led by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad or how best to aid the regime’s internal foes in creating a more democratic and less dangerous Iran. Nor can we be entirely sure what the result will be if strikes (whether they are “surgical” or more comprehensive) are launched against Iran’s nuclear plants.

But we do know what will happen if we seek to appease Tehran or fail to act. We will be facing a radical Islamist regime with nuclear capability that will present an existential threat to the State of Israel as well as a strategic peril to moderate Arab states and the West. Will seems to counsel inaction because he views neoconservative advocacy for action in averting such a disaster as antithetical to true conservatism. But rather than a clear-eyed look at the situation, such an unwillingness to face up to the danger of a nuclear Iran is neither an enlightened version of conservatism nor good public policy. It is, alas, merely an excuse to do nothing. The proper term for such a view is isolationism, not conservatism.

I don't believe Will is counseling "inaction" with respect to Iran because that's inherently more conservative (whatever that means) but because, as Tobin acknowledges, the people pushing for action (i.e. a war) don't know what they're talking about. The lesson of Iraq is instructive in this regard. A similar ignorance about the nature of the threat Saddam posed and the consequence of military action pervaded the case for the war in Iraq.

Tobin says "we know" what will happen if Iran goes nuclear. But of course, he knows no such thing.

No one knows what the consequence of a nuclear Iran would be just as no one knows what the outcome of a bombing campaign against Iran would be. If this was clear cut, we wouldn't be constantly arguing about it. But the presumption of Tobin is to take the most dangerous, most far-reaching step and then tar those who disagree with him as "isolationists."

But it's not "isolationism" (a basically non-existent force in American politics) to argue that the U.S. shouldn't launch another preventative war in the Middle East. Some would call it good sense.

July 8, 2009

Give & Take

The prolific John Bolton is back in the Globe & Mail decrying the Obama administration's Russian diplomacy:

But the deterioration in relations came almost entirely from more belligerent and provocative Russian behaviour, not from a desire in Washington for confrontation. Thus, all the “new” directions emanating from the Moscow summit are all essentially reversals of recent U.S. policy. The Russians should be happy; most people are when they get their way.

To phrase this another way, Russia was belligerent when it wasn't getting its way on any issue but now they're happier that the U.S. has begun to accommodate them.

And this is the essential problem with U.S.- Russian relations. On the U.S. side, there is a basic unwillingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of Russian interests. We can proclaim from the rooftops that the Middle East - quite far afield from the territory of the United States - is of such vital strategic importance that we will project and sustain American military power in the region for as long as we see fit. Yet Russian interests in territory directly adjacent to their own borders is somehow beyond the pale and signs of renewed imperialism.

On the Russian side there appears to be no genuine interest in helping the U.S. with either Iran or North Korea because they enjoy having us distracted and tied down. And there's every reason to believe that Putin & co. will drum up nationalistic resentments at the West simply to divert attention from Russia's internal failings.

President Obama's gambit of trying to pick off some low-hanging fruit on the issues where there is agreement in the hopes of laying the groundwork for larger breakthroughs might fail. But declaring - as Bolton does - that any accommodation to Russia is ipso-facto unacceptable strikes me as intrinsically incapable of succeeding.

Mahmoud the Marginal


Michael Crowley asks:

How long is Obama willing to give the Iranians to demonstrate a good-faith negotiating posture before he starts turning the sanctions screws on them? I think we're probably still a few months and some complex maneuvering away. Even if Obama is skeptical about the prospects for talks (and I suspect he is), his team believes it's critical that the international community perceive the US to have made a good-faith negotiating effort of its own. Even if Khameinei and Ahmadinejad are giving America the finger, an important kabuki dance remains.

True, however, it's important to remember that Iran is very good at this kabuki dance -- they've been doing it for years, to the consternation of several American presidents. It's becoming more and more apparent that Ahmadinejad is now Khamenei's pit bull; his preferred face of the regime.

And if that's the case, than President Obama should end the traditional charade of engaging the Iranian president. This policy ultimately thwarted and perplexed the Clinton administration's Iran efforts, and gave President George W. Bush a convenient, and ultimately futile, bogeyman in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

If Obama does nothing else regarding Iran during his first term, at the very least, he could pull away the guarded curtain of Iran's Oz: Ali Khamenei. The young Iranians in green started this process, and President Obama could quite possibly finish the job. The best way for Obama to passively dispute the election results in Iran would be to entirely ignore the regime's preferred fall guy. By allowing Ahmadinejad to make a fool of himself on the world stage, Khamenei reserves the ability to "balance" him off of other internal factions, and publicly "rebuke" him if necessary, in order to win favor with the right critics.

Obama should insist on talking with the country's true power brokers, and disregard the court jester completely.

Photo Credit: AP Photos

Poll: U.S. Public Distrusts Russia

We noted yesterday some findings from Rasmussen that placed Russia low on the totem poll when it came to threats to the United States. Today they're out with fresh numbers on the issue of whether Russia will honor its arms control commitments:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 54% of voters do not think the Russians will honor the agreement to cut their nuclear weapons arsenal. Twenty-three percent (23%) are not sure what the Russians will do.

Seventy-four percent (74%) of Republicans and 51% of voters not affiliated with either major party don’t trust the Russians to honor the agreement. Democrats are more conflicted: 30% believe the Russians will honor the agreement, 40% don’t, and 30% are not sure.

Seventy percent (70%) of conservatives do not trust the Russians, while liberals are evenly divided on the question.

When we look at the trajectory of U.S.-Russia post Cold War relations, some people tend to express disappointment that the two countries haven't put the relationship on a better footing. But six decades worth of constant hostility and tension on both sides is not easily reversed.

Iran's Version of the ShamWow

(via Slate)

What's the Problem?

After taking note of an Israeli naval exercise in the Suez canal, Commentary's Jennifer Rubin draws a lesson:

Iran, contrary to the Clinton-Obama view, has become a motivating factor for Israel and the Arab states to leave aside the non-existent “peace process” and deal with something far more critical — an existential threat to the region. And once again, just as on the response to the Iranian uprising, America seems to be trailing or playing the role of a mute bystander, rather than leading the international response.

But why should America take the lead? We don't live in the Middle East. We don't live near Iran. It seems perfectly reasonable that the Arab states and Israel take the lead in managing the security affairs of their region while the U.S. stands offshore.

The View from Russia's Dissidents

Conservatives have been voicing their displeasure of late at President Obama's reluctance to denounce the internal governance of other countries. During his speech to the New Economic School, President Obama did key in on some of those themes:

By no means is America perfect. But it is our commitment to certain universal values which allows us to correct our imperfections, to improve constantly, and to grow stronger over time. Freedom of speech and assembly has allowed women, and minorities, and workers to protest for full and equal rights at a time when they were denied. The rule of law and equal administration of justice has busted monopolies, shut down political machines that were corrupt, ended abuses of power. Independent media have exposed corruption at all levels of business and government. Competitive elections allow us to change course and hold our leaders accountable. If our democracy did not advance those rights, then I, as a person of African ancestry, wouldn't be able to address you as an American citizen, much less a President. Because at the time of our founding, I had no rights -- people who looked like me. But it is because of that process that I can now stand before you as President of the United States.

So around the world, America supports these values because they are moral, but also because they work. The arc of history shows that governments which serve their own people survive and thrive; governments which serve only their own power do not.

How was this received in Russia? Russian dissident Gary Kasparov had this to say:

Ideally he would have named names. He made some strong statements about democracy being the solution and the failure of totalitarianism, far stronger than anything we heard from the last two administrations. But he avoided directly criticizing Putin and Medvedev, the core of our dictatorial system. Nor did Obama mention Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose jailing by Putin and continued imprisonment by Medvedev symbolizes everything Obama was criticizing about authoritarian states.

But he was strong and gave a consistent message. He repeatedly emphasized that the important relationship between America and Russia is about the people, not their regimes. That got a very positive reception here. Obama opened direct lines of communication instead of dealing only with official Kremlin channels.

Joshua Keating has some reaction from Boris Nemtsov which is similarly positive.

However it's not all good:

The main question regarding Obama’s visit to Russia is whether the new liberal U.S. president will succeed in reaching out to the Russian people, as well as the government. But the Levada Center’s study found that public opinion is split almost evenly between those who believe that the U.S.-Russian relationship will improve after the meeting of the countries’ presidents (42 percent) and those who think that the meeting will not change anything (39 percent). Meanwhile, 71.2 percent of respondents to a poll on the Echo of Moscow radio station’s website said that the meeting would not improve relations between the two countries. These figures show the depth of ambivalence amongst the Russian public about the “reset.”

Much of that uncertainty may be a reflection of the contradictory portrayal of the United States in the Russian media. The media has recently moved away from traditional anti-American rhetoric to showing a Russia that is interested in building a relationship with the newly elected U.S. president. That in turn mimicked the Kremlin’s own rhetoric - prior to Obama’s visit Medvedev said that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the meeting in an interview to the Italian Raitalia TV channel and Corriere della Sera newspaper. But although the talks between the two heads of state on Monday were reciprocally friendly, it is unclear to what extent the Russian people will be affected by them.

July 7, 2009

Poll: Top Threats to the U.S.

Rasmussen Reports tells us that North Korea has vaulted to the top of the American public's concern:

In a survey taken just before North Korea conducted a series of Fourth of July missile tests, 38% of likely voters say the rogue Communist nation remains the biggest threat to U.S. national security. This is the second month in a row for that finding, which puts North Korea at the head of the list of those nations voters view as national security concerns.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that voters think Russia, which President Obama is now visiting, is near the bottom of that list, with just three percent (3%) who see it as America's biggest threat.

Eighteen percent (18%) of voters now name China as the biggest danger to the United States, up six points from mid-June. Nuclear wannabe Iran falls just behind, with 17% of voters who see it as the biggest threat, showing no change from the last survey despite weeks of public unrest following disputed elections there.

Just eight percent (8%) say Pakistan is the biggest threat, while Afghanistan ties Russia with three percent (3%) concern. Only two percent (2%) view Iraq as the nation’s biggest national security threat.

Interesting that China is placed ahead of Iran but Russia is languishing in the basement.

Russia's National Interests: Gazprom Edition

Writing in the New York Times, Nikolas Gvosdev puts Russia's interests on the table:

Moscow doesn’t want a nuclear-capable Iran, but it is an annoyance that Russia can tolerate. To get Moscow’s cooperation, therefore, there must be something on the table that alters the Russian calculation.

One potential concern for Russia is that if it joins in putting real pressure on Tehran, Iran could eventually negotiate a Libya-style settlement with the West, clearing the way for major new Western investments in Iran’s energy sector.

Right now, Moscow benefits from Iran’s isolation from the West. Not only are Iran’s formidable gas reserves not accessible to European users, preserving Russia as the Continent’s major supplier, but alternate routes for Central Asian energy that could traverse Iran are also not possible.

Yet resolution of the nuclear issue could open up the vast reserves of Iranian natural gas for use through the Nabucco line, the major pipeline on the drawing boards for getting energy to Europe without going through Russia. The project is currently nearly moribund because there isn’t enough supply to justify the huge investments. Iran would be a game-changer.

Hat tip: Christian Brose

Text of Obama, Medvedev Joint Statement on Arms Control

On April 1, Presidents Obama and Medvedev agreed in London that America and Russian negotiators would begin work on a new, comprehensive, legally binding agreement on reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires on December 5, 2009.

On July 6, Presidents Medvedev and Obama signed a Joint Understanding to guide the remainder of the negotiations. The Joint Understanding commits the United States and Russia to reduce their strategic warheads to a range of 1500-1675, and their strategic delivery vehicles to a range of 500-1100. Under the expiring START and the Moscow treaties the maximum allowable levels of warheads is 2200 and the maximum allowable level of launch vehicles is 1600.

These numbers reflect a new level of reductions of strategic offensive arms and delivery vehicles that will be lower than those in any existing arms control agreements. The new treaty will include effective verification measures drawn from the experience of the Parties in implementing START. The new agreement will enhance the security of both the U.S. and Russia, as well as provide predictability and stability in strategic offensive forces. A follow-on agreement to START directly supports the goals outlined by the President during his speech in Prague and will demonstrate Russian and American leadership in strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The U.S. and Russian negotiating teams met in April, May, June, and July, and will continue their work toward finalizing an agreement for signature and ratification at the earliest possible date.

Obama's Nuclear Deal

The Council on Foreign Relations' nuclear expert Charles Ferguson weighs in:

It can be summed up by saying they've made incremental progress. There's nothing revolutionary here and there really were no surprises, but on the plus side there weren't any ugly surprises, or any steps backward. Both countries and both presidents are trying to pick up some forward momentum so that they can build on this current statement on missiles and warheads, which is rather modest but still contains some substance.

I think Matthew Yglesias is right to note the significance of the move, particularly in the context with our relations with China. But, as Gideon Rachman notes, there is another context as well: arms control as a down payment on Russian cooperation on Iran. Now, there are those who clearly believe that pursuing arms control is a good (or an evil) in its own right, but we've heard from the administration's own supporters that Obama's "reset" with Russia is going to yield strategic gains across a wider spectrum than the number of warheads each nation possesses. Time will tell.

Obama in Moscow update

RCP's Cathy Young keeps tabs on Obama in Moscow.

Obama & Medvedev Press Conference


The remarks of President Obama and President Medvedev at the Kremlin yesterday, after the jump.

Photo Credit: AP Photos

PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: (As translated.) Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen of the press, colleagues, we have just completed our negotiations with the U.S. President. The first visit of U.S. President Barack Obama in Russia was a very busy one. The first day showed that we managed to discuss all the items of our agenda, and it was a very big one.

I would like from the outset to say that there was a very useful and very open business-like conversation. This, no doubt, was a meeting that has been expected, both in this country and the United States of America, and on which not only the future of our two country depends but also, to a large extent, the trends of world development.

I would like to emphasize once again, of course, the first day of negotiations, our meeting in -- one on one and in a limited composition and a larger composition were very open and sincere. And this is extremely important. We have agreed that we will continue to communicate in this mode further on. In reality, for our relations, it is very important and it is not a simple job, because the backlog of problems is quite impressive.

But we have enough of mutual wish and will and the positions of principles that we have always occupied and still occupy, to make the discussion of these problems in a business-like manner. And we have reached mutually beneficial results.

I would like to emphasize that each of our countries understand its role in its own way, but at the same time we realize our role and responsibility for the situation in this world -- especially in a period when the level of globalization has reached such dimensions and such parameters that the decisions we make very often determine the situation in general. And such powerful states as the United States of America and the Russian Federation have special responsibility for everything that is happening on our planet.

We have many points of convergence, many mutual interests, and global and economic ones and a variety of other interests. But our desire to discuss these subjects was mutual and this is also one of very important results of our meeting since the work we are doing requires goodwill, mutual respect, and honest understanding of each other's position.

We also came to the conclusion that Russian-American relations and the level achieved today does not correspond to their potential, to the other possibilities of our countries. And the important thing is that the level that we have today does not correspond to the need of the current age, and without active development of our relations on the foreign affairs agenda, on scientific, trade, educational, relations will not be able to build the road to the 21st century.

We have spent several hours in very busy negotiations, very specific, and at the same we dwelled on the questions of philosophy of our cooperation. I'm grateful to the President of the United States for the understanding he showed on the principles that we put forward and our attention to the proposals made by the American side. So despite of the fact that in several hours we cannot remove the burden of all the problems, we have agreed that we will go forward without stopping; that we will make the decisions that are needed for the development of relations between our two countries.

We have discussed quite specific problems, and I would like to share some of them with you. We, of course, discussed international subjects. We spoke about such difficult problems as the process of Middle East settlement. We agreed to continue our work, taking into account the visits we had in the Middle East recently, and the plans that we discussed. We discussed the possibility of holding Moscow conference on the Middle East.
We spoke about a very important subject that is extremely -- requires the coordination of our activities. This is the problem of Afghanistan. Without our joint work in that area, we would not be able to achieve success in that area, and on that score we have agreed on a special statement.

Our relations will be also consolidated by our links in the humanitarian field, in the field of science. This has to be done by all means, and we'll be dealing with this after this meeting in a very persistent way.

Now, a few specific results of our negotiations. You are aware of them. We have agreed on a very important subject, the new agreement of strategic offensive arms. So this is a basic element of our mutual security. The work was very intensive and I must admit that our teams, our delegations, worked on this subject in a very fruitful way. They have showed reasonable compromise, and I would like to thank everyone who took part in these negotiations or is going to take part in them.

A result of this is that we have reached not only mutual understanding of what -- how we should move forward, but also to the basic levels on which we will advance our cooperation in those fields. We agreed on the levels of carriers and warheads, meaning that this is a very concrete subject.

In the mutual understanding, as we have just signed with the President of the United States, it is said that our two countries can have from 500 to 1,100 carriers of strategic arms, and from 1,500 to 1,675 warheads. These are the new parameters within which our dialogue will be going on and where we hope to achieve final agreement that will be part of the new treaty.

We have agreed also that the offensive and defensive systems of both countries should be considered together. We have adopted a joint statement on ABM. And this is also an important result of our work, even taking into account that we have divergences on a number of items. Nevertheless, we managed to sign -- to approve a joint document.

We have discussed measures of cooperation in the nuclear field and the most important is that we will continue our cooperation in every area, and a lot depends on our countries. We have signed an agreement on military transit to Afghanistan. We decided to create a presidential commission on cooperation, which will be coordinating relations among various agencies of the United States and the Russian Federation, respectively, in all priority areas, including economic and military areas.

In the military area, these questions will be dealt by the chiefs of staffs that have just signed the document, General Makarov and Mullen.

Soon all these documents will be published and you will be able to familiarize yourself with them. On the whole, by characterizing our first day of work and the results of negotiations that we have had, I would like to say that I view them as a first but very important step in the process of improving full-scale cooperation between our two countries, which should go to the benefit of both states. And if both states benefit by it, that means everybody will benefit by it.

I would like to emphasize in conclusion that our country would like to reach such a level of cooperation with the United States which would be realistically worthy of the 21st century, which will ensure international peace and security. This is in our interest, and we are grateful to our American colleagues for the joint work we have done.

It is true that the solution of many world problems depends on the joint will of the United States and Russia. Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody, and I want to thank President Medvedev and the Russian people for their hospitality. Michelle and I and our children are pleased to be here in Moscow, and to be here so early in my administration.

We've just concluded a very productive meeting. As President Medvedev just indicated, the President and I agreed that the relationship between Russia and the United States has suffered from a sense of drift. We resolved to reset U.S.-Russian relations, so that we can cooperate more effectively in areas of common interest. Today, after less than six months of collaboration, we've done exactly that by taking concrete steps forward on a range of issues, while paving the way for more progress in the future. And I think it's particularly notable that we've addressed the top priorities -- these are not second-tier issues, they are fundamental to the security and the prosperity of both countries.

First, we've taken important steps forward to increase nuclear security and to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

This starts with the reduction of our own nuclear arsenals. As the world's two leading nuclear powers, the United States and Russia must lead by example, and that's what we're doing here today. We have signed a Joint Understanding for a follow-on treaty to the START agreement that will reduce our nuclear warheads and delivery systems by up to a third from our current treaty limitations. This legally binding treaty will be completed this year.

We've also agreed on a joint statement on nuclear security cooperation that will help us achieve the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years -- progress that we can build upon later this week at the G8 summit. Together, these are important steps forward in implementing the agenda that I laid out in Prague.

As we keep our commitments, so we must ensure that other nations keep theirs. To that end, we had constructive discussions about North Korea and Iran. North Korea has abandoned its own commitments and violated international law. And that's why I'm pleased that Russia joined us in passing a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for strong steps to block North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program.

Iran also poses a serious challenge through its failure to live up to international obligations. This is not just a problem for the United States. It raises the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which would endanger global security, while Iran's ballistic missile program could also pose a threat to the broader region. That's why I'm pleased that we've agreed on a joint statement on cooperation on missile defense, and a joint threat assessment of the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st century, including those posed by Iran and North Korea.

Second, we have taken important steps forward to strengthen our security through greater cooperation.

President Medvedev and I agreed upon the need to combat the threat of violent extremism, particularly from al Qaeda. And today, we've signed an agreement that will allow the transit of lethal military equipment through Russia to Afghanistan. This is a substantial contribution by Russia to our international effort, and it will save the United States time and resources in giving our troops the support that they need.

Thanks to Admiral Mullen and his Russian counterpart, we've also agreed to resume military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Russia. This provides a framework for improved cooperation and interoperability between our armed forces, so that we can better address the threats that we face -- from terrorism to privacy. We've also agreed to restore a Joint Commission on Prisoners of War and Missing in Action, which will allow our governments to cooperate in our unwavering commitment to our missing servicemen and women.

And third, we've taken important steps forward to broaden our cooperation on a full range of issues that affect the security and prosperity of our people.

President Medvedev and I are creating a U.S.-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission to serve as a new foundation for this cooperation. Too often, the United States and Russia only communicate on a narrow range of issues, or let old habits within our bureaucracy stand in the way of progress. And that's why this commission will include working groups on development and the economy; energy and the environment; nuclear energy and security; arms control and international security; defense, foreign policy and counterterrorism; preventing and handling emergencies; civil society; science and technology; space; health; education; and culture. And this work will be coordinated by Secretary Clinton and Minister Lavrov, and Secretary Clinton will travel to Russia this fall to carry this effort forward.

Just to give you one example of this cooperation, is the new Memorandum of Understanding on health. We've learned -- most recently with the H1N1 virus -- that a disease that emerges anywhere can pose a risk to people everywhere. That's why our Department of Health and Human Services will cooperate with its Russian counterparts to combat infectious, chronic, and non-communicable diseases, while promoting prevention and global health.

Finally, I'm pleased that Russia has taken the important step of lifting some restrictions on imports of U.S. livestock. The cost of these restrictions to American business is over $1.3 billion, and we've now made important progress towards restoring that commerce.

I won't pretend that the United States and Russia agree on every issue. As President Medvedev indicated, we've had some frank discussions, and there are areas where we still disagree. For instance, we had a frank discussion on Russia -- on Georgia, and I reiterated my firm belief that Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected. Yet even as we work through our disagreements on Georgia's borders, we do agree that no one has an interest in renewed military conflict. And going forward, we must speak candidly to resolve these differences peacefully and constructively.

President Medvedev and I are committed to leaving behind the suspicion and the rivalry of the past so that we can advance the interests that we hold in common. Today, we've made meaningful progress in demonstrating through deeds and words what a more constructive U.S.-Russian relationship can look like in the 21st century. Tomorrow, I look forward to broadening this effort to include business, civil society, and a dialogue among the American and Russian people.

I believe that all of us have an interest in forging a future in which the United States and Russia partner effectively on behalf of our security and prosperity. That's the purpose of resetting our relations, that is the progress we made today, and I once again want to thank President Medvedev and his entire team for being such wonderful hosts and working so effectively with our teams. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Colleagues, now we begin the joint press conference of the President of the Russian Federation and the U.S. President. You will be able to ask two questions. Don't forget to represent yourself. And the first question goes to the U.S. media.

Q Thank you, and good evening to both Presidents. President Obama, I'd like to ask you about the issue of trust, after this period of rocky relations between the countries, but also with the agreements that you've just laid out today. Having spent time with President Medvedev, do you feel like you have full trust in him, and have you settled in your mind who is really in charge here in Russia -- the President or Prime Minister Putin?

And President Medvedev, I'd like to ask you, polling shows that the American people have some hard feelings about -- I'm sorry -- that the Russian people have some hard feelings about America. I'm wondering what you think President Obama can do to try to change this?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, this is now my second lengthy bilateral meeting with President Medvedev, and we've also had a series of telephone calls and other exchanges. And throughout our interactions, I've found him to be straightforward, professional. He is clear about the interests of the Russian people, but he's also interested in finding out what the interests of the United States are. And we have found I think an ability to work together extremely effectively.

So, yes, I trust President Medvedev to not only listen and to negotiate constructively, but also to follow up -- follow through on the agreements that are contained here today. And, again, I'm very appreciative not only of the manner in which he's dealt with me, but also the manner in which our teams have worked together. If you think about the short time frame from our meeting in London to today and the fact that we have essentially accomplished all the goals that we had set in London -- and these are not insubstantial achievements -- I think it's a good sign for progress in the future.

Tomorrow I'll be having breakfast with Prime Minister Putin. I have not met him before. I'm looking forward to that meeting. My understanding is, is that President Medvedev is the President, Prime Minister Putin is the Prime Minister, and they allocate power in accordance with Russia's form of government in the same way that we allocate power in the United States.

And so my interest is in dealing directly with my counterpart, the President, but also to reach out to Prime Minister Putin and all other influential sectors in Russian society so that I can get a full picture of the needs of the Russian people and the concerns of the Russian people.

And my strong impression is, is that President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin are working very effectively together. And our interest is dealing with the Russian government as a whole in order to achieve the improved bilateral relationship that I think can be accomplished.

PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: First of all, I would like to thank President Obama for the kind words he has just said about the spirit and the level of openness we enjoy in our personal relationship. I said something about it already, previously. Personal relationship are very important, especially when you speak about the building of interstate relationship. And when the relationship between the governments and personal relationship are on the same level, positive -- that's always good for the relationship between countries.

Speaking of the attitude towards the American people, they are friendly. I don't see any negative elements there. But when there are problems between the states, when there are negative signals being sent by the government, then of course these signals reflect on the mood of the ordinary people, and thus the better relationship between the countries are more -- the more empathy people have towards each other in different countries.

We touched upon our different tasks between our meeting and the relationship between our countries, new ups and downs. We, during the World War II, saved the world, and there was strategic partnership between us. And now we also have a feeling that a lot depends on our relationship. And the success in delivering on all those expectations, different ones, a lot depends on our efforts, bearing in mind that our people have always had sympathy towards -- empathy towards each other.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible), please, you have the floor.

Q (As translated.) Thank you. I have a question to both Presidents. Russia and the U.S. are the largest nuclear powers in the world, accounting for 95 percent of warheads. You have been working on the documents on the NPT for quite some time -- in fact, since 1970s. Do you think you will be able to have the situation in the NPT area under control when there are so many negative trends around the globe?

PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: Well, the non-proliferation problem is very important for our countries because we have and share the largest burden in the area of non-proliferation of strategic arms. We do have the major nuclear arsenals and we have full responsibility for those arsenals. And I agree with you totally -- there are negative trends in the world and they are due to the emergence of new nuclear players. Some of them are not officially members of the nuclear club, but they have aspirations to have nuclear weapons and declare so openly or, which is worse, doing it clandestinely. And of course it has a very negative bearing on the world.

And due to reasons very well known, there are regions around the world where the presence of nuclear arms would create huge problems, and these are areas where we should concentrate our efforts together with our American partners.
Those regions, those areas, are well known. There is no sense in naming them. But it's quite obvious that on the situation in the Middle East, on the Korean Peninsula, will depend the climate throughout the globe. It's our common, joint responsibility and we should make our utmost to prevent any negative trends there. And we are ready to do that. Our negotiations with President Obama have demonstrated that we share the same attitude towards this problem.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think President Medvedev said it well. This is an urgent issue and one in which the United States and Russia have to take leadership. It is very difficult for us to exert that leadership unless we are showing ourselves willing to deal with our own nuclear stockpiles in a more rational way. And that's why this post-START agreement is so important, and I'm hopeful that we can reduce our nuclear arsenals by as much as a third and hopefully can move even beyond that in subsequent agreements and treaties.

The critical issue that President Medvedev identified is the fact that we are seeing a pace of potential proliferation that we have not seen in quite some time, and he mentioned two specific areas. In the Middle East, there is deep concern about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability not simply because of one country wanting nuclear weapons, but the fact that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, it is an almost -- it is almost certain that other countries in the region would then decide to pursue their own programs. And we would then see a nuclear arms race in perhaps the most volatile part of the world.

In the Korean Peninsula, we've already seen North Korea flout its own commitments and international obligations in pursuit of nuclear weapons. And in all of these cases, as you see more proliferation of nuclear weapons, the possibilities not only of state actors targeting populations with nuclear weapons, but the possibility that those nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of non-state actors, extremist organizations, poses an extraordinary threat to both Russia and the United States.

So I'm pleased on the progress that we've made so far. I think the fact that we got a joint threat assessment in terms of what ballistic missile capabilities and nuclear weapons could pose to our countries, that we will be conducting a review of that and making assessments to find ways that the United States and Russia can cooperate more effectively, that's going to be very important.

I think continuing the pursuit of cooperation that already exists between Russia and the United States on loose nuclear materials and making sure those are secure, I think that's going to be very important. Structuring a new, reinvigorated non-proliferation treaty that applies a set of rules to all countries, allows them to pursue peaceful nuclear energy without having the capacity to weaponize that nuclear capacity, that is going to be very important.

And so we've actually suggested a global nuclear security summit that we intend to host next year, and I discussed with President Medvedev the strong possibility that in a subsequent summit it could be hosted by Russia, where we bring all the countries together around the world to start making progress on this critical issue.

MR. GIBBS: Matt Spetalnick from Reuters.

Q Thank you. Deep divisions over a proposed U.S. missile shield have contributed greatly to the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations in recent years, and it does not seem that you gentlemen have finally resolved that issue either. President Obama, you have said very clearly that you would not accept the linkage between the missile systems and arms control talks. President Medvedev, you and Prime Minister Putin have said that these issues must be linked. Are either of you gentlemen willing to budge or compromise on this issue? And if not, could this also contribute to a blockage or obstacle to reaching a final START II agreement?

And also, President Obama, I wonder if you could give us your reaction to the Chinese government crackdown in the northwest of the country on rioting and unrest that has killed more than 140 people.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: With respect to the China situation, unfortunately I've been travelling all night and in meetings all day, so I have not been fully briefed and I don't want to comment until I actually see all the information. But I assure you that our team will get a statement to you as soon as I've been able to do that.

On missile defense, we have agreed that we are going to continue to discuss this critical issue. That is part of the joint statements that we've signed. I also believe that it is entirely legitimate for our discussions to talk not only about offensive weapon systems but also defensive weapon systems.

Part of what got us through the Cold War was a sufficient sense of parity and deterrent capability; that both sides during those very difficult times understood that a first strike, the attempt to use nuclear weapons in a military conflict against the other, could result in a extremely heavy price. And so any discussion of nuclear strategy, security, has to include defensive as well as offensive capabilities.

The difference that we've had has been on the specifics of a missile defense system that the United States views as a priority not to deal with Russia, but to deal with a missile coming in from Iran or North Korea or some other state, and that it's important for the United States and its allies to have the capacity to prevent such a strike. There is no scenario from our perspective in which this missile defense system would provide any protection against a mighty Russian arsenal.

And so, in that sense, we have not thought that it is appropriate to link discussions of a missile defense system designed to deal with an entirely different threat unrelated to the kinds of robust capabilities that Russia possesses.

Now, having said that, President Medvedev has been very clear that this is a point of deep concern and sensitivity to the Russian government. I suspect when I speak with President -- Prime Minister Putin tomorrow, he will say the same thing. And what we would like to do is to work with Russia to advance a system that ensures that a stray missile, whether it was one or 10 or a handful of missiles coming from a third source, that we have the capabilities to prevent those from doing damage. I think we can arrive at those kinds of understandings, but it's going to take some hard work because it requires breaking down longstanding suspicions.

With respect to this particular configuration that was proposed several years ago, as you know, we're undergoing a thorough review of whether it works or not, what has been proposed. That review should be completed by the end of the summer and I indicated to President Medvedev that as soon as that review is complete, we will provide the Russian government our assessment of how we think we should proceed, and that will be the subject of extensive negotiations.

So, ultimately, I think the more progress we make on some of the issues that I discussed earlier -- non-proliferation, being able to track ballistic missiles coming from other sources -- to the extent that we are building deeper cooperation on those fronts, I think the more effectively we're going to be able to resolve this issue. I believe that over time we will end up seeing that the U.S.-Russian positions on these issues can be reconciled and that in fact we have a mutual interest in protecting both of our populations from the kinds of dangers that weapons proliferations is posing today.

PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: I'll say a couple of words on this subject. Of course anti-ballistic missile defense -- not ballistic missile defense, but the problem of the third region area is a difficult subject for our discussion.

But I would like to draw your attention to what President Obama said, and I would like to point it out myself. In our mutual understanding that has just been signed, we talk about the linkage between offensive and defensive weapons, and this already constitutes a step forward. Some time ago, on this question, we had all -- only differences. Now this linkage is being stated and this opens up the opportunity of bringing positions closer to each other.

Secondly, nobody is saying that ballistic missile defense is harmful or is posing a danger. It is aimed at resolving a number of practical tasks. The question is of linking this configuration of missile defense with interests of other countries. I would like to point out specially that our American partners, unlike what was happening in recent years, have taken a pause and now are studying this situation. As a result of this, they will formulate their final position.

As at least, this is also a step forward in reaching possible compromise on this fairly difficult subject. Before we just heard that all decisions have been made, they do not concern you, but they present no threat to you. Our position is somewhat different. You're well familiar with it. I'm not going to say it again. Our understanding is that these decisions do concern us and we will have to come to terms on these positions. We realize fully well that the number of threats, including link to the medium-range and ballistic missiles, is not diminishing but is growing in number. So we all have to think about what configuration on the whole the global anti-ballistic missile defense could have. And this, during our limited composition meeting, I mentioned to my colleague.

MODERATOR: Distinguished colleagues, last question. Channel Number One.

Q (As translated.) Good evening. The question is to both Presidents. You spoke about your concerns about Afghanistan. Can you be more specific? What do Presidents think about the situation in that country? There is a feeling that the counterterrorist operation in Afghanistan is having difficulties. And to what extent cooperation between U.S. and Russia in transit can help to improve the situation, in greater detail, please?

PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: The subject of U.S.-Russian cooperation in Afghanistan is extremely important. It is for this reason we paid so much attention to the discussion of this problem, and we have just signed an agreement that concerns transit. It's an important subject and we will of course continue cooperation with our American counterparts.

As concerns the current situation, it is -- really is not simple. I am not trying to say that it is being worsens, but in many aspects the progress is not available or is insignificant. But we value the efforts that are being made by the United States together with the other countries in order to prevent the terrorist threat that was emanating and still coming from the Afghan soil.

We are prepared in this sense to a full-scale cooperation with our U.S. and other partners, including in transit areas. We are prepared to help in the various aspects. I don't know to what extent -- how quickly the situation will improve. It depends to a large extent to the development of the political system in Afghanistan, to what extent the Afghan government will achieve successes in the economy -- and it's not a simple task.

Nevertheless we are prepared to continue with our efforts, the consultations with the Afghan side. In Yekaterinburg I met the President of that country and I met the President of Pakistan, because both of these problems have to be resolved together. And if we can join our efforts both in the economic peaceful field, and in terms of support of counterterrorist operation, the success will come sooner or later.

In the final analysis, the success, let me emphasis once again, will depend on the maturity of the Afghan state and the readiness of the Afghan society to change.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, as you may be aware, as soon as I came into office, we undertook a thorough review of our Afghan strategy to that point, in consultation with not only our NATO allies but all the forces internationally that have contributed to the efforts there. And we concluded that we had not made as much progress as we should have, given the duration in which we've been in Afghanistan, and that we can improve it.

So our approach has been to say that we need to have a strong security system in place for the Afghan elections to be completed. We have to train Afghan nationals for the army and police so that they can effectively secure their own country. We have to combine that with more effective diplomatic efforts. And we have to focus on development so that, for example, the people of Afghanistan don't have to grow poppy, but have other crops and goods that they can make a living with.

Now, we have just begun the implementation of this new strategy, and so I think it's too early to gauge its success so far. I think by the time that we've completed the next election and the -- either President Karzai or another candidate has taken his seat, then we will be able to I think do an additional review and see what other efforts we can take in order to improve the situation. I will tell you that Russia's participation and contributions to this effort could be extraordinarily important.

Obviously Russia has its own concerns about extremism and terrorism. Russia also has deep concerns about the drug trade and its infiltration into Russia. And Russia has extraordinary capabilities when it comes to training police forces, training armies. And so our hope is, is that as part of the broader presidential commission structure that we've put in place, that we're going to further discuss both the military efforts in Afghanistan but also the development efforts and the diplomatic efforts so that we can make progress.

And President Medvedev is right that this is important for Afghanistan but it's also important with respect to Pakistan. And we're going to have to think regionally in terms of how we approach these problems. Obviously there are countries along the border of Afghanistan and Central Asia that are of deep strategic importance, and it's very important that we also include them in these conversations about how we can move forward.

But I just want to thank again the Russian government for the agreement for military transit. That will save U.S. troops both time and money. And it's I think a gesture that indicates the degree to which, in the future, Russian-U.S. cooperation can be extraordinarily important in solving a whole host of these very important international issues.

All right, thank you very much, everybody.

Leading the Free World

Writing in the LA Times, Andrew Bacevich keys in on America's strategic deficit:

The point is that unless we get the fundamentals right -- and we haven't since the Cold War ended -- the United States may yet share the fate suffered by Churchill's Britain, reduced from engine to caboose in the course of his own political career. Those are the consequences of strategic drift.

Obama has appointed czars for a host of issues, his administration today employing more czars than have occupied the Kremlin throughout its history. Yet there is no czar for strategy. This most crucial portfolio remains unassigned.

One issue that gets overlooked in the criticism of America's post Cold War drift is the sheer weight of America's commitments. These commitments, and the expectations they produce both at home and abroad, have successfully bound three post Cold War administrations and look to be binding a fourth. They inherit a grand strategy by default. Looking at the Obama administration, one gets the sense that even if they wanted more sweeping change, they're still bound by the approaches of their predecessor.

Moreover, there is little appetite to fundamentally rethink the concept of American global leadership that has characterized our foreign policy during the Cold War, and post Cold War periods.

The problem for each post Cold War administration is that they have insisted that threats to U.S. interests are also threats to world peace - but much of the world doesn't agree. With hindsight we view the Cold War as a period when the "free world" subsumed their petty differences and got behind America as it worked to confront and contain communism. But in truth their were deep disagreements among allies across a range of issues and those differences have only grown as the global menace of Soviet communism receded.

From Iran to North Korea, other major players (China, India and Russia) are content to do business with them or otherwise spurn our calls for tough measures - not because they're grossly irresponsible or malevolent, but because they simply don't face the same threat from these nations that the U.S. does.

The conflation of America's interests with the world's serves a useful purpose in that it makes our efforts appear selfless which, in theory at least, would motivate other nations to help us out. (It's also undoubtedly true that if the U.S. successfully convinced Iran to give up a nuclear bomb, the world, not just the U.S., would benefit.) But in the real world there seems to be a disconnect between the measures we're looking to enact and the measures our international partners will bear.

July 6, 2009

Russian Editorial: Can't Start with a Clean Slate

Russian political establishment will hang on every word uttered at the US-Russian meetings in Moscow for the next three days. With so much being said and analyzed prior to Obama's visit, this particular commentary is worthy of notice. Aleksei Pushkov is the Director of the Institute of International Problems at the Diplomatic Academy of Russian Federation's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a Professor at MGIMO - Moscow State University of International Affairs (the most prestigious institution of its kind in Russia). In a lengthy commentary to the daily "Izvestia," Pushkov outlined major themes and thoughts prior to the U.S. president's arrival.

(Full text of editorial after the jump)

In the Kremlin and the White House, there is a feeling that you need to change something. There is a feeling in the United States administration that the original U.S. priorities, such as Iran's nuclear program, require a review of relations with Russia, and that Iran is much more important to the United States than the transformation of Georgia or South Ossetia into the main issue between Washington and Moscow. Of course, the Obama administration does not recognize either Abkhazia or South Ossetia, but it clearly does not want to limit its free hand in its relations with Russia because of the longer regional challenges. Secondly, Moscow, too, is tired of the constant rhetorical shift - and not just rhetorical - tired of the 'rope pulling' with the United States.

The politics of 'cold peace' with Russia gave little to America. But does this mean that the Obama administration is ready to seriously update the policy on the Russian direction? This is a big issue. Some in the US political establishment think that our bilateral relations will be 'more of the same,' but in another rhetorical packaging, with another president, There is a second point of view - some in the US believe that America is indeed doing a deep rethinking of the role of the United States in the modern world. And in this rethinking, relations with Russia occupy a central place. This remind same of the proverbial 'is the glass half-empty or half-full' dilemma. But either way, there are several problems with either approach.

Russia and the United States can not start completely from scratch. The idea of a 'new beginning,' which was outlined by President Dmitry Medvedev that is in one way or another is supported by Barack Obama, is a very attractive approach. Moreover: it is promising, if that will be the will of the ruling elite. But it will be difficult to start with a clean slate. America will not be able to forget about Georgia and Ukraine, Russia also can not forget about what is happening in Kiev and Tbilisi. In the United States, the issue of NATO enlargement to the east is not closed - it is a boosted by enthusiastic supporters. It is unlikely that in the United States and Russia will be able to forget about plans for deployment of missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. In short, there is a political legacy with which we have to deal - it can not be put outside the brackets of our 'new' relationship.

Now, there is much hope in the negotiations on nuclear disarmament, which began in the second half of May. Perhaps the parties will sign a new contract. But Bush and Putin also signed such an arms control agreement in May 2002 - but has that contract strongly influenced the nature of the relationship? Not at all. It was a separate issue and had no impact on the overall context of relations between Russia and the United States.

At the same time, the Obama administration Obama says nothing about its willingness to part with a major symbol of the Cold War - the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. Russians already have accepted that it will remain in force. It seems that every year by decree the President of the United States, the amendment is suspended for one year, so that next year again it goes into force and impedes trade with Russia. No matter how many times George W. Bush promised to Vladimir Putin to repeal the amendment, it has not been abolished to this date. The point is that when the United States needed support to Russia on important issues, then every time Washington has promised to repeal the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in exchange for support from Russia, for example, on Iran. Today, few people are waiting for its abolition - in Russia and the United States. The American elite does not want to part with this political legacy of the past.

So we cannot start with a clean slate, nor should we pretend that it will be possible. On May 15, in an interview with Chinese journalists, President Dmitry Medvedev said that for Russia, the question of recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has been resolved and is not negotiable. However, it is clear that the Obama administration did not agree with us - Vice President Biden has already said that the United States does not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is clear that the United States will continue supporting and arming Georgia, although perhaps not as actively as under Bush, but will still do so - and is already doing so.

A reasonable minimum that is required is restraint on the issues. Since the U.S. leadership said that it doe snot recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the mood in Moscow is not improving, but America is not seeking anything other than regular pronouncements that juts "shake the air." Such shocks would be wise to give up on both sides - for the sake of establishing a constructive dialogue.

Perhaps we should also try to understand our American partners, and not expect immediate changes in the position of the Obama administration. It is harder for America to change its policy than for Russia. In the 1990s, our policy was reactive. In most situations, Moscow responded to actions by the United States. We have only in recent years begun major initiatives of its own: the creation of rapid reaction forces within the CSTO, the idea of collective security treaty in Europe, the development and strengthening of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But until recently, Russia only reacted - to the aggression against Yugoslavia, the Western alliance, the NATO expansion, the plans to deploy missile defense in Europe, the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the U.S. pressure on Iran.

So now we can not say that the situation is 50 percent dependent on Russia, and 50 percent of the United States as, say, during the first détente between Moscow and Washington in the 1970s. Today, much more depends on America. That United States was the initiator of major strategic actions - from the bombing of Belgrade, to the occupation of Iraq, to the expansion of NATO eastward to the plans for missile defense elements in Eastern Europe, to the establishment of its military bases in Central Asia before the war in Afghanistan. Thus, we can not talk about parity in the sphere of foreign policy activity of the U.S. The changes in U.S. policy will determine if our dialogue can become more meaningful.

If the Obama administration will not be able - or willing - to change the settings that have determined U.S. foreign policy under Bush administration, then the dialogue will be more limited, and Russian foreign policy will be confronted with the old approaches that are already established in Washington. If the Obama administration is seriously determined on "resetting" our relations, it should consider more carefully Russian initiatives as well.

The situation is also complicated by the fact that no sooner had Obama put forward the idea of a 'reset,' it then came a powerful attack in the United States. All the opponents of Russia, joined by representatives of Russia's pro-American liberal opposition, accused the Obama that he was going to 'surrender' the 'American ideals,' and begin the 'appeasement' of Russia. Thus, the idea of a "reset" is faced with significant domestic opposition in the United States. And this internal opposition will be difficult to overcome. The hostility to Russia is deep, from the start of the Cold War, it was the flesh and blood of American policy, and like a virus, it lives in the American political body, and lets itself be known from time to time. In addition, the United States has a very strong 'inertia of expansion.' This idea, which was put forth by Charles Krauthammer in the early 1990's, is that America is the most powerful world power, is self-sufficient and able to do everything, that the U.S. has sufficient forces to resolve all issues and establish total hegemony.

However, in practice, the idea of hegemony was totally false. And now, many in America, it seems, starting from Obama himself, believe that the United States can not be master of the world. Eminent experts recognized: a 'unipolar moment' has passed, and the United States has to realize that it lives in the multipolar world. However, in America, there remains a tremendous inertia for 'unipolarity,' both psychological and political - Americans think that 'we are still the strongest and most democratic nation, and therefore have a moral right to do anything that others have no right for.' This is a deeply rooted ideology - the main reason for the negative attitude to 'reset' in the American political class.

We are hoping that at the July summit in Moscow, the very blurred contours of the 'reset' policy in U.S.-Russian relations will gain greater clarity.

Robert McNamara Dies

Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara has died. The obits are pouring in - see this from Time and the New York Times. Marc Ambinders has a nice reflection on McNamara and the dangers of expertise.

One of the lessons from McNamara's tenure during the Vietnam war that seems useful today is how much stock Washington puts in concepts such as "credibility" and "resolve" - even when pursuing these ephemeral concepts leads to the detriment of tangible power. During the Vietnam war, feeding more and more U.S. combat power into what was increasingly viewed as a losing effort was deemed necessary to shore up America's credibility as an ally in the Cold War. Washington was willing to sacrifice real power to prop up the perception of power.

This from Time's obit confirms the dynamic:

McNamara admitted in his book that the U.S. government had never answered key questions that drove its war policy such as whether the fall of Vietnam would lead to a communist Southeast Asia and if such an occurrence would really have posed a grave threat to the West. "It seems beyond understanding, incredible, that we did not force ourselves to confront such issues head-on," he wrote.

It's not clear yet whether the Obama administration has confronted these issues with respect to Afghanistan and Iraq.

China's Other Powder Keg Erupts

The ethnic riots in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region has so far claimed 140 lives with 800-plus injured, according to official figures. In reality, those numbers could be much higher.

The majority Uighurs in the Xinjiang region, in China's far-flung northwest corner, have resented the hardline rule of the Chinese Communists and the growing influx of ethnic Han Chinese since the People's Liberation Army entered the area in 1949. The latest incident began as a group of Uighur students protested Chinese discrimination against ethnic minorities.

According to the South China Morning Post, the leading English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, the origins of the events that led to the protest may have been fanned by an internet hoax:

Provincial police yesterday detained a man accused of spreading false rumours of rape over the internet that sparked a deadly ethnic brawl at a Hong Kong-owned toy factory in the northern Guangdong city of Shaoguan at the weekend.

Xinhua reported that the former worker posted a message on a local website claiming, "Six Xinjiang boys raped two innocent girls" at the factory, which is owned by Early Light International (Holdings).

Police said the unfounded claim was behind the massive brawl on Friday night between a group of Han and Uygur workers from the northwestern Xinjiang region who had been recruited to the factory. Some 800 migrant workers were employed from Shufu county, under the jurisdiction of Kashgar.

The Xinjiang region may be even more volatile than Tibet, which has given authorities fits intermittently since Communist Chinese occupation began in 1951. But Chinese leadership won't hesitate to unleash a harsh reprisal in Xinjiang, as there is little international support for the Uighurs' plight. A number of central Asian nations, and Russia, view the Uighur Muslims as potential troublemakers in the region and an Islamic terrorist threat.

Recently, when the Obama administration released a handful of Uighur detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, it had a difficult time placing them because repatriating them back to China would have resulted in harsh treatment (if not death) for these individuals, considered separatist terrorists by Beijing.

The riot in Xinjiang may be short-lived, as Chinese authorities will have no qualms about shutting down media access and springing a bloody crackdown. Alim Seytoff, head of the Uighur American Association, told the Chinese-language World Journal that the authorities responded with 1,000-plus riot police as soon as the protest emerged and "we've been told, they began randomly shooting into the crowd. ... We don't know how many people actually died, but at least hundreds were injured."

He went on to refute the Chinese government's assertion that the riot was premeditated by expatriate Uighur organizations, calling it a "smokescreen."

Biden & Saudi Arabia Threaten Iran

Two clear shots across the Iranian bow this weekend as Vice President Biden and Saudi Arabia signal a willingness to allow Israel to take military action against Iranian nuclear sites.

Marc Lynch dubs the Vice President's remarks on ABC's This Week as potentially the "worst foriegn policy blunder of the Obama administration." Commentary's Jennifer Rubin is heartened.

I find the remarks a bit incomprehensible. I believe there is a segment inside the Obama administration, represented by Dennis Ross, that believes that a negotiated settlement with Iran is impossible unless the Iranians fear for their lives. But why use Israel as the bad cop and reinforce the perception in the region that Israel is merely a client state of the U.S.?

As Biden correctly points out, Israel is a sovereign nation and must pursue its national security interests as it sees fit. From an Israeli vantage point, I can see why they would feel compelled to take military action against Iran's nuclear program.

The real question is where the administration sees America's interests. Do they view Iran's nuclear program as an existential threat which could claim the lives of Americans? Or do they view it as a conventional one, which would complicate our dealings in the Middle East? I think it's safe to assume that Israel views Iran as the former - as an existential threat to the lives of its citizens. But is that the lens through which the U.S. must view Iran?

With troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. is in a position where the fallout from any Israeli military action could land on our head, as Admiral Mullen hinted at on his own Sunday show appearance. If we were to overtly green-light an Israeli strike, we could very well be endangering the gains in Iraq and any prospective gains in Afghanistan - to say nothing of the potential risk to U.S. civilians or other regional interests from Iranian reprisals.

There is a lot of worry in the U.S. that a nuclear-armed Iran would achieve some sort of hegemony over the Middle East. But the Saudi news in particular underscores the context in which the Iranian threat needs to be understood. With the exception of Syria, Iran has no allies in the region. If they proceed to test a nuclear weapon, they won't achieve regional hegemony - they'll drive all their allies deeper into the arms of the U.S. and (quietly) Israel.

July 5, 2009

Negotiating With Russia

Should the U.S. be willing to “trade off” Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO aspirations in return for Russian support for U.S. missile defense systems in Central Europe?

“Well, I think first of all the administration has said very clearly and publicly that there will be no trade-offs,” Scheunemann responded. “Trade-offs like that are kind of a relic of a bygone era of power politics.” - Randy Scheunemann, foreign policy advisor to John McCain, April, 2008.

"We're not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense" Michael McFaul, special assistant to President Obama and senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs. July, 2009

As a negotiating tactic, it makes sense not to preemptively concede anything. In that vein, McFaul's stance is understandable. As a practical matter, I'm struggling to understand the sentiment. The U.S. has a number of issues on its plate with Russia and not all of them are of equal importance or significance to U.S. security. Why wouldn't we, at the end of the day, identify which issues are of greater importance and seek to pursue those, even if we have to concede issues of less significance?

Understanding Russian Security Interests

Writing in the New York Times, Clifford Levy offers up some insights into post-Soviet Russia:

The Soviet Union’s end was more than a geopolitical breakup. It was also to some extent a familial one. Moscow was the dominant member of the household, and its dependents — the other 14 republics — went off on their own.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Russia reacts viscerally to what it sees as incursions by the West in the region. That sentiment was at the root of Russia’s war last year with Georgia, and will be the subject of heated discussion at the summit.

Russia may be the world’s largest country, but it believes that it is under siege, from the West on one side and China on the other.

“It is not just about imperial nostalgia, it is much, much deeper,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs. “Russia’s perception of security is closely linked to what is going on in neighboring territories.”

Now, in the U.S. there is a tendency to cast Russia's interests in her near abroad as illegitimate or revanchist, rather than a function of logical security interests. That doesn't absolve Russia of anything, but it should provide a measure of perspective. The U.S. considers the Middle East a region of vital national interest such that we routinely project power there - yet it is geographically far more distant and less historically relevant to U.S. security needs than Central Asia is to Russia.

July 4, 2009

In Congress, July 4, 1776, The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America


When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

July 3, 2009

Putin Responds to Obama

"We do not assume strange postures - we stand firmly on our legs and always look to the future," said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, commenting on the statement of U.S. President Barack Obama in his address that he stands with one foot in the past, and the other in the present. "This is a feature of Russia in that Russia was always moving forward, strengthening in the process, and will do so in the future, I have no doubt of that," he said. "If we stand with one foot in the past, and the other in front, you know, we have a vernacular saying - we bend over for no one, we stand firmly on our feet."

"If we see something new in other areas, such as our American partners renouncing the deployment of new combat systems in Europe, the ABM systems or the revision of approaches to expand the military-political blocs, or if they completely renounce the use of 'bloc' thinking - that would be a real move forward," added Putin.

Putin also said Russia expects changes in the economic sphere: "In the United States economy, some decisions have been adopted at the height of the Cold War, for example, the notorious Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which we were already promised would be canceled for the past eight years," explained Putin. "It has not yet been abolished. If this happens now, it is also a great way forward."

"We are ready for effective interaction, we really expect much from the new administration. Those signals, which are still presented to us from Washington - they point to a positive dialogue, positive mood," he said. "We are awaiting the arrival of the U.S. President. I express the hope that it will be a useful meeting, it will aim to strengthen our dialogue. We are in need of that, and the United States in need of it, for sure.

"We are the biggest nuclear powers, and therefore the world will closely monitor these meetings."

Following Obama in Russia

As President Obama prepares for his visit to Moscow, RCP's Cathy Young will be keeping track of events on the RealClearPolitics blog, which we'll link to as well. Be sure to check out our Around the World page on Russia as well - which is update daily with the latest news, analysis and opinion on Russia.

One of the central questions facing the United States and Russia is whether the U.S. is willing to permit a Russian "sphere of influence" over the countries in her near-abroad. Such a competition would likely be costly for both the U.S. and Russia, but might work out well for the countries of Central Asia.

Consider the case of Kyrgyzstan. If you recall, earlier in the year, Kyrgyzstan said it would close down Manas air base, which the U.S. was using to support operations in Afghanistan. This news came the same day that Russia had unveiled a generous aid package to Kyrgyzstan. Well, that was then. Last week, Kyrgyzstan reversed its decision and said it will allow the U.S. to continue operating out of Manas, provided the U.S. pay three times as much for the privilege. Russia, in turn, lashed out at what it dubbed a "dirty trick" by Kyrgyzstan.

If you want to know what Russian President Medvedev thinks about U.S-Russian relations, well, he's video-blogging now:

The Iraq Blame Game

Even if Iraq falls back to the level of political mediocrity that surrounds it, the situation has changed from two years ago. If America had retreated then, it would have been a failure of our will and a failure of our military. But we did not fail. Our military adapted. Our leaders and country persevered. We have given the Iraqis what we owed them -- a decent chance at success, the only gift a liberator can give. Now, a failure would be sad and challenging -- but it would be their own. - Michael Gerson.

We'll see if this line really holds if security deteriorates and President Obama refuses to send in the cavalry.

July 2, 2009

Ask the Experts: What's Happening in Honduras?

A few weeks ago, RealClearWorld asked several experts and academics for their feedback on the presidential election in Iran and its subsequent aftermath. With a new political crisis now unfolding in Honduras, we thought it might be time once again to turn to the experts.

With the sitting president ousted at the hands of an apparent military coup, and heavy international criticism raining down on Tegucigalpa, RCW asks: what exactly is going on in Honduras?

Kevin Casas-Zamora, Brookings Institution:

"What has happened in Honduras is, undeniably, a step back in the process of democratic consolidation in Latin America. Even though the ousted President, Manuel Zelaya, is largely to blame for the political crisis, the military takeover is entirely unjustified. It belongs to a dark past that an overwhelming majority of people in Latin America do not want to return to. Not surprisingly, the reaction of the international community and, in particular, the Latin American governments has been swift and uncompromising. Everyone is demanding, correctly, that Mr. Zelaya returns to power as the legitimately elected President of Honduras. Yet, that may turn to be the easy part. The truth is that the return of Mr. Zelaya to Honduras in and of itself would solve very little. The underlying issue is how to make Honduras governable, for it wasn’t when Mr Zelaya was in office, and it isn’t now due to the immense international pressure that the new Honduran authorities find themselves under. If it is not to worsen an already bad situation, Zelaya’s return must be accompanied by a process of political negotiation in which compromises will have to be made. Most likely Zelaya will return to power to serve out his term while giving up on his plans to engineer his own reelection. And in all likelihood all parties will end up turning a blind eye on the pervasive illegal behavior that all have engaged in.

The U.S. administration to the coup has been very adequate. This crisis presents President Obama with a golden opportunity to make a clean break with the past and show that the U.S. is siding unequivocally with democracy in the Western Hemisphere, a very powerful and sensitive message given the troubled past of U.S. – Latin America relations. So far, President Obama has made good use of this opportunity."

Jesus Rios, Gallup World Poll:

"The survey conducted by Gallup in Honduras (and other 20 Latin American countries) in 2008 suggests that the overthrow of President Zelaya is not just the result of his failed attempt to conduct a referendum that had been ruled illegal by the supreme court, but the culmination of a process that started at least one year ago. At the time the survey was conducted (August 2008) Honduras' public opinion environment reflected levels of tension above “normal” by Latin American standards. Back then, roughly half of Hondurans (47%) expressed concerns over the health of their democracy, and an unusually high number (29%) agreed that their country was headed toward a coup d’état (again, high compared to the median for Latin American of 15%).

The international community has unanimously condemned Zelaya’s ousting, and the latest indications point in the direction of his imminent return to Honduras. Whether he will be reinstated in office is still a question, but what seems clear is he will face important challenges at home. Back in 2008, Hondurans placed the blame for the country’s political tension primarily on his government and “other countries." The latest remarks by interim leader Micheletti suggest Zelaya’s increasing alignment to President Hugo Chavez’s regime is at the core of the crisis. So, if Zelaya does in fact return to power before the November presidential election, the question then becomes: how will he manage to govern amidst an adverse public opinion environment and among institutions that backed his ousting, including his own political party? And, what role, if any, will Chavez play in Honduran politics from now on? Will Zelaya drop or moderate his pro-Chavez stance to regain political support? According to the 2008 Gallup survey, just 20% of Hondurans approve of President Hugo Chavez."

Shannon O'Neil, Council on Foreign Relations:

"What complicated the situation in Honduras is that before the coup, the president was venturing into his own legal transgressions, planning on holding a non-binding referendum that both the Congress and Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional. His approval ratings at the time were very low, and many do not want him to return – worried that he was (and might continue) to threaten Honduras’ democracy. But the ends does not justify the military means, particularly in a country and region known historically for military interventions and limits on democracy.

In the end, negotiations will most likely occur, with Zelaya potentially returning to complete his term, and then stepping down (with no new referendum or movement to allow reelection). He will also likely be subject to Honduras’ own laws, be it impeachment or something else. What this whole episode shows is the real and continued weakness of Honduras’ institutions. This is worrisome not just for today’s democracy, but because of other trends happening in the region. A big part of U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Central America policy today revolves around the fight against drug trafficking organizations through the Merida Initiative. If Mexico is successful in lessening the reach of these criminal organizations, then they will move to other countries (as we have seen in the past with the pressure brought on by Plan Colombia among other initiatives). This episode shows just how weak Honduras is, and is a red flag for the country, for its neighbors, and for the United States in thinking through these security relations going forward."

Leonardo Vivas, Harvard Kennedy School:

"Quite independent of President Zelaya coming to power again, what is happening in Honduras is a tragedy in at least three ways. Firstly, it brings us back to old times when Latin American armies were the arbiters of last resort. Secondly, it reveals the entanglements of hyper-presidential regimes in seeking solutions when they face confrontations between powers. Finally, it shows how the OAS Inter American Charter has become a one way street in which country sovereignty only rests on its presidents instead of on all elected representatives, be them Congress or governors. What occurred in Honduras only favors the advance of caudillos."

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Cato Institute:

"The Honduran constitution does not provide an effective civilian mechanism for removing a president from office after repeated violations of the law, such as impeachment. Honduras’ Supreme Court nonetheless ordered Zelaya’s removal and Congress bestowed the presidency on the civilian figure — the president of Congress — next in the line of succession according to the constitution.

To restore credibility on the country’s democratic institutions, it is imperative that the transitional government respect the civil liberties and individual rights of the Honduran people. Also, the Electoral Tribunal and Congress should call for general elections earlier than they are scheduled in November. This would give Hondurans a democratically elected president with international legitimacy. In the longer term, Honduras should pass a constitutional amendment that allows for removal of the president in instances of grave violations to the law, such as was the case with Zelaya.

The international community should respect the constitutional transition of power in Honduras. Instead of applauding and embracing would-be despots, it should condemn the efforts of those democratically-elected leaders who have come to regard their election as a blank check that allows them to run roughshod over a country’s democratic institutions and rule of law."

Michael Derham, Truman National Security Project:

"Zelaya was elected three years ago on a center-right ticket but in his time in the office swung him to the left, aligning himself with Hugo Chávez. But while those who previously supported Zelaya might not be thrilled with the direction he’s taken politically, it’s his questionable move to go for a second term — disallowed under the Honduran constitution–that caused the military to move against him.

While one can question the wisdom of Zelaya’s policies or his motivation for seeking a second term, the solution imposed by the military is worse than the problem. While during the Cold War such a coup might get the quiet backing from international supporters, today the Micheletti government is finding itself isolated internationally - even from neighbors El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, which have cut off trade relations with Honduras. A likely outcome would be a compromise, where Zelaya is allowed to return and serve out his term, with the understanding that his attempts to seek a second term are at an end."

Poll: Pakistan Turns on Taliban

As the Marines begin a major offensive in Afghanistan, there's some encouraging news on the other side of the Durand Line:

Most Pakistanis now see the Pakistani Taliban as well as al Qaeda as a critical threat to the country--a major shift from 18 months ago--and support the government and army in their fight in the Swat Valley against the Pakistani Taliban. An overwhelming majority think that Taliban groups who seek to overthrow the Afghan government should not be allowed to have bases in Pakistan.

That, via World Public Opinion, is the good news. Now for the bad news:

However, this does not bring with it a shift in attitudes toward the US. A large majority continue to have an unfavorable view of the US government. Almost two-thirds say they do not have confidence in Obama. An overwhelming majority opposes US drone attacks in Pakistan.

I think the Pakistani public's widespread dislike of the Taliban should further dampen the worries we were hearing a month ago when the Taliban were "60 miles" from the Pakistani capital. With just 5 percent of those polled voicing support for the Taliban, it seems hard to imagine them sweeping into the capital and assuming control.

But it should also serve to reaffirm the point below: people don't like other countries dropping bombs on them, no matter who they're dropping them on.

Poll: French Still Dissatisfied With Sarkozy

Via AngusReid:

The popularity of French president Nicolas Sarkozy has improved only slightly, according to a poll by Ifop published in Le Journal de Dimanche. 41 per cent of respondents are satisfied with Sarkozy’s performance, up three points since May.

According to the poll, the percentage of French saying they're dissatisifed with Sarkozy has hovered around 60 percent for the past three months.

Bomb's Away

John Bolton suggests that with Iran's hardliners putting the protests behind them, now is the time for Israel to start dropping bombs. Bolton writes:

Significantly, the uprising in Iran also makes it more likely that an effective public diplomacy campaign could be waged in the country to explain to Iranians that such an attack is directed against the regime, not against the Iranian people. This was always true, but it has become even more important to make this case emphatically, when the gulf between the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the citizens of Iran has never been clearer or wider. Military action against Iran's nuclear program and the ultimate goal of regime change can be worked together consistently.

I really don't understand this line of argument. Lots of Americans protest and march against the U.S. government all the time. There are many people who actively loathe the federal government. Yet, if another nation or terrorist entity blew up the Pentagon or the White House would they suddenly rise up against our government? Would we feel better about the attack because the country doing the bombing reassured us that they were only aiming for the government, not the people?

Moreover, as we learned from Eli Lake in the New Republic this week, U.S. intelligence has very little idea what's going on in Iran. How effective can our public diplomacy be with such a dearth of solid information?

July 1, 2009

Poll: World Has Confidence in Obama. Ahmadinejad, Not So Much

World Public Opinion surveyed the field of world leaders and found that President Obama topped the list as far as public confidence was concerned. Wallowing at the bottom, not surprisingly, was Iran's President Ahmadinejad joined by Russian Prime Minister Putin.

The envelope please:


The Cost of Iraq


Over in Commentary, former Bush administration official Peter Wehner offers up an interesting piece of moral asymmetry:

The ultimate wisdom in initiating the Iraq war is still to be validated by contingent events still to unfold. What is happening today is a transition, not a final triumph....

Still, it is worth pointing out that those who wrote off the war as unwinnable and a miserable failure, who made confident, sweeping arguments that have been overturned by events, and who had grown so weary of the conflict that they were willing to consign Iraqis to mass slaughters and America to a historically consequential defeat -- they were thankfully, blessedly wrong.

I find this line of defense for the troop surge frankly bewildering. Wehner claims that those who wanted to wind down the war in 2006 and 2007 would have been responsible for "mass slaughters." I don't necessarily accept the logic that the U.S. is implicated in one Iraqi's decision to kill another. After all, many Iraqis were being killed by their fellow citizens long before the U.S. entered the picture.

That said, if Wehner wants to pin prospective "mass slaughters" on the conscience of those who wanted to wind down the war, it's fair to ask whether he feels any guilt about the actual mass slaughters that occurred as a consequence of the invasion. If withdrawal advocates were willing to consign Iraqis to their deaths, what can be said of the architects and champions of the Iraq war?

Photo credit: AP Photos

Mrs. Fernandez Goes to Honduras

Several sources have indicated that Argentina President Christina Fernandez Kirchner will be among the international delegation that will accompany ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s planned return to Honduras on Thursday. Interim President Roberto Micheletti has promised to arrest Zelaya should he try to return to his country.

The international community has been highly critical of the arrest and deportation of Zelaya by the military. For Fernandez, accompanying Zelaya gives her a chance to play a popular role in world politics that might offer a distraction from her own political problems at home.

** Her Peronist party suffered a huge setback this past week, losing a majority in both houses of congress.
** Her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, lost a congressional seat in Buenos Aires to a rival in the same party. This places him as a long shot to return to the presidency in 2011.
** Kirchner’s loss also forced him to resign as head of the Peronist party.
** Fernandez’ approval rating has dropped to 29 percent in recent weeks.
** Argentina has been hit hard by the world recession. Most critics of the administration believe that Fernandez moved up the recent elections four months early in an attempt to solidify power before the economy gets worse.
** The Kirchner brand, which once was highly popular during Nestor Kirchner’s term (2003-2007), has now lost its shine. The Kirchners are now seen as autocratic and unwilling to compromise with rivals.

A trip to Honduras may be a step in the right direction for Fernandez to regain the Kirchner magic. However, with a failing economy and an antagonistic congress, Fernandez may simply be out of luck.

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