« April 2010 | Blog Home Page | June 2010 »

May 30, 2010

Odds and Ends


In an effort to resolve my anemic presence on this blog as of late, I decided a daily - or quasi-daily - tab dump or roundup might be a good idea. Get excited!

- If you haven't seen it yet, be sure to check out FP's gallery of Afghan retro photos. (This one is my personal favorite.)

- Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy discusses how the Taliban converts children into suicide bombers.

- CSM looks at the role Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will play in today's Colombian presidential poll.

- Georgians head to the polls today in local elections that may serve as a referendum on President Mikheil Saakashvili.

- Washington Post, in case you missed it, released this handy PDF last week summarizing key provisions in the proposed sanctions resolution against Iran.

- They apparently like their coffee in the Nordic countries.

- Did you read Greg's review of Ian Bremmer's latest book? Please do!

- In keeping with the holiday weekend, which continent do you think is the most Pro-American (aside, you know, from North America)?

For our American readers who are either stateside or abroad, we wish you a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend. Have fun, eat a lot of BBQ and give a couple bucks to the USO or the Wounded Warrior Project, if you can.

Now get off the internet and go get some sun!

(AP Photo)

May 29, 2010

Georgia Links with Iran

From Eurasianet:

Georgian and Iranian officials announced a flurry of initiatives in mid-May. Aside from the cancellation of visa requirements for Iranian citizens traveling to Georgia, Tehran has offered investment in a hydropower plant and electricity imports; Tbilisi is also seeking wind-power cooperation. The proposals are currently under discussion with Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri. In addition, Tbilisi extended an invitation to Washington’s bête noire, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to visit Georgia. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki may visit Georgia in June to work out specifics of the new cooperation framework.

There's a considerable overlap between people who believe the U.S. should take a tougher line with Russia for the sake of Georgia, and those who think the U.S. should be taking a tougher line with Iran. I wonder if this news will occasion a reassessment of one of those two positions. (Just kidding, it won't.)

Realism on the Korean Peninsula


Richard Haass offers some advice to the Obama administration:

American and South Korean officials need to do more than just point out the risk to their Chinese counterparts of China’s current course. They also need to discuss the character of a unified Korea and how one would get there, addressing legitimate Chinese strategic concerns including the questions of non-Korean troop presence and the full denuclearization of the peninsula. …

South Korea’s president may have signaled an interest in just this on Monday, saying “It is now time for the North Korean regime to change.” President Obama should follow suit. There would be no better way to mark this June’s 60th anniversary of the Korean war. [Emphasis mine.]

Jennifer Rubin thinks this is a sign that "realists are becoming neocons" as they embrace regime change and reject the Obama administration's foreign policy. Richard Haass can obviously speak for himself, but reading the sentiment above I somehow rather doubt he's endorsing a policy that the folks at Contentions would rally around. Negotiating with China and, importantly, addressing their legitimate concerns about the nature of a U.S. troop presence in a unified Korea? Sounds like appeasement to me!

So here's a question: would neoconservatives prefer a unified Korea (i.e. "regime change") if the consequence of reunification was the removal of all U.S. forces from the peninsula?

I don't know how adamant the Chinese leadership is about the issue, but I suspect that it would rank rather high as a national security issue. If the price of winning over China on Korea is a pledge to withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula after Korea was made whole, would neoconservatives embrace the trade-off, or damn the administration that made such a deal as selling out America's interests in Asia and allowing China to expand her sphere of influence?

(AP Photo)

May 28, 2010

China Is Low on "Threat Priority" List


In the past couple of weeks, two important documents have been released by NATO and the U.S. government. Insofar as China is concerned, these strategic reports make it clear that the "China threat" is, in fact, not perceived as such a threat by those currently in power in the U.S. and Europe.

First, a NATO short piece called "NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement", which is supposed to be a major redefinition of NATO strategy for the coming decade. China is unequivocally viewed as having strong interests in a stable regional and global order. Some key quotes:

"Emerging global powers such as China, India and Brazil are asserting their rising influence in a peaceful manner."
"In the Asia-Pacific, the major powers, which include Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, India, and Australia, all view regional stability as in their interests and are generally supportive of international norms."

Moreover, the report goes on to say that working with China does not require a formal alliance or organization in which to have dialogue and cooperation -- the anti-piracy action is cited as an example.

A week later, the White House released its National Security Strategy (PDF). China is first mentioned as an increasingly influential actor in international politics with whom the U.S. should be "building deeper and more effective partnerships." Indeed, in every context in which China is mentioned, the tone and verbiage stress cooperation and engagement, particularly in areas of mutual interest.

The report only goes on at length about China for a single paragraph, which is instructive:

"We will monitor China’s military modernization program and prepare accordingly to ensure that U.S. interests and allies, regionally and globally, are not negatively affected. More broadly, we will encourage China to make choices that contribute to peace, security, and prosperity as its influence rises. We are using our newly established Strategic and Economic Dialogue to address a broader range of issues, and improve communication between our militaries in order to reduce mistrust. We will encourage continued reduction in tension between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. We will not agree on every issue, and we will be candid on our human rights concerns and areas where we differ. But disagreements should not prevent cooperation on issues of mutual interest, because a pragmatic and effective relationship between the United States and China is essential to address the major challenges of the 21st century."

This doesn't sound like an American government that is particularly worried about China. It actually sounds very much like the Obama campaign's original position on China. The last line, in particular, makes clear that any disagreements should take a back seat to a positive relationship. So, despite the various issues of contention that have popped up in the past 16 months, the White House seems to have kept the "China threat" at a minimal level of anxiety. This suggests that actors within the U.S. government who might paint the picture otherwise -- like some Pentagon officials or Congressmen -- have not gained the upper hand in Administration deliberations.

Taken together, do these two reports mean that the next five to ten year will undoubtedly be free of conflict (armed or otherwise) between the U.S. and China? Not necessarily. A flash point could arise over Taiwan or Korea or some other unforeseen issue. But what these two documents clearly suggest is that, at least in the West, there is very little desire to ramp up security dilemmas, real or otherwise, with China.

Instead, China's continuous rise is viewed as an opportunity for economic growth, like Obama's goal to double exports for 2014. And unless you're really aching for a quick way to waste money and political capital on a hegemonic conflict, this perception should be (at least somewhat) comforting.

(AP Photo)

Kevin Slaten was a junior fellow in the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Now, he lives in Taiwan on a Fulbright Grant. His opinions in no way reflect the views of the State Department or Foundation for Scholarly Exchange. He blogs at http://www.kevinslaten.blogspot.com/.

The Freedom Agenda Revisited


Thomas Donnelly has some interesting thoughts on the Obama administration's national security strategy:

By contrast, I see a very deep divide between our current president and his predecessor, a fundamental difference of opinion about international politics and even human nature. Simply put, Barack Obama believes progress can be achieved through cooperation among nations through the realm of diplomacy while George Bush believes progress can be achieved despite conflict, which is the realm of armed strength. Both men profess the universality of American political principles, but have divergent views about how to carry American Exceptionalism abroad.

George Bush famously wanted to build “a balance of power that favors freedom.” As a conservative and realist, he understood international politics as a competition for power, as one would expect from creatures fallen from a state of grace. Like Jefferson, he wanted to create an “empire for liberty,” to employ power — paradoxically — to promote freedom.

In the NSS, Barack Obama claims that, “power, in an interconnected world, is no longer a zero-sum game.” Through collective action with other states — not “great powers” but “key centers of influence” — we can achieve “cooperative solutions.” This method appeals in large degree because Obama has a more expansive understanding of “security” — beyond any particular political arrangement, he includes pandemic disease, prosperity and, above all, climate change. Obama wants to build a balance of influence that favors sustainable living.

I think the "balance of influence that favors sustainable living" sounds right. What doesn't is the notion that promoting liberty through armed strength was some kind of central principle of the Bush administration rather than a post-hoc justification for the war in Iraq. In no other country was American power truly leveraged to promote democracy (you can't really count the Palestinian territories because after the disastrous elections there, the Bush administration promptly set about trying to subvert the outcome).

Aside from that, the trouble with the Bush approach was that he had already inherited an international order with a balance that favored freedom. In 2000, the U.S. had no serious great power rival, let alone an ideological or revolutionary enemy capable of over-turning the prevailing international order, and we enjoyed a robust economy paired with a first rate military. In short, there was simply no reason to launch a crusade to "promote freedom" for the sake of American security.

But lets accept Donnelly's contention that the administration sought to promote freedom by employing American power. What were the results? Was America's economic and military power better or worse for the effort as of 2008? Global freedom contracted during the last three years of Bush's tenure, so on the grounds of basic efficacy, the freedom agenda did not produce the results it promised. The balance of freedom shifted (although it still remained favorable) and America's economic and military power were at their lowest ebb in a generation (to say nothing of our global reputation). Measured against such results, the pursuit of a more sustainable strategy strikes me as eminently reasonable.

(AP Photo)

A Losing Strategy

Counter-terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman has a real eye-opener on al Qaeda in the current issue of the National Interest. The piece really casts doubt on the wisdom of waging a huge counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. Hoffman notes how al Qaeda is getting increasingly better at reaching into the U.S. to find and radicalize individuals to carry out attacks. While we focus on one theater - first Iraq, then Afghanistan - al Qaeda retains resiliency by keeping a global footprint. The administration's touting of drone strikes is also misguided, Hoffman writes:

The operable assumption, like the infamous body counts that masqueraded as progress during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, is that we can kill our way to victory. Long ago, David Galula, a French army officer and arguably still today the world’s preeminent expert on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, wrote about the fallacy of a strategy that relies primarily on decapitation. In Pacification in Algeria, 1956–1958, first published by the RAND Corporation in 1963, Galula explains how the capture in 1957 of the top-five leaders of the Algerian National Liberation Front, the terrorist-cum-guerrilla group that the French battled for eight long years before giving up in exhaustion, “had little effect on the direction of the rebellion, because the movement was too loosely organized to crumble under such a blow.” Half a century later, he could just as easily be talking about al-Qaeda...

The above examples are not meant to imply that killing and capturing terrorists should not be a top priority in any war on terrorism. Only that such measures—without accompanying or attendant efforts to stanch the flow of new recruits into a terrorist organization—amount to a tactical holding operation at best. That is not the genuinely game-changing strategic reversal that attrition of terrorist leaders in tandem with concerted counter-radicalization efforts to hamper recruitment can ultimately achieve.

Unfortunately, while Hoffman acknowledges the need to stem the supply of recruits, there aren't many specifics about how that should actually be done. What Hoffman does make clear is that reforming the Karzai kleptocracy is not going to impede al Qaeda to any great extent.

Poll: United Russia By a Mile


Via Angus Reid, it looks like Putin's party enjoys quite a lead:

Most people in Russia would support the governing party in the next election to the State Duma, according to a poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center. 54 per cent of respondents would vote for United Russia (YR) in the next ballot, up two points since April.

The Communist Party (KPRF) is a distant second with eight per cent, followed by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) with five per cent, and the opposition movement A Just Russia with four per cent.

(AP Photo)

May 27, 2010

Coalitions of the Willing


For all the sniping at the previous administration, the Obama team seems to have clearly borrowed at least one of its foreign policy doctrines - the "coalition of the willing."

Here's Secretary Clinton, speaking at the Brookings Institution, outlining the administration's thinking:

First, that no nation can meet the world's challenges alone. And second, that we face very real obstacles that stand in the way of turning commonality of interest into common action. Thus, leadership means overcoming those obstacles by building the coalitions that can produce results against those shared challenges.

Notice what she did not say: that these coalitions would be created under the auspices of established multilateral bodies like the United Nations. There has been a lot of talk of late about how the administration plans on revitalizing international institutions, which is a worthwhile goal so far as it goes, but in their search for greater effectiveness it certainly looks as if the Obama administration is trying to hedge its bets.

Unlike the idea of preventative war or the notion that democracy is an antidote to terrorism, this is a concept from the Bush-era that has some merit to it. It's not going to be possible for the U.S. to find broad consensus in the United Nations on anything. Instead it's going to be increasingly important to grab a sub-set of actors for any one issue.

(AP Photo)

Poll: Kashmiri Attitudes

According to the UK think tank Chatham House, there has been no "systematic attempt" to judge the attitudes of Kashmiris on either side of the line of control between India and Pakistan. It's remarkable, when you think about it, given the international implications of the conflict post 9/11. Now, Kings College and Ipsos Mori, under the auspices of the Qadhafi Foundation for Charity Associations & Development have undertaken a comprehensive study of Kashmir opinion. Some of the findings:

Independence: In aggregate 44 percent in AJK and 43 percent in J&K said they would vote for independence. However, while this is the most popular option overall, not only does it fail to carry an overall majority, on the Indian side of the LoC it is heavily polarised. In the Kashmir Valley Division, commonly regarded as the core region of Kashmiri identity and of demands for its political recognition, support for independence runs at between 74 percent and 95 percent. In contrast, across Jammu Division it is under one percent. In Leh it is thirty percent and Kargil twenty percent.

Joining India: Twenty-one percent overall said they would vote to join India. However, only one percent on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control said they would vote for this, compared with 28 percent on the Indian side. In the Vale of Kashmir support for joining India was much lower, down to just two percent in Baramula. Only in Jammu and Ladakh Divisions was there majority support for joining India, rising to as high as eighty percent in Kargil.

Joining Pakistan: Fifteen percent overall said they would vote to join Pakistan. Fifty percent of the population on the Pakistani side of the LoC said they would choose to join Pakistan, compared with two percent in J&K, on the Indian side of the LoC. Badgam, in the Kashmir Valley Division, had the highest percentage vote for joining Pakistan at seven percent.

One conclusion is clear: a plebiscite along the lines envisaged in the UN resolutions of 1948-49 is extremely unlikely to offer a solution today.

You can read the whole report here.

How China Feels About North Korea


It's widely acknowledged that if any country has the leverage to talk North Korea off the ledge, it's China. The Wall Street Journal spoke to U.S. officials recently back from meetings with the Chinese to give us a flavor of what the Chinese really think of their unruly neighbor:

China's official views on North Korea have appeared divided, say the U.S. officials, who said they spent "hours" during their visit trying to gain China's insights into North Korea's recent actions and the mindset of its ailing leader, Kim Jong Il. "The Chinese seem frustrated" with Mr. Kim, said a senior U.S. official who took part in the talks.

Many Chinese analysts say they believe leaders in Beijing have grown exasperated with Mr. Kim, who embarrasses them with his nuclear theatrics and has shown little inclination to copy Chinese market-led overhauls, though Beijing has tried to dazzle him with tours of showcase cities and development zones.

Beijing's differing views on the North appear to be based both upon the age of Chinese officials and their place in government. One U.S. official said older Chinese officials who dealt with Mr. Kim's father, Kim Il Sung, remember him as largely predictable and responsive to Chinese influence. "He was more pliant," the official said they were told. Kim Jong Il, in contrast, appears to the Chinese as unpredictable and elusive.

Two great qualities to have in a leader of a nuclear-armed garrison state.

(AP Photo)

Who Bears the Burden?


“The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone,” Mr. Obama writes in the introduction of the strategy being released on Thursday. “Indeed, our adversaries would like to see America sap our strength by overextending our power.” - New York Times
This is a pleasing sentiment, but one that I doubt will have any material impact on the conduct of U.S. policy. Matthew Yglesias puts his finger on the heart of the matter:
The issue is that the US national security establishment suffers from a bit of schizophrenia with regard to burden-sharing and you see it manifest itself in basically the same way with regard to both Europe and China. We want other major powers to “do more” to address major world problems, but at the same time we want them to just do exactly what we want whereas they want to look after their own interests. We don’t want the loss of control that would come from washing our hands of certain important situations, but we also don’t actually want to carry the load of dealing with everything ourselves.

This is the contradiction at the heart of Obama's pledge to reform international institutions to reflect the rise of other powers: to the extent that we assert the right to define our interests expansively, we cannot accommodate other powers unless they accommodate themselves to us. And why would they?

(AP Photo)

The Best Places to Live in the World

The UK polling firm Mercer has a list:

* Vienna, Austria (1st)
* Zurich, Switzerland (2nd)
* Geneva, Switzerland (3rd)
* Vancouver, Canada (tied 4th)
* Auckland, New Zealand (tied 4th)

They've also ranked countries by eco-friendliness.

May 26, 2010

UK: We Have 225 Nukes

The United Kingdom has just announced that it has 225 nuclear warheads. That's just 86 less than what Gary Schaub and James Forsyth said the U.S. would really need for its own deterrent needs.

Poll: U.S. Views on Korean Crisis


Via Rasmussen:

As the saber-rattling increases on the Korean Peninsula, 47% of U.S. voters think the United States should provide military assistance to South Korea if it is attacked by its Communist neighbor to the north.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 25% oppose U.S. military assistance to South Korea if it is attacked by North Korea, but another 28% are undecided.

Fifty-six percent (56%) say it is at least somewhat likely there will be a war between the two Koreas in the near future, but only 14% say it’s Very Likely. Twenty-nine percent (29%) say war between North Korea and South Korea is not very or not at all likely any time soon.

I doubt that the current standoff will escalate into an outright shooting war, but with some kind of leadership transition in North Korea, there's certainly ample room for miscalculation. Still, as this FT analysis makes pretty clear, a war is clearly not in North Korea's interest:

For North Korea, the fundamental risk of any conflict is that it would almost certainly lose, given its conventional military weakness. For South Korea, the risk is that while it might ultimately win, it would suffer immense casualties.

“Back in 1993, when the Clinton administration was contemplating surgical military strikes against North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, most experts estimated that a conflict between North and South would see at least 500,000 fatalities,” says John Swenson-Wright, a fellow of Chatham House, a London-based think-tank. “War is a course of action that neither side can rationally contemplate.”

North Korea has about 1m armed men, but the technical capability of its military has long been open to question. Experts doubt North Korea has the fuel needed to mount an extensive military incursion into the South. Many believe the North’s army may well be unwilling to fight.

“Anybody looking at the balance of forces in the peninsula would see this as unwinnable from Pyongyang’s perspective,” says Mr Swenson-Wright. “South Korea has a significant standing army based on national conscription. There are also around 30,000 US troops in the country with clear capability to reach into the North.”

Of course, people can do stupid things.

(AP Photo)

China's Suicide Factory

Austin Ramzy reports on the underside of China's economic boom:

The massive Foxconn factory in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen is known for assembling famous electronic goods like Apple's iPhone and iPad. But in recent months it has gained a darker image, as a place where distraught workers regularly throw themselves to their deaths. The latest fatality came on Tuesday morning, when a 19-year-old employee died in a fall in the company's Shenzhen compound, according to the state-run Xinhua news service. He was the ninth worker this year to have died in a fall from factory buildings on Foxconn's properties in Shenzhen; two have survived suicide attempts, according to state-media reports. Another teenager, who the company revealed this month died after jumping from a company building in Hebei province in January, brings the total employee death toll from falls to 10 this year.

This is something you occasionally read about with respect to higher-level management in some Asian companies, but as Ramzy notes, the suicidal urge has struck lower-level factory workers, not the hyper-stressed upper management.

In other Chinese economic news, the Chinese steel firm Anshan is looking to invest in several U.S. facilities. Thomas Barnett thinks the Chinese are finally learning to play the game like the Japanese did:

I've told this story on China for a couple years now in the brief: Japanese cars used to be keyed in Indiana parking lots years ago. Why? This is Big 3 production territory. It doesn't happen today. Why? Toyota and Honda have IN plants now.

Poll: Confidence in War on Terror

Rasmussen updates their monthly war on terror polling:

Confidence in America’s efforts in the War on Terror has fallen again this month, and, following the unsuccessful terrorist bombing attempt in New York's Times Square, more voters than ever now believe the nation is not safer today than it was before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that only 31% now believe the United States is safer today than it was before 9/11, down seven points from last month and the lowest level of confidence measured in over three years of regular tracking.

Fifty-two percent (52%) say the country is not safer today, up from 42% a month ago and the highest level measured over the past three years.

Democrats are almost evenly divided on whether or not the country is safer today. Most Republicans and voters not affiliated with either major party believe the country is not safer.

Polling on Cameron/Clegg Duo


Some decent numbers from Angus Reid:

The main players in the new coalition government garner the support of more than half of Britons, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 54 per cent of respondents approve of David Cameron’s performance as prime minister.

In addition, 52 per cent of respondents approve of Nick Clegg’s performance as deputy prime minister.

(AP Photo)

Obama Sells Out Allies

They'll throw anyone under the bus, won't they:

"This was an unacceptable provocation by North Korea and the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond,” Mrs. Clinton said.

She spent only a few hours in Seoul, but speaking at the news conference alongside Mr. Yu, she said, “We will stand with you in this difficult hour, and we will stand with you always.

What Are Vital Interests?


The deal struck by Iran, Brazil and Turkey is obviously inadequate to the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but one of the important subtexts of the deal is the emergence of new powers capable of tackling a pressing international issue. Indeed, some commentators have urged the administration to take the Turkey/Brazil deal precisely because it ratifies this emerging, multipolar diplomacy.

Regardless of how you feel about the merits of the Turkey/Brazil deal, I think their gambit affords the U.S. an opportunity to have a fundamental debate about which international issues and interests are truly vital (i.e. uncompromisable) and which are not.

In his recent speech at West Point, President Obama said that: "As influence extends to more countries and capitals, we also have to build new partnerships, and shape stronger international standards and institutions....This engagement is not an end in itself. The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times... "

I think the opposite is likely to happen. As influence extends to more countries with different security and economic interests, it will be increasingly harder to find common ground and the efficacy of international institutions will likely lesson. President Obama thinks that reforming international institutions is the answer, but why do we think that giving other powers greater say will improve effectiveness, when what constitutes effectiveness is going to vary by country? One need only look at Copenhagen, or the details of the Turkey/Brazil fuel swap deal to understand that.

In such an environment, the U.S. is going to have to do a better job not simply playing well with others (which will be important) but also at defining which interests are truly vital - and not amenable to the kinds of lowest common denominator trade-offs inherent in international diplomacy. I doubt that will be easy. For years now, Washington has been downright promiscuous with the phrase "vital interest."

(AP Photo)

May 25, 2010

It’s Cover Up, Turn the Volume Down, Or Pay Up in Iran


The public prosecutor, Mahmoud Zoqi, at the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad has decreed that women violating the state’s dress code must pay fines up to 1.3 million tomans (13 million rials) or $1,300 for each breach of conduct!

It’s a hefty increase from the earlier 50,000 tomans or $50 per incident.

Young men wearing slim-fit jeans and styling their hair are being arrested and fined too by the morals squads of the Iranian police.

As before, jail terms of up to 2 months can be applied as well.

Presumably the ordinance is aimed at pressuring parents, spouses and other family members who would have to raise the bail for arrested relatives in a country where per capita income was the equivalent of $11,200 in 2009.

Meanwhile at the capital city, Tehran, those driving (other than taxis) with members of the opposite sex who are not family members or who play music "too loud" face having their cars impounded and driver’s licenses confiscated.

The renewed crackdowns by Islamic Guidance Patrols reflect the theocratic regime’s growing fear of globalization generally and westernization specifically.

It’s also a draconian way to balance municipal budget shortfalls in Iran’s most populace cities.

Yet it isn’t stopping ordinary Iranians from doing as they please.

(AP Photo)

Why Greece Can't Default


They're "too interconnected" to fail:

The RBS economists estimate that the total amount of debt issued by public and private sector institutions in Greece, Portugal and Spain that is held by financial institutions outside these three countries is roughly €2,000bn. This is a staggeringly large figure, equivalent to about 22 per cent of the eurozone’s gross domestic product. It is far higher than previous published estimates. It indicates that, if a Greek or Portuguese or Spanish debt default were allowed to take place, the global financial system could suffer terrible damage.

The ongoing turmoil in the EU is a pretty good reminder that often a nation's biggest enemy is itself. The damage the West has done to itself with its own prolificacy dwarfs anything that Iran is likely to do.

(AP Photo)

The Vote for Lula's Successor

Angus Reid passes on polling data on the forthcoming election in Brazil:

This year’s presidential election in Brazil could require a run-off, according to a poll by Instituto Sensus. 35.7 per cent of respondents would vote for Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) in the ballot, up 3.3 points since April.

Jose Serra of the Brazilian Party of Social Democracy (PSDB) is a close second with 33.2 per cent, followed by Marina Silva of the Green Party (PV) with 7.3 per cent.

In a run-off scenario, the race could also be tight with Rousseff getting 41.8 per cent of the vote, and Serra 40.5 per cent.

Poll: The Internet Around the World

World Public Opinion conducted a global poll on the use of the Internet:

The poll of more than 27,000 adults conducted by GlobeScan found that 87 per cent of those who used the internet felt that internet access should be "the fundamental right of all people." More than seven in ten (71%) non-internet users also felt that they should have the right to access the web.

Countries where very high proportions regarded internet access as their fundamental right included South Korea (96%), Mexico (94%), and China (87%).

Most web users are very positive about the changes the internet has brought to their lives, with strong support for the information available, the greater freedom it brings and social networking. However there was caution about expressing opinions online and fraud.

Nearly four in five (78%) said they felt it had brought them greater freedom, nine in ten (90%) said they thought it was a good place to learn, and just over half (51%) said they now enjoyed spending their spare time on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.

Full results here (pdf).

Change You Shouldn't Believe In


Will Inboden has some worthwhile thoughts on President Obama's "change" mantra:

In short, through a combination of the burdens and responsibilities of office, prevailing geopolitical realities, the deep cultural currents of U.S. foreign policy, the bureaucratic systems that reinforce those cultural currents, and the crucible of learning that takes place every day in the toughest job in the world, the President Obama of today acts and sounds considerably different than the one elected in November 2008... This is not at all to say that his foreign policy is identical to that of his predecessors -- in important ways it does differ, and as I have written elsewhere, often not for the better -- but only to point out that truly profound structural changes in American foreign policy are very rare. And generally for good reason.

I wonder about this. First, I think it was clear during the general election campaign that Barack Obama was going to be a fairly conventional foreign policy candidate. He surrounded himself with establishment figures and recruited proteges of Brent Scowcroft into his foreign policy team. It's true that some people wanted to paint Obama as some kind of left-wing radical, but that was their dishonesty and partisan hackishness, not the result of any serious look at his policies or foreign policy advisers.

The other, more important point is to question whether we should be celebrating President Obama's embrace of foreign policy orthodoxy in the first place. It would be one thing if the United States were on a roll. But are we? We have just endured the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression - a downturn that has roiled global markets and is just now threatening to unravel the European Union. We are declining economically relative to emerging economies in Asia. We are involved in two wars which will grind their way down to less-than-optimal outcomes (and that's the best-case scenario), while steadily expanding our involvement in a third (Pakistan) with no clear strategy or open debate.

In short, there are plenty of reasons why we should be questioning the orthodoxy, not celebrating President Obama's embrace of it. I think we should be wary of sweeping, sudden and radical changes, but when it comes to U.S. foreign policy I'd suggest the bigger danger isn't that, it's complacency.

(AP Photo)

May 24, 2010

War, What Is it Good For?


Arthur Herman isn't impressed with President Obama's multilateralism:

The one object of Obama’s disapprobation in his speech was not Iran or North Korea but George W. Bush. Obama never mentioned Bush by name, but he took a stab at his predecessor, saying that that under his administration the war against al-Qaeda has been “going better in recent months than in recent years.” (If it’s going so well, then why is Dennis Blair being forced out as director of national intelligence?) Another implicit criticism of Bush was Obama’s claim that “America has not succeeded by stepping outside the currents of international cooperation.” Yet it was precisely Bush’s willingness to move away from that current that has offered the nation one key foreign-policy success that Obama is eager to seize: Iraq. We owe what Obama called “the emergence of a democratic Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant” to George W. Bush’s willingness to defy conventional world opinion on Iraq. Bush was willing to apply America’s military might, and to persist — despite savage attacks from Senator Obama and others who would have preferred to cut and run — because he saw a different future. And that future was made possible because Bush took actions that were at odds with what is called the international community. He unleashed our soldiers to fight the enemy, and fight they did.

In that sense, Saturday’s speech was a sad but revealing episode — and an ill-timed one, coming one week before Memorial Day. The alternative to Obama’s vision was, literally, staring him in the face. Without ready military power and the will to use it, even the most exquisite diplomacy is useless.

This is rather surreal. Before the graf above, Herman is denouncing the Obama administration's failure with respect to North Korea and Iran. Fair enough. But President Bush had eight long years to "solve" these problems - and didn't. Now, unlike Herman, I didn't think it was possible for President Bush to solve those problems (at least in a manner that would satisfy Herman) but then I'm not the one castigating President Obama for not stopping North Korea or Iran's nuclear program.

And what of Herman's solution? Invoking Iraq in this context, President Bush's "willingness to defy international opinion," and the paean to "military power" leads me to believe that Herman thinks only wars against North Korea and Iran will suffice to manage the threat. With Iran, at least, this is a debatable proposition and reasonable people can disagree. With respect to North Korea there is much less debate: absent North Korean troops pouring over the DMZ, no one with a modicum of good sense would advocate attacking North Korea. To even casually float the idea is deeply unserious.

So yes, mulitlateral institutions don't always work well and they can't "solve" every foreign policy problem under the sun. But what Herman is arguing here is that the Obama administration should abandon its engagement strategy in favor of a war against both Iran and North Korea. The result of such a policy would put the U.S. in a manifestly worse place than it is now.

Poll: American Views on the Afghan War

Via Rasmussen:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 41% of Likely U.S. Voters now believe it is possible for the United States to win the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan. Thirty-six percent (36%) disagree and say it is not possible for America to win the war. Another 23% are not sure.

Just before President Obama announced his new strategy for the war last December, only 39% thought a U.S. victory was possible, while 36% disagreed. But confidence that America can win jumped to 51% after the president’s highly-publicized strategy was declared. But support began to decline after that.

In fact, 48% now say ending the war in Afghanistan is a more important goal than winning it. Forty-two percent (42%) place more importance on winning the war. Voters have been almost evenly divided on this question for months.

Israel's Nuclear Disclosure, Ctd.

President Peres has issued a statement in response to the Guardian article on the reported Israeli nuclear dalliance with South Africa:

"There exists no basis in reality for the claims published this morning by The Guardian that in 1975 Israel negotiated with South Africa the exchange of nuclear weapons," the president said in an English-language statement. "Unfortunately, The Guardian elected to write its piece based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts."

Rand Paul's Foreign Policy, Ctd.

Daniel Larison raises several good points in response to my initial post on the matter. Let me start by conceding Larison's point that Paul's "sovereignty" message is more politically potent than the anti-meddling one I had talked up in my first post. Larison also writes:

We can argue over how important it was that the U.S. take up those responsibilities at that time, but I think Paul would object to continued membership in these organizations because of the very activist and interventionist role the United States has played abroad in order to fulfill its obligations to them. He might also object to continued membership on the grounds that these institutions no longer need U.S. participation to function, and that whatever extraordinary role the United States may have had to fill after WWII and during the Cold War is now outdated. The non-interventionist appeal that Greg finds reasonable is closely tied to the general aversion to involvement in international institutions.

There's obviously something to this, and I think there's a longer discussion worth having about which institutions are worth reforming and which are worth scrapping. But there's also an issue of agency here that I think is being over-looked. It's true that the U.S. has justified some of its more ill-conceived actions as being consonant with its international commitments, but in many cases (especially our big ticket wars), it was the U.S. pushing these institutions in the direction of activism, not vice-versa. The U.S. "forum shopped" the war in Kosovo, settling on NATO only after it failed to win over the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. was not led off to battle under the authority (or persuasion) of an international body. Ditto the second Iraq war, where the U.S. sought legitimation for an action it had already decided upon. Indeed, the entire liberal internationalist argument in favor of global institutions is precisely their ability to lend international legitimacy to actions the U.S. seeks to take in its own interest.

There are cases, like Somalia in 1993, where you can say that American participation in international institutions led us astray, but on the major issues of war and peace, the U.S. is the one driving the bus. Withdrawing from the UN would not act as a check on interventionism. If anything, given how vociferously hawks like John Bolton denounce it, I suspect it would lead to much more.

UPDATE: Larison responds further here.

What Does the Green Movement Think About Sanctions?

They're against them:

"In recent days, the issue of sanctions has been raised against our nation. Although we think this situation arose from tactless and adventurous foreign policies, we are against it because it will affect people's lives," Mr Mousavi said.

Mr Mousavi, who lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last June's presidential election, said Iran was facing an economic crisis whose full impact has yet to be felt.

A 0.5 percentage point fall in GDP growth last year to 1.8 per cent – according to IMF figures – was "like undergoing a massive attack by foreign enemies", Mr Mousavi said.

"The pressure of this fall is on entrepreneurs and it will be followed by a heavy unemployment and poverty ... turning back towards the people is the only solution and then you will see that again there is a backdrop of hope," he said.

I know professing support for Iran's Green Movement has become something of a cause celeb in some circles, but somehow I doubt they'll pay this news much attention.

Israel's Nuclear Disclosure

Here's an interesting story from The Guardian:

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons.

The "top secret" minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa's defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes". The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.

Israel's nuclear arsenal isn't exactly the world's best kept secret, so these revelations aren't going to have much of an impact in that regard. It will, however, complicate efforts to discredit Judge Goldstone (of the infamous "Goldstone Report" on the Gaza war).

May 23, 2010

Strategic Logic

David Shorr touches upon a Compass favorite:

If the primary driver and focus of your foreign policy is the challenges and problems, maybe that's a strategically different lens than attending to your friendships. Maybe this approach treats relationships as overly instrumental rather than valuable in themselves. Of course any administration will say that it is working to keep relationships with allies strong, which is undeniably important. I just raise the question whether a hard-driving, problem solving-focused policy is bound to involve the trade-offs I'm describing. And is that really a wrong choice?

Indeed, and if the U.S. continues to find roadblocks where it once saw open highway, it may have to adjust and make the trade-off Shorr is describing.

'Go Back to Mexico'

The Washington Times has a suggestion for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, trusted ally:

America doesn't need self-righteous lectures from officials from the developing world. Mexico has its own problems, including pervasive violence, openly armed drug cartels, pollution, widespread institutional corruption and lack of economic opportunity. If Mexicans are flooding north over our border, it is for many very good reasons. Mr. Calderon should stick to trying to fix his own basket-case country, if he can.

Now, these may all be perfectly legitimate complaints, but I'm troubled that a major American newspaper's editorial board would so publicly scold and embarrass a longtime U.S. ally like Mexico - especially at such a critical moment in the War on Drugs.

Bob Kagan, Charles Krauthammer and Max Boot should be condemning the Times any minute now. . . .


May 22, 2010

Rand Paul's Foreign Policy


Daniel Larison has a nice write up on the subject.

I'd say the U.S. needs more politicians, especially Republican politicians, advocating for restraint abroad. That said, and with the caveat that I haven't followed the Paul campaign closely, is Paul the right vehicle for this message? On his Website he's called for the U.S. to pull out of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the IMF (but not Afghanistan). Imperfect institutions yes, but would this be any less radical and destabilizing than the interventionist policies pursued by previous administrations?

On his site Paul says he wants commercial engagement with the world - but the world, for better or worse, has built up a set of institutions to mediate commercial disputes and to conduct international economics along a rules-based system. You can, I suppose, junk it all and still trade with countries, but why is such a radical step needed? To protect U.S. sovereignty? Is it really threatened by the United Nations or WTO? Isn't the U.S. on surer footing when everyone acknowledges the rules of the road (even if they don't always play by them)?

It's one thing to make the case to the American public that U.S. foreign policy is too meddlesome in other states' business, too quick to reach for punitive sticks and too grandiose in scope and ambition. If that was Paul's message, I suspect it would find a lot of takers. But this is only a piece of what is a larger, more radical frontal assault against the post WWII institutions that, for better or for worse, the U.S. has worked to shape and lead to our general betterment. Some, like NATO, have arguably outlived their usefulness. Others, like the IMF and World Bank, likely need reforms. But a blanket rejection of U.S. participation in all of them just seems ill considered.

Having a voice of restraint in the Senate would certainly be a good thing and I'd be hard pressed to argue against anything Paul elucidates in the video below. But I would suggest that there's more to restraint than avoiding unnecessary wars - like not seeking a wholesale and radical revision of the international order.

(AP Photo)

May 21, 2010

(Not So) Deep Thought

As the anniversary of Iran's June 12 unrest rapidly approaches, I had a (not so) deep thought about this year's headlines as compared to last.

The top foreign policy story of 2009, I'd assume rather indisputably, was Iran. But barring some sort of cataclysmic event (knock on virtual-wood), the world news story of 2010 will likely be Greece and the greater Euro debt crisis.

So I ask: Which do you believe to be the more significant of the two? I think one's answer may reveal a lot about how they consider and approach foreign policy. (and yes, my answer is the Eurozone crisis.)

Please add your thoughts in the comments section and call me Neville Chamberlain.

It's All About Us

The real news is that already notorious photo: the president of Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, and the prime minister of Turkey, for more than half a century the Muslim anchor of NATO, raising hands together with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most virulently anti-American leader in the world.

That picture -- a defiant, triumphant take-that-Uncle-Sam -- is a crushing verdict on the Obama foreign policy. It demonstrates how rising powers, traditional American allies, having watched this administration in action, have decided that there's no cost in lining up with America's enemies and no profit in lining up with a U.S. president given to apologies and appeasement. - Charles Krauthammer.

Indeed. What he should have done is invade Iran and turn it into a democracy. That would show our rising power allies we mean business!

Peripheral Foreign Policy


Roger Cohen is frustrated by the Obama administration's reaction to the Turkish-Brazilian nuclear fuel deal with Iran:

Brazil and Turkey represent the emergent post-Western world. It will continue to emerge; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should therefore be less trigger-happy in killing with faint praise the “sincere efforts” of Brasilia and Ankara.

The West’s ability to impose solutions to global issues like Iran’s nuclear program has unraveled. America, engaged in two inconclusive wars in Muslim countries, cannot afford a third. The first decade of the 21st century has delineated the limits of U.S. power: It is great but no longer determinative.

Lots of Americans, including the Tea Party diehards busy baying at wolves, are angry about this. They will learn that facts are facts.

This strikes me as somewhat contradictory. Cohen laments the Obama administration's rejection of the fuel swap deal - which he concedes is an insufficient deal that fails to meet the Western demands put forth last year - because 1. You don't want to hurt feelings in Ankara and Brasilia, because they are emerging powers whom you might need down the road, and 2. this deal, while well short of the October arrangement, may have served as a "tenuous bridge between "mendacious" Iranians and “bullying” Americans."

First, the latter point: Spinning a deal for the sake of public perception and reaching a substantive deal are obviously two different things. Cohen asserts that this deal would've been a huge P.R. victory which, I suppose, it could have been. But if the administration is serious about nonproliferation it was necessary to knock this deal down right out the gate - which it apparently did.

And spin spins both ways. While Washington and the West certainly could have spun this deal to their advantage, so too could have the Iranians - as they already have. The whole point of this deal was not only to build trust between Tehran and Washington, but to assuage Western and regional concerns about Iranian enrichment. This week's trilateral deal fails to do that, and thus it fails to actually take time off the so-called Doomsday Clock.

In other words, accept this deal and you basically gave Iran seven months to set the terms of negotiation while rebuffing your own immediate concerns. Clenched fist, check.

As for Brazil and Turkey, what exactly was Obama to do? Accept the deal, and you accept the Turkish-Iranian argument that the deal represents the death knell of sanctions, which the U.S. never agreed to and never will. Cohen may view this deal as a beginning, but Tehran and Ankara are spinning it differently. And as Greg noted yesterday, China and Russia simply matter more than Brazil and Turkey do, especially on the matter of Iranian proliferation.

Will this hurt U.S. efforts down the road when, at some unforeseen moment, Washington needs Ankara or Brasilia? Perhaps. But that's the point: A multi-polar world doesn't guarantee a less divisive one where everyone gets along and hugs out their problems. Quite the contrary.

For much of the 20th century - and the first few years of the 21st - American power was rather easy: Either you're with us, or you're with the evildoer behind door #1. Make your choice. There was a kind of cold clarity in this arrangement, and in some ways the U.S. excelled at it. But as other powers emerge, they also come to the table with years - decades, even - of experience at playing a weaker hand inside global institutions like the UN. They know how to check the maneuverings and desires of other states, just as they too have been checked.

Washington isn't very good at this game, and it's going to take some time for the United States to rebuild capital and use its still preponderantly stronger military and economy to its advantage. This may require a more prudent, interests-based foreign policy designed to keep larger powers in your corner - which, in turn, will mean less peripheral meddling in said powers' backyards.

So will Ankara and Brasilia remember this? Probably. Welcome to the new world order.

UPDATE: Larison offers his thoughts on the matter.

(AP Photo)

The Unipolar Moment, Fin

I think Leslie Gelb has the right take on the recent freelance diplomacy by Brazil and Turkey:

The United States will not be able to sustain this highly self-centered and highly differentiated anti-nuclear policy. It could survive during the Cold War in the face of a uniting threat from the Soviet Union, but not now. What Brazil, Turkey and Iran did, will be replicated in years to come. The best and perhaps only way for the United States to retain most of its nuclear cake is to let others munch upon it as well. U.S. administrations should not denigrate or try to sidetrack these inevitable diplomatic efforts by new major powers. Instead, the White House should embrace them and, at the same time, instill in their diplomacy what remains a critical common interest in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons—the absolute need for credible and intrusive inspections into the nuclear operations of all countries developing "peaceful nuclear power."

I suspect we're about to hear a lot of huffing and puffing about the audacity (or treachery) of Turkey and Brazil in attempting to negotiate an end to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Letting Countries Lead

Our friends over at Oxfam America will be hosting a discussion this morning on how U.S. foreign aid can produce better results by promoting country ownership and bolstering anti-corruption efforts.

Panelists will include:

Josh Rogin, author of Foreign Policy's The Cable blog, Washington Post columnist (Moderator)

Raymond C. Offenheiser
, President, Oxfam America

John Githongo, Chief Executive of Inuka Kenya Trust and Head of Twaweza Kenya (Keynote)

Esther Tallah, Manager, Cameroon Coalition Against Malaria; board member of UNITAID

Honorable Minister Amara M. Konneh
, Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Liberia

The discussion begins at 9 a.m., and you can watch it right here on RCW after the jump:

Live Broadcast by Ustream.TV

May 20, 2010

China Continues Aiding Iran

Washington may hype having gained China’s support for a fourth round of United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran, but Beijing’s leaders still seem to be working with their counterparts in Tehran to make existing and future attempts at tightening Iran’s access to global finances meaningless.

A report (in Persian) by the Fars News Agency confirms fears that China continues playing both sides of diplomatic and economic fences between the United States and Iran. While publicly appearing to go along with the much watered-down draft of sanctions, China has also agreed to "finance U.S. $1 billion for municipal and civic construction in the city of Tehran."

Essentially, the standoff between the West and Iran continues to play into Beijing’s hands. What if anything the United States and its allies can do remains unclear and possibly hopeless.

With friends like China, it is not surprising that Ahmadinejad and his cohorts dismiss the proposed set of sanctions as having "no legitimacy at all," even if adopted by the Security Council.

These developments highlight, yet again, that it is unrealistic to expect other nations to view multinational issues in the same light as the United States does. Attempts at resolving ongoing tensions with Iran in America’s favor, alas, continue demonstrating the escalating limits of Washington’s influence on a world stage where many nations are jousting for power.

How to Save Britain

Toby Baxendale has a plan to pay off the Britain's national debt and offer a tax cut. He'll pay anyone 1,000 pounds if you can find a flaw. Not sure if that applies outside the UK....

[Hat tip: Daniel Hannan]

Sarkozy Still Deeply Unpopular


Via Angus Reid:

French president Nicolas Sarkozy remains highly unpopular, according to a poll by Ifop published in Paris Match. 66 per cent of respondents disapprove of Sarkozy’s performance, down one point since April.

Appointed prime minister François Fillon holds better ratings, with 54 per cent of respondents saying they approve of his work.

(AP Photo)

People Don't Like Being Lectured


Victor Davis Hanson waxes outraged that Mexican President Calderon "lectured" the U.S. about the supposed awfulness of Arizona's immigration law. And it is bad form for a visiting leader to sound off on domestic legislation in another country while visiting that country. But let's remember that this is precisely what conservatives want Obama to be doing more of. Maybe after tasting their own medicine they'll be less apt to prescribe it. But somehow I doubt it.

(AP Photo)

Did the U.S. Rush Iran Sanctions?


Just as Copenhagen was a visible demonstration of the rising clout of China, the recent nuclear diplomacy by Turkey and Brazil was still more evidence that the leadership role so coveted by the U.S. is being undermined by the rise of economic powers with divergent security interests. Unlike in Copenhagen, though, it looks as though the U.S. was able to rebuff this "rogue" diplomacy. Matt Duss, for one, is unhappy:

It’s clear that Iran saw the announcement of the deal as a way to head off international pressure. But that doesn’t mean that its acceptance of the terms isn’t significant — it is. In my view, it would have been smarter for Obama to acknowledge the deal as a potentially positive step, but make clear that more is needed, similar to how he pocketed Netanyahu’s sort-of-but-not-really acceptance of a Palestinian state last year. As it is, by scrambling to get the UN sanctions resolution finalized in the shadow of the Brazil-Turkey intervention, that resolution now looks much more like an end in themselves, rather than a means to arriving at a mutually acceptable agreement.

But that's the problem: there is no mutually acceptable agreement here.

It will be more interesting to watch how China and Russia move. The Brazil/Turkey gambit has given both China and Russia clear cover now to balk at sanctions, even watered-down ones. If they don't, it means the Obama administration has gone a long way in winning them over (invalidating Duss' fear of diplomatic blow-back). Not that it will do much good. But you take the victories where you can get them, and I think China and Russia matter more to Iran than Brazil and Turkey.

(AP Photo)

May 19, 2010

The Ugly End of Exceptionalism?


Richard Cohen writes:

American conservatives look at the defeats and disappointments, and they fulminate about Obama. They call him weak and inept -- and surely in some areas he has been both. But they are wrong in thinking that another person would make much of a difference. Times have changed. America's power is diminished -- relatively, for sure, but absolutely as well.

I think this is the important takeaway from this week's tripartite nuclear deal between Brazil, Turkey and Iran. While the nuclear alarmists are predictably ringing the bells of Armageddon, they do so, unbeknownst to themselves, from a position of increasing weakness. The Wall Street Journal leads the charge, insisting that President Obama do something, because, well, that's what the American president does. Absent, however, from their editorial panic attack is a feasible policy proposal for making Iran halt its enrichment, disclose all its nuclear wrongdoing and ultimately hug it out with the West.

They believe, as they so wrongly did back in 2002, that American military might alone is enough to compel global behavior and police the world's evildoers - and perhaps it was, during the Cold War. But the United States has yet to articulate a rationale for its role as global superpower in a world with multiple levers and venues for global governance, and the world's emerging powers simply aren't buying it any longer.

And this clearly flummoxes Iran hawks, who can only view American power through the lens of the presidency; they, like some of our allies in Israel, insist that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is the most pressing crisis facing the world, and should the American president but will it, he (or she) can give a compelling speech, pound his (or her) fist on a table or two, and the world - as it so often has in the past - will bend.

One problem: faith in American power is no longer unanimous. By pegging Iranian engagement to the nonproliferation regime, and in turn Israeli security, the Obama administration opened up a Pandora's box of nuclear populism. The plan, I'll admit, seemed a viable one at first: engage Tehran on the most commonly agreed upon and demonstrated dilemma - namely, its rogue nuclear program - and reach some kind of a deal on LEU in order to give the West breathing room for negotiation; alleviate Israeli concerns of an imminent nuclear arms race in the region; address the nuclear weapons program, and then move on to other longstanding issues in need of redress between Washington and the Islamic Republic.

But Iran has always insisted that the nonproliferation tactic was always a pretext - a multilateral cover - for compelling Iranian behavior and, perhaps, even changing the Iranian regime entirely. And normally, this complaint would fall on (mostly) deaf ears around the globe. But Iran, to its diplomatic credit, cleverly morphed a dispute between a handful of countries into a global debate between the nuclear haves and have-nots. What started as a reasonable discussion about Iranian intransigence became a debate over the legitimacy of the NPT.

The haves versus the have-nots; the emerging world versus the entrenched - this has played out exactly as Iran had hoped.

So what now? I think the best option remaining for the Obama administration is to table the nuclear question and go down the admittedly murky and unpleasant path of grand bargain engagement. Nonproliferation and the future of global nuclear enrichment is far too important to be left in the hands of the Iranians, and the only way the revolutionary regime will play serious ball on the nuclear question is if Washington is willing to address - and redress - Iran's laundry list of grievances and gripes.

Even Israel - which would no doubt protest such a sea change - has more pressing security concerns regarding the Iranians, as the potential threat of a Tehran-fueled arms buildup in the Levant makes confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah appear more and more likely. Setting the nuclear matter aside for the time being would behoove them as well.

But this is all rather unlikely. Iran, for its own part, has a long record of diplomatic gamesmanship and deception, and Obama simply doesn't have the political cover at home to make such a gesture (and the atmosphere may only worsen come November). Obama - after months of nuclear bell-ringing - will be held solely accountable at home for failing to slay the Iranian monster, and Washington will likely creep back into its comfort zone of exceptionalism and saber-rattling toward Tehran. Iran will embed itself even deeper into its own comfort zone of anti-Westernism and global defiance, as the U.S.-Iran status quo keeps trucking along.

How this ends, I'm not sure. Perhaps multilateral sanctions will hasten a breakthrough before the midterm elections, but that's doubtful. I don't believe we're witnessing the buildup to war, but I do believe Obama's window for engagement has likely closed.

(AP Photo)

A Kurdish Model for Iraq

Max Boot has a good piece on CBS about the success of Iraq's Kurdish region relative to the rest of the country. He writes:

The Kurdish model suggests what Iraq can become in a few years-but only if it continues to improve in fighting crime and terrorism, reducing corruption, and developing the rule of law. Much of this is outside American control, but we can have a major impact on the security situation.

I wonder about this. Haven't the Kurds been successful because they're governing over fellow Kurds, who had a high degree of solidarity even before U.S. troops deposed Saddam? The Kurdish region isn't a miniature Iraq, populated with large numbers of Shiites and Sunni Arabs. As Boot himself writes, there have been problems with respect to non-Kurds:

The record is hardly perfect. Heavy-handed Kurdish attempts to extend their influence across northern Iraq have caused a backlash among Arabs and created an opening for extremist groups. In some areas they have been guilty of anti-Arab ethnic cleansing in an attempt to make up for anti-Kurdish campaigns under Saddam Hussein.

This would seem to suggest the opposite of what Boot contends, that Iraq can't become one big Kurdistan, because the heterogeneity of ethnic and sectarian groups would put too many strains on the government.

Merkel's Coalition Takes a Hit


Via Angus Reid:

Fewer German voters would support the governing Christian-Democratic Union (CDU) and its associate Bavarian Christian-Social Party (CSU) in the next federal election, according to a poll by Infratest-Dimap released by ARD. 32 per cent of respondents would vote for the CDU or CSU, down four points since mid-April.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is second with 28 per cent, followed by the Green Party (Grune) with 17 per cent, the Left Party (Linke) with 11 per cent, and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) with seven per cent.

(AP Photos)

A Russian Thaw?


Brian Whitmore reports:

According to a report in "Russian Newsweek," Moscow is planning to reorient its foreign policy in a more pragmatic and pro-Western direction. The story by journalists Konstantin Gaaze and Mikhail Zigar, which cites a recent Foreign Ministry policy paper, says the move is part of an effort to attract badly needed investment to modernize the country's crumbling infrastructure and diversify its economy to make it less dependent on energy exports:
The idea behind the document is that Russia intends -- not just in words but also in deeds -- to have a foreign policy in which there are not friends and enemies, but only interests. The country's economy needs to be modernized and foreign policy must also work to solve this problem. A senior official at the Foreign Ministry who participated in the drafting of the document confirmed that in place of a Cold War there will be Detente.

The policy paper's preamble, written by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, calls for "the strengthening of relations of interdependence with the world's leading powers," with the most desirable partners being the United States and the European Union.

According to the "Russian Newsweek" story, the "triumphant optimism of Russian leaders in a time of record-high oil prices is a thing of the past. In the post-crisis world, Russia is forced to look for friends and start a useful economic ties." It cites an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying that "the crisis has shown that Russia cannot develop independently."

Whitmore thinks that any outreach is the result of a pragmatic consideration on the part of Russia's rulers as to what will best preserve the political status quo. He then writes:

But sooner or later, the Kremlin is going to run into the same political-economic conundrum that has accompanied every Russian attempt at modernization. Modernizing an economy implies diversifying and decentralizing. It implies respect for property rights. It implies greater transparency. It implies respect for the rule of law as opposed to the rule of the gun.

But does it? China has thus far modernized without any of those things. It may not be sustainable indefinitely, but for now, if Russian rulers are looking for a developmental model that secures their hold on power, why would they look to the West? It's in China where they can find a model that gives them economic development and authoritarian rule.

(AP Photo)

May 18, 2010

Joining the Jihad

Mary Habeck has an interesting post on why there's been a spike in attempted terror attacks:

Now that administration officials have announced that the Pakistani Taliban (the TTP) were behind the recent attempted bombing of Times Square, we can turn to the question of why there have been so many threatened and actual attacks on the United States inspired by, or actually emanating from, places where the United States is not involved in an active war. A look at arrests in the United States from May 2009 to the present shows dozens of such cases -- many involving multiple suspects -- linked to places like Somalia, Yemen, and of course Pakistan. Four of the plotters (Abulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (Yemen), Nidal Malik Hasan (Yemen), Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (Yemen), and Faisal Shahzad (Pakistan) managed to carry out attacks, although only two were "successful."

Her answer is actually quite interesting but there's something amiss with the description above. First, while it's technically correct that we're not actively at war with Pakistan, we're pretty clearly waging a war inside Pakistan that's killing a fair number of Pakistanis. Second, it could be the that Yemen and Somalia are opportunistic and accessible stopovers for terrorists (and their radicalizers), just as Afghanistan and Sudan served as incubators of jihad in the 1990s even though the U.S. was not at war with them, either.

Still, Habeck's point is that bin Laden may finally be achieving what he set out to do years ago, which was (is) to unite various groups of jihadists and convince them to direct their fire toward the U.S. homeland. The fact that several American citizens have recently been lured by the call is certainly cause for alarm.

Tensions in Korea


The South Koreans will formally announce that North Korea was behind the sinking of the Cheonan.

The Washington Post reports:

South Korea will request that the U.N. Security Council take up the issue and is looking to tighten sanctions on North Korea, the officials said. The United States has indicated it would support such an action, U.S. officials said. Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told his South Korean counterpart on Monday that Japan would do the same, the Japanese press reported Tuesday.

Another consequence of the report, experts predicted, is that Lee will request that the United States delay for several years a plan to pass operational control of all forces in South Korea from the United States to the South Korean military. Approximately 28,500 U.S. forces are stationed in South Korea.

South Korea's conclusion that North Korea was responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan also means it is unlikely that talks will resume anytime soon over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. North Korea has twice tested what is believed to be a nuclear weapon. China has pushed for an early resumption of those talks, but South Korean officials said they will return to the table only after there is a full accounting for the attack against the Cheonan and a policy response.

Scott Snyder analyzes South Korea's response:

Finally, the Lee administration made an early bet that internationalizing the Cheonan response would be the most effective South Korean course of action. Involving international investigators shields the South from accusations that the investigation is biased, but thus far it appears to have yielded little political influence with China, who has applauded South Korea’s decision to undertake a “scientific and objective investigation.” Furthermore, China’s decision to host Kim Jong Il less than a week following Lee Myung-bak’s visit was taken very poorly in Seoul, potentially revealing the limits of South Korea’s internationalization strategy. China is unlikely to accept condemnation of North Korea at the UN Security Council without a “smoking gun” that directly links North Korea to the Cheonan incident.

South Korea’s international approach casts China as the enabler of North Korean provocations. South Korea’s approach attempts to impose potential costs on China as a proxy for South Korean inability to impose costs directly on North Korea. In this approach, China’s failure to rein in North Korea will have costs to China’s interests on the Korean peninsula (as enumerated in my recent CSIS report with Bonnie Glaser on the need for Sino-U.S.-ROK dialogue to plan for instability in North Korea) in the form of increased South Korean public hostility toward China, increased regional tensions on China’s periphery, and by making China North Korea’s guardian at the UN. It remains to be seen whether South Korea’s post-Cheonan diplomacy will influence China’s approach to the peninsula.

Much has been made of China's "soft power" push in Asia, but alienating Japan and South Korea to curry favor with North Korea doesn't seem like a sustainable strategy to me.

(AP Photo)

Brazil's Lula Remains Popular


Fresh off something of a diplomatic triumph, Brazil's President is riding high:

Public support for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva continues to grow as he heads to the final days of his tenure, according to a poll by Instituto Sensus. 83.7 per cent of respondents approve of Lula’s performance as president, up two points since January.

(AP Photo)

About That Iranian Nuclear Deal, Ctd.

It doesn't appear to be stopping the march toward additional sanctions:

The United States has reached agreement with Russia and China on a strong draft resolution to impose new United Nations sanctions on Iran over its uranium-enrichment program, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Tuesday.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a scheduled hearing on a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia, Clinton shrugged off a surprise deal announced Monday in which Iran would swap a portion of its low-enriched uranium for higher-grade uranium to power a research reactor that produces medical isotopes. The deal, brokered by Turkey and Brazil during a high-level visit to Tehran, was meant in part to assuage concerns over Iran's nuclear program and discourage new U.N. sanctions.

According to the Washington Post, the U.N. route is not an end in itself but a means of convincing some EU members to get tough:

European and U.S. officials have made clear that a new U.N. resolution would be the weakest of three steps toward "crippling sanctions." The other two steps are a European Union resolution and tough unilateral sanctions by individual countries.

But nothing can happen before the imprimatur of a new U.N. resolution, since some European countries will not act on sanctions without U.N. approval. Diplomats said that some of the proposed language in the current resolution was added with the full knowledge that it would be removed by the Russians and Chinese -- but then could be revived in the European resolution. The individual country sanctions would come after the European Union has acted and would be led by the United States, Britain, France, Germany and other like-minded nations, diplomats said.

If sanctions can not get out of the Security Council, it would seem that all eyes would be on Israel.

Poll: The UK Coalition


It's never too early to form an opinion:

YouGov’s daily polling for the Sun this week found 56% approval, 38% disapproval on Wednesday, growing to 60% approval, 33% disapproval on Thursday. There was scepticism about how long it would last though – 28% think it will be less than a year, with only 10% thinking it will last the intended 5 years.

(AP Photo)

Transatlantic Orthodoxy


We've spent the last week observing the differences between the British and American political systems - the coalition wrangling, the swiftness of government transitions. But Steve Coll highlights an area of similarity:

On foreign policy, it was fascinating to listen to the Foreign Secretary tic through the usual issue sets—Iran, Afghanistan, Europe, global development, humanitarian intervention, etc.—and to discover that there is hardly any distance between his coalition’s views and that of the Labour government it is succeeding. I’ll save Hague’s comments about Afghan policy until next week, after a reported article I’ve been working on for the magazine, in which British policy figures, has appeared. But on the Afghan war and every other subject discussed, except perhaps for the European economic crisis, where Hague emphasizes Britain’s skepticism about the euro monetary project, it was striking how centrist and even center-left orthodoxy has replaced the radicalism of the Thatcher years and the subsequent “wet-dry” debates among British conservatives. I used to hold in my mind the truism that continental European conservative parties roughly equate to our Democratic Party in their foreign policy views, but that British foreign policy conservatism was an exception; no longer, it seems.

Hague pointed out that, in opposition, his party had supported every one of Tony Blair’s major military interventions abroad, whether they were motivated entirely by humanitarianism or by more traditional security arguments—in Sierra Leone, in Kosovo, in Bosnia, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq. (The Liberal Democrats, his coalition partners, were the only British political party to oppose the Iraq invasion.)

National security orthodoxy has an equally strong hold on this side of the Atlantic.

(AP Photo)

May 17, 2010

Fighting the Afghan War, Soviet-Style

John Bolton is skeptical about nation building in Afghanistan. I think there's plenty of reason to be, but I can't quite understand the conclusion he draws:

But we cannot withdraw from the conflict just because the Afghans may not be meeting our standards. Leaving due to Afghan government failures, of which there are and will be many, would jeopardise our strategic objectives, frustrating the very reasons for intervening after 9/11 in the first place: preventing terrorists from re-establishing Afghanistan as a base, or using it to destabilise Pakistan and seize control of Islamabad’s nuclear weapons.

We must achieve these objectives — which means essentially destroying the Taleban — whether or not the Afghan government shapes up. That is the right metric, not nation building. This is a hard truth, but realistic unless you are prepared to risk a nuclear Taleban.

But how does one "destroy" the Taliban? Does Bolton know who they all are? Where they all are? And would bringing the necessary firepower to bear on the problem, while ignoring the depredations of the Karzai regime, make the Afghans more or less accommodating to foreign forces? As the U.S. wages a total war campaign against the Pashtuns, do fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan get more or less restive? Karzai has, on numerous occasions, blasted NATO for civilian casualties. Presumably under the Bolton doctrine, those casualties increase while our concern for what Karzai (or any Afghan) has to say decreases. Does that seem like a stable mix?

At least advocates of nation building have a coherent view: the Taliban can't be defeated in a conventional sense so the Afghan state has to be reconstructed to the degree that they can wage the insurgency on their own, while winning over an increasingly larger percentage of the population base. If you're skeptical that this approach is worth the costs, the answer isn't to go on a Soviet-style rampage in an ill-defined attempt to "defeat" an enemy deeply enmeshed in Afghan society. It's to leave and figure out a more cost-effective means of keeping al Qaeda (remember them?) from reconstituting in large numbers.

About That Iranian Nuclear Deal...


Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk says not to get your hopes up (if your hopes were up):

Robert Naiman gets off the best line, even if it isn’t quite fair, saying “It’s Gollllllll! for Lula Against Western Push for Iran Sanctions.”

Naiman’s comment is unfair because the nominal intent of sanctions is to press Iran to behave better. If Iran complies, then you don’t need the sanctions.

On the other hand, there is less to Iran’s agreement than meets the eye. Although Naiman thinks the US should accept the offer, I am not so sure. Indeed, I worry that the Zombie Fuel Swap is, to extend the metaphor, an “own goal.”

The US position has been that it is “open” to such an arrangement, but that “the details matter.” In this case, the details are how much LEU Iran has produced in the interim and whether Iran continues feeding the remaining LEU into the cascades to produce ~20 percent enriched uranium. (Iran has previously said that enrichment to that level — for the TRR reactor fuel — is without respect to any fuel swap.)

The Iran-Turkey-Brazil agreement is for 1200 kilograms of LEU — but that leaves about the same amount (Iran had produced a total of 2,065 kg as of January 29, 2010 and today should about 2400 kg) back in Iran. The US seems to think Iran enriching this material to ~20 percent is a deal breaker.

In other words this is the kind of deal that is okay to countries - like Brazil and Turkey - that aren't terribly concerned with Iran's nuclear program.

Winning in Afghanistan


John Nagl defends the war in Afghanistan:

While winning in Afghanistan would not by itself defeat al-Qaeda and associated terror movements, losing in Afghanistan would materially strengthen them at the cost of many more innocent lives around the globe. And there are encouraging signs indicating that the war in Afghanistan can be won—if the international community remains committed to the fight.

Here's how Nagl defines victory:

The development of an Afghan government that is able to provide a modicum of security and governance for its people is necessary to ensure that the international community's security interests will be preserved without a continued major international troop presence. To achieve this objective, the coalition and its Afghan partners must build a state that reconciles a degree of centralised governance with the traditional tribal and religious power structures that hold sway outside Kabul. Achieving these minimal goals will require continued support for an increasingly capable Afghan army and much more effort in building a police force that can earn the trust of the people, as well as a greater Afghan commitment to good governance and to providing for the needs of the people wherever they live.

All of that presumes a degree of human and government capital that simply may not exist. It also presumes that the international community can in fact create the right balance between a strong central government and one that gives the "traditional" power structures outside Kabul their due. Nagl calls these "minimal goals" but they sound rather difficult to me.

(AP Photo)

May 14, 2010

Poll: U.S. Views on United Nations

Via Rasmussen:

Seventy-one percent (71%) of U.S. voters say the United States is a more positive force for good in the world today than the United Nations, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Thirteen percent (13%) disagree and say the international organization is a more positive force for good. Sixteen percent (16%) more are undecided.

Obama's Israel Hatred

It manifests itself in very subtle ways:

Barack Obama is to ask the US Congress for an extra $200m in military aid to help Israel get a short-range rocket defence system in place.

The system is designed to shoot down mortars and rockets from Gaza or Southern Lebanon with guided missiles.

The system, called Iron Dome, has gone through testing and installation will start later this year.

According to US State Department figures, direct military aid to Israel was $2.55bn in 2009.

This is set to increase to $3.15bn in 2018.

May 13, 2010

Poll: Corruption in Russia

Via Reuters:

Fifty-five percent of respondents to a Levada Center poll of 1,600 Russians said they believed that "bribes are given by everyone who comes across officials" in Russia....

...findings by the Levada Center showed that Russians still pay bribes to obtain better medical services, prefer to "buy" their driving licenses, bribe police when caught violating traffic rules, or pay to ensure that their child can dodge the draft or get a place at the right school.

Ten percent confessed they had even paid to arrange funerals for relatives or loved ones.

Only 10 percent of those polled believe that only "cheats and criminals" bribed officials and 30 percent said that those offering "cash in envelopes" are in fact "ordinary people who have no other way to solve their problems".

The Global Rich List

London-based firm Poke has created a site that ranks income status around the world, using World Bank data and a global population estimate of six billion people. You can see how you rank among the world's earners here.

Should NATO Sell Arms to Russia?


Dmitry Gorenburg makes the case:

First of all, countless studies have shown that greater ties between states reduce the likelihood of conflict between them. If France or Germany sell military equipment to Russia, they not only establish closer ties between their militaries, but they also make the Russian military more dependent on NATO military equipment. Cold warriors seem to think that the dependency argument only runs in one direction — Western states who sell to Russia wouldn’t want to lose sales, so they’ll do whatever Russia wants. But the road of mutual dependence is a two way street. If Russia starts buying certain categories of military equipment from abroad, its domestic defense industry will likely lose whatever capability it still has to produce that category of equipment. Russia will then depend on NATO states for the procurement (and perhaps maintenance) of its military equipment. In that situation, Russian leaders will have to think twice before undertaking any actions towards NATO that are sufficiently hostile as to result in it being cut off from access to such equipment.

I'm usually of the mind that the advantage bestowed by Western military equipment is something that should be jealously guarded and not promiscuously sold to the highest bidder. I see the logic in Goreburg's point: that it would deprive Russia of the domestic capacity, leaving them dependent. But I think the idea that Europeans would "deny access" to weapons systems should they begin to disapprove of Russian behavior is a stretch. They were, until recently, reluctant to do so with Iran. Would they really do so with Russia?

May 12, 2010

The Failure of Europe

Derek Scissors diagnoses:

What’s worse, the Post and many other commentators have understated the failure of the European model. For two generations after post-war reconstruction, Europe and America have moved in different economic directions. The American model favored growth, income, and vibrancy; the European model was said to favor fairness, equality, and stability. The long-term superiority of the American model with regard to growth was well-established before the financial crisis, but the extent of that superiority may be surprising to some.

In 2008, the average resident of the troubled state of Michigan, as well as 40 other American states, was richer than the average resident of Austria. Germany leads the European bailout but the average German, and the average Brit, is poorer than the average person in Alabama. In terms of personal income, Germany bailing out Greece is equivalent to Alabama bailing out Mississippi.

It is especially relevant that Europe’s trouble spots – Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain – all have income lower than West Virginia, the second-poorest American state. They have been attempting to support a much more extensive welfare state than the U.S. on a much weaker economic foundation.

Times Square & Counterinsurgency


Faisal Shahzad, the would-be car bomber of Times Square, is the poster child for why the massive counter-insurgency inside Afghanistan is a dubious counter-terrorism strategy. Shahzad was reportedly lured to radicalism by the preachings of Anwar al-Awlaki, which he consumed over the Internet. It's true that he traveled to Pakistan, where he was presumably taught how to build his crude car bomb. But does anyone believe that sufficiently motivated individuals (or groups) can't get up to speed with how to kill large numbers of people without traveling to Pakistan? Obviously, they can.

Even if Pakistan played a role in the radicalization of Shahzad, it's difficult to see how American strategy in Kabul can mitigate that. Indeed, under no conceivable scenario does a functioning government in Kabul stop Shahzad - or future Shahzads - from hatching and attempting to execute murderous schemes.

(AP Photo)

Poll: Americans Worried About Eurozone Crisis

Rasmussen Reports:

While Europe struggles to keep Greece’s battered economy from dragging down other nations on the continent, 79% of Americans are at least somewhat concerned that Europe’s financial crisis will cause economic problems in the United States. That includes 38% who are Very Concerned.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that just 16% of U.S. Adults are not very or not at all concerned that Europe’s economic crisis will cause problems here at home.

May 11, 2010

Cable and Clegg


Rumors are now swirling over just how the spoils of victory (or, er, coalition) will be divvied out in light of David Cameron's ascension to No. 10. The Daily Mail suggests that Vince Cable's slot will be the one to watch:

Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable – the main reason for the party’s popularity before Nick Clegg’s performance in the leaders’ debates – is expected to take a post as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

He will serve with the new Chancellor George Osborne, who is David Cameron’s closest political ally. The Prime Minister has resisted pressure to bring back Ken Clarke, the last Tory to have held the post.

There is a clear advantage for the Tories in involving Mr Cable in pushing through the unpopular spending cuts that will be necessary to deal with the soaring deficit.

Liberal Democrats were also tipped to secure the post of Home Secretary, one of the four great offices of state but also something of a poisoned chalice in recent years.

Earlier reports hinted at Clegg getting Deputy PM, but it now sounds as though he'll be announced as Leader of the Commons. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Sky News is reporting that Clegg will become Deputy PM.

(AP Photo)

UK Health Workers Asked About Hitler

The Times reports:

It was a question that left NHS staff gasping in disbelief: the survey wanted to know how “cool” they would rate Adolf Hitler, on a scale of one to five...

Workers were also asked to rate the “coolness” of other leaders including Richard Branson, Gordon Brown, Winston Churchill and the England football team manager, Fabio Capello. The survey, entitled Making Leadership Cool, is part of a £10,000 project that will help the NHS West Midlands Strategic Health Authority to devise a new leadership strategy.


Will Europe Contribute to Transatlantic Defense?

Stephen Walt wonders:

In any case, whether Europe grows closer together or begins to spin apart, it’s going to carry a lot less weight in world affairs in the next few decades. Its population is shrinking and aging, its military power is increasingly hollow, and it’s going to be short on money for years to come. If U.S. officials think they are going to get a lot more help from NATO in the decades to come, they are living in a dream world.

So here’s my question: will NATO's new “Strategic Concept,” currently being formulated for presentation at the NATO summit next fall, reflect this emerging reality? Will it openly acknowledge that Europe is not going to commit more resources, and identify a set of (fairly modest) common goals that the alliance actually has some chance of achieving? Or will it contain the usual pious declarations of transatlantic solidarity, along with various empty pledges that everyone knows are no more than polite fictions?

I'll venture a guess: it will contain the usual pious declarations and empty pledges.

Poll: What Coalition Does the UK Want?


YouGov asks:

20% wanted the Conservatives to govern as a minority, 33% wanted a pact or coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats (giving a total of 53% wanting a Conservative led government), 39% of respondents backed the Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, etc rainbow coalition.

Meanwhile, the Times is reporting that some Labour officials are disgusted with the Lib Dems:

David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, gave public voice to concerns about whether Labour could trust the Lib Dems in a coalition deal, claiming that they were behaving like "every harlot in history."

(AP Photo)

May 10, 2010

The Real Obama Defense Budget

Not being slashed, according to Benjamin Friedman:

What’s really going here is that the cost of the current defense program is growing so fast that you need large annual increases just to keep what you have. The main cause is rapid growth in the cost of operations and maintenance and personnel. Those accounts are squeezing others (research, development and procurement) needed for new vehicles and weapons. Last year, Gates responded to that pressure by proposing cuts in procurement spending. People treated him like a revolutionary for doing so, but he was just balancing his books. Now that the worst white elephant programs are gone (with several glaring exceptions), Gates is pushing the services to cut overhead costs and shift the saving into procurement. And he is telling them to buy more cheap platforms by controlling requirements creep. Same price, better product. End of story.

The point Gates missed about Eisenhower is that he used strategy to limit spending. The New Look was an air force-first strategy that limited army and navy spending, much to the chagrin of those services. Gates’ enthusiasm for counter-insurgency wars has not lead him to propose cutting the navy and air force budgets to fund the super-sized ground forces one needs for such missions. His official strategy shows little inclination for hard choices.

Real reductions in military spending require reductions in the ambitions it serves. A cheaper military means doing less. This administration has shown no interest in that. Maybe the fiscal situation will force them to reconsider.

I worry that the fiscal restraints won't force them to reconsider, but just under-resource an already over-burdened military.

The Greek Protest Dog

The Guardian has a great slide show of a dog that is apparently a staple at Greek protests over the past two years.

The Dimmed Age, Ctd.

Michael Auslin has tackled some of the responses (including mine) to his Fox News piece about a potential American retrenchment abroad:

I have no idea exactly how Russia, India, or China would act in a world in which the United States was but one power, nearly equal to others. However, the balance of the current global system has been favorable for far more for far longer than any other in recent history. Watching it potentially degrade, therefore, should raise great caution in everyone’s eyes. If I had to hazard my own guess, a world without an imperfect America acting in a global manner as it has done would be closer to a post-Rome than a post-Britain scenario: bits of the current system slowly flaking off, numerous local conflicts threatening to impinge on the higher interests of bigger powers, a number of regional powers jockeying for influence, and the onset of decades of attempts to come to a new balance, one that may not necessarily privilege openness and freedom as its highest goods.

I think there's a lot to this. The coming decades will require the U.S. to be a lot more skillful in balancing various rising powers so that the international system continues to serve our interests. We may fail. This is, as Auslin suggests, new territory for a U.S. grown accustomed to thinking that the "unipolar moment" was going to simply last forever on the strength of our "exceptionalism." But I think there are two important caveats to keep in mind:

1. The U.S. is the victim of a lot of unforced errors, such as the Iraq war and the debt-financed guns-and-butter economy under the Bush II and Obama administrations, that have hastened a relative decline in power. There's no reason, on paper at least, why the U.S. can't right the fiscal ship and be more circumspect with the use of its military. We can't prevent a relative shift in the distribution of national power, but we can still maintain a relative advantage long into the future.

2. The biggest threat to the well being of Americans and the international system is not military in nature. The U.S. may leave small security vacuums in its wake that regional powers will jockey to fill, but none of that is a threat to the international system. It's on the financial and economic fronts that we face the most urgent threat. On Thursday of last week, $1 trillion in wealth vanished in five minutes (mercifully much of it was restored). One need only look at a retirement account or mutual fund statement from 2008 to understand that whatever may be occurring in Russia's near-abroad is a second-order concern to stabilizing and reforming the global financial system. Over the medium term, getting the U.S. and Europe back on a stronger growth track, and balancing their respective budgets, is going to be the order of the day. In light of that, some scaling back of America's military commitments isn't an impediment to the nation's power, but essential to sustaining it.

Plan B: Freedom?


Looking back on President Obama's Cairo speech, George Packer wonders if the so-called freedom agenda has become too cynically applied:

this Administration will devote its energy to repairing relations with foreign governments, and will not risk them for the sake of human rights. Where the stakes are low, as in the West African nation of Guinea, the Administration speaks out against atrocities, with positive effect; but where there’s a strategic interest, as in Ethiopia, which has jailed dozens of journalists and opposition politicians, the policy is mainly accommodation.
What if people around the world want more than a humble adjustment in America’s tone and behavior? What if American overtures to nasty regimes fail, because those regimes have a different view of their own survival? Then the President will have to devise a fallback strategy—preferably one that answers the desires of the people who applauded in Cairo, and doesn’t leave another generation cynical about American promises. [Emphasis added. - KS]

But isn't part of the problem that the so-called freedom agenda has become a de facto, as Packer puts it, "fallback strategy"? If the United States should learn anything from the previous administration, shouldn't it be that using the rhetoric of freedom as window dressing or, even worse, a "fallback" for policy failures only corrupts and sullies the very word itself?

For want of an actual freedom agenda, the American president is often asked to speak out against every petty despot and dictatorship around the world. But the United States cannot, I hope it goes without saying, invade and occupy every undemocratic country allegedly in need of liberation. Were it even effective - which, even in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, would be a rather untenable claim - it's simply not sustainable.

I believe a big part of the problem is the way in which we measure success and failure in American foreign policy. If, getting back to Packer, it's the American president's job to combat global cynicism, then we are in a lot of trouble. I think sequence matters, and if the United States wants to address freedom it should first start with basic human needs such as health. George W. Bush - for everything he got wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan - seemed to understand this in the case of Africa.

It might also be helpful to retain the moral high ground while discussing a sustainable freedom agenda. Which, for example, is more likely to engender global cynicism: the American president's failure to speak out against Ethiopia, or Americans publicly debating whether or not a U.S. citizen deserves his Miranda rights simply because he's a Muslim?

(AP Photo)

May 8, 2010

Venezuela: Baduel Sentenced to Eight Years

Hugo Chavez's former best buddy, Raul Baduel, has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

In case you don't recall, Baduel was:

one of the officers who rose up against the short-lived Carmona government during the April 2002 coup d'etat, when he was chief of the 42nd Airborne Brigade of paratroopers.
Baduel is the general that organized Chavez's rescue from prison in the island of La Orchila following the 2002 coup which reinstated Chavez to power.

However, prior to the 2007 referendum, Baduel encouraged the Venezuelan people to vote - instead of staying home and abstaining - against the constitutional amendment that would allow Chavez to run for office indefinitely, and asked the military to allow the "NO" vote to stand. The people voted "NO." (The referendum was repeated last year and passed.)

Baduel was accused of "stealing funds of the armed forces, abuse of authority and crimes against military honor," he was jailed in April 2009, when Baduel issued a plea for democracy from his prison cell (video in Spanish), and has said that he was persecuted for joining the opposition:

He has now been found guilty of the charges. In addition to his prison sentence, Baduel is barred from running for office.

As the Wall Street Journal reminds us, "Mr. Chavez's government forbids citizens from making any incendiary comments that it deems threatening to peace and stability," even those who brought Chavez back to power.

Fausta Wertz blogs at Fausta's blog.

May 7, 2010

How to Fix England's Democracy

Hugh MacIntyre offers his thoughts:

In the UK there are four legislatures. There are regional legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Then there is the national legislature in Westminster. The problem is that England does not have its own legislature. Policy decisions that are made for Scotland in the Scottish legislature are made for England in the national legislature. This has non-English MPs voting on issues that only affect England.

England elected the Conservative Party and presumably endorses Conservative policy in English matters, such as education. But with a hung Parliament, such policies will be subjected to compromise with a Labour Party that is largely propped up by Scottish and Welsh MPs. It is even possible, though unlikely, that the Labour Party will be able to continue to govern.

Presuming the goal is to correct this problem and keep the United Kingdom together, the only solution is to create an English legislature. With an English legislature, with roughly the same powers as the Scottish Parliament, English voters would be able to elect a government that will be more representative of their preferences on solely English matters.

The Hawkish Divergence on Iran and Pakistan

Barely a day goes by without a prominent journalist, magazine, blogger or defense analyst warning - often in very stark tones - about the danger from Iran. And while Iran is obviously a national security issue, I'm struck by the huge disparity between the focus and intensity on Iran vs. Pakistan. By almost every measure, Pakistan is a more serious threat to the U.S. and to the lives of American citizens than Iran, yet receives a fraction of the attention. Nearly every claim made regarding Iran can be made with respect to Pakistan, in spades:

* Supports terrorism? Check. Only Pakistan's terrorists have the demonstrated intention, and reach, to hit the American homeland.

* Developed a nuclear weapon. Check. Something Iran has yet to do.

* Proliferated nuclear technology. Check. Again, Iran has a lot of catching up to do here.

* Trafficked nuclear know-how to terrorist groups. Check. For all the hysteria about Iran's potential to pass nuclear know-how to terrorists groups, Pakistani nuclear scientists have met with bin Laden, who is clearly more of a threat to the U.S. than Hezbollah or Hamas.

True, Pakistan is not run by "mullahs" but it has been a bona fide military dictatorship shot through with Islamist sympathizers, when not under the weak and often corrupt rule of civilians. Unlike Iran, Pakistan has repeatedly engaged in open, conventional war with its neighbor. Iran fought one major war - which it did not start.

Iran's leaders may be openly hostile to the U.S., whereas Pakistan's are more than happy to pocket taxpayer dollars in return for uneven cooperation. But if opinion polls are to be trusted, Pakistanis have deeply unfavorable views of the U.S. Perhaps this explains why Pakistanis - not Iranians - are frequently implicated in anti-American terror plots.

If you had to wager which terrorist group was going to get its hand on a nuclear weapon (and from which country they'd procure it), I'd say the safe money, by far, would be a Sunni jihadist group based in Pakistan and not a Shiite terror group in Iran.

And yet, each day brings thunderous cries to bomb Iran or scathing blasts against the Obama administration for fecklessness regarding Iran's nuclear program. And very, very little about Pakistan. Why?

I can think of three reasons. One, Iran occupies a strategic location that Pakistan does not, so you could make the case that proximity to oil trumps a propensity to kill American civilians. Second, you could argue that because Iran-the-state is overtly hostile to the U.S. in a way that the Pakistani state is not that it merits an extra dose of hawkishness. Third, it requires less intellectual rigor and delivers greater partisan advantage to be an Iran hawk. It's easy to get to the administration's right on Iran and condense your option down to a sound-bite: "bomb Iran." Pakistan is infinitely more complex - both in terms of the policy and the politics. It's hard to get to the administration's right on Pakistan when they've stepped up drone attacks at a quicker pace than their predecessor. So it's better to just ignore it. (And I don't think even the most enthusiastic hawks would call for a wide ranging bombing campaign against Pakistan.)

During the 1990s, neoconservatives spent an awful lot of energy agitating for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein all while the real threat to the American homeland - al Qaeda - passed completely under their (and everyone's) radar. Now, all the intellectual energy is being devoted to Iran, when far more Americans are likely to be killed as a result of events in Pakistan. Of course, given the track record, I guess we should take comfort that they're not offering up suggestions for Pakistan. But still, this disparity is something to ponder.

May 6, 2010

British Elections Live Blog

8:00 AM BST - Final update until the morning stateside: A hung parliament is just about assured. With only about 50 seats left to be decided, the Tories will have to claim close to 40 of them to reach the magic number of 326.

Not going to happen. So it's on. Forget the earlier comparisons to Canada and Israel. This has the potential of disintegrating into a mess like the 2000 U.S. presidential election. The Supreme Court justices made the call 10 years ago to save the republic, the queen will have to do the same now to save the empire, er, the kingdom. -Sam

7:10 AM BST - We're hurtling toward the finish. The Tories can still mathematically win a majority, but it's becoming more unlikely by the minute. Meanwhile, the jockeying for 10 Downing Street has begun in earnest.

From David Cameron:

What will guide me in the hours ahead, and perhaps longer than the hours ahead, will be the national interest – to do what is right for our country, to make sure we have that government, have that stability, take the right decisions. We live in difficult times but this is a great country and we will come through them and be stronger. At all times what I will do is put the national interest first to make sure we have good, strong, stable government for our country.

From Gordon Brown:

The outcome of this country's vote is not yet known. But my duty to the country, coming out of this election, is to play my part in Britain having a strong, stable and principled government, able to lead Britain into sustained economic recovery and able to implement our commitments to far-reaching reform to our political system - upon which there is a growing consensus in our country.


5:30 AM BST - Almost daybreak in London, and the cliffhanger continues. The next question: WWQD?

That would be Queen Elizabeth II, the sovereign of the United Kingdom. If none of the parties obtained a majority in Thursday's vote, the queen can invite whomever first to form the new government at her discretion. And she has broad discretion because Britain has no single written, binding constitution. Like baseball, it's governed by a set of unwritten rules and conventions more than anything else.

For now, Gordon Brown remains Prime Minister until/unless he goes to Buckingham Palace to resign. And so far he has been talking up about continuing on at 10 Downing Street. This election is reminiscent of both the 2008 Canadian federal election and last year's election in Israel, in either case no party came close to winning outright majority. -Sam

4:30 AM BST - All indications suggest that the Conservatives have gained enough seats to win a strong plurality, but still fall short of outright majority. The vote counting will go on through the night, though in some instances they will resume Friday morning.

The Tories have already laid the claim as the party that should form the next government, though Labour's Gordon Brown and his surrogates have not given up the idea of hanging on by forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Cameron may be very close to being able to form a minority government, with the support of Northern Ireland's Unionists, who are expected to send 8 or 9 MPs to the next Parliament. Most projections now put the final Tories total somewhere between 305-310 seats, though an official count probably will not emerge until at least midday British Time on Friday. -Sam

1:54 AM BST - Cleggmania may not have boosted the Lib Dem wave, but turnout has apparently been so heavy that some polling stations were caught by surprise and ran out of ballot paper or turned voters away. - Greg

1:38 AM BST - Gordon Brown wins his seat and vows: "I will not let you down." - Greg

1:21 AM BST - The BBC is saying that Gordon Brown is sending out feelers about forming a coalition government with the Lib Dems if the Conservatives can't seal the majority. -Greg

1:02 AM BST - Benedict Brogan, calling it for Cameron, suggests his first move as PM will be national security-oriented:

The first major announcement, I gather, would be about national security. Mr Cameron gave us a hint on Sunday when he was asked by Andrew Marr about his first priorites in office and he cited Afghanistan and the need for a war cabinet. Mr Cameron’s aim is to announce who will be his National Security Adviser. It will be a senior official from the Foreign Office (Sherard Cowper Coles, currently the special representative to Afghanistan, is one of the names doing the rounds) who will oversee the national security council. The Conservative leader reckons with some justification that his first thoughts and actions should be about defence. He wants to deliver a message of calm purpose on the issue that has been in the background for this campaign, specifically about how we run the war tnat has now lasted longer than any since that tussle with Boney.

Given the state of international markets, he may (if he wins!) want to rethink that. - Greg

12:35 AM BST - Just in a couple of minutes ago. The BBC/Sky/ITV exit polls have the Tories at 305, Labour at 255 and Lib Dems at 61.

Significant here, besides the Tories are 21 short of a majority, it also leaves a possible Labour-Lib Dem coalition short of a majority by 10 seats. In fact, as Greg already pointed out, despite Cleggmania, the Lib Dems would lose net one seat from the last parliament. -Sam

12:15 AM BST - Based on seat projections from Trendlines and other outlets, it appears that the Tories would come close, but just shy, of reaching the 326-seat majority.

Trendline's most recent projections have the Tories winning 307 seats, 19 short of an outright majority. In 2008, RCW tracked the Canadian federal elections using Trendlines as part of the seat projections and it came within 8.3 percent of predicting the actual outcome for each of the major parties.

At 8.3 percent margin of error, the Tories would have a top end result of 332 seats, just enough for a majority. -Sam

12:00 AM BST - Looking at the exit polls, the Lib Dems may actually win fewer seats than in 2005. So despite Cleggmania, the Lib Dems may in fact retreat a bit in 2010. -Greg


11:26 PM BST - Listening to the BBC, the Conservatives actually need to get to "around" 310 seats to form a government due to the vagaries of British democracy. For Labour, "a bad night already."

Results are also in Houghton and Sunderland South. Labour took both, but the swing of Labour votes to the Conservatives is apparently massive. The swing in Sunderland was 11 percent, more than double what Thatcher scored, and the size of the swing could mean that the exit polls were considerably underestimating the size of the Conservative win, according to the BBC. "The largest swing since 1945," sayeth the Beeb. - Greg

10:43 PM BST - Based on exit polling, the Guardian has the Conservatives winning 307 seats, Labour 255 and Lib-Dems snatching 59. At 307, Cameron would be shy of the 326 seat majority he needs to form a government. - Greg

8:30 PM BST - Only an hour and a half left before all the polling stations are closed. The Telegraph has an interactive map that will be updated whenever a seat is declared. But if you want to do the number crunching yourself for all 650 seats, go right ahead. -Sam

6:39 PM BST - Andrew Sullivan reflects on the Conservative Party re-branding undertaken by David Cameron:

Thatcher campaigned on smaller government, lower taxes and social conservatism. But the vibrant economy that followed did more to undermine traditional England than anything Labour could have done. Small towns became dependent on nationally branded super-stores, migrants and immigrants poured in, gays became mainstream, the environment became a consensus national issue, cosmopolitanism sank deep into even the most traditional of places. Re-branding was essential if the Tories were going to survive at all in the Britain they had themselves created.


5:55 PM BST - Rosemary Hollis tackles the implications of the UK election on the country's Mideast policy:

inority rule or a coalition in Britain is greeted in Israel with apprehension on the grounds that both would spell uncertainty and indecisiveness. The biggest fear of some in Israel appears to be the appointment of Clegg as the next British foreign secretary.

However, Clegg could well opt for another slot in a coalition government, such as deputy prime minister. The real issue will be whether a weak government would want to take a strong stance on the question of Iran -- especially if Iranian intransigence on the nuclear issue presages a slide toward military action.

Meanwhile, a Conservative-led government, with Euro-skeptic William Hague as foreign secretary, will first have to divine a way forward on British relations with the European Union and the United States. The decision of the Conservatives to leave the center-right bloc in the European parliament in favor of an alignment with right-wing groups considered populist and even anti-Semitic in more mainstream EU circles portends an uncomfortable relationship with the rest of Europe.

The key question therefore is what role the Lib Dems could play in tempering the foreign-policy leanings of a Conservative or Labour leadership in a minority or coalition government. They could rescue a Tory leadership from isolation in Europe. Yet they will probably not be able to make changes to British ties to the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Ultimately she doesn't expect much change, which sounds about right to me. - Greg

2:38 PM BST - Britain's best prime ministers: the Times picks the top 50. - Greg

2:32 PM BST - Why do the British vote? The polling firm YouGov put that question to UK voters. A sense of duty topped the list. - Greg

2:05 PM BST - Nile Gardiner looks to the future:

President Obama’s first 16 months in office provide an important lesson for the next British Prime Minister in how not to run the country. The hallmarks of the Obama administration have been the relentless rise of big government, excessive levels of public spending and borrowing, little or no job creation, the weakening of America’s defences, the appeasement of America’s enemies, and the decline of US global power. Unsurprisingly, Barack Obama’s approval ratings are at historically low levels, and there is widespread public concern over the size of the deficit and the mounting public debt, as well as mounting unease over his administration’s handling of the war on terror and the Iranian nuclear threat.

David Cameron should instead pursue a conservative agenda which emphasises limited government, low taxation, cuts in public expenditure, and an enterprise economy that creates jobs rather than stifles businesses. He should also eschew Obama’s weak-kneed approach to national security issues, and make the war against Islamist terrorism, at home and abroad, a top priority. In contrast to President Obama, instead of apologising for his country when traveling abroad, Cameron should project pride in Britain’s distinguished history and its great role in advancing freedom, liberty and prosperity across the globe.

There's a whole lot of truthy conjecture to unpack here, but I think it perfectly highlights just how similar David Cameron's situation is to Obama's. Both have (likely, in Cameron's case) inherited an increasingly powerful executive office, tasked with stewarding over a proud and powerful country, while the rest of the world becomes more multi-polar - and less inclined to follow dictates from Washington and London.

Take Gardiner's commentary: In just two paragraphs, he suggests that PM David Cameron must cut taxes, but not borrow. But he also mustn't engage enemies, and instead must prosecute an indefinite war abroad against Islamists. Gardiner goes on to suggest that "Barack Obama’s leadership of the United States is leading his country on a path of decline as a world power. David Cameron must learn from Obama’s mistakes, and take Britain down a completely different path."

The path Gardiner suggests - tax cuts coupled with spending; fiscal rhetoric coupled with indefinite war; rejection of multilateral cooperation; imperial rhetoric in oblivious defiance of global realities; etc. - may be somewhat different from Obama's, but it's one Americans are certainly familiar with nonetheless. How'd that work out? - Kevin

12:52 PM BST - British MP Nigel Farage, last seen delivering the mother of all tongue lashings to EU President Herman Rumpoy, was injured in a small crash. It doesn't appear to be life-threatening. - Greg

12:42 PM BST - So how accurate are British opinion polls? The Guardian's Data Blog takes a look and finds.... inconsistency. - Greg

7:30 AM BST - Voting began all cross the United Kingdom. Based on the final poll results, the Conservatives are assured of winning a plurality of votes. The question, then, is, has David Cameron done enough in the final days to secure a majority for his party, out of power since 1997.

The final RCP Average puts the Tories' advantage at 8.6. All of the final polls indicated a lead of between 7 to 9 points for the Tories. Most seat projections now have the Tories 20-30 seats short of the 326 needed for an outright majority. -Sam


5:10 PM BST - The BBC has a nice selection of photos from the campaign. -Greg

5:02 PM BST - The Telegraph offers a handy time line of campaign landmarks and lamentable moments. - Kevin

3:24 PM BST - Harry Mount reports that one of the effects of the Clegg surge was to dampen the class war overtones that had initially marked the campaign:

Any remnants of the class war disappeared in the aftermath of the Clegg triumph. One Oxbridge-educated, public schoolboy can be attacked on class grounds. If Gordon Brown had attacked both Clegg and Cameron for those reasons, he would have looked ludicrous: “They’re all ganging up on me” would have been the rather pathetic impression.

Funnily enough, though, having two identikit, privately-educated, Oxbridge graduates in their early 40s running for office, shows quite how much opportunities for state-educated, red-brick graduates have retreated. That’s a class issue to a certain extent. But, more directly, it’s a result of the collapse of state education standards, and the decrease in the number of grammar schools – something both the Tories and Labour are responsible for.

- Greg

2:34 PM BST
- Time to make the sausage:

Northern Ireland MPs have indicated that they will formally back the Conservative leader if he protects the region from this year’s public spending cuts. The move would cost up to £200 million.

The deal, which Mr Cameron will be under pressure to accept, would give his party another nine or 10 parliamentary seats.

- Greg

1:50 PM BST - The European Commission has some good news for the next resident of Number 10 Downing Street:

Latest forecasts show Britain's debt at 88% of GDP in 2011/12, well above the eurozone permitted maximum of 60%.

Britain's annual deficit is also running at more than four times the eurozone permitted ceiling of 3% of GDP.

Meanwhile, the Greeks don't seem to be very keen on trimming back their budget. - Greg

1:37 PM BST - Cameron gets the critical Simon Cowell endorsement. - Greg

1:24 PM BST - "Grumbling ineptitude and obvious exhaustion." That's how Labour MP Austin Mitchell describes his party's boss. The knives are out. [Hat tip: The Times] - Greg

11:53 AM BST - With the prospects of a hung parliament roiling the political landscape, the idea of "tactical voting" has taken on greater currency. Two members of Gordon Brown's cabinet have actually come out in favor of the idea to deny David Cameron the win. Tony Blair, speaking to the Guardian, has none of it. - Greg

8:00 AM BST - On Thursday, the Queen's subjects hit the polls to elect a new government, most likely ending 13 years of Labour rule.

The Conservatives are poised to win a plurality of votes, though 24 hours before the election, it's unclear if they will win enough seats to gain a majority. By most counts, the Tories are anywhere between 10 to 50 short of the 326 seats needed to avoid a hung parliament. -Sam

May 4, 2010

Nonproliferation as Team Sport


No one worries about British or French or American nukes. Nor should anyone worry about Israeli nukes — as long as Israel doesn’t face annihilation, they will never be used.

That’s because countries like the U.S. and Israel have democratic systems with checks and safeguards against capricious use of the ultimate weapons. The problem with Iran is that it has no such safeguards. If it were to acquire nukes, its weapons would be in the hands of millenarian religious fanatics who jail or kill anyone who criticizes them. - Max Boot

If the administration wants to prevent proliferation and/or an arms race in the region, there is only one place on which it needs to focus its attention: Iran.

But since the administration refuses to turn up the heat on the regime, it has gotten nowhere in confronting the actual nuclear threat in the Middle East. So, instead, it is inventing a new threat and dealing with that one. In this case, we’re back to the laughable idea that the United States can extract good behavior from bad regimes by setting an inspiring example of self-abnegation, especially one in which we refuse to show any “favoritism” to our allies. - Noah Pollak

Once upon time, Washington's Iranian ally was an "island of stability," fully deserving of American nuclear know-how and material. The reason the Shah even signed the NPT in the first place was so that he could develop and expand his country's nuclear energy program. Fast forward 40 years, and that one little signature is essentially the spine of the international community's charge of nuclear malfeasance against Iran and its current regime. Without it, Tehran's behavior would legally be no different than India and Japan's, and in fact less "rogue" than Israel's. Without that little signature, we wouldn't even be having a debate over "targeted" multilateral sanctions vs. "crippling" sanctions. There'd be no hand-wringing over Chinese waivers and watered-down measures, because the case for punishing Iran's nuclear behavior would have zero international basis.

All of this is important, because it demonstrates how unbiased and fair global policy can serve a more static, long-term purpose. Alliances change and turn, which is why the case for democratic nuclear entitlement put forth here by Boot and Pollak makes little sense to me. I agree with Pollak that it's not entirely fair to target Israel and Israel alone for its nuclear program, but let's be fair - if Obama were to advocate a more consistent policy of "self-abnegation" and include, for example, India, then the choruses of Indo-American decline would only become louder and more profound.

And Boot seems to confuse democratic transparency for nuclear security. India is indeed a developing and promising democracy, but it's also a divisive and sectarian one; fraught with internal, regional conflicts. Can Boot really call India an island of stability just because it's a democracy in 2009? Is India immune from regime upheaval? Is any nation - much less one accounting for roughly one-sixth of the world's population - immune from such change?

Can he say unequivocally that Israel's undeclared and unmonitored nuclear weapons program will never produce the next A.Q. Khan?

Times Square Bomb Attempt & Linkage

This is a guess, but I don't think that Faisal Shahzad, if he is indeed a terrorist, was radicalized solely by the construction in East Jerusalem of apartment buildings for Jews. This suggests the limited relevance of the "linkage" argument. - Jeffrey Goldberg.

Agreed. But if it Shahzad was not a member of Hamas or Hezbollah, it also suggests that the U.S. and Israel don't face the same terrorist enemy.

Poll: Public Approval of Obama's Foreign Policy

A few nuggets in this new Times/CBS news poll (pdf): 48 percent of respondents approve (+1 since Feb.) vs. 38 percent disapprove (+4 since Feb.)

Respondents were also asked about their views on Israel:

15 percent - very favorable

40 percent - mostly favorable

16 percent - most unfavorable

7 percent - very unfavorable.

More Republicans (24 percent ) than Democrats (7 percent) had "very favorable" views.

Japan's Base Problem


Shortly after the revolt in Kyrgyzstan, there was the obligatory spat of commentary about how awful realism is because making deals with autocratic governments never ends well. James Kirchick wrote:

Nonetheless, the most important lesson to be learned from the events in Kyrgyzstan this past week is that supporting authoritarianism, no matter how valid the excuses, comes with a cost. This is something that everyone, especially "realists" who say that regime type should be irrelevant in the determination of foreign policy, ought to acknowledge. Soft-pedaling criticism of dictators who assist this or that American foreign policy objective, ­whether it be hosting a military base or supplying us with oil, may bring promised "stability," but it is always illusory. As the behavior of Kurmanbek Bakiyev demonstrated, authoritarians are by their nature irrational and unpredictable. Worse, when an authoritarian regime falls, the people who take over naturally feel resentment toward anyone who supported those who oppressed them.
So how are things going in democratic Japan? The New York Times reports on the on-going battle over the relocation of a Marine Corps air base:
Mr. Hatoyama is now scrambling to put together a modified version of the 2006 agreement, which called for relocating the Futenma base from the center of the crowded city of Ginowan to Camp Schwab in Okinawa’s less populated north. He is now considering options, including building a smaller air field at Camp Schwab, government officials said. Mr. Hatoyama also wants to lessen Okinawa’s burden by moving training activities and up to 1,000 of Futenma’s 2,500 Marines to Tokunoshima, said Takeshi Tokuda, Tokunoshima’s Lower House representative, who was briefed on the plan.

Mr. Tokuda said he firmly opposes the move.

“Prime Minister Hatoyama is just trying to save face at our expense,” said Mr. Tokuda.

The mood on the island is now overwhelmingly against the plan. The main road along the coast of this mountainous island is now lined with hand-painted signs saying “No Base!” The mayors of the island’s three towns agreed on Saturday to meet with the prime minister, but only to express their opposition to his face, they say.

Hatoyama's approval ratings are in the pits, but it's not like a potential successor government is going to find Okinawans any more open to the idea of hosting the base. So... what to do? Bow to the wishes of the Japanese people, scrap U.S. relocation plans and start from scratch? Wait for the Hatoyama government to fall and hope that its successor will run roughshod over local wishes in the service of a larger strategic partnership? It's a genuinely thorny problem that would likely bedevil realists and neoncons alike.

(AP Photo)


That is the number of nuclear weapons the U.S. has in its stockpile. You can see a fact sheet of the U.S. nuclear stock pile here (pdf).

Kicking Brown When He's Down


A Labour parliamentary candidate today dubbed Gordon Brown the worst prime minister Britain has had.

According to the Lynn News newspaper, North West Norfolk
candidate Manish Sood said: "Immigration has gone up which is creating friction within communities. The country is getting bigger and messier.

"The role of ministers has gone bureaucratic and the action of ministers has gone downhill - it is corrupt.

"The loss of social values is the basic problem and this is not what the Labour Party is about.

"I believe Gordon Brown has been the worst prime minister we have had in this country.

"It is a disgrace and he owes an apology to the people and the Queen."

May 3, 2010

Building More Democracies

Apropos the discussion below on the best methods of spreading freedom (if it must be "spread" by the U.S.) Josh Rogin reports that the Obama administration is about to elevate development aid to a key pillar of national strategy. He's gotten his hands on the draft proposal:

The Cable has obtained a draft copy (pdf) of the review, which is titled "A New Way Forward on Global Development" and is known internally as the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development or PSD-7.

"The Obama Administration recognizes that the successful pursuit of development is essential to our security, prosperity, and values," the draft document reads. It promises a "new approach to global development that focuses our government on the critical task of helping to create a world with more prosperous and democratic states."

Obviously a lot of this depends on the implementation. But note what the Obama administration is insisting here - that helping to create a world with more "prosperous and democratic states" is a "critical task."

Questions for Daniel Ayalon

I took Foreign Affairs up on the opportunity to present a question to Daniel Ayalon, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister.

Here it is:

ROSE: Talking about being good friends and allies, here’s a question from Greg from Real Clear Politics: “Many supporters of Israel in the United States argue,” he writes, “that the partnership not only enhances Israeli security but American security as well. Do you believe this to be the case? And if so, can you highlight some examples?”

AYALON: Well, absolutely. Well, first of all, on the most obvious, I would say, the most obvious facts now are the fact that we cooperate so well on the war on terrorism in terms of methods of operations, in terms of intelligence, in terms of equipment. I think it’s very important strategically. We are looking for the same results all over the globe, not just in the Middle East.

The fact that Israel is the -- you know, I’m taking just a total different field now -- economically, you know, Israel is the largest trading partner of the United States in the Middle East. We buy; Israel buys more American products and services than any country around us.

So the ties that bind us together are myriad and many. I also believe -- and I think this is very important -- the fact that we have been attacked for so long is more because what we represent than anything else, and we represent in the area American ideals. We represent American civilization or the Western civilizations. And we are together; in many ways, we are in the trenches, really fighting and defending the values, the way of life that we all cherish.

You can read the entire exchange here.

Times Square Car Bomb

I'm pretty surprised how some commentators are taking at face value claims made by the Pakistani Taliban that they had a hand in the amateurish attempt to blow up a car in Times Square. Here's Mary Habeck:

This attempted attack is also a reminder that the administration's conviction that "solving" the Israel-Palestine conflict will end the terrorist threat to the United States is mistaken. We cannot negotiate away or mollify the desire by al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other Salafi-jihadis to kill us, because the men who subscribe this ideology do not want a just peace between Israel and Palestine with two states living side by side: they want the destruction of Israel. They also do not have reasonable demands for the United States, e.g., a desire that the U.S. stop "meddling" in the affairs of the Muslim-majority world: they want the United States destroyed.
The truth is we can draw absolutely no insight from this attack until the facts are in. And in any event, whichever group (or individual) hatched this plot is certainly not going to "destroy" the U.S. with M80s and gas cans.

(AP Photo)

Freedom on the March

Ted Bromund didn't think highly of Mark Mazower's essay on "The Rise and Fall of Humanitarianism." Bromund writes:

The concept of legal norms is meaningless unless the norms are reciprocal: failure to uphold them must have consequences. Mazower traps himself into incoherence by accepting the fallacious belief that sovereignty is inherent in the state. Wrong: sovereignty is inherent in the people, who then establish the state as an expression of their sovereignty. The U.N. is deeply flawed precisely because it has admitted so many states that are not based on popular sovereignty.

It is, of course, quite fair to say that those states should not always – or even not often – be the target of armed intervention by the U.S. and its allies. Interventions are indeed not sustainable unless they are based on U.S. interests – yet as the U.S. is the only nation in the world consciously founded on an idea, it will always have an idealistic impulse in its foreign policy, and one of those interests is the advance of its ideas. There is no way to unravel this contradiction, except to acknowledge the need for balance. But there is one way to make the contradiction worse, and that is to assert that there are no policies between universal armed intervention and “stability.” As a matter of practice, there are many – ranging from verbal condemnations, to political pressure, to foreign aid policy, to withdrawal of diplomatic privileges, to economic sanctions, to all varieties of support for resistance groups. If the only alternative to constant armed interventions that are not directly in our interests are unenforced legal norms, the mindless pursuit of stability, and the U.N., we are in a very bad way. [emphasis mine]

There are, unquestionably, other policies the U.S. can engage in between armed intervention and "mindless" stability. But do they work? Sanctions haven't liberalized Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Burma, etc. All that and more didn't liberalize Iraq. The revocation of diplomatic privileges, political pressures or, gasp, verbal condemnation doesn't seemed to have moved the needle with Zimbabwe, Sudan, Congo, et. al. And which resistance groups does Bromund believe will usher in durable democratic change should we lend them our support?

What's missing from Bromund's litany is the one thing that could potentially improve humanity's lot - trade policy. Strengthening commercial ties between nations does not guarantee peace, harmony or the flowering of democratic governments. It certainly hasn't - yet - with China. But it does improve people's living standards and their material well-being and could, over time, lead to pressures for reform. Better still, strengthening trade does not require Washington bureaucrats and think tankers to anoint political winners and losers in countries whose cultures, customs and internal dynamics they simply do not understand. No need to drop-ship liberal institutions - they can grow, if they can grow, organically.

In this view, the best way to crack closed societies is not to subject them to toothless hectoring or sanctions - neither of which have proven terribly effective. But to end their isolation through commercial engagement. Again, it may not work, and certainly won't work in every case. But judged against the effectiveness of the other measures Bromund endorses, I have to think it stands a decent chance, provided we're patient.

(Daniel Larison has more here and here.)

Cameron, the Axe Man

The Daily Mirror reports that David Cameron is softening the public to the idea of even deeper cuts than what was promised during the campaign:

In an astonishing television interview, the Tory leader acknowledged he would have to reduce spending by more than his party has admitted to publicly.

And he highlighted welfare benefits along with the pay and pensions of seven million public sector workers as areas where he was looking to cut costs.

The frank admission was widely seen as a sign Cameron believes he is on course to get into No 10 this week.

The Tories want a full mandate to begin a harsh programme of cuts.

But Labour strategists believe it is an own goal and Cabinet ministers said it reminded people that a "nightmare" awaits if the Tories win on Thursday.

Unfortunately, the consensus seems to be that whichever man wins the election will confront the nightmare of British finances.

Majority in Japan Dissatisifed With Government

More bad news for Japan's Prime Minister:

Public confidence in the government headed by Yukio Hatoyama has eroded considerably in Japan, according to a poll by Mainichi. 51 per cent of respondents disapprove of the current cabinet, up 34 points since October 2009.

May 2, 2010



[Via Joyner]

« April 2010 | Blog Home Page | June 2010 »