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June 30, 2010

Russia Hosts Military Exhibition Near Moscow

An international military exhibition has opened in Zhukovsky, near Moscow. "Technology in Mechanical Engineering 2010" forum will last until July 4, 2010. This forum will include the exhibitions "UVS-TECH", "International Salon of Weapons and Military Equipment", "Intermash" and "Aerospace 2010."

The exhibition involves 314 companies. Russian Defense Ministry will showcase 23 units of military equipment and 25 models provided by the military manufacturers, such as Ka-135 and "Vulture" drone mock-ups and a new "Wolf" armored car.

Visitors can also see other modern armaments, including T-90S tanks; BMP-3M infantry fighting vehicles; newest KAMAZ and URAL heavy trucks; "Tiger" armored cars; and many other interesting technologies.

What Does Pakistan Want?

The Council on Foreign Relations has a good interview up with their Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia, Daniel Markey. Here's Markey on Pakistan's goals inside Afghanistan:

The Pakistanis would want to see an Afghanistan run by a collection of individuals who are at least sympathetic to Pakistan and who are committed to not seeing much in the way of Indian influence in Afghanistan. You really do have to trace this back to Pakistani concerns about being confronted on both eastern and western borders by India. Some of that is a bit obsessive, but that's certainly the way the Pakistanis have perceived developments in Afghanistan. They have seen a rising amount of Indian influence and a potential that they would be squeezed by both sides. So they want to make sure that they have preponderant and certainly dominant interests and influence in Kabul into the future. They will probably not be satisfied with anything short of that.

As Markey notes, the way the Pakistanis see their interests protected is by nurturing militant groups that have sheltered international terrorists in the past and would presumably do so again in the future. There's not much our counter-insurgency can do about that, unless we can combine it with a diplomatic effort to change Pakistan's strategic outlook.

Russian Experts: China (Again) Preparing to Attack

Russia's "Svobodnaya Pressa" (Free Press) publication reports that China's growing infrastructure projects parallel to the border with Russia are a sign that Beijing could use such extensive infrastructure for a successful military thrust into the Russian Far East.

In the Tszyain county, Heilongjiang Province, two highways are being constructed - 114-km long stretch of Heihe - Tszyain road and 103-kilometer long Suybin - Tszyainong highway, to be open in October 2010. Additional roads are also built on the border with Russia. Alexander Aladdin, "Svobodnaya Pressa" China expert, is sure that such infrastructure development is preparation for war. Earlier, Aladdin asked Russian Constitutional Court to review the agreement with China on the transfer of Russian Amur Islands to Beijing. He believes that such transfer could be a strategic threat to the safety of Khabarovsk, the Far East and Russia itself in the future: "China is already building wide concrete roads toward Russia that could withstand the stress of transporting heavy equipment and weaponry. With the commissioning of such infrastructure, China can easily transfer troops and equipment along the entire border with Russia, and to conduct offensive operations in strategically important areas."

Aladdin laments the state of the Russian military today: "After undergoing modernization, the army has nothing left except the 85 untrained brigade-level formations. The massive reduction of troops and officers in the army has left the Far East and Eastern Siberia without protection from the external enemy." He predicts China's easy victory under such circumstances: "The beginning of large-scale offensive operations along the land border and landing in northern Russia will conclude with a full, quick victory for China and the loss of the Russian territory to the Ural Mountains. After all the territory to the Urals are captured, Russian citizens will be deported or destroyed."

Alexander Khramchikhin, the head of the analytical department of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, agrees with this possible scenario: "The construction of the road along the Russian-Chinese border is very specialized - this road runs parallel to the front lines. China has a strong interest in the invasion of our Far East - the fact is that China cannot survive without expanding its territory." According to Khramchikhin, "China will try to do so without conflict, but in case of a crisis, it will launch a war without a second thought. The plan to take over our territories is designed, I think, over the next several decades. The first main task for China is to solve the Taiwan issue. After that, the Chinese will take Russia seriously. They do not even hide their intentions."

What is interesting is that neither expert mentions that Russia would use nuclear weapons in its defense if attacked first - a policy that is enshrined in its Military Doctrine.

What's a Life Worth?


Both Matthew Yglesias and Ross Douthat raise an issue that's been under-discussed with respect to Afghanistan, and that's the issue of saving face. Yglesias writes that it was "churlish" of him to point out that the Iraq surge had failed based on the objectives laid out for it because it made Washington feel good about leaving the country. Similarly, Douthat claims that the objective of a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan is to "make it easier for leading U.S. policymakers to embrace a real withdrawal" - irrespective of obtaining any strategic objectives in the country.

There have been countless incidents in war when military commanders and/or their civilian leaders have made decisions that they knew would cost lives but were nonetheless essential to victory. There are also countless incidents when rulers sent armies off on fatal missions simply to assuage their imperial or monarchical vanity.

The U.S. has to think long and hard about where the current Afghan counter-insurgency falls on this continuum. It's one thing to risk the lives of American and Western soldiers because there is absolutely no other choice to safeguard our security. It's quite another to do so to make Washington's political establishment feel good about itself.

(AP Photo)

Wars Cost Money

We see once again that there is no substitute for a clear-headed commander in chief. Petraeus was successful in Iraq because he had the right strategy and a president who supported him fully. Had Petraeus not been given Ambassador Crocker to work with and had he not been given a wholehearted and, yes, open-ended commitment from the commander in chief, he might very well have failed.

Petraeus could have said to Obama that he wouldn’t take the job given the timeline — and he still could resign if it remains firmly in place. But at least for now he has chosen to operate with the ball and chain around his ankle. - Jennifer Rubin, 6/30/2010

War is a horrid prospect, as is the potential for massive loss of life – but not as horrid as that of a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama’s willingness to leave Israel to fend for itself or, worse, interfere with its ability to do so is not merely a betrayal of our democratic ally; it is an abdication of American responsibility that will resonate for years to come, signaling that the U.S. is no longer the guarantor of the West’s security. - Jennifer Rubin, 6/29/2010

An open-ended commitment to do whatever it takes in Afghanistan irrespective of the costs and the initiation of a new war against Iran. And yet Rubin appears to be worried about American debt.

400 Russian Spies in U.S.

That's the word from a former KGB hand:

Oleg Gordiyevsky, a British-based former senior agent with the Russian Federal Security Service's (FSB) predecessor, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that he reckons Russia has hundreds of spies currently working in the United States.

A "conservative" estimate is that 400 or so spies are operating in the U.S. from embassies and other Russian governmental institutions, he said.

He put the number of deep-cover agents, or "illegals" like those in the recent case, at around 60.

Gordiyevsky estimated the number of U.S. spies in Moscow at 20-25, and said the British had two spies in the Russian capital.

He did not elaborate on how he arrived at such specific figures.

The U.S. side sounds a bit low, no?

Australians Call for Afghan Exit

Via Angus Reid, more deterioration in Western support for the Afghan mission:

The proportion of people in Australia who want to end their country’s commitment in Afghanistan has risen considerably, according to a poll by Essential Media Communications. 61 per cent of respondents think Australia should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, up 11 points since March 2009.

On the contrary, 24 per cent of respondents say the Australian troops should stay in Afghanistan.

Australia has roughly 1,500 troops inside Afghanistan.

Polling a Two State Solution

Via the Jerusalem Post the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have a new poll on the Mideast conflict:

Two-thirds of the Israeli and Palestinian participants said the chances for an independent Palestinian state within the next five years were low, if not nonexistent....

Meanwhile, Palestinians demonstrated a surge of support for Turkey, which has strongly criticized Israel’s involvement in the death of nine Turkish men on the flotilla. Among Palestinians, 43 percent said Turkey was the regional country most supportive of the Palestinian cause.

Perhaps surprisingly for many Israelis, fewer than 6% of the Palestinians expressed similar confidence in Iran or Syria, despite those nations’ aggressive stances toward Israel.

Obama Throwing Israel Under the Bus?


Not so much, according to a new report on the Arab-Israeli military balance from the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

As the report shows, Israel has also benefited from continuing US aid and arms transfers – benefits that are substantially greater than the dollar figures show because Israel is able to draw on the most advanced US military technology, often on preferential terms, and integrate into its own advanced military industrial base. Israeli political claims that the Obama Administration has somehow distanced itself from a concern with Israel’s security have not been reflected in arms transfers and security cooperation.

One interesting area of the report is what it notes about biological weapons:

The wild card in this quiet race in weapons of mass destruction is biological warfare. All of the major states in the Middle East that affect the Arab-Israel balance are acquiring the technology and industrial base to produce advanced genetically engineered biological weapons. Such capabilities may also be within the grasp of non-state actors in the mid-term. There are no meaningful control or inspection options to prevent this, and no prospect that any weapons of mass destruction free zone agreement could deal even with this aspect of the arms race in the region.

Nuclear bombs capture the imagination, but they're hard to make and essentially impossible to use in aggression against another nuclear state given mutually assured destruction. Biological weapons, however, seem to be a perfect "terror weapon." One that probably requires a lot more attention than previously given.

(AP Photo)

June 29, 2010

Russian Spies


The U.S. is obviously not the only target of Russian espionage. Last week, the Czech Republic's intelligence service released its annual report highlighting the extensive efforts made by the Russians to spy on their country. And as Robert Coalson notes, it makes for interesting reading:

The BIS spent all (yes, all) its counterintelligence effort against Russia. “In terms of coverage, intensity, aggressive nature and quantity of operations, the Russian intelligence services have no rivals in the territory of the Czech Republic.” (The BIS's 2008 report puts this thought even more amusingly: "As to activities of other intelligence services in our territory, the risks they posed for the Czech Republic in 2008 were negligible.")

Here’s more from this NATO member state's main security agency:

“There were continuing efforts of Russian companies to establish themselves in the Czech energy market, both through supplies of relevant products and through firms owned by companies having their seats in European countries. It is highly likely the complex ownership structure is aimed at camouflaging links to the Russian Federation.”

“There has been an increase of intelligence capacities and intensity of intelligence operations in the Czech Republic, particularly in the field of research and development and in [the] economy….”

“Russian intelligence services have in some cases smoothly picked up where their Soviet predecessors left off.”

The Russian spy ring story is certainly interesting, if not terribly surprising. My initial reaction was to shrug it off and hope that our moles are more effective at prying away Russia's secrets. Daniel Drezner, however, is confused, particularly by the timing of the U.S. announcement and the fact that the alleged spies weren't actually charged with espionage.

I'm curious to see how the news will be processed - will people view it as indicative of Russian perfidy or just the normal course of rough-and-tumble international power politics? I incline toward the second camp, on the assumption that we're giving as good as we're getting.

(AP Photo)

Poll: The Most Dangerous Man in the World


According to a Vanity Fair/60 Minutes poll it's Osama bin Laden, with 41 percent of respondents citing him. North Korea's Kim Jong Il garnered second place with 20 percent, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took third with 17 percent and Hugo Chavez struck fear in just 7 percent of respondents.

(AP Photo)

Americans Favor Afghan Timetable

According to Gallup:

A majority of Americans (58%) favor President Barack Obama's timetable that calls for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011. Most of the 38% of Americans who are opposed reject the idea of setting any timetable rather than setting one with an earlier or later date.

A further 7 percent want out sooner, while 1 percent think it should start later. As for President Obama's handling of the war:

The poll finds 50% saying Obama is doing a "very good" or "good" job, while 44% believe he is doing a "very poor" or "poor" job. Democrats give Obama high marks on Afghanistan, while Republicans mostly say he is doing a poor job.

A new Angus Reid poll also found support for President Obama's decision to junk General McChrystal: 53 percent supported the decision, 28 percent disapproved and 18 percent were unsure. Full results here. (pdf)

June 28, 2010

Over Invest?

The Bush administration made a decision back in 2002 not to over-invest in Afghanistan, to settle for very limited goals and to focus instead on Iraq. Candidate Obama fiercely opposed the Iraq war and called instead for a big new recommitment to Afghanistan.

Once elected president, Obama hesitated for months as he pondered whether to fulfill his pledges on Afghanistan. That delay suggests to me that the original commitment had been made for campaign purposes, and did not reflect a serious analysis of the costs and benefits of a big Afghan counterinsurgency.

Whatever Obama’s motives, the results of his long-pondered policy have been disappointing to everybody — and a sharp reminder of the reasons that president Bush opted against nation-building in Afghanistan. - David Frum, June 2010

President Bush today embraced a major American role in rebuilding Afghanistan, calling for a plan he compared to the one Gen. George C. Marshall devised for Europe after World War II, and vowed to keep the United States engaged in Afghanistan "until the mission is done."

Speaking before cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, Mr. Bush warned that military force alone could not bring "true peace" to Afghanistan, and that stability would come only after the war-ravaged country reconstructed its roads, health care system, schools and businesses — just as Europe and Japan did after 1945. - James Dao, New York Times, April 2002.

Efficiency in the War on Terror

This seems rather inefficient:

A key tenet of this policy, as Obama has reiterated frequently, is to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.”

The U.S. has committed nearly 100,000 troops to the mission in Afghanistan. ABC This Week host Jake Tapper asked CIA Director Leon Panetta how big is the al Qaeda threat that the soldiers are combating:

TAPPER: How many Al Qaeda, do you think, are in Afghanistan?

PANETTA: I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. I think at most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of Al Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The 100,000 U.S. forces that have been tasked to dismantle the 100 or so al Qaeda members — a ratio of 1000:1 — is complicated by the fact that we are also engaged in operations going after the Taliban leadership.

If you broaden the definition of who constitutes a threat to the U.S. to include the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, I think that ratio looks a lot less absurd. But it still doesn't change the fact that the locus of the terrorist threat to the United States is in Pakistan. And all we're doing in Afghanistan is abetting a massive theft of American (and international) taxpayer dollars.

Misplaced Priorities?


Robert Haddick has an interesting article in the American sketching out the costs of any potential Iranian containment regime. Haddick writes:

Left alone, the likely response would be a nuclear and missile arms race between Iran and the Persian Gulf’s Arab states. During the Cold War, U.S. security guarantees, backed up by U.S. military forces and theater nuclear weapons, allowed U.S. allies in Western Europe and East Asia to avoid having to develop their own nuclear weapon programs. Now, once more, Cold War-style deterrence over the Persian Gulf, bolstered by a United States security guarantee and military deployments, may seem an appealing option. But a security guarantee has its costs and risks, for which U.S. policy makers and the American public must prepare.

I tackled this issue a bit here, and Haddick provides a good tour of the horizon of some of the challenges and risks of a containment regime - but he overlooks the huge elephant in the living room when it comes to containing Iran - the threat of Sunni terrorism.

Any Iranian containment regime would, as Haddick writes, see the U.S. strengthening its forward military presence in the Middle East and its partnership with the sundry autocrats of the region. This is the very dynamic that propelled al Qaeda in the 1990s. It stands to reason that such a dynamic will funnel recruits to the movement in the future.

What makes this situation rather perverse is that Iran's nuclear program poses no threat to the U.S. homeland, while al Qaeda terrorism most assuredly does. Iran's nuclear program is clearly a threat to U.S. military deployments in the Middle East and is threatening to other nations in the region. You can make a plausible case that a nuclear Iran will become a hegemonic Iran and that the result would be a sharp spike in the price of oil. But you cannot claim that a nuclear Iran will lead to the deaths of U.S. citizens inside the United States. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the threat from al Qaeda.

The typical counter-argument here is that the geopolitical consequences of a nuclear Iran (higher oil prices, greater regional terrorism, etc.) trump concern for however many Americans wind up being slaughtered by al Qaeda terrorists. And it's not like declining to erect a militarized containment regime around Iran would prevent al Qaeda terrorism - that genie is long out of the bottle. But we need to be mindful of what the Cold War taught us about containment - there are a multitude of unintended consequences, especially with respect to terrorist movements and once-useful proxies. Reasonable people can weight these costs and arguments differently - but it's important to acknowledge them up front.

It's also worth pointing out that after years of living under the American defense umbrella, Germany, South Korea and Japan developed strong market economies and democratic institutions. Their citizens may have resented various American policies, but never got it into their heads to plow commercial airliners into American office buildings and launch an international terrorist war against Western interests. Can we say the same for our protectorates in the Middle East?

(AP Photo)

Russian Views of U.S. Improve


According to a new poll:

Russians like the U.S. government more than they have since before Boris Yeltsin ceded the presidency to Vladimir Putin, indicating Barack Obama’s “reset” is paying off, a poll published today shows.

Fifty-nine percent of Russians have a “good” or “very good” opinion of the U.S., up from 46 percent a year ago and 22 percent in September 2008, the month after Russia waged a five- day war with U.S. ally Georgia, the Moscow-based All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion said in a statement.

The percentage of Russians who have a “bad” or “very bad” opinion of the U.S. fell to 27, less than half the 65 percent recorded in September 2008 and the lowest since 1998, according to VTsIOM, as the Moscow-based center is also called. The poll of 1,600 people was conducted May 1-2, before President Dmitry Medvedev’s state visit to California’s Silicon Valley and Washington, and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

(AP Photo)

June 26, 2010

Skepticism of Civilian Control of the Military

Many more Americans than I would have suspected take a dim view of civilian control over the military:

a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 44% of U.S. voters think civilian control of the military is good for the country.

Twenty-eight percent (28%) think it’s a bad idea to have civilians with the final say over military leaders. Another 28% are not sure which course is best.

As for the partisan break out:

A plurality (44%) of Democrats and 50% of voters not affiliated with either major party believe civilian control of the military is a good idea. Republican voters are almost evenly divided over the concept.

Just prior to the president’s meeting with McChrystal, 44% of voters said Obama is doing a good or excellent job handling national security issues, while 36% rated his performance in this area as poor.

Abbas Would Win Palestinian Vote

Via Angus Reid:

Mahmoud Abbas would win a new election in the Palestinian territories, according to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. 54 per cent of respondents would vote for the current Palestinian Authority president and leader of Fatah in the next ballot, up four points since March.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is second with 39 per cent.

June 25, 2010

Sexist Australia

Matthew Norma puts the elevation of Julia Gillard as Australia's Prime Minister into perspective:

With the aftershocks still reaching us through the Earth's core, via some form of geopolitical China Syndrome, any attempt to make sense of the news from Down Under feels nihilistically futile.

Even trying to grasp the bare fact may be over-ambitious. However often one repeats it – Australia has a woman prime minister; Australia has a woman prime minister; Australia has … – it won't sink in. All you can do is flail around in the perspective-seeking quest for a precedent.

America choosing a black man with the middle name Hussein to lead the free world? It doesn't come close. Eternal class warrior John Prescott photographed wielding his croquet mallet on the Dorneywood lawn? Closer, yes, but still no cigar. If the gerontocrats of Beijing handed over absolute power to a 17-year-old Tibetan anarchist in a "Leave Taiwan The Hell Alone" T-shirt, and with the Dalai Lama tattooed on his forehead, we'd be getting somewhere. Almost halfway, in fact, because Julia Gillard's rise to the Australian premiership sets a record for political surrealism as outlandishly unbreakable as anything on Court 18.

Finding the words to capture the depth of Australian sexism is an impossible dream...

(AP Photo)

John McCain and Iran

There's so much wrong with Leon Wieseltier's op-ed in this morning's WaPo that it leaves me wondering how such a piece - which amounts to little more than a non-sequitur assault on Fareed Zakaria - even got published. I've already addressed the Zakaria article in question - which, incidentally, was rather spot-on - and I'll gladly leave Wieseltier's bizarre, straw man assault on Realism to those more invested in the school of thought than yours truly.

But this snippet regarding Sen. John McCain's position on regime change in Iran is rather telling:

Zakaria expressed alarm that an excessive American concern for the resistance in Iran will lead us to war. He said he has found proof of such danger in "The Iranian Resistance and Us," a piece by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that was published on the Web site of (we are so bad!) the New Republic this month. Zakaria said the article proves that as president McCain "would have tried to overthrow the government of Iran" because of his desire to "unleash America's full moral power" against the regime. This is outrageous. McCain's piece called on the United States "to support Iran's people in changing the character of their government -- peacefully, politically, on their own terms, in their own ways." Is even this a liberal heresy?

Mr. Wieseltier pretends as though Senator McCain had never taken a position on Iran prior to his TNR piece. But we of course already know that the very thought of attacking Iran was once so effortless, even comical to McCain, that he casually joked about the idea while campaigning for president back in 2007 (see video above). We also know McCain has, for years now, advocated keeping a military option against Iran's nuclear ambitions as a "last option," and that he would like President Obama to officially support regime change in Iran as U.S. policy. (How did that work as stated policy in the past, incidentally? Iraq Liberation Act, anyone?)

But how does one mobilize such change? Wieseltier never says (nor does McCain, for that matter). What should Obama actually do that isn't already being done? Do Wieseltier and McCain truly believe that the Green Movement is one shipment of digital video cards away from toppling the regime? I highly doubt it.

Three years ago, the very suggestion of bombing Iran was comical; now, the charge is apparently "outrageous." Critics such as Wieseltier - much like other cynical, latter day advocates of Iranian "freedom" - would have us believe that American "moral power" is suddenly their preferred weapon of choice.

I think we can probably excuse Mr. Zakaria for his incredulity.

Rebuilding American Alliances Around Turkey & Iran

That is the essence of Stephen Kinzer's provocative article in the American Prospect. It's worth reading in full but the jist of it is that unlike the Gulf monarchies and Presidents-for-Life that we currently accommodate, Iran and Turkey have democratic traditions and Iran especially has a population that craves democracy and is nominally pro-American. Turkey is emerging as a major power in the Middle East and Iran's power, while still hobbled by sanctions and tyrannical rule, is latent but nonetheless formidable. I'm not sure I buy the whole argument in Kinzer's piece, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

[Hat tip: Thomas Barnett]

Afghan Straw Men

Max Boot thinks Andrew Sullivan's whacking at a straw man by bemoaning the fact that surge boosters want us in Afghanistan forever. Writes Boot:

I hope Andrew is right — not because I or anyone else is in favor of perpetually occupying Afghanistan (talk about a straw man!) — but because the only way to prevail is to show the will to stay in the long run.

Then he conveniently declines to specify what the long run is. But why? If Boot thinks the way to leave Afghanistan is to never say we're going to leave could he at least proffer a guess as to when the U.S. will have achieved its goals in the country sufficient enough to stop transferring American wealth and risking American and NATO lives in the country?

I do understand Boot's frustration - President Obama's time line was a mistake, reflecting a muddle between trying to reassure Americans that they won't be handing over their wealth and soldiers to Afghanistan en-perpetuity, while nevertheless committing to a counter-insurgency strategy that requires patience, manpower and resources. It would behoove the administration to move decisively in one direction.

Paging Richard Armitage


The New York Times has a devastating article detailing how Pakistan is seeking to integrate the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network into a power-sharing deal with the Afghan government:

Though encouraged by Washington, the thaw heightens the risk that the United States will find itself cut out of what amounts to a separate peace between the Afghans and Pakistanis, and one that does not necessarily guarantee Washington’s prime objective in the war: denying Al Qaeda a haven.

It also provides another indication of how Pakistan, ostensibly an American ally, has worked many opposing sides in the war to safeguard its ultimate interest in having an Afghanistan that is pliable and free of the influence of its main strategic obsession, its more powerful neighbor, India.

The Haqqani network has long been Pakistan’s crucial anti-India asset and has remained virtually untouched by Pakistani forces in their redoubt inside Pakistan, in the tribal areas on the Afghan border, even as the Americans have pressed Pakistan for an offensive against it.

General Kayani has resisted the American pleas, saying his troops are too busy fighting the Pakistani Taliban in other parts of the tribal areas.

But there have long been suspicions among Afghan, American and other Western officials that the Pakistanis were holding the Haqqanis in reserve for just such a moment, as a lever to shape the outcome of the war in its favor.

Your tax dollars at work.

Pakistani officials cite the Obama administration's timetable as one of the reason's they're cutting their own deals, but seeing as they've been playing a double game with the U.S. since 2001, it's difficult to credit that. Short of making Afghanistan the 51st state or radically transforming India-Pakistan relations, there's little evidence that the U.S. could stay inside Afghanistan long enough to make Pakistan fundamentally reorient their strategic interests. It would take a blockbuster peace deal with India and years worth of mutual trust-building before Pakistan stopped viewing India as a threat and Afghanistan as an essential strategic bulwark.

That leads to the question of what other levers, if any, the U.S. can use to influence Pakistan behavior in the short term. One is tempted, after reading this news, to dust off the Richard Armitage playbook and explain to Pakistan that they will be held responsible for any future attacks by al Qaeda that originate inside any area of Afghanistan controlled by the Haqqani network.

June 24, 2010

Who's at Fault for Child Soldiers in Somalia?

Thomas Barnett takes a shot at non-interference with respect to Somalia's child-soldiers:

When people say it's not our role to do the SysAdmin work in these places, they just need to understand who gets pressed into service when Core great powers don't show up.

Take a good look at the kid's face, because he's working for you.

Feel any holier about our non-interference?

I don't quite understand this. We are - by definition - interfering by sending arms into Somalia, so it's not correct to pin the existence of Somalia's child soldiers on American "non interference." Furthermore, it strains credulity to suggest that were it not for American interference, Somalia would be free of child soldiers. (And I say this as someone who believes arming Somalia is deeply problematic.)

The implication of Barnett's post is that the Great Powers should avoid the moral stain of supporting dubious proxies in Somalia and just go about the work of policing the country themselves. How did that work out the first time?

June 23, 2010

Did Bush Fail in Afghanistan?

Following up on Kevin's post, one element that seems to be missing from the discussion about the surge in Afghanistan is the nature of Afghanistan before the U.S. intervention. Kevin highlights this quote from Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell:

For years, the U.S. more or less tried Vice President Joe Biden's preferred approach of keeping a light footprint and limiting U.S. military operations to going after bad guys, while de-emphasizing nation building. That didn't work either. So I think it's worth giving COIN more time to succeed, whether or not McChrystal is the man implementing it.

I think it's worth asking what the metrics are here. Hounshell asserts that the Bush/Biden approach didn't work - so what didn't it do? Did al Qaeda establish training camps inside Afghanistan and use it as a launch pad for international terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland? No. Did the Taliban capture Kabul, re-institute sharia across the country and lay out the welcome mat for bin Laden & company? No. Did it end the country's thirty year civil war, Pakistan's cultivation of militant networks inside Afghanistan or usher in liberal democracy? No. It didn't do that either.

There is plenty to fault with the Bush administration's approach to Afghanistan - especially the decision to shift intelligence assets out of the country in 2002 to focus on Iraq. As Kevin said, they struck an untenable straddle of "occupation lite" - pretending that we were going to patch the whole country up while devoting patently insufficient resources to the task. But that said, the entire purpose of the Afghan war was to drive al Qaeda out and make sure they didn't come back. And in that respect, Bush can rightly claim "mission accomplished."

Moreover, he did that while simultaneously drawing U.S. intelligence assets and high-level military, political and diplomatic attention away from Afghanistan. That suggests to me that if President Obama refrains from any further wars and occupations in the Middle East, he should be able to ensure that Afghanistan is not al Qaeda Central at a modest expense.

The over-arching problem, it seems to me, is that Washington cannot really publicly reconcile itself to the fact that it is going to leave Afghanistan much the way it found it: at war with itself. Even if the current COIN strategy succeeds, it will simply transfer the onus for fighting onto a better trained Afghan National Army. Either scenario - COIN or counter-terrorism - ends with an Afghanistan that is still rife with conflict.

McChrystal and the COINdinistas


Analyzing the potential outcomes of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's termination, COINdinista extraordinaire Andrew Exum concludes that:

In the end, your opinion on whether or not Gen. McChrystal should be dismissed might come down to whether or not you think the current strategy is the correct one for the war in Afghanistan. My own prediction is that Gen. McChrystal will be retained. As much as critics of counterinsurgency like to blame Gen. McChrystal (and nefarious think-tankers, of course) for the current strategy, the reality is that the civilian decision-makers in the Obama Administration conducted two high-level reviews in 2009 and twice arrived at a national strategy focused on conducting counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. I suspect the president will not replace the man he has put in charge of executing that strategy with just 12 months to go before we begin a withdrawal.

I suspect Exum is probably correct, but I don't know that one's position on COIN must necessarily determine their verdict on the general. Frankly, I read the Rolling Stone piece, and I found most of the stuff - while no doubt in violation of some military etiquette regulations - to be somewhat benign; the kind of water cooler griping that goes on inside every organization. Of course McChrystal erred in his media judgment, and I'm agnostic really on his fate, but I don't know, as Exum notes, if firing him makes sense while the country is so invested in his strategy.

And that's really the problem here. As Spencer Ackerman rightly points out, there's a kind of irony to this whole hubbub: while there's plenty of debate to be had over McChrystal, we mustn't expect too much debate over McChrystal's strategy. The White House has already reiterated its commitment to COIN in Afghanistan, and that, to me, is the end of the story. Though I take more of a realisty position on the war there, I don't know that demanding my pound of flesh makes much of a difference here.

Exum mistakenly assumes that anti-COIN = anti-McChrystal, but I think any critic of COIN would expect these kinds of internal flareups and frustrations when one country attempts to occupy and subsequently engineer the society of another. Power struggles; civilian vs. military personnel; arguments with the host government; bruised egos and hurt feelings over leaked memos and misplaced quotes; etc. This stuff seems par for the course.

Were there an actual debate about options in Afghanistan, then maybe you'd see more of an analytical uprising from the anti-COIN camp, but that debate had already been settled by COIN advocates long ago. Take this argument from Blake Hounshell, for example:

The thing is, though, it's not as if there is a viable alternative strategy out there. For years, the U.S. more or less tried Vice President Joe Biden's preferred approach of keeping a light footprint and limiting U.S. military operations to going after bad guys, while de-emphasizing nation building. That didn't work either. So I think it's worth giving COIN more time to succeed, whether or not McChrystal is the man implementing it.

There are actually a multitude of options in Afghanistan, but none of them will ever appear viable so long as we cling to an amorphous definition of "victory" there. To my recollection, what the Bush administration did in Afghanistan was not at all "light footprint," but rather, under-resourced occupation. They wanted to keep troop casualties low, but they also wanted to pacify the country. They pushed for elections, but then provided no sustainable security arrangement to actually guarantee a democratic Kabul's legitimacy.

This policy - which even the Bush administration would later scrutinize - is not what Biden had proposed last fall. His suggestion was to contain Afghan radicalism, draw down forces and continue drone strikes on militant targets throughout the greater Af-Pak region. If you support such a strategy (as I do, albeit reluctantly), then you certainly aren't concerned about dressing Afghanistan up as a functional democracy, because it clearly isn't one.

But critics can't live in a counterfactual dream world where the White House actually engages the public in a serious debate over the War on Terror, because that moment has passed. While we all question the job security of one general, we should at least, in fairness, congratulate the COINdinistas for what appears to be a vise-like grip on U.S. foreign policy thinking.

(AP Photo)

How Bad Do Saudi Women Want to Drive?

This bad:

Many were stunned when Saudi cleric Sheik Abdel Mohsen Obeikan recently issued a fatwa, or Islamic ruling, calling on women to give breast milk to their male colleagues or men they come into regular contact with so as to avoid illicit mixing between the sexes.

But a group of Saudi women has taken the controversial decree a step further in a new campaign to gain the right to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom, media reports say.

If they're not granted the right to drive, the women are threatening to breastfeed their drivers to establish a symbolic maternal bond.

You go girls.

Surges & Costs

Things are very fluid on the General McChrystal front at the moment but this suggestion from Bill Kristol strikes me as emblematic of much of what has gone wrong with the debate over Afghanistan:

If Gen. McChrystal does step down, there are undoubtedly many able general officers who could replace him. Here’s one unconventional suggestion, though: Ask Gen. David Petraeus to give up his CENTCOM post and take command of the war in Afghanistan. President Obama should also accept the resignations on the civilian side of special envoy Richard Holbrooke and ambassador Karl Eikenberry; he could then ask Ryan Crocker to come out of retirement to head up the currently dysfunctional civilian effort.

And what will happen? Will Afghanistan suddenly grow governing institutions where none currently existed (Iraq, however dysfunctional and tyrannical under Saddam, had institutions)? Will Pakistan suddenly decide to abandon the Taliban? Will spending hundreds of billions of dollars and committing U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan for another five-plus years make a significant dent in the global jihadist movement?

It seems to me the debate over Afghanistan has become fundamentally unmoored from any discussion of the global terrorist threat. Take all the money, manpower and focus that surge boosters propose to devote to Afghanistan for "however long it takes" until we "win" a very, very modest victory and ask yourself whether that effort and those resources couldn't have a more significant impact on the terror threat if used in a different manner.

World Cup Live Blog

RealClearSports staff and selected experts will provide live commentary during the USA-Algeria and England-Slovenia World Cup matches Wednesday. Please join us as we will be breaking down the matchups, the second-round scenarios and maybe even geopolitics. The live blog will begin at 9:30 a.m. ET, and all commenters are welcome.

June 22, 2010

Bribing Warlords

Dexter Filkins writes that the U.S. taxpayer is "inadvertently" funding warlords in Afghanistan:

At the heart of the problem, the investigation found, is that the American military pays trucking companies to move its supplies across Afghanistan — and leaves it up to the trucking companies to protect themselves. The trucking companies in turn pay warlords and commanders to provide security.

These subcontracts, the investigation found, are handed out without any oversight from the Department of Defense, despite clear instructions from Congress that the department provide such oversight. The report states that military officers in Kabul had little idea whom the trucking companies were paying to provide security or how much they spent for it, and had rarely if ever inspected a convoy to find out.

So we're bribing incentivizing warlords to let trucks navigate the country. Could we do the same to keep al Qaeda from setting up terrorist camps?

Japan's War on the Beard

From Japan Times:

A growing number of Japanese, including athletes, are being prohibited from turning up for work unshaven so they won't "offend" the public.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. is particularly strict about the appearance of its employees and says it won't hire men with beards.

"We might fire workers growing beards regardless of whether they are regular staff or part-time workers," a public relations official said.

Oriental Land Co., owner of the Tokyo Disney Resort, also bans beards, like its U.S. counterpart.

Does Global Popularity Mean Anything?

Mona Charon doesn't think so:

Americans, one suspects, pay far more attention to these global popularity contests than other nations. Can you imagine Vladimir Putin or Hu Jintao poring over these results? Ah, 50 percent of Germans have a favorable view of Russia compared with only 38 percent of Brazilians! Fifty-eight percent of Indonesians like the Chinese, but only 39 percent of Mexicans feel the same! Summon our image-makers!

I can't speak to Putin, but according to John Lee, Charon's suspicions are wrong about China. In the American Interest, Lee detailed how the Chinese do indeed spend a lot of time thinking about their global image and pay particular attention to how the U.S. is able to cultivate its "soft power" and global goodwill - all so that the Chinese rise to power will be viewed as a benign event.

June 21, 2010

Victory in Afghanistan

Far too much commentary on Afghanistan proclaims a desire to "win" without saying what that actually means. The Center for a New American Security's John Nagl, however, lays out what a win for the U.S. looks like:

Success there - defined as an Afghanistan that does not provide a haven for terror or destabilize the region and is able to secure itself with minimal outside assistance - remains a vital national interest of the United States.

And although winning in Afghanistan would not by itself defeat Al Qaeda and associated terror movements, it would strike a hard blow against our enemies, while losing the war there would be cataclysmic: It would strengthen our enemies and lead to the loss of many more innocent lives around the globe.

Later in the piece, Nagl says that such a victory can be achieve in five years. Yet the article, and many like it, elides the crucial questions - how "hard" a blow against our enemies would such a victory in Afghanistan deliver? And would it be worth the cost?

Photo of the Day


Russian President Vladimir "Top Gun" Putin steps into the cockpit of a Sukhoi T-50. AP Photo

Obama's Unpopular in the Middle East!


Heritage's Helle Dale looks at the recent Pew Survey on international attitudes of the U.S.:

The one exception to these glowing attitudes is the Middle East, the centerpiece of the Obama foreign policy thrust when the president came into office. In major foreign policy addresses, such as the Cairo and the Ghana speeches, Mr. Obama presented much “hope and change,” but has so far failed to produce any measurable results. As a result, publics of largely Muslim countries continue to look at the United States in negative light. In both Turkey and Pakistan, two U.S. allies, only 17 percent hold a positive opinion. In Egypt, America’s favorability rating dropped from 27 percent to 17 percent – the lowest percentage since 2006 when the surveys were first done.
I was under the impression that this was a mostly liberal line of criticism - that the Arab world remained unmoved by Obama's charm offensive because he hasn't actually changed much of what they dislike about American policy in the region. If Obama had undertaken policies that the Arab world broadly approved of, wouldn't Dale & company be outraged?

(AP Photo)

Israel's New Diplomacy

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has launched a new policy initiative dubbed the Israeli Security Council which will propose "center-right" diplomatic solutions to Israeli security concerns:

The problem, according to Gold, is that Israel “has no clear message in regard to its goals. If someone asks Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad what he wants, he’ll say ‘a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.’ If someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

Another of the council’s founders, former Israel National Security Council chief and deputy IDF chief of staff Gen. (Res.) Uzi Dayan, said that Israel’s image had recently become “a factor affecting our national security.”

He added that “it’s not enough for us to be strong. Whenever we formulate a strategic endeavor, we need to ask ourselves: How will we explain this?” Dayan also said that a future peace agreement must be based on the preservation of “the defensible borders of Israel.” Retention of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan valley must be part of any future peace agreement, as the Green Line is no longer relevant as a future border for the state of Israel.

“When we talk about what will be the border to ensure our security, it won’t be on the Green Line and it won’t be the security fence. The only relevant border is the Jordan Valley."

So we have the West Bank leadership saying "Green Line" and the Israeli right saying "Jordan Valley." We also have this:

Sunday’s conference was also held to promote a pamphlet written by former Israel national security advisor Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, called “Regional Alternatives to the Two-State Solution,” which states that the two-state solution as it’s currently envisioned “is difficult to implement and would not ensure stability.”

The pamphlet argues that there is little reason to believe that concepts that failed in 2000 at Camp David should work again in 2010, and presents other alternatives, including a “Jordanian-Palestinian” federation that includes “three-states: the West Bank, the East Bank, and Gaza,” which would be “states in the American sense, like Pennsylvania or New Jersey.” Another option is one based on exchanges of territory between Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.

[Via: Evelyn Gordon]

Afghan Diplomacy


Earlier last week, the London School of Economics released a report documenting Pakistan's extensive ties to the Taliban and related militant groups giving America grief in Afghanistan. The revelations - which weren't exactly news but were nonetheless significant - underscored the problematic nature of the American mission in Afghanistan. Despite years of cajoling, threatening, and bribing, the U.S. has been unable to stop Pakistan from nurturing Islamic militants in Afghanistan as a "hedge" against India. And so long as Pakistan keeps hedging, it will be impossible to keep the Taliban out of Afghanistan.

Peter Feaver, formerly of the Bush administration's national security council, offers his thoughts on a diplomatic gambit that could salvage Washington's position in Afghanistan:

But the thing Pakistan cares about almost as much as (and perhaps more than) a nuclear deal is the Indian file. For nine years we have tried to get Pakistan to see in Afghanistan what we see, a dangerous problem of safe-havens for militant Islamist terrorist networks. Instead, when Pakistan looks at Afghanistan, it sees India -- that is, a possible two-front conflict in which India conducts mischief in Pakistan's backyard. That is why so much of Pakistan's efforts in Afghanistan have been counterproductive. Maybe it is time to leverage that largely unfounded but deeply entrenched view. Maybe it is time to offer them some help on specific asks they have on their India file: say further restrictions on Indian activity in Afghanistan (even though it is benign), or perhaps reinvigorated efforts to deal with environmental and water resource issues related to the Kashmir, or perhaps reinvigorating regional confidence building measures with an expanded U.S.-sponsored Track II dialogue on conventional war doctrine.
Feaver goes on to suggest that the U.S. should be prepared to support an Indian seat on the UN Security Council, loosen technology transfers and offer "confidential assurances" regarding a rising China.

Considering past U.S. efforts with India and Pakistan, it's unlikely that such an approach could work (and Feaver acknowledges as much). Nevertheless, it may be worth trying - it's difficult to see the U.S. escaping from the morass of Afghanistan without attempting to reach a modus vivendi with India and Pakistan over an end-state in that country.

Relatedly, Michael Cohen passes along this piece in Orbis (pdf) detailing what a scaled down "counter-terrorism" approach to Afghanistan would look like in practice.

(AP Photo)

China's Currency Move & the G-20

Arvind Subramanian hails the decision by China's leaders to allow a gradual rise in the renminbi as a victory for the G-20:

But it is the fact of the G-20 that allowed Secretary Geithner to convert the China currency issue from a bilateral US-China matter (on which little progress had been made for many years) to one in which a broader set of countries had a stake. The public pronouncements by Brazil and India earlier this year re-inforced this “multilateralization” of China’s currency undervaluation. This multilateralization had two positive effects. It forced China to take more seriously the international consequences of its currency policy. And it also made the politics of changing policy easier because China is seen not as caving to bilateral pressure but as responding to the wider international community. Regardless of what happens at the G-20 Summit in Toronto over this week-end, the G-20 can already count the change in China’s currency policy as its victory.

The second implication is this: with China having made its contribution to global re-balancing, it is time to demand the same of Germany, which is the other large surplus country in the world economy, and which has just received a steroidal boost of competitiveness with the decline of the euro.

Canadian Support for Afghanistan Slips


While U.S. support for the war in Afghanistan has held fairly steady since late 2009, Angus Reid found a fairly steep drop in Canadian support since February:

Fewer adults in Canada are supportive of the military mission in Afghanistan, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 59 per cent of respondents oppose the operation involving Canadian soldiers, up 10 points since February.

Angus Reid also found that the strongest opposition to the war was in Quebec, while Alberta was the most supportive area of the country. Additionally, 48 percent of Canadians thought the country made a mistake in committing troops to Afghanistan and 31 percent expressed confidence that the Obama administration will "finish the job."

Complete results here. (pdf)

June 20, 2010

Colombia: Santos Wins in Landslide

This just in:

Uribe Heir Santos Wins Colombia Presidential Vote By Landslide Over Mockus

Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos won the country’s presidential runoff by a landslide, persuading voters with a pledge to continue Alvaro Uribe’s successes in beating back Marxist rebels.

With 92 percent of polling stations reporting, Santos has 69 percent to 28 percent for the Green Party’s Antanas Mockus. Santos will take over Aug. 7 from Uribe, who brought record growth and slashed by half the number of murders during eight years in office.

Today’s voting was marred by violence, after seven police officers were killed in a minefield laid by the National Liberation Army near the border with Venezuela. Three soldiers were also killed in a firefight with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s largest insurgency, in Meta province.

Colombia has made great strides towards improving the nation's security. Even with today's violence, today's election was the safest in four decades according to government sources.

Fausta Wertz blogs at Fausta's blog.

June 19, 2010

The Third Rail of Khomeinism


Commenting on Iran's opposition movement, Fareed Zakaria makes the following observation:

The comparison of Iran's Green Revolution to the velvet revolutions of Eastern Europe is mistaken. In 1989 dissidents had three forces on their side: nationalism (because communism had been imposed by force by a foreign power), religion (because communism repressed the church), and democracy. The Green Movement has only one: democracy. The regime has always used the religiosity of the people to its advantage, but it has also become skilled at manipulating nationalism.

I think Zakaria is on to something here, although there are some nitpick retorts one could make: the Green Movement was perhaps "hyper-nationalist," because it was appealing to, as they might argue, a revolutionary spirit betrayed by Khamenei; The founders of the revolution, including even Khomeini, were not strong believers in the nation-state, so perhaps appealing to nationalism isn't as important as appealing to the revolution and Khomeini's legacy, which the Greens have done; The more "religious" figureheads during last summer's unrest were, perhaps, with the Greens, as Ahmadinejad and Khamenei arguably represent a more "secular" form of Islamic governance; etc.

Setting those items aside, I think Zakaria does a good job of summarizing the systemic problems with the Green Movement, though I don't really see a time when making nationalistic appeals - that being, an appeal to Khomeini's legacy and the revolution - will ever serve the movement's purposes. As Karim Sadjadpour recently noted:

In order to continue to recruit disaffected members of the traditional classes and create as big a political tent as possible, they will be forced to defend Khomeini’s legacy against attack, even among their own supporters. At the same time, however, rather than praising the late cleric and alienating their largest and most vibrant constituency—the youth—they should avoid mentioning Khomeini as much as possible. No matter how you slice it, Khomeini can never be a credible or inspiring symbol for a movement that purports to champion democracy and human rights.

In short, Khomeini has become the third rail of Iranian politics. Thus, turning their grievances into a referendum on Khomeini's legacy might not be the best route toward revolution and reform in Iran. This will be a delicate tightrope walk for the Greens, one which would only become harder with American interference.

Washington's words and deeds will almost always serve the purposes of the regime in Tehran, which is why the U.S. should quietly wish the Greens luck and move forward with a new plan for Iranian rapprochement.

(AP Photo)

June 18, 2010

Letting Others Lead on Iran

Benjamin Kerstein has an interesting piece in the New Ledger on the Obama administration's approach to Iran. In it he asserts that the Obama administration "appears to have decided to take no military action against the Iranian nuclear program, nor even to support or encourage – publicly or discreetly – the Iranian popular opposition to the Ahmadinejad regime."

But this isn't actually true. As Doyle McManus reported:

After initial hesitation, the administration has quietly increased its indirect support for Iran's democracy movement — very quietly, because the U.S. wants to avoid tainting the dissidents with charges of foreign sponsorship. Most of the help has come in the form of increased hours of Persian-language radio and television broadcasting into Iran, and in export permits for U.S.-made software to help Iranians evade their government's efforts to block or punish Internet use.

The second and more substantive issue is the question of whether it constitutes a failure of American leadership if other nations band together to stop Iran. Kerstein writes:

Paradoxically, then, this confluence of interests has at least the potential to overcome the Obama administration’s policy of resignation and successfully avert the Iranian threat. It is impossible, for course, for such disparate interests to band together in any formal way, but a quiet, tacit alliance of convenience – and, perhaps more importantly, fear – is by no means unthinkable. While any military action against Iran will almost certainly be solely Israeli, the lead up to any action and the subsequent fallout will certainly involve many of the parties mentioned above....

The truth is that even a cursory look at the big picture reveals a strong majority of nations whose interests stand to be damaged by the emergence of a hegemonic Iranian theocracy. And the possible negative repercussions of attempting to exploit this confluence of interests appear to pale in comparison to those that will follow Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons. With a little creative diplomacy, this fact can be turned to the advantage of all these nations, but only if they are prepared to move beyond the idea that the United States must take the lead in all such crises.

And this is perhaps the saddest aspect of the entire situation. If the Iranian nuclear program is successfully stopped, it will only be because Barack Obama should have been more careful in wishing for a post-American world. He will have gotten it, but not in the way he would have liked. The tragedy of Obamaism is painfully obvious when one considers that, as long as Obama is president, a nuclear Iran is avoidable only if concerted opposition to it is undertaken without the United States.

Why is this sad? It seems to me to be the desired dynamic: the nations most at risk should be the ones that take the lead and shoulder most of the burden. True, this stands on its head the long-standing presumption that the U.S. taxpayer and soldier must absorb the costs of defending the interests of other nations, but that presumption is a Cold War anachronism. And if it's cracking under the weight of the Obama administration's failing diplomacy, perhaps there's something to be said for failing diplomacy.

U.S. Views on the Afghan War


While elite angst over Afghanistan is percolating, Angus Reid found that public opinion regarding the war remains relatively unchanged since December 2009: 50 percent of respondents in a survey supported the war, up from 49 percent in December 2009.

Some other findings:

* 50 percent of respondents said they have no clear idea what the war in Afghanistan is about

* 60 percent have no confidence in the Obama administration to finish the job

* 52 percent feel the government has provided too little information to the American people about the war.

Full results here. (pdf)

(AP Photo)

June 17, 2010

Comments, Ctd.

If you're experiencing any problems with the new comments feature, please let me know. Thanks!

U.S. Popularity Abroad

Pew Research has released its 22 country survey of global opinion. I've only just started probing their new database but here are a few highlights so far:

* 60% of Russians feel they're better off with a free market economy, up from 51% in 2009

* Turkey ranks at or near the bottom with respect to views of the United States and President Obama

* Pakistan is the only country surveyed with a majority of citizens who support Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The full report can be found here.

Looking through it, it appears the rest of the world didn't get the memo that President Obama is interested in selling them out to America's enemies:

Ratings of America are overwhelmingly favorable in Western Europe. For example, 73% in France and 63% in Germany say they have a favorable view of the U.S. Moreover, ratings of America have improved sharply in Russia (57%), up 13 percentage points since 2009, in China (58%), up 11 points, and in Japan (66%), up 7 points. Opinions are also highly positive in other nations around the world including South Korea (79%), Poland (74%), and Brazil (62%).

The U.S. continues to receive positive marks in India, where 66% express a favorable opinion, although this is down from last year when 76% held this view. America’s overall image has also slipped slightly in Indonesia, although 59% still give the U.S. a positive rating in the world’s largest predominantly Muslim nation.

Publics of other largely Muslim countries continue to hold overwhelmingly negative views of the U.S. In both Turkey and Pakistan – where ratings for the U.S. have been consistently low in recent years – only 17% hold a positive opinion. Indeed, the new poll finds opinion of the U.S. slipping in some Muslim countries where opinion had edged up in 2009. In Egypt, America’s favorability rating dropped from 27% to 17% – the lowest percentage observed in any of the Pew Global Attitudes surveys conducted in that country since 2006.

Obama and American Allies

There has never been much substance to the claims that Obama has been betraying allies in order to “appease” Russia, but then the people making this charge have never really understood what Obama has been trying to do in working with Russia, and many of them have been comically wrong in their assessment of Russian goals. Now that Kyrgyzstan is melting down, it is a good thing that Moscow and Washington have built up enough trust that both our governments can cooperate to limit the damage from the violence that erupted across the south of the country this week.

There are two cases of allied governments being hung out to dry, so to speak, and these are Japan and Turkey. - Daniel Larison

The strange thing about this particular line of criticism against Obama is not that his administration hasn't mishandled allies - they have. As Larison points out, they've fudged ties with Japan for sure and may be botching Turkey as well. The administration has taken some meaningless and thoughtless swipes at Britain, for instance, and the timing (though not the substance) of the announcement of missile defenses in Poland was insensitive.

No, the strange thing is that it's being voiced by many of the same people who positively gloried in the idea of unilateralism when it was a Republican president doing the spurning. They thrilled when Donald Rumsfeld derisively dismissed our core European allies as "old Europe" because they wouldn't toe the American line on Iraq. They exulted in the "Cowboy Diplomacy" of the Bush administration and wore America's alienation from the rest of the world as a sign that the country was doing something right.

Could it be that the champions of American unilateralism have had a change of heart?

Things Could Always Be Worse!

Not halfway through his term and Joshua Muravchik is ready to declare Obama "history's greatest monster." Muravchik writes:

In contrast, at the time of Obama’s swearing-in, although America’s popularity ratings were again swooning, almost everything else on the world scene was favorable. America continued to stand as the only superpower. Democracy had spread to nearly two-thirds of the world’s countries (compared to about one-third when Carter came in). In contrast to our spirit-crushing defeat in Vietnam, the “surge” apparently snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq. Seven years after 9/11, terrorists had not been able to pull off another attack on US soil. True, the Iranian nuclear program posed a gathering menace, Afghanistan was deteriorating, and Pakistan was shaky, but compared to what Carter faced, the world Obama inherited was a bed of roses.

Thanks to Obama’s foolhardy approach to the world, this is unlikely to be true for his successor.

It's generally acknowledged by most people minimally conversant with the news that President Obama did not take office at a particularly auspicious time in American history - with two ongoing counter-insurgencies and the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression headlining the list of challenges he faced. Be that as it may, let's grant that things weren't as bad as when Jimmy Carter took office. So is Obama making things worse?

On the economic front, that will be easy enough to judge. Either key economic indicators will have improved or deteriorated since 2009. There's not a lot of room to hide when it comes to numbers. On the foreign policy front, however, the judgment will largely be an ideological one. For instance, some people would lump starting a war with Iran under the "making things worse" category while Muravchik would, I suspect, consider that an improvement.

Working with China on North Korea


William Tobey writes about engaging China on North Korea:

Beijing fears instability, and rightly so. Military confrontations, refugee flows, and political turmoil are all to be avoided. But it is time China made a choice between a failed and cruel regime, and a modern, peaceful, and prosperous Korean Peninsula. The United States can stipulate that democratic reunification of Korea would diminish the need for U.S. ground forces -- and certainly not motivate any movement of U.S. troops toward China's border with Korea. It would also lessen imperatives for regional missile defenses and closer U.S. alliances with South Korea and Japan -- providing strategic reassurance to Beijing. Advance planning and coordination on refugee flows, economic dislocations, nuclear proliferation, and security issues would mitigate the dangers of instability.

On the other hand, if China continues abet North Korea, if it refuses to use its influence in productive ways, it should expect no further help in the form of international ransom payments to Pyongyang. If Beijing seeks to block effective action by other nations -- as it can do by wielding its veto as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council -- responding to North Korea's demands should become Beijing's problem exclusively.

It would certainly make sense - though it would enrage the North - to coordinate planning for the collapse of the Kim Jong-Il (or Jong-un) regime between China, South Korea and the United States. It would have to be done quietly, of course, but the lack of such planning constitutes a clear and serious risk to all three countries.

(AP Photo)

Russia's Sphere of Influence

Brian Whitmore says that Moscow is reluctant to exercise its influence in its near-abroad:

Like Russia's 2008 war with Georgia over the pro-Moscow separatist region of South Ossetia, the crisis in Kyrgyzstan is emerging as a watershed moment in Moscow's relations with its former Soviet vassals.

But while the war in Georgia sent a loud and clear message that Russia is prepared to unilaterally use force against its neighbors to achieve its objectives in the region, the Kyrgyz conflict appears to be demonstrating the limits of Moscow's power.

And while the invasion of Georgia had Cold War undertones, pitting a resurgent Russia against a close U.S. ally, the crisis in Kyrgyzstan is highlighting a new spirit of cooperation between Moscow and Washington -- both of which have military bases and vital interests in the small but strategically important Central Asian country.

Russia wants to prevent chaos in its backyard, analysts say, while the United States wants to assure that its mission in Afghanistan, which is supplied via the Manas military base in Kyrgyzstan, is not disrupted. Both have an interest in the situation stabilizing.

The Kyrgyz Tinderbox


Gallup has posted some poll data taken before the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan:

Gallup surveys in Kyrgyzstan reflect the ethnic tensions that sparked recent deadly riots in the South, home to the country's Uzbek minority. In 2009, 40% of residents living in southern Kyrgyzstan said their city or area is a good place for racial and ethnic minorities, while 61% living in the North said the same. Nationwide, fewer Kyrgyzstanis perceived tolerance of ethnic minorities in 2009 than in 2008, with the deterioration coming exclusively in the North, while perceptions remained unchanged in the South.

All it Would Take Is a Speech


What would it take to find the "willpower" to win in Afghanistan? A good speech, says Max Boot:

All it would take would be a speech from the president saying something like this: ”I was wrong about trying to set a timeline for American withdrawal. I wanted to inject fresh vigor into our military and diplomatic efforts. But I now realize that my talk about starting to pull American troops out next summer has been misinterpreted; it has caused some in the region to doubt our resolve. So let me be clear. We will stay as long as necessary to defeat the cruel evil of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and associated extremists. I now pledge that, to paraphrase another young Democratic president, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty in Afghanistan.”

Boom. With a few gutsy words like that, President Obama could instantly change assumptions about our willpower. That’s all it would take, because in all likelihood the Democratic Party would fall in behind him — or at least not challenge him too aggressively. Republicans, for their part, would enthusiastically support him as they have whenever he has increased our commitment to Afghanistan.

Michael Cohen scratches his head:

There is a great deal about Max Boot's analysis that makes me wonder - but his refusal to ever consider public opinion or the historical lack of political will among countless democracies to fight overseas conflicts is perhaps the most perplexing. Consistently we have seen that lack of popular support can undermine the support for long, drawn-out conflicts - as was the case in Vietnam, Algeria, Iraq and to a lesser extent Malaya, Kenya, South Lebanon to name a few examples. And even in countries that weren't democracies this has been the case. Even in one of the examples that Boot cites - the Iraq War - he ignores the fact that stubborn adherence to a failing war cost Republicans control of Congress and the White House.

Why Boot never factors in the role of political will and seems to believe - against all evidence to the contrary - that it can simply be manufactured by "resolute" leaders is beyond my meager ability to comprehend.

That makes two of us.

UPDATE: Although I did enjoy the "let me be clear" part in Boot's Obama speech.

June 16, 2010

Timelines Aren't the Problem

As more and more angst begins to surface about the trajectory of the U.S./NATO counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan, there's a real danger in missing the point. The administration's stated time line for withdrawal is a problem, but it is not the problem. (It's also worth noting that the administration has repeatedly insisted that the draw down only begins in July 2011 and is "conditions-based.") The fundamental problem is the nature of the outcome the U.S. is trying to achieve in the country.

Surge boosters in particular are hiding behind the announced time line as a way to mask their own analytical failure to enunciate achievable goals at acceptable costs.

Anthony Cordesman offers a caveat-laced case for the war, and in doing so reveals the basic strategic problem facing the U.S.:

The fact is, the strategic case for staying in Afghanistan is uncertain and essentially too close to call. The main reason is instead tactical. We are already there. We have major capabilities in place. If we can demonstrate that the war can be won at reasonable additional cost in dollars and blood, it makes sense to persist. But, only if we can demonstrate we can win and show that the additional cost has reasonable limits. Containment and alternative uses of the same resources are very real options, and would probably be more attractive ones if we could somehow “zero base” history. The reality is, however, that nations rarely get to choose the ideal ground in making strategic decisions. They are prisoners of their past actions, and so are we. [Emphasis mine]

This is true for al Qaeda of course, but much less so. We are laboring in Afghanistan as much, if not more, for prestige than for any kind of major victory against al Qaeda, which has already demonstrated the ability to not only set up shop elsewhere, but to reach into the United States via the Internet for recruits.


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Capitalism vs. the State

David Brooks, riffing off of Ian Bremmer's new book The End of the Free Market, sees the emergence of a new ideological standoff:

The rivalry between democratic capitalism and state capitalism is not like the rivalry between capitalism and communism. It is an interdependent rivalry. State capitalist enterprises invest heavily in democratic capitalist enterprises (but they tend not to invest in each other). Both sides rely on each other in interlocking trade networks.

Nonetheless, there is rivalry. There is a rivalry over prestige. What system works better to produce security and growth? What system should emerging and struggling democratic nations aim for? There is also rivalry over what rules should govern the world order. Should countries like Russia be able to withhold gas from Western Europe to make a political point? Should governments be able to tilt the playing field to benefit well-connected national champions? Should authoritarian governments like Iran be allowed to nuclearize?

As I wrote in my own review of Bremmer's book, I think the answer to the first set of questions - which system works better and what system should emerging market states choose - will be answered by how well the U.S. and Europe handle their current economic challenges. If we can ensure our economic recovery chugs along, and if Europe can get its house in order (admittedly a tall order) than we will have made a plausible case for a free market system. Whether emerging countries buy-in is up to them, but all we can (and should) do is lead by example.

But I think it's mistaken to view the contest between "state capitalist" systems and free market democratic systems as a coherent rivalry. As Bremmer makes clear in the book, countries like China and Russia are out for their own, they're not interested in forming a coherent ideological challenge to democratic capitalism. We would do well not to stamp an overly ideological framework over what it is a very time-honored tradition of countries seeking to maximize their position in the global order.

Somalia 2035

It’s tempting to defend President Obama’s persistence in foreign policy fiascos by saying that he inherited them from George Bush and can’t wind them down overnight. But in some ways Obama is out-Bushing Bush. He’s radically increased the use of drone strikes and is expanding “covert” military operations that can wind up backfiring much the way America’s support for the Ethiopian intervention in Somalia backfired. In some of these cases he is taking radical Muslims with essentially local grievances and turning them into America’s enemies.

And he’s failing to heed the most fundamental lesson of Somalia and for that matter Afghanistan and Iraq: No matter how bad things are, trying to make them better can always make them worse. - Robert Wright

Wright is reacting to the New York Times' story two days ago on the use of child soldiers by America's ally in Somalia.

You don't need to be especially clairvoyant to guess that this is going to end badly for the U.S. An al Qaeda cell or two in Somalia is not ideal, but implicating ourselves in the country's internecine warfare is a recipe for long-term disaster. You would think, given the Obama administration's present troubles in Afghanistan, that they would be far more sensitive to the argument that short-term tactical interventions can lead to significant long-term problems.

What is the more likely scenario: that Washington is going to be able to sufficiently arm and equip its favored faction in Somalia to deal a decisive blow to al Qaeda and stabilize the country or that we'll eventually lose interest or become frustrated with the lack of progress and try to extricate ourselves? And what happens when these child soldiers grow up (if they grow up)? What will they think of the U.S.?

Support for Afghan War in UK


Support for the Afghan war in the United Kingdom has seen a slight uptick in June, according to Angus Reid: 38 percent support the war, up from 32 percent in April. However 55 percent oppose the war.

While Britons may object to the war, a new poll from Ipsos Mori suggests the war is not high on the list of their concerns. When asked what they saw as the most important issue facing Britain, "defence/foreign affairs/international terrorism" placed 7th with just 3 percent. Full results here. (pdf)

(AP Photo)

June 15, 2010

The Fierce Insincerity of Now

For nearly a year now, there has been a great deal of outrage over President Obama's alleged failure to assist the Green Movement in toppling the obviously despicable Iranian regime. A cottage industry of media outrage quickly emerged, as I was forced in my daily culling to read countless op-ed and blog titles including some arrangement of the words "Obama" and "Betrays." Indeed, as Fouad Ajami recently put it, Obama's failure last summer to aid Iranian democracy "shall now be part of the narrative of liberty that when Persia rose in the summer of 2009 the steward of American power ducked for cover," failing to "even find the words to tell the forces of liberty that he understood the wellsprings of their revolt."

Whoa. Powerful stuff. Clearly, if the American president failed to act - that is, if the signs of imminent revolt were there and the leader of the free world refused to even budge - then this will indeed stand as a stain on President Obama's time in office.

And what, may I ask, did the president fail to do? What substantive and decisive action did Obama choose to waffle and waver on? Luckily, Reuel Marc Gerecht has the answer:

More specifically, the opposition needs access to satellite-fed Internet connections across the country. Unlike landline connections, satellite-dish communications are difficult for the government to shut down. Just monitoring them would be a technical nightmare for the regime.
THE democracy movement also needs a large supply of digital-video broadcasting cards, which function much like prepaid telephone cards and allow downloading and uploading of digital content from satellites.

So let me get this straight: President Obama should've put the brakes on a multilateral policy to rid the world of Iran's nuclear weapons program so that the Green Movement could get online - an arguably overstated tool in their organizing abilities of last summer - and upload more video of the awful stuff we already know the regime is doing? Seriously? This is what caused all of this outrage; this is what has so many neoconservatives pinning the death of the Green Movement on Obama?

The problem with this argument is that it assumes the Green Movement already had the numbers to topple the regime last summer, which no serious Iran analyst could possibly argue in retrospect. As Karim Sadjadpour points out, there's still much the Green Movement will have to do in order to grow and win, and most of these items involve substantive coalition building and message development. These are important and essential steps for the Greens, all of which have very little to do with the United States.

And there's nothing terribly offensive about providing tech or satellite aid to the Green Movement; I'm in fact agnostic on the idea. The real problem however is the blatantly insincere bellyaching from certain corners of American politics who have repeatedly manufactured outrage over these "failings" in order to attack the president over, well, anything and everything. It makes no difference to these critics that the administration has provided export permits for internet software, or that the Pentagon intends to ramp up intelligence gathering and dissident targeting inside Iran.

These gestures don't matter, not because they are, admittedly, modest and inconclusive, but because the objective isn't to get Obama to do "more," but to get him out of the White House. This means attacking everything the administration does or doesn't do about Iran, no matter the inconsistency. One minute, Bill Kristol is scolding Obama for not aiding the Greens in regime change, the next he's arguing that an American attack on Iran would result in a more inward-looking, cautious Iranian regime - in other words, diminishing the likelihood of revolution and regime change.

Are these arguments consistent? No. Must they be? Of course not. So long as they can be used to raise Obama's negatives here in the States, they needn't mean a thing for actual Iranians.

UPDATE: Matt Duss has more.

Understanding China's Labor Unrest


Mark Thirlwell says that China has encountered a "Lewisian turning point" -

The idea of a 'Lewisian turning point' derives from a classic 1954 paper by Arthur Lewis called 'Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour'. That paper is 'widely regarded as the single most influential contribution to the establishment of development economics as an academic discipline'. It also won Lewis the Nobel Prize in economics.

In it, Lewis developed a dual economy model to explain economic take-off in developing economies. In his model, developing economies comprise a capitalist sector and a subsistence sector, and economic development involves the transfer of labour from the latter to the former. Key to the model is the argument that 'an unlimited supply of labour may be said to exist in those countries where population is so large relatively to capital and natural resources, that there are large sectors of the economy where the marginal productivity of labour is negligible, zero, or even negative.'

Under these circumstances, the capitalist sector can tap this supply of under-employed (or surplus) labour from the subsistence sector, and moreover can do so at a constant wage. This allows a rising share of profits in national income. These profits are then re-invested in the capitalist sector, and the large supply of surplus labour means that this increased rate of profit and investment can be sustained, powering the transformation of the economy.

Eventually, a turning point arrives when the supply of surplus labour is exhausted, at which point wages start to rise, the rate of profit falls, and the rate of investment slows.

And what this means for China:

Some of the commentary to date has tended to focus on the potential implications for international supply chains and on the relocation of footloose manufacturing to economies where labour costs are lower. Other pieces have asked whether it could signal an end to cheap Chinese imports and a rise in the China Price (although some China analysts argue that the share of labour costs for many of China's exports is so low that any impact of even quite large pay rises will be very modest).

A more general point is that higher wage growth – and any consequent shift towards a higher wage share in China's national income – would be an important step forward both for China's own development and for the much-discussed objective of global re-balancing.

A China that earns more is going to be a China that spends more, which is in the long-run what everyone seems to want.

(AP Photo)

The Most (and Least) Peaceful Countries in the World

The 2010 Global Peace Index has been released. The most peaceful country in the world - New Zealand, followed by Iceland. The U.S. is ranked 85th out of 149.

The least peaceful country, for the fourth year in a row, was Iraq. Somalia came in second to last and Afghanistan placed third from the bottom.

The survey is a product of the Australian-based Institute for Economics and Peace.

[Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan]

The World's Worst Human Rights Abusers

Freedom House has the "worst of the worst" list here. Four countries on the "worst of the worst" list - China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia - also sit on the UN Human Rights Council.

How Long Should We Stay in Afghanistan?


When President Obama announced his Afghan strategy at West Point, many commentators argued that the July 2011 draw down date was a mistake. Peter Feaver cites it again in a recent post outlining the various mistakes the administration has made with respect to its Afghan strategy, all in the service of "slowing down the domestic clock" so the United States can stay in Afghan for an unspecified length of time sufficient to achieve an unspecified goal at an unspecified cost.

As I've said, I've come around to the view that announcing the withdrawal date was a mistake as it is ultimately undermining our position there. But the question needs to be asked of those who support a robust counter-insurgency: how long do you want to stay and how much do you want to spend? Is there any time duration and any amount of money (let alone American and NATO casualties) that you would consider excessive to the goal of preventing al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a future base of operations?

The more the bloom comes off the Iraqi rose, I suspect these questions are going to be posed more persistently to supporters of the Afghan Surge.

(AP Photo)

June 14, 2010

The Costs of a War Against Iran

Bill Kristol and Jamie Fly don't see too many:

Yet if we carried out a targeted campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities, against sites used to train and equip militants killing American soldiers, and against certain targeted terror-supporting and nuclear-enabling regime elements, the effects are just as likely to be limited.

It’s unclear, for example, that Iran would want to risk broadening the conflict and creating the prospect of regime decapitation. Iran’s rulers have shown that their preeminent concern is maintaining their grip on power. If U.S. military action is narrowly targeted, and declared to be such, why would Iran’s leaders, already under pressure at home, want to escalate the conflict, as even one missile attack on a U.S. facility or ally or a blockade of the Strait would obviously do?

While I personally don't think starting a third war in the Greater Middle East is the best idea at the moment, it's perfectly possible that should the U.S. hit Iranian facilities, Iran would simply fold up and do nothing. But it seems that if the U.S. wants to start a military campaign against Iran it needs to be ready to contemplate the need for wider action if Iran decides to retaliate. To simply assert that Iran will be deterred from the cost of escalation isn't really sufficient because the U.S. has to be ready to impose those costs if Iran does decide to escalate - is that something the American people are ready for?

UPDATE: Discussing this with Kevin offline, he raised another, more consequential point: if the Iranian regime is so concerned about their survival that they won't hit the U.S. after a military strike against their country, then they obviously aren't going to be using their nuclear weapons against anyone lest they invite a far more devastating attack. The same argument, in other words, that leads Kristol and Fly to conclude we can safely attack Iran can be flipped around to conclude that we can live with and contain a nuclear-armed Iran.

Poll: Israeli Views of Gaza Flotilla

Via David Pollock, Pechter Middle East Polls did a survey of Israelis to gage their views on the Gaza Flotilla and the U.S. response:

Eighty five percent (85%) of the respondents indicated that Israel either did not use enough force (39%) or used the right amount of force (46%) regarding the recent ship boarding incident. Only eight percent (8%) felt the Israelis used too much force. Sixty one percent (61%) felt that Israel should not adjust its tactics to elicit a more favorable international reaction.

Seventy three percent (73%) of those polled indicated that Israel should not open up Gaza to international humanitarian shipments. A majority of those polled, fifty six percent (56%) indicated that Israel should not agree to an international inquiry committee to investigate the incident.

Responding to rumors that Turkish PM Erdogan is planning to come in person on a ship accompanied by Turkish Navy in order to break through the blockade, seventy five percent (75%) of those polled indicated that Israel should stop him whatever it takes. Regarding news reports that Iran is planning to send Red Crescent ships to Gaza, eighty four percent (84%) of those polled said stop them whatever it takes.

Political leaders fared differently in the poll. Fifty three percent (53%) were satisfied with Prime Minister Netanyahu's job performance while only forty one percent (41%) were satisfied with Defense Minister Ehud Barak's job performance. Seventy one percent (71%) disliked U.S. President Barack Obama with forty seven percent (47%) expressing a strong dislike. In all, sixty three percent (63%) of those polled were dissatisfied with the American government's reaction to the incident.

Full results here.

Blood for Rocks?

Did someone say exit strategy? The New York Times is reporting that the U.S. has found massive deposits of untapped mineral wealth in Afghanistan valued at almost $1 trillion:

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

Lisa Reisman at MetalMiner isn't impressed:

Undoubtedly, we’d probably all agree that we’d like to see Afghanistan move its economy away from its primary source of revenue (opium traffic), stabilize its government and turn itself back to a country without the Taliban. But call me a cynic I think the enthusiasm for these findings is grossly overdone. If we (America) as a country won’t deal with Bolivia for its lithium, how in the world do we expect to help create the physical infrastructure (roads, rails, etc) the political infrastructure – if a central structure is even possible in Afghanistan (e.g. security, a rule of law, quasi-non-corrupt leaders) and religious infrastructure (e.g. the removal of the Taliban) required to help Afghanistan transform its “drug resistant” (pun intended) ways to take advantage of these finds?

RCW contributor Daniel McGroarty has lots to say about the value of strategic and Rare Earth minerals.

Michael Cohen thinks it's a joke:

But even if this is true, so what? How many years would it take to put in place an infrastructure to develop and mine these natural resources? And if you think Afghanistan is corrupt now (only Somalia is worse!) imagine how it will look after this? Congo has tons of natural resources; so does Angola. How's that working out for them?

There is nothing in this story that changes the fundamental incoherence of the current mission in Afghanistan. There is nothing here that will change the dynamics on the ground in Afghanistan and the reality of a corrupt, illegitimate Afghan government, an adaptable insurgent force and a June 2011 deadline for the commencement of US troop withdrawals.

The only thing this story shows is the desperation of the Pentagon in planting pie-in-the-sky news stories about Afghanistan and trying to salvage the lost cause that is our current mission there.

Blake Hounshell also smells something of a rat.

June 12, 2010

Saudis Greenlight Israel Attack on Iran?

The Times has a big scoop:

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal.

In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.

To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert.

June 11, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

We—the government and the people of the United States—need to stand up for the Iranian people. We need to make their goals our goals, their interests our interests, their work our work. - John McCain
For years, the primary U.S. interests in Iran were getting it to drop support for Hezbollah and Hamas and to ensure that its civilian nuclear program was not surreptitiously used to manufacturer a nuclear weapon. In Senator McCain's speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, from which the above is taken, there is no discussion at all as to what the Iranian people's goals are with respect to those American priorities. He does not argue that a democratic and free Iran would abandon Hezbollah or would forswear nuclear weapons. Both things, mind you, are possible (especially, I think, ditching nukes), but it seems strange to me that we are told to treat as one American and Iranian interests without evidence that they actually converge.

There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that Senator McCain believes it is more important for the Iranian people to be free than for the U.S. to get satisfaction on the issues it cares about. There's probably a constituency for that view among some proponents of human rights in the Middle East, but it definitely cuts against the mainstream view in U.S. foreign policy circles.

The second explanation is that Senator McCain believes that a free Iran will naturally conform its domestic and foreign policies in a manner that pleases the United States. Or if it doesn't, it will at least moderate the policies we don't like, which would be a positive step. In his speech, he does seem to lean in that direction. While that's not an unreasonable assumption, it's important to recognize that it is an assumption. There's no way to know how a free Iran chooses to conduct its foreign policy.

Look at Turkey. From the period of 2003-2010, Turkey was the freest country in the Middle East outside of Israel. But because it bucked American demands over Iraq and has taken to using demagogic language over Israel, a growing number of commentators (and, incidentally, McCain supporters and self-styled advocates for Iranian democracy) are calling on the U.S. to boot them out of NATO and warning in the starkest tones about Turkey's "slouching toward Islamism." Some have even claimed that Turkey has "gone mad."

If I were an Iranian protester observing American political discourse since the Green movement began, what would I notice? During the last 12 months, the voices who claimed they want to see democracy take root in Iran were vastly more concerned with the foreign policy of a free Turkey than an unfree Saudi Arabia. I would notice that the voluminous output of anti-Semitism in Saudi Arabia was ignored, while the demagoguery of Turkey's leaders was treated as evidence of a nascent Islamist rogue state and regional competitor.

I would conclude that the same voices professing solidarity with my cause are less concerned with political freedom than with geopolitical orientation.

Why Iran's Greens Failed

Con Coughlin reflects on the revolution that wasn't:

As I point out in my column today, at least five thousand people have been arrested and hundreds more have lost their lives as a result of their support for the Green Movement. But they have failed in their attempt to effect a change in the way that the country is governed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country’s hard-line president.

This is because – in my view, at least – the leaders of the Green Movement never had any real intention of campaigning for the kind of changes those who took to the streets last year were demanding. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the Green Movement’s leader, may claim to be a reformer, but he is at heart a die-hard supporter of the Iran’s Islamic Revolution. The only change he really wanted to see was to see himself appointed president at the expense of Mr Ahmadinejad. But he never had any intention of seeking to overthrow the Islamic fundamentalist regime that was established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini following the 1979 revolution.

So let's rewind the tape and imagine that President Obama waved the magic wand he was presumed to have and helped the Green movement install Mousavi as president. Would that Iran be fundamentally different than a one in which the president is Ahmadinejad - especially when it comes to the contentious issues of Iran's policy? If Mousavi became president with the architecture of the Islamic Republic still basically in tact, would we have seen a major geopolitical shift?

June 10, 2010

The Powers of Imagination

Jennifer Rubin notes approvingly analysis from John Bolton and Elliott Abrams and laments: "In the category of “elections have consequences,” imagine if a Republican were in the White House taking advice from these two."

Hmmmm. Would it look something like this?

U.S., UK Still Oppose Iraq War

A new poll from Angus Reid shows little support for the Iraq war:

In the online survey of representative national samples of 2,003 British adults and 1,007 American adults, three-in-five Britons (61%, -7) and more than half of Americans (55%, -3) say they currently oppose the war in Iraq.

Two-in-five Americans (44%, -4) believe the U.S. government made a mistake in launching military action against Iraq in 2003. This view is shared by 57 per cent of Britons (-5)....

The public is almost evenly divided on whether the war will be seen as a defeat for the U.S. and its allies (19% in Britain, 17% in the U.S.) or as a victory (17% in Britain, 18% in the U.S.). The vast majority of respondents are undecided, or think the verdict of history will be ambiguous.

Full results here. (pdf)

How India Sees Iran

The Indian paper Rediff explores the U.S.-Indian "understanding" over Iran:

Washington is confident that New Delhi will support any action against Teheran when it comes to sanctioning Iran for its refusal to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but with an understanding of India's refusal to isolate Iran diplomatically and economically considering the long-standing strategic and civilizational India-Iran ties.

The entire piece is a worth a read.

Is This Containment?


Max Bergmann argues that UN sanctions are in fact just one piece of the Obama administration's comprehensive, and under-appreciated, effort to contain Iran:

While the effort at the UN has been the most visible aspect of the Administration’s Iran policy, it has taken other steps to contain and isolate Iran. Militarily, the administration has reoriented US missile defense plans in Europe so that they are more focused and effective in countering the Iranian missile threat. Through General Petraeus the Administration has sped up missile defenses in the Persian Gulf. They have also reassured Iran’s Arab neighbors of US commitment to their security in an effort to stave off potential cascade of nuclear proliferation throughout the region. Ideologically, through its broader outreach to the Muslim world and by developing a direct dialogue with the Iranian people the Administration has helped undercut Iran’s ideological appeal in the region.

Internationally, the administration has been able to increase Iran’s isolation and box it into a corner at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference so that it was forced to sign on to a consensus document supporting the tenets of the treaty that prohibits them from having a nuclear weapon or risk being the lone country to veto. And by directly engaging Iran in talks and by not closing the door to diplomatic talks, the Obama administration has clearly shown the world that the intransigent party is Iran, not the United States. This has built up international support for punitive measures against Iran.

I think Bergmann is right that this is the administration's policy but I wonder whether it's a wise one. Does the U.S. really want to form even tighter partnerships with Arab autocrats? By my reckoning, there are far more Arabs and citizens of ostensibly allied Middle East regimes in al Qaeda than Iranians. We might want to ponder the implications of that.

(AP Photo)

Poll: Israeli Views of Turkey

Via AFP:

Some 78 percent of Jewish Israelis now view Turkey, once Israel's only Muslim ally in the Middle East, as an enemy nation, according to a poll published on Thursday.

The sharp switch in public attitude towards Turkey comes in the wake of a May 31 raid by Israeli commandos on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The poll, published in the pro-government Yisrael Hayom daily, asked participants: "Do you believe that in light of recent events Turkey has become an enemy state?"

It said 78 percent of those surveyed answered yes, while 22 percent said no....

The poll also indicated that 91 percent of Jewish Israelis believed Israel should stop future flotillas trying to breach its Gaza blockade. Five percent were opposed and four percent had no answer, the poll said.

June 9, 2010

Photo of the Day


(General David Petraeus meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron. AP Photos)

Will Iran Sanctions Work?


Matthew Yglesias hails an Obama victory:

Not that he’ll get any credit for it from the haters, but it seems to me that the UN Security Council’s vote to impose sanctions on Iran counts as a vindication of Barack Obama’s view that taking a more conciliatory approach to the world will help get more cooperation from other world powers on American priorities.

I don't think I'd qualify as a "hater" but I think it's worth unpacking this a bit. America's priority, as explained by the Obama administration, is that Iran abandon its nuclear weapons program. A Security Council resolution is a means to that end, not the end. With Iran reportedly possessing enough enriched Uranium to build two nuclear weapons, this resolution has the distinct sound of a barn door closing after the horses have fled.

Nevertheless, Yglesias makes another point in his post, which I agree with, that the victory of sanctions is not that they'll stop Iran but that they'll serve notice to other middling powers that might be considering nukes of their own that there will be some price to pay. It's a consolation prize, to be sure, but nevertheless a message worth sending.

(AP Photo)

Poll: View of New Ukraine Government

Via Angus Reid:

One-in-four Ukrainians believe the country’s situation has improved under the new government, according to a poll by Research & Branding Group. 26 per cent of respondents think the socio-economic situation in Ukraine has become better, while 56 per cent say it has not changed substantially

Kurdistan and the Freedom Agenda

Michael Rubin responds to my take on President Obama's freedom agenda in Kurdistan:

Policy should be not merely reactive, but proactive: The core of the democracy debate is about how to change the character of other countries to the point where our decisions become easier and our final policy more advantageous to U.S. policy and security.

Fair enough, but policy proposals and suggestions abound (see: Washington, DC). The American executive can only do so much, and freedoms backsliding in Kurdistan - again, a region often touted as a model worth protecting - probably can't be too high on the president's priority list. Indeed, it may not even be the the biggest problem facing the United States in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Perhaps there's much to criticize about Obama's so-called freedom agenda, but I don't know that Kurdistan is the best example with which to do that.

UPDATE: Michael has responded with a handful of fair points:

Should we excuse the traditional myopia that afflicts both Democratic and Republican administrations, or should a multi-billion-dollar national-security apparatus be able to handle multiple events in multiple countries at the same time? If we can only handle two or three international issues at a time, why not just hire ten smart people to manage foreign policy and save taxpayers billions?

Or, to reverse Kevin’s argument, why not use our leverage over a Kurdish government that takes our support for granted to demand an end to the murder of journalists and an end to behind-our-backs deal-making with the Islamic Republic, and eliminate an irritant to our regional credibility? Or should we settle for a Barzani dictatorship because that’s the path of least resistance?

Let me, for the sake of clarity, repeat that the politically motivated targeting of journalists is obviously a terrible, terrible thing. President Obama, as Michael argues, absolutely should pressure Iraqi officials to address this. But beyond that, what more should be done? Kurdistan is a relatively stable region in a country where suicide attacks upon American servicemen and women are still commonplace, and the central government's own political stability remains in question. Put it in the proper context, and Kurdistan begins to look better and better.

My point, again, was not that Obama is beyond reproach on democracy promotion, but that Iraqi Kurdistan seems like a rather odd cudgel for that reproach. Of course a president should be able to multitask, but I'd say a two-front war, a global economic crisis, a confrontation with Tehran, a row with Jerusalem, a standoff on the Korean peninsula and a litany of unmentioned domestic items should probably be enough to fill a calendar up, no?

And Michael kids, but which is actually more comical: the unlikely scenario of just ten experts running American foreign policy, or tens of thousands, spread across multiple continents, attempting to "change the character of other countries to the point where our decisions become easier and our final policy more advantageous to U.S. policy and security"? Both are unrealistic, but only one has been the actual foreign policy of the United States in the 21st Century.

Nation Building in Kandahar


Rod Nordland details American efforts to nation build in Kandahar, Afghanistan:

Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak said the new approach was adopted after officials considered the mistakes made in Marja and the much larger scale of Kandahar.

“We have learned lessons, also, which we will apply in the future,” he said in an interview this week. “About Kandahar, it is a different type operation, it is not like Marja, it is not going to be that kinetic.” (Kinetic is military jargon to describe fighting.)

Instead, the emphasis has been placed on strengthening provincial reconstruction teams, once run by Canadians, with American employees — from the embassy, the Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture — in six crucial districts around Kandahar.

The Kandahar civilian operation increased to 110 Americans from 8 last year, with 50 more on their way this summer, United States officials say. They are providing subsidized seeds and tools, carrying out cash-for-work programs and even hiring employees for Afghan government offices here....

A key to being able to do that is the steady increase of troops from the United States and other NATO nations for protection.

Until 2009, a Canadian battle group of 1,300 troops was responsible for all of Kandahar and could do little more than keep the Taliban from taking the city — while leaving the insurgents free to operate in the surrounding districts. Canadian civilians working on provincial reconstruction rarely left their base.

Since last year, the United States Army has brought in the Second Stryker Brigade, a battalion of the 82nd Airborne, parts of the Fourth Infantry Division and a cavalry squadron, for the crucial outlying districts, as well as a military police battalion in the city of Kandahar itself.

“The military presence bought us the political space and oxygen this fall to start putting projects in to remedy grievances in the districts and more recently in the city itself,” said an American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with United States Embassy policy.

What is going to happen to this when the administration starts drawing down troops in 2011? At the time the Afghan strategy was announced, I was on the fence about the virtues of a withdrawal timeline, but it increasingly looks untenable. If you're going to commit to nation building and using tens of thousands of American troops to protect Afghan civilians while you jump-start reconstruction, then time-stamping an arbitrary withdrawal is counter-productive. It would be better, in my view, not to commit to nation building as a counter-terrorism strategy, but the administration seems to have fixed on the worst of both worlds: it won't effectively nation build but will nonetheless risk American and NATO lives and siphon American taxpayer dollars into an effort it has already disavowed.

(AP Photo)

Debating Iran

Walter Russell Mead traces the history of peace movement appeasement through the 1920s to today's challenge of dealing with Iran:

President Obama is going to have a tough time with this one. His current policy of seeking sanctions while gathering international support is less a policy than a way of marking time. There is no clear and obvious way forward, and Iran is doing everything it can (with Hamas, with Turkish and Brazilian diplomacy, with anything else it can gin up) to muddy the waters and throw the US off-track. As President Obama and Secretary Clinton try to make the agonizing decisions that almost inevitably lie ahead, I’m afraid the appeasers will be back. We can neither threaten Iran now nor seek regime change, they will say. It’s all our fault anyway because we outraged Iranian nationalism by our thoughtless acts in the past. If we can simply understand Iran’s legitimate concerns and give it what it rightfully wants then it will calm down. After all, it is only aggressive and hostile because the poor dears feel so threatened.

These arguments have led to millions of deaths and launched world wars in the past. Neither President Obama nor anybody else should listen to them this time unless those who make them show that they are aware of the disastrous results of this counsel in the former times and have prepared detailed and convincing arguments about why this time is different — and why this particular tiger is really a kitten who just needs to be loved.

This seems like a rather unfair standard to me, but if we're going to be setting ground rules for debating what to do about Iran's nuclear program, I think a few additional ones are in order. First, it's not enough to cast aside the administration's strategy as inadequate if you won't offer one of your own. Second, if those who are more or less okay with the administration's policy are expected to own up to the views of other people who lived in the 1920s on an issue that is, at best, marginally relevant to the present situation it seems only fair that Mead and others who agree with him own up to their own views on far more recent and relevant history - like the invasion of Iraq. If supporting sanctions and containment for Iran makes you a "goo goo genocidaire" with blood dripping from your hands, then perhaps Mead can offer some kind of moral analogy for those who championed a war that left tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, to say nothing of American and coalition casualties and the billions wasted trying to patch the place up.

Third, if you're going to dismiss arguments about dealing with Iran you should tackle all of them in a fair-minded fashion. There may be some who fret that the "poor dears" in Tehran are just misunderstood kittens reacting to American aggression, but there are others who have a very clear understanding of the nature of the Iranian regime but are nonetheless unwilling to launch a war against the Islamic Republic, given the costs and uncertainties such a venture would entail. That position is a bit harder to demagogue, but it seems like the more serious argument.

June 8, 2010

Historical Amnesia

Matthew Continetti has an interesting view of geopolitical trends:

But the most important factor behind Israel's diplomatic isolation, it seems to me, is the current American administration. Imagine that Dubya or John McCain were president. Would the flotilla incident have occurred? I doubt it. When Bush was president, Israel's enemies knew with certainty that the White House would support Israel's right to defend herself against provocation. American strength not only guaranteed Israeli freedom of action, it deterred a lot of devious behavior.

But that guarantee no longer exists. The animosity between the administration and Netanyahu's government is no secret. This provides anti-Israel forces an opportunity.

To recap, when President Bush was in office there was a massive Intifada that left hundreds of Israelis dead. It got so bad Israel was forced to build a wall to defend itself from terrorists operating out of the West Bank. Whatever "deterrent" value President Bush possessed was apparently not sufficient to stop Iran from shipping arms into the Palestinian territories. Israel evidently felt so secure under American power that it fought two wars against terror groups operating on her borders on the grounds that the threat to Israel from Hezbollah and Hamas had grown intolerable. Then, as now, the U.S. was largely alone in defending Israeli actions.

But seriously, good times!

U.S.-China Tensions


John Pomfret's article in the Washington Post about a Chinese general's "outburst" during the recently concluded bilateral talks serves as pretty good reminder of why the next decade or two are going to require some deft diplomacy:

On May 24 in a vast meeting room inside the grounds of the state guesthouse at Diaoyutai in Beijing, Rear Adm. Guan Youfei of the People's Liberation Army rose to speak.

Known among U.S. officials as a senior "barbarian handler," which means that his job is to deal with foreigners, not lead troops, Guan faced about 65 American officials, part of the biggest delegation the U.S. government has ever sent to China.

Everything, Guan said, that is going right in U.S. relations with China is because of China. Everything, he continued, that is going wrong is the fault of the United States. Guan accused the United States of being a "hegemon" and of plotting to encircle China with strategic alliances. The official saved the bulk of his bile for U.S. arms sales to China's nemesis, Taiwan -- Guan said these prove that the United States views China as an enemy.

U.S. officials have since depicted Guan's three-minute jeremiad as an anomaly. A senior U.S. official traveling on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's plane back to the United States dismissed it, saying it was "out of step" with the rest of the two-day Strategic and Economic Dialogue. And last week in Singapore, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sought to portray not just Guan, but the whole of the People's Liberation Army, as an outlier intent on blocking better ties with Washington while the rest of China's government moves ahead.

The funny thing is that Guan is not wrong - at least, not about American strategy. While the Bush and Obama administrations have talked about (and often honestly worked toward) a constructive partnership with China, there is also a clear policy of hedging against China's rise. The U.S. fought hard to keep a military base in Japan and the Pentagon routinely invokes the People's Liberation Army as a threat (or "challenge") to which we must prepare for. Indeed, open any recent issue of a major foreign policy journal and you'll read about how China's military modernization is a threat to the U.S. Visit any conservative think tank and you'll hear how it is incumbent upon the U.S. to bolster our military in Asia to prevent Chinese military superiority from threatening our hegemony in the region.

In other words, Guan knows exactly what's going on. There is a natural and increasingly inevitable rivalry that is going to occur in Asia between two powers that insist that hegemony in the region is their right. It's a struggle that will almost certainly define the next two decades and, I'd argue, is significantly more important to American security and international peace than Iran's nuclear program.

(AP Photo)

Should America Break the Gaza Blockade?


That's Stephen Walt's suggestion:

In short, using American power to end the blockade of Gaza could be a win-win-win for everyone. The United States (and Obama himself) would demonstrate that we really did seek a "new beginning" in the Middle East, and correct the impression that the Cairo speech was just a lot of elegant hooey. Israel's security concerns would be addressed, it would look flexible and reasonable, and we would be providing Netanyahu with an easy way to extricate himself from a position that is increasingly untenable. (It's one thing for him to lift the blockade himself, but quite another to do it at Washington's behest). And of course the long-suffering population of Gaza would be much better off, which should make us all feel better.

I don't know about this. Feeling better is nice and all, but does the U.S. really want to shift the onus for the well-being of the people of Gaza from Israel to us? Don't we have enough obligations around the world?

(AP Photo)

June 7, 2010

Photo of the Day


(Rajab Erdogan, born June 6 in the Gaza Strip, was named by his parents after Turkey's Prime Minister. AP Photo)

Is the Gaza Blockade Legal?


Last week, I posed a couple of questions to the Israeli Foreign Ministry - in addition to our readers - regarding the legality of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The MFA was kind enough to respond, via Twitter, directing me toward this BBC interview with University College London Lecturer Dr. Douglas Guilfoyle. The interview is definitely worth a listen, as Dr. Guilfoyle is rather knowledgeable on shipping interdiction and law of the sea.

This, however, only left me with more questions, so I decided to e-mail Dr. Guilfoyle myself in order to better understand the legalese of blockades, armed conflict and law of the sea. He was kind enough to respond with his own thoughts on the matter:

RealClearWorld: In your expertise, is the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip legal?

Dr. Guilfoyle: Problem 1. The San Remo Manual deals only with blockade as a tool of international armed conflict. There is a separate law applicable to non-international armed conflicts (NIAC). Most navy lawyers will tell you there is no authoritative statement of the law of naval warfare in NIACs.

Problem 2. An international armed conflict can only exist between States. Whatever status it may have, Palestinian territory is not part of any recognized State. If there is an armed conflict between Israel and Gaza it is thus a NIAC, and the right to invoke blockade is uncertain.

That said, the definition of an IAC under Additional Protocol II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions includes struggles by 'peoples fighting ... against alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination.' Thus, it is open to Palestinian groups to argue that they are engaged in such a struggle and that the conflict is correctly to be classified as an IAC.

Problem 3. If Israel invokes blockade as a tool of war against Hamas, it implicitly recognises Hamas as a party to an armed conflict (old fashioned term 'belligerent'). Hamas may thus attack Israeli soldiers legally and its members must be given prisoner of war status if captured. If Hamas is a belligerent in a NIAC its legal categorization would be as an 'organised armed group.'

RCW: What's the difference between 'international armed conflict' and 'non-international armed conflict'?

Dr. Guilfoyle: The generally accepted test was stated in Prosecutor v. Tadić (PDF):

'[A]n armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State.'

On this basis, an international armed conflict occurs whenever there is recourse to violence between states; a non-international armed conflict requires ‘protracted armed violence’ (which may be a question of intensity more so than duration) involving armed groups organised along military lines.

Each classification thus turns on a criterion of identity regarding the parties involved and, in the case of non-international armed conflicts, a further threshold level of violence is required. If these criteria are not met there is no armed conflict and the laws of armed conflict have no application.

To be an 'armed group' further requirements must be met.

In ‘situations ... such as riots, [and] isolated and sporadic acts of violence’ the laws of armed conflict have no application.

RCW: The Israeli Foreign Ministry has repeatedly referred to Hamas as a 'regime.' Is this defined anywhere in international law?

Dr. Guilfoyle: 'Regime' is a term without legal significance. I presume it is used to avoid conceding that Hamas is the government of a State and to suggest that the people of Gaza themselves are not the target of operations (deliberately attacking or starving civilians during an armed conflict is a war crime; that said, the laws of war do not prevent 'incidental' damage to civilians where this is proportionate to legitimate military objectives).

RCW: What kind of liberty does international law grant a State to filter aid and supplies to a blockaded enemy?

Dr. Guilfoyle: There is no definitive list of material a blockading State must let through. A blockading State may not starve the civilian population or deprive it of its means of survival. It must allow humanitarian supplies through, but it's entitled to exercise a high degree of control over how that happens.

In addition, as I've said repeatedly, a blockade should not be continued if the 'damage to civilian population is going to be excessive in relation to the military advantage.'

RCW: Does history provide any examples that are comparable to the Gaza blockade?

Dr. Guilfoyle: The Allies claimed during World War II to be enforcing a long-range blockade against the Axis powers in the Atlantic and extensively interdicted and diverted neutral vessels; although there was dispute over the legality of the practice at the time, as historically blockades had to be close to the coast (see my piece in the Times Online).

If the Gaza Strip blockade is considered a NIAC, precedents are fewer. The U.S. Civil War has been cited widely in current debates, and there may be some nineteenth century Latin American examples. I am unaware of any relevant practice arising from the recent Sri Lankan NIAC between government forces and the Tamil Tigers, though that conflict did have notable maritime elements.

MY TAKE: There remains a whole lot of legal ambiguity and uncertainty about Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government, as far as I know, has never designated its war with Hamas as anything more than an 'armed conflict.' Deliberate or not, this is a vague definition which permits the government to operate in the grey area of international law.

And language, as Dr. Guilfoyle points out, is key in this case. The lexicon matters, as not all blockades - despite the oversimplifications of a select few - are created equal.

Bottom line, the Israeli government could clear a lot of this up if it publicly stated which type of armed conflict it was engaged in against Hamas. There's obviously a humanitarian argument to be made against the blockade's prolonged application, but the foreign ministry could make its case more clearly on last week's flotilla incident with some better adjectives and definitions.

For those who make an emotional appeal, arguing that the blockade is essential for Israeli security, I'd have to ask how counting the caloric intake of Gazans is strategically consistent with that end (and this, yet again, is an arguable exploitation of legal ambiguity). Keep in mind that it was the Israeli government, not the polemics of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, that took this conversation in a legalistic direction - and for that I applaud them. The foreign ministry deserves some credit for engaging its critics and the curious as it has.

But questions still remain, and they've thus far failed to answer them all. If the blockade truly passes legal muster then these answers should be easy enough to provide.

(AP Photo)

Blame for the Flotilla Fiasco

Via Rasmussen:

Forty-nine percent (49%) of U.S. voters believe pro-Palestinian activists on the Gaza-bound aid ships raided by Israeli forces are to blame for the deaths that resulted in the high-profile incident.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 19% of voters think the Israelis are to blame. Thirty-two percent (32%) more are not sure.

But 51% say Israel should allow an international investigation of the incident. Twenty-five percent (25%) agree with the Israeli government and reject the idea of an international probe. Another 24% are undecided.

Yemen as Terrorist Epicenter


As the U.S. struggles to stabilize Afghanistan, the Times of London reports that counter-terrorism officials are increasingly worried about Yemen:

If there is one country that is giving US counter-terrorism officials the greatest concern in terms of its burgeoning al-Qaeda training camps and the number of new holy warriors intent on carrying out attacks on Western targets, it is Yemen.

The country has become the base for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The organisation has set up training camps and appears intent on recruiting foreign nationals with the passports and visas necessary to board aircraft bound for the US and its allies. Inside the White House, the Pentagon and the US intelligence agencies the fear is that Yemen is more likely to produce a successful suicide mission within the US than perhaps any other country.

Even if the U.S. succeeds in stabilizing Afghanistan (and if you have hope on that score, do read Dexter Filkins' expose of Afghan corruption in the NY Times) al Qaeda and its affiliates are already taking root in other countries - just as many predicted. And what will the U.S. do? Will Yemen become another front in the Drone War?

(AP Photo)

Immigration and American Decline

Via Gallup a major reason why the U.S. can sustain its power in the coming decades:

Gallup estimates 6.2 million Mexican adults say they would like to move permanently to the United States if given the chance. That's close to half of the 14 million Mexicans -- or 19% of the adult population -- who say they would like to resettle somewhere else; would-be migrants in Mexico choose Canada and Spain as their other top desired destinations...

Keeping in mind that Gallup's numbers reflect desire rather than actual migration rates, Mexico's roughly 6.2 million would-be migrants to the U.S. pale in comparison with the estimated 22.9 million adults who would come from China, 17.1 million from India, and 16.6 million from Nigeria. Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Brazil would also send more migrants than Mexico.

As Gallup goes on to note, if everyone who said they wanted to move to the United States actually did so, the population of the U.S. would grow by 60 percent. The ability to attract immigrants is not all good, of course, but it does speak to the country's capacity to regenerate itself and stave off a decline in population. America's two major great power rivals - China and Russia - can boast of no such attraction.

Greeks Blame Government for Debts

Via Angus Reid:

In May 2010, a large majority of people believe that the crisis is the result of policies within the country (64%). As expected, the government gets poor numbers on the way it has dealt with the situation, with three-in-four Greeks (76%) saying they are dissatisfied with its actions. This is hardly surprising, considering the fact that Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, described the country’s budget numbers as "unreliable" just a few weeks ago.

In March, half of people expected the austerity plan to work and get the country moving again. The mood has become sour since. Two thirds of respondents believe Greece is on the wrong track (65%) and 73 per cent foresee the economy getting "a lot" or "a little" worse in the next few months.

June 6, 2010

Photo of the Day


(Vladimir Putin reveals his soft side. AP Photos)

June 5, 2010

Let the Eagle Choose

Looking back on the anniversary of President Obama's Cairo speech, Michael Rubin is troubled by the administration's freedom agenda - or lack thereof:

On this, the one-year anniversary of Obama’s Cairo speech, the silence of the Obama administration in the face of backsliding on rights, freedom, and liberty in Kurdistan, Turkey, and Arab states such as Egypt and Yemen, is deafening. In recent weeks, independent journalists in Kurdistan have begun to receive cell phone death threats (as Sardasht did before his murder). When they have gone to security to lodge complaints, the journalists are harassed. It is now only a matter of time until more journalists are whacked. The victims are not insurgents nor violent Islamists, but rather liberals and the best of the new generation. Obama’s inaction is dangerous because, when administration officials like assistant secretary of state Jeffrey Feltman or U.S. congressmen on a junket take their photos with Barzani, cynicism grows about perceived U.S. endorsement dictators; this in turn encourages anti-Americanism.

Many visitors describe their experiences in Iraqi Kurdistan as positive; my twenty-plus trips were. Certainly, Kurdistan shines compared to Baghdad if not, increasingly, Basra. The problem is that, on human rights, stability, and liberty, the trajectory in Iraqi Kurdistan is backwards. [Emphasis my own - KS]

To which Matt Duss retorts:

I don’t disagree with Michael here on the Obama administration’s lack of follow-through on the promise of the Cairo speech, which I’ve found deeply disappointing, or with his concern about the increasing oppression in Iraqi Kurdistan. Nor do I disagree that cuddling up to dictators encourages cynicism and anti-Americanism (though isn’t it interesting how conservatives can make such claims without being accused of “blaming America”?) As you can see from the photo at right (Bush shaking hands with Barzani), Bush himself knew quite a bit about cuddling up to dictators.

I do disagree, however, with his use of “backsliding” here, as if George W. Bush left the region on a pro-democracy trajectory, which he most certainly didn’t.

How about we cut both presidents some slack, and accept the fact that American officials are going to do the occasional photo-op with thugs, dictators and generally bad people? This strikes me as yet another example of American interests and rhetoric being in conflict. The potential to look foolish and hypocritical will always exist so long as the United States is in the business of everyone else's business.

The United States decided back in 2003 that the overall stability of Iraq was a long-term strategic interest in the War on Terrorism, and we've lost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in securing that supposed interest. Indeed, the very idea behind the strategic recalibration known as "The Surge" was to give all of Iraq the breathing room it required in order to become more like Kurdistan.

Can Washington rightfully turn around then and demand that Iraqi Kurdistan be freer-er? Is that consistent with the overall, long-term investment the United States has made in Iraq?

Even setting aside the freedom agenda, at what point must the United States decide that the business of global trade and commerce permits only a limited amount of rhetoric regarding freedom and democracy? Were all of the world's resources conveniently positioned under the world's democracies this wouldn't be so difficult. Sadly, this isn't the case. (Setting aside China's economic growth as compared to our more democratic allies in Europe.)

Take a step back and look at what, where and who the United States is in bed with around the globe, and then tell me that it's the American president's job to prevent journalists from receiving death threats in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is of course a terrible situation, but doesn't our executive have more pressing matters to attend to?

Dictatorships and otherwise isolated regimes have the luxury of rhetorical rigidity. America does not. Interests and rhetoric are colliding, and one may eventually have to give. So which will it be?

UPDATE: Evan Feigenbaum points out how China has its own problems in this area.

Remembering Neda Agha-Soltan

h/t the Dish:

CIA Voices Drone Doubts

Earlier in the week, the United Nations called on the U.S. to halt the CIA-led drone assault in Pakistan (but not the use of drones by the U.S. military, which they viewed as more accountable). Now comes a report that mid-level CIA officers are concerned about the drone program as well:

CIA officers "are very upset" with the drone strike policy, Addicott said. "They'll do what the boss says, but they view it as a harmful exercise. They say we're largely killing rank and file Pakistani Taliban, and they are the ones who are agitated by the campaign."

Because the drone strikes kill innocent civilians and bystanders along with leaders from far away, they "infuriate the Muslim male", said Addicott, thus making them more willing to join the movement. The men in Pakistan's tribal region "view Americans as cowards and weasels", he said....

The complaints by CIA operatives about the drone strikes' blowback effect reported by Addicott are identical to warnings by military and intelligence officials reported in April 2009 by Jonathan Landay of McClatchy newspapers. Landay quoted an intelligence official with deep involvement in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as saying al-Qaeda and the Taliban had used the strikes in propaganda to "portray Americans as cowards who are afraid to face their enemies and risk death".

The official called the operations "a major catalyst" for the jihadi movement in Pakistan.

The decision to expand the use of drones from "high level al Qaeda figures" to members of the Pakistani Taliban has been defended on the grounds that the two groups are too closely intertwined to make a clear distinction and as a favor to Pakistan, which views the Pakistani (but not Afghan) Taliban as a clear threat.

I tend to view drone strikes as the "least worst" option, especially when compared to a full blown counter-insurgency (which isn't an option in Pakistan anyway). But we may need to be more selective in our targeting. It will be a cold comfort to knock off senior al Qaeda leaders if we wind up destabilizing Pakistan as a result.

June 4, 2010

Israel's Grand Strategy

Two views, first from Walter Russell Mead:

The real problem is the failure of Israel and its friends to counter the grand strategy of the Palestinian resistance groups that, over and over, manage to put Israel in situations where it has no good choices and where its successes don’t make things better — but the inevitable failures and missteps cost dear. Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians is a strange mix of enduring success and strategic failure. On the one hand, Israel keeps winning wars, defending its borders and, slowly, getting treaties signed with its neighbors. On the other hand, in 62 years of independence the Israelis have never managed to develop a vision for the Palestinian future that can bring an end to the conflict between the two peoples on workable terms. Constantly on the defensive, Israel must simultaneously defend itself against terrorist attacks while fending off global pressure to do something, anything, that will satisfy the Palestinians.

Jim Henley:

The long view is that prior to 1947, Israel’s founding generation squabbled over whether to claim all of the territory that today comprises Israel, the West Bank including all of Jerusalem and Transjordan; claimed everything west of the Jordan River; settled for as much as it could get and since then . . .

Israel is the only state in the region that has gotten larger. Considered as an institution, Israel has spent sixty-plus years adding and consolidating its control over the territory it wanted in the first place.... This happened formally in the case of East Jerusalem (annexed in 1967) and the Golan Heights (annexed in 1981), and informally every single day in the West Bank. Israel signed the Oslo accords in September 1993. That year there were 111,500 settlers in the West Bank and 152,800 in East Jerusalem. By the time of Camp David, those numbers were 193 thousand and 172 thousand respectively. There is no year since Israel began the settlement program in 1972 where the settler population in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights shows a decline. The settler population of Gaza increased every year too, topping out at 7,826 before theunilateral withdrawal in 2005.

Viewed institutionally and leaving moral questions aside, it counts as a triumph of grand strategy. Israel bought off Egypt with Egypt’s own territory. It convinced Jordan to bow out, and plain beat Syria like a rodeo clown. Lebanon could be broken any time and was, and the Lebanese were always falling all over themselves to help. At this point, Israel has also destroyed the ability of the Palestinians to mount any consequential resistance of their own. Just as Hezbollah couldn’t occupy a single Israeli exurb in a trial of a thousand years, no Palestinian organization can stop Israel from planting its flag on any particular spot of the West Bank for so much as a week.

The other dynamic at work, which both Mead and Henley address, is the Palestinians refusal to adopt a loss-minimization strategy. They've consistently refused deals as intolerable compromises, instead of taking half (or less) of a loaf, consolidating their position, and building from there. Mead seems to think the Palestinian strategy is working because Israel can't seem to placate them, while Henley thinks the Israelis are winning. If facts on the ground matter, than I'd have to side with Henley. With each passing year, the Palestinians will get less and less of what they want, and the Israelis, more. Israel's enemies can terrorize but they are not in a position to reverse its gains.

Photo of the Day


(Japanese retailers begin discounting their Yukio Hatoyama cookies. AP Photos)

U.S.-Israeli Relations

It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it test the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews. This does not mean taking a single action that undercuts Israeli security, but it does mean realizing that Israel should show enough discretion to reflect the fact that it is a tertiary U.S. strategic interest in a complex and demanding world. - Anthony Cordesman

I think this illuminates the often conflicted way we discuss Israel in the U.S. There is a frequent presumption among realists and liberals that the U.S. has a keener grasp of what's in Israel's strategic interest than the Israelis do and that it is incumbent upon the U.S. to "save Israel from itself." It's a rather patronizing attitude and hypocritical, given that in other contexts realists would typically refrain from lecturing other countries on how they order their affairs.

At the same time, conservatives insist the U.S. adopt an Israeli-centric view of the Middle East and claim Israel's enemies and threats as our own. The uproar over Turkey is illuminating in this respect. Already we're hearing that, because they've said some nasty and demagogic things about Israel, Turkey should be booted out of NATO. How that would serve American interests I don't know.

Our Own Worst Enemy

Thomas Barnett on the failures of the Obama administration's approach to Afghanistan:

Iraq was a governed space before we got there--a brutal regime no doubt, but a governed space, meaning the capacity was there.

The same simply wasn't true of Afghanistan.

We didn't do right by the country for seven years, and now we're trying to cram-course the entire place in a matter of months. Why? Oldest reason in the book: our leadership fears our public.

The damage we do to the "nation" of Afghanistan--along with the region--is one thing. The damage will do to ourselves globally is another.

It's clear that the Obama administration's Afghan surge is a face-saving effort - an attempt to restore enough security so that we can declare victory and "transition" to simply arming our favored thugs to ward off the nastier Taliban. Had we pursued such a strategy from the start, the U.S. would not be facing a huge loss of global credibility. But rather than set a very, very low bar in Afghanistan, we hailed it as the Marshal Plan 2.0.

Americans Believe War Likely in Korea

Some cheerful poll data to start your Friday:

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,004 American adults, 16 per cent of respondents say it is “very likely” that a war will break out between the two Koreas in the next year, and 43 per cent think this possibility is “moderately likely”.

About 28,000 American troops are currently stationed in South Korea. In the event of a war, almost half of respondents (47%) would approve of the American soldiers helping the South Korean military. Conversely, 37 per cent of Americans would oppose such involvement.

Almost half of respondents (47%) are opposed to the U.S. government authorizing a military invasion of North Korea with the aim of removing the North Korean government. One third (35%) would approve of such a mission.

Full results here. (pdf)

June 3, 2010

Why Europe Is Broke

A hilariously succinct explanation of Europe's financial disaster:

[Hat tip: Massie]

Can Japan Be an Equal Partner?


Dan Twining reflects on the fall of Japan's Prime Minister:

And that is ultimately the point: Washington needs a vibrant Japan as an alliance partner in a region of tectonic power shifts -- and in a world where global governance requires all the responsible, capable, like-minded partners we can find. The DPJ's historic ascension to power last year brought with it the promise of a more equal alliance with the United States. The U.S. should welcome the greater equality in alliance relations that would follow from the restoration of Japanese growth and vitality. Prime Minister Hatoyama did not succeed in inducing it. The U.S. should endeavor to help his successor do so. A stronger and healthier alliance relationship would surely follow.

This is a fine sentiment, but how does it work in practice? There's no question that Hatoyama - like all politicians - over-promised and under-delivered. But the premise of his campaign promise (which, after all, got him elected) was to remove a U.S. military base from Okinawa. And the U.S. said "no." That is not an equal relationship.

Indeed, it seems impossible to forge an equal relationship when one party is dependent on another for its most vital security needs. It seems to me, looking over the course of sixty years of American strategy, that an equal relationship (let alone an independent foreign policy) is literally the last thing the U.S. desires in a partner. Now, the U.S. is not alone in this respect and there are clear realpolitik arguments in favor of trying to maintain some measure of veto power over Japan's security policy and America's military footprint in the country.

But for the sake of an honest discussion about U.S. foreign policy, those are the arguments that need to articulated and defended. The U.S. cannot have an equal alliance relationship with a party that is not - militarily speaking - its equal. And Washington does not want Japan to develop the capacity to defend itself independent of the United States.

(AP Photo)

How the British Feel About Gaza Blockade

The UK polling firm YouGov asked the British how they feel about the Gaza blockade, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more generally:

Asked about the principle of the Israeli blockade of Gaza 22% thought it was the right thing to do, 53% were opposed.

Turning to the specific incident, 55% of respondents thought that Israeli troops over-reacted to people on the ship who were on the whole non-violent, with only 18% saying they were probably acting in self-defence. Only 23% of respondents thought the intention of the convoy was a confrontation with Israel, with 44% believing its genuine intention was to take humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

YouGov also asked a general question about whether people were more sympathetic towards Israel or the Palestinians. 13% were more sympathetic to Israel, 25% more sympathetic to the Palestinians, 41% were not particularly sympathetic to either.

Full results here. (pdf)

The Myth of Resurgent Isolationism

The University of Maryland's Steve Kull debunks the myth of rising American isolationism:

Asked what kind of role the US should play in the world only 11% said it should not play any leadership role. If the public was really going through an isolationist phase more would surely have endorsed this view.

On the other hand only 14% said the US should be the single world leader. This shows how low the support is for the US playing a hegemonic role.

The option that got the clear majority--endorsed by 70%--was for the US to play "a shared leadership role." Furthermore, this group was asked a follow on question about whether the US be the most active world leader or if it should be "about as active as other leading nations." Most chose the latter option. This has not changed significantly since it was last asked in 2005.

These responses also mirror a question that PIPA and the Chicago Council have asked for some years now. Asked most recently in 2006 what role the US should play in the world only small minorities endorse the isolationist position that that US should "withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems" (12%) or the hegemonic position that the US should "continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems" (10%). A large majority (75%) instead sided with the multilateral position that the "US should do its share in efforts to solve international problems together with other countries."

A recurring theme is that American public tends to look to multilateral institutions, especially the UN as a means for the US to offset its dominant role in the world.

Coming back to the Pew poll there was also strong support for having a strong UN. Eighty-one percent gave "strengthening the United Nations" "top" (37%) or "some" priority (44%) as a foreign policy goal of the US.

June 2, 2010

What Is Hamas?

The Israeli Foreign Ministry points RCW toward a Q&A conducted with MFA legal expert Sarah Weiss Maudi on the legality of the Gaza Strip blockade:

I'm glad to see the Israeli government engaging the media in this fashion, as I believe the debate over the blockade's legitimacy will only grow larger and louder as a result of this week's incident.

Something I find rather interesting about Ms. Weiss Maudi's defense of the blockade is her reliance on the international Law of Armed Conflict, coupled with her repeated reference to "the Hamas regime." Her defense, as international and maritime law expert Douglas Guilfoyle notes, is correct so long as the blockade doesn't "cause excessive damage to the civilian population in relation to the military advantage gained."

In other words, so long as Israel can demonstrate that the blockade is consistent with relative military gains against, as Ms. Weiss Maudi puts it, an enemy "Hamas regime" - and not just a punitive form of collective punishment against Gazans as a whole - then the blockade and boarding of vessels in international waters are both legitimate measures consistent with international law.

Indeed, Israel continues to insist that materials carried aboard the flotilla were likely intended for military purposes, which - perhaps? - makes the blockade and raid legit.

One (possible) problem: Hamas isn't the Palestinian government, but merely one party claiming leadership of that "regime." Another snag: Gaza isn't a state, nor does it represent the geographic entirety of the theoretical state of Palestine.

Kevin Jon Heller goes further:

Israel’s defense of the blockade thus appears to create a serious dilemma for it. Insofar as Israel insists that it is not currently occupying Gaza, it cannot plausibly claim that it is involved in an IAC with Hamas. And if it is not currently involved in an IAC with Hamas, it is difficult to see how it can legally justify the blockade of Gaza. Its blockade of Gaza, therefore, seems to depend on its willingness to concede that it is occupying Gaza and is thus in an IAC with Hamas. But Israel does not want to do that, because it would then be bound by the very restrictive rules of belligerent occupation in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
If the “cost” of the blockade is formally recognizing Hamas as a belligerent, maintaining the blockade would mean recognizing Hamas fighters as privileged combatants. (Just as the armed forces of any state are privileged combatants.) That would be fundamentally unacceptable to Israel, because Hamas fighters would then be entitled to attack Israeli combatants and would have to be treated as POWs upon capture.

My sense, or fear, is that Jerusalem is selectively cherry picking the international edicts it chooses to abide by. But perhaps I'm wrong, which is why I open the floor up to the legal beagles hiding amongst our readership.

My question(s): What is Hamas, and does Israel's answer to that question affect the legality of the Gaza blockade? You can email me with your take, or simply leave a comment here on the blog. I'll promote the more illuminating answers.

Obama's First Regime Change?


There's been no shortage of tedious commentary driving home the narrative about how the Obama administration is tougher on America's allies than on America's enemies. But in the case of Japan, I think it's pretty clear the administration put an ally in an impossible situation. Japan's Prime Minister won office in large measure because of a pledge to renegotiate a deal over a U.S. airbase in Okinawa. Rather than try to work with its fellow democratic ally, the U.S. insisted that a deal was a deal and even launched a rather obnoxious PR campaign implying that the Japanese were too short-sighted to understand what was in their own best interest.

It appears Hatoyama didn't have much room to maneuver and so he relented on the base, betrayed a campaign promise, and is now resigning in disgrace. It's not solely due to the basing issue, of course, but it surely was the most dramatic of Hatoyama's problems.

Japan hasn't figured much in the usual indictment of the Obama administration's treatment of allies because when push comes to shove, these critics tend to value the entrenchment of American military power over respect for (and fidelity to) American democratic values. Something to keep in mind the next time someone bleats about Obama selling out on human rights.

(AP Photo)

Gaza Flotilla: How Powerful Is the Media?

George Packer (via Sullivan) thinks the media narrative is all that matters about the incident:

Sunday night’s incident showed again that the most powerful force in international relations today is neither standing armies nor diplomatic councils, but public opinion as shaped by media.

Really? How powerful?

Did the harsh, overwhelmingly negative feedback that Israel experienced during both the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and the more recent war against Hamas in Gaza change Israeli policy significantly? I don't think so. Before that, worldwide opinion cut strongly against the Iraq war - and that opinion did nothing to stop the U.S. invasion.

Power, as defined by the ability to make one party do what it does not want to do, is not much in evidence when it comes to "public opinion shaped by the media" and a country determined to act in what it thinks is its best national security interests. In this specific case, it's not even strong enough to make the supposedly anti-Israel Obama administration offer anything save a reaffirmation of U.S.-Israeli ties.

We Love Democracy! Oh Wait...


Talk about cognitive dissonance. I was always under the impression that neoconservatives were enthusiastic supporters of the "freedom agenda" - especially in the Middle East. My mistake. Here's Matthew Continetti in the Weekly Standard on Turkey's support for the Gaza aid flotilla:

The main factor behind these developments is the rise of Recip Tayipp Erdogan's AKP. Some years ago, Christopher Caldwell pointed out in our pages that as Turkey democratized, it would also become more Islamic. And that means certain elements, influential elements, of its government and society would become more Islamist. The trend that few have noticed is that these elements are pulling Turkey out of the Western alliance structure and toward the Middle East. The break began in 2003 when the Turks denied the U.S. Fourth Infantry the ability to invade Iraq from the north.

Since 2005, Americans have been worrying about Iran's ambitions for regional hegemony. Maybe it's time we started worrying about Turkey's regional ambitions as well. The Turks ruled the region from 1453 to 1922, after all. A renascence of Turkish power, in an Islamist guise, would cause all sorts of troubles no one can anticipate.

I guess we should all be thankful that President Bush's "freedom agenda" failed, right? This is Turkey - a NATO ally and prospective (although increasingly less likely) candidate for EU membership. Now imagine democracy taking root in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iran and elsewhere - would it surprise anyone if the regional atmosphere got a lot less friendly toward the U.S. and Israel?

As I said earlier, it's very difficult to be an honest proponent of Middle East democracy and an advocate for perpetual American hegemony in the region. The emergence of true democracies is likely to reorient the geopolitics of the region in a manner that the staunchest hegemonists would sharply disapprove of. I wonder which aspiration they'll jettison first.

Update: Daniel Larison has more thoughts on Turkey here and here:

The trouble that a lot of Americans seem to have with all this is that whenever Turkey deviates from Washington’s script they view Turkey’s relations with its eastern and northern neighbors as evidence of a “drift” out of the orbit of the West. Of course, we are the ones drawing the lines and defining Turkish behavior such that they cannot pursue their interests without being perceived as a competitor or worse. In many parts of the world the U.S. encourages and welcomes economic cooperation and improved relations between neighbors, but in other regions the very same behaviors that we laud in Europe are viewed with suspicion and alarm. After a while, any nation, even one with a long-standing good relationship with the U.S., would grow weary of this treatment.

(AP Photo)

Brits Reject the Euro

This isn't surprising:

Very few people in Britain are interested in adopting the euro as the national currency, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 79 per cent of respondents would vote against this idea in a referendum.

Poll: World's Most Satisfied Communities


The UK polling firm Ipsos MORI's new Social Research Institute has released a survey ranking people's satisfaction with their local communities:

The results show that residents of the Netherlands (85%), Canada (83%), Australia (82%), India (76%), Germany (74%) and the US (73%) had the world’s residents who were the most satisfied with their local communities compared to residents in South Korea (34%), Hungary (45%), Japan (46%) and Russia (49%) who were the least satisfied with their local area were they live.

Full report here.

June 1, 2010

Turkey's Flotilla Gambit


Thomas Barnett has an interesting theory as to why Turkey has been pushing Israel's buttons of late:

Turkey's deputy prime minister called the raid "a dark stain on the history of humanity." So now Ankara has its bloody shirt, which will be used — once Tehran inevitably announces the weaponization of its nukes — to justify Turkey's rapid reach for the same. Just like Tehran cannot openly rationalize its bid for regional supremacy vis-à-vis archrival Saudi Arabia, Turkey requires an appropriate villain for its nuclear morality play. Anybody watching the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations over the past year knew that some cause célèbre was in the works. Suddenly, if perhaps on purpose, Turkey can claim that — despite its efforts to broker a non-nuclear peace in the region (including a recent enrichment deal engineered with Brazil) — it needs its own deterrent against Israel's nuclear arsenal, too.

I don't think it's unreasonable to interpret Turkey's out front role in this escapade as being a bid for regional leadership. And very soon such leadership may indeed entail being a nuclear power.

(AP Photo)

Poll: A New American Century?

The American people aren't so sure:

Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters now say the United States will not be the most powerful nation in the world at the end of the 21st Century. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 32% disagree and believe the United States still will be the world’s number one superpower at the century’s end. Twenty-six percent (26%) more are not sure.

More Barbarity Needed?


Reflecting on the flotilla incident, Michel Rubin thinks it's time to junk the idea of proportionality:

Likewise, when terrorists seek to strike at the United States, why should we find ourselves constrained by an artificial notion of proportionality when responding to those terrorists or their state sponsors?

Ultimately, it may be time to recognize that, in the face of growing threats to Western liberalism, strength and disproportionality matter more to security and the protection of democracy than the approval of the chattering class of Europe or the U.N. secretary general, a man whose conciliatory policies as foreign minister of South Korea proved to be a strategic disaster.

I think the idea of "proportionality" is far too vague a standard to establish in war time. That said, I'm not so sure how Rubin's advice works in practice, when the principle enemies faced by the West are non-state actors. Take Afghanistan. The U.S. is applying force in a judicious manner not because it wants to earn the approval of the "chattering class of Europe" (whoever they are) but because of the belief that killing large numbers of Afghans indiscriminately is going to result in a much larger problem and deal Western security a much larger set-back. Why is that mistaken?

To take Israel's case specifically, it has, in almost every confrontation with terrorists group, enjoyed a disproportionate outcome - racking up higher body counts and more infrastructure damage than it has suffered. Has this "disproportionality" improved their fortunes vis-a-vis Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon? It seems to me that these are groups that welcome a disproportionate response precisely for its radicalizing effects.

Waging a "disproportionate" campaign against non-state actors means deliberately widening the targets to include killing non-combatants and destroying civilian infrastructure, or taking no steps to minimize such "collateral damage." The West has embraced this ethos before, but during a world war. In the context of the lower intensity conflict against terrorist groups, such a strategy can only really succeed if you make a desert and call it peace.

(AP Photo)

What's So Super About Being a Superpower?

This isn't to deny the prevalence of anti-Americanism even in the Age of Obama. Nor is it to wish away the real threats to American power — from external challenges ( Iran, China, Islamist terrorists) to, more worrying, internal weaknesses (rising debt levels, decreasing military spending as a percentage of the federal budget, a shrinking Navy). But if my cross-global jaunt taught me anything, it is that those countries that dismiss the prospects for continuing American leadership do so at their peril. The U.S. still possesses unprecedented power projection capabilities, and, just as important, it is armed with the goodwill of countless countries that know the U.S. offers protection from local bullies. They may resent us, but they fear their neighbors, and that's the ultimate buttress of our status as the world's sole superpower. - Max Boot

What's interesting about Boot's argument is that he in no way ties this state of affairs to any benefits to the United States. Obviously, it's nice to feel wanted, but what is the actual strategic purpose of sustaining an expansive array of basing and security arrangements beyond "buttressing" our status as the world's sole superpower? Is American well-being and prosperity sustained by this posture? Boot refers to rising debt levels while lamenting falling military budgets, but isn't this a round-about way of suggesting that this isn't a sustainable strategy? And besides, it's a sleight of hand: military expenditures aren't falling and have in fact just finished a nearly unprecedentedly large run-up. Presumably you could slash other government expenditures for the sake of protecting Persian Gulf emirates, but I'm not clear on why that's such a good idea.

I do think Boot is correct on the basic dynamic: countries would rather have the U.S. taxpayer and U.S. soldier provide a share of their defense than to do it themselves, both because it's economically more attractive that way and because they fundamentally trust the U.S. more than any prospective security partner. I also think that in some limited cases, the U.S. can leverage that to our advantage. Where I differ from Boot, I guess, is that while he sees the need to establish this relationship everywhere, I'd rather be more selective. For instance, I don't believe it's wise (let alone moral) to defend Gulf monarchs. Nor do I think Europe is in much need of American defenses. A better case can be made for Japan and South Korea (and Asia more broadly), given the importance of the region in the coming century.

Flotilla Assault


So far, analysis of the Gaza flotilla incident has focused on how the raid complicates U.S.-Israeli ties or Israel's global diplomatic position, but it seems to me the incident served the aims of both parties (the activists and the Israelis). The Israelis established the seriousness of their blockade, while the flotilla organizers have damaged Israel's public image.

Aside from that, this seems to be a pretty good reminder of the huge difficulties the Obama administration is courting trying to resurrect the peace process. Consider the trouble the administration is having in the West Bank. Now imagine trying to "solve" Gaza.

(AP Photo)

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