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October 30, 2010

Russia Creating Affordable 'People's Car'

Following India's recent unveiling of a design for a cheap, mass-produced "people's" vehicle that could be affordable to multitudes of new consumers, Russian "Onexim Group," headed by Mikhail Prokhorov (who also owns the NBA's New Jersey Nets) presented the first images of two hybrid cars on Oct. 12 - prototypes of urban hatchback and a compact crossover, created under the "City Car" project. The vehicles were designed in only 180 days without any foreign support or contribution. Three prototypes are to be tested this December.

It is expected that the "people's" cars will be equipped with 70-horsepower electric motor, lithium-ion batteries and a 0.6-liter engine that can operate on natural gas and will produce energy to recharge the batteries on the move. According to preliminary information, the cars will be able to go 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) without refueling, at the maximum speed of 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour. The base cost of these cars is about $10,000, but could rise to as much as $15,000.

October 29, 2010

Blog Comments

We apologize for the disappearance of the commenting feature on our blog posts. We're still working out some technical issues on our end, but should have them back up soon. Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading!

Normalizing History


Judah Grunstein argues that we're emerging from an anamolous historical period into what could be dubbed the "normalization" of history, saying this is particularly evident with Turkey and China:

With all the discussion these days about U.S. and Western primacy and relative decline, it's worth considering what a normalization of history represents to the rest of the planet. For Turkey, it means deep ties with both the U.S. and Europe on one hand, and with China -- as well as Iran and Syria -- on the other.

There are still a lot of caveats. China is operating under many constraints, including suspicions over its strategic and commercial intentions, but also the almost-universal fear among its trading partners of being overwhelmed by trade imbalances. But other South-South networks are emerging, with Turkey simply representing an early adapter in this process. That means that while the U.S. will continue to possess a disproportionate amount of power for the foreseeable future, we will find it increasingly difficult to wield that power effectively in order to translate it into influence.

The question is how American exceptionalism will adapt to the new normal that the rest of the world is busy preparing for. Recently we've done a good job of exploiting China's mistakes, particularly in Asia. But we should be putting more energy into exploring how to capitalize on Turkey's successes.

I think you can see the vague contours of this adaption in some of the Obama administration's policies: the fitful attempt to unwind America's entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, the effort to set relations with Russia on a more cooperative track, and the push to boost America's presence in Asia (with a corresponding "drift" away from Europe).

(AP Photo)

Least Personally Secure Countries

On the home page, we're running our latest Gallup/RCW top five list profiling the most personally secure countries. On the Gallup page, they've reversed the survey to highlight the least secure regions:


Age of Austerity: UK Edition

Not much economic optimism in Britain:

Few people in Britain believe the country’s economy is performing well, and a sizeable proportion of respondents expect the situation to worsen, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative sample of 2,021 British adults, 86 per cent of respondents (+4 since September) describe the United Kingdom’s economy as being in poor or very poor condition, while only 11 per cent (-3) describe it as good or very good.

Three-in-five respondents (59%) continue to rate their personal finances as poor. While 11 per cent of Britons expect the UK economy to improve over the next six months, 41 per cent foresee a decline—including 57 per cent of respondents in Scotland.

More than half of respondents (55%) believe the recession will not be over until after 2011, while 16 per cent foresee the end of the downturn in 2011.

See the full results here. (pdf)

October 28, 2010

Polling French-U.S. Ties

Harris Interactive has released a new poll conducted on behalf of the French-American Foundation that measures French and American attitudes toward one another. Some findings:

According the Foundation’s study in 2005, back when “freedom fries” were still being served, only one-third of French adults (31%) said they generally liked the U.S. This year, that number has shot up considerably, as two-thirds of French people (65%) now say they generally like the U.S. As for the U.S., Americans are more likely now than they were in 2005 to say they like France (48% say so now, compared to 35% in 2005). In fact, an increased number of people in both countries also now say, given the opportunity, they would like to live, work and/or study in the other country.

In 2005, just two in five French (39%) and Americans (44%) said they considered the two countries to be “somewhat partners.” This year, that number has jumped to seven in ten in both countries (71% and 70%, respectively), proof relations have improved. While half of Americans say France is a “sometimes unloyal ally”, the study revealed this is an indication of improving relations as well, as there are notable increases in the number of both French and Americans who say the other country is a loyal ally this year, compared to previous years.

Over half of both French and U.S. respondents view immigration as a problem although in general, Harris found the French to take a more relaxed view about threats such as terrorism and pandemic disease.

Foreign Aid, No Strings Attached

Douglas Bloomfield considers Eric Cantor's proposal to shift U.S. aid to Israel into the defense budget:

One possibility I doubt Cantor considered, and the most troubling for Israel, is that his proposal risks sparking a debate over whether Israel actually needs that $3 billion every year, especially when its economy is performing better than ours.

Israel was just graduated from “developing” to “developed” nation by its unanimous acceptance into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Will deficit hawks and Tea Party followers in Cantor’s own party insist that Israel be graduated” from the US foreign aid program as well? The OECD praised Israel’s economic reforms and its scientific/technological leadership. Wikipedia called Israel “one of the most advanced countries in Southwest Asia in economic and industrial development.”

The independent Swiss Institute for Management Development ranks its economy as first in the world for resilience to economic cycles, and first for its R&D spending as a percentage of GDP.

Thirty billion dollars and growing – the amount the Obama administration has pledged over the next decade – buys a lot of hardware for the IDF, but it also comes with obligations that limit freedom of action.

Israelis have long debated whether US aid hampers their government’s ability to take actions Washington dislikes. Leverage is the flip side of any aid package.

I'm not sure how many obligations U.S. aid actually comes with, outside of requirements that it be spent on U.S. suppliers. The Obama administration asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop building settlements. He refused, then agreed to merely pause building, then said he'd consider pausing for another two months after Obama made a generous set of security guarantees. The administration hasn't cut off aid and hasn't, I believed, even raised the possibility that it would (in fact, just the opposite).

And this is in no way unique to Israel. Egypt gets boatloads of taxpayer cash without many demands on their government. American and NATO soldiers are dying to protect Hamid "Plastic Bag" Karzai despite his flagrant disregard for American wishes. Only if you're a country of little strategic or political significance will the U.S. maybe make you jump through some hoops before doling out the taxpayer cash.

A U.S.-China Space Race

Not only has China now built the world's fastest supercomputer, surpassing a U.S.-built machine, they're also looking to surpass the U.S. in space:

It's too early to call it a race, says Henry Hertzfeld, research professor of space policy and international affairs in the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. But China's Martian orbiter may indicate a second destination for the country's space program.... Hertzfeld nevertheless cautioned that the differences between the 1960s and the 21st century make for a very different competitive landscape. There are more countries now with space capabilities and access to space; there is much more cooperation among nations; and the costs are astronomical.

"I think it's too early to tell if we will engage in a true 'race' to Mars as we did with the USSR to the moon," he said.
But the official messages from governments seem to tell a different story, with the U.S., India, China, and Russia all declaring that they hope to reach Mars at around the same time.

I would be really surprised if we get a replay of the Cold War-era space race. As America's own space program demonstrated, there's a real difference between space exploration as a bauble of Great Power status (the moon landings) and any kind of strategic, long-term space program. Landing people on Mars just to prove you can do it is a ridiculous waste of money absent a serious strategic vision.

An Offer Iran Can Refuse


David Sanger reports that President Obama is going to make Iran a less generous nuclear deal than the one they've already turned down. The theory seems to be that the pinch of the new sanctions regime is sharpening minds in Tehran and that any successive offer from the West would be even worse, so they'd better get while the getting's good.

I suspect this approach isn't going to work - and it sounds like the Obama administration is already gearing up for it to fail. According to Sanger:

Two years into office, Mr. Obama has organized an impressive sanctions regime and managed to combine diplomacy and pressure better than many experts had predicted. But so far he has little to show for it, which has prompted a discussion inside the White House about whether it would be helpful, or counterproductive, to have him talk more openly about military options.

I'm skeptical that they'll actually use force, but it would monumentally ill-advised to begin threatening it without an internal agreement in the administration to follow through. Repeatedly invoking the threat of military force without the intention to use it will make the administration appear feckless if Iran - as is widely expected - refuses to knuckle under.

It will also be interesting to see whether in this, our era of supposed Constitutional revival, those preaching an affinity for the U.S. Constitution demand that President Obama seek a Congressional declaration of war against Iran before any bombing runs commence.

(AP Photo)

October 27, 2010

Technical Problems

We've been having some technical troubles on the site which delayed the afternoon update. We apologize for any inconvenience. We should be back on our feet now.

RCP Election Night 2010 Live Blog

Dear RCW Readers:

Please join us for our live blog on election night, Nov. 2. We will be covering the election, updating you with all the congressional races and providing commentary and analysis as the evening unfolds. We will also discuss America's foreign policy under possibly a different set of congressional leaders and other international relations issues that may be impacted by the election.

Our panelists include editors from all six RealClear sites (Politics, Markets, World, Religion, Science and Sports), as well as journalists and commentators who will be covering the election.

Simply check back here on Nov. 2, starting at 6 p.m. ET. You will be able to make your own comments and observations and share with our audience. We look forward to your participation.

Obama's Iran Attack Calculation

George Friedman speculates that Obama may launch an attack on Iran following a drubbing at the polls next week:

Iran is the one issue on which the president could galvanize public opinion. The Republicans have portrayed Obama as weak on combating militant Islamism. Many of the Democrats see Iran as a repressive violator of human rights, particularly after the crackdown on the Green Movement. The Arabian Peninsula, particularly Saudi Arabia, is afraid of Iran and wants the United States to do something more than provide $60 billion-worth of weapons over the next 10 years. The Israelis, obviously, are hostile. The Europeans are hostile to Iran but want to avoid escalation, unless it ends quickly and successfully and without a disruption of oil supplies. The Russians like the Iranians are a thorn in the American side, as are the Chinese, but neither would have much choice should the United States deal with Iran quickly and effectively. Moreover, the situation in Iraq would improve if Iran were to be neutralized, and the psychology in Afghanistan could also shift.

If Obama were to use foreign policy to enhance his political standing through decisive action, and achieve some positive results in relations with foreign governments, the one place he could do it would be Iran. The issue is what he might have to do and what the risks would be. Nothing could, after all, hurt him more than an aggressive stance against Iran that failed to achieve its goals or turned into a military disaster for the United States.

Friedman does an able job running down the costs and benefits of such an attack. One of the reasons I think it's unlikely is the same one Friedman notes at the start of his piece: Obama is a domestic president and the economy's health (or lack thereof) is his paramount concern. A prolonged spike in oil prices following large scale hostilities in the Persian Gulf is not exactly what a fragile economic recovery needs.

It's also hard to square the idea of President Obama agreeing to a strike on Iran when it's clear he is eager to unwind America's conflicts in the region.

A Kissinger for Obama

Raoul Heinrichs hopes for one:

With his foreign policy foundering, Obama should have taken the time to find his Kissinger, an adviser with an intuitive understanding of American interests and priorities, a realistic appreciation for the scope and limits of power, and sensitivity to the consequences that actions might be expected to produce.

It's become a very American thing, especially in the post-Cold War era, to conceive of the world in terms of a succession of universal problems to which the US must offer a solution. Yet this approach hasn't worked. It's been costly, ineffectual and indiscriminate. By systematically overestimating the willingness of others to acquiesce to American solutions, it has also engendered in US foreign policy a debilitating level of incoherence.

Ask Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs is hosting a Q&A with their editor Gideon Rose on Afghanistan and his new book: How Wars End. If you'd like to submit a question to Rose, you can email us at: info-at-realclearworld.com with "Foreign Affairs Q&A" in the subject. We'll select the best questions to send along to Foreign Affairs.

October 26, 2010

Most Corrupt Countries in the World

Transparency International has released their 2010 corruption perception index. The most corrupt country in the world is Somalia, followed by Myanmar, Afghanistan and Iraq. That doesn't exactly reflect well on U.S. efforts. Incidentally, the U.S. is tied for 22nd with Belgium. And the least corrupt country: it's a three-way tie between Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore.

Losing Europe to Russia?


John Vinocur wonders if the U.S. is "losing" Europe to Russia. The framing of the question is a bit odd, because it presupposes that Russia is strong enough to "win" Europe away from the United States. What's really at issue is Europe's willingness to chart a slightly more independent course:

Rather, Germany and France, meeting with Russia in Deauville, northern France, last week, signaled that they planned to make such three-cornered get-togethers on international foreign policy and security matters routine, and even extend them to inviting other “partners” — pointing, according to diplomats from two countries, to Turkey becoming a future participant....

As for the Obama administration stamping its foot, what it came down to was a senior U.S. official saying: “Since when, I wonder, is European security no longer an issue of American concern, but something for Europe and Russia to resolve? After being at the center of European security for 70 years, it’s strange to hear that it’s no longer a matter of U.S. concern.”

Needless to say that Washington does not believe in "spheres of influence" or the ability of a great power to have a say in another country's foreign policy decisions. No sir.

(AP Photo)

UK State Shrinking, U.S. Not So Much


Neil O'Brien notes a narrowing of the gap between the size of the UK and American governments:

In the UK, the year the state spent the least of our income was in 1999-2000. In that millennial year the government spent a bit over a third of GDP (36.4%). Next year the US Government will be spending more than that – 36.5%.

In other words, if Tony Blair rather than Gordon Brown had dominated the last government, then Britain might already have a smaller state than America.

While the current forecasts don’t end up with smaller government on this side of the Atlantic, the gap between the two will be the smallest since records began within five years.

Meanwhile, ComRes has a poll out gaging British sentiments for the coalition's spending plans. If you prefer a more dramatic take, ITV News is following a number of Britons for their (somewhat overwrought) series "Life Under the Cuts."

(AP Photos)

British Views on Afghan War


As with Canada, support for the Afghanistan war in the United Kingdom is cratering, with opposition to the war reaching its highest point in a new Angus Reid survey:

This month, 32 per cent of respondents (down one point since August) support the military operation involving UK soldiers in Afghanistan, while 60 per cent are opposed (up three points).

Three-in-ten Britons (60%, +6) believe the country made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan. Half of respondents (50%, +4) claim to have a clear idea of what the war in Afghanistan is about.

When asked about what they believe will be the most likely outcome of the conflict in Afghanistan, only eight per cent of Britons predict a clear victory by U.S. and allied forces over the Taliban, and 31 per cent foresee a negotiated settlement from a position of U.S. and allied strength that gives the Taliban a small role in the Afghan government.

In addition, one-in-five respondents (20%) expect a negotiated settlement from a position of U.S. and allied weakness that gives the Taliban a significant role in the Afghan government, and 11 per cent believe the Taliban will ultimately defeat the U.S. and allied forces.

Full results here. (pdf)

(AP Photo)

U.S. Views on Combating Terrorism

According to a new Pew Research poll, Americans give the federal government good marks for combating terrorism:

About seven-in-ten (69%) say the government is doing very (15%) or fairly well (54%) in reducing the threat of terrorism, numbers that have changed only slightly since January. Still, 30% say the ability of terrorists to attack the U.S. is now greater than it was on 9/11, while 41% think it is about the same. Just a quarter (25%) say the ability of terrorists to attack is less now than it was in 2001. These numbers also are little changed since the start of the year.

Not surprisingly, there's been a partisan shift:

Democrats are now more likely than Republicans to say the government is doing very or fairly well in reducing the threat of terrorism. Fully 84% of Democrats give the government positive ratings compared with 64% of Republicans.

October 25, 2010

Canadian Views on Afghanistan

According to Angus Reid, Canadian support for the mission in Afghanistan has reached a new low:

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,009 Canadian adults, just over a third of respondents (35%, -4 since August) support the military operation involving Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan—the lowest level recorded over the past two years. More than half of respondents (55%, +2) oppose the war.

The level of “strong opposition” to the war outranks the level of “strong support” by a 3-to-1 margin (34% to 11%). Practically half of Quebecers (49%) say they “strongly oppose” the operation.

Almost half of Canadians (47%, -4) think Canada made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan, while one third (32%, -6) believe it was the right thing to do. The only area where a plurality of respondents stands by Canada’s decision is Alberta (43% to 38%). Across the country, 53 percent of respondents feel that they have a clear idea of what the war in Afghanistan is all about.

There was little fluctuation on the question related to the outcome of the war. More than a quarter of respondents (27%) expect to see a negotiated settlement from a position of U.S. and NATO strength that gives the Taliban a small role in the Afghan government.

Only six per cent foresee a clear victory by U.S. and NATO forces over the Taliban, 15 per cent believe that the Taliban will play a significant role in Afghanistan after the war is over, and the same proportion (15%) think that U.S. and NATO forces will ultimately be defeated.

Full results here. (pdf)

WikiLeaks and the Surge

Peter Feaver sees vindication for the Bush administration's surge in the recent WikiLeaks document dump:

There is a cottage industry among academics and some pundits attempting to discredit the surge as either a total failure or as irrelevant to what progress there has been in Iraq. The latest Wikileaks dump poses a real problem for them, and I haven't seen any of them yet adequately rise to the challenge: how would any of their preferred options in 2006 have dealt with the Iranian challenge in Iraq more successfully than did the surge that President Bush ordered?

I think some of this hinges on semantics - i.e. what you feel the "Iranian challenge" is and was in the country. For instance, does this qualify:

Iran has dramatically expanded economic ties with Iraq, taking advantage of increased security there to extend its influence.

That's from yesterday's USA Today.

Or this:

The Iraqi premier met his erstwhile Shiite Muslim rival in Iran Monday, state television said, as Tehran moved to patch over their differences to help ensure Iraq’s next government is led by Shiites.

With Iranian intervention, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had already won the public backing of fiery anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for his bid for a second term in office after an inconclusive election seven months ago.

Feaver isn't wrong to highlight the important role that quieting Shiite militias played in reducing violence inside Iraq. But as with the success in curbing the Sunni insurgency, there's little evidence yet that these gains are durable, much less that they contributed to blunting any "Iranian challenge" inside Iraq.

October 24, 2010

The Dogs of War

After they've eliminated the high-pitched hum and equipped it with face-detecting cameras and high explosives, one can imagine air-dropping a few dozen of these into Waziristan in search of bin Laden.

[Hat tip: Danger Room]

October 22, 2010

Indian Views on U.S., Pakistan

In anticipation of President Obama's November trip to India, Pew Research reports on the findings from their spring survey on global attitudes:

Among the 22 publics included in the spring 2010 Pew Global Attitudes survey, only the Chinese and Brazilians are more satisfied with their economic situation. Still, Indians believe their country faces a number of major challenges, including crime and corruption. And nearly two years after the deadly Mumbai attacks, 81% say terrorism is a very big problem.

Moreover, a plurality of Indians characterize Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group widely blamed for the Mumbai attacks, as the greatest threat facing their country. One-third name Pakistan as the greatest threat -- and overwhelmingly Indians believe there is a link between these two threats: 58% say the Pakistani government actively supports extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, while another 21% think it at least tolerates them. And if these groups were to conduct another terrorist attack against India, most would support military action against them in Pakistan....

The United States enjoys a largely positive image in India. Nearly two-thirds (66%) express a favorable opinion of the U.S., although this is down from 76% last year. By contrast, only 51% rate Russia favorably, and even fewer feel this way about the EU (36%) or China (34%).

Arctic Melting, Arctic Rising

An interesting video highlights some of the changes occurring in the Arctic, though it mostly emphasizes the environmental changes and not the emerging geopolitical consequences from a warmer Arctic. Melting ice is opening the way for, potentially, new shipping routes and energy exploration. For my money, this piece by Laurence Smith is one of the most fascinating articles you'll read on the subject.

October 21, 2010

Palestinian Views on State Recognition, Intifada

A new poll was released today measuring Palestinian views on the peace process:

Most Palestinians support asking the United Nations Security Council to recognize an independent state if peace talks fail, while two out of five favor an armed uprising against Israel, a poll showed.

Asked to respond “yes” or “no” to a range of options, 69 percent endorsed seeking Security Council recognition, while 54 percent favored the unilateral declaration of a state. The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank city of Ramallah interviewed 1,270 Palestinians for the poll, published today.

Saudi Arms Sale

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

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

If there is going to be a terrorist attack inside the U.S. it will almost certainly originate either from Pakistan or the Persian Gulf. It will almost certainly not be sponsored or perpetrated by the government of Iran.

So naturally, we need to help defend Saudi Arabia.

And look, it's preferable to starting a war with Iran, but the trajectory of America's relationships with the countries that had the most direct role in incubating and fomenting the terrorism that slaughtered thousands of Americans and continues to threaten the West is an enduring curiosity. To put it mildly.

Who Killed the Monroe Doctrine? America


Investors Business Daily is outraged that Russia is helping Venezuela develop nuclear technology, demanding that someone remind Russia of the Monroe Doctrine.

Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn't have any leg to stand on with respect to the Monroe Doctrine given how it's become a bi-partisan staple of foreign policy establishment dogma that the U.S. does not recognize "spheres of influence." It would be self-evidently absurd for the U.S. to protest Russia's dalliances in Venezuela (a little under 2,000 miles from the U.S. border) when the U.S. is pushing to admit countries that border Russia into NATO.

That said, should we be dusting off the concept of 'spheres of influence' in an era of emerging great powers? Ted Galen Carpenter argues that we should:

Russia needs to find a graceful way out of its increasingly cozy relationship with Chavez, and the United States needs to stop talking about deploying missile defenses or expanding NATO eastward. Washington and Moscow must acknowledge that the concept of spheres of influence is alive and well, and that gratuitous violations of that concept will negate any prospect for a reset in relations.

U.S. leaders must also comprehend that cordial relations with China require a willingness to accept that East Asia’s rapidly rising great power will seek to establish a sphere of influence in its neighborhood. Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea and the recent spat with Japan over disputed islets in another body of water are signs of that process. China’s growing power and assertiveness means that the United States will need to tread softly regarding such territorial disputes, as well as the even more sensitive Taiwan issue, if Washington wants to avoid nasty confrontations with Beijing.

While I think avoiding nasty confrontations should be a key goal, I'm not sure how affording China a 'sphere of influence' would work in practice. China's prospective 'sphere' encompasses major economic powerhouses like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, and some weaker Southeast Asian states. Unlike, say, Russia, where the U.S. ties to countries like Georgia or even Ukraine were historically relatively weak and economically negligible, American ties to Japan and South Korea are anything but.

(AP Photo)

The End of the Welfare State?


Hamish McRae puts his finger on something important when writing about Britain's massive spending cuts:

You can look at this in two ways. You can see it as a course correction, a violent one to be sure, but one essentially made necessary by past errors. This is the idea that we have to get back on track, that doing so will be painful, but that when we do all will be hunky dory. Or you can see it as something quite new, the early stumbling stages along a path towards redefining the role of government itself – what the state in a Western society does for its citizens, and what it does not or indeed cannot do.

McRae is inclined to the later interpretation and so am I. In quick succession, the financial crisis has exposed three underlying global trends: the failure of lightly regulated, highly globalized financial markets and the free-wheeling capitalism they had come to represent, the unsustainability of the Western welfare state, and the emergence of Asia as the growth engine for the global economy. If these trends continue - if the twin models of Western development (American/British capitalism and the European welfare state) continue to collapse on themselves while Asia continues to boom - than the West is going to have to make significant changes to how it does business.

I tend to think that Western democracy contains the seeds of its own regeneration and will emerge from these trials in tact and not in tatters, but the expectations of many of her citizens are almost certainly going to have to be re-calibrated. And that process can be quite painful and tumultuous.

(And as an obvious caveat: there are a number of events that could postpone this reckoning, not least of all a serious slowdown in Chinese growth or some kind of general collapse of the emerging markets.)

(AP Photo)

Iraq Revisionism


Arthur Herman thinks the Obama administration is responsible for al-Qaeda's resurgence in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Yet this isn't the first time we've been at this fork in the road. The question is whether the American people will rise to this challenge as they did in Iraq in 2006. Then, they backed a strategy to win, not run, in large part because they knew Bush would stay the course and understood the sacrifice he was asking. It's not clear that Obama does.

In 2006, the American people were against the surge in troops into Iraq, so I'm not clear where Herman gets the idea that the American people "backed a strategy to win."

Moreover, as Tom Ricks noted earlier in the week, the surge was a tactical success in that in tamped things down enough to buy the U.S. a decent cover to leave the country in somewhat better shape than it was during the depths of its sectarian violence. But that's a far cry from victory - as evidenced by the fact that Herman insinuates that we need another surge to shore the country up.

(AP Photo)

October 20, 2010

Courting Eastern Europe

Helle Dale offers some suggestions for the Obama administration:

Reform the U.S. Visa Waiver program, which still means that Polish residents have to line up for visas to enter the United States, when travelers from other European countries do not;

Work with the countries of CEE on security cooperation and democracy promotion. Make U.S. officials visible and available to the publics of these countries and reestablish public diplomacy institutions, such as America houses, that have been allowed atrophy since the Cold War;

Reexamine U.S. decisions on international broadcasting into the former Soviet Union, where services have been cut even in the absence of local free media.

Support the exploration of gas shale, which Poland possesses in abundance, and which would provide an alternative to Russian gas as Sikorski suggested. There is currently only $2 billion in U.S. business investment in Poland. Gas shale could give Poland energy independence; perhaps even make it an energy exporter.

I think these are mostly sensible ideas in their own right, but Dale implies that this is all necessary to blunt malevolent Russian influence. But I don't think we should view - or treat - relations with Eastern and Central Europe as zero sum standoffs.

Britain's Defense Cuts

The Guardian published a full list of what's on the chopping block. From a companion report:

Britain's armed forces will no longer be able to mount the kind of operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government's strategic defence review made clear today. For at least a decade it will also be impossible to deploy the kind of carrier taskforce which liberated the Falklands 28 years ago.

Though defence chiefs said today they will still have significant expeditionary forces, they will not be able to intervene on the scale of recent years. According to new defence planning assumptions, UK forces will be able to carry out one enduring brigade-level operation with up to 6,500 personnel, compared to the 10,000 now in Afghanistan, plus two smaller interventions, at any one time.

Alternatively, they will be able to mount a one-off, time-limited major intervention – "with sufficient warning" – of up to three brigades with about 30,000 personnel, which is two-thirds of the force deployed to Iraq in 2003.

This is being greeted with dismay in many corners but I think it's useful to keep in mind that if we accept the fact that waging preventative wars followed by large-scale military occupation is not the proper way to combat terrorism, then fielding a smaller army is not necessarily a major setback to international security. But it is rather absurd to build an aircraft carrier without the attendant aircraft to carry.

Collective Defense


With NATO member states slashing defense budgets, Ian Brzezinski and Damon Wilson ask the obvious question: what becomes of a defensive alliance if none of the allies are meeting their defense spending obligations:

All allies are cutting or flat-lining defense spending. Italy reduced its budget by 10 percent. Germany may reduce the Bundeswehr from 250,000 soldiers to 163,000. The U.K. defense review could generate budget cuts of up to 15 per cent. Denmark is considering $500 million in savings by 2014 out of an annual budget of just under $4 billion. Central European allies are contemplating cuts of similar magnitude, and growth of the Pentagon budget will be surpassed by inflation. These trends are likely to be enduring....

A new Strategic Concept will be meaningless if the alliance allows its financial strains to undercut co operation, cripple capabilities and undermine solidarity with international arms sales. The summit’s success will be determined by how NATO leaders harness budgetary austerity to reinforce unity, drive forward collaboration and deliver military effectiveness. Only then will NATO’s new concept have real strategic substance.

On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense to wring defense savings through tighter integration between NATO members. But integrating the hardware is one thing, integrating the "software" of political decision-making is quite another. And it's difficult to see a post-Afghanistan NATO having the kind of political cohesion necessary to make a truly integrated NATO defense posture feasible.

(AP Photo)

China Widens Rare Earth Ban


An interesting development on the China rare earths front (who ever thought that geology could be so exciting). The New York Times is reporting that China is now blocking rare earth shipments to the U.S. and Europe:

“The embargo is expanding” beyond Japan, said one of the three rare earth industry officials, all of whom insisted on anonymity for fear of business retaliation by Chinese authorities.

They said Chinese customs officials imposed the broader restrictions on Monday morning, hours after a top Chinese official summoned international news media Sunday night to denounce United States trade actions.

This is ultimately going to prove self-defeating for China, but it will prove very lucrative for anyone in the U.S. mining industry. Relatedly, I wonder what this action does to the "responsible stakeholder" view of a rising China.

(AP Photo)

October 19, 2010

Obama's Pakistan Charm Offensive


Looks like we won't be "shorting" Pakistan anytime soon:

As Pakistani civilian and military leaders arrive here this week for high-level meetings, the Obama administration will begin trying to mend a relationship badly damaged by the American military’s tough new stance in the region.

Among the sweeteners on the table will be a multiyear security pact with Pakistan, complete with more reliable military aid — something the Pakistani military has long sought to complement the five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid approved by Congress last year. The administration will also discuss how to channel money to help Pakistan rebuild after its ruinous flood.

But the American gestures come at a time of fraying patience on the part of the Obama administration, and they will carry a familiar warning, a senior American official said: if Pakistan does not intensify its efforts to crack down on militants hiding out in the tribal areas of North Waziristan, or if another terrorist plot against the United States were to emanate from Pakistani soil, the administration would find it hard to persuade Congress or the American public to keep supporting the country.

As with concerns that America is going to "abandon" Europe because of its defense cuts, this is an empty threat. As long as bin Laden and the rump elements of al-Qaeda's leadership are in Pakistan and as long as the U.S. is working to stabilize Afghanistan, we are going to need to have some kind of working relationship with Pakistan that involves transferring American tax dollars to its military. I suppose we need to engage in a song and dance about this, but it's not going to change the basic reality of the situation.

(AP Photo)

Britain's Defense Cuts

David Cameron's coalition announced plans to pare back defense spending as part of a wide-ranging effort to eliminate the country's deficit. The video above provides a good overview of both the strategic rationale behind Cameron's defense review and the possible pitfalls of how Britain is arraying her military forces.

The U.S. reaction to this is horror:

While Cameron pledges to safeguard funding for British forces in Afghanistan, the U.S. has already raised worries that cuts could leave its key ally unable to take on a major role in military missions in the future.

"This is not a time where you can forget about defense or you don't reinvest your savings as best you can in defense," said Jim Townsend, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO. "This is not a time where you can slacken in the need to keep strong and to invest in your military."

Last week, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus visited London for talks and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a stop in Europe to emphasize that NATO members must be able to make "appropriate contributions," despite pressures on national budgets.

And if they don't? If I you were a NATO member looking at crippling debt loads and the urgent need to slash government expenditures and you knew you had the world's most powerful military obligated by treaty to ride to your rescue, where would you make cuts?

There's apparently some worry that the U.S. will "give up" on Britain now that she's proposed to build aircraft carriers without aircraft (seriously) but that strikes me as misunderstanding what the alliance was about.

Global Broadband


According to the Broadband Forum, there are just shy of 500 million broadband subscribers worldwide:

China, the powerhouse of global broadband in the 21st century so far, was responsible for 43 percent of all net broadband lines added in Q2 and performed far better than the same quarter in 2009 (China includes Mainland China, Hong Kong & Macau). In Western Europe, many markets did better than the equivalent 2009 quarter. Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey, amongst others, all reported strong numbers. Central and South American markets have cooled to an extent, but many are still reporting good quarterly growth (of 5-7 percent). However, the US and in particular Canada, broadband growth has significantly slowed, affected by the end of housing stimulus packages. In Canada's case, the market slowed to levels not seen for a decade.

Asia now accounts for 41 percent of broadband subscriptions, followed by Europe with 30 and the Americas with 26 percent. China alone accounts for 120.59 million or over 24 percent of the 500 million broadband subs worldwide. Check out the Gallup/RCW list of the Most Wired Countries for more on global connectivity.

(AP Photo)

October 18, 2010

Iraq and American Foreign Policy

Tom Ricks reflects on the news that some of Iraq's Sunnis are rejoining the insurgency:

More evidence, I would say, that the surge worked tactically (that is, improved security and so enabled Uncle Sam to edge toward the exits) but failed strategically (that is, didn't lead to a breakthrough in Iraqi politics).

I think the big question is how far the Sunni Awakening reversal will go. Is this the beginning of the next phase of the war? I dunno. And how much will U.S. troops be involved? Again, an open question. I am hearing through the grapevine that things are getting friskier.

It's kind of hard to believe that these questions aren't getting a wider - and more urgent - hearing.

Costs and Constraints of Suicide Attacks

It should come as no surprise that Kori Schake would dissent from Robert Pape's policy recommendations on Off-Shore Balancing. Professor Pape has already posted a response, as has Chad Levinson , a contributor to Cutting the Fuse. Pape is also fortunate enough to have two confederates in Greg Scoblete and Daniel Larison.

There are really a few arguments going on here. The first is whether or not the locations that the United States currently has troops stationed serve American interests. The second is whether or not we can accomplish our objectives with a less intrusive military policy. A third discussion, which is more common within blogs and groups that focus more on domestic politics, is what the data actually means. I feel, however, that a change in the way we think about this data (which I had no hand in collecting) would be very helpful in resolving the third question, and will allow us to move on to a more useful discussion of potential policy, even if we do not yet agree on the first two questions.

First, there's the finding of extremely strong correlation between occupation and suicide attacks. This is not a causal relationship. Professor Pape elaborates on secondary variables that explain when suicide attacks might not occur during an occupation, but I believe that the correlation is the key point. It is stretching the finding to extrapolate statements about terrorist motivation, culpability or rationality of actors.

I see the Logic of Suicide Terrorism (LST) as imposing costs on powerful actors and constraints on weaker ones. Powerful actors are usually the targets of suicide terrorism, either directly or indirectly, and suicide attacks are a very effective tool of the weak.

Suicide Terrorism imposes a cost on powerful actors, because even when they are acting against overwhelmingly weaker actors, those weaker actors can almost assuredly extract blood and treasure when there is a military occupation. This means that while powerful actors remain powerful, and have a relatively free hand when dealing with weak actors, there is a relatively high cost associated with occupation.

On the other hand, Suicide Terrorism imposes a fairly strong constraint on weak groups, in that they are only able to muster individuals for suicide attacks when there is an ongoing occupation. It is possible then that altruistic suicide is actually fairly difficult to get someone to do. It's also possible that something like an occupation makes people feel like opportunity costs related to suicide are dramatically lower, increasing willingness for suicide attacks. It is further possible that most potential suicide attackers must be tightly controlled in a way possible only in areas where terrorist groups are located, and therefore generally near occupied areas. For any, all or potentially none of these reasons, suicide attacks are only possible (in any great number) when there is an ongoing occupation.

Notice that this point of view, and indeed the entire line of argument, does not necessarily absolve groups like al-Qaeda of malign intentions. It is possible that Osama bin Laden, and many of his ilk, really do hate us for who we are, and would willingly send thousands of pedestrian suicide bombers into the streets of the United States. But he cannot. So even if the Muslim world does 'hate us for who we are' they apparently don't hate us enough to kill themselves over it - until we are in their neighborhood, that is.

This then raises the question of how to approach potential policy remedies, and we fortunately have a pretty good analog in Japan during the second world war. During WW II, Japan had two tools that were very effective in killing Americans and slowing the Allies' advance. One, the Kamikaze, had few constraints, since there were many airfields and even aircraft carriers from which to launch their attacks.

The second tool, however, was cave fighting. By definition, cave fighting can obviously only occur where there are caves, which in the Pacific means islands. Of course, the U.S. had to take some islands, like Iwo Jima, and take them it did, but at an extraordinary price. However, if the objective was not necessary, then the better option was to simply bypass the island, which the Allies did with great frequency.

Armed with the knowledge of LST, we should treat occupations and objectives in much the same way. It is likely that from time to time we will need to occupy territory, and that occupation always carries the risk of suicide attacks. However, if the interest is great enough, then we must bear the cost. However, we can also rest assured that while issues other than occupation may motivate other forms of terrorism, we can be relatively reassured that such terrorism will take more manageable forms. In other words, while the terrorists might continue to attack us, they will be more easily contained, deterred and defended against because they will not have set out to kill themselves in the first place.

Notice that while it is possible to extrapolate total non-intervention from this policy, I argue that it is not necessary, nor wise to commit to no use of ground forces. Unfortunately, Off-Shore Balancing remains fairly under-theorized, and therefore people are able to paint onto it whatever they see fit. In a strategy of Off-Shore Balancing neither aerial bombardment nor total absence of land forces would be prudent. However, we must accurately, and carefully identify our national interests, and pursue strategies with appropriate forces that secure those interests at sustainable costs.

Originally posted at CPOST.

The Great Game 2.0

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the foreign policy of Imperial Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but what little I know of it makes me dubious of this argument from Thomas Barnett and, by extension, Robert Kaplan:

Where do Afghanistan and Pakistan fit into this "new Great Game," as Kaplan dubs it? They stand between, on the one hand, India and China and, on the other, all the energy that pair of rising behemoths needs to access in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. So the current effort in Afghanistan is not a case of America imposing globalization's connectivity on places where it was never meant to go. Instead, it represents -- like in Iraq -- another situation where the U.S. is making dangerous places just safe enough for Asian powers to access much-needed energy and mineral resources.

As I understood it, Britain waged its "Great Game" against Russia for influence in Central Asia and the outskirts of the Ottaman Empire because Britain wanted to protect the trade routes it had between England and India. In other words, there was a clear strategic rationale for why Britain played the Great Game and the aim was to benefit Britain. Barnett argues that the U.S. should continue nation building in Afghanistan on behalf of India and China. But what's in it for the United States?

Barnett argues that we'd be a "stabilizer" between two rising powers, but one has to wonder how much of a role Western troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan should really play in that balancing effort.

The Benefits of Off-Shore Balancing


By Robert Pape

Robert A. Pape is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago specializing in international security affairs. He currently serves as Director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism. This analysis first appeared on the CPOST blog.

Kori Schake, a valuable participant in our Capitol Hill conference on “Cutting the Fuse,” raises a number of important issues with the policy of off-shore balancing. I am delighted to respond and believe our exchange is an example of thoughtful thinking about how to move beyond the War on Terror.

Schake is right that U.S. policy makers are well-meaning; sending our ground troops overseas to advance our interests. But she overlooks how our ground forces often - and inadvertently - produce the opposite of what they intend: more anti-American terrorists than they kill. In 2000, before the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, there were 20 suicide attacks around the world and one (against the USS Cole) was anti-American. In the last 12 months, by comparison, 300 suicide attacks have occurred and over 270 were anti-American. We simply must face the reality - no matter how well-intentioned, our current war on terror is not serving American interests.

Schake is also right that, once we know that nearly all suicide terrorism occurs in response to military occupations by democracies, it is perfectly reasonable to ask "why some occupations and not others?" And, this has been a core element of my research, as readers will see in Chapter 1 of Cutting the Fuse and in my 2008 article in the American Political Science Review, among other publications.

In a nutshell, two factors matter.

The first is social distance between occupier and occupied, because the wider the social distance, the more the occupied community may fear losing its way of life. Although other differences may matter, research shows that occupations are especially likely to escalate to suicide terrorism when there is a difference between the predominant religion of the occupier and the predominant relation of the occupied.

Religious difference matters not because some religions are predisposed to suicide attack - indeed, there are religious differences even in purely secular suicide attack campaigns, such as the LTTE (Hindu) against the Sinhalese (Buddhists).

Rather, religious differences matter because it enables terrorist leaders to claim that the occupier is motivated by a religious agenda that can scare both secular and religious members of a local community – which is why bin Laden never misses an opportunity to describe U.S. occupiers as “Crusaders” – motivated by a Christian agenda to convert Muslims to Christianity, steal Muslim oil and resources, and change the local population’s way of life whether they liked it or not.

This first factor of religious difference explains why some occupations escalate to suicide terrorism, but not others – not only in recent times, but also in the past – such as why the Japanese started kamikaze attacks in October 1944 to defend their home islands from U.S. occupation, while the Germans did not.

The second factor is prior rebellion. Suicide terrorism is typically a strategy of last resort, often used by weak actors when other, non-suicide methods of resistance to occupation fail. This is why we see suicide attack campaigns so often evolve from ordinary terrorist or guerrilla campaigns, as in the cases of Israel and Palestine, the PKK in Turkey, the LTTE in Sri Lanka, etc. So, if the South Koreans ever began to resist American military presence in a serious way, this would be more worrisome than it may at first appear.

On the next issue she raises, Schake is simply wrong that “an offshore balancing approach means that we will not be engaged with military forces on the ground.” As readers will see in throughout my book, working with local allies is a core element of off-shore balancing. And, America has used the strategy of off-shore balancing to great benefit numerous times and often in concert with local allies - in the Persian Gulf in the 1970s and 1980s, in 1990 to kick Saddam out of Kuwait and in 2001 to topple the Taliban (it controlled 90 percent of Afghanistan and 50 U.S. troops, U.S. air and naval power, and U.S. economic and political support for the Northern Alliance kicked them and al-Qaeda out of the country!).

Finally, I agree that replacing mass boots with mass drones would be a mistake - since vast numbers of air strikes could inflict more than enough collateral damage to incite terrorism in response - which is exactly what Cutting the Fuse explains, and it's also why off-shore balancing means responding with stand-off military forces against significant size terrorist camps like Tarnak Farms (a military base larger than the Pentagon), and not every third ranking cadre in individual houses in Quetta, where more selective or even non-military means may well be more effective.

I hope Ms. Schake will have an opportunity to read Cutting the Fuse and to consider the research behind it. Governor Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton - both heads of the 9/11 Commission - have, as did Thomas Schelling (Nobel laureate in Economics) and Adm. Gary Roughhead (the current Chief of Naval Operations). They too raised the issues Schake did (and more), and found convincing answers in the book.

(AP Photo)

Iraq's Sunnis Rejoining al-Qaeda

A while back, Matthew Yglesias argued that the genius of the Iraq surge was that it lowered expectations for victory, allowing Washington to use the downward trend in violence as a cover for a withdrawal without the aura of defeat.

But what happens if it's no longer possible for Washington to convince itself it won:

Although there are no firm figures, security and political officials say hundreds of the well-disciplined fighters — many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military — appear to have rejoined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Beyond that, officials say that even many of the Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency.

The defections have been driven in part by frustration with the Shiite-led government, which Awakening members say is intent on destroying them, as well as by pressure from Al Qaeda. The exodus has accelerated since Iraq’s inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, which have left Sunnis uncertain of retaining what little political influence they have and which appear to have provided Al Qaeda new opportunities to lure back fighters.

There was tremendous violence following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in the 1970s, but the U.S. was able to stay aloof from the consequences because it had fully disentangled itself from its Southeast Asian war. There are 50,000 U.S. troops still inside Iraq. Are they hedges against Iraq's fragmented and potentially violent politics, or hostages to it?

If Not Off-Shore Balancing, Then What?

Daniel Larison picks up on the question of American policy and terrorism, arguing that Robert Pape's preferred "off-shore" strategy won't be very effective at quelling radicalism:

Long-term occupation is one form of this, but we would be foolish to think that we can routinely bomb another country without generating the same violent reaction. Instead of trying to force withdrawal, terrorist attacks would have the cessation of attacks as their goal. It is one thing to argue that we should not have a military presence in Afghanistan because it feeds the instability and violence the government is presumably trying to reduce, but it is quite another to claim that the U.S. can remove its forces from a country, reserve the right to continue attacking it at will, and that this still counts as a real withdrawal. The trouble here is that Pape seems not to have taken his own claims about the causes of terrorism as seriously as he should, which has given Schake an opportunity to dismiss his important and valid claims along with his more questionable recommendations.

I think this correct and there seems to be confirmation of this fact in the Pakistani tribal regions where the U.S. is essentially conducting the kind of covert battle that Pape seems to endorse for Afghanistan. But this raises an important question: if a large-footprint occupation is out and if a counter-terrorist campaign of the kind being waged in Pakistan is deemed just as radicalizing, what's left?

October 16, 2010

U.S. Views on Afghanistan

Via Rasmussen Reports:

A plurality of voters nationwide continues to believe the U.S. situation in Afghanistan will get worse in the next six months.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters finds that 46% feel this way, while only 22% believe the situation will get better. Another 22% think the situation will remain about the same as it is now.

These figures have improved slightly from last month, when only 18% felt the situation would get better and 48% thought the opposite.

Twenty-seven percent (27%) of voters believe all U.S. troops should be brought home from Afghanistan immediately, a finding that has remained largely unchanged since last November.

Although combat in Iraq officially ended, a plurality (37%) thinks that, over the next six months, the situation there will get worse. Twenty-eight percent (28%) think it will get better, and nearly as many (26%) think the situation will stay the same as it is now.

October 15, 2010

The Limits of Denialism

Kori Schake isn't impressed with Robert Pape's research that shows that suicide terrorism is closely tied to the presence of foreign military forces:

To say that attacks occur where U.S. forces are deployed is to say no more than Willy Sutton, who robbed banks because "that's where the money is." Pape's approach ignores the context in which deployment and stationing of U.S. forces occurs. We send troops to advance our interests, protect our allies, and contest the political and geographic space that groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban are operating in. Of course the attacks will stop if we cede those political objectives. But the troops are not the point, the political objectives are the point.

Nowhere does this analysis grapple with the question of whether sending troops into places like Saudi Arabia was a good idea. Schake seems to operate under the assumption that if it's American policy, it must be right. But American policy can be wrong. Stationing troops in Saudi Arabia to contain Saddam Hussein was, I'd argue, a costly mistake. One that, as Pape's thesis demonstrates, provoked terrorism.

And indeed, America's political objectives in the Middle East are a part of our current problem: when you support autocratic governments and those that use their oil wealth to propagate a virulent strain of Islam you shouldn't be surprised when people resent your interference or fall under the sway of radical teachings. You can argue that these are the costs we have to endure to secure our interests and you can argue that this phenomena is exacerbated by religious fundamentalism that even U.S. policy changes couldn't completely mitigate, but you can't pretend this dynamic doesn't exist.

Schake continues:

The second important context Pape glosses over is that suicide attacks do not occur wherever in the world U.S. troops are deployed. Troops stationed in Germany, Japan, or South Korea are not at risk of suicide attacks from the people of those countries. This is not just about U.S. troops, but also about the societies we are operating in. It is about a radical and violent interpretation of Islam that we are using military force to contest.

Pape is not arguing that U.S. troops provoke suicide terrorist campaigns wherever they land, but that suicide terrorist campaigns cannot be explained without the presence of foreign (not simply American) military forces operating on territory the terrorists prize. Schake argues that the difference in treatment toward the U.S. from Japan and Korea on the one hand and the Middle East on the other is "about the societies we're operating in." And that's true: Different societies, with different histories, cultures and geopolitical contexts, react differently to the presence of foreign troops on their soil. But shouldn't American policy be alert to these differences and calibrated accordingly?

October 14, 2010

Friendship and International Affairs

Writing at The Public Discourse, Carson Holloway suggests we examine the softer side of international relationships among nation-states:

Modern individualism and egalitarianism both misunderstand the nature of solidarity or friendship among human beings and hence among nations. In their elevation of self-interest, both individualism and political realism tend to miss completely the role of friendship in human affairs. While it is true that self-interest is a powerful force, it is not the sole motive of human action. Men and nations sometimes do, and often should, act on the basis of friendship, or a sense of commitment to others that they view as “other selves,” to use a term Aristotle applied to friendship. Conversely, the cosmopolitanism of modern egalitarianism and idealism, while understanding the importance of human solidarity, mistakenly believes it can be extended to all human beings or nations indiscriminately. While it is true in some cosmic sense that all individuals and all nations are of equal value and dignity, it is not the case that that equal dignity is equally entrusted to all other men or nations.

I am skeptical of this approach. While Holloway attempts to articulate idealism and realism in terms of egalitarianism and individualism, there's an error here in applying the way things work within the domestic arena of politics. You can't simply assign the same rules to how "friendships" are conducted within societies with shared values and experiences and apply it to the international arena. By its very nature, the globe is anarchical and lacks common shared experiences or values across cultural and geographic boundaries -- while a society is possible in such a system, a "community" is not.

To think otherwise is to adopt a simplistic view of the interests of nation-states, one which applies too much knowledge from the domestic sphere to interactions at the higher level -- these are horses of a different color. One might as well apply lessons learned from Facebook interaction (which would suggest France is out shopping again, Germany is focused on the day's football match, and lord knows where Italy is, or with whom).

Nation-states cannot be "friends," at least in the ways Holloway defines such friendship. They can have common interests, shared goals, and traditional attachments, but friendship overrules none of these. The lesson we should take from the experience of Lord Palmerston and others is that it is difficult just for nation-states to have interests which approach permanence -- focusing on that is challenging enough.

Myths, Facts and Defense Spending

Today on Capitol Hill, representatives of the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative will gather to present a brief on the subject of Defending Defense: Setting the Record Straight on US Military Spending, which will reportedly "separate myth from fact in the current defense-spending debate."

As I've noted in the past, the push to make defense spending off limits is all about convincing the incoming wave of small government populists who are about to descend on Congress to leave defense pork off the cutting list. Cato President Ed Crane responded to the Wall Street Journal oped kicking off this project (authored on behalf of AEI's Arthur Brooks, Heritage's Ed Feulner, and FPI's Bill Kristol) with the point: "Rather than Congress constantly writing a blank check, the process of military budgeting should begin with a discussion about security necessities and their costs." But one doesn't need to be a libertarian or be opposed America's efforts in Iraq or Afghanistan to think that the massive waste and inefficiencies of the defense budget need to be curtailed.

When listening to Heritage's Mackenzie Eaglen, former advisor to Sen. Susan Collins, and John Noonan, a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard, defend this viewpoint, I simply don't find their arguments convincing. I can't see the conservative justification for the view that defense spending needs to be placed off-limits for cutbacks, nor why the Tea Party movement should view this argument with anything but skepticism. In Noonan's interview here, he names a number of expanding and changing missions (soft power, cyber-security, two wars overseas), but then reverts to the standard two "big money" arguments: "the Air Force has old planes and we should make new ones", and "the Navy has the smallest fleet since World War I." Of course, neither of those things really impact the "new" missions for the United States military.

Deterrence is important. But just having more carriers and fighters isn't the answer. The United States already outnumbers the next 20 navies combined, most of which are our allies. The point is not the size of the fleet, but the capabilities. China and Russia have been achieving a good deal of technological success when it comes to anti-carrier low-flying missiles. The more such technology progresses, the less our ability to stick a carrier between China and Taiwan matters. Deterrence depends on spending money wisely, investing it with a mind toward proper priorities, and without a cap on the pocketbook, there's no incentive for making those decisions.

I have yet to hear one suggestion on expanding the defense budget from the groups involved in this effort that focuses on what the United States is doing right now. Next-war-itis has been a problem within the military acquisition process since the Cold War -- to the benefit of many suppliers -- and it's a "Myth of the Next" approach Sec. Gates rejected when he slashed the Army's Future Combat Systems while massively expanding the MRAPs budget.

Yet there's a more fundamental problem here: a question of conservative hypocrisy. Today, writing in Politico, Feulner and Sen. Jim DeMint hail the arrival of the Tea Parties as an enduring force in American politics. They note the disgust of these small government populists with the establishment forces of both parties. That frustration didn't come from nowhere, of course: it came from years of being ignored when it comes to matters of policy. It came from seeing the dilution of principle in favor of power. And it came from seeing their elected officials make small government promises and then defending bloated pork.

Those conservatives who claim that defense spending should be off-limits at Capitol Hill meetings of Washington, D.C. think tanks aren't going to find an eager audience with these new anti-establishment populists. And that, in my judgment, is a fact.

China, the Middle East and Resource Weapons


There's an interesting experiment playing out now with China and its rare earth mineral monopoly that holds lessons for the U.S. in the Middle East. Three weeks ago, China began withholding shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan in response to Japan's detention of a Chinese fishing crew operating in disputed waters. This mineral embargo strikes a direct blow at many of the electronic industries in Japan that rely on these minerals for products such as batteries in hybrid cars.

Japan finally relented and released the sailors, and later their captain, in what looked like a capitulation in the face of China's "resource weapon." Whether this is the case or not, I think over the long term China's actions have actually undercut this gambit. It will almost certainly spur other nations with their own rare earths resources (which, according to the Times, aren't actually that rare) to begin, or in the case of the U.S., resume, mining operations to break China's near monopoly.

The lesson here for the Middle East is obvious. For years there's been a fear of an "oil weapon" or worries that a hegemonic power (first Iraq, now Iran) could "take over the world's oil supply" and wield it to our detriment. But there's a reason that the Arab world has only used the so-called "oil weapon" once - it doesn't work. No matter how painful the initial blow, the effect is short-term. Over the long term, the consuming states devise alternatives. But in the case of producing states, there is no alternative. Unlike China, most of the oil-producing states in the Gulf don't have a diversified industrial base. If they can't export oil, they can't eat.

(AP Photo)

Suicide Terrorism & the U.S. Military

Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political science professor and former Air Force lecturer, will present findings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that argue that the majority of suicide terrorism around the world since 1980 has had a common cause: military occupation.

Pape and his team of researchers draw on data produced by a six-year study of suicide terrorist attacks around the world that was partially funded by the Defense Department's Defense Threat Reduction Agency. They have compiled the terrorism statistics in a publicly available database comprising some 10,000 records on some 2,200 suicide terrorism attacks, dating back to the first suicide terrorism attack of modern times — the 1983 truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 241 U.S. Marines.

"We have lots of evidence now that when you put the foreign military presence in, it triggers suicide terrorism campaigns, ... and that when the foreign forces leave, it takes away almost 100 percent of the terrorist campaign," Pape said in an interview last week on his findings. - Laura Rozen

It's always struck me as a bit odd that the U.S. is willing to blithely assume huge costs in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the name of fighting terrorism while resolutely refusing to consider reducing our military footprint in the Middle East for fear of the costs. Perhaps Pape's research will help balance the ledger a bit.

October 13, 2010

Getting in China's Grill


In Vietnam, Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated the administration's position on Asia:

On Tuesday, Gates echoed recent statements by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the United States would not take sides on competing Asian territorial claims but would insist on open access to international waters and shipping lanes.

"The United States has always exercised our rights and supported the rights of others to transit through, and operate in, international waters," Gates said. "This will not change."

Washington's stance has irked Beijing, and Chinese leaders have told the Obama administration to butt out of what it sees as local disputes.

On the one hand, I think the U.S. position is the correct one with respect to navigating international waters, particularly given the amount of commerce that passes through Asia. On the other, it's worth remembering that with defense partnerships with Japan and budding relationships with other Asian states like Vietnam, we're taking defacto positions on these territorial disputes - against China.

It's also odd to hear the U.S. lecture China on what it can and cannot declare as a core interest. The U.S. takes a much more expansive view of its "core interests" than any other country on the planet, including China, so it's little wonder that our insistences with respect to the South China Sea grate on the ears of the Chinese military.

(AP Photo)

Spheres of Naval Influence


Nic Maclellan shows how France's colonial holdings give it the third largest exclusive economic zone (defined as water out to 200 nautical miles from the coast over which a country has special rights over the exploitation of natural resources) in the world.

This in response to a very pertinent question:

Does any other country successfully claim an expanse of blue ocean so distant from its land mass? Are there any such precedents, or is China pushing totally unrecognized definitions here?

Let's start with some easy examples, where a body of water is nearly enclosed by a territory (a 'lake' if you will). Doesn't the US virtually control the Gulf of Mexico? If there's an oil rig more than 200km from the US coast, is that in international waters? If so, who, if anyone, agrees on the oilfield's boundaries and the terms of the lease?

(AP Photo)

The Global Gender Gap

The World Economic Forum has released its 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks countries by the level of gender equality. The top ten countries with the highest levels of gender equality:

1. Iceland 2. Norway 3. Finland 4. Sweden 5. N. Zealand 6. Ireland 7. Denmark 8. Lesotho 9. Philippines 10. Switzerland

You can read the full report here (pdf)

Radical Germany

Michael Slackman reports on how Germany is a hotbed for home grown Islamic radicalism:

Although Germany has been spared the terrorist attacks that have hit the United States, Britain and Spain, Hamburg — and Germany in general — remains a breeding ground for Islamic radicals, security officials acknowledge. A spate of recent arrests and terrorism warnings in Europe and Afghanistan has underscored the risk that a small number of German citizens are under the sway of terrorist groups determined to stage new attacks, either in Germany or elsewhere in Europe.

Officials in Hamburg emphasized that the vast majority of its Muslim population — which they put at 130,000 — rejected violence. But a Hamburg intelligence official said there were 2,000 residents who embrace radical ideology and another 45 who accept the ideology of Al Qaeda and global jihad.

“That’s what we all experience in America and in other countries and also here, that this phenomenon of the homegrown terrorist increases rapidly,” said the intelligence official, who spoke recently on the condition that he not be identified because of the secrecy of his work. “This is an extremism which grows right here. The recruiting, the radicalization happens right here, not in other countries.”

This again underscores a dubious argument often floated with respect to terrorism (and usually as a post-hoc justification for the invasion of Iraq): that democracy is an antidote to radicalism. But if German citizens, including those born and raised in the country, can turn to terrorism it's obvious that democracy isn't sufficient to quell their radicalism.

Russian Reset, UK Style

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is looking to shore up relations with Russia:

Hague, part of a coalition government which took office in May, will meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Dmitry Medvedev during his 24-hour visit which began on Tuesday.

Relations between the previous British government and Russia deteriorated badly after the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London with a rare radioactive isotope.

Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger's getting job offers from Medvedev.

October 12, 2010

Breaking: Livefeed to the Chilean miners' rescue

In Spanish at USTREAM:

In English on CNN here

Why China's Mad at the U.S.

Thomas Barnett waxes incredulous:

This is the state of our discussion: the world's biggest and by-far strongest military regularly getting up into the grill of the second-biggest economy on the planet and letting it know--in no uncertain terms--that it will not countenance China exercising military power in its own region! Why? Despite being intensely overdrawn militarily around the planet and facing military resource shortages in the very same regions where Chinese economic interests are skyrocketing, it's in our best interest to deny China's rise with all our might. Safely buttressed by the vast security resources of our NATO allies, it's clear that we don't need any new friends and--instead--must do everything possible to deny their emergence, because more Chinese security means less U.S. security; it is a completely zero-sum game.

Brilliant stuff. I can't imagine why the Chinese look upon us as anything but the best of friends. I am flabbergasted at our naivete in hoping for something better to emerge.

The U.S. position toward China does seem to swerve between patronizing platitudes (they'll be a "stakeholder") and wary hedging.

Was Stuxnet a Chinese Attack on India?

Stuxnet, the computer virus that wrecked havoc with Iran's nuclear facilities, may have been a Chinese virus cooked up to attack India:

The deadly Stuxnet internet worm, which was thought to be targeting Iran's nuclear programme, might actually have been aimed at India by none other than China.

Providing a fresh twist in the tale, well-known American cyber warfare expert Jeffrey Carr, who specialises in investigations of cyber attacks against government, told TOI that China, more than any other country, was likely to have written the worm which has terrorised the world since June.

While Chinese hackers are known to target Indian government websites, the scale and sophistication of Stuxnet suggests that only a government no less than that of countries like US, Israel or China could have done it. "I think it's more likely that China is behind Stuxnet than any other country," Carr told TOI, adding that he would provide more details at the upcoming NASSCOM DSCI Security Conclave in Chennai in December.

This is the first I've heard of such accusations and there doesn't appear to be any other experts making similar claims. But still, an intriguing twist.

Obama & Eisenhower

Will Inboden has an interesting post comparing the two:

While both presidents commissioned major strategic reviews upon taking office, Eisenhower's "Project Solarium" assessed the U.S. grand strategy for the entire global Cold War, in contrast to Obama's strategic review(s) of just one theater: Afghanistan-Pakistan. An accurate analogy would be if the Obama White House had done such a strategic review of the entire Global War on Terror (other than just giving it a new acronym). The Obama administration instead largely adopted wholesale the Bush administration's strategic framework for the war on jihadist terrorism: pre-emptive attacks, holding states accountable for terrorist actions, renditions, law-of-war detainees, support for reformist and peaceful Muslim leaders, and promoting governance and development as long-term antidotes to Islamist ideology.

I'm not sure if the Obama administration has embraced the "holding states accountable" paradigm (and in truth, President Bush didn't either, as such a standard would have plunged the U.S. into many more ground wars) but in general, the administration has indeed refrained from a wholesale overview of American strategy with respect to Islamic terrorism. But why?

Policing Sea Lanes


One common refrain among proponents of boosting defense expenditures is that failure to do so would, among other things, leave sea lanes unguarded. The reality is quite different, as Peter Apps explains in a report for Reuters:

The U.S. Navy estimates that on any given day as many as 30 to 40 warships are engaged in operations to keep shipping safe from young Somalis in skiffs with AK-47s and ladders.

While U.S., NATO and European Union forces make up the majority, the last two years have seen a growing presence from China, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea and others.

While piracy -- which has redrawn shipping routes and driven up insurance costs -- is seen the main driver, all are seen also wanting to stake a claim to increasingly important sea lanes.

This growing presence suggests precisely what many libertarian advocates of reduced defense spending have long argued: that removing the U.S. from some security missions doesn't mean chaos and terror consumes the Earth, but that other stakeholders get off the sidelines and bear the costs for these missions. In this particular case I think keeping maritime routes open is a much better use of American defense dollars than nation building in Afghanistan or Iraq, but there's no reason to believe that this dynamic - of other nations filling in gaps left by the U.S. - couldn't be profitably replicated elsewhere.

(AP Photo)

Memo to Would Be G-20 Protestors

Don't mess with the South Korea police:


South Korean police officers demonstrate their martial arts during a police force demonstration for a successful G20 Seoul Summit at a police training center in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. The G20 summit will be held in Seoul on November 11 and 12. (AP Photo)

October 11, 2010

The West's Ahmadinejad Problem


Roger Cohen is over the Iranian president:

Not surprisingly, in Fareed Zakaria’s “post-American world,” he has an audience. He’s adept enough, with a touch of Tony Curtis in “The Boston Strangler,” switching personalities with eerie ease.

Throw in some headline-grabbing lunacy — 9/11 as self-inflicted, or the Holocaust as invention, or “Iran is the freest country in the world” — and you have a post-modern media star and villain.

And what do all his words amount to? I’d say not a whole lot beyond unnecessary misery for 71 million isolated Iranians. This guy is all hat and no cattle.

Ahmadinejad is odious but I don’t think he’s dangerous. Some people do of course find him dangerous, especially in the Israel he gratuitously insults and threatens, and yet others — many more I’d say — find it convenient to find him dangerous. [Emphasis mine. - KS]

Much of this is due to Iran's truly Byzantine powers structure - the most powerful figure in the country, Ayatollah Khamenei, is a virtual recluse on the world stage, while the regime's lesser-executive, Ahmadinejad, is a loudmouthed, egotistical and antisemitic iconoclast. He is a polarizing figure not only in his own country, but abroad as well.

However, in its quest to inflate the Islamic Republic into an imminent and existential threat, the West bears a chunk of the blame for Ahmadinejad. Absurd comparisons to Nazi Germany and whatnot have no doubt fueled his own inflated sense of global relevance, while at the same time solidifying factions within Iran's halls of power both for and against him. To his supporters, Ahmadinejad irritates and antagonizes all of the right people; to his detractors, he has only further isolated and embarrassed a once proud nation.

And here's the sad twist: There's good reason to believe - be it out of self-preservation or pure ego - that Ahmadinejad wanted a nuclear deal with the West.

While such a deal isn't beyond the realm of possibility, it would seem far less likely in post-2009 Iran. Any deal brokered during Ahmadinejad's remaining time in office would likely be wed to the embattled president, making it a difficult pill to swallow for Iranian pragmatists and reformers. It would lend his administration credibility; a credibility which has been rapidly deteriorating due to the 2009 election and his mismanagement of the economy.

In short, the chances of a nuclear agreement, while not entirely affected by American behavior, have ebbed and flowed with Mr. Ahmadinejad's own political standing both at home and abroad.

But nonproliferation needn't hinge on the unhinged if Western leaders and analysts would only attempt a radical new tactic in dealing with this controversial figure: Ignore him.

(AP Photo)

Dutch Antilles

In the news you may have missed file, the world has two new countries:

The former Dutch Caribbean colonies of Curacao and St. Maarten became autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on Sunday in a change of constitutional status dissolving the Netherlands Antilles.

The two joined Aruba, which in 1986 had already gained this status that maintains direct ties with Holland, while three other islands, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, became autonomous special municipalities of the Netherlands in the dissolution of the 56-year-old Netherlands Antilles territory.

Network Power

One thing I've always felt missing in a lot of the think pieces on the Obama administration's grand strategy (or lack thereof) is any attention to Anne Marie Slaughter - the former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School and now Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. Specifically, how Slaughter's view of America's "network power" relates to the administration's policies. Joseph Nye's Project Syndicate piece today does a good job at explaining what it's about:

Much of the work of global governance will rely on formal and informal networks. Network organizations (such as the G-20) are used for setting agendas, building consensus, coordinating policy, exchanging knowledge, and establishing norms. As Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning in the US State Department, argues, “the power that flows from this type of connectivity is not the power to impose outcomes. Networks are not directed and controlled as much as they are managed and orchestrated. Multiple players are integrated into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

In other words, the network provides power to achieve preferred outcomes with other players rather than over them.

Slaughter herself detailed the idea more fully in a piece for Foreign Affairs (sadly behind a subscriber wall).

It's hard to tell in the day-to-day scrum of policymaking if this is in fact what the Obama administration is actually working towards. On some issues, like the peace process, the administration isn't harnessing any networks but is shouldering the burden alone. But I think you could make the case that "network power" is a decent explanatory framework for the administration's response to the international financial crisis (expanding the G-7 to the G-20) and some of its moves in Asia. And it's certainly a significant, if unstated, theme running through many of Secretary Clinton's major speeches on American foreign policy.

EU Distracted, Powerless

Struck by how rarely European Union foreign ministers focus on strategy during their monthly meetings, the Finnish foreign minister Alex Stubb asked officials to check how often he and his counterparts had discussed the role of China as a foreign policy power.

The answer was just once in the past four years....

On Thursday, Ms. Ashton, who recently returned from a visit to China, is expected to urge the Union to integrate its contacts with big powers — which range from the environment to trade — to gain more leverage.

This could help shift the focus from short-term problems. Mr. Stubb’s research shows how foreign ministers tend to devote their discussions to crises, and to issues where Europe has limited influence.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, European foreign ministers discussed the Middle East peace process 12 times. - Stephen Castle, New York Times

That's via Evelyn Gordon, who contends that this "obsession" with Israel has led the EU to rapidly lose its global power. I'm not sure that's completely correct not least because it's clear from the Castle piece that the EU never had all that much global power to begin with.

Iranian Infighting Continues


Political rivalries are intensifying between Iran’s fundamentalist ayatollahs and officeholders. It’s a clash between those who wish to hold on to theocracy and those who seek secular, but perhaps no less authoritarian, governance.

Here’s what Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi had to say recently about Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, chief of staff to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Mashaei is seeking to prepare the groundwork for his own presidency after Ahmadinejad by spending huge amounts of money in the provincial cities to court people. Mashaei thinks he can become president by drawing on his wealth and position. But if Mashaei runs for office, the first group that will oppose his presidency is the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom. We won’t let Mashaei become president at any price.

Ayatollah Yazdi is Deputy Chairman of the Assembly of Experts. This conservative Shiite cleric also serves on the 12-member Guardian Council, regularly leads Friday prayer at the capital city of Tehran and directs the influential Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom. He led Iran’s judiciary from 1989 to 1999. Yazdi is a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well.

In response the executive branch’s supporters in Iran’s government have been championing nationalism, blocking websites belonging to Yazdi and other fundamentalist ayatollahs, mocking the administrative and political skills of mullahs in general, and labeling the clergy-led crackdown on public behavior as ineffective and unworkable.

So the fragmentation of Iran’s revolutionary government continues apace.

North Korean Military Parade: Deadly Weapons

Apparently the recent North Korean military parade marked the public emergence of the "Musudan" intermediate range ballistic missile and a even fiercer weapon: the Kim Jong-il Comb-Over.

Where Are the Pakistan Hawks?


There's been a growing realization in the U.S. that Pakistan is ultimately not going to change what it views as its fundamental national interests to suit Washington's desire to shore-up a (relatively) Taliban-free Afghanistan. This leaves the U.S. with two basic options. The first is to change the tone of its relationship with Pakistan, by threatening or actually cutting off U.S. aid and perhaps even using military force more overtly in the tribal region. This option - as outlined here a bit by Steven Metz - essentially argues that Pakistan better start fearing the U.S. more than India.

The second option would be to accept that some Pakistan/Taliban influence inside Afghanistan is inevitable and cut some kind of deal with the Taliban, which appears to be what the administration is doing.

The odd thing to note about this is how so few self-styled hawks have thus far come out in favor of the first option. During the Iraq war, we frequently heard demands to bomb Iran to disrupt its support for terrorists attacking U.S. troops. But Pakistani support for lethal insurgent groups in Afghanistan is similarly pervasive.

Indeed, there's a vast disconnect between how self-styled hawks treat Iran and Pakistan. Up and down the line Pakistan has been the more egregious transgressor on the things hawks say they care about: from developing nuclear weapons, proliferating nuclear weapons, harboring, training and sponsoring Islamist terrorist networks, supporting (however indirectly) attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, undermining America's regional goals, attacking a democratic ally, to enduring bouts of military dictatorship and on and on. Yet when it comes time for threats and bellicosity, the hawks get positively nuanced when dealing with Pakistan.

Mind you, that's not a bad thing. It's just a bit odd.

U.S. Views on Israel, Iran

McLaughlin and Associates conducted a poll (pdf) for the Emergency Committee for Israel to measure U.S. sentiment toward Israel. Some findings:

* 51 percent of respondents believe that President Obama has been "less friendly" to Israel than previous presidents;

* 50.8 percent approve of the president's handling of defense and foreign policy matters;

* 44 percent disapproved of the president's handling of U.S.-Israeli relations;

* 50.9 percent believe that Israel's enemies are America's enemies;

* 50.6 percent of respondents agree with the statement: “The Israeli-Arab conflict is the key to improving America's standing and interests in the region."

* 81 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: "Enemies of America use the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as an excuse to create anti-American sentiment. Even if the dispute is settled, they would find another way to justify their hostility toward America."

* 52 percent disagree with this statement: “I am strongly opposed to the use of military force by Israel or the United States to attack Iran.”

* 75 percent said the U.S. cannot be safe with a nuclear Iran

* 85 percent said Iran would provide a nuclear weapon to a terrorist organization;

* 59 percent of respondents would approve of military action against Iran's nuclear facilities if sanctions did not work.

October 8, 2010

A Multimedia Look at Pakistan's Crisis

The Council on Foreign Relations has put together a nice multimedia presentation Pakistan. Click the image for the full show:

Crisis Guide: Pakistan

The Defense Budget: A Modest Proposal

This will, admittedly, only help at the very margins of the U.S. defense budget but perhaps not paying Taliban sympathizers and Iranian intelligence moles to guard our military bases inside Afghanistan would be a helpful start.

The World's Fastest Growing Cities

Forbes has the list.

Wilson Rides Again

The Heritage Foundation is launching a new initiative to "apply America's first principles" to foreign affairs. Julia Shaw gives us a preview:

The principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence are the standards by which all governments (not just America’s government) should be instituted and are to be judged. America is the only nation explicitly founded upon the principles of human equality and natural rights, but these principles are applicable to all men and all times, as Lincoln said. What do these truths mean for our international relationships?

Well, let's see, it would mean the end of a lot of them for starters. It would also throw a rather large monkey-wrench into America's counter-terrorism policy, which entails an expansion of executive authority into things like assassinating American citizens on the basis of secret evidence, that I don't think the Founding Fathers would have been down with.

October 7, 2010

Will Obama Get Tough on Pakistan?

Tom Ricks thinks the administration's patience has run dry and that a "rollup of ISI agents in Afghanistan" will commence soon. The telltale signs:

This would be done quietly, if possible, so the public signs would be reactions such as the kidnapping of Indian officials in Afghanistan, or bombing the Indian embassy again....

Shorting Pakistan is kind of a no-brainer: In the long one, which is the better ally to have, India or Pakistan?

Yes, but if Pakistan is uncooperative now, how much less so will they be after they're shorted?

Talking to the Taliban


After reading about renewed peace talks with the Taliban, I got to thinking: would it have been more ignominous for the U.S. to have withdrawn almost all of its troops from Afghanistan in 2002 and watch as whatever violence and chaos ensued at our departure. Or is it more embarrassing (though no less necessary) to now be sitting across the table from the Taliban?

(AP Photo)

Optimistic Asia

While the U.S. and Europe fret about decline, Gallup reports that Asia is pretty upbeat:


Should Britain Give Up Her Nukes?

Robert Farley makes the case:

The debate currently taking place in London matters for Washington, and U.S. defense officials have already expressed concern about the extent of British defense cuts. However, since taking office, President Barack Obama has made global nuclear abolition a central focus of his nonproliferation agenda, both rhetorically and in policy. A decision by the United Kingdom to forego the replacement of Trident and to eschew any other nuclear delivery system would advance this goal enormously. No major nuclear power has ever given up its weapons, despite the formal requirement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to work towards abolition. In the context of growing concern about nuclear proliferation, abolition of British nuclear weapons might provide an important symbol of commitment to Global Zero. However, there's no guarantee that a British policy shift would bring about a change in behavior in North Korea, Iran, or any other nuclear aspirant.

Just as important, however, is the money that would be saved from foregoing Trident replacement, which could be spent in other areas.

Yes, but what if Britain decides to eliminate its nuclear deterrent and a new U.S. president assumes office with a dimmer view toward such Utopian optimistic plans for "global zero?" Efforts to slash their arsenal to curry favor with the U.S. would then fall rather flat.

Defense Spending & American Interests

Amidst the useful back-and-forth over the issue of U.S. defense spending lies a more substantive issue: what America's role should be in the world. As Stephen Walt argues, it's hard to talk about the defense budget without situating the conservation in a discussion about American strategy:

Although it is mind-boggling to realize that five percent of the world's population (the United States) now spends more on defense than the other 95 percent put together, this situation is hard to avoid when you see threats emerging virtually everywhere and when you think all of them are best met by an ambitious and highly interventionst foreign policy. If Americans want to be able to go anywhere and do anything, then they are going to have keep spending lots of money...

Progress and Muslim Women in Afghanistan


It was on this day in 2001 that the United States and Britain launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, which seems as proper a time as any to note an interesting contrast concerning our continuing conversation about the moderation of the Muslim world. This contrast comes from the Council on Foreign Relations transcript of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's remarks last week, where he repeated some of his prior calls for a movement of the moderates. But what stood out to me is this interesting story, which he notes in passing:

Malaysia is also a country that can play our part in terms of providing some leadership role in global affairs. For example, as part and parcel of the new engagement with the United States, we have decided that we should contribute in a positive way by being present in Afghanistan, because Malaysia has -- or Malaysia is one of the very few countries in the world that has something unique that other countries don't have: We can provide female Muslim doctors. That is much needed in Afghanistan, a society like Afghanistan.

So I promised President Obama that I would do it. And on the invitation of the Afghanistan government, as this is part of our help to reconstruct Afghanistan, in two weeks' time, the doctors will be in Afghanistan.

This is obviously a laudable step for Malaysia and the women involved. It's also a positive sign in terms of paired U.S.-Malaysian security interests in Afghanistan (though of course, the medical mission is headed there at the request of the Afghan government), which will hopefully continue. Najib spoke to several writers during his time in New York, including myself, and while a longer piece will come shortly concerning his responses to several questions on security and economic policy, his remarks on this mission are worth sharing in full:

I committed to agreeing that we should have a presence in Afghanistan, and the advance party is already in Afghanistan -- the main body will be there by the middle of October, because we had to construct accommodations for them.

We decided to be part of the reconstruction in Afghanistan, specifically sending a medical team, because we have one thing very few countries in the world can provide: Muslim women doctors.

In a very conservative society there, the women would rather be treated by Muslim women doctors, and Malaysia is one of the very few countries that can provide this. We'll be sending one doctor, one dentist, and five medical orderlies now and more as part of a larger contingent. And that's a very good start I think...

There's a need for us to be part of the global community in addressing these concerns, and this is the advantage of where Malaysia is positioned, being a moderate Muslim nation, to lend support to a variety of global initiatives.

This is, indeed, a good start. Yet at the same time, it's a sign of how much the Muslim world in general lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to the plight of women. Contrast the plight of Muslim women in Afghanistan - an area where some small progress was made in the past several years, and much is now at risk - with the experience of women of the same faith in Malaysia, according to Najib's answer to Brooks Entwistle of Goldman Sachs:

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Brooks Entwistle, Goldman Sachs, based in India, in Mumbai. We as a firm were doing for many years in Malaysia; in fact, just opened a KL office, which we're delighted about.

My question today is about the role of women. You mentioned doctors from Malaysia to Afghanistan. There was a very interesting piece this week in the Herald Tribune on women leadership in Islamic finance and chairing some of the major banks. And I'd ask you just to comment further on that topic, but just more specifically the role of women in other leadership roles in Malaysia, and how that can play a leadership role in the Muslim world.

NAJIB: I would consider Malaysia in the forefront. In fact, the male species feels rather threatened in Malaysia now. If you look in terms of the entrance to university, 62 percent of undergraduates are women in Malaysia. I don't think any other Muslim or even non-Muslim country has that kind of record.

And major financial and economic ministries and agencies are held by women in Malaysia. Of course, the governor of central bank, our economic union, the top echelon of the Ministry of Finance, Treasury, they are all women. So women play a big part in Malaysia.

And in fact, we want more women as part of the labor force in Malaysia, I think, and also a greater role for women in Malaysia. And we have been wanting to have 30 percent of women to hold strategic and decision-making positions in the public and private sector. I hope we can -- we can achieve that in the near future.

The fact that Malaysia is at the forefront of women's rights in the Muslim world is of course a good thing for them. Yet one hopes that other notes of progress can be achieved under other Islamic regimes - and hopefully through softer methods, without the cost in lives and treasure of prolonged military engagement. The day when Afghanistan has no need for Malaysia's Muslim women doctors, because they have plenty of their own, will be a good one for all involved.

(AP Photo)

October 6, 2010

Tea Parties vs. Defense Pork

John Noonan of The Weekly Standard and The Foreign Policy Initiative has responded to my piece on RealClearWorld from Monday which questioned whether Bill Kristol was a good messenger to the Tea Party movement. He also recorded a podcast today on the same subject.

Noonan writes:

Domenech nails it on message -a strong national defense is an inherently conservative principle- but whiffs on the messengers.

Though various conservative organizations occasionally swim against fiscal conservative currents, Heritage, AEI, and FPI remain trusted proponents of conservative principles. The focus, therefore, should not be on the messengers – but rather the messaging.

Three major think-tanks unifying behind a single rallying call, handled “Defending Defense,” should be eye-opening. Such an alliance should not be interpreted as old-school Washington establishmentarians manning the bulwarks against a new, popular conservative grassroots movement, but rather a plea for the Tea Party to acknowledge the dilapidated condition of the US military, which is facing unheard of budget cuts and historically low spending during a time of a tough, protracted war against Islamic extremism.

I think the inherent problem here is that Noonan doesn't really answer the question. I warned that Tea Partiers won't take what Kristol and others tell them all that seriously because they are viewed as a DC insiders, a concern that is in no way allayed by saying "Tea Partiers should take it seriously that three DC thinktanks all agree about this important thing." It's not like these organizations have some wellspring of goodwill built up within this populist movement.

I don't think Noonan's viewpoint is entirely off-base, but they need a better response than that -- otherwise, expect the kind of response he got from the comment section: Tea Party movement types sick of hearing lectures on what they ought to believe from the old guard and the establishment.

Yet there's no reason to think that Tea Partiers are extreme libertarians on Defense spending. These folks don't want to raze the Pentagon. What they're most angry about is waste -- what they consider to be waste of their hard-earned tax dollars on bailouts, stimulus packages, and more. And this is likely to be their view on Defense spending as well.

Any reasonable observer can look at the Defense budget priorities and see that there is plenty of waste, spread across the bloated projects that have been more about providing military pork barrel spending across the country than serving our national defense needs (witness, for example, the ludicrous continuation of C-17 purchasing). For years, companies have played the same game of scare tactics, pork promises, and flag-waving to pull in political support -- but consistent fiscal conservatives should be in favor of responsible spending, which drives the branches to be more efficient in how they spend, at least forcing them to choose between their pet projects.

No matter who the messenger is, Tea Partiers shouldn't listen to those who suggest it undercuts our troops to end bloated corporate welfare which has for too long disguised itself as military funding. In an era when entitlement spending will put even more pressure on other budget line-items, it's about time that Defense started spending smart.

Ethan Epstein on North Korea

Ethan Epstein, a talented young writer, has a series of pieces this week at Slate concerning how the Chinese look at North Korea, in an odd sort of voyeurism:

North Korea fascinates even Chinese people living under nominally Communist rule. All the tourists on the boat clutching binoculars and pointing out sights on the North Korean side of the river are Chinese. The tourists at the Dandong International Hotel peering out into Sinuiju over breakfast were also Chinese.

Chenyin Jin, a Chinese academic, speculates that "Chinese people like to see North Korea because it reminds them of what life was like under Mao. There's an almost nostalgic appeal." Given how much China has changed in the last 30 years, looking at North Korea is like looking back in time for a lot of Chinese people. It is hardly surprising that the great majority of the 16,000 or so tourists who visit North Korea annually on stage-managed propaganda tours are Chinese. (Only a little more than 1,000 hail from Western countries.)

But there's something ghoulish about all this. Like "ghetto bus tours" of Compton or Harlem church tours, it can be argued that all this staring at North Korea amounts to little more than rubbernecking on a grand scale. Sure, North Korea is a country closed to the outside world, so it's easy to understand why people would be curious about how life is lived there. Yet as our boat slows down and we look through our binoculars at the skinny and woefully abused people on the riverbanks, I can't help but feel that this whole "industry" is a little disgusting.

I'll be curious to read his entries, and hope you will too.

Dealing with Pakistan


Max Boot wrestles with the Pakistan challenge:

The Obama administration has gotten slightly more muscular in its approach by stepping up drone strikes — a good idea. But at the same time, the president has made it harder to woo Pakistan because he has given credence to the notion that we are on our way out of Afghanistan. If that’s in fact the case — and I don’t believe it is — then Pakistan has no choice but to look after its own interests, and in the view of the Pakistani military, that means supporting jihadist proxy forces such as the Taliban. There is probably no way to wean the Pakistanis entirely off this strategy in the foreseeable future, but at least if Obama were to clarify his muddled rhetoric regarding a deadline for withdrawal and make it clear that the U.S. is in the region for the long term, he may change the incentive structure for the Pakistani officer corps and make it more palatable for them to take tougher action against terrorist groups, secure in the knowledge that we will not leave them in the lurch.

I think this overlooks a critical issue. It's not just America's wavering long-term commitment to Afghanistan that's making Pakistan hedge its bets with the Taliban - it's India's investment inside Afghanistan ($1.2 billion and counting). In fact, the more the U.S. stays and (in theory) stabilizes the country, the more hospitable Afghanistan will become to increased Indian investment and influence. And if past is prologue, Pakistan is not going look kindly on that development as it will be perceived as encirclement.

The length of time the U.S. stays, or says it will stay, inside Afghanistan isn't really going to matter much. The only way you can change Pakistan's calculus with respect to Afghanistan is to change their calculus with respect to India. And good luck with that.

(AP Photo)

Rare Earths, Getting Rarer?

The Financial Times reports on China's move to shore up its hold on the rare earth mineral market:

China produced 97 per cent of the world’s rare earths last year, and global concerns about that monopoly have peaked in recent weeks, after Japanese traders reported their rare earth shipments were halted during a diplomatic dispute between their country and China.

Thomas Barnett explains why China's gotten a strangle hold on the market:

The world has simply allowed China to achieve its dominant production position by abandoning their own mining efforts. Why? Very expensive and very environmentally damaging.

It's likely impossible, and self-defeating, to become "self sufficient" in rare earths (just as it is impossible to become "energy independent"). That said, 97 percent is a pretty alarming number. But I suspect that the more China thinks of its rare earths market position as a strategic cudgel, the faster it's going to lose that market share as alarmed nations reinvest in extraction of their own resources.

Drones and Radicalization


Glenn Greenwald argues that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are counter-productive, approvingly noting a Jim White post claiming that "Drone Strikes Provoke Terrorists Who Provoke More Drone Strikes." Greenwald writes:

What a surprise: bombing Muslims more and more causes more and more Muslims to want to bomb the countries responsible. That, of course, has long been the perverse "logic" driving the War on Terror. The very idea that we're going to reduce Terrorism by more intensively bombing more Muslim countries is one of the most patently absurd, self-contradicting premises that exists. It's exactly like announcing that the cure for lung cancer is to quadruple the number of cigarettes one smokes each day. But that's been the core premise (at least the stated one) of our foreign policy for the last decade: we're going to stop Terrorism by doing more and more of exactly the things that cause it (and see this very good Economist article on the ease with which drones allow a nation's leaders to pretend to its citizenry that they are not really at war -- as we're doing with Pakistan).

I think this is a bit glib, but the New America Foundation recently conducted an extensive poll in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) where U.S. drone strikes occur and the findings do corroborate this dynamic, to a degree. What they found is that FATA residents overwhelmingly opposed U.S. military action and supported attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But the majority were not supportive of the Taliban or al-Qaeda and indeed supported the Pakistani army's attacks on both groups. (which, presumably, involve bombings and killings). A large majority of FATA residents also said that suicide attacks against Pakistani police and army were never justified.

But the terror threat is more diffuse and complex than angered Pakistanis emerging from the ruin of their bombed-out homes in the tribal area to seek revenge against the West. Is Islamic solidarity really sufficient to explain why an Algerian, for instance, would wish to slaughter civilians in Europe on behalf of Pakistani tribesman?

(AP Photo)

The Coming Food Crisis


The AP is reporting that 22 nations are facing a protracted food crisis. The latest Gallup/RCW list looked at just such an issue, identifying the top five countries that faced food insecurity.

Defense Spending in Perspective

Total defense spending in real terms is now higher than at any time since the end of World War II, more than throughout the entire Cold War, and even 10 percent higher than the peak of the Reagan defense buildup. The baseline defense budget has been growing in real terms for 13 straight years—the longest-ever period of sustained real growth in U.S. defense spending.

As a result, the portion of the world’s military expenditures the United States consumes compared to our potential adversaries has grown from 60 percent to 250 percent. This means that even if the United States were to cut its spending in half it would still be spending more than its current and potential adversaries. We are far beyond the point of diminishing returns in U.S. defense spending relative to our actual defense requirements. - Lawrence Korb & Laura Conley

The idea that trimming this budget represents some kind of historic betrayal of America's global defense of freedom seems just a tad far-fetched.

Middle East Peace: Giving it Your All

Mark Landler notes how the Obama administration is dishing out the goodies to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table:

Not only is the Obama administration holding hands, they said, it is also handing out concessions to each side, in a bid to keep Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas at the table. The generosity of the American offers, and the reluctance of the Israelis or the Palestinians to accept them, have been telling.

On Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu’s senior cabinet ministers convened in Jerusalem, officials said, and did not even take up a package of security guarantees being offered by the United States in return for Israel’s extending a freeze on the construction of settlements in the West Bank by 60 days.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, rejected a proposal by the administration that they keep negotiating without an extension, in return for an American endorsement of their position on the borders of a future Palestinian state. Without an extension, the Palestinians insist, the talks are dead.

So if the carrots fail, will the administration turn to sticks?

October 5, 2010

Germany's Historic Oktoberfest


According to Der Spiegel:

Visitors to the Munich Oktoberfest this year drank their way into the history books by downing an unprecedented 7 million liters of beer, beating the previous high of 6.94 million reached in 2007, the organizers said. The impressive list of lost items includes a set of dentures and a live rabbit.

Was it the sunny weather, the economic recovery or the special anniversary? All three factors might have played a part in the surge in beer consumption at the two-week Munich Oktoberfest this year to 7 million liters, up 500,000 from 2009 and just above the previous high of 6.94 million set in 2007, according to an impressive set of statistics provided by the organizers after the party ended on Monday.

"I've no idea why people drank that much," Gabriele Papke, the spokeswoman for the festival, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "They were simply thirsty."


(AP Photo)

About that Chinese Navy ...

Sam Roggeveen assess China's recent efforts at bulking up its naval strength:

In surface ships, the PLA Navy is still substantially smaller and less capable than the Japanese maritime force, never mind the US Navy. But here, the story is growth and modernisation. China has increased its destroyer and frigate fleet while retiring obsolete ships and introducing advanced new types.

In both surface ships and submarines, Callick's description of 'steady' growth applies. Although there have been major acquisitions of Russian ships and subs, the emphasis has been on small-scale domestic production. After a handful of units, there's a lull while the PLA Navy accumulates operational experience, which leads to new designs. From the outside, at least, it all looks very methodical — even the headline-grabbing purchase of a derelict Russian aircraft carrier has been followed by a painfully slow refurbishment effort.

Given its economic growth, China's naval modernisation over the last decade could have been much more spectacular.

How Much Defense Spending Is Enough?

It is unrealistic to imagine a return to long-term prosperity if we face instability around the globe because of a hollowed-out U.S. military lacking the size and strength to defend American interests around the world.

Global prosperity requires commerce and trade, and this requires peace. But the peace does not keep itself. The Global Trends 2025 report, which reflects the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community, anticipates the rise of new powers—some hostile—and projects a demand for continued American military power. Meanwhile we face many nonstate threats such as terrorism, and piracy in sea lanes around the world. Strength, not weakness, brings the true peace dividend in a global economy.

We have not done enough to help our military preserve the peace and deter (and if necessary, defeat) our enemies. Americans have fought superbly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have prevented any further terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11. But faced with a nuclear Iran, or a Chinese People's Liberation Army that can deny access to U.S. ships or aircraft in the Asian-Pacific region, there are many missions ahead.

Yet we face those challenges with a baseline defense budget—defense spending minus the cost of the wars—that is 3.6% of GDP, significantly less than the Reagan-era peak of 6.2%. Our active-duty military is two-thirds its size in the 1980s. - Brooks, Deulner, & Kristol

Ben and Drezner have tackled this op-ed already but to add my own two cents, I think some perspective is in order:

Between June 2007 and November 2008, Americans lost an estimated average of more than a quarter of their collective net worth. By early November 2008, a broad U.S. stock index the S&P 500, was down 45% from its 2007 high. Housing prices had dropped 20% from their 2006 peak, with futures markets signaling a 30-35% potential drop. Total home equity in the United States, which was valued at $13 trillion at its peak in 2006, had dropped to $8.8 trillion by mid-2008 and was still falling in late 2008. Total retirement assets, Americans' second-largest household asset, dropped by 22%, from $10.3 trillion in 2006 to $8 trillion in mid-2008. During the same period, savings and investment assets (apart from retirement savings) lost $1.2 trillion and pension assets lost $1.3 trillion. Taken together, these losses total a staggering $8.3 trillion. Since peaking in the second quarter of 2007, household wealth is down $14 trillion.

So yes, Brooks, Kristol, et. al. are right, there are threats to global commerce. But they overwhelmingly stem from the world's parliaments, central banks, debt-strapped consumers, and financial markets. The People's Liberation Navy and Somali pirates? Not so much.

Polling Ecuador

Before chaos erupted in Ecuador, Gallup found that President Correa was enjoying some decent poll numbers, especially when compared to the military and police:


October 4, 2010

American Views on Iran War

A new 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll asks Americans for what they would view as grounds for a war with Iraq Iran:


That's via Matt Duss who writes:

It’s an oddly phrased question, but one which nevertheless indicates pretty strongly that Americans are not in favor of a U.S. war with Iran. I suspect that those who are in favor of a war with Iran understand this, which is why they like to talk exclusively about “air strikes,” “military strikes,” or my favorite, “surgical strikes.”...

As Ali Gharib astutely observed the other day, talk of “air strikes” are for Iran what “cakewalk” was for Iraq — the false idea that, through large-scale preventive military action, the U.S. can accomplish its goals with a minimum of fuss. It was a fantasy then, and it’s a fantasy now.

I think that's right and it's worth unpacking the implications of that a bit. Because, in fact, those predicting that the Iraq war would be a cakewalk were right - the initial invasion was swift and, by historical standards, a low casualty affair. The problem was that no one had a clear idea what to do when the dust settled on our military victory in Baghdad. War advocates - inside and outside the administration - had spent so much time pounding the table for war that they neglected to do any serious contingency planning for its aftermath.

An attack against Iran wouldn't be completely analogous, as it's highly unlikely that the U.S. would march into Tehran. But a similar dynamic exists whereby proponents of a maximalist policy of air strikes devote almost all their time demanding military action and almost none explaining what comes next. And as we learned in Iraq, military defeats are relatively easy for the U.S. military to dish out. Political wins are much harder.

Was Iraq a "Winnable" War for Obama?

Obama came into office determined to declare the Iraq War over and come home. We engaged in a mad rush to go from 100,000 to 50,000 troops, which drastically decreased our leverage; at the same time we had a passive ambassador on the ground who was content to let events drift. Lately Joe Biden has been more involved, but our impatience for the Iraqis to finally form a government may have overwhelmed considerations about its composition. There are obviously limits to our control of Iraqi politics, but we should be using every possible instrument of persuasion to forestall the creation of a government that could be the predicate for renewed ethnic conflict.

The sacrifice of American troops during the surge bequeathed to President Obama a winnable war in Iraq. At this rate, we’ll read in the next Woodward book all the details of how he let it slip away. - National Review [Emphasis mine]

Let it be noted that Iraq's parliamentary impasse overtook the Netherlands' similar paralysis in 1977 to be the longest such stalemate in history, so "our impatience" - however regrettable - is understandable.

It's also worth pointing out that the Obama administration inherited an Iraq that was violent and politically unstable, with none of the existential issues confronting its future resolved. If that's "winnable" than score one for untempered optimism.

That Iraq is less violent than it was, and its present government more secure, is a good thing, but if the U.S. cannot address the sources of Iraq's political fragility these gains may prove ephemeral. If the administration's critics know how to successfully weave together Iraq's various political factions into a coherent, liberal, non-Iran-leaning whole, by all means let's see the plan (it would be an interesting argument, to say the least, given previously expressed skepticism about the U.S. government's ability to steer, say, the U.S. health care market to beneficial outcomes). Otherwise, it's better to make more modest claims about the president's Iraq inheritance.

How Dangerous Is al-Qaeda?


After reviewing the spat of al-Qaeda-linked threats currently percolating in Europe, Mary Habeck thinks the Obama administration has downplayed the threat:

These plots and threats undercut the argument recently made by the current Administration about the size and capabilities of al Qaeda. In June, CIA director Leon Panetta stated that there were fewer than 50-100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, echoed Panetta in a speech to the Aspen Group, adding that there were only an additional 300 al Qaeda members in Pakistan and that the group was weaker than it had ever been since 2001 (although he was quick to say that it was not harmless). Richard Holbrooke at the same time said that al Qaeda had been severely degraded and was under intense pressure. No administration could ever afford to state publicly that al Qaeda is not a threat, but there is hardly any other way to read the clear message from these high-ranking officials.

Here's the question for the administration and the intelligence upon which their statements are based: If al Qaeda has been so degraded and so few of the group were left alive in June, how has it been able to regenerate itself enough in just three months to plan and organize an attack in four countries while accumulating 150,000 pounds of explosives for multiple paramilitary attacks in Pakistan?

This is a tricky thing to write about, because it's obviously hard to know what al-Qaeda is planning and whether they'll be able to pull it off until they actually do it.

But let's assume that they're readying "Mumbai-style" attacks using automatic weapons in crowded urban areas. That's obviously a horrific event and it would clearly take a devastating toll in human life, but it's considerably less damaging than a 9/11-style attack, a strike with a weapon of mass destruction, or even the blowing up of a civilian airliner. Would a single such attack - even one coordinated to occur in several cities or countries - "paralyze an entire country" as Habeck asserts? Perhaps for a day or week, but unless these kinds of attacks occurred in relentless waves, I suspect people in those cities would go about their lives and normalcy would return.

The very fact that al-Qaeda has been reportedly "reduced" to planning Mumbai-style attacks, which are literally impossible to defend against and take very little in the way of money, training or equipment to execute, doesn't speak to the group's strength, but its weakness. Weak does not imply "not dangerous" but the kind of danger the group poses appears different in 2010 than it was in 2001. (And again that's assuming that the organization doesn't have something far more lethal up its sleeve, which is, unfortunately, perfectly possible.)

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner had similar thoughts along these lines.

(AP Photo)

Japan Pile-On

First it was a flair-up with China over disputed islands to its south. Now Japan and Russia are locking horns over the Kuril Islands to Japan's north.

This is certainly the kind of dynamic that could force a reappraisal inside the ruling DPJ about the merit of U.S. defense ties.

A Cairo-Tehran Thaw?

From the BBC:

Following talks in Egypt, officials said 28 weekly flights would resume between Cairo and Tehran, but did not specify when they would begin.

Ties broke down in 1980 in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and Egypt's recognition of Israel.

For the past three decades, the two regional powers - one predominantly Shia Muslim and the other mainly Sunni - have competed for influence in the Middle East and maintained only interest sections, rather than embassies, in each other's capitals, the BBC's Yolande Knell reports from Cairo.

While there have been few recent signs of improving relations, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency has suggested the visit of an Iranian delegation to discuss air travel and tourism - could be the prelude to the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic appears to be courting its other Sunni rival.

October 3, 2010

The Tea Party and the Defense Budget


Consider this weekend's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Bill Kristol, Ed Feulner and Arthur Brooks the latest entry in the continuing uncertainty among Washington insiders as to the foreign policy beliefs of the Tea Party movement. The trio write in defense of Defense spending, not just against the cuts currently planned under Secretary Gates, but against the perception on the part of deficit hawk Tea Party voters that the military is one big drag on the United States' debt picture:

Defense spending has increased at a much lower rate than domestic spending in recent years and is not the cause of soaring deficits. Even as the United States has fought two wars, the core defense budget has increased by approximately $220 billion since 2001, about a tenth as much as the government devotes each year to "mandatory" spending: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, lesser entitlements such as food stamps and cash assistance, and interest payments on the debt. These expenditures continue automatically, year after year, without congressional debate.

We should be vigilant against waste in every corner of the budget. But anyone seeking to restore our fiscal health should look at entitlements first, not across-the-board cuts aimed at our men and women in uniform.

In my view, Secretary Gates isn't seeking cuts aimed at men and women in uniform, but at technology which serves no purpose within a broken procurement process that is out of touch with the demands of the real world. But assume I am wrong, and that the Kristol et al. argument is an accurate critique: if that's the case, this has to be considered a case of right message, wrong messengers. While Brooks has no quarrel with the Tea Partiers, Feulner's organization endorsed TARP, and Kristol is perhaps the poster child of the kind of insider-ism which Tea Partiers are soundly rejecting.

A longtime critic of any cuts in Defense spending, Kristol's brand of "national greatness conservatism" (he and David Brooks unveiled the phrase in a 1997 piece in the WSJ) arguably ruled in the White House and in Republican circles for much of the past decade. Today, these "big government" views are anathema to the Tea Party, and Kristol's declarations of support and membership always appear to be paired with a trite tsk-tsk-ing at the people who make up this populist movement, with critiques often leveled at Tea Party darlings such as Rand Paul and Christine O'Donnell. Does it really make sense to trot out Kristol - a man whose opinion is politely disregarded at best by this populist upheaval on the right - on behalf of these views?

Of course, I doubt Kristol and others have anything to worry about. The best source for data on leaders within the Tea Party movement is the research provided by the Sam Adams Alliance, a Chicago-based group which found that Defense issues rate very high in importance among Tea Partiers. While Budget/Economy/Jobs categories are obviously the highest, Defense is high as well - and it's doubtful that indication of concern could in any way be interpreted as a call for cutbacks. But for those who are concerned that this populist movement will turn against the Defense budget after this election, I'd suggest they get to work on finding a better spokesperson than Bill Kristol to take this message to the Tea Parties.

(AP Photo)

October 2, 2010

Iraq's Democracy


Abe Greenwald is unhappy with the new Iraq government:

Let us not tragically lose sight of the following: This is not even close to the inevitable outcome of Iraqi elections. In the March election, the moderate Iraqiya alliance enjoyed a modest victory. What followed was parliamentary horse-trading Middle East style. Now the moderates are being sidelined.

Washington is far from blameless. In Barack Obama’s eagerness to “responsibly” hand over full sovereignty to Iraq and close the curtain on the Bush years, he has very nearly abandoned the fledgling Mesopotamian democracy to the depredations of regional thugs and radicals. Surely, the Kurds, upon whom the solidification of the next Iraqi government may rest, would be less inclined to submit to extremists out of self preservation if they were reassured of America’s continued support. In no sane reckoning, should the U.S. be done with Iraq’s political future. Americans gave their lives to turn a murderous dictatorship into a struggling democracy. Many Iraqis also gave their lives in service of the same. We still have more leverage there than do any of Iraq’s neighbors; yet, the administration is loath to use it.

Where are the critics of the war who told us that mere elections do not ensure democracy? Is it not time they spoke up to demand closer American stewardship of Baghdad’s parliamentary progress and the Kurdish aspiration.

There is a very fine line to walk between intervening in another country's political process to ensure a fair outcome based on established laws, and meddling to engineer a win for your side. Greenwald is somewhat ambiguous about whether the "stewardship" he advocates is the former or latter but after reading Michael Hana's analysis, I'm not even sure it's possible:

The torturous course of this process also should lay to rest the notion of a supine Iraq subject to the predatory designs of its neighbors. Iraq is a weak country and will be for years to come; this inevitably will attract unwanted and meddlesome attention from the region and beyond. While Iran has reaped immense strategic gains from the overthrow of its primary nemesis and its replacement by a friendly government, cheap talk of grand Iranian designs and a defenseless Iraqi puppet no longer should be understood as anything more than political agitprop in connection with the larger and unfolding regional and global conflict over Iran. The variable, and at times conflicting, outside agendas brought to bear on the Iraqis never were able to dictate the course of the government formation process. It should be clear at this juncture that the wishes of its neighbors and other interested parties, primarily the United States, will not be determinative of Iraqi outcomes. While the eventual U.S.-Iranian-Syrian convergence on Maliki's return boasted his stock and eased his path to nomination, regional actors and the United States responded to Iraqi cues throughout this ongoing process. As such, while outside support will play an important role in shaping outcomes and amplifying existing trends, it will not do so in a fashion that contradicts the core perceived interests of Iraqi actors.

Staying in Europe

Earlier in the week I argued that the over-riding rationale for NATO was keeping America central to European security. Now that France's President Nicholas Sarkozy is proposing a "security and economic zone" with Russia, outside of NATO, the American reaction quoted by the Times seems to confirm that:

“Since when, I wonder, is European security no longer an issue of American concern, but something for Europe and Russia to resolve?” asked a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “After being at the center of European security for 70 years, it’s strange to hear that it is no longer a matter of U.S. concern.”

I suspect Europe will be increasingly eager to define for themselves what security arrangements work best if this is the kind of tone they receive from their benevolent American overlords.

October 1, 2010

Silence Is Golden


The Obama administration's decision to insist on an Israeli settlement freeze is, as some predicted, turning out to be a mistake, at least from the standpoint of rejuvenating the peace process. And it's pretty obvious why: the administration drew a line in the sand that they could not enforce. Leave aside whether they should have drawn this particular line so firmly, the fact is they let their rhetoric get out ahead of what they were actually willing or able to do to apply pressure to defend their line.

This is, unfortunately, a common practice in Washington. It was evident during the Bush years, when numerous stern warnings to the likes of Iran and North Korea went unheeded by their intended recipients with no serious consequences. The Obama administration has picked up the torch not only with the peace process, but with Iran as well.

The point here is not that the U.S. should follow through on every foolish pronouncement it makes, but that its public officials should stop using the language of "red lines" unless they actually and sincerely mean to enforce them. Either offer some mealy-mouthed equivocation or keep a reserved silence. Is that so hard?

China, too, has arguably made a similar blunder by recently declaring the South China Sea a "core national interest" - language it previously reserved for discussing Tibet and Taiwan. This proclamation set off an immediate, and overwhelmingly negative response from China's neighbors and the U.S. Whether this was a gaffe or not, it's now a marker in the sand that China is going to have to either defend (which would be costly and potentially calamitous) or claw back (which would be embarrassing). Either way, it's suggests that China is beginning to "talk the talk" of a superpower. They may rue the results.

(AP Photo)

India Rising

The Economist has a good piece on why India will over-take China, putting them at odds with the recent swooning over China's efficient authoritarian/capitalist model. They write that India's demography is more favorable to long-term growth than China's, which has been stunted by its "One Child" policy. The second driver of Indian growth, they argue, is its democracy:

The notion that democracy retards development in poor countries has gained currency in recent years. Certainly, it has its disadvantages. Elected governments bow to the demands of selfish factions and interest groups. Even the most urgent decisions are endlessly debated and delayed.

China does not have this problem. When its technocrats decide to dam a river, build a road or move a village, the dam goes up, the road goes down and the village disappears. The displaced villagers may be compensated, but they are not allowed to stand in the way of progress. China’s leaders make rational decisions that balance the needs of all citizens over the long term. This has led to rapid, sustained growth that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Small wonder that authoritarians everywhere cite China as their best excuse not to allow democracy just yet.

No doubt a strong central government would have given India a less chaotic Commonwealth games, but there is more to life than badminton and rhythmic gymnastics. India’s state may be weak, but its private companies are strong. Indian capitalism is driven by millions of entrepreneurs all furiously doing their own thing. Since the early 1990s, when India dismantled the “licence raj” and opened up to foreign trade, Indian business has boomed. The country now boasts legions of thriving small businesses and a fair number of world-class ones whose English-speaking bosses network confidently with the global elite. They are less dependent on state patronage than Chinese firms, and often more innovative: they have pioneered the $2,000 car, the ultra-cheap heart operation and some novel ways to make management more responsive to customers. Ideas flow easily around India, since it lacks China’s culture of secrecy and censorship. That, plus China’s rampant piracy, is why knowledge-based industries such as software love India but shun the Middle Kingdom.

Stuxnet and Collateral Damage


When I first heard of the Stuxnet worm disrupting Iran's nuclear infrastructure I thought it was rather clever: why bomb their sites, with all the attendant risks and geopolitical fallout, when you can foul it up in cyberspace (also assuming that either Israel or the U.S. or a similarly concerned party was the culprit). It seemed like a relatively clean operation with little collateral damage. But NPR's Tom Gjelten quotes cyber-security analyst Stephen Spoonamore to the contrary:

The Stuxnet story raises the question of what the consequences of using a cyberweapon might be. Maybe Pandora's box has been opened — this weapon, or one modeled after it, could soon come back in even more dangerous form. Security experts call this "blowback."

Some experts are convinced the Israeli government developed and used the Stuxnet worm as a weapon, to disable a nuclear plant in Iran.

After all, hitting the nuclear plant with a 500-pound bomb would have produced far more collateral damage than attacking it with a cyberweapon, right?

Spoonamore is not so sure. "Compared to releasing code that controls most of the world's hydroelectric dams or many of the world's nuclear plants or many of the world's electrical switching stations? I can think of very few stupider blowback decisions," he says.

In this light, Philip Maxon at Arms Control Wonk offers related questions:

In moving forward with discussions on the Iranian nuclear program, the Stuxnet virus may provide analysts another variable in calculating possible deterrence and containment with Iran. If it is a cyber attack weapon, what are its implication on military strategy? On diplomatic strategy? Is an attack fully untraceable, or can Iran attribute an attacker? How would Iran respond to a cyber attack on its nuclear facilities? Would Iran immediately assume Israel or the U.S. launched an attack even if both did not launch the virus? All are interesting questions looking forward.

Indeed. At a minimum, it seems to me that any nation that engages in offensive cyber warfare should be equally diligent about preparing for payback in kind.

(AP Photo)

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