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August 31, 2011

Iran Takes to the Sea

AFP reports:

Iran has dispatched a submarine and a warship to the Red Sea on a patrol mission, navy commander Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said in a report by state media on Aug. 30....

Soon after Sayyari's declaration, the Israeli military said it had deployed two missile boats to the Red Sea.

"The navy has deployed two missile boats to the Red Sea as part of a routine exercise," a military spokeswoman told AFP, refusing to link the move with Iran's deployment.

In July, Iran announced intentions to boost its military presence in international waters, with plans to deploy warships to the Atlantic.

Sayyari said that the flotilla, the 15th mission of its kind to be dispatched to the Red Sea, would also focus on "fighting piracy".

Allies in Danger?

Potential presidential candidate John Bolton argues that U.S. allies are put in danger by President Obama's nuclear policies:

Within the administration, there are strong advocates for America pledging “no first use” of nuclear weapons. Although the nuclear posture review “only” expanded “negative security assurances” somewhat, there is little doubt that “no first use” is alive and well in internal administration councils. These self-imposed constraints on the use of nuclear weapons reinforce the allies’ concern that Mr. Obama has forgotten the central Cold War lesson about the U.S. nuclear deterrent. There was never any doubt that a Soviet attack through the Fulda Gap into Western Europe would have swept through NATO forces, possibly all the way to the English Channel. Thus, the threat of U.S. nuclear retaliation against such an attack - an unambiguous case of a U.S. first use of nuclear weapons - was precisely what was needed to keep Soviet forces on their side of the Iron Curtain.
How is this lesson applicable to today? What army is poised to sweep into Europe, overwhelming Western defenses and precipitating a nuclear first strike as a desperate gambit to keep the West free?

Bolton then proceeds to undermine his argument that America's allies are feeling "increasingly insecure" about America's nuclear posture:

Accordingly, Europeans should be very worried that they are increasingly on their own to face the re-emerging threat of Russian belligerence. Because the New START treaty does not limit tactical nuclear weapons, Europe, simply because of geographic proximity, is most vulnerable to Russia’s advantage in that category. It is thus highly ironic that some NATO countries have recently called for removing the last U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, which will simply enhance Russia’s existing lead. [emphasis mine]

In other words, Europe isn't all that afraid of the re-emerging threat of Russian belligerence. Granted, attitudes toward Russia vary significantly in Europe but most of Western Europe, the former core of NATO, is not gripped by the panic that apparently envelopes Mr. Bolton.

August 30, 2011

Fukushima Radiation Exceeds Chernobyl

According to a report in Mainchi Daily News:

A government map of soil radiation levels mainly within a 100-kilometer radius of the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant shows 34 locations with levels of cesium-137 exceeding 1.48 million becquerels per square meter, the level that was used for determining bans on living near the Chernobyl plant.

The map was released on Aug. 29 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Cesium-137 has a half-life of around 30 years. The greatest concentration was found in the town of Okuma, which holds part of the plant, at 15.45 million becquerels per square meter. The six municipalities with levels over the Chernobyl level are Okuma, Minamisoma, Tomioka, Futaba, Namie, and Iitate.

(AP Photo)

Leaping to Conclusions in Libya

Stephen Walt cautions against it:

As I've noted before, we still don't know how the "Libyan revolution" is going to turn out. Even if Qaddafi set a very low standard for effective or just governance, the end-result of his ouster may not be as gratifying as we hope. More importantly, we also ought to guard against the common tendency to draw big policy conclusions from a single case, especially when we don't have good theories to help us understand the differences between different outcomes.

The fact of the matter is it is way too early to judge whether the Libyan war was a success or not. Toppling Gaddafi may appear to be a net-plus for the U.S. given the relatively low cost incurred so far in his ouster, but there are several scenarios that would cast even that joyous event in a harsher light. For instance, if several anti-aircraft weapons make their way from Libya into the hands of al-Qaeda, who then use them to down several American civilian aircraft, the war would have cost the U.S. vastly more than it gained.

Libyan Weapons on the Move


Palestinians in Gaza have acquired anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets from Libya during its six-month civil war, enlarging but not significantly improving their arsenal, Israeli officials said on Monday.

While the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi has stirred concern abroad about the fate of Libya's aging chemical weapons stockpiles, Israel has no indication Hamas or other Palestinian factions have sought these, the officials said.

Instead, Israeli officials have detected an inflow of SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), said one official, describing an overland supply route that opened up between eastern Libya -- after it fell to the rebels -- and the Gaza Strip via Egypt.


John Copper makes a good, though somewhat narrow, case for Taiwan's strategic importance to the U.S., but hangs it around a rather odd analogy:

In December 1890, the United States Army won a battle against American Indians at Wounded Knee in South Dakota. This battle marked the end of the Indian Wars and meant that the United States could focus on external matters since it had finally consolidated its territory in the west.

Within ten years of Wounded Knee, the United States was on the way to becoming a world power. In 1898, the U.S. Navy won the Spanish American War. It acquired the Philippines and Guam as a result. The same year, the U.S. incorporated Hawaii and signed a tripartite agreement on Samoa....

China’s reunification of Taiwan will be its Wounded Knee. It will no longer need to focus on territorial matters and will doubtless look to realize power ambitions further from its shores.

So we must defend Taiwan lest China ... act like the United States.

In any event, I'm not sure this analogy is all that accurate since China is surrounded by much stronger powers (Russia, India, Japan, South Korea) than the United States was when it "broke out."

Cyber Aggression

While the world's attention gravitates to North Korea following high profile incidents - a nuclear test or the sinking of a South Korean battleship - less attention is paid to the low-level cyber-war being waged by the North:

After nearly half of the servers for a South Korean bank crashed one day in April, investigators here found evidence indicating that they were dealing with a new kind of attack from an old rival: North Korea.

South Korean officials said that 30 million customers of the Nonghyup agricultural bank were unable to use ATMs or online services for several days and that key data were destroyed, making it the most serious of a series of incidents in recent months. But even more troubling was the prospect that a belligerent neighbor had acquired the tools to disrupt one of the world’s most heavily wired nations — and that even more damaging attacks could be in store.

August 29, 2011

A Responsibility to Protect


Stewart Patrick argues that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (R2P) that informed the Obama administration's intervention in Libya's revolution has been vindicated, even if it may not be replicated anytime soon:

By setting overall strategy while allowing others to shoulder the burden of implementing it, the Obama administration achieved its short-term objective of stopping Gadhafi's atrocities and its long-term one of removing him from power. This was all done at a modest financial cost, with no U.S. troops on the ground, and zero U.S. casualties. Meanwhile, as the first unambiguous military enforcement of the Responsibility to Protect norm, Gadhafi's utter defeat seemingly put new wind in the sails of humanitarian intervention.

Does it now? The Globe and Mail reports:

About half a dozen mass graves have been discovered so far in Tripoli, and reporters noticed many more bodies lying beside the road. It is assumed that most of these killings were inflicted by pro-Gadhafi forces – but in a few cases, it appears that somebody executed loyalists whose hands were tied behind their backs with plastic cuffs.

In other places, it's unclear who killed whom.

The allegations against Col. Gadhafi's forces are unsurprising; along with his senior followers, he already stands charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

But for the rebels, every new report of atrocities inflicted by their side adds to concerns about whether they can keep control of the country. Loyalists continue to hold major towns, such as Sirte and Sabha, and will become more reluctant to surrender if they believe they will be mistreated.

What I would like to know from the Libyan war's humanitarian champions is the extent of America's "responsibility" to continue protecting Libyans from themselves now that Gaddafi is on the run.

(AP Photo)

Clueless on Carbon


According to Gallup:

Residents in the top five greenhouse gas-emitting countries are no more aware of global warming or climate change than they were a few years ago. Majorities in all five countries Gallup surveyed in 2010 -- except India -- continue to say they know at least something about the issue.

The Weapons That Took Out Gaddafi

David Axe put together a good slideshow of the weapons of the Libyan war.

Neoconservatism RIP?

Peter Beinart pens an obituary for neoconservatism:

Post-9/11, neoconservatism posited that jihadist terrorism was the greatest foreign-policy threat of our age, a threat on par with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. And it insisted that the only way to defeat that threat was to remake the Middle East through military force.

Today, by contrast, it is increasingly obvious that the real successor to German fascism and Soviet communism is not Al Qaeda, whose mud-hut totalitarianism repels the vast majority of Muslims. It is China’s authoritarian capitalism, the first nondemocratic ideology since the 1930s to challenge the idea that democracy is the political system best able to promote shared prosperity. And not only is Al Qaeda sliding into irrelevance, its demise is being hastened by exactly the narrowly targeted policies that neoconservatives derided.

I think this is something of a misreading. Before 9/11, and almost immediately thereafter, neoconservatives identified Iraq as a major threat. During the 1990s, they were also actively stumping for a more confrontational approach to China - something that has resumed as the war against al-Qaeda has moved further to the margins. And let's not forget Iran. In other words, neoconservatism doesn't rise or fall on a particular set of enemies, it's a way of thinking of the world and America's role in it (which, incidentally, has an endless capacity to identify enemies abroad). Agree or disagree with it, it's not going anywhere.

I do think Beinart is correct when he writes that: "Post-9/11 neoconservatism was a doctrine that rejected limits. Now that limits are becoming, painfully, the centerpiece of American political debate, it’s no longer a plausible vision of America’s relationship to the world."

August 26, 2011

More Hubris

Politics is such that people have to say stuff like this when they really shouldn't:

"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with FP. "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."

Despite criticism from Congress and elsewhere, President Barack Obama's strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama's preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said. [emphasis mine]

It's one thing for the Obama administration to take credit for knocking off Gaddafi at a relatively low cost. If Rhodes had confined his boast to that, few could complain. But it's quite a huge leap to predict that this approach will lead to a better outcome in Libya. This implies that somehow this outcome is the responsibility of the United States. Is it? Is Rhodes implying that the U.S. has a continued commitment to see this revolution through to a benign end? Well, maybe not - later in his interview, Rhodes insists that there's no plan for a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Libya.

So what we have here is a kind of contortion about the nature of a post-Gaddafi Libya from the Obama administration. On the one hand, they want credit for fighting on behalf of American values in Libya. On the other, they want an arms-length relationship with what comes next.

What Happened That Night in Abbottabad?

Mark Follman does a compare and contrast with two insider accounts of the bin Laden raid and finds some discrepancies:

Between the Obama administration and major media reports, there have been multiple divergent accounts of the Navy SEALs' mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan, with the story seeming to be colored by politics, sensationalism, and outright fantasy. In some respects that's unsurprising for one of the most important and highly classified military missions in modern memory‚ the outcome of which, many would argue, is all that really matters. But precisely because of its importance, it is worth considering how the tales have been told, and where history begins to bleed into mythology.

Values in Libya

A curious conventional wisdom has emerged in the commentary on Libya’s revolutionaries. “We don’t know who these people are or what comes next,” the popular reasoning goes, “so we can’t let ourselves be too enthusiastic about them, their goals or their achievements.” - Leslie Campbell

But it is a distorted form of realism to believe that the future will be worse than the present. It’s as if the unpredictability of the future has led to nostalgia about what once was, even though Libya’s status quo included a maniacal dictator who plundered his country’s resources, sponsored outrageous acts of international terrorism, and harassed, jailed and killed his political opponents. It is surely unfair to demand that the courageous Libyans assuage our anxiety before claiming their fundamental human rights.

Come again? No one is demanding that the Libyan rebels "assuage our anxiety before claiming their fundamental human rights." We're demanding they "assuage our anxiety" before we fight a war on their behalf. Is this so hard to grasp?

August 25, 2011

Losing Iraq?

This was predictable:

It hasn’t yet entered our political debate, but Barack Obama is on course to become the president who lost Iraq. This could be a sleeper issue that does great damage to his bid for reelection, as the man whose case for leadership rested on opposition to the war may become the man who engineered a tragic and devastating “end” to it.

This is the natural result of nearly three years of an American policy focused on abandoning rather than securing—disowning rather than building on—our hard-won gains. Even by the antiwar president’s own reckoning he had inherited a success in Iraq. “From getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections,” Obama told American troops stationed in Iraq in May, 2009, “you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement.”

Since then, he has failed to keep that achievement on track. In March 2010, when parliamentary gridlock effectively froze Iraqi politics, Washington barely lifted a finger to ensure progress and guide the country toward a favorable outcome.

That's Commentary's Abe Greenwald. I agree with Greenwald that Iraq's trajectory is troubling. But it has been troubling since the U.S. invasion (and it was pretty awful before then). But for the "Obama lost Iraq" script to be intellectually honest, there needs to be an accounting of how Iraq could have been "won." Greenwald doesn't provide one. Kenneth Pollack does:

The reason that Iraqi politics fell apart so quickly is that few Iraqi leaders have internalized the patterns of behavior conducive to democracy, and Iraq lacks the kind of strong institutions that would compel them to behave properly without that internal moral compass. The reason they behaved well during 2008–2009 was that the combination of the new security created by the surge and the greater American involvement in Iraqi politics had imposed a new, external incentive structure on Iraq’s politicians—in effect, forcing them to act like good democratic leaders. Once that pressure began to be removed in 2010, so too did these externally imposed incentives. Not enough time has passed since the ouster of Saddam Hussein for a fundamental change in the psyches of Baghdad’s political elite—let alone the emergence of large numbers of new, better politicians. Not surprisingly, Iraq’s many bad leaders are going right back to behaving badly.

What’s more, without that external American pressure, Iraq’s top politicians have largely abandoned their willingness to make difficult compromises—on anything from the country’s hydrocarbon revenues to the conduct of its security services to the very nature of Iraqi federalism—to enable broader progress. The result has been political paralysis.

So what we have here is essentially a few months of Iraqi leaders "behaving well" and much more time - before and after 2008-2009 - when they were behaving badly. It's possible that further conditioning of aid and patient mentoring by their American betters would whip the Iraqis into shape, but it's also possible that the limits of American leverage would have eventually be revealed. It's also worth stepping back and highlighting not just the difficulty of what Pollack is proposing - micromanaging Iraqi politics so that multiple disparate factions behave themselves in a manner acceptable to American bureaucrats - but that the reason we face a choice between doing that and facing a resumption of Iraq's civil war is because the prior administration thought invading and occupying the country was a good idea. If anyone "lost" Iraq, it was them.

How Do We Know the Rebels' Values?


Anne-Marie Slaughter feels vindicated:

Before we focus on what must happen next, let us pause for a minute and reflect on that initial debate and the lessons to be learnt.

The first is that, against the sceptics, it clearly can be in the US and the west’s strategic interest to help social revolutions fighting for the values we espouse and proclaim. The strategic interest in helping the Libyan opposition came from supporting democracy and human rights, but also being seen to live up to those values by the 60 per cent majority of Middle Eastern populations who are under 30 and increasingly determined to hold their governments to account.

It's true that the National Transitional Council has a constitution that espouses liberal values, but what of it? Does that tell us anything about how they'll govern (or whether they'll even be able to govern)? It's not to cast aspersions on the views espoused by the NTC to note that rhetorical commitments to liberal values are easy to make, especially if you need outside help from people likely to be motivated by appeals to liberal values. The NTC's commitments may be genuine, but they are completely untested and could be swamped by rival forces and dynamics.

But there's something even more curious about Slaughter's argument. She insists that we fought for liberal values, but then disavows attempting to see those values enshrined in a post-Gaddafi Libya:

Looking forward, it is really not up to the west, much less the US, to plan Libya’s transition. It is a relief to see so many articles and statements reflecting lessons learnt from Iraq. But the Libyans are far ahead of where the US was when the initial fighting ended in Iraq. The National Transitional Council has a draft constitutional charter that is impressive in scope, aspirations and detail – including 37 articles on rights, freedoms and governance arrangements.

But what if this impressively scoped constitution crumbles under the weight of insecurity or tribal in-fighting? If intervening in Libya's revolution was done to further liberal values, what is our obligation to see that those values get embedded in the country? Slaughter's response is that it's better than Gaddafi's continued rule, but from America's perspective, Gaddafi's rule in 2011 wasn't a pressing national security issue. Gaddafi deserves the hangman's noose for his crimes, but it's not America's place to be the world's judge, jury and executioner when the moral sensibilities of its leading Wilsonians are inflamed.

(AP Photo)

August 24, 2011

Polling Libya

YouGov has a new poll out measuring UK attitudes on the war in Libya:

Public opinion on how well the West’s intervention in Libya and on whether it was right or wrong for the West to intervene have predictably flipped. Support for the West’s intervention had been standing at an August average of 33% thinking it right, 44% wrong – that has flipped to 41% right, 35% wrong. 25% of people had been thinking it was going well, 51% badly – that has flipped to 52% well, 26% badly. 47% of people now think that David Cameron has responded well to the situation in Libya, 33% badly.

If Gaddafi surrenders, 58% want to see him sent for trial at the International Criminal Court, 26% think Libya should try him. If he is found guilty 33% want to see him executed, 49% given life imprisonment. 39% would be happy if Gaddafi was killed in the conflict, 38% would rather he was captured alive so he can be put on trial. Finally on Libya, only 17% of people think we should send in British troops to keep order under the new regime. 38% would be happy to send police advisors, 42% would be happy for us to send emergency cash, food and medical aid.

Read the full results here. (pdf)

Drones Put the Hurt on al-Qaeda

According to David Ignatius:

Bin Laden was suffering badly from drone attacks on al-Qaeda’s base in the tribal areas of Pakistan. He called this the “intelligence war,” and said it was “the only weapon that’s hurting us.” His cadres complained that they couldn’t train in the tribal areas, couldn’t communicate, couldn’t travel easily and couldn’t draw new recruits to what amounted to a free-fire zone. Bin Laden discussed moving al-Qaeda’s base to another location, but he never took action.

Analysts did not find in the material any smoking gun to suggest Pakistani government complicity in bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. And it’s clear he was paranoid about being found and killed: He ordered his subordinates to restrict movements to help preserve what remained of al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Fear of being discovered was a subject of regular conversation between bin Laden, Atiyah, Zawahiri and others.

Cooling the China Hype

Ronald Bailey pours some cold water over fears that China is poised to eclipse America:

China’s total GDP is around $6 trillion today. Assuming 10 percent GDP growth for the next 20 years, China’s GDP would rise to $40 trillion. If the U.S. economy grew at say, 3 percent per year, total GDP would be $27 trillion. Back in 2007, before the financial crisis, the investment bank Goldman Sachs issued a report [PDF] that projected that Chinese GDP would be $26 trillion in 2030 compared to $23 trillion for the U.S. It bears noting that current Chinese purchasing power parity per capita is about $6,000 compared to $46,000 for Americans.

But it is unlikely that China’s economy can sustain 10 percent economic growth for two more decades. Economic history suggests that once countries catch up with leading economies in terms of technologies and business management, growth slows down. In which case, China’s growth might slow down to a mere 5 percent. Assuming sustained respective 5 percent and 3 percent growth rates for China and the U.S. for two decades, China’s total GDP would reach $16 trillion, not $34 trillion. In 30 years, it would grow to $26 trillion, by which time U.S. GDP would be $36 trillion. In 40 years, China’s GDP would $42 trillion and U.S. GDP would be $49 trillion. In 50 years, China’s GDP would finally surpass that of the U.S. reaching $69 trillion compared to $66 trillion.

August 23, 2011



John Yoo thinks non-existent "isolationists" should feel embarrassed by Gaddafi's imminent downfall:

Obama did the right thing to order U.S. forces in, but it was done reluctantly, with the administration claiming it was not really at “war,” limiting the U.S. and its allies to enforcing a no-fly zone only, and then trying to reduce our participation in airstrikes. Obama’s foot-dragging prolonged the Libyan civil war and will reduce our ability to influence the post-Qaddafi regime, which may well have strong extremist elements.

But I think the new Republican isolationists in the House (and among the presidential candidates) will come out looking even worse. They opposed the president’s constitutional authority to use force abroad to protect U.S. national-security interests, yet they failed to put forward any serious proposals of their own for U.S. foreign policy in the region (aside from pulling out wholesale, I suppose). They not only contradicted the consistent position of Republican administrations on the war-powers issue, but they had no alternatives to put forward on what to do about Libya.

Question for Yoo: what national security issues where at stake in Libya? In my view, as well as the view of former Defense Secretary Gates, there were none, at least not "vital" ones. In fact, the Obama administration didn't believe there were either - they framed the intervention almost exclusively on the humanitarian stakes, with some additional nonsense about "spillovers" into Egypt and Tunisia. Now it's true that many in Washington's foreign policy community have different thresholds when it comes to risking other people's lives and tax dollars on foreign wars. It's also true that how "vital" a particular interest is can be in the eye of the beholder. Still, I think it's a stretch to conclude that the security of the United States would have been intolerably threatened had the U.S. not stepped into the middle of Libya's revolution.

Second, seeing as there was no national security threat to the United States, it's absurd to claim that House Republicans should nevertheless have concocted a "serious policy" proposal for how to deal with it. Why? Should they craft one for Zimbabwe too? The House of Representatives can barely govern the United States effectively, we should be gratified that they did not further distract themselves worrying about Libya.

Finally, it doesn't seemed to have dawned on the president's hawkish critics that the only reason the Libya war can even be considered a success is because he ignored their advice. We heard a lot of tedious harping about how the Libyan campaign showed the limits of "leading from behind" - but if anything, it was the opposite. The Libyan war was successful for the U.S. insofar as we incurred no casualties or larger financial costs. If the U.S. is able to stay out of a potentially messy and prolonged post-conflict nation building operation in Libya (something his critics insist he embark on), then Libya may well be marked as success in that we achieved a limited goal with limited means.

(AP Photo)

Pipe Down

But as much as Western diplomats must be careful not to drop the ball in our dealings with the new government, this is a moment for those who claimed Qaddafi’s fate was none of our business to pipe down. The intervention in Libya was neither reckless nor ill-considered, and the outcome is likely to benefit U.S. interests as much as it does those of the people who have been liberated. - Jonathan Tobin

Obviously those who predicted a terrible calamity in the initial phases of the war were wrong. Of course, there's still a lot of uncertainty ahead, but I will own up to a warning (not a prediction!) that the war could degenerate into a stalemate with Gaddafi clinging to a portion of the country while NATO enforced a no-fly zone over the East. That, thankfully, won't happen. There was also concern about an insurgency - something which remains a possibility, but may not come to pass either.

But the idea that anyone should be chastened in their caution because the rebels have appeared to win the day is silly. Taking the country to war when vital U.S. interests are not at stake is not a good idea even if the U.S. manages to skate by without investing much in blood and treasure.

As for the assertion that Gaddafi's overthrow will be as good for Americans as it is for Libyans, time will tell. It appears that the U.S. may earn some oil concessions, which would certainly serve a U.S. interest.

A Warning?

The imminent collapse of Qaddafi’s regime is a major milestone not simply for the long-suffering Libyan people, but for the broader Arab uprising of 2011. Qaddafi’s ability to cling to power through brutality and slaughter had cast a dark shadow over the region for the better part of six months. In stark counterpoint to the relatively peaceful and rapid departures of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, Qaddafi hoped to establish a much different model for the region’s dictators: Rather than succumb to the overwhelming will of the people for political change . . . crush them by whatever means necessary. The example was certainly not lost on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad when confronted with its own popular upheaval just weeks after Qaddafi first unleashed his killing machine.

Now, with Qaddafi’s demise at hand, a major psychological blow has been struck against the region’s other tyrants who have sought to follow in his foot steps. The message has gone out: The effort to stand athwart history, and through blood and bullets deny the just demand of your people for a more decent, accountable government will, sooner or later, fail. The reverberations in Damascus will be loud and unsettling. You can bet that Assad’s head lies much uneasier today. - John Hannah

I'm not a psychologist so I can't offer any confident predictions about how various dictators thousands of miles away may feel. That said, we do have recent experience here. When Saddam Hussein fell we heard similar boasts and indeed there were some beneficial ripples - the Iranians sent feelers to the Bush administration about nuclear negotiations (which were ignored) and Gaddafi went ahead with his decision to surrender his nuclear weapons (although the work on that particular policy victory predated Saddam's overthrow). So it may indeed be the case that for the next few weeks Syria's dictator may be increasingly on edge. But then what?

In his article telling non-interventionists to shut up, Commentary's Jonathan Tobin assures us that the overthrow of Gaddafi is of course not a license to apply the same template to other dictators, but this is precisely what his fellow neoconservatives - such as Hannah - are implying when they talk about a possible demonstration effect.

August 22, 2011

When a TV Commercial Is Not Just a Commercial

From time to time, we all get offended by what we see on TV.

Recently, Russian World War II veterans were deeply offended by a television commercial that advertised model German tank assembly kits. In particular, this commercial advertised German "Tigers," a famous tank designed to stop Soviet T-34 tanks and which made their debut at the massive Battle of Kursk in 1943.

The veterans' association considered such commercials as "propaganda for Nazi military weapons." When the vets turned to lawyers for advice, they were told that since the kits feature no German or Nazi insignia, such commercials were perfectly legal. It's notable that Austria prohibited similar advertisements on the country's television back in 2010.

Leon Sigal on North Korea and Carrots

Leon Sigal’s piece in the National Interest on "Using the Carrot in North Korea" has numerous troubling issues from my perspective, the most prominent of which is: has Sigal or his editors been paying any attention to recent history on the peninsula?

Sigal writes: “[M]utual deterrence makes the likelihood of deliberate aggression on the peninsula quite low.” Really now? Was Sigal serving on a sequestered jury for the entire period between, say, March 26, 2010 (the sinking of the Cheonan) to Nov. 23, 2010 (the shelling of Yeonpyeong)?

As things stand, it’s fairly clear that North Korea has opened an intermittent war against the South, and that South Korean and American deterrence against the North is failing. Sigal's answer is the same cocktail of impotent diplomacy and extortion payments that made North Korea a nuclear power and extended Kim Jong-il's longevity, while doing the exact opposite for the great majority of his pitiful subjects.

Next, Sigal proceeds to cast all of the current tension as the fault of President Lee of South Korea, for abandoning “engagement.” But effectively, this approach translates to propping up Kim Jong-il with billions of dollars in cash, aid efforts which do not purchase any real reform, relaxation of oppression, renunciation of drug dealing, counterfeiting, proliferation, or any other pullback in aggression toward the South. I’d like to ask Sigal: is this reality at all Kim Jong-il's fault, or does he have an excuse for it all?

Perhaps we just need a larger carrot to compete with the Russians, with whom Kim is meeting this week. Or perhaps we need to reconsider the value of Ronald Reagan’s saying from the perspective of the South: “To sit back hoping that someday, some way, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last – but eat you he will.”

Politicians Running After Markets

Germany's Angela Merkel had this rather amusing comment in an interview with ZDF television this week in the context of rejecting euro bonds (again) as a possible solution:

“It will not be possible to solve the current crisis with euro bonds,’’ she said. She added that “politicians can’t and won’t simply run after the markets.’’

“The markets want to force us to do certain things,’’ she added. “That we won’t do. The markets want to force us to do certain things. That we won’t do. Politicians have to make sure that we’re unassailable, that we can make policy for the people.”

In their take on her statements Bloomberg reports that Merkel "won’t let financial markets dictate policy." What, we're going to stop now? As Marketplace's Heidi Moore writes:

Good luck with that. Governments still rely on public markets to get enough money to get through the day, week, month and year. “The people” can’t bring a country to the brink of financial disaster in mere days. The markets can.

To paraphrase Mitt Romney: financial markets are people, too.

By All Means - Declare "Mission Accomplished"


Robert Farley has some interesting thoughts on the Libyan war:

The course of the war vindicates the “Afghan Model” as a military technique, if not as a political strategy. To review, the Afghan Model is based on the idea that airpower and special forces can help indigenous troops can win wars against numerically and organizationally stronger opponents. Special forces take on training, command, and liason roles, airpower conducts close air support, attrition, and interdiction missions, and the indigenous troops force the enemy to defend strongpoints from fixed locations. This model worked very well in the first several months of the Afghanistan war, but it worked rather less well at the start of the Libyan Civil War. Although airstrikes were able to freeze Gaddafi loyalist forces, rebel offensives initially failed.

With what looks like a rebel victory in the offing, the specifically military aspect of the Afghan Model seems to have been vindicated, if in slow motion. However, the Afghan Model is as much a political as a military concept. Politically, the AM is supposed to minimize domestic opposition in the intervening country, minimize nationalist reaction in the target country, and minimize international upheaval. In Libya, the grade is mixed on all three. Cameron, Sarkozy, and Obama probably received more flak than they had expected, mostly because the war stretched so long. The war likely stretched so long at least in part because of nationalist reaction within Libya. The international community remained relatively quiet, although the violence in Syria and the ongoing collapse of the global economy may have played some part.

The other political aspect of the Afghan Model involves post-conflict stability. If Libya crumbles back into civil war in the wake of Gaddafi’s fall, it won’t reflect well on a strategic concept that promises large returns at minimal risk.

One thing the U.S. should understand by now is that a military victory does not necessarily beget a political one. The question is - what will NATO and the U.S. be satisfied with - a military victory that sees Gaddafi run out of town, or up a pole, (a victory which it appears they have secured) or a political victory in Libya?

Rather curiously, many of the people who opposed intervening in Libya's civil war are now warning against a "mission accomplished" moment. I think that's a mistake. If the U.S. does not want to get deeply entangled in what could be a very problematic and violent aftermath in Libya, this is precisely the time to declare mission accomplished. Thanks to the "Afghan Model," the U.S. and NATO have very little exposure on the ground - unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, they will not have to face the prospect of an ignominious withdrawal under fire. In other words, for those who objected to American intervention in Libya's civil war, the downfall of Gaddafi is a perfect excuse to extricate ourselves before it turns into a problem that the West cannot solve.

(AP Photo)


Now is a good time to remember the many Americans, and other innocents, killed by this awful regime. Their families should feel some satisfaction that justice may finally be finding the murderer of their loved ones. - Jeffrey Goldberg

Indeed. But this does raise an interesting question. Of all the reasons proffered up for NATO's intervention in Libya's civil war, what role did a desire for revenge play in the minds of Western policymakers?

The Middle East, Democracy and Israel


James Traub defends his enthusiasm for the Arab Spring against the pessimists:

There are, I suppose, two reasons to dump cold water on the Arab Spring. The first is that you think the enthusiasm is overblown, and you enjoying taunting the romantic spirit that sees reflections of America and its democratic values in every popular uprising across the globe. Go ahead and jeer; I would only note that even the grumpy and skeptical John Quincy Adams, who famously abjured crusades to destroy foreign "monsters," added that the American people are "well-wishers" to those everywhere who seek freedom.

The second reason is that you believe that while it may be good for them, it's bad for us. But in the long term, that cannot be so. Illegitimate government in the Arab world has been a disaster for the neighborhood, and for the world. Legitimate government provides the only narrative powerful enough to prevail over the appeal of extremism. We have every reason to be well-wishers.

The trouble with this formula is that, from Washington's perspective, the "us" is not simply the United States but Israel as well. After all, a key American interest in the Middle East has been creating a benign security environment for the state of Israel. Reconciling that interest with an interest in the flourishing of Middle East democracy is going to be difficult indeed. Take the recent news from the Egypt-Israeli border:

"Egyptian blood is not cheap and the government will not accept that Egyptian blood gets shed for nothing," state news agency MENA quoted a cabinet statement as saying.

Egypt's Information Minister Osama Heikal told state TV: "The assurance that Egypt is committed to the peace treaty with Israel ... should be reciprocated by an equivalent commitment and an adjustment of Israeli statements and behavior regarding various issues between both countries."

As crowds of Egyptians protested angrily at the Israeli embassy in Cairo through Saturday night, burning Israeli flags in scenes that would never be allowed during the Mubarak era, both countries were trying to defuse the diplomatic crisis.

But restraint was in short supply among the contenders to become Egypt's future leader in elections due by year-end.

"Israel must realize that the day when Egypt's sons are killed without an appropriate and strong reaction are over," wrote presidential hopeful Amr Moussa -- former secretary-general of the Arab League -- on his website.

Another contender for the leadership, Hamdeen Sabahy, hailed a protester who scrambled atop the Israel embassy in Cairo in the early hours of Saturday to remove and burn the Israeli flag as a "public hero."

The Obama administration is obviously going to work hard to paper over this immediate dispute and wield whatever leverage it has left in Egypt to kept the country at peace with Israel. It's also clear that, at least initially, the goal will be for the U.S. to have its cake (a secure Israel) and eat it too (a democratizing Middle East). But what if those two goals become, at least for a time, mutually exclusive?

(AP Photo)

August 20, 2011

The Libyan End Game


It's increasingly looking like the end is near for Gaddafi, if this NY Times piece is accurate.

But toppling Gaddafi isn't the whole story. The question now turns to what will follow the collapse of his rule - and what role the U.S. and NATO will choose to play in the aftermath. Having played a role in what looks like Gaddafi's imminent downfall, what is our obligation to secure the new regime against a potential insurgency? It's quite possible that the Libyan aftermath proceeds fairly smoothly, with minimal need for an outside stabilization force to restore order - and here's hoping - but if it doesn't? Has anyone considered these possibilities and are Americans aware of the administration's thinking on this?

(AP Photo)

August 19, 2011

Apple Has More Cash Than Eurozone Banks

For a short stint before the U.S. reached an agreement on the debt ceiling, Apple had more cash than Uncle Sam. Now they've eclipsed Europe's largest banks:

With a sharp selloff pummeling share prices throughout European banking sector this week, Apple's valuation is now strikingly equal to all 32 of the biggest euro zone banks combined.

That's the result of the DJ STOXX euro zone banks index bleeding a third of its value since the start of July, driven by sharp declines in the share price of big banks such as Spain's Santander, France's BNP Paribas, Germany's Deutsche Bank and Italy's Unicredit.

Why America Is Losing

Stephen Walt declares the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq "lost" and offers a rationale:

More broadly, these wars were lost because there is an enormous difference between defeating a third-rate conventional army (which is what Saddam had) and governing a restive, deeply-divided, and well-armed population with a long-standing aversion to all forms of foreign interference. There was no way to "win" either war without creating effective local institutions that could actually run the place (so that we could leave), but that was the one thing we did not know how to do. Not only did we not know who to put in charge, but once we backed anybody, their legitimacy automatically declined. And so did our leverage over them, as people like President Karzai understood that our prestige was now on the line and we could not afford to let him fail.

This is very true, but it also underscores a point I have tried to make repeatedly since these wars began. Namely, that Washington defined the terms of victory, and those terms were inflated and untenable. There was no reason for the U.S. to "lose" the war in Afghanistan after toppling the Taliban and routing al-Qaeda, but by staying and constantly moving the goal-posts in the direction Walt describes above, a "loss" became baked-in.

But it also reflects where and how wars are fought today. The U.S. was able to "create" or rather, rebuild, institutions in Japan and Germany because both were functioning, coherent states before they were defeated. They also suffered unimaginable devastation. The U.S. was (thankfully) not going to fire bomb Iraqi cities or drop atomic bombs on Kandahar. Nor was it "at war" with Afghanistan or Iraq before invading and occupying either country. At best, it was at "war" with regimes that only partially represented their countries or sub-national movements that had taken root in those countries.

What's more troubling about both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is not that the U.S. was defeated in its over-reaching ambitions but that large segments of its foreign policy making class choose to paper over this (because they were complicit) or are in a mad-rush to find the next arena for their adventurism.

August 14, 2011

Gone Fishing


The Compass will be on vacation this week.

(Photo credit: National Media Museum)

August 12, 2011

Russia, China Shower Venezuela With Cash

Russia grants Venezuela $4 billion for military spending while China is lending Venezuela an additional $4 billion:

Venezuela is finalizing agreements for two separate credit lines of $4 billion each with Russia and China, with a portion of the financing earmarked for military equipment for the South American nation, according to Venezuelan state media.

With the world's largest oil reserves, Venezuela needs a well equipped military to defend itself from foreign aggression, President Hugo Chavez said during a broadcast phone call reported by the Venezuelan News Agency.

Chavez had to call in the news from Havana, where he is undergoing chemotherapy.

Readers of this blog may recall that Russia has financed over $6 billion worth of military equipment from 2005-2010.

On the other hand, Venezuela is borrowing at least $24 billion from China:

last year, Venezuela received a $20 billion credit line from the China Development Bank for housing

The housing construction has not started, but Hugo's betting on oil futures, so to speak, in a very big way.

How Much Has Libya Cost the U.S.?

Micah Zenko breaks out the calculator:

The cost of military operations is difficult to determine, since the Pentagon has not been forthcoming regarding Libya. Nevertheless, five data points are available either from official releases or media leaks that can be used to extrapolate current expenditures: March 30, $550 million; April 11, $608 million; Mid-May, $664 million; June 3, $714 million; and June 30: $820 million. It is unclear if these numbers include replacing known aircraft loses, including the crashes of an F-15 on March 21 (roughly $30 million) and a MQ-8 Fire Scout on June 21 ($9 million). However, it can be assumed that U.S. military operations costs in Libya per month are between $60-$80 million, with total current costs around $1 billion.

Worth every penny...

August 11, 2011

Indian Attitudes Toward Terrorism


A new poll (pdf) takes the pulse of Indian attitudes toward terrorism. Among the findings, 37 percent of Indians believe the government needs to take "stronger action" against Pakistan. Fewer Indians are satisfied with their government's counter-terrorism policy, with just 38 percent claiming to be satisfied.

(AP Photo)

Obama Embracing Regime Change in Syria?


The Guardian reports that the Obama administration may publicly declare support for regime change in Syria:

Syrian opposition sources and western diplomats predicted that an unconditional call for his departure would have far-reaching implications, though it would likely be couched in terms of US support for the aspirations of the Syrian people.

The precise timing and content of a presidential statement was still under discussion — partly because the US wants a full account of Assad's six hours of talks on Tuesday with Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmed Davotoglu, officials said.

It's remarkable the extent to which moral preening has become a substitute for foreign policy. What good will it do to call for Assad's ouster without concrete steps to hasten his departure? In Libya, Gaddafi is still holding onto power in the face of sanctions, an armed uprising and a NATO bombing campaign aimed rather explicitly at assassinating him. It's unlikely Assad would face anything approaching that level of coercive force.

Paul Pillar argues that Syrian regime change is a minefield:

It's pretty easy to see why the Obama administration has been dancing around any explicit call for regime change in Syria. One, there does not appear to be a good path for accomplishing that goal. And two, Mr. Obama realizes that if he did explicitly adopt that goal, he would be criticized—by some of the same people who criticize him now for not being more explicit—for not accomplishing, or finding more active ways to pursue, a declared U.S. objective. The criticism would be rooted in the invalid but common idea that if there's something worth doing in the world, the United States ought to be the one to do it.

It's worth asking why President Obama feels it necessary to wade in deeper here. The U.S. has expressed its displeasure and is working with Turkey to exert pressure on Assad to end the violence. Escalating our rhetorical stake without an equal commitment to up our material stake is utterly feckless. It won't, as Pillar notes, pacify the neoconservative pundits baying for another ill-begotten intervention. It won't make the war in Libya proceed any smoother. It won't help in Iraq or Afghanistan.

(AP Photo)

August 10, 2011

Government Activism

Jennifer Rubin wants some:

Deeply regrettable.

That’s actually one way to describe the peculiar mix of indifference and incompetence that characterizes President Obama’s foreign policy. Why didn’t we call for Assad’s ouster months ago? Why didn’t we take charge in Libya, short-circuiting Moammar Gaddafi’s reign of terror? Why were we mute during the 2009 Green Revolution? When Russian operatives set off bombs in Georgia? When China arrested more high-profile dissidents? It is a long and ignominious record of indifference and appeasement, mixed with pompous pronouncements of our good intentions.

So we'd replace pompous pronouncements of our good intentions with pompous pronouncements of our outrage. Where would that get us?

Iran Calls on UK to Be Restrained

Apparently this was said with a straight face:

As riots have spread across the UK leading to hundreds of arrests and the death of one 26-year-old man, Iran has called on British police to avoid using violence against rioters and demonstrators, and to show "restraint" when dealing with protesters, Iranian Fars News Agency reported.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast reportedly asked the UK government to open dialogue with "protesters," and has called on human rights groups to investigate the killing of Mark Duggan, 29, which sparked the violent riots that has seen substantial damage and theft.

Deputy Head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Hossein Ebrahimi also told Fars news that he had requested from the British government to allow an Iranian human rights delegation to visit the country, and "study human rights violations."

Hyping China's Military Threat


As China's first aircraft carrier sets sail, Paul Dibb examines Chinese military power and finds it wanting:

China has 68 tactical submarines (28 of which are obsolete) whereas the USSR had 280 at the height of its military power. China has 78 principal surface combatants in its navy compared with 264 for the former Soviet Union. The Pentagon classifies only 25 per cent of China’s naval surface combatants (and fighter aircraft) as modern.

Many of China’s most advanced weapons are still based heavily on foreign designs (mostly Russian) copied through reverse engineering. This highlights a persistent weakness in China’s capability for innovation and a reliance on foreign suppliers for some propulsion units, fire control systems, cruise missiles, torpedoes, sensors and advanced electronics.

By all means we need to keep a close eye on the development of China’s military forces. China is undoubtedly an ambitious power seeking to claim its historical place in the sun. But let’s not succumb to the fatal assumption that China’s rise will be a simple straight-line extrapolation.

Sam Roggeveen isn't so sure:

Dibb's description of Chinese conventional military weaknesses is more telling, but China doesn't have to be America's global equal or even to match the US in the Pacific. To change the regional strategic status quo, all it needs is the ability to challenge US control of the sea, and it is well on the way to doing that.

(AP Photo)

British Want to Use Live Ammo on Rioters


A new YouGov poll shows that the British aren't too thrilled with David Cameron's handling of the London riots but they do have want to get tough - really tough:

While 91% of people thought it was right that Cameron & Boris Johnson had returned from their holidays, they were generally seen as having handled the riots badly so far. Only 28% thought Cameron & May had handled them well, 24% thought Boris had handled it well (though of course, much of the fieldwork was done prior to Cameron & Johnson having done anything but get on a plane!). People were on balance positive about how the police had handled the riots- 52% thought they had handled them well, but a large minority (43%) thought they’d done badly.

Asked if the police should be able to use various tactics in response to riots provoked some pretty gung ho responses – 90% of people thought they should be able to use water cannon, 84% mounted police, 82% curfews, 78% tear gas, 72% tasers, 65% plastic bullets, 33% live ammunition, 77% thought that the army should be brought in. [Emphasis mine]

(AP Photo)

August 9, 2011

Americans Sour on Drug War

According to a new poll from Angus Reid:

Only nine per cent of respondents believe the “War on Drugs”—the efforts of the U.S. government to reduce the illegal drug trade—has been a success, while two thirds (67%) deem it a failure.
The poll also found that Americans are supportive of legalizing marijuana (55 percent) but very opposed to legalizing other drugs such as crystal meth or cocaine. You can read the full report here. (pdf)

Sanctions and Russian Human Rights

In the past, I've wondered just how U.S. sanctions could change Russia's internal behavior. So I was pleased to see the Washington Post editorial page tackle this head-on with a piece titled "Sanctions Can Promote Human Rights in Russia." After the Obama administration approved some travel bans, the Post argues, Russian behavior changed:

At first, Russian spokesmen issued vague, empty threats of retaliation. Then authorities announced that two prison doctors implicated in the death of the lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, would be prosecuted. Finally, government prosecutors said last week that they had reopened the case brought against Mr. Magnitsky that led to his imprisonment, mistreatment and death in 2009.

Most likely, the new investigation represents another cynical maneuver by the Russian Interior Ministry, which has managed to protect the police officials responsible for Mr. Magnitsky’s death for two years despite public promises of justice by Mr. Medvedev.

In other words - even if the penalties work, they don't work because the Russians are going to respond with "cynical maneuvers." So what was the point again?

Is Austerity to Blame for UK Riots?

With riots breaking out over London, some commentators are pinning the blame on David Cameron's austerity budgeting, arguing that it has cut needed social services in the areas currently afflicted with riots. Buttonwood at the Economist says it's not so simple:

The much-heralded cuts have only just started: public spending is still higher than it was a year ago. There has to be more doubt, this morning, about the ability of the government to see through five years of austerity and thus to justify the low bond yields on long-term debt. The temptation to buy off trouble—more money on police spending, youth employment programmes—will be high. The image of London round the world has suffered, something that will put off not only tourists but those who are considering buying the pound or UK government bonds. And, at a time when consumer confidence was already shaky, the images of unsafe streets will surely weigh on domestic activity, if only for a short while.

(As a side note, Buttonwood got to my preferred title for this post first, although I suspect he means this version and not the one I prefer.)

August 8, 2011


Usually when people stump for the present defense budget, they argue that the U.S. bears unique global responsibilities or else faces threats from major industrial powers like China and Russia. Marc Thiessen takes a different approach:

The war on terror is far from over. We face potential conflicts with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and Somalia. And as we learned on Sept. 11, 2001, new threats can emerge suddenly to surprise us. Despite this, Washington is once again prematurely claiming a “peace dividend” — except this time without the peace.

Really. Yemen and Somalia are not countries that we could face a conflict with - they're barely functional states. We are arguably in conflict with a few hundred (or less) individuals within those countries but that's hardly a rationale for sustaining massive wealth transfers to the Pentagon. Iran and North Korea are slightly more formidable adversaries but benchmarked against the U.S. and, of course, the regional states downwind of any potential aggression (South Korea, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia), the gap in budgets and capabilities is huge.

In many ways this is the mirror image of the irresponsible approach described yesterday, where an arbitrary set of budget cuts are identified with no reference to strategy. In this instance, defenders treat the status quo budget as inviolate and then cobble together whatever rationale they can grasp, no matter how untenable, to defend it.

Defense Spending and Entitlements

Coming on the heels of $400 billion already cut from defense by the administration in its first two years, the Pentagon is looking at the prospect of trying to maintain a defense capability second to none, with global responsibilities and new threats on the horizon (Iran, China), shorn of $1.3 trillion over the next decade it expected to have just three years ago. It is simply not the case that defense has not been “on the table” when it comes to deficit reduction efforts. Indeed, military budgets have been on the table since the 1990s’ “peace dividend.” One only wishes that were also true for entitlements. - Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly

When you think about it, cutting U.S. defense spending is a bit like cutting entitlements - for other countries. Indeed, the authors concede as much when they cite America's "global responsibilities" as a reason to keep funneling tax dollars to their favored government bureaucracy. But I do agree that the way Congress has gone about discussing the defense budget is a bit unnerving. Discussions of cost should follow discussions of mission and U.S. grand strategy. Identifying arbitrary lump sums to cut doesn't make any sense.

Decline of the American Empire?


Stephen Walt wonders when it was the U.S. empire started to decline. His answer: the first Gulf War. Here's the rationale:

Unfortunately, the smashing victory in the first Gulf War also set in train an unfortunate series of subsequent events. For starters, Saddam Hussein was now firmly identified as the World's Worst Human Being, even though the United States had been happy to back him during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. More importantly, the war left the United States committed to enforcing "no-fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq.

But even worse, the Clinton administration entered office in 1993 and proceeded to adopt a strategy of "dual containment." Until that moment, the United States had acted as an "offshore balancer" in the Persian Gulf, and we had carefully refrained from deploying large air or ground force units there on a permanent basis.

I think if we're going to pin the blame for a deepening U.S. role in the Middle East on anything it wouldn't be the Gulf War but the Carter Doctrine - that was what put the U.S. on the path toward an interventionist posture in the region. The Gulf War and the dual containment that followed were in many ways the logical heir to that doctrine.

But I'm not convinced that the Gulf War is really responsible, per se, for U.S. decline, mostly because "decline" is more of a relative phenomena (although we certainly haven't helped ourselves of late). That being the case, I'd argue that Deng Xiaoping's market-oriented reforms in China, which kicked off three decades of economic growth, have probably played a much more significant role in the narrowing of the power gap than America's post-Gulf War blunders.

(AP Photo)

China Daily: Punish U.S. With Financial Weapon


Writing in the state-owned People's Daily, Ding Gang argues that China should use its "financial weapon to teach the United States a lesson" on Taiwan arm sales:

US arms sales to Taiwan can only create more jobs for the United States but cannot improve the ability of Taiwan's military force to compete with the Chinese mainland. The essence of the problem is that some US Congress members hold a contemptuous attitude toward the core interests of China, which shows that they will never respect China. China-US relations will always be constrained by these people and will continue along a roller coaster pattern if China does not beat them until they feel the pain.

Stopping or massively reducing US Treasury bond purchases will certainly bring losses to China to a certain degree. China must try to reduce the loss and transfer the passive situation to an active one. China should consider how to build a direct link between the US Treasury bond purchase and US domestic politics while adopting measures to gradually adjust the structure of China's foreign exchange reserves.

For example, China can directly link the amount of US treasury holdings with US arms sales to Taiwan and require international credit rating agencies to demote US treasuries to force the United States to raise interest rates. China can also launch limited trade sanctions to the states of those US Congress members who vigorously advocated arms sales to Taiwan to affect their employment.

If (a big if) China is going to stop buying U.S. Treasuries, it will probably have less to do with Taiwan and much more to do with the soundness of the "full faith and credit" of the issuer.

(AP Photo)

August 5, 2011

Should America Love the Bomb?

Rob Long at Ricochet quotes from an interesting passage from Paul Fussell's Thank God for the Atom Bomb - a book I'll admit I haven't read - concerning his perspective as a member of the 45th Infantry Division, preparing for an invasion of Japan:

John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending anyway. The A-bombs meant, he says, “a difference, at most, of two or three weeks.” But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. “Two or three weeks,” says Galbraith.

Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you’re one of those thousands - or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost.

That’s a bit of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.

There have been scads of papers and essays on this topic over the years, but I'm interested in what the Compass readership thinks. Let's set aside the question of the individual moral decisions made along the pathway to the atom bomb's deployment - lest we get into Jon Stewart territory and start calling American heroes war criminals - and just pose this question: should America apologize for dropping the bomb?

(For context's sake: we didn't last year.)

Erdogan's Reverse Coup


Okan Altiparmak, a consultant and filmmaker based in Turkey, has a column today on his on street-level views concerning the latest upheaval following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's showdown with his military brass:

Like something out of a Soviet bloc country rather than Turkey’s traditional democracy, the government and its supporters spoke of “an Ergenekon of soccer,” a comparison to the trumped-up case in which many hundreds have been arrested and imprisoned without trial for three years. They were charged with allegedly planning a coup. Their actual “crime” seems opposition to the current government.

One reporter for the pro-government and Islamist Today’s Zaman newspaper, Huseyin Gulerce, spoke about networks of “coupmakers” and subversive elements in soccer that would now be brought to heel. “Today, the civilian authority is calling the shots” and its enemies “are doomed to lose.” The timing of the soccer struggle coincides with the resignation of the four top military officers, another case of the government asserting itself over a key institution.

When Turkish voters approved the September 12, 2010 referendum on 26 items of constitutional change, the United States and EU hailed the results as proving “the vibrancy of Turkey’s democracy” and “a step in the right direction.”

Writing in the Financial Times, David Gardner outlines what could come next:

Mr Erdogan has clipped the army’s wings and imposed new commanders. But this decisive battle does not conclude the war. Skirmishes will continue so long as the military retains its financial and judicial autonomy, and unresolved conflicts – with Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey and with Greece over Cyprus and the Aegean Sea – offer the generals a path back to influence. Yet that is not how it looks now...

“Ten years ago this would have led to a coup d’etat,” says Umit Cizre, a scholar of army influence on politics at Istanbul’s Sehir University. The army has traditionally been the compass of the Turkish republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk after the first world war. Now, about one in 10 serving generals, 43 of them, is behind bars. The army can no longer protect its own. Kemalist officers are “dumbfounded, angry and frustrated”, says one person close to the officer corps, “they can’t grasp what has hit them”.

The true ramifications of Erdogan's "reverse coup" within Turkey are unlikely to be known for some time, but as The Economist points out today in quoting Eric Edelman, the ramifications for NATO are unlikely to be positive.

Keeping the generals out of politics is a must. But what of the army’s day job? With 12% of serving generals and admirals in prison, notes Eric Edelman, a former American ambassador to Turkey and number two at the Pentagon under George Bush junior, “the Turkish military gives every sign of being a broken and rudderless institution.” He expresses concerns about the effects of a weakened Turkish army, the second-biggest in NATO, on the alliance, and on Turkey’s region.

"Peace at home, peace in the world," Ataturk said. The reverse tends to be true as well.

(AP Photo)

Aid Down the Rabbit Hole in Afghanistan

The International Crisis Group relays the latest from Afghanistan:

There is no possibility that any amount of international assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will stabilise the country in the next three years unless there are significant changes in international strategies, priorities and programs. Nor will the Afghan state be in a position by 2015 to provide basic services to its citizens, further undermining domestic stability. Moreover, a rush to the exit and ill-conceived plans for reconciliation with the insurgency by the U.S. and its allies could threaten such gains as have been achieved in education, health and women’s rights since the Taliban’s ouster.

The amount of international aid disbursed since 2001 – $57 billion against $90 billion pledged – is a fraction of what has been spent on the war effort. More importantly, it has largely failed to fulfil the international community’s pledges to rebuild Afghanistan. Poor planning and oversight have affected projects’ effectiveness and sustainability, with local authorities lacking the means to keep projects running, layers of subcontractors reducing the amounts that reach the ground and aid delivery further undermined by corruption in Kabul and bribes paid to insurgent groups to ensure security for development projects.

Is there any way that Afghanistan will not collapse as NATO starts to draw down? It seems impossible to conceive of any other outcome.

Swedish Man Attempts Fission in Kitchen Sink

It's good to have hobbies:

A Swedish man has been arrested after attempting to split atoms in his kitchen, claiming that he was only doing it as a “hobby”.

Richard Handl said that he had the radioactive elements radium, americium and uranium in his apartment in southern Sweden when police showed up and arrested him on charges of unauthorised possession of nuclear material.

Handl, 31, said he had tried for months to set up a nuclear reactor at home and kept a blog about his experiments, describing how he created a small meltdown on his stove.

Only later did he realise it might not be legal and sent a question to Sweden’s Radiation Authority, which answered by sending the police.

Missile Defense Costs Reach Apollo Levels


According to Bloomberg, the U.S. has spent as much on missile defense as it did on the Apollo moon program:

Before Congress voted to cut $2.4 trillion from government expenses over the next decade, lawmakers budgeted a 1.2 percent increase, to $8.6 billion, for all missile defense programs in fiscal 2012. That would raise total costs to about $150 billion, or roughly the inflation-adjusted amount poured into the Apollo program sending men to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s....

The Pentagon has made “accountability and transparency elusive” by exempting the missile agency from standard acquisition regulations, including requirements for independent cost estimates, according to Cristina Chaplain, an investigator for the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency.

It is a program with “an undefined destination at an unknown cost,” Chaplain said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April.

And at least the Apollo program worked - it successfully delivered men to the moon and back. Missile defense? Not so much:

The system “has demonstrated a limited capability against a simple threat” and has yet to engage in “operationally realistic” tests, J. Michael Gilmore, the department’s top weapons tester, told Congress last year.

In tests, national missile defense has a 53 percent success rate. Shorter range theater systems have a much higher success rate, Bloomberg noted.

(AP Photo)

August 4, 2011

Europe: Bad, Getting Worse

The Wall Street Journal delivers the bad news from Europe's banking sector:

The European sovereign-debt crisis placed new strains on the Continent's banks on Wednesday amid signs that some lenders are finding it harder and more expensive to fund themselves.

The cash crunch for some European Union banks underscores the challenges that central bankers and regulators face in preventing the bloc's economic and debt problems from seeping into the bank-funding markets.

The barometers that central banks and analysts use to monitor stress aren't showing extremely heightened levels. But certain gauges are flashing warning signals: Bank funding from the European Central Bank increased and European banks and corporations have had to turn to the currency markets for dollar funding, instead of borrowing from one another or selling debt.

In countries like Spain and Italy, banks face the added difficulty of having to deal with a recent sharp drop in the values of government bonds that form the mainstays of their balance sheets.

As Kevin Drum points out, the inability of banks to get anything other than very short term funding is what happened to Lehman Brothers shortly before it imploded. And we all know what that led to.

Blaming Obama for Syrian Violence

Considering Obama has pledged to support the Arab Spring, his failure to do more in Syria is shameful and puzzling. If Assad is overthrown, the entire power equation in the region changes in ways favorable to the West and unfavorable to the mullahs in Iran. Short of an invasion—which no one advocates—we cannot decisively alter the course of events in Syria. But we do have the ability to bring considerable influence to bear, if we take a strong stand along with regional allies such as Turkey. So far that hasn’t happened, and the people of Syria continue to pay a price for this president’s characteristic ambivalence. - Max Boot

Implicating President Obama in the slaughter of Syrian protesters by their murderous rulers strikes me as unfair, to put it mildly. Boot links to Elliott Abrams' piece outlining what the U.S. can do to thwart the Assad regime. His suggestions boil down to these six items:

1. Use "psychological warfare" against members of the military.
2. Ask Turkey for help.
3. Talk bad about Assad in public.
4. Sanction Syrian businesses.
5. Ask the Syrian opposition to say nice things.
6. Topple Gaddafi.

Given that a bona fide armed uprising and NATO bombing campaign has failed to dislodge Gaddafi (thus far), why would these measures do much to deter Assad and company much less staunch the immediate humanitarian crisis?

U.S. Role in a Tense Asia


Michael Auslin takes the measure of an increasingly contentious Asia:

Due to its military alliances, the United States will be further drawn into the conflicting webs of distrust and engagement that characterize Asian relations. Asserting its intent to forge closer ties with countries that seek to uphold regional stability and promote the adoption of effective norms of behavior is perhaps America’s best hope of retaining influence and relevance in a rapidly evolving region.

The question is - what happens if smaller Asian states use the presumption of U.S. defense to push maximalist claims against China? That would be just as destabilizing.

Indeed, in recent months we've seen quite clearly that Chinese "assertiveness" hasn't led to the "Finlandization" of her neighbors. Just the opposite: it has sparked outcries, protests and even military moves from the Philippines and Vietnam. For the U.S., this is an ideal recipe for off-shore balancing.

(AP Photo)

Star Trek in the Middle East


Let's pause for some good news in the Middle East:

A Star Trek-themed attraction is set to boldly go ahead in Jordan, as US$1.5 billion of funding has been secured for a major tourism and theme park development.

Construction work on the 74-hectare Red Sea Astrarium project in Aqaba, which will include four hotels and 17 entertainment developments, is expected to start early next year....

The Astrarium project will not be King Abdullah's first voyage into the world of Star Trek. He is known to be a "Trekkie", as fans of the long-running science-fiction show are known. He reportedly made a brief cameo on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager in 1995, when he was still a prince.

I'm still smarting over the loss of the Star Trek cafe in the Las Vegas Hilton...

(AP Photo)

August 3, 2011

Iraqi Security and U.S. Troops


The Washington Post reports today that the U.S. and Iraq are negotiating a longer-term U.S. troop presence for "training" purposes. Unfortunately, even with the current 47,000 U.S. troops in the country, security is getting worse - as a recent report from the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has indicated. U.S. officials can certainly make the case domestically that it's important to keep troops in Iraq for strategic reasons but that's not an argument likely to sway many Iraqis.

Much like the conflict in Afghanistan, security in Iraq will rise and fall on political factors. The number of U.S. troops currently being bandied about aren't going to have much impact on internal security. Indeed, if the situation is getting worse with 47,000 troops in the country, is it going to get measurably better with 10,000?

The bigger question, which is rarely addressed in any piece examining the future role of the U.S. in Iraq, is what happens if the security situation really runs off the rails. Maybe that's impossible, and given the general lack of focus on this question it's clear most people treat the prospect as such. But to my mind, President Obama appears intent on keeping the U.S. hostage to events inside Iraq.

(AP Photo)

August 2, 2011

U.S. Weapons End Up in Terrorists' Hands

David Axe passes on this bit of news from Somalia:

Bad news in America’s five-year-old proxy war against al-Qaida-allied Somali insurgents. Half of the U.S.-supplied weaponry that enables cash-strapped Ugandan and Burundian troops to fight Somalia’s al-Shabab terror group is winding up in al-Shabab’s hands.

The kicker: it’s the cash-strapped Ugandans who are selling the weapons to the insurgents.

This revelation, buried in U.N. reports and highlighted by controversial war correspondent Robert Young Pelton at his new Somalia Report website, raises some unsettling questions about Washington’s plans to out-source more wars in the future.

Isn't it a bit odd how the U.S. defense establishment has simply dusted off the Cold War script to battle Islamic terrorism, plunging into various wars via proxy forces, dumping cash and guns around in an unaccountable and often counter-productive manner? I mean, would the U.S. face intolerable danger if we didn't hand cash and guns over to Uganda to fight in Somalia?

The Middle East's Silent Majority


The Wall Street Journal reports on the latest twist in the Egyptian revolution:

Six months after young, liberal activists helped lead the popular movement that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the hard core of these protesters was forcibly dispersed by the troops. Some Egyptians lined the street to applaud the army. Others ganged up on the activists as they retreated from the square that has come to symbolize the Arab Spring.

Squeezed between an assertive military and the country's resurgent Islamist movement, many Internet-savvy, pro-democracy activists are finding it increasingly hard to remain relevant in a post-revolutionary Egypt that is struggling to overcome an economic crisis and restore law and order.

"The liberal and leftist groups that were at the forefront of the revolution have lost touch with the Egyptian people," says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution's Doha Center. "These protesters have alienated much of Egypt. For some time they've been deceiving themselves by saying that the silent majority is on their side—but all evidence points to the contrary, and Monday's events confirm that."

Now, if Ambassador Hill and Fouad Ajami are to be believed, President Obama could rectify this by giving better speeches and being more "supportive" of liberal elements in the region.

(AP Photo)

Gaddafi Wants Chavez's help

   El líder libio, Muamar al Gadafi (d), recibe con un abrazo al presidente venezolano, Hugo Chávez, durante el encuentro que sosuvieron en Doha, Qatar, el martes 31 de marzo del 2009.

How do you spell "fungible assets?" The Miami Herald reports:

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi sent emissaries to Caracas over the weekend to ask president Hugo Chávez to help his regime sell crude oil through Venezuela in international markets, thus evading internationally imposed sanctions, western intelligence sources said.

The small delegation — headed by Planning and Finance Minister Abdulhafid Zlitni — arrived Sunday on a private jet and Chávez confirmed its presence in the South American country.

“Gaddafi has sent us an emissary,” Chávez told a government television channel. “They bring a letter for me. That is good. The world needs to know it. As soon as you have it translated,” he told his foreign affairs minister, Nicolás Maduro, who was at the television studio, “bring it to me.”

The intelligence sources told El Nuevo Herald that the emissaries plan to request that Venezuela take control over more than a dozen tankers, each with a capacity to store more than 160,000 tons of oil, and the possibility to market more than 1.5 million barrels of Libyan crude oil through the South American country.

“[Gaddafi] is proposing that […] Venezuela assume ownership of the ships to continue operating them through Venezuela,” said one of the sources, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “If this is done, it would be a violation of all sanctions.”

The sources said that the Libyan government also has given orders to ask the Venezuelan government to supply water and fuel to two Libyan boats stranded in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as purchase nearly 5,000 tons of additives for producing gasoline.

The request also considers the possibility of selling hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil products that Libya has not been able to place in the market after the United Nations unanimously approved sanctions against Gaddafi’s regime due to its bloody repression against dissidents, the sources said. [Emphasis added]

Venezuela was slapped with sanctions in May by the U.S., as you may recall, for shipping $50 million worth of fuel additives to Iran between December 2010 and March this year.

Read the rest at at Fausta's blog.

Putin Gets His Licks In

AFP reports:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday accused the United States of acting as a "parasite" on the world economy by accumulating massive debts that threaten the global financial system.

"The country is living in debt. It is not living within its means, shifting the weight of responsibility on other countries and in a way acting as a parasite," Putin told a group of pro-Kremlin youth in central Russia.

Meanwhile, Michael Schuman provides a more measured analysis of what impact the U.S. debt deal will have on the global economy.

August 1, 2011

Iran and al-Qaeda


The Leveretts are skeptical about recent allegations from the Obama administration linking al-Qaeda and Iran:

Not even the George W. Bush Administration was prepared to make concrete accusations that the Islamic Republic was deliberately facilitating al-Qa’ida’s terrorist activities. Now, however, the Obama Administration is advancing specific, on-the-record charges that Iran is helping al-Qa’ida. There is no reason for anyone to have any confidence that official Washington “knows”, in any empirically serious way, that Tehran is cooperating with al-Qa’ida in the ways that are alleged.

Of the six al-Qa’ida operatives sanctioned by the Treasury Department last week, only one is alleged to be physically present in Iran—and, by Treasury’s own account, he is there primarily to get al-Qa’ida prisoners out of Iranian jails. Moreover, the United States apparently has no hard evidence that the Iranian government is supportive of or even knowledgeable about the alleged al-Qa’ida network in the Islamic Republic. In her story, Helene Cooper writes that a “senior Administration official” said “in a conference call for reporters” (which means that the White House wanted everyone to hear this, and Helene did not have to leave her office to hear it), that “our sense is this network is operating through Iranian territory with the knowledge and at least the acquiescence of Iranian authorities”. A “sense” that al-Qa’ida is operating in Iran with “at least the acquiescence of Iranian authorities” now apparently amounts to proof of a “secret deal” that can be authoritatively referenced in the announcement of a legally and politically significant action by the Treasury Department.

Without actually knowing what the White House knows, it's really impossible to speculate. While skepticism is always warranted in claims such as these, it's worth asking what the Obama administration would have to gain by fabricating or hyping thin evidence here. I think the Iraq analogy is a bit off base - it's clear that the Obama administration is not itching for a war with Iran. Instead, they used the charges as the basis for sanctions on several Iranian officials. Nor is this the kind of charge that could move the needle in the debate over a residual U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

I suppose it's possible that the Obama administration had no other way to sanction these Iranians without recourse to allegations about al-Qaeda ties, but is that plausible?

(AP Photo)

Judging the U.S.-Russia Reset

The White House touts its "reset" policy toward Russia as one of its key diplomatic successes. But the Russian authorities were caught off-guard when Washington quietly barred some of their officials from traveling to the United States this week, a move that threatens to undo some of the gains Washington has made boosting ties with Moscow.

The State Department blacklist targets those connected to a scandal that's drawn widespread international condemnation: the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer jailed in 2009 after accusing police of bilking the government of more than $200 million. A report commissioned by President Dmitry Medvedev himself concluded Magnitsky was denied medical care and probably severely beaten before he died. - Gregory Feifer

There seems to be a belief in some quarters that acts of Russian hostility abroad (i.e. toward Georgia) or internal violence somehow undermine the 'reset' - as if all that's needed to push Russia toward a true liberal democracy are more U.S. sanctions and hectoring. But the reset will stand or fall on how much cooperation the U.S. can get on important strategic matters. There are obviously people who are legitimately distressed about Russia's internal governance and their behavior toward Georgia, but ultimately the U.S. can only be the champion of her own interests.

Not Quiet on the Rebel Front

More encouraging news from John McCain's "heroes" in Libya:

Rebel fighters challenging the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi fought a pitched eight-hour battle overnight and Sunday morning against what their leaders called a “fifth column” of Qaddafi loyalists. The fighting raised fresh questions about divisions, distrust and deception in the rebel ranks in the days after the killing of the rebels’ top military leader, a general who defected from Colonel Qaddafi’s army early in the rebellion.

I wonder how much longer NATO will continue fighting on behalf of an organization about which it knows far too little.

By Their Facebook, You Will Know Them

As evidence begins to mount that Libya's rebels are a somewhat problematic bunch, Jackson Diehl gives us some insight into why there was such enthusiasm for supporting them in the first place:

What’s striking about Libya — and about Syria and Egypt — is that there’s little sign of those dark forces in the leadership of the revolutions. Egyptians and Syrians on Facebook instead speak a common language of secular, liberal democracy and human rights. A generation raised on the Internet wants, above all, to join the rest of the 21st-century world.

Libya’s transitional council is no different. Its first leaders published an eight-point manifesto March 29 declaring that “there is no alternative to building a free and democratic society and ensuring the supremacy of international humanitarian law and human rights declarations. This can only be achieved through dialogue, tolerance, cooperation, national cohesiveness and the active participation of all citizens.”

Facebook pages and manifestos aimed explicitly at cultivating outside support - this is the basis on which Diehl and others would commit the United States to another country's civil war.

Whither Exceptionalism


It's taken as a given in many quarters of Washington's foreign policy establishment that one critical role the U.S. should play internationally is patiently mentoring the world in the ways of government and freedom. Now that we have edged within a hair's breath of a self-imposed default, I wonder - will the enthusiasm for American exceptionalism wane among America's foreign policy commentariat? Even if - as looks likely as of this writing - a deal is hammered out, the U.S. has not covered itself or its political institutions in glory...

(AP Photo)

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