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September 30, 2011

Could the U.S. Have Secured Libya's Missiles?

If the great risk of American assertiveness was that it caused supposed “blowback” among impacted populations, the problem with American constraint is one of terrorist facilitation. In Libya we were only ever half in, at best. We took our time and kept our distance—and left weapons stockpiles out for the taking. At the UN last week, Obama cited Libya as “a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one.” It sure is. - Abe Greenwald

So Greenwald is suggesting that had the Obama administration not "taken its time" and "kept its distance" in Libya, NATO would have been able to swiftly identify and secure all of Libya's shoulder-fired missiles. Sounds just a wee bit optimistic to me.

Isn't It Ironic?

John Walsh:

The death is announced of Wilson Greatbatch, 92, the American inventor of the cardiac pacemaker, a revolutionary device which has, since the 1960s, pumped life into millions of people. And there's some news about Mikhail Kalashnikov, also 92, inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle, a revolutionary device which has, since the 1950s, done the exact opposite. A Russian newspaper reports that, although the Russian army is no longer buying his weapon – the most effective killing machine in human history – the company has told its staff not to tell Mr Kalashnikov about it, in case the shock kills him.

Should Obama Have Killed Awlaki?

The death of Anwar Awlaki raises some important questions about the reach of U.S. military force in the battle against al-Qaeda. Unlike Osama bin Laden and countless others targeted in drone strikes, Awlaki was a U.S. citizen. And while there was clearly plenty of circumstantial evidence that strongly suggested that he was affiliated with al-Qaeda and encouraged attacks against the United States, none of this was proven in court. Greenwald writes:

What's most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law"), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What's most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government's new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.

The counter-argument here is that Awlaki effectively lost whatever constitutional protections citizenship affords when he took up arms against his country and was found on a battlefield. But this begs two important questions: is Yemen a battlefield (I'd say it probably is) and on what basis was Awlaki's guilt substantiated? As I said, in this specific case, it looks like Awlaki was a traitor to his country and had given aid and comfort to its enemies. But is executive decree of guilt enough to have Americans - even loatheome ones - killed?

September 29, 2011

U.S. at Cross-Purposes in the Middle East

Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby have a long essay on America's fading position in the new Middle East:

Taken together, these trends have called into question a number of strategic concepts on which American diplomacy in the Middle East has rested for decades:

• that a prosperous and democratic Turkey, anchored in the West, would, by example, draw other Muslim countries westward;

• that the failures of fascism, communism, and Shia theocracy, coupled with the enticements and pressures of a global economy, would in time lead the region, with Western help, to realign toward a liberal future in the broader community of nations;

• that the peace Israel reached with Egypt and Jordan would in time radiate outward into peace with other Arab states, and thus minimize the prospects of a major regional war;

• that the world community would prevent states in the region from getting nuclear weapons; and

• that regional divisions and American strength would prevent forces hostile to the US from dominating the region.

I think what's evident from the above checklist of regional priorities is that they had failure baked in. The U.S. has had a mixed track record when it comes to preventing a major regional war - there was one almost every decade since 1970 - and two of them involved the United States. Nor is it clear why Washington expected that the Middle East would, with "Western help," realign to a "liberal future" as it simultaneously stopped hostile states from dominating the region and prevented them from acquiring nuclear weapons. "Western help" was (and is) directed toward illiberal states in the region as a bulwark against "forces hostile to the United States." The process of doing one thing undermines the other.

Put in more concrete terms: is there anyone who sincerely believes that you can support the Saudi monarchy to check Iran while simultaneously "helping" that same monarchy dissolve itself in the name of Western liberalism? It's sounds like a self-evidently absurd position and yet, it's being held up as something Obama has failed to do...

How Sick Is Chavez?


After returning from his latest round of chemotherapy in Cuba, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has reportedly been hospitalized with renal failure and medullary aplasia:

The UK's Telegraph reports that Hugo Chavez is in the hospital 'for kidney failure.'

El Nuevo Herald also reports that (my translation: if you use this translation please link to this post and credit me):

On the other hand, the source stated that Chavez suffered from medullary aplasia, the disappearance of blood-producing cells in the bone marrow, which complicated his medical state. According to doctors, medullary aplasia can be total, affecting the production of red and white blood cells, or partial, which affects the production of one type of blood cells.
(More information on aplasia here)

Of course, it didn't take long for Chavista officials to deny the Herald report:

Venezuela's Information Minister Andres Izarra appeared to deny the report in a posting on the micro-blogging website Twitter.

"Those who should be admitted are the journalists of the Nuevo Herald, except into a madhouse (instead of a hospital)," Izarra tweeted, without providing further details.

Chavez subsequently stated that he'd "be the first one to say if there was any difficulty in the process," in a telephone interview this morning.

He didn't, however, specify his whereabouts.

Ambassador Roger Noriega last week argued that "we must start thinking about, and preparing for, a world without Hugo Chavez."


Cross-posted at Fausta's blog

(AP Photo)

Russia Boasts of Huge Oil Find

Putin may be feeling flush:

According to numerous Russian media reports, addressing a meeting of the sixth media forum of the United Russia Party on 25 September, Russian Natural Resources Minister Iury Trutnev said that the preliminary forecast is that resources in the Russian Arctic shelf are comparable to those in mainland Russia, adding, “Speaking of long-term planning, these reserves could last 100, may be 150 years, but longer is unlikely. Humanity will eventually have to look for new energy anyway. Recently, we completed 40-year talks with Norway, delineated the gray zone, and now obtained another 5 billion tons of fuel equivalent there.” Trutnev’s new Arctic reserve claims are buttressed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) 2008 survey, which estimated that 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 1.668 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas lie beneath the Arctic’s waters and ice, representing 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil. Strong oil prices, more advanced offshore equipment and receding sea ice are leading to a growing interest in the Arctic.

Torture in Syria

Laura Andary recounts the harrowing ordeal of one prisoner:

A few hours after his arrival at a secret police prison he was called to an interrogation cell, where an officer cuffed him to the chair and asked him where he got the money to come to Syria. “I did not answer but instead laughed a vicious laugh,” Baiazy said. As a result, the officer “brutally beat me on the face and then whipped me with a wooden stick.”...

“I was beaten and whipped for hours every day,” Baiazy said. “I was not allowed to close my eyes for eight days. Security guards were instructed to watch me every two minutes.” His physical condition started to deteriorate, and his feet became swollen. “I was screaming from pain and asked to be hospitalized, but I was denied medical treatment.”

“On the sixth day, I started hallucinating. On the eighth day, the interrogator asked me if I had ‘anything to add’ to my statements. I told him no.” After days of sleep deprivation, beatings and sitting in the dark isolation of his cell, the guard “ordered I be taken to rest.”

September 28, 2011

What Is the Obama Administration Doing in Afghanistan?

Pivoting off of the revelation that the U.S. had been aware for years that Pakistan was willing to kill U.S. troops and foment instability in Afghanistan to pursue its interests, Michael Cohen wonders how the administration could have still doubled down in Afghanistan:

One thing we've seen repeatedly in regard to the war in Afghanistan is that Pakistan will, even at the risk of eroding their alliance with the United States, aggressively pursue its interests in Afghanistan - and yet the US strategy for Afghanistan has been based, in part, on the notion that Islamabad would shift its strategic calculus at the urging of US officials (and the carrot of foreign assistance). Two years later we're seeing the singular foolish [sic] of that strategy - but again it should have been evident back then. Rather than trying to get Pakistan to act against its interests the United States should have been looking to put in place a strategy that melded with Pakistan's strategic calculus regarding Afghanistan. We're today reaping the ill-rewards of that approach.

What's even more surreal about this whole episode is that many of the advocates of the Afghanistan surge - including Frederick Kagan and Stephen Biddle - insisted that one of the reasons more American lives and money had to be put at risk in Afghanistan was to - wait for it - protect Pakistan! They saw the Taliban and the instability they caused as a threat to Pakistan when in reality - and as was evident at the time - Pakistan was the architect of this instability and was using it toward their own ends. In other words, the surge boosters completely misread the strategic dynamic.

Like Cohen, I am trying hard to understand the administration's Afghanistan policy - is it being driven by wishful thinking, political cowardice, sheer incompetence or is it just an inability on my part to see the big picture (where things are actually better than they appear). I'm open to any of those interpretations at this point...

Getting Tough on China

Instead of more tough talk and increased defense spending, the United States and its allies in Asia need to grasp the malleable nature of China’s strategic intentions and shape a “mixed” regional approach focused more on creating incentives to cooperate than on neutralizing every possible Chinese military capability of concern to U.S. defense analysts. In particular, there is a need for a more far-reaching U.S.-China strategic dialogue that focuses on long-term interests and intentions and on what steps each country could take to avert growing security competition.

This is not pie-in-the-sky utopian thinking. It is rooted in the realities of America’s changing economic position in the world, China’s own internal problems and debates, and Asia’s increasing openness to cooperative multilateral security approaches. - Michael Swaine

This sounds reasonable and it would certainly be helpful if U.S. defense planners put themselves in the shoes of their Chinese counterparts when thinking about the U.S. posture in Asia. To wit: the very act of bulking up U.S. power in the region is almost certainly going to cause China to accelerate their own defense build-up - which is the thing we find so objectionable in the first place. But that said, I think at this point China's defense build up is baked in - they're a growing economy and even if they enter into a recession, it's not unreasonable to expect that they'll rebound and resume building up their military power. I think Swaine is right to caution that China's strategic intent is still unclear, but as the U.S. demonstrates, the stronger you get, the more prone you are to define your interests in an expansive manner.

On a more mundane point, the U.S. doesn't need to raise its defense spending to compete with China. The U.S. is already well ahead of China in terms of defense spending and even in more austere times can remain a superior military force vis-a-vis the Chinese for decades to come, provided it prioritizes that outcome and jettisons the idea that the entire world is an arena of "vital" U.S. interest.

How to Get Fired (S. African Newsreader Edition)

Mark Esterhuysen shows you how it's done:

A South African radio presenter has gone out with one almighty bang - dropping the f-bomb repeatedly in a ferocious rant before storming out of the studio.

Mark Esterhuysen, 23, invited listeners to follow his blog and signed off with "peace, love, respect, anarchy" after a vitriolic tirade that featured the f-word 13 times, The Daily Mail reported.

The Johannesburg presenter kicked off his graveyard shift as normal, then took aim at anything and everything, from racism to capitalism.

He described his working situation as "f***ing wage slavery graveyard shit" and said "F*** racism" three times in the 40-second spray.

You can listen to the profanity-laced tirade here.

September 27, 2011

The End of the U.S. Client State?

Max Fisher charts it:

The fall of easily controlled dictators across the region (the U.S. has already given up on its man in Yemen) comes at the same time as U.S.-allied democracies and autocracies alike seem increasingly willing to buck Washington's wishes. Last week alone, the U.S. clashed with some of its most important client states. Maybe that's because of America's habit of picking the most troubled states in the most troubled regions as clients (where they're perceived as the most needed), maybe it's because democratic movements are pressuring client states to follow popular domestic will rather than foreign guidance, and maybe it's because the idea of clientalism was doomed from the start....

Whatever the reasons, U.S. client states have been causing Washington more headaches than normal this year, and particularly over the past week.... Looking over the list of troubled client relationships, it's easy to wonder if the entire Cold War-inspired enterprise could be nearing its end. Maybe Egypt, just as it helped end the centuries of European imperialism in 1956, could make 2011 the year that began the end of clientalism.

It's possible, but unlikely. For one, no one in Washington is particularly eager to abandon the client model. Nor do other states seem particularly to dump the paradigm. China has what I think could accurately be called client states in North Korea and Burma (and, increasingly, Pakistan). Russia is trying to cultivate Central Asian states in its periphery as clients. Iran would obviously like Iraq to function as its client state, much as Lebanon does the job for Syria. In the case of the U.S., however, the client doesn't always amplify U.S. power but instead diminishes it. We are investing large sums of money into states like Afghanistan and Pakistan with little to show for it. Israel and Iraq may, on a dollar basis, deliver greater returns to the U.S. but carry with them a series of diplomatic mine-fields, and Iraq in particular may quickly swing back into the "more cost than benefit" column if violence flares anew.

The larger problem is that the U.S. appears to treat the creation of dependencies and client-states as an end in itself and not a means to an end. We are lured by the illusion of perfect security to believe that if we could only "fix" Afghanistan's political system, then we will have "solved" our terrorism problem (or at least our safe-haven problem). That such a project is self-evidently difficult (impossible?) doesn't seem to register.

America's Collapsing Position in the Mideast

Michael Brenner charts it:

The United States’ strategic position in the greater Middle East is disintegrating. The repercussions of the Arab Spring have undercut the tacit alliance among Washington, Cairo, Riyadh, Amman and Jerusalem with auxiliary members in Yemen and Tunisia among other peripheral states. Mubarak is gone while his former military cohorts sap the revolution’s zeal through symbolic acts that include untying the bonds to Israel while cultivating an alliance with Turkey. Both pillars of the regional sub-system are animated by a deepening anti-American feeling that are spreading across the Islamic world. In Ankara, moreover, the Erdogan government now has its own calculated view of a diplomatic field that no longer has the United States as its hub. The House of Saud is so badly rattled that it is turning on Washington as the cause of its new-found sense of vulnerability. Iraq’s sectarian Shi’ite leadership spurns the idea of a special relationship with us while incrementally building structures of cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Tehran will not bend the knee in response our relentless campaigning of shunning and sanctioning it – leaving Washington with the bleak choice of war or an indefinite period of containment – in the absence of any readiness to speak seriously with its leaders about the terms of a modus vivendi.

Report: 100,000 Christians Left Egypt Since March

According to a new report from the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations, nearly 100,000 Christians have emigrated from Egypt since March 2011:

The report, which was sent to the Egyptian cabinet and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), warned that this emigration has been prompted by the escalating intimidation and attacks on Christians by Islamists.

"Copts are not emigrating abroad voluntarily," said Naguib Gabriell, the director EUHRO, "they are coerced into that by threats and intimidation of hard line Salafists, and the lack of protection they are getting from the Egyptian regime."

September 26, 2011

Graham Throws Down the Gauntlet

Senator Graham is apparently open to starting a war with Pakistan. That will help stabilize Afghanistan.


But even as the Americans pledge revenge against the Haqqanis, and even amid a new debate in the Obama administration about how to blunt the group’s power, there is a growing belief that it could be too late. To many frustrated officials, they represent a missed opportunity with haunting consequences. Responsible for hundreds of American deaths, the Haqqanis probably will outlast the United States troops in Afghanistan and command large swaths of territory there once the shooting stops. - New York Times

Of course they will outlast the United States: they live there.

Religion in Egypt

A new survey takes the pulse:

A survey by the cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center, published on Sunday, revealed that 58 percent of the sample said they would not vote for a president of a different religion than their own, while 36 percent said they would.

But the survey said that 60 percent said they would consider voting for candidates of a different religion in parliamentary elections, and 37 percent saying they would not.

It also said that 73 percent of Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, are religious and pray regularly.

September 23, 2011

An Epic Failure

Walter Russell Mead makes a lot of sense here:

More to the point, we need policy discussions more than we need political ones. This is not just about how big the deficit should be; it is about whether the international financial system will survive the next six months in the form we now know it. It is about whether the foundations of the postwar order are cracking in Europe. It is about whether a global financial crash will further destabilize the Middle East and, if so, what we and the Europeans are going to do about it. It is about whether the incipient signs of a bubble burst in China signal the start of an extended economic and perhaps even political crisis there. It is about whether the American middle class is about to be knocked off its feet once again and indeed whether the middle class as we’ve known it will survive. It is about whether sovereign governments can still underwrite economic performance and financial stability in the leading economies of the world.

What's been fascinating to me about the entire collapse of the Eurozone is how it has underscored both how important Europe remains to the U.S. in an economic sense and simultaneously how utterly impotent Washington is in addressing what is a clearly "vital" interest in European economic stability and growth. All the billions we have spent in establishing a military foothold in Europe and the great effort to sustain an enduring role in European security issues, and for what? Now at the moment of actual peril, of real threaten-the-well-being-of-ordinary-Americans type issues, and Washington has nothing to offer and doesn't even have a receptive ear to what solutions it can cough up.

Incidentally, if you want to track the depressing news of the budding European depression, check out our Eurozone page.

September 22, 2011

NATO in the Old Age Home?

Elizabeth Pond:

NATO won't be dismantled. Instead, it will move to an old people's home. Sure, member-state officials will drop by Brussels now and then to pat auntie on the head, but they won't expect her to do any heavy lifting.

This pungent metaphor was coined by veteran U.S. diplomat Robert Blackwill at the conference that kicks off the transatlanticists' high season each fall. Surprisingly, virtually everyone at the Geneva palaver of the International Institute for Strategic Studies last weekend agreed.

Americans across the political spectrum blame the decay of history's longest alliance on the free-riding Europeans' slashing their defense budgets after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Reciprocally, Europeans blame the decay on American hyperpower hubris in starting the Iraq war and failing to end the Afghan expedition before the quagmire—thus overextending the West, incubating America's present war fatigue, and giving the last laugh to Iran in the Mideast and China around the globe.

The truth is that the existential threat to Europe is located in the balance sheets of their national banks and the southern states of the Eurozone. And that is something that the U.S. and NATO, for all their military might, are unable to save them from.

Pakistan's War on the U.S.

U.S. officials said there was mounting evidence that Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency had encouraged a guerrilla network to attack U.S. targets, while a Senate committee voted to make aid to Islamabad conditional on fighting the militants.

The decision by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which did not specify any amount of aid for Pakistan in fiscal 2012, reflects growing anger in Washington over militants operating out of Pakistan and battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Some U.S. intelligence reporting alleges that Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) specifically directed, or urged, the Haqqani network to carry out an attack last week on the U.S. Embassy and a NATO headquarters in Kabul, according to two U.S. officials and a source familiar with recent U.S.-Pakistan official contacts. - Reuters

So the U.S. is providing billions in aid to Pakistan's government and that government's intelligence service is urging its proxies to target and kill Americans. Is there any precedent for this? It sounds rather insane.

September 21, 2011

Union City Disinvites Ecuadorian President Correa

Rafael Correa's in the vicinity because he is attending the UN General Assembly, so he thought he would drop by Union City High School on Friday.

Not so, said the city's residents:

"It is evident that President Correa has associated with Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela," said Union City Mayor Brian Stack in a statement. "Even associating with such regimes sends a terrible message to the world and condones the many evils that have been imposed on the residents of those nations."

"For these reasons, I refuse to welcome President Correa to Union City."

The announcement by Stack comes a day after he met with Cuban exile leaders who were outraged after learning that Correa – who is in the New York/New Jersey region because of the United Nations General Assembly - was going to be featured at an Ecuadorian event at Union City High School on Friday.

The Cuban exiles pressed for Correa to be dis-invited because of what they denounced as his oppressive government in Ecuador and his support for the Communist regime in Cuba as well as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“The mayor said he was going to cancel the event,” said Sergio Gatria, an exile leader who was at the meeting, which was held at the headquarters of the Former Cuban Political Prisoners organization. “He said he had no idea that his was planned at the high school, and that as long as he’s mayor, no dictator, or sympathizer of dictators and terrorists, would be welcome to Union City.”

“Correa supports dictators, is an oppressive leader and hobnobs with [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This man is a sworn enemy of the United States. It is an affront to this community to roll out the red carpet for someone like that.”

In Ecuador, seven radio broadcasters face sanctions for airing freedom of expression debates. Earlier this month, Reporters Without Borders asked Correa to stop attacks on the press, and:
...that the Ecuadorean government address several facets of its media policy and the proposed communications law that would create a state media oligopoly and regulate the awarding and confiscation of radio and television broadcasting rights, and to cease making offensive statements about the press
Correa's visit to UCHS had been arranged by Ecuadorian officials.

Drone Patrol

Reacting to the big piece in the Washington Post on America's not-so-covert effort to drone-patrol Yemen and Somalia, Matthew Yglesias remarks:

The reporters say the “rapid expansion” of these military efforts “is a reflection of the growing alarm with which U.S. officials view the activities of al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.” No doubt it is that. But it’s also a reflection of a very grandiose conception of the appropriate role of the American military in the world. After all, a radical who’s in Yemen or Somalia is, by definition, not in the United States. It would be cheaper and easier to focus on making sure people can’t get from Yemen to Yuma or from Somalia to Sacramento than for us to go halfway around to try to kill them. But America’s strategic concept is basically that if there’s a problem anywhere in the world that could potentially be ameliorated by dropping American bombs, then we ought to drop the bombs.

Well, yes and no. It would have been quite helpful if the U.S. had the ability to accurately drop a bomb on bin Laden & co. in the late 1990s. Secondly, building a series of bases and airstrips to fly drones to conduct surveillance on al-Qaeda isn't a bad thing - intelligence collection should be the principle weapon in combating terrorism. Still, there is a legit concern about the extent to which drones will be used to actually kill people as opposed to just spy on them.

Just how often the CIA intends to pull the trigger and at which targets will go a long way to determining whether such a policy is making the U.S. safer or is self defeating. It's interesting to note that as far as making headway against al-Qaeda, the drone attacks have more or less eviscerated the core al-Qaeda group that existed in Pakistan but that did not stop splinter groups from forming in Yemen and Somalia. A similarly robust strategy of drone attacks in either of those countries may just duplicate the Pakistan model - a defeat of the "original" group but the migration and emergence of the same threat somewhere else. And this says nothing about the distortions and destruction that the U.S. will leave in its wake in the target country. Still, the political incentives are what they are: the Obama administration understandably does not want a significant terrorist attack on its watch and it's taking steps with that, and not the long term consequences, in mind.

The Strategic Case for Israel

Rick Perry did indeed give a more strategic argument on behalf of Israel during his speech yesterday, saying "Israel’s security is critical to America’s security."

Daniel Larison says it ain't so:

If we went through all of the allies deemed “critical” to our security, we would find that a large number of them could be fairly described as “a very small country that simply isn’t very important.” Indeed, many of our allies have become our allies because they hope to enhance their security at U.S. expense, and oddly enough many Americans have convinced themselves that it is imperative that we cooperate. These alliances and patron-client relationships often make sense for the other party, but very few of them make sense for the U.S. any longer.
I think the key phrase here is "any longer." It made sense to stack up a series of dependencies in the Cold War, when there was a reasonable chance of an all-out war with the Soviet Union. In today's world, the odds of a major great power war have diminished and where there is a heightened chance, it's in Asia, not the Middle East. Of course, the Middle East would be important in such an instance, since its natural resources would fuel the belligerents, but that doesn't mean a Cold War-era template should do the heavy lifting of protecting America's interests.

See also Andrew Exum.

Niall Ferguson's Killer Apps

Historian Niall Ferguson gave an interesting TED talk about the "killer apps" of Western civilization.

A Saudi Joy Ride

We all know that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, but after watching this video of a Saudi joy ride, you'll be left wondering why. They can't be any more crazy.

September 20, 2011

Rick Perry Makes the Case for Israel

Speaking of strategic debate, Rick Perry offers his case for the U.S. alliance with Israel:

Perry, an evangelical Christian who leads the opinion polls among Republican presidential hopefuls, told several dozen New York Jewish leaders that Obama's Middle East policy was "naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous."

"As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel," Perry said.

Important to note that the Reuters piece doesn't mention whether Perry offered further arguments on behalf of the alliance, so this may not actually be the whole of his case.

Unemployment: Germany vs. the U.S.

Germany and its export-driven economy have been held up as something of a model for the U.S. as it struggles to rebound from its recession, so it's interesting to note that high unemployment is also a fairly persistent feature of the German model. Although I think this IMF forecast is way too optimistic on the U.S. unemployment rate through 2015, so perhaps the trend is reversing.

This Just In: The U.S. Was Never an Honest Broker

I don't mean to make light of the gravity of the Palestinian UN-gambit, but some of the coverage and analysis strikes me as just a bit too breathless. Take this:

Fran Townsend, a CNN contributor on national security issues, said the potential U.N. vote "puts the United States in a very awkward position."

"It is a veto that will most certainly undermine U.S. credibility as an honest broker in the peace process," at least in the eyes of the Arab world, Townsend said.

Really? The Arab world thinks the United States is an honest broker? Since when?

The frenzy of diplomatic activity around the Palestinian statehood bid is also a reminder of what an immensely unproductive endeavor it is for the United States to insert itself into the middle of an intractable standoff.

Defense Spending and Strategy

Spencer Ackerman isn't happy with the quality of the strategic argument coming from defense hawks:

The defense hawks are making a budgetary argument, not a strategy argument, and hoping no one sees the difference. The defense doves are also making a budgetary argument, not a strategy argument, because they're not typically interested in defense strategy, just currently interested in the first-question argument that everything should be cut.

The strategy argument is this: we want U.S. defense to do _____ and because of that, we need to spend ______. That template is something hawks and doves can agree on, and then we can all argue about the specifics of instantiating it. Historically, hawks are skittish about making this first-principle case, because being blunt about defense strategy often comes across as grandiose overcommitment to the average voter. And it also makes the doves sound less dovish than the caricature would have it.

I'm not sure about this. For instance, here's some congressional testimony from defense hawks Max Boot and Thomas Donnelly. In it, you'll note that they're quite up front with their "grandiose overcommitments." And the opening "fact" presented by a trio of defense-friendly think tanks reads "No other country in the world has the enduring vital national interests of the United States, and therefore the U.S. military has global reach and responsibilities." So, no, the hawks are not skittish at all about making a first-principles case. They positively relish it.

But the other point is that doves are not only up front about their first principles, they're equally grandiose. The dovish argument, if I understand it correctly, is that thanks to globalization and the spread of communication technology, the U.S. is so interconnected with the rest of the world that people, not just states, are just as vital to America's interests. In this view, modern statecraft has to concern itself not just with brigades and carrier battle groups but what people are tweeting and whether they have clean drinking water.

People in the "dovish" camp may, in principle, be willing to pare back some military spending, but they also want to sustain or even increase spending on America's "soft power" arsenal (admittedly less expensive). It also leads them to endorse plenty of wars - Kosovo and Libya, for example - that require a robust hard power arsenal to implement.

So it's very difficult to have any meaningful discussion of what it takes to "defend" the United States within the context of tighter budgets because both parties to the discussion have expansive views of what's required.

(Brian McGrath has a few things to say on the defense budget that are worth reading.)

September 19, 2011

Chinese TV Reveals Internet Propaganda Efforts

Another oops:

A Chinese TV news report unwittingly revealed how the communist regime’s Propaganda Department trains its army of paid Internet commentators, notoriously known as “50-cent-party,” to shape public opinion on the Internet.

On Sept. 8, Xishui TV, a local station in Hubei Province, reported a training conducted by the Xishui County Propaganda Department for spokespersons from various work units and all Internet commentators in the county. The purpose of the training, according to the report, was to continuously improve the skills of spokespersons and Internet commentators and to enable them to respond to a public crisis as well as guide public opinion in a “constructive way.”

Ah, the things you can afford when you're running a budget surplus.

Round and Round We Go

AFP reports:

A French company provided Libya in 2008 with a specialised 4X4 designed to protect Moamer Kadhafi while he traveled, and the French presidency signed off on the deal, Mediapart reported online Sunday.

The vehicle, capable of neutralising any electric field within a 100-metre (328-feet) radius, was made by Amesys, a subsidiary of the French technology firm Bull, which earlier this month acknowledged it had dealings with Kadhafi's regime.

"The sale of this material received, in 2007, the support of (then) interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his chief of staff Claude Gueant. The vehicle was eventually delivered in 2008, with the green light, this time, of the (presidency)," Mediapart wrote.

The French presidency declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

Your World, From Above

A neat time-lapse of the International Space Station as it flies around the world.

Turkish Hackers Hit Wrong Target


Turkish hackers attacked dozens of Israeli websites over the weekend, only to find out that the sites belonged to Palestinians.

The confusion was caused due to the fact that the Palestinian sites, which have a .ps web suffix, use Israeli web servers.

September 16, 2011

Powell Doctrine and the Gaza Flotilla

Michael Rubin thinks the Israeli response to the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, where nine civilians were killed attempting to break the blockade of Gaza, is reminiscent of the Powell Doctrine:

Now let’s consider the Powell Doctrine through the same lens. Part of the Powell Doctrine declares, “When a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing U.S. casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.”

Certainly, the Powell Doctrine formed the basis of the decisive and overwhelming victory against Saddam Hussein in 1991. The idea that when engaging militarily, once should calibrate military power to the weakest combatant is one of the most curious—and stupid—conclusions of armchair international law advocates and human rights experts. It’s time to put the proportionality arguments where they belong—in the dustbin of bad ideas.

I'm not sure how this is analogous. First, this is a very narrow reading of the Powell Doctrine, whose tenets Powell sketched out in Foreign Affairs as a series of questions:

Is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have a clear, attainable objective? Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analysed? Have all other non-violent policy means been exhausted? Is there a plausible exit strategy? Have the consequences been fully considered? Is the action supported by the American people? Does the US have broad international support?

The Powell Doctrine was also concerned with the use of military force against a rival military in a war - not against civilian protesters engaged in a reckless protest/provocation. If Rubin thinks calibrating military power to the weakest combatant is a stupid argument, he's entitled to that contention (and in the case of an outright war I would not disagree). But by invoking the Powell Doctrine here he's asserting that the participants in the blockade running were combatants engaged in a war. That is, I think, an untenable assertion. By that logic, Israel would have been justified in sinking the entire ship outright and then bombing the Turkish port from which it sailed, or even striking at the offices of the flotilla organizers in Turkey.

The Powell Doctrine is a serviceable idea when the U.S. engages another military, but I can't imagine its authors would endorse the concept for use against civilian protesters - no matter how belligerent said protesters were. (And, for the record, I think the Israeli commandos that stormed the ship were justified in defending themselves against club-wielding protesters.)

September 15, 2011

Rubio's Wilsonianism

Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave another foreign policy speech this week that laid out what I think can reasonably be described as a very Wilsonian view of the world. In it, he makes the following claim:

There are still vast forces of evil seeking to destroy us. The form of the threat has changed since Truman’s time. But evil remains potent—and America remains the strongest line of defense, often the only line of defense.

"Vast forces of evil." It's interesting that the only way to justify the Wilsonian premise is by marshaling factually dubious descriptions of the world. Earlier in the speech he calls out Iran and North Korea, alongside the instability and danger caused by terrorist enclaves in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Evil (or better, dangerous), for sure, but "vast"?

Rubio also makes a rather curious statement about China, singling them out for their desire to "dominate" East Asia. This after an entire speech dedicated to the premise that the U.S. has a duty and obligation to see its preferred system of government imposed globally and that there is "no corner of the world" we can safely turn our back on. If a member of the People's Liberation Army declared that China could not be safe in a world that did not embrace one-party state capitalism and that the goal of Chinese policy should be the subversion of governments everywhere that did not conform to its view of how society should be ordered, we would all be rightly alarmed.

In fact, the most curious thing of all about Rubio's foreign policy speech - which Marc Thiessen hailed as a "clear foreign policy vision"- is its lack of substance. There is no mention of Europe's sovereign debt crisis (which, in case you haven't noticed, is having a rather direct impact on the U.S. economy) and outside of the reference above, there is absolutely no mention of China or the rise of Asia and what U.S. policy should be in response. Rubio isn't a presidential candidate, so maybe it's unreasonable to expect anything other than Wilsonian boilerplate, but it's certainly not a "clear" vision of anything.

NATO Makes Missile Shield Offer to India

According to Manpreet Sethi, NATO has reached out to India to share ballistic missile defense (BMD) technology. And while India lives in a rough neighborhood, they may not be chomping at the bit:

BMD, therefore, has the potential to upset the deterrence stability in the two nuclear dyads of the region. In fact, the deployment of BMD will impel the adversary toward the development and deployment of countermeasures or advanced offensive capabilities against BMD. This will push the countries into an offence-defence spiral, leading to an arms race not just in earth-based systems, but also in space-based ISR and navigation capabilities as they try to increase the accuracy of their missiles, along with their manoeuvrability, in terminal stages to avoid interception. The automatic tendency, then, will be to develop ASAT capabilities and resort to pre-emption to degrade the space-based assets of the adversary. It therefore appears likely that uncertainties and insecurities will only grow rather than decrease with availability of BMD in all three countries.

As India grapples with finding the best response to its missile threats, the NATO offer to share the ‘technology of discovering and intercepting missiles’ is an interesting development. It comes at a time when the Indian BMD technology trajectory seems to be on an upswing, when the state of Pakistan’s stability is on a downswing, and ambiguities on China’s intentions are on the rise.

So is NATO now searching for relevance by wading into the budding great power rivalries in Asia?

Don't Play Ahmadinejad's UN Game


The 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly convened this week in New York City.

Libya’s ousted Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution Muammar Gaddafi dare not show his face due to an International Criminal Court arrest warrant upon his head for crimes against humanity. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez cannot attend either because of ongoing chemotherapy. But Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intends to be there.

We will no longer be entertained and infuriated by scenes of Chavez sarcastically speaking about satanic sulfur in 2006 or Gaddafi disdainfully chucking the UN charter over his shoulder in 2009. Nonetheless, Ahmadinejad plans on yanking the West’s chain yet again. He will distribute a book on alleged atrocities committed against Iran and Iranians by American, British and Soviet forces during World War II, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reports:

Ahmadinejad will go to New York late this week, taking 1000 English copies of Documents on the Occupation of Iran during World War II. Iran’s occupation by the Allies during World War II is an international issue. This book contains many documents referring to the abuses inflicted by the Allies against the Iranian people.

The five-volume work is to be presented as evidence at the UN General Assembly, a parallel story in the Tehran Times notes:

to demand compensation from the Allies for violation of Iran’s neutrality during that world conflict.

So even though his comrades from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party cannot be there, Iran’s chief executive will do his best to incite American, British and Russian emotions – and he is well accomplished at provoking negative responses. But unlike Alice, officials in Washington, London and Moscow should not respond in anger. Paying no attention to his theatrics will deny Iran’s president the pleasure he seeks.

Let’s not give Ahmadinejad a tale to spin for Chavez when he flys to Caracas after the New York visit.

(AP Photo)

September 14, 2011

What to Do With Iran


The German Marshal Fund is out with their massive Transatlantic Trends poll, taking the pulse of attitudes on either side of the Atlantic. We'll be bringing you a few snippets from the survey (which can be read in full in pdf form here). First up, views on Iran. In almost every country polled, concern about a nuclear Iran remained high, but is off 2010 levels. GMF also found:

Despite the same level of concern in the United States and the EU, there were differing opinions about how best to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. A plurality of those in the EU (32%) preferred offering economic incentives, while a plurality of Americans (33%) preferred imposing economic sanctions, although the majority of EU and U.S. respondents chose one of these two options and were often fairly divided over which one was preferable. The percentage of Americans who preferred supporting the Iranian opposition dropped from 25% in 2010 to 13% in 2011 — matching EU levels of support (15%) for the same option.

There was also little support in the EU countries polled (6%) or the United States (8%) for simply accepting that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons while other options were on the table. A quarter of Turks, a plurality, said that accepting a nuclear Iran (25%) was the best option.

September 13, 2011

A Libyan Insurgency?


Spencer Ackerman sees signs that a Libyan insurgency may be taking root:

Fighters loyal to Gadhafi killed 17 guards at an oil refinery near Ras Lunuf on Monday. They drove to the refinery in a convoy of more than a dozen vehicles. Witnesses reported that the attackers used hand grenades to kill the guards.

And the attack occurred less than two hours after Libya’s post-Gadhafi oil minister announced limited oil production had resumed. The refinery itself was undamaged, though it’s unclear if that’s by design or incompetence. Still, the message sent seems clear: Gadhafi loyalists will target the revolutionary government’s ability to exploit the sources of Libyan wealth, weakening its ability to stabilize the country. Then, presumably, comes the restoration.

That last part may be unrealistic, given how deeply Gadhafi is hated in Libya. But in the near term, all that Team Gadhafi needs to do is distance the people from the Transitional National Council. And the revolutionaries may not make that difficult.

One thing to watch here is the regional environment. Insurgencies often rage because neighboring states fuel it, or are unwilling (or unable) to prevent their territory from being used as as a staging ground. Pakistan plays that role in Afghanistan and Syria and Iran played that role in Iraq. Would countries like Chad, Niger or Sudan sustain a Gaddafi insurgency were one to take root?

(AP Photo)

Oil Is Fungible


The Alberta-to-Houston oil pipeline has drawn some domestic criticism, but as Peter Fairley reports, the oil has to go somewhere:

Protests in front of the White House earlier this month against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would run from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, brought attention once again to the potential environmental impact of Canada's oil sands deposits. But industry experts say that the fate of that particular pipeline—which President Obama will decide upon later this year—will have little effect on the ultimate future of the vast petroleum resources in the oil sands.

One reason is that the oil will simply go elsewhere. Proposed pipelines to Canada's Pacific Coast could give Alberta's oil producers access to rapidly growing Asian markets. That would accelerate the demand for oil sands crude, which is made into gasoline. If the Keystone pipeline is not approved, says Ralph Glass, director of energy valuation and operations at Calgary-based petroleum industry consultancy AJM Deloitte, "there will be a stronger push for sending the oil offshore."

(AP Photo)

U.S. Views on Winning Afghanistan

A new poll from Rasmussen:

Just 21% of Adults believe the original mission behind the war in Afghanistan has been accomplished. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 60% think the mission has not been accomplished, with another 18% not sure.

Thirty-five percent (35%) of Republicans think the mission to end al Qaeda’s safe harbor has been accomplished, but that compares to just 10% of Democrats and 19% of adults not affiliated with either of the major parties. Most Democrats (75%) and most unaffiliated adults (59%) feel the mission has not been accomplished, and even a plurality (47%) of Republicans agrees.

Yet these findings come at a time when 59% of Likely Voters want all U.S. troops brought home from Afghanistan either immediately or within the next year. Just 22% believe the United States has a clearly defined mission in Afghanistan.

Finland: Home of Google and Facebook?

Nordic countries have weathered the economic downturn fairly well, certainly better than their Southern Europe compatriots. Now, they're poised to reap a windfall in server farms:

Finland’s chilly weather might sometimes be depressing for residents and visitors, but it’s the major reason why the country is suddenly the hot new locale for green data centers. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that following Google’s construction of its mega, green data center in Finland this year, other Internet companies are following suit, including an undisclosed U.S. Internet company widely believe to be Facebook.

The chief reason for the sudden interest in using the country as a data center haven is the cold weather. Internet giants like Google are starting to incorporate more and more outside air cooling, using the environment to cool servers, instead of inefficient, power-hungry chillers. The traditionally used chillers can suck up to half of the energy consumption of the entire data center, so eliminating them and turning to the outside air for cooling can reduce the overall energy consumption and energy costs of the data center.

September 12, 2011

Staying in Iraq for the Oil

Meghan O'Sullivan, who witnessed Iraq's descent into sectarian chaos during the Bush administration, urges the Obama administration to keep large numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq because it has a lot of oil:

The world economic recession eased pressure on global oil supplies and provided relief from the climbing energy prices of 2007 and 2008. But a quiet trend of 2010 was that growth in global oil consumption grew at the second-fastest rate ever, 2.8 percent, while growth in global crude oil production lagged behind at 2.5 percent. If demand continues to outgrow supply, it will be only a few short years before global spare capacity of oil — one of the indicators most closely tied to prices — gets dangerously low, and jittery markets push prices up and up. Assuming the world escapes another dip in economic growth, this outcome would probably materialize even without any additional geopolitical hiccups, such as political unrest in Saudi Arabia or a military confrontation with Iran.

Iraq is one of a very small number of countries that could bring oil online fast enough to help the world meet this growing demand at a reasonable price. In fact, major energy institutions and international oil companies are already assuming that Iraq will significantly increase its oil production in the coming decade. The International Energy Agency expects Iraq to nearly double its production in the next decade, from roughly 2.5 million barrels per day to 4.8 million barrels per day; BP’s 2030 global assessments are based on similar assumptions.

I do think the U.S., and indeed the world, has a clear economic interest in seeing more Iraqi oil reach world markets (any doubts why, see Kevin Drum). But appreciating Iraq's potential impact on the global economy does not equate with an understanding by U.S. officials of how the country is to be remotely managed and secured. O'Sullivan is disheartened by the Obama administration's (admittedly bizarre) decision to leave just 3,000 troops inside Iraq, but seems to forget that 150,000 troops couldn't secure the place when the going got tough.

Is the U.S. Helping Saudi Arabia in a 9/11 Cover Up?

Shortly after 9/11, it was reported that the U.S. hastily flew several Saudi nationals out of the country (a report later confirmed). It was never really clear why this happened - the official explanation cited their personal security - but it sure did smell bad. Now comes this striking report in the Miami Herald:

Just two weeks before the 9/11 hijackers slammed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, members of a Saudi family abruptly vacated their luxury home near Sarasota, leaving a brand new car in the driveway, a refrigerator full of food, fruit on the counter — and an open safe in a master bedroom.

In the weeks to follow, law enforcement agents not only discovered the home was visited by vehicles used by the hijackers, but phone calls were linked between the home and those who carried out the death flights — including leader Mohamed Atta — in discoveries never before revealed to the public.

Ten years after the deadliest attack of terrorism on U.S. soil, new information has emerged that shows the FBI found troubling ties between the hijackers and residents in the upscale community in southwest Florida, but the investigation wasn’t reported to Congress or mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report....

The fact that the FBI did not tell the Inquiry about the Florida discoveries, Graham says, is similar to the agency’s failure to provide information linking members of the 9/11 terrorist team to other Saudis in California until congressional investigators discovered it themselves.

The Inquiry did nevertheless accumulate a “very large” file on the hijackers in the United States, and later turned it over to the 9/11 Commission. “They did very little with it,” Graham said, “and their reference to Saudi Arabia is almost cryptic sometimes. … I never got a good answer as to why they did not pursue that.”

The final 28-page section of the Inquiry’s report, which deals with “sources of foreign support for some of the Sept. 11 hijackers,” was entirely blanked out. It was kept secret from the public on the orders of former President George W. Bush and is still withheld to this day, Graham said.

There are three possible things at work here. The first is that what's being reported by the Herald may look damning but is incomplete and, if all the facts were known, wouldn't actually be damning. One newspaper report does not an indictment make. The second possibility is that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were using some U.S.-based Saudis as moles in al-Qaeda and subsequently tried to cover those tracks after 9/11. The third possibility is that the U.S. is simply helping Saudi Arabia cover up their role in 9/11. I think the last possibility is the least likely, but most outrageous. In any event, this is a line of inquiry that should be pursued. Is there another possibility I'm missing?

September 9, 2011

VP Cheney on 9/11 Lessons

AEI will be live-streaming a talk with former Vice President Dick Cheney on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and the lessons learned. You can watch it above.

September 8, 2011

Libya's Missing Missiles

Among the consequences of the armed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi has been the disappearance of shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles from Libya's arsenal - i.e. the kind that could potentially down civilian airliners if they fell into the wrong hands. Popular Mechanics tells us the threat may not be as dire as initially reported:

CNN originally reported that shoulder-mounted SA-24s have gone missing in Libya. But arms control experts now tell PM that there’s no evidence of gripstocks for the missiles in Libya. That means that any SA-24s looted from Gaddafi’s stockpiles could be vehicle-fired, but not shoulder-fired. This makes them less of a terrorist threat.

That said, the proliferation of these missiles on the black market is still a large concern, especially in other parts of the world where gripstocks might be available that would allow the weapons to be used as Man Portable Air Defense (MANPAD) missiles. Even in Libya, sources tell PM, there is evidence of shoulder-firing capability for the less-sophisticated SA-7s.

More from RealClear

We interrupt our global affairs blogging for a bit of home news. There are a few new members in the RealClear family as of this week: RealClearTechnology, RealClearBooks and RealClearHistory.

Please give them a look!

Should the U.S. Dump Turkey Over Israel?

Bloomberg argues that the U.S. should reassess its alliance with Turkey. Here's the logic:

For Turkey the impact of a rupture with Israel may be less direct. Both the Obama and Bush administrations have made constructive relations with Turkey a priority. The U.S. strongly supported Turkey’s accession to the European Union and lobbied EU members on its behalf. Turkey’s positive image in the U.S., including in Congress, is largely based on its reputation as a democratic, tolerant nation that is a force for moderation in the Middle East. This image has shielded Turkey from criticism for its 37-year occupation of northern Cyprus and its denial of the Armenian genocide. But Turkey’s diplomatic flap with Israel could lead Americans and others to take a second look at where Erdogan is headed. Such a policy review is overdue.

I can understand why Israel would want to take a hard look at relations with Turkey - after all, the diplomatic flap involves them, not the United States. But the question is - how much should Turkey's behavior toward Israel count in the U.S.-Turkey relationship?

Putting Terrorism in Its Place

Good column from Steve Chapman today asking why there wasn't a deluge of terrorism in the U.S. after 9/11:

It would have been a simple task for a handful of minimally trained volunteers to keep us in a constant state of fear.

But the volunteers, with rare exceptions, didn't come forward. Charles Kurzman, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, writes in Foreign Policy magazine that "approximately a dozen people in the country were convicted in the five years after 9/11 for having links with al-Qaida" and "fewer than 40 Muslim Americans planned or carried out acts of domestic terrorism."

That may sound like a lot, until you remember that there are 15,000 murders a year in this country. A report from the Rand Corp., a national security think tank, noted that of 83 terrorist attacks that took place between 9/11 and the end of 2009, only three "were clearly connected with the jihadist cause." Three!

We hear a lot of allegations of radical American imams preaching jihad. If so, they are not getting through. The simple fact is that most American Muslims don't sympathize with religious extremism and almost none are willing to practice it.

None of this argues for complacency - free societies are inherently vulnerable to terrorism - but it is time to put terrorism, and America's obsession with the Greater Middle East, in its proper perspective.

September 7, 2011

Learning from the Netanyahu Dust-Up


Reading Jeffrey Goldberg's piece on the Obama administration's frustrations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I'm reminded of the opening of Leslie Gelb's book Power Rules. Gelb starts the book by detailing how, even at the height of its Cold War power and influence, the U.S. couldn't push around tiny Cuba.

And I think that's the lesson to take from this. It's not that the Netanyahu government is particularly intransigent but that there is a limit to U.S. power. As Drezner observes, the U.S. carries a lot of water for Israel and yet can't get its cooperation. Conversely, the U.S. sanctions and seeks to isolate Iran, and still can't get its cooperation. The U.S. often has a very hard time getting anyone to toe the line.

(AP Photo)

Huntsman's Foreign Policy: Asia-Centric


Jon Huntsman is a long-shot for the GOP presidential nomination, but according to this piece by RCP's Scott Conroy, that's definitely going to leave a void in the adult discussion of U.S. foreign policy:

“We have a generational opportunity to clean up the map, and that’s going to require us to take a look at where we are, where we’ve deployed, and to make sure what we’re doing is consistent with American foreign policy interests and that it’s serving the taxpayers of this country,” Huntsman told reporters after his brief remarks to the few dozen Republicans on hand. “We’ve fought the good fight in Afghanistan for 10 years, and we don’t need 100,000 troops there, and we don’t need to be nation-building, and we shouldn’t. We have 50,000 troops in Germany, and I’m here to tell you: The Russians aren’t coming anymore.”...

“I think we’re going to be looking more at a Pacific-centric strategy in the 21st century,” he said. “That’s where the rising militaries are, that’s where the trade routes are going to be most prominent, so I’m by no means an isolationist; all I’m saying is, let’s deploy our interests based on a realistic look at the globe and a realistic look at our national security needs.”

When you compare that to what, say, a Rick Perry has said - in prepared remarks no less - the contrast is striking. That said, the usual caveat about what candidates say during a campaign applies.

(AP Photo)

September 6, 2011

9/11's Impact on Pakistan

As the U.S. takes stock of the decade since the 9/11 attacks, it's worth considering the impact elsewhere. First up, Pakistan:

Before 9/11, Pakistan had suffered just one suicide bombing — a 1995 attack on the Egyptian Embassy in the capital, Islamabad, that killed 15 people. In the last decade, suicide bombers have struck Pakistani targets more than 290 times, killing at least 4,600 people and injuring 10,000.

The country averaged nearly six terrorist attacks of various kinds each day in 2010, according to a report by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies....

For Pakistanis, said Cyril Almeida, a leading Pakistani columnist, "it was easy to connect the dots. 9/11 happened, America invaded Afghanistan, and Pakistan went to hell. That's the most common narrative that's offered."

Pakistan's leaders maintain that the alliance with the U.S. against Islamic militants has destroyed the country's investment climate, caused widespread unemployment and ravaged productivity. The government estimates the alliance has cost it $67 billion over the last 10 years.

But it's not as simple as that. Since 2001, the U.S. has sent Pakistan more than $20 billion in direct aid and military reimbursements. And from 2003 to 2007 under Musharraf, the economy grew at a robust rate of 6% a year.

The World's Conflicts Through History

Via Jared Keller, here's a cool new site that uses Google Maps and Wikipedia to map and explain some of the world's major wars throughout history. Enjoy (if that's the right word).

The Race for the Arctic: Airship Edition


It's well known in security circles that the melting of Arctic ice is creating a series of new challenges and opportunities for many of the world's Arctic powers - from newly accessible hydrocarbon resources to shorter shipping lanes through the Northwest Passage. But sea travel is not the only route through the Arctic's treacherous terrain. The photo above depicts an "airship" developed by the British firm Hybrid Air Vehicles and ordered by Canada's Discovery Air Innovations to service Canadian mines in the far north of the country.

According to Keith Barry, the ship is capable of lifting 50 tons and can deliver its freight to frigid and inaccessible climes at a quarter of the cost of the alternatives. And if you're worried about a Hindenburg redux, don't. "New ships have rigid envelopes that eliminate the need for a frame, and they are filled with nonflammable helium. Hybrid aircraft can even be heavier than air, taking off like a conventional airplane and landing softly like a hovercraft," Barry writes.

(Image: Discovery Air Innovations)

Here's the Obama Doctrine

Obama's Libya policy may not amount to a doctrine, but it did establish two principles. Last March, Obama explained that we must intervene when there's a risk of massacres or genocide, but we can never do so alone unless Americans are directly at risk.

At face value, I find this borderline repugnant. America shouldn't be the world's policeman, but neither should we make it a matter of principle to say we won't stop genocide when and where we can simply because no one will join our posse. - Jonah Goldberg

I doubt that the Libyan war established the principles that Goldberg claims here. But I do think the war established a principle, and a very important one at that: the U.S. will no longer be an occupying power.

The Libyan war, combined with the Obama administration's lethal expansion of special forces and drone attacks in Somalia and Yemen, drive this point home. The U.S. will continue to wage what can only be called a "war" on terror, but one that is far more asymmetrical and under the radar. This is almost certainly for the good. While drone campaigns will undoubtedly radicalize some (especially if they're used hyper-aggressively), they're far less radicalizing than a large scale troop presence in a foreign country.

September 2, 2011

U.S. Fears of Terror Attack Fall

According to Gallup, Americans are less concerned about a potential terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

Your Summer Vacation Was Boring

Compared to his:

Chris Jeon, a 21-year-old university student from Los Angeles, California,shrugging cooly, declared: “It is the end of my summer vacation, so I thought it would be cool to join the rebels. This is one of the only real revolutions” in the world.

In a daring, one might even say foolhardy, decision two weeks ago, Mr Jeon flew on a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Cairo. He then travelled by train to Alexandria and by a series of buses to the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. From there, he hitched a ride with rebels heading west towards the Libyan capital of Tripoli. After a 400km (248-mile) trek across the desolate North African landscape, he was now in the town of An Nawfaliyah, the toast of his comrades and a newly anointed road warrior.

September 1, 2011

Don't Bother Listening to Presidential Candidates

So why is Perry warning against military adventurism? Like Bush, Perry is seeking the presidential nomination of a Republican Party divided on foreign policy. President Barack Obama’s military interventions, like Clinton’s before him, have newly hatched Republican doves in Congress.

Bush had to contend with Pat Buchanan, a conservative candidate who opposed a large military role overseas, first in the Republican primaries and later as a third-party candidate. Bush wanted to appeal to Buchanan’s supporters. This time around, Perry is running against fellow Texan Ron Paul, an even more outspoken foe of foreign wars.

Under this scenario, the easiest thing to do is stress areas of agreement among Republicans: No U.S. troops serving under foreign command. Foreign policy based on vital national interests. Secure the nation and act according to our strategic interests.

Other than the veiled implication that the current Democratic administration isn’t doing those things, such statements leave a lot of room for interpretation. As a result, Perry’s foreign policy speeches are no more useful in predicting what he would do as president than Bush’s were. - W. James Antle III

I think it's fair to say this about almost any candidate capable of winning a general election, including President Obama. It's better to look at the consensus that informs elite members of Washington's foreign policy class for cues as to how a potential candidate would govern. There are, to be sure, some divergences between the two political camps at this rarefied level, but they're a lot narrower than political rhetoric would suggest.

A New Approach to Counter-Terrorism

According to the Obama administration's top terrorism official, al-Qaeda is on the ropes:

White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said al-Qaida is “on a steady slide” after the death of al-Qaida’s latest second-in-command in Pakistan.

Brennan told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it’s a “huge blow” in the first official White House comment since Atiyah Abd al-Rahman’s reported killing by CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas last week....

He described the counterterror relationship with Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq as models of how the U.S. will fight al-Qaida in the future — where the lion’s share of the hunting and fighting is done by the host nation. He said the U.S. was looking ahead to crafting a similar model in Afghanistan as U.S. troops draw down there, where as in Iraq and Yemen, small numbers of U.S. intelligence and special operations forces will work with their counterparts, providing training, equipment and sharing intelligence to track terror targets, and keep them under pressure.

This is certainly preferable to armed state building on the scale conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cash Rules Everything Around Them

The Saudi royal family that is:

The foreign assets of Saudi Arabia’s central bank have crossed $500bn for the first time.

Measured on a per capita basis or as a percentage of gross domestic product the kingdom’s foreign asset holdings are substantially higher than China’s, according to research from HSBC in Dubai.

Of that vast wealth around $360bn are holdings in foreign securities, the majority of which, analysts say, are US treasury bills. The central bank doesn’t give a full break down of its holdings and doesn’t say whether its data is mark-to-market.

Apology Tour

I wonder if Mitt Romney would apologize for this:

The United States government has made the shocking admission that its 1940s-era scientists deliberately infected Guatemalans with sexually transmitted diseases - and even gave a dying woman syphilis.

The horrifying revelation was made this week by a panel commissioned by President Obama to investigate the dark chapter in American medical history.

More than 1,300 Guatemalans were given various STDs between 1946 and 1948 to see if the diseases could be treated with penicillin, and at least 83 people died during the trials, the panel discovered.

The findings, some of which were revealed to the White House last year, prompted Obama to call his Guatemalan counterpart to apologize.

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