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June 29, 2012

War Gamers: Window for Iran Strike Open in 2013

David Fulghum took the pulse of several defense professionals about the possibility of a U.S. strike on Iran:

Evidence is mounting that the U.S. defense community and the Obama administration view 2013 as the likely window for a bombing attack on Iran's nuclear and missile facilities.

It could be earlier, timed to use the chaos of the Syrian government's fall to disguise such an attack, or later, if international negotiations with Iran stretch out without failing completely. But there is evidence that Iran's intransigence over shutting down its uranium-enrichment program will not buy it much more time.

Because of these shifting factors, military planners and White House advisers are still debating the advisability of a kinetic attack on Iran even though they say that option is ready.

Elsewhere, Fulghum quotes a former military planner making a very curious remark:

“We would employ a totally stealthy force of F-22s, B-2s and Jassms [joint air-to-surface standoff missiles] that are launched from F-15Es and [Block 40] F-16s,” says the third planning veteran. “We should give Iran advanced warning that we will damage and likely destroy its nuclear facilities. It is not an act of war against Iran, the Iranian people or Islam. It is a pre-emptive attack solely against their nuclear facilities and the military targets protecting them. We will take extraordinary measures to protect against collateral damage.” [Emphasis mine]
Since when is bombing a country's infrastructure not an act of war?

June 28, 2012

Kissinger's Revisionism

Via the AP:

"Who do I call if I want to call Europe?"

Variations of that question have been attributed for decades to Henry Kissinger, but the former U.S. secretary of state says he doesn't think it originated with him.

The 89-year-old, who served as America's top diplomat under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the 1970s, said Wednesday that he thinks an Irish foreign minister first used the expression in describing a meeting between the two.

"I am not sure I actually said it," Kissinger told an audience that included diplomats and academics. He then drew laughs when he added, "But it's a good statement so why not take credit for it?"


June 27, 2012

Should the U.S. and Israel Disagree in Public?

Jonathan Tobin says I've got it all wrong when I argued that President Obama shouldn't be chided for disagreeing with Israel in public:

But Scoblete finds Romney’s promise not to conduct disagreements with Israel in public even more absurd. To his way of thinking, Romney’s pledge to do the opposite of Obama in that respect is not so much silly campaign rhetoric but represents a view of the American people as children. He believes disputes between the two allies should be carried on in the open much the same way the president’s argument with Canada about the Keystone pipeline has been handled. But in making this point, it is Scoblete who is making a mistake, not Romney. The pivotal audience for the administration’s spats with Israel is not the American people, though many if not most of them are distressed by the president’s propensity for demonstrating his animus toward Jerusalem. It is the Palestinians who have drawn the wrong conclusions from Obama’s determination, as was often expressed at the beginning of his administration, to change everything George W. Bush did, especially his closeness with Israel. And it is the Arabs’ misinterpretation of the perception of a shift in U.S. policy that has effectively killed the peace process on Obama’s watch.
To reitirate what I said in the original post, I don't think this is a principle reserved for disagreements with Israel alone, but any U.S. ally. And I've said before that I think the administration has made a hash of the peace process, but I would disagree with Tobin's assertion that the pivotal audience here is the Palestinians. It's actually the American people. The idea that the American people should be kept in the dark about disagreements, particularly serious ones, on foreign policy matters with allies absent the most stringent of national emergencies strikes me as wrong-headed. The Palestinians are free to draw their own conclusions, but ultimately the American people need to make informed decisions about public policy. They can't do so without information.

Did President Obama mishandle the peace process negotiations? Yes. Does that mean the administration was wrong to let differences of opinion surface publicly? I don't believe so. In fact, it's very difficult to see how those differences would not ultimately come to light. Both Israel and the U.S. are democracies with a free media. Any deep difference of opinion between the two governments on critical issues such as settlements was bound to leak out to the press. This is a good thing.

Think of it this way: Tobin has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration's approach to Israel. How did he arrive at this judgement? The ether? Inference? Obviously not: he read about it in the media. If Obama had adhered to the "Romney Doctrine" and managed to button up any and all disagreements with Israel, how would Tobin know Obama's policies were so misguided? Obama would have stealthily harbored his "animus" toward Israel and none of the country's defenders would have been the wiser. But thanks to these public spats, he's been exposed.

In fact, what Tobin (and Romney) is really suggesting is not that the U.S. and Israel can't disagree - it's that they can't have any significant disagreement. Because in practice, only the most inconsequential disagreements between two democratic allies can be kept under wraps for very long. Serious disputes, such as the one that erupted over the settlement freeze, are bound to filter into the public's view. I would argue that we are better off knowing that such disputes exist so we can judge the positions accordingly.

I brought up the Keystone XL pipeline as an area where two allies can disagree in public but there's a better analogy I neglected. During World War II the U.S. and Britain fought bitterly - in public and private - over India's colonial status (and colonialism in general). The U.S. was opposed to British imperialism and pressed the UK to grant India its freedom, something the UK had been loathe to do. This dispute enraged Winston Churchill and caused tension between the two allies, but ultimately didn't irreparably damage the war effort, the long term relationship between the UK and U.S., or their respective publics.

Again, this isn't a perfectly analogous situation, but it demonstrates that even during the most existential of conflicts, close allies can deeply, publicly, disagree.

June 26, 2012

Pillars Built on Sand

For more than 60 years the Persian Gulf has been an American lake, and protecting its vast energy resources has been a cornerstone of U.S. strategy, through the Cold War, two wars in Iraq, and another in Afghanistan. If the Iranians are now fearless in dealing with the Obama administration, it’s because they have recognized that Obama is shockingly unconcerned with maintaining America’s longstanding commitments in the Gulf.

Let’s look at Obama’s Middle East policy the way Tehran must. Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq and has scheduled a similar exit from Afghanistan, exposing the region to Iranian influence that the United States will have little ability to check. Instead the administration has left U.S. interests in the hands of largely incapable allies. The Obama administration did sell $30 billion worth of F-15s to Saudi Arabia—as if hoping that with enough hardware Riyadh would be capable of defending itself. - Lee Smith

These "allies" are incapable of defending themselves precisely because the U.S. taxpayer has assumed responsibility for their security for so long. And in any event, the kind of security challenges posed to friendly Gulf states by Iran has very little to do with conventional power, but subversion or guerrilla-style groups that act as Iranian proxies. The U.S. can protect a regime if Iran decided, ala Iraq in 1991, to invade a country - but the U.S. has far fewer tools to combat other levers of Iranian "influence" in the Gulf.

Smith's analysis is also tellingly incomplete. The Obama administration is not pulling U.S. forces and bases from Kuwait or Bahrain - i.e. they are not stepping back from a general U.S. commitment to the Gulf, they are unwinding the presence in Iraq. The view from Tehran, then, is more complicated. They see the U.S. liquidating (fragile) footholds in Iraq and Afghanistan but also a U.S. administration committed to attacking it via sabotage, sanctions, international isolation, arms sales to neighboring states and the continued presence of U.S. military forces in the region.

Smith continues:

The Gulf’s enormous reserves of oil make it one of the world’s great prizes​—​as has been recognized by those most hostile to the United States, from the Nazis and the Soviets, to Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. What has compounded the danger for Washington is that the political order of the Gulf is inherently unstable, as has been abundantly clear ever since the collapse of the shah’s regime, which had once been an American security pillar in the Gulf, in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Gulf's political order has been unstable since World War I, when the shattered Ottoman Empire was carved up by France and Britain. The subsequent "Pax Americana" has tried, with mixed results, to hold this order together, but it is fraying rapidly now. Smith would have the U.S. redouble its efforts to ensure that the Persian Gulf remains "an American lake" but how tenable is such a posture as the Arab Spring roils the region?

June 25, 2012

The Sources of China's Strategic Behavior


In part two of my very infrequent series of posts on Aaron Friedburg's A Contest for Supremacy, Friedburg makes the following assertion regarding the sources of China's quest for regional hegemony:

To sum up: China’s current rulers do not seek preponderance solely because they are the leaders of a rising great power or simply because they are Chinese. Their desire for dominance and control is in large measure a by-product of the type of political system over which they preside. A liberal democratic China would certainly seek a leading role in its region, and perhaps an effective veto over developments that it saw as inimical to its interests. But it would also be less fearful of internal instability, less threatened by the presence of strong democratic neighbors, and less prone to seek validation at home through the domination and subordination of others.
While I think it's true that a democratic China would be less concerned about the presence of democracies on its borders, the other two factors don't ring true. It's not clear why a democratic China would suddenly become less fearful of internal instability. Don't all countries fear internal instability? A democratic China may provide more productive avenues for domestic grievances to be aired, but it's not as if the end of single party rule would make subsequent regimes comfortable with massive internal instability (see: India). Second, the idea that a liberal democratic China would be "less prone to seek validation at home through the domination and subordination of others" is belied by, among other thing, America's post Cold War foreign policy record.

The real question Friedburg is dancing around (and may address later in the book) is whether a democratic China would be a more pliant one with respect to U.S. hegemony in Asia. There is every reason to believe this will not be the case. The demands of national pride and strategic common sense would seem to dictate that a more powerful China will take a more forward-leaning role in policing the sea lanes it depends on for trade and natural resources.

Update: Larison adds another comparison:

The record of late 19th-century Britain or Meiji-era Japan ought to disabuse everyone of the notion that having a liberalizing and democratizing political system precludes the pursuit of an aggressive foreign policy. Rather than looking at America’s post-Cold War policies around the world, a more useful comparison might be with America’s early republican history as an expansionist power in North America. Early republican America was the most liberal and democratic country in the world by the start of the nineteenth century, but that hardly prevented it from using force or dominating other peoples. Increasingly democratic politics included expansionist goals that shaped U.S. relations with the rest of the continent. A democratizing China might or might not become more aggressive toward its neighbors than the current regime, but the assumption that a democratic China would be less aggressive in its dealings with other states in the region is a shaky one.

Just so. The makeup of China's government is not immaterial to these questions, but we shouldn't simply assume that a democratic China is going to relinquish longstanding territorial claims or strategic interests because it's a democracy.
(AP Photo)

June 22, 2012

Germany Ejects Greece from the Euro...


Soccer tournament, that is. Germany wins, 4-2.

To carry the great Eurozone-football metaphor even further, Greece's two goals are like financial bailouts: Just enough to give the Greeks hope, but ultimately, not enough to save them.

Germany advances to play the winner of England vs. Italy.

(AP Photo)

June 21, 2012

Romney's Views on Israel

Via Andrew Sullivan, Adam Chandler catches Governor Romney making a very odd claim about Israel:

During a speech this weekend to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney drew applause and laughter from the group when he answered a question about what he would do to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the United States and how he would handle Iran. He said:

“I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite.”

Chandler then usefully produces a list of things Romney had just pledged to do differently. Among them:

*Take the military option against Iran off the table.

* Proclaim boldly and often that an Iranian nuclear weapon is acceptable and sponsor a policy of containment.

* Unravel the labyrinthine, biting international sanctions against Iran.

* Suspend or condemn attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

The list is much longer. Still, I think this says less about Governor Romney's propensity for campaign-trail hyperbole and more about his audience's grasp of the relevant facts. Instead of laughter and applause, anyone with a minimal awareness of Obama's policies on Israel should have had a puzzled look on their face, even if they thought Obama has made a hash of the relationship. Instead, they lapped it up.

Romney made another recommendation in the speech that suggested he had a dim view of Americans' ability to handle complicated facts:

"But perhaps overarching is this: I would not want to show a dime's worth of distance between ourselves and our allies like Israel. If we have disagreements, you know, we can talk about them behind closed doors. But to the world, you show that we're locked arm in arm," he said.

Outside of a World War III scenario, it's difficult to imagine why anyone thinks this is a healthy or reasonable pose for the U.S. to adopt with any of its allies. To the extent that allies have a serious disagreement, it's useful for those to be aired publicly so that the respective publics can understand and pass judgments on the nature of those disagreements and the policies of each government.

Take Canada - arguably America's most important ally. The U.S. and Canada currently disagree rather strongly about an oil pipeline. Would Romney prefer we not know that this disagreement exists?

Alliances of the sort Romney is referring to aren't marriages whose appearances need to be kept up for the sake of the children.

June 20, 2012

Catching Up on Libya

Things seem to be going well:

A breakdown of security in Libya has allowed a significant flow of militants and weapons into other troubled areas in North Africa, according to the top Pentagon official on Africa policy.

The outflow of Libyan weapons and militants has “created opportunities for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to exploit instability and establish new and expanded safe havens,” said Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Amanda J. Dory.

Germany vs. Greece: The Ultimate Metaphor


The Universe enjoys nothing more than a great metaphor and delicious irony. Amazingly, the Euro 2012 soccer (ahem, football) tournament has delivered us a dose of both. On Friday, Germany will face off against Greece in a match that will be played in Gdansk, Poland.

For the past several months, the Eurozone crisis has pitted the fiscally responsible (and perhaps, harsh) German Chancellor Angela Merkel against the profligate (and perhaps, lazy) nation of Greece. Tensions are high. Germans think that Greece has a "lying, cheating government that routinely breaks its promises and expects others to pick up the pieces." Greeks think the Germans are acting like a bunch of Nazis. Their mutual frustrations will be made manifest in a football match that has become the global economy's greatest metaphor.

And the irony? The match will be played in Poland, a country that does not use the euro and whose economy never went into recession during the crisis. While the Germans and Greeks duke it out on the pitch, the Poles will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Thank you, Universe. We'll be watching on Friday.

(AP Photo)

June 19, 2012

The U.S. Isn't Handing Off the Mideast to China

Niall Ferguson, long a proponent of an imperial role for the U.S., makes this rather shocking (for him) suggestion:

In terms of geopolitics, China today is the world’s supreme free rider. China’s oil consumption has doubled in the past 10 years, while America’s has actually declined. As economist Zhang Jian pointed out in a paper for the Brookings Institution last year, China relies on foreign imports for more than 50 percent of the oil it consumes, and half of this imported oil is from the Middle East. (China’s own reserves account for just 1.2 percent of the global total.)

Moreover, China’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil is set to increase. The International Energy Authority estimates that by 2015 foreign imports will account for between 60 and 70 percent of its total consumption. Most of that imported energy comes through a handful of vital marine bottlenecks: principally, the straits of Hormuz and Malacca and the Suez Canal.

Yet China contributes almost nothing to stability in the oil-producing heartland of the Arabian deserts and barely anything to the free movement of goods through the world’s strategic sea lanes.

Imagine, for a moment, if the Chinese said they would be building naval bases in the Persian Gulf to help stabilize the region and protect their vital sea lanes. Would the U.S. reaction be to celebrate the burden-sharing and use the move as an opportunity to downsize its own commitments? Or would Washington have a collective freak-out about Chinese "assertiveness" and the dangers of being locked out of the Middle East forever?

I'm going with the second option.

Indeed, the reason the U.S. is "pivoting" to Asia is partly because China is beginning to shore up its own sea lane defenses in its immediate neighborhood. The U.S. response hasn't been to celebrate China's assumption of greater responsibility but to complain that China is "destabilizing" the region with its arms buildup and "assertive" foreign policy. If China can't take steps to protect what it views as vital interests in its own neighborhood without provoking howls of protest from the U.S., why do we think they'd be welcome in the Middle East?

If anything, the arguments for a redoubled U.S. commitment to the Middle East are going to grow in direct proportion to China's strategic rise. If China is dependent on Mideast oil and the U.S. is holding the most leverage in the Middle East, we are de-facto arbiters of China's energy security. That's not a position the U.S. is likely to relinquish if a Cold War-style standoff with China starts to take shape.

The flip side to this, and the argument I'm more sympathetic too, is that fobbing off the troublesome region on China (or anyone) would be a very good idea. It's just interesting that Ferguson, of all people, would be advancing it.

Are Israel's Nukes Destabilizing?

Kenneth Waltz makes the case that an Iranian nuclear weapon would actually be a good thing in the Middle East. While I'd agree with some of Waltz's arguments, this struck me as wrong-headed:

Israel's regional nuclear monopoly, which has proved remarkably durable for more than four decades, has long fueled instability in the Middle East. In no other region of the world does a lone, unchecked nuclear state exist. It is Israel's nuclear arsenal, not Iran's desire for one, that has contributed most to the crisis. Power, after all, begs to be balanced.

First, this isn't true. The Western hemisphere has only one nuclear power. Second, it's not clear to me that Israel's nuclear arsenal has contributed to any crisis in the Middle East and certainly not the present one with Iran. If anything, Waltz would have a much better argument by pointing out that the Middle East has lived with a nuclear state for four decades without a rash of proliferation. If states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia didn't go nuclear after Israel, why would they do so after Iran?

June 18, 2012

A Third Way in Egypt


In a recent editorial, the Washington Post urged the Obama administration to involve itself in the formation of a new government in Egypt:

The best way out of this predicament is a resumption of the democratic process. That means a free and fair presidential election on Sunday, and the military’s acceptance of a victory by Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi if that is the result. Any attempt by the regime to manipulate the vote or the counting is likely to be detected — and must be quickly and resolutely opposed by the United States and other Western governments.

The Supreme Military Council, which has ruled the country since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, must then be pressed to fulfill its promise to hand over power to a civilian government by June 30.

Barry Rubin makes a similar case, albeit with a different outcome in mind:

So does it make sense for a U.S. government to take up the doctrine of “neo-conservative” naivete and demand a Brotherhood victory over the army in Egypt? A proper U.S. government would — and I apologize for the “amoral” requirements of realpolitik — secretly be backing the military to keep the Brotherhood out of power. We now know that President Harry Truman’s administration did certain things to ensure Communist parties didn’t win power in France and Italy which would not meet contemporary “ethical” standards of electoral results over American national security interests. Thank goodness for that!

In the spirit of bi-partisan bridge-building, let me suggest a third way: the U.S. should do nothing in Egypt. It's shocking, I know, to imagine an option whereby the United States forswears the prerogative to micromanage how another country manages its internal affairs, but it seems like the least-worst option when it comes to Egypt.

Rubin's use of a Cold War analogy is illustrative of just how low the contemporary stakes are in Egypt. Outside of passage through the Suez, are any U.S. national security interests endangered by Egypt? If anything, Washington runs the risk of creating new threats by taking a heavy hand in Egypt's internal politics. As the Post editorial notes, the U.S. is currently a de-facto ally of Egypt's military and is thus complicit, however tangentially, in its repression. That should end, but not because the U.S. has an abundance of faith in the Muslim Brotherhood's democratic credentials (that would indeed be naive) but because it's not at all clear that one particular "side" could win with U.S. help anyway.

(AP Photo)

June 14, 2012

The Euro Breakup Is Upon Us

Reporting from Greece, Joe Weisenthal says that Greeks are more apt to blame themselves for the ongoing crisis:

Whereas the international finance/chattering community talks a lot about the Germans and the flawed Eurozone structure (the inability of the Greeks to print their own money, and so forth), the Greeks seem furious with their own leaders, and think the debt is just a byproduct of a corrupt social system. It's for this reason that there's skepticism that leaving the Eurozone and letting the country print its own money would solve anything. If you think corruption is the big issue, changing currencies does nothing.

As a corollary to this, outside of Greek radicals (like the Golden Dawn supporter I talked to yesterday) there isn't much Merkel hate I've encountered. People seem to think she's doing her job and what's best for the Germans.

Meanwhile, Gideon Rachman reads Merkel's mood in Germany:

My guess is that the Chancellor and her advisers have taken a look at the legal and political situation in Germany and, as the Americans like to say, “done the math” on the potential liabilities Germany is being asked to take on – and have concluded that there are some steps they cannot take.

The Germans know – for example – that there are over €2 trillion worth of bank deposits in Italy, Spain and Greece. Do they really want to stand behind all of that? Some will tell them that that is the only way to stop a catastrophic bank-run. But what if banks start to collapse anyway, and German guarantees start to be called in.

They could print money. Not an ideal solution, of course, and certainly a bitter pill to swallow given that German taxpayers didn't precipitate this crisis. But would it be worse than having the Eurozone (and possibly the world) fall into a depression that's potentially deeper and more painful than the one the U.S. just emerged from? I have no idea, but if the Germans have indeed 'done the math' and don't like what they see, then it seems that a partial breakup of the Eurozone is now inevitable.

June 13, 2012

Saudi Arabia Arming Syrian Rebels


Jonathan Schanzer laments the fact that the Saudis are arming the Syrian opposition:

The last time the Saudis decided they had a moral obligation to scuttle Russian policies, they gave birth to a generation of jihadi fighters in Afghanistan who are still wreaking havoc three decades later...

Of course, a Saudi-led insurgency would not be in the cards if the Obama administration were not so opposed to empowering the opposition. But the longer Obama waits and the deeper the humanitarian crisis worsens, the more likely it becomes that other actors will tip the balance in Syria. Using history as a guide, none would be more dangerous than Saudi Arabia.

The Iranians and Russians may yet pay a price for propping up Assad in Syria. But if the Saudis have their way, the world may pay a price too.

Certainly the precedent here is pretty worrisome, but this reasoning doesn't sound right to me. First, weapons are fungible. A U.S. decision to send weapons into Syria isn't suddenly going to deprive potential jihadists and radicals of arms - it's going to make weapons easier to procure. Second, is there really such a neat distinction in the opposition between radical forces of the kind the Saudis would promote and the opposition groups the U.S. wants to see empowered? It seems that, at a minimum, there is going to be some overlap between the two. Nor is it clear that the U.S. is going to be in a position to distinguish who gets weapons and who doesn't once the supply chain starts rolling (see point one).

Schanzer makes an even more debatable point here:

The Saudis know how to procure and move weapons, and they have no shortage of cash. If Riyadh wants to arm the opposition, armed it shall be. And those who receive the weapons will likely be at least amenable to the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam that has spawned dangerous Islamist movements worldwide.

So those who receive U.S. weapons would be amenable to Jeffersonian democracy? Really? To borrow a phrase, guns don't make jihadists. If someone is predisposed to radicalism, does it really matter where they're getting their weapons from?

(AP Photo)

June 11, 2012

Kissinger vs. Slaughter on Syria

Henry Kissinger's op-ed advising restraint in Syria has generated a fair amount of push-back. Anne Marie Slaughter took to the Washington Post to lambaste Kissinger's piece:

[Kissinger's] analysis was based on a straw man, one put forward by the Russian and Chinese governments, that outside intervention would seek to “bring about regime change.”

The point of an intervention in Syria would be to stop the killing — to force Bashar al-Assad and his government to meet the demands of the Syrian people with reforms rather than guns. If the killing stopped, it is not clear what shape the political process would adopt, how many millions would take to the streets or whom different factions would support.

No - the point of an intervention in Syria would be to facilitate the killing of Assad's forces in greater number to change the regime. How else would the killing be stopped but by applying lethal force against Assad's forces? And the goal of any U.S. intervention is abundantly clear. As Secretary Clinton said last week: "Assad has doubled down on his brutality and duplicity, and Syria will not, cannot be peaceful, stable, or certainly democratic until Assad goes."

Moreover, whatever the "point" of an intervention would be, the U.S. would be able to exercise very little control over how it actually plays out on the ground, particularly because Slaughter rules out the use of ground forces in any intervention. The U.S. utterly lost control of Iraq and it was an occupying power. Funneling guns and intel to shadowy insurgent forces inside Syria doesn't strike me as a recipe for post-war stability and the consolidation of a more benign regime.

Point: Kissinger.

Slaughter then goes onto to make a very curious argument:

Kissinger is right that in the end NATO’s operations in Libya looked like an effort to remove Moammar Gaddafi from office, not because NATO planes took out command-and-control facilities in Tripoli from which Gaddafi and his generals were ordering civilian massacres but because NATO planes never sought to protect civilians supporting the regime against opposition troops. The response to this concern, however, is not to oppose intervention in Syria but to support a U.N. Security Council resolution with clear parameters about a limited use of force.

The U.S. and NATO never sought to "protect civilians" in Libya because they were gunning for Gaddafi from the get-go and ignored UN language that limited the use of force to simply protecting civilians. The war in Libya "looked like an effort to remove Moammar Gaddafi" because it was an effort to remove Moammar Gaddafi (walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc.). Are we supposed to be believe that "clear parameters" from the UN on Syria won't be similarly ignored when the consensus among the intervening powers is that the goal is toppling Assad? Of course not. You'd have to be incredibly naive to believe that, especially because the same organizations and states that ignored the UN mandate and pressed for regime change in Libya would be the very same ones orchestrating an intervention in Syria.

Point: Kissinger.

Then Slaughter finishes up with a plea for a new international order:

President Obama believes in sovereignty as responsibility. Standing up for that principle will result in a world that will be more stable, prosperous and consistent with universal values — the values Americans know as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It will be a far better world for the United States as well as for Syrians, Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans and billions of others. But bringing it into being requires demonstrating firmly and quickly that when governments cross the line of genocide, or engage in crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, or grave and systematic war crimes against their own people, the world will act — with force if necessary and with the approval only of a regional organization and a majority of the members of the U.N. Security Council. Only then will murderous dictators begin to think twice.

I actually agree that a U.S. intervention in Syria would demonstrate a U.S. commitment to "universal values" - just not the ones Slaughter thinks she's defending. An intervention would demonstrate once again that when regimes antagonistic to Washington engage in brutality, they can expect to be attacked or undermined. Other regimes, in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia for instance, are free to do whatever they want. There's certainly a very good case for directing U.S. efforts against regimes that are hostile and sparing those that are not, but it doesn't have much to do with "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It's more like: looking out for your own interest, a universal value if ever there was one.

June 8, 2012

Euro 2012 Soccer Tournament Kicks Off Today


One of the biggest soccer (ahem, football) tournaments in the world - the UEFA European Football Championship - kicks off today. The host countries are Poland and Ukraine.

Though we like to think that sports is one of the last refuges against the divisiveness of politics, we all know that isn't the case. Sport and politics do mix. As always, the football matches in Europe will be seething with political undertones.

The highest-profile political fight has revolved around former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is currently in jail. Many believe her imprisonment is politically motivated, and politicians from several European countries - including the UK, Germany and France - are boycotting the matches held in Ukraine.

Eastern European countries also have the reputation of being obnoxiously (and perhaps, dangerously) racist. The BBC recently ran a program exposing the racist aspects of the Polish and Ukrainian football cultures. As described in The Atlantic:

The program showed Polish and Ukrainian fans beating up Asian fans and slurring opposing teams as "Jews."

The full 30-minute report is full of shocking moments. In Ukraine, there's one scene showing fans making monkey sounds at black players. There's also one where a white supremacist group admits it embraces "some aspects" of Nazism, like getting rid of non-Ukrainians. The group also happens to train its members in knife fighting. Polish slogans include "Jews to the gas" or "death to hooknoses."

Polish hooligans are another area of concern. (See this European Journal video starting at 5:15.) Many of the hooligans aren't even football fans and simply enjoy beating up on people from other countries.

The current economic and political troubles facing Europe will serve to add more fuel to the fire. From a political standpoint, the most interesting matches will be:

Poland vs. Greece (June 8)
The tournament begins with one of Europe's strongest economies (Poland) facing off against a country who may be ejected from the euro in a matter of months.

Germany vs. Portugal (June 9)
Angela Merkel and the frugal Germans are not especially popular this year across Europe, particularly in countries facing serious economic trouble, such as Portugal.

France vs. England (June 11)
After all these centuries, they still dislike each other.

Poland vs. Russia (June 12)

The Poles absolutely detest the Russians, and the feeling is rather mutual. The match will be played in the Polish capital of Warsaw.

Depending on which teams advance past the group stage, even more political intrigue could await us. Let the games begin!

(AP Photo)

June 7, 2012

How Obama Undermines the Drone Program


The question of civilian casualties is one of the more important metrics in the use of terrorist-targeting drones. If U.S. targeting has a very high degree of accuracy with very few civilian deaths, the use of drones is more defensible. If drones are killing large groups of civilians or it's unclear who's dying and how important they are in the al-Qaeda hierarchy, then it's harder to justify - at least on a widespread basis.

The Obama administration has had a difficult time squaring up on this issue, so now they have a new, simplified formula. To wit: a combatant is anyone killed by a U.S. drone. Or as the New York Times writes:

Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

So not only do we not know who's getting killed by the drones, we now know that the administration is cooking the books in a way to deliberately confuse matters. Unfortunately, by doing so they're undermining the fundamental legitimacy of the drone program. It's not only that the public doesn't have enough information to judge the program's efficacy (that's unavoidable, given its nature) but it is now impossible to trust what information the government is providing. That's hardly the basis for a legitimate, sustainable policy.

This approach is also likely to impress upon any young man downwind of U.S. drones that America places a very low value on their life. For a country whose political class engages in endless self-congratulatory paeans to "American values," it sure is an odd message to send.

(AP Photo)

June 6, 2012

Going to War with Pakistan Won't Stabilize Afghanistan


Max Boot wants to send drones after the Taliban inside Pakistan:

There have been a few drone strikes on the Haqqani Network in and around Waziristan, Pakistan, but none, so far as I am aware, on the Taliban leadership headquartered in Quetta, Pakistan–nor on the operational Taliban hub at Chaman, Pakistan, just across the border from southern Afghanistan. These groups are actively killing Americans all the time–more than al-Qaeda Central can boast of these days. Yet we have not unleashed the CIA and Special Operations Forces to do to them what they have done to al-Qaeda. Why not? Largely because of the sensitivities of the Pakistani government which is an active sponsor of the Taliban and the Haqqanis.

But so what? The Pakistanis have declining leverage over us; they have kept their supply line to Afghanistan closed since last fall and it has not seriously disrupted NATO operations. The administration needs to figure out whether it’s serious about leaving a more stable Afghanistan behind when the bulk of U.S. troops are withdrawn. If it is, it will unleash the Reapers against the Taliban and Haqqanis–not just against al-Qaeda.

It's just as likely that U.S. efforts to expand the number of drone war targets would lead Pakistan to destabilize Afghanistan even more than it has already done. Drones can't defeat the Taliban insurgency. What they can do, at best, is pare back the leadership. But if that comes at the expense of enraging Pakistan, the gains would be quickly undermined. As Anatol Lieven has noted, Pakistan has indeed supported the Afghan Taliban but it has not equipped them with very powerful weaponry nor directed them to wage the kind of proxy war they could fight if the Pakistani military decided it wanted to (aka what happened to the Soviets during their Afghan occupation).

The end result of this strategy would be to turn Afghanistan into a proxy-war battlefield between the CIA and ISI at a time when the CIA should be focused on keeping whatever's left of al-Qaeda from rearing its head. Utopian schemes of an Afghanistan free of Taliban or Pakistani influence shouldn't get in the way (again) of a more limited and achievable goal.

A wider drone campaign against sensitive Pakistani targets also enhances the risks of destabilizing Pakistan, which would be an absolute disaster for U.S. interests for reasons that should be clear to everyone.

(AP Photo)

June 5, 2012

Israel Wouldn't Lose U.S. Support After an Iran Strike


The Obama administration and its allies have spent a fair amount of time attempting to persuade Israel not to attack Iran. Barbara Opall-Rome highlights one argument in particular:

Robert Blackwill, a former U.S. deputy national security adviser and coordinator for U.S. policy planning on Iran, also warned Israel of the consequences of a premature strike without support from Washington and key international allies. If, as a result of a precipitous Israeli attack, Iran retaliated with terror attacks on American citizens, Israel would be viewed as dragging the U.S. into a war with Iran.

“If there were attacks on the American homeland, how many Americans might think that Israel dragged us into a war and now shopping malls were being blown up?” Blackwill said in his May 30 INSS address.

I don't think Blackwill's analysis is all that persuasive here. Most Americans aren't paying attention to Iran's nuclear program or the possible consequences of an Israeli military attack. It's likely that in the wake of an Iranian retaliatory strike on U.S. soil, the first and most politically potent reaction would be to take the fight back to Iran - not unpack the events leading up to the attack in an effort to understand why it happened.

Americans have a dim view of Iran and a very high view of Israel. An Iranian attack against America - even if it could be tied directly to an act of war initiated by Israel over American objections - would probably reinforce these views, not change them. There would, of course, be elite frustration at Israel in some quarters, including among U.S. national security officials who had been urging restraint - but that wouldn't really have any material impact on Israel. Indeed, quite the opposite: U.S. aid and intelligence cooperation in the wake of any Israeli strike on Iran would probably be heightened so as to manage the fallout.

The only conceivable way an Iran strike would boomerang on Israel in the court of U.S. public opinion would be if the U.S. made some kind of very public ultimatum to Israel which the latter flagrantly ignored, followed by Iranian actions that broadly damaged American interests (terrorist attacks and/or spiking the price of oil). Again, it's hard to see that happening. All U.S. officials who speak publicly on the matter affirm Israel's inherent, sovereign right to act in their own interest. Israel may have other reasons to hold off on striking Iranian nuclear facilities, but concerns about the U.S. reaction probably isn't one of them.

(AP Photo)

June 4, 2012

Winning the Iraq War


Walter Russell Mead claims the Iraq war was a strategic success:

But granted all that and more, and not forgetting the terrible human toll among Americans, allies and above all of the Iraqis themselves, there is one more thing about the Iraq War that students of foreign policy need to get clear in their heads: the strategic aims of the war have been largely achieved. Nine years after the invasion, an independent Iraq has a military that is linked to the United States. The Arab world is moving against the autocracies and incompetent kleptocracies that at once blocked development and generated waves of hate against the US and the west. The dangerous minorities of the Shiite and Sunni communities who are radical terrorists and nutjobs are more focused on their hatred of each other than on their hatred of us. The Sunni Arab world has united with the US against Iran and its allies. Despite the alienation caused by the Iraq War and the execrable way it was launched, our closest European and Arab allies are working more effectively and in a more united way against Iran than ever before.

I hope Mead's students at least contemplate some additional facts and analysis. The over-riding 'strategic aim' of the war was to deprive al-Qaeda a source of weapons of mass destruction and to remove an anti-American dictator from the Middle East. The first aim not only was not accomplished - since it was based on erroneous information and dubious reasoning - but was set back by the creation of al-Qaeda in Iraq. That threat, though greatly diminished, remains alive both inside Iraq and, increasingly, beyond its borders.

The second aim of the war was indeed accomplished. Maliki may have many faults, but he is no Saddam Hussein. At least, not today. But let's be honest: when it comes to Middle Eastern rulers and their relations with Washington, "friend" and "enemy" are rather fluid classifications.

But the cause of Mead's celebration was the news that Iraqi oil is finally coming back on the market. That's indeed great news. So it's worth asking a question: if getting that oil back onto global markets is a strategic boon, as both Mead and I would agree it is, were there easier ways to accomplish that than spending over a trillion dollars and killing tens of thousands of people?

After all, Iraqi oil wasn't flowing to global markets because of artificial barriers - namely, sanctions. Would the cost of lifting those sanctions have been worse for the U.S. than the second Iraq war? You could argue that Saddam would have used the oil revenue to rebuild his war machine and go on another rampage that would have cost the U.S. even more than the occupation - although that's difficult to fathom, given how the U.S. was able to dispatch Iraq's army in the first Gulf War, losing far fewer soldiers and spending hundreds of billions less than the second time around.

Ideally, U.S. policy should seek benefits at the lowest cost possible. I don't believe for a second that Hussein would have taken his improved economic fortunes and spent it on schools and clinics. But would the consequences of relaxed sanctions have been worse for the U.S. than the path the Bush administration chose? I'm not sure. There are no cost-free alternatives with this question. But certainly students of U.S. foreign policy ought to at least consider the possibility before accepting Mead's assertions.

(AP Photo)

Global Gas Taxes

Oil prices have moderated a bit of late, but consumers still feel pain at the pump, often from very high taxes on gasoline/petrol. This infographic takes you on a tour of the world's gas taxes.

Debating Obama's Outstretched Hand to Iran


There's a certain mythology that's taken hold about President Obama's Iran diplomacy. Nile Gardiner summarizes it well:

As it has done with Russia, the Obama presidency has attempted to “reset” relations with Iran. But with both Moscow and Tehran, Washington has failed. Both hostile powers have grown emboldened and aggressive in the face of American weakness, and Iran’s brazen attempt to kill a foreign diplomat in the capital city of the United States showcases the folly of the White House’s softly-softly approach towards the ruling mullahs.

While Washington dithers, Iran is marching closer and closer to developing a nuclear weapon, which according to some estimates is just six months away.

We now know that President Obama wasn't 'dithering' or naively offering olive branches but instead escalating a covert campaign of cyber-sabotage from the very first days in office. If you think cyber attacks are small potatoes, consider how one unnamed U.S. military official framed the emerging U.S. cyber war doctrine: "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks."

This raises the question of just how sincere President Obama's efforts were to engage the regime in Tehran. The Leveretts, pointing to an argument they made in 2009, insist that those efforts were completely insincere and fatally undermined any chances for a negotiated settlement:

If anything, we may have underestimated the degree to which Obama was prepared to let half-baked schemes undermine any chance he might have had, at least in theory, to pursue serious diplomacy with Iran. Obama apologists... want us to believe that the President meant well on engaging Tehran, but that what they describe (with no evidence whatsoever) as the Islamic Republic’s “fraudulent” 2009 presidential election and the resulting “disarray” within the Iranian leadership stymied Obama’s benevolent efforts. This is utterly false.

I'm not sure about this. Negotiating with an adversary while simultaneously fighting them is not all that uncommon in international diplomacy. To take one contemporary example: the U.S. is negotiating with the Taliban while both sides trade blows. The U.S. was able to make strategic arms control deals with the Soviet Union while both sides engaged in a global standoff that involved plenty of dirty tricks.

Still, this does underscore the fact that there's really not much more Governor Romney could do to thwart or impede Iran's nuclear progress that President Obama hasn't already tried. There may be one or two arrows left in the quiver short of a military assault, but not many.

(AP Photo)

June 1, 2012

Awful in Borneo

There seems to be a rash of crazy stuff in the world of late - a man eating the face off another man, a Canadian porn star mailing limbs to Parliament - and now this from Borneo:

Pony is an orangutan from a prostitute village in Borneo. We found her chained to a wall, lying on a mattress. She had been shaved all over her body....

You could choose a human if you preferred, but it was a novelty for many of the men to have sex with an orangutan....

It took us over a year to rescue her, because every time we went in with forest police and local officers we would be overpowered by the villagers, who simply would not give her up. They would threaten us with guns and knives with poison on them. In the end it took 35 policemen armed with AK-47s and other weaponry going in there and demanding that they hand over Pony.

Some days it's very hard to have any faith in humanity. (H/t: Max Fisher)

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