Sunday, May 18, 2008

How John McCain is not George W. Bush

Matt Bai's lead essay on John McCain's foreign policy vision in the New York Times Magazine is worthwhile reading. In contrast to the Times story of a few weeks ago that inaccurately painted McCain as dealing with a tug-of-war between foreign policy advisors, Bai actually gets some face time with the senator.

The two passages I found revealing:

McCain has never been confused for an isolationist, but neither can he be confined to either of the other factions [realism and neoconservatism--DD]. One reason is temperamental; McCain just doesn’t like labels, and he isn’t very good at sticking to orthodoxies — a personality quirk he has tried hard to control during the campaign. “He’s not a guy who drinks Kool-Aid easily,” says Gary Hart, the former Democratic senator who was once close enough to McCain to have been a groomsman in his wedding. “He’s suspicious of any group who sees the world that simply.” Lorne Craner, a foreign-policy thinker who worked for McCain in the House and Senate in the 1980s, told me that McCain had a standing rule in his office then. All meetings were to be limited to half an hour, unless they were with either of two advisers: Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Reaganite idealist, or Brent Scowcroft, the former general who was a leader in the realist wing. McCain loved to hear from both of them at length.

It’s clear, though, that on the continuum that separates realists from idealists, McCain sits much closer to the idealist perspective. McCain has long been chairman of the International Republican Institute, run by Craner, which exists to promote democratic reforms in closed societies. He makes a point of meeting with dissidents when he visits countries like Georgia and Uzbekistan and has championed the cause of Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned leader of the Burmese resistance. Most important, as he made clear in his preamble to our interview, McCain considers national values, and not strategic interests, to be the guiding force in foreign policy. America exists, in McCain’s view, not simply to safeguard the prosperity and safety of those who live in it but also to spread democratic values and human rights to other parts of the planet.

McCain argues that his brand of idealism is actually more pragmatic in a post-9/11 world than the hard realism of the cold war. He rejects as outdated, for instance, a basic proposition of cold-war realists like Kissinger and Baker: that stability is always found in the relationship between states. Realists have long presumed that the country’s security is defined by the stability of its alliances with the governments of other countries, even if those governments are odious; by this thinking, your interests can sometimes be served by befriending leaders who share none of your democratic values. McCain, by contrast, maintains that in a world where oppressive governments can produce fertile ground for rogue groups like Al Qaeda to recruit and prosper, forging bonds with tyrannical regimes is often more likely to harm American interests than to help them.

This strikes me as a spot-on assessment of McCain's foreign policy instincts -- a little less postmodern, "we create reality" than George W. Bush's, but nevertheless leaning quite heavily in the neocon direction.

It's this passage, however, where McCain mentions something I haven't heard from him before on foreign policy:

Most American politicians, of course, would immediately dismiss the idea of sending the military into Zimbabwe or Myanmar as tangential to American interests and therefore impossible to justify. McCain didn’t make this argument. He seemed to start from a default position that moral reasons alone could justify the use of American force, and from there he considered the reasons it might not be feasible to do so. In other words, to paraphrase Robert Kennedy, while most politicians looked at injustice in a foreign land and asked, “Why intervene?” McCain seemed to look at that same injustice and ask himself, “Why not?”

“I think we’ve learned some lessons,” McCain told me. “One is that the American people have to be willing to support it. But two, we need to work more in an international way to try to beneficially affect the situation. And you have to convince America and the world that every single avenue has been exhausted before we go in militarily. And we better think not a day later or a week later, but a year and 5 years and 10 years later. Because the attention span, unfortunately, of the American people, although pretty remarkable in some ways, is not inexhaustible.”....

McCain is relying on the same strategy to achieve success both in Iraq and in the November election. In each endeavor, McCain is staking everything on the notion that the public, having seen the success of a new military strategy, can be convinced that the war is, in fact, winnable and worth the continued sacrifice. Absent that national retrenching, McCain admits that this war, like the one in Vietnam, is probably doomed. Near the end of our conversation in Tampa, I asked him if he would be willing to change course on Iraq if the violence there started to rise again. “Oh, we’d have to,” he replied. “It’s not so much what McCain would do. American public opinion will not tolerate such a thing.”

The Bush administration's fundamental mistake was to believe that a generation-long project could somehow be pursued without the need for consensus by anyone outside the executive branch. McCain seems to get that.

After researching what the American people think about foreign military interventions, I'm pretty sure that the American people don't want us in Iraq regardless of how well the surge works (Bai makes this point later on in the article). I'm not sure, however, whether this will be the deciding factor in how they vote in November.

The paradox: for McCain to be a more prudent foreign policy president, he needs to have a hostile public constraining him. Of course, if that's the case, then it's entirely possible he won't be elected president in the first place.

posted by Dan at 09:40 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 5, 2008

America's awesome influence over the G8

From today's Financial Times:

Dan Price, the international economics official at the White House National Security Council, said the Group of Eight rich countries must “lead by example”. Mr Price, one of the key officials preparing for the July G8 summit in Japan, told the Financial Times that the group should issue “a strong . . . statement on open investment and trade policies”. This should be “aimed not only outward but to the G8 countries themselves”.
Also in today's Financial Times:
In one of his last acts as Russian president, Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a long-awaited law restricting foreign investment in 42 “strategic” sectors, including energy, telecoms and aerospace....

Russian officials claim the rules are more liberal than those in many other countries. But some foreign investors have said the list of restricted sectors is too long – by some estimates, accounting for more than half the economy – and that the language leaves too much scope for interpretation.

Analysts also warn that the law leaves the door open for more sectors to be included in the future....

Under the new rules, foreign private investors will have to seek permission from a committee chaired by the Russian prime minister – set to be Mr Putin after he stands down as president this week – to take more than 50 per cent of companies in strategic sectors.

Foreign state-controlled companies will be barred from taking a controlling stake in strategic companies, and will have to seek permission for a stake of more than 25 per cent.

As well as energy, aerospace and defence, sectors defined as strategic include mining, space technology and nuclear energy. “Dominant” fixed-line telecommunications companies are also included.

Broadcast media covering at least half the country are deemed strategic, as are large-circulation newspapers and publishing companies. Some eyebrows were raised at the late inclusion of the fishing industry.

posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I'm going to be a little busy this week

Blogging will be be light for the next two days, as I'll be running a conference here at the Fletcher School on the Past, Present, and Future of Policymaking:

2007 marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. This agency, housed in the State Department, is unusual in two respects. First, it will forever be associated with its first director, George Kennan, and the successful doctrine of containment that he originated. Second, the mission of Policy Planning is, according to its own website: “to take a longer term, strategic view of global trends and frame recommendations for the Secretary of State to advance U.S. interests and American values.” This goes against the grain of a 24/7, real-time, rapid-reaction era when government policymakers define the long term as two weeks from the present.

As the United States prepares for the 2008 election, there is a yearning for a new approach to foreign policy. Containment is dead and gone, the Bush doctrine has been unpopular at home and abroad, and isolationism is not an option. In a world of complex, overlapping and asymmetric threats, the need for policy planning has never been greater. Both policymakers and scholars need a better grasp of how to craft viable, long-term strategies for the 21st century....

Moving forward, the future of policy planning – in both the abstract and bureaucratic senses – is open to question. What are the proper ideas orient American foreign policy? Is the Policy Planning Staff, as currently organized, influential enough to improve American grand strategy? Is it even possible for any planning agency to retain its relevance in the modern era?

Click here for a look at the conference program. The event is open to the public, so Boston-based readers can register their attendance by clicking here.

For those of you not in the Bosto area, don't fret -- if all goes well, all of the sessions will be webcast in real time.

posted by Dan at 08:06 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Through the prism of history, it's the "quiet diplomacy" of the Bush administration that will stand out

I see that NSC advisor Stephen Hadley doesn't think much of a boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics:

It would be a "cop-out" for countries to skip the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics as a way of protesting China's crackdown in Tibet, President Bush's national security adviser said Sunday.

The kind of "quiet diplomacy" that the U.S. is practicing is a better way to send a message to China's leaders, Stephen Hadley said.

President Bush has given no indication he will skip the event.

"I don't view the Olympics as a political event," Bush said this past week. "I view it as a sporting event."

The White House has not yet said whether he will attend the opening ceremony on Aug. 8.

"This issue [of the boycott] is in some sense a bit of a red herring," Hadley said in a broadcast interview. "I think unfortunately a lot of countries say, 'Well, if we say that we are not going to the opening ceremonies we check the box on Tibet.' That's a cop-out.

"If other countries are concerned about that, they ought to do what we are doing through quiet diplomacy, send a message clearly to the Chinese that this is an opportunity with the whole world watching, to show that they take into account and are determined to treat their citizens with dignity and respect. They would put pressure on the Chinese authorities quietly to meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama and use this as an opportunity help resolve that situation," Hadley said.

Hadley goes even further in the New York Times' version of the story: "[Hadley] suggested that the recent public protests, particularly in the chaotic Olympic torch processions, would only backfire."

Three thoughts on this:

1) Is Hadley seriously suggesting that the Tibet issue was going to crop up in "quiet diplomacy" in the absence of public protests? I suspect that, absent the news coverage, the only way it would have surfaced would have been in a completely pro forma way, with the inevitable "go away sonny, you're bothering me" reply from Beijing.

2) When, exactly, has the modern Olympics not been a political event?

3) Six months from now, will a reporter please remember to ask Hadley,"Hey, all that quiet diplomacy you've conducted with China on the Tibet issue, how did that pan out?"

posted by Dan at 08:37 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hmmm... maybe Hillary

The New York Times ran two stories today that don't make me feel all that confident about the likely major party nominees.

The McCain story, by Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter, ostensibly writes about a tug of war between McCain's realist and neoconservative foreign policy advisors. The story tries to paint it as an evenly matched fight, but it seems pretty clear that the neoconservatives have the upper hand. An example of his sympathy with the realists is that "[McCain's] promise to work more closely with allies." C'mon, even most neoconservatives will say they want that.

Then there's this ditty:

One of the chief concerns of the pragmatists is that Mr. McCain is susceptible to influence from the neoconservatives because he is not as fully formed on foreign policy as his campaign advisers say he is, and that while he speaks authoritatively, he operates too much off the cuff and has not done the deeper homework required of a presidential candidate.
Ouch. This story, along with Jason Zengerle's autopsy of the McCain campaign's inner divisions, does not paint a glowing picture of the candidate's decision-making processes (for a small antidote, see Michael Lewis' recycled Slate essay).

Larry Rohter's story on Barsck Obama doesn't make me feel much better:

With the war in Iraq and Islamic terrorism among the top issues in the campaign, all three of the presidential contenders have sought to emphasize the value of their very different foreign policy credentials. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has often pointed to his military and combat experience, while Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has emphasized her involvement in international and national security issues as both first lady and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Mr. Obama has argued that his rivals’ longer official record is no substitute for his real-life grass-roots experience. “Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain,” he said in his remarks in San Francisco.

“Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world,” he continued, provoking laughter among those present. “This I know. When Senator Clinton brags, ‘I’ve met leaders from 80 countries,’ I know what those trips are like. I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do a native dance. You meet with the C.I.A. station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of plant that” with “the assistance of Usaid has started something. And then, you go.”

During the speech, Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said....

Mr. Obama’s advisers argue that “there are multiple aspects to experience, each of which can be relevant.” Mr. Obama’s experience “provides a different kind of insight” than the traditional résumé, said Susan E. Rice, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs and a National Security Council official who is one of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy advisers.

“At a time when our foreign policy and national security have so obviously suffered from a simplistic, black-and-white interpretation,” Ms. Rice added, having “an American president who spent part of his formative years and young adulthood living in a poor country under a dictatorship brings an understanding of the complexity of things that others may not have. I’m not saying that official travels and Congressional delegations are without value, but there are limits to what you can glean from that.”

Jamie Kirchick (who beat the Times by two days on this story, it should be noted) points out the obvious political problems with this position.

What strikes me, however, is the hubris involved in Obama's position. Yes, extended travel and living abroad can expose one to information that would not come from an official junket. I'm not sure that such travel at the age of six really counts for much. Furthermore, last I checked, Obama had this kind of experience in only two countries (Indonesia and Pakistan). That leaves an awfully large part of the globe unexplored. It also elides the point that, as president, Obama is far more likely to have to deal with the very dignitaries he dismisses in the story. [UPDATE: Marc Ambinder makes this point better than I:

Some Obama campaign aides privately admit that their boss has a tendency to use superlatives when a comparative is called for. What's weird about Obama's peacock displays is that they're unnecessary. No one -- not even messianic Obamniacs -- believe that he has more foreign policy experience than John McCain, although many millions of voters may well come to believe that Obama's life experience in general gives him a better vantage point.

Obama's confidence is one of his more attractive qualities as a candidate. Sometimes, though, that confidence crosses the border into other, less attractive qualities.]

Suddenly, claiming imaginary sniper fire doesn't look like that bad of a sin.

UPDATE: It is truly amazing that on a day when the press might be forgetting about Bosnia and focusing on the foreign policy flaws of her rivals, the Clinton campaign manages to pull off a.... Clintonesque blurring of the facts.

posted by Dan at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Your American foreign policy quote of the day

I attended an ISA panel featuring several academics who had occupied high-ranking positions in the Bush administration. My take-away quote from a former policy planning director:

Six years after 9/11, we still don't have a grand strategy.

posted by Dan at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Because the Nixon Center likes to make mischief

My light sparring with Danielle Pletka apparently intrigued a lot of people in Washington. As a result, I have a short piece at the National Interest online about the foreign policy divide withi the GOP between realists and neoconservatives:

This year's presidential campaign has highlighted the divide in Democratic foreign-policy circles between hawks and doves. My run-in with Pletka, however, reveals a split within the GOP as well, between realists and neoconservatives. It was not always so. When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, he evinced a largely realist policy platform. His chief foreign-policy spokesperson, Condoleezza Rice, wrote a realpolitik essay in Foreign Affairs entitled “Promoting the National Interest.”

Bush governed differently than he campaigned, however. The September 11 terrorist attacks led to a rethink of foreign-policy priorities. Neoconservative ideas—particularly democracy promotion—were placed at the heart of the Bush administration's grand strategy. By early 2008, Pletka's statement might very well be true. John McCain's foreign-policy team has not been terribly friendly towards GOP realists—which says something about the Republican Party's foreign-policy transformation.

Read the whole thing -- it's not long.

posted by Dan at 12:58 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The realist tradition in American public opinion -- published

A few years ago, I responded to a Patrick Belton post at OxBlog thusly:

[There is] a thesis that I've been cogitating on for the past few months: despite claims by international relations theorists -- including most realists -- that the overwhelming majority of Americans hold liberal policy preferences, it just ain't so. Even if those beliefs are extolled in the abstract, when asked to prioritize among different foreign policy tasks, the realist position wins.
From this germ of an idea, a conference paper emerged.

And, a short three-and-a-half years after the original idea, "The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion" is out at Perspectives on Politics. The abstract:

For more than half a century, realist scholars of international relations have maintained that their world view is inimical to the American public. For a variety of reasons—inchoate attitudes, national history, American exceptionalism—realists assert that the U.S. government pursues realist policies in spite and not because of public opinion. Indeed, most IR scholars share this “anti-realist assumption.” To determine the empirical validity of the anti-realist assumption, this paper re-examines survey and experimental data on the mass public's attitudes towards foreign policy priorities and world views, the use of force, and foreign economic policy over the past three decades. The results suggest that, far from disliking realism, Americans are at least as comfortable with the logic of realpolitik as they are with liberal internationalism. The persistence of the anti-realist assumption might be due to an ironic fact: American elites are more predisposed towards liberal internationalism than the rest of the American public.
The article -- in fact, the entire issue -- is available for free online.

Go check it out. I doubt I will publish many other articles in which I say that George Kennan is 100% wrong.

posted by Dan at 07:54 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

The New York Times goes Vizzini on "deterrence"

This blog has an occasional series on "Vizzini" moments. Thanks to YouTube, we can now explain it through a brief video mash-up:

It now appears that Eric Schmitt, Thom Shanker, and the editors at the New York Times do not know what the word "deterrence" means:
In the days immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, members of President Bush’s war cabinet declared that it would be impossible to deter the most fervent extremists from carrying out even more deadly terrorist missions with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

Since then, however, administration, military and intelligence officials assigned to counterterrorism have begun to change their view. After piecing together a more nuanced portrait of terrorist organizations, they say there is reason to believe that a combination of efforts could in fact establish something akin to the posture of deterrence, the strategy that helped protect the United States from a Soviet nuclear attack during the cold war.

Interviews with more than two dozen senior officials involved in the effort provided the outlines of previously unreported missions to mute Al Qaeda’s message, turn the jihadi movement’s own weaknesses against it and illuminate Al Qaeda’s errors whenever possible.

A primary focus has become cyberspace, which is the global safe haven of terrorist networks. To counter efforts by terrorists to plot attacks, raise money and recruit new members on the Internet, the government has mounted a secret campaign to plant bogus e-mail messages and Web site postings, with the intent to sow confusion, dissent and distrust among militant organizations, officials confirm.

Read the whole thing. The article chronicles a variety of tactics designed to impair Al Qaeda's strengths on the web and in the hearts and minds of Muslims.

It's good stuff. But it's not "deterrence" in the Cold War sense of the word.

Successful deterrence of Al Qaeda would be taking place if the organization decided not to take action because they feared retaliation by the United States against assets that they held dear. Deterrence works if an actor refrains from attack because they calculate that the cost of the adversary's response would outweigh any benefit from the initial strike.

But that's not in the U.S. strategy. Instead, what U.S. officials appears to be doing is decreasing the likelihood of a successful attack -- by sowing confuson, interdicting logistical support, and reducing sympathy for the organization. The closest one could come to deterrence is if one defined Al Qaeda's reputation as a tangible asset that would face devastating consequences after a successful attack. Even here, however, the U.S. strategy is primarily to weaken Al Qaeda by increasing the odds of an unsuccessful attack.

The more appropriate word to use here is "containment." The United States is trying to sow divisions within the jihadi movement -- much like Kennan urged the United States to do among communists of different nationalities. The United States is applying counter-pressure in areas where Al Qaeda is trying to gain supporters and symathizers -- much like Kennan urged the application of "counter-force" in areas where the Soviets tried to advance their interests.

This is all to the good. But it's not deterrence. Indeed, this is one of those rare moments when the headline -- "U.S. Adapts Cold-War Idea to Fight Terrorists" -- is more accurate than the lead of the story.

posted by Dan at 07:42 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Final thoughts about rogue states

A few jet-lagged final thoughts about the conference on rogue states I attended yesterday:

1) There was unanimous agreement that the term "rogue states" was pretty stupid as a category.

2) The most amusing moment for me was when AEI's Danielle Pletka accused me of being on the far left -- because I suggested some realpolitik approaches to foreign policy (like prioritizing counterproliferation over democracy promotion). When informed of my party status later, Pletka replied, "well, he's not like any Republican I know!" Apparently, Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush, George Schultz, and Henry Kissinger are now barred from entering AEI.

3) Wesley Clark was on the same panel as Pletka and myself -- we were charged with giving advice to the next administration. It was interesting to note that Clark had no difficulty speculating about a president Clinton or a president McCain -- but it took a great deal of time and effort for him to say "President Obama" even as a hypothetical.

4) If you want to amuse yourself for a while, ask Ed Luttwak a question about... anything. He's good for at least an hour's worth of interesting free association on any topic.

5) There's something about California... at one of the conference dinners I saw the ghosts of Democratic Campaigns Past -- Michael Dukakis, Kitty Dukakis, Warren Christopher, etc. The freaky thing was that none of them looked like they had aged since falling out of the public spotlight.

6) Redeye flights suck eggs.

That is all -- you can read the LA Times' Scott Martelle for staight reportage of the conference.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Live-blogging Bill Richardson

The Governor of New Mexico is delivering the keynote address at the conference on "U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Rogue States: Engage, Isolate or Strike?" that I'm attending. Let's live-blog it!!

11:30 PDT: First superficial impression: Richardson looks much better in person than on television. Even the beard works. Opens with joke, "President Clinton always said, 'Send Richardson to talk to rogue leaders, because bad guys like each other."

11:50: Offers the following observations about face-to-face negotiations with rogue leaders:

1) They will always try to gain a psychological edge over you. They'll do this by never showing you the schedule. They'll want to talk to you alone. Test you when you’re tired and jet-lagged. 2) All negotiations with rogue leaders take place between three and four in the morning.

3) When rogue leaders try to show you hospitality, iit will happen in ways that might compromise you.

4) Rogue leaders care a surprising amount about public opinion -- in the United States and in their own country

5) Acting deferentially is not always the way to go. When Richardson met with Hussein, he mistakenly crossed his legs and showed Husseing the sole of his shoe, a big no-no in the Middle East. Hussein stormed off, and Richardson't interpreter told him he should apologize. He chose not to, which apparently impressed Hussein.

11:55: All rogue leaders want a visit from the President of the United States

12:00: Richardson believes that when dealing with rogues, all diplomacy is personal. He then gives a shout-out to George H.W. Bush as one of the best on this front.

12:01: Richardson is now sitting down with the LA Times' Maggie Farley. He says in response to Cuba, "by the way, the [Cuban] embargo is not working." He then says he wouldn't lift it unless Cuba took major steps towards liberalizing its regime.

12:02: Richardson: "George Clooney has been more effective in his Sudan diplomacy than the U.S. government."

12:05: Thinks a lot of simple steps -- closing Guantanamo, no more Abu Ghraibs, etc., will buy the U.S. a lot of goodwill.

12:10: In a response to endorsing Obama vs. Clinton, Richardson gives his boilerplate -- he feels a sense of loyalty to the Clintons because of past appointments.... but he did throw his hat into the ring against Hillary, so that only goes so far.... he likes Obama, thinks he's got... something, can't put a finger on it. Does plan to endorse someone. He's bemused that he's getting more press attention now than he did when he was running. Doesn't think endorsements matter, anyway.

I should add that, based on what I've heard while here, it's pretty damn obvious that Richardson would like to endorse Obama.

12:15: Just asked Richardson a question about whether the U.S. could influence who wins the Iranian presidential election in 2009, thereby removing Ahmadinejad from the equation. Richardson stalls for a bit, talking about broad Iranian support for closer U.S. ties. He then -- surprisingly -- trashes Radio Free Europe, Radio Marti, thinks they don't work terribly well. Would prefer to liberalize travel bans. etc. as a way to improve U.S. image inside Iran. In the end, thinks Ahmadinejad will lose. Doesn't really answer my question -- but bonus points for not getting fraked by me typing into the blog as he gives his answer.

12:20: Richardson thinks the most effective sanctions are the travel bans to elite leaders.

12:30: That's it. On to lunch!

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sui generis, anyone?

Jacob Heilbrunn has a truly odd post up about Samantha Power, in which he claims the following:

[N]o matter how ill-conceived they may have been, Power’s bellicose words aren’t an aberration. Instead, they highlight the adversarial style of a new generation of Democratic foreign-policy mavens who have more in common with the raucous world of bloggers than the somber, oak-lined environs of the Council on Foreign Relations.
OK, I follow this world pretty closely, and I have to ask -- who the hell is Heilbrunn talking about?

No doubt there are netrootsy types -- Spencer Ackerman, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Yglesias, for example -- who blog about foreign policy with a fierceness that matches Power's rhetoric. None of these guys are "Democratic foreign-policy mavens," however. On the other side of the ledger, the foreign policy mavens who populate either the Center for American Progress or Democracy Arsenal aren't terribly bellicose.

Seriously, I'd like Heilbrunn or others to name names here. Is there a generation of bellicose mavens who slipped under my radar?

My guess is that Samantha Power was sui generis -- a crusading journalist who made the leap to policy advisor (the only other person I can think of who made a similar leap was Strobe Talbott.... minus the crusading). It's a pretty rare crossover.

UPDATE: The New York Times' Ashley Parker -- in a story about how bloggers live/work/geek out in DC -- provides one data point for Heilbrunn:

Mr. Ackerman, who also lives in the house, blogs and works for The Washington Independent, a Web site that covers politics and policy. In April, his personal blog will move to the Web site of the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group.
Still, this is insufficient data to characterize a trend.

posted by Dan at 03:23 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Drezner gets results from the Financial Times

Yesterday I kindly requested that the mainstream media look into Canada and Mexico's reaction to the deplorable NAFTA exchange in Tuesday's Ohio debate.

And the Financial Times delivers, in the form of this Andrew Ward and Daniel Dombey story:

Mexico and Canada on Wednesday voiced concern about calls by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, as the Democratic presidential hopefuls compete to adopt the most sceptical stance towards free trade ahead of next week’s Ohio primary election.

In a televised debate on Tuesday night, Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton both threatened to pull out of Nafta if elected president unless Canada and Mexico agreed to strengthen labour and environmental standards.

Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the US, told the Financial Times that the US, Canada and Mexico had all benefited from Nafta and warned against reopening negotiations.

“Mexico does not support reopening Nafta,” he said. “It would be like throwing a monkey wrench into the engine of North American competitiveness.”

Mexican diplomats believe a renegotiation could resurrect the commercial disputes and barriers to trade that the agreement itself was designed to overcome.

Jim Flaherty, Canada’s finance minister, also expressed “concern” about the remarks by the Democratic candidates.

“Nafta is a tremendous benefit to Americans and perhaps the [candidates] have not had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the benefit to Americans and the American economy of Nafta,” he said.

I've said it before and I will say it again: Democrats cannot simultaneously talk about improving America's standing abroad while acting like a belligerent unilateralist when it comes to trade policy.

In fairness, the New York Times' Michael Luo argues that both Clinton and Obama aren't out-and-out protectionists. Of course, saying that Clinton and Obama aren't as bad as Sherrod Brown or Byron Dorgan is damning with faint praise. Furthermore, just because Clinton and Obama voted for some free trade deals does not mean they're really keen on the idea.

UPDATE: Scary fact of the day: the anti-NAFTA pandering is not the worst trade rhetoric emanating from the candidates. No, for that you'd have to turn to Obama's co-sponsoring of the Patriot Employer Act -- which Willem Buiter and Anne Sibert label, "reactionary, populist, xenophobic and just plain silly."

Hat tip: Greg Mankiw.

ANOTHER UPDATE: CTV reports the following:

Within the last month, a top staff member for Obama's campaign telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the United States, and warned him that Obama would speak out against NAFTA, according to Canadian sources.

The staff member reassured Wilson that the criticisms would only be campaign rhetoric, and should not be taken at face value....

Late Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign said the staff member's warning to Wilson sounded implausible, but did not deny that contact had been made.

"Senator Obama does not make promises he doesn't intend to keep," the spokesperson said.

Low-level sources also suggested the Clinton campaign may have given a similar warning to Ottawa, but a Clinton spokesperson flatly denied the claim.

During Tuesday's debate, she said that as president she would opt out of NAFTA "unless we renegotiate it."

The Canadians have denied the specifics of the report.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Grading the candidates on trade

The Cato Institute has a new handy-dandy website: "Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the Congress," in which you can grade members of Congress on their attitudes towards trade barriers and trade subsidies.

Just for kicks, I figured it would be worth seeing how the presidential candidates stack up:

Hillary Clinton: interventionist (votes in favor of barriers and subsidies);

John McCain: free trader (opposes both barriers and subsidies)

Barack Obama: never met a subsidy he did not like

[So where's your Obama love now?--ed. This would seem difficult to rebut. The only caveat on Obama's score is that the support of subsidies is based on a whopping two votes -- so we're talking small sample size.

Otherwise, Ohio and Pennsylvania should love both the Democratic candidates.

UPDATE: Thanks to the anonymus commenter who linked to Lael Brainard's January 2008 Brookings brief that compares the major candidates on trade. There's not much difference at all between the two analyses.

posted by Dan at 02:11 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Drezner's assignment: define the foreign policy community

Spencer Ackerman and Henry Farrell are having some fun at Michael O'Hanlon's expense, in response to the latter's Wall Street Journal op-ed this past week.

The O'Hanlon jihad in and of itself I find uninteresting -- O'Hanlon distorted his "hook," but, frankly, I've read a lot worse on major op-ed pages. To go meta, however, I do find two things interesting about the flare-up.

First, as Moira Whelan reports in Democracy Arsenal, "O’Hanlon has by now gotten the message that he’s burned his bridges with his Democratic friends. Those that like him personally even agree that he’s radioactive right now thanks to his avid support of Bush’s war strategy."

Going back to a debate I had with Glenn Greenwald six months ago, O'Hanlon's op-ed and Whelan's observation means that we were both right. Greenwald was correct to say that, "[O'Hanlon] can still walk onto the Op-Ed pages of the NYT, WP and cable news shows at will, will still be treated as 'serious experts.'" On the other hand, I was right to propose the following wager: "I'll bet Greenwald that neither Pollack nor O'Hanlon will be given a Senate-confirmable position in any Democratic administration."

Second, Farrell asks and answers an interesting question:

Part of the problem with saying that the foreign-policy establishment, or the foreign policy community should exclude someone is that there isn’t any good definition of what that establishment or community is, let alone a central membership committee....

Given the vagueness of boundaries, the best definition I’ve been able to come up with is the following. Anyone who has a credible chance of being able to publish a single authored article in one of a small number of key journals qualifies as a member of the foreign policy community. The list of journals would certainly include Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy; I think that there is a strong case to be made too for The National Interest and The American Interest. There may be one or two others, depending on how expansively you want to define it. These journals provide, in a sense, a sort of rough and ready credentialling mechanism.... Disagreements, qualifications and alternative definitions welcomed, of course.

Hmmmm.... much as I would love for this to be the proper definition, it doesn't work for a variety of reasons.

First, operationalizing "a credible chance of being able to publish" is next to impossible -- I suppose one could survey the editors at these publications, but even that's a bit suspect. The odds of publication depend on the person making the argument, but they also depend crucially on the argument being made. I guarantee that the head of AIPAC would get published in Foreign Affairs if s/he argued in favor of installing U.N. peacekeepers in the occupied territories; similarly, the head of the ACLU would get published if s/he argued in favor of re-upping the USA Patriot Act in perpetuity.

Second, cracking these publications is only one dimension of influence. Whelan got at this in her post on think tanks when she wrote: "there are three forms of currency in the think tank world that make you a valuable player: bringing in money, getting press, and getting called to testify." One could make a similar argument for the foreign policy community. I'd posit that there are three sources of influence:

a) The ability to independently mobilize significant resources (either money or activists);

b) The ability to publish in key venues (and I'd expand Farrell's list to include the op-ed pages of the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times);

c) The ability to persuade others that you possess a sufficient amount of expertise on an issue (this is -- obviously -- strongly correlated with possessing actual expertise, but the correlation is not perfect).

It is possible for individuals to possess all three attributes -- Fred Bergsten comes to mind -- but it is more likely that individals possess varying amounts (thinking about myself as an example, I'm strongest on (b), decent on (c), and have close to zero levels of (a)).

Here's the thing, though -- Farrell is right to ask the question, and this is a golden opportunity for a foreign affairs magazine to attempt to answer the question. Forbes has their 400, Time has their Top 100 list, Entertainment Weekly has their Power List, Parade has their Top 10 worst dictators (really, I'm not kidding) -- why not generate a similar exercise for the foreign policy community?

This is a splashy cover story just waiting for the editors at Foreign Policy, The National Interest, or The American Interest to exploit to the hilt. [Why not Foreign Affairs?--ed. Not a chance in hell.] Just think of the effort that various insecure egomaniacs foreign policy experts would exert to ensure that their name was included.

Readers are encouraged to proffer their metrics for determining who should belong on such a list and who should not.

posted by Dan at 07:35 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pssst..... wanna read a precis of that RAND report?

The New York Times' Michael Gordon reported today on the Army's efforts to keep a critical RAND analysis of the planning process on Iraq very hush-hush:

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called “Rebuilding Iraq.” RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.

But the study’s wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key....

A team of RAND researchers led by Nora Bensahel interviewed more than 50 civilian and military officials. As it became clear that decisions made by civilian officials had contributed to the Army’s difficulties in Iraq, researchers delved into those policies as well....

As the RAND study went through drafts, a chapter was written to emphasize the implications for the Army. An unclassified version was produced with numerous references to newspaper articles and books, an approach that was intended to facilitate publication.

Senior Army officials were not happy with the results, and questioned whether all of the information in the study was truly unclassified and its use of newspaper reports. RAND researchers sent a rebuttal. That failed to persuade the Army to allow publication of the unclassified report, and the classified version was not widely disseminated throughout the Pentagon.

The Army's stonewalling on this has led to a predictable and understandable hue and cry about cover-up.

Of course, this being the government, the attempt to cover things up would be more effective if excerpts of the report hadn't already made their way into published journals. Like, say, Nora Bensahel, "Mission Not Accomplished: What Went Wrong With the Iraqi Reconstruction," Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 29, No. 3 (June 2006): 453 – 473. The abstract:

This article argues that the prewar planning process for postwar Iraq was plagued by myriad problems, including a dysfunctional interagency process, overly optimistic assumptions, and a lack of contingency planning for alternative outcomes. These problems were compounded by a lack of civilian capacity during the occupation period, which led to a complicated and often uncoordinated relationship with the military authorities who found themselves taking the lead in many reconstruction activities. Taken together, these mistakes meant that US success on the battlefield was merely a prelude to a postwar insurgency whose outcome remains very much in doubt more than three years later.
To access the paper, click here, then enter "Bensahel" in the "Quick Search" box on the left, and then click on "author" right below it, and then click "Go".

It seems worth pointing out that much of this ground has also been plowed by the Oscar-nominated documentary No End In Sight:

Coincidentally both Bensahel and No End in Sight director Charles Ferguson have Ph.D.s in political science.

posted by Dan at 10:41 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Really, it sounds much cooler in German

Nine months ago a German think tank commissioned your humble blogger to sketch out the contours of U.S. foreign policy beginning in 2009.

The result is that I have an English-language article in the latest issue of Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft ("International Politics and Society") modestly entitled "The Future of U.S. Foreign Policy."

The article is a wee bit out of date (it was submitted in October), as it starts off with John McCain's tumble from frontrunner status. Nevertheless, I think the rest of it holds up reasonably well. The closing paragraph:

For Europe, American foreign policy in 2009 will clearly be an improvement on its current incarnation. Regardless of who wins the presidential election, there will likely be a reaching out to Europe as a means of demonstrating a decisive shift from the Bush administration’s diplomatic style. This does not mean, however, that the major irritants to the transatlantic relationship will disappear. On several issues, such as GMOs or the Boeing–Airbus dispute, the status quo will persist. On deeper questions, such as the use of force and the use of multilateralism, American foreign policy will shift, but not as far as Europeans would like. When George W. Bush leaves office, neo-conservatism will go with him. This does not mean, however, that Europeans will altogether agree with the foreign policy that replaces it.
Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 04:26 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Projecting power

Let's see, today we've already blogged about the "erection theory of British foreign policy."

As an antidote, here's a link to my latest Newsweek column, which suggests that, "the competitiveness of the 2008 presidential election itself might already be augmenting America's soft power."

Here's how it closes:

[N]ot all dimensions of the 2008 campaign have been good for America's image abroad. With the exception of McCain, the Republican field has been obsessed with who sounds tougher on immigration issues. The Democrats have been less exercised over this issue, but when the topic turns to trade, it has been a race among the candidates to see who can bash China first.

All of the top-tier candidates have published essays in Foreign Affairs outlining their vision of international relations. One of the few areas where there is bipartisan agreement has been the need to improve America's image abroad. It will be a pleasant surprise if the election campaign itself helps them succeed in that effort.

I'd previously blogged about this question here.

posted by Dan at 10:27 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Does the 2008 election augment America's soft power?

There's been a lot of talk over the past year two years four years since Operation Iraqi Freedom about the erosion in America's "soft power" resources. There's also been a lot of talk about how some of the candidates for the 2008 election might, because of their personal attributes or personal history, automatically boost our soft power.

In the Washington Post, however, Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan implicitly raise an intriguing possibility -- the topsy-turvy nature of the election campaign itself could improve America's image abroad:

John Mbugua, 56, a taxi driver in Mombasa, Kenya, woke himself at 3 a.m. the day of the Iowa caucuses and flipped on CNN. He said he watched for hours, not understanding precisely what or where Iowa was but thrilled about the victory of Barack Obama, the first U.S. presidential contender with Kenyan roots.

"I have never been interested in the elections before," Mbugua, who also got up at 4 a.m. to watch the New Hampshire primary results, said in a telephone interview. "But now everybody is watching. Everybody feels that Kenya has a stake in the outcome of the U.S. election."

From Mombasa's sandy shores on the Indian Ocean to the hot tubs of Reykjavik, Iceland, the U.S. primary elections are creating unprecedented interest and excitement in a global audience that normally doesn't tune in until the general election in November.

This year's wide-open primary season, filled with big personalities and dramatic story lines, has created an eager global audience that suddenly knows its Hillary from its Huckabee.

"It's a great spectacle, and people are avidly devouring it," said Jeremy O'Grady, editor in chief of the Week, a British magazine. O'Grady said major British newspapers this week alone have devoted more than 87 pages to news of the U.S. primaries, including 22 front-page stories -- exceptionally intense coverage of a foreign news event. More than 700 correspondents from 50 countries covered the Iowa and New Hampshire events.

A popular BBC radio program, "World Have Your Say," devoted an hour this week to parsing how pollsters wrongly predicted that Obama, an Illinois senator, would win the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. The show attracted detailed and nuanced calls and text messages from Romania, South Africa, Liberia and other countries.

About 1.5 million people visited the BBC Web page reporting the win by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) over Obama in New Hampshire, making it one of the most-read stories in months, a BBC spokesman said.

"The candidates have more iconic status than usual," O'Grady said. "They are almost like superhero cartoons: the Mormon, the woman, the black, the millionaire, the war hero. . . . We do love a good show over here."

I have mixed feelings about the global attention to our little campaign. On the one hand, the campaign rhetoric since the new year has been so banal that I can see it being offputting.

The Cliff Notes version of the past two weeks of the campaign for the Democrats has been as follows: "Hope, change, real change, experience, change, likeability, false hope, change, fairy tale, change, even more change."

For the Republicans: "Merry Christmas, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Happy New Year, Reagan, tax cuts, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan!"

We're not talkng the Lincoln-Douglas debates here.

On the other hand, there are ways in which the race has highlighted some positive qualities of the American system. Consider:

1) This might be the most competitive presidential election in modern history. No incumbent president or vice president is running. On the Democratic side, there are/were three candidates with viable shots at the nomination; On the GOP side, there are/were four.

2) Front-runners have fallen. On the Democratic side, Clnton and then Obama have been brought low by the shifts in voter sentiment. On the GOP side, it's been even more dramatic. McCain was the frontrunner, then Romney, then Giuliani, then Romney, Huckabee, and now McCain again.

3) Negative campaigning has not worked. Part of the explanation for Huckabee's rise has been the relentlessly upbeat quality of the campaign and the man. Mitt Romney, in contrast, has not gained much from going after either Huckabee or McCain. Obama's optimism on the campaign trail worked well for him, until women thought Hillary was being unfairly attacked and rallied behind her. I suspect, in South Carolina, that she will pay a price for her "false hope" line, not to mention Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" line.

4) From an international perspective, the cream is rising to the top. The three candidates who would likely generate the most excitement outside the United States are Clinton, Obama, and McCain, and they've done pretty well so far.

Question to readers: will the campaign itself improve America's standing abroad?

posted by Dan at 01:30 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Every time I think I'm out, Foreign Affairs pulls me back in

I thought we were done with the Foreign Affairs essays of the candidates, but NOOOOOOOOOO..........

This issue's culprits are governors Mike Huckabee and Bill Richardson. Since Huckabee is the flavor of the month, let's start with his piece, "America's Priorities in the War on Terror: Islamists, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan."

The essay is a great symbol of Huckabee's campaign -- there are feints in interesting directions, but in the end it's just a grab-bag of contradictory ideas.

In a New York Times Magazine profile, Huckabee mentions columnist Thomas Friedman and new sovereigntist Frank Gaffney as his foreign policy influences. Those in the know might believe this to be impossible, but Huckabee's Foreign Affairs essay really is an attempt to mix these two together in some kind of unholy alchemy. Take this paragraph:

American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.
Really, you just have to stand back and marvel at the contradiction of sentiments contained in that paragraph. It's endemic to the entire essay -- for someone who claims he wants to get rid of the bunker mentality, Huckabee offers no concrete ideas for how to do that, and a lot of policies (rejecting the Law of the Sea Treaty, using force in Pakistan, boosting defense spending by 50%) that will ensure anti-Americanism for years to come.

Then there's the writing -- dear Lord, the writing. Huckabee's essay reads like it was written by people who couldn't hack it on Rudy Giuliani's crack speechwriting team. My favorite sample:

For too long, we have been constrained because our dependence on imported oil has forced us to support repressive regimes and conduct our foreign policy with one hand tied behind our back. I will free that hand from its oil-soaked rope and reach out to moderates in the Arab and Muslim worlds with both.
The loopy writing becomes a real problem in the section on Iran. Huckabee makes a pretty savvy point about the differences between Iran and Al Qaeda ("The main difference between these two enemies is that al Qaeda is a movement that must be destroyed, whereas Iran is a nation that just has to be contained.").

But when it comes to changing our policy with Iran, this is what we get:

Sun-tzu's ancient wisdom is relevant today: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Yet we have not had diplomatic relations with Iran in almost 30 years; the U.S. government usually communicates with the Iranian government through the Swiss embassy in Tehran. When one stops talking to a parent or a friend, differences cannot be resolved and relationships cannot move forward. The same is true for countries. The reestablishment of diplomatic ties will not occur automatically or without the Iranians' making concessions that serve to create a less hostile relationship.
OK, so what, exactly, is Huckabee offering to do here? Open an embassy in Tehran? Only do so if Iran freezes its nuclear program? Hug Iran a lot? Beats me. [UPDATE: There's another problem with this paragraph -- Sun Tzu never said, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." I remember the quote as emanating from Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II. Thank you, commenters.]

Now on to Richardson -- who, full disclosure, happenes to be a Fletcher School alum. His essay is entitled, "A New Realism: A Realistic and Principled Foreign Policy."

With that title, it seems that Richardson is going to make Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman very happy, but then we read on:
To cope with this new world, we need a New Realism in our foreign policy -- an ethical, principled realism that harbors no illusions about the importance of a strong military in a dangerous world but that also understands the importance of diplomacy and multilateral cooperation. We need a New Realism based on the understanding that what goes on inside of other countries profoundly impacts us -- but that we can only influence, not control, what goes on inside of other countries. A New Realism for the twenty-first century must understand that to solve our own problems, we need to work with other governments that respect and trust us.

To be effective in the coming decades, America must set the following priorities. First and foremost, we must rebuild our alliances. We cannot lead other nations toward solutions to shared problems if they do not trust our leadership. We need to restore respect and appreciation for our allies -- and for the democratic values that unite us -- if we are to work with them to solve global problems. We must restore our commitment to international law and to multilateral cooperation. This means respecting both the letter and the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and joining the International Criminal Court (ICC). It means expanding the United Nations Security Council to include Germany, India, Japan, a country from Latin America, and a country from Africa as permanent members.

We must be impeccable in our own respect for human rights. We should reward countries that live up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as we negotiate, constructively but firmly, with those who do not. And when genocide or other grave human rights violations begin, the United States should lead the world to stop them. History teaches that if the United States does not take the lead on ending genocide, no one else will. The norm of absolute territorial sovereignty is moot when national governments partner with those who rape, torture, and kill masses of people. The United States should lead the world toward acceptance of a greater norm of respect for basic human rights -- and toward enforcing that norm through international institutions and multilateral measures.

Simply put, Richardson's New Realism is really Old Liberal Internationalism. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but there ain't anything realist about it, either.

Beyond the mislabeling, Richardson deserves some credit -- the essay indicates some semi-serious thoughts about how to enhance U.S. influence in the world. And it's actually well-written. It's also the most dovish of all the Democratic submissions to date. Again, I'm not saying that's a bad thing -- oh, hell, I'm saying it a little. If Huckabee is too paranoid about sacrificing American sovereignty, then Richardson is just a wee bit too convinced about the ability of multilateralism to solve everything.

UPDATE: James Joyner deconstructs the Huckabee essay with more diligence than I could possibly muster.

posted by Dan at 05:08 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Just remember, Hillary is the one with the foreign policy experience

Last month I said the following on NPR's Marketplace:

[T]rade agreements improve America's standing in the world. But Senator Clinton's proposal would strip these agreements of the very certainty that makes them attractive to our allies. How does Senator Clinton think our trading partners in the Middle East, Central America, and Pacific Rim will react to her proposal? How is this proposal any different from the unilateralism that Democrats have condemned for the past six years?

I'm glad that Senator Clinton wants to restore America's image in the world - but I hope she realizes that protectionist stunts will make that task much, much harder.

I hereby owe Senator Clinton an apology -- I forgot to include Europe in the list of regions that are not taking too kindly to Clinton's brand of trade policy.

The Financial Times' Tony Barber and Andrew Bounds explain:

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner in the US presidential campaign, came under fire from Europe’s top trade negotiator on Wednesday for suggesting that, if elected, she might not press hard for a new global trade pact.

“The apparent scepticism about a Doha world trade deal that Mrs Clinton expressed in the Financial Times this week, and her suggestion that there is a need to shelter American companies and interests from foreign investment, are a disappointing sign of the times,” said Peter Mandelson, European Union trade commissioner.

His remarks represented an unusually direct intervention by a foreign politician in a US presidential election.

Mrs Clinton told the FT she believed certain free trade theories might no longer be true in the age of globalisation, but she emphasised “there is nothing protectionist about this”.

Mr Mandelson, at a Brussels globalisation seminar, said: “Politicians have a huge responsibility not to overstate the risks attached to open investment, because we have nothing to gain from a protectionist turn in global markets.”

The former high-ranking UK government minister added: “That is why I would argue that Hillary Clinton’s doubts about the value of a Doha trade deal are misplaced.”

I know Hillary Clinton's had a rough week or two, so in fairness to her, it should be pointed out that she's not the first Democratic presidential candidate to be on the receiving end of foreign criticism.

Still, isn't this sort of fracas exactly the kind of thing that an experienced Hillary Clinton was supposed to avoid?

See Greg Mankiw on the substance of Clinton's claims regarding trade theory. Or check these posts from three years ago.

posted by Dan at 11:56 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 3, 2007

That's one heckuva NIE on Iran
We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work....

Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously....

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be. (emphases added)

These are the key paragraph of the latest National Intelligence Assessment on Iran. In a separate New York Times story, Mark Mazzetti tries gets at some of the implications.

Much as I would like to conclude that multilateral economic pressure had an effect, I'm not sure how the NIE concludes that "international pressure" had an effect. If that was truly the case, why did the suspension take place in 2003 rather than later? I mean, gee, what was happening then?

One obvious implication: whatever slim chance there existed of a U.S. military intervention in Iran over the next 13 months just got way, way slimmer.


UPDATE: Kevin Drum provides some useful backstory.

posted by Dan at 01:30 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Soft power penetrates the Bush administration

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave an interesting talk a few days ago at Kansas State University.

It was unusual for two reasons. First, he was asking for greater budgetary and institutional support -- for other Cabinent departments:

[M]y message today is not about the defense budget or military power. My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short, based on my experience serving seven presidents, as a former Director of CIA and now as Secretary of Defense, I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use “soft” power and for better integrating it with “hard” power.

One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win: economic development, institution-building and the rule of law, promoting internal reconciliation, good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications, and more – these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success. Accomplishing all of these tasks will be necessary to meet the diverse challenges I have described.

So, we must urgently devote time, energy, and thought to how we better organize ourselves to meet the international challenges of the present and the future – the world you students will inherit and lead....

during the 1990s, with the complicity of both the Congress and the White House, key instruments of America’s national power once again were allowed to wither or were abandoned. Most people are familiar with cutbacks in the military and intelligence – including sweeping reductions in manpower, nearly 40 percent in the active army, 30 percent in CIA’s clandestine services.

What is not as well-known, and arguably even more shortsighted, was the gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world – the “soft power,” which had been so important throughout the Cold War. The State Department froze the hiring of new Foreign Service officers for a period of time. The United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts – its permanent staff dropping from a high of 15,000 during Vietnam to about 3,000 in the 1990s. And the U.S. Information Agency was abolished as an independent entity, split into pieces, and many of its capabilities folded into a small corner of the State Department....

What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.

Now, I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of “man bites dog” – or for some back in the Pentagon, “blasphemy.” It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year.

Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he’d hand a part of his budget to the State Department “in a heartbeat,” assuming it was spent in the right place.

The second unusual quality was that Gates embraced an academic concept Joseph Nye's notion of "soft power." This is quite the turnaround -- a few years ago, Nye complained in Foreign Affairs about Gates' predecessor: "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld professes not even to understand the term."

It is interesting to see the head of one bureaucracy realize that his organization benefits from enhancing the capacities of a quasi-rival organization, and kudos to Gates for this kind of thinking.

On the "soft power" idea, I have just a smidgen of sympathy for Rumsfeld. Over the past half-decade, the hardworking staff here at has found this idea simltaneously beguiling and frustrating. However, as Nye defined the term initially -- getting others to want what you want -- he was talking primarily about non-state capabilities, such as culture and ideology.

Question to readers: can a government consciously generate soft power?

posted by Dan at 11:18 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Annapolis thread

The hard-workin staff here at will be hard at work on offline activities today. Readers are strong encouraged to post comments about today's meeting in Annapolis.

Not much of substance will be accomplished, so readers are also encouraged to develop drinking game rules for wathing the summitry. A few provisional rules:

Take a sip whenever:
1) Amedia commentator compares this summit to Bill Clinton's late second-term effort at iddle East diplomacy.

2) A commentator says Bush is bound and determined to avoid the mistakes of his predecessor on this issue.

3) You see a reaction shot of the Israeli delegation during a speech by an Arab diplomat. Only drink if a member of the delegation is frowning;

Take a shot whenever:
1) There's a really significant handshake that sends the flash photographers into orgiastic delight;

2) A U.S. official or commentator says, "Failure is not an option" [Side note: this is one of those phrases that's so inane that I'd like abolished from foreign policy discourse. Bush officials have repeated this mantra so often over the past five years that I wonder if there's some foreign policy equivalent of Bull Durham that I missed where one learns important policy clichés.];

3) In the same speech, someone quotes from both the Old Testament and the Koran

Down your entire drink whenever:
1) Someone is caught having a private conversation near an open mike (with this crowd, a distinct possibility);

2) The Syrians and/or Israelis signal that they're ready to compromise on the Golan Heights;

3) A genuine breakthrough is achieved.

posted by Dan at 08:06 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 19, 2007

And I thought I was disorganized

In the spring, I'm going to be running a conference at the Fletcher School on the future of policy planning. This means I'm going to have to flex my administrative muscles, which are about as well-developed as my pectorals. Which is to say, I'm a bit disorganized.

Of course, if the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler is correct, I can always console myself that my conference can't possibly be as badly planned as the upcoming Annapolis meeting on the Middle East:

A few days after Thanksgiving, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plan to open a meeting in Annapolis to launch the first round of substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during Bush's presidency.

But no conference date has been set. No invitations have been issued. And no one really agrees on what the participants will actually talk about once they arrive at the Naval Academy for the meeting, which is intended to relaunch Bush's stillborn "road map" plan to create a Palestinian state.

The anticipation surrounding the meeting has heightened the stakes for other countries seeking invites. If Turkey comes, Greece wants a seat. So does Brazil, which has more Arabs than the Palestinian territories. Norway hosted an earlier round of peacemaking in Oslo, so it wants a role. Japan wants to do more than write checks for Palestinians.

"No one seems to know what is happening," one senior Arab envoy said last week, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid appearing out of the loop. "I am completely lost."

The envoy recounted the calls he made in recent days to dig up information and said he had reserved rooms for his country's foreign minister and other officials. He added with exasperation: "It is a very peculiar thing."

Even a senior administration official deeply involved in the preparations confided, before speaking off the record about his expectations: "I can't connect the dots myself because it is still a work in progress."....

Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official and author of the soon-to-be-released book, "The Much Too Promised Land," an account of U.S. efforts to foster peace, said invitations were issued two weeks before the last major international conference on the Middle East, held in Madrid in 1991. He said invitations were issued weeks ahead of another Middle East negotiation session, the 1998 Wye River conference in Maryland.

"I'm not sure any of that speaks to whether it is a consequential event or not," Miller said, suggesting that the proposed talks in Annapolis are mostly necessary to let the world know that substantive peace talks are already taking place.

Question to readers -- if you're going to go through the trouble of assembling such a large collection of officials in Annapolis, isn't it worthwhile to have them stay for more than a day? Or is this a case where more discussion would not necessarily equal more fruitful discussion?

UPDATE: The AP now reports that invitations will be sent out seven days in advance:

As the U.S. finalizes preparations, the State Department will start sending out invitations overnight for the event, U.S. officials said Monday. The conference will be held in Annapolis on Nov. 27 in between meetings in Washington. The main guests are the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the Bush administration also is inviting Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and key international players in the peace process, the officials said.

The invitations are to be sent by diplomatic cable to U.S. embassies in the countries concerned, with instructions to Washington's ambassadors to present them to their host governments' foreign ministries, the officials said. They will ask that each nation send its highest-ranking appropriate official to Annapolis.

The White House has said President Bush will attend at least part of the event chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also will host a pre-conference dinner at the State Department on Nov. 26, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.

posted by Dan at 10:29 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 12, 2007

So you want to get a job in the foreign policy world....

At work, the question I am most often asked that I am most ill-equipped to answer is, "How do you successfully pursue a career in the foreign policy world?"

To be fair, I don't think anyone is really well-equipped to answer this question. Unlike medicine, law, or other professions, there is no routinized, codified career track for the foreign policy community.

In my experience, most successful people make the mistake of generalizing from their own experience in proffering career advice in this field. If I did that, I'd have to say something like, "Here's what you should do.... start out pursuing a Ph.D. in economics, and then change your mind after the first-year sequence...."

Still, over at Passport, Peter Singer makes a game effort in providing advice for those who wish to pursue a career in foreign policy analysis. [Who the f@%& is Peter Singer?--ed. Why, he's the youngest person to be named a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.]

Here's how he closes:

[M]ulti-taskers tend to advance further than pure specialists. People who can also convene and bring people, programs, and events together are more likely to advance to the leadership level than people who lock themselves away and only write. That is, when you look around at who is in the leadership positions in this field at think tanks, NGOs and the like, it is not merely people who are good writers but people who bring other skills to the table: management, organizational process, strategy, budgeting, fundraising, etc. The funny thing is that many of these skills get absolutely no nourishment within the education backgrounds that typically bring people into the foreign-policy field. Most people either come in with a politics degree or a law degree, but the skills often called upon at the leadership level are of the MBA variety. As you focus on what sort of activities to undertake and skills to build on early in your career, I would keep this in mind.
Singer is much more plugged into intellectual-industrial complex than I, but I'm not entirely sure that answer is completely correct. I think it depends on what you want to do in your career.

If you want to move up the bureaucratic food chain, then by all means Singer is correct. If, on the other hand, you actually want to influence a specific set of policies, then specialization also has its merits.

Commenters well-versed in this world are heartily encouraged to proffer their own advice on this question.

posted by Dan at 09:49 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The FSOs are beginning to leave me cold

Glenn Kessler has a Washington Post front-pager on how Cobdoleezza Rice is not such a great manager at Foggy Bottom.

Given Rice's management performance at NSC, this is not completely surprising. That said, three points in her defense.

First, traditionally it's been the Deputy Secretary of State who managed the bureaucracy at State. And, as Kessler observes between Robert Zoellick and John Negroponte the office, "was unoccupied for the longest period in State Department history."

Second, Kessler compares Rice's management style to James Baker's stint at the building -- and then contrasts it with Colin Powell's embrace of the bureaucracy. Fair enough, but this suggests to me that how the Secretary of State manages the bureaucracy has no bearing whatsoever on whether they are successful at their jobs.

Third, the subtext of the article is that Foreign Service Officers are bitching and moaning about how Rice has made their lives difficult. Policy objections I can understand. Being sent to Iraq I against their will I can (sort of) understand. But some of the complaints voiced to Kessler make the FSOs sound absurdly out of touch:

At State, Rice has pushed ambitious efforts to reshape how foreign aid is distributed and to shift key diplomatic jobs from Europe to emerging powers such as China and India. The foreign-assistance overhaul, in which Rice personally approved country-by-country budget numbers, was criticized by lawmakers and some within the department because it appeared to minimize the advice of specialists in the field. The job shifts were put in place so quickly that a number of Foreign Service officers who had been promised plum posts in Paris and elsewhere had to be told that those positions no longer existed....

Some State veterans compare Rice's management unfavorably with that of Powell, who was secretary during Bush's first term. Powell held large staff meetings daily; Rice cut those to three per week. And twice a week, she holds smaller meetings with undersecretaries and key regional assistant secretaries....

[An] official who served under both secretaries recalled how, after an assistant secretary of state made a mistake resulting in several days of negative news coverage, Powell treated that person with civility. By contrast, the official said, Rice becomes angry over even minor news accounts, turning furiously to the relevant assistant secretary for an explanation. "Dressing someone down like that is not great for morale and does not encourage people to bring up bad news," he said. (emphases added)

No Paris jobs? Fewer staff meetings? Getting angry over negative press? Wow, this is dirty laundry!!!

Coming soon: a front-pager from Kessler about how Rice viciously ordered the State Department cafeteria to eliminate "Free Fro-Yo Fridays"

UPDATE: I received the following in an e-mail from an FSO who shall remain nameless that provides some interesting context to the Kessler story:

Very few FSOs live for "plum assignments." People who go to comfy posts very often have kids in high school (they need a place that has a good one), may be struggling with temporary medical issues, want easy access to aging parents, or may be just be plain tired out from tough years in rough places or having been separated from family at a post like Iraq or Afghansitan. Most of us happily choose challenge and hardship over life in a place like Paris, but most of us also hope for a break here and there and if we finally get such a gift and it then gets wiped away in a reorg, that's no fun.

** Around 2/3 of us are overseas. Debating whether or not the Secretary is inclusive enough in staff meetings is utterly unfamiliar to me. Main State is full of political appointees and civil servants as well. Our FSO careers, however, are mostly spent abroad.

** When I joined, we were all about staffing new embassies after the breakup of the USSR, the world was exciting. There were no embassies in combat zones. Kids could follow you almost everywhere. Today, many hundreds of our jobs involve being in true danger spots and leaving family behind -- or at minimum living under extreme security conditions. It's not just about Iraq and Afghanistan. It's also Liberia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Congo, Algeria... all of these and many others are unaccompanied....

Bottom line -- I wish media coverage and blog postings were more accurate about who we are, how willing we actually are to take on hardship, and how much we are not about who goes to the Secretary's staff meetings or who gets to live in Paris. Even the Iraq story has been told very poorly -- the real story is that 2,000 folks have volunteered already, and many more have recently gone to other tough spots, like those above, where you can't take family. Living life this way is new for us, and our institution is undergoing painful adjustment to a tough world. It is distressing to folks to look ahead and see that this is what it means to make this a career.

posted by Dan at 08:36 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Can the U.S. leverage the House of Saud?

Forget Pakistan -- Shadi Hamid and Stephen McInerney argue in The New Republic that the United States should be pressing the Saudis on human rights reform:

America can leverage its support to shape Arab regimes' decisions on democratization. This is particularly true for the ruling al-Saud family, which is intimately tied to the U.S. and dependent on its military backing. The arms deal presents an opportunity for Washington to exert influence in Riyadh. This opening should be seized to push the Saudis along the path of reform, the only path that will lead to long-term security.

We have leverage, and we should use it. First, all arms sales should be contingent on the implementation of the promised educational and judicial reforms. Second, the United States should require progress on political reform, beginning with greater freedoms of press and assembly, and allowing public dissent on policy matters. Beyond this, deadlines should be set for long-awaited Shura (Consultative) Council elections, followed by benchmarks for the steady evolution of the council from an advisory role to a genuine legislative body. Third, transparency and fairness in the justice system, even when dealing with terror suspects, should be required. Such measures can be enforced much as Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism efforts is maintained today--through a certification process mandated by law.

I was certainly sympathetic to this argument a few years ago. The problem is that America's strategic situation in the region has deteriorated so badly since 2004 that I'm not sure the United States can afford to alienate another ally.

posted by Dan at 01:47 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Credit where credit is due

Two weeks ago your humble blogger was very disturbed by the prospect of a large-scale incursion by Turkey into Iraqi Kurdistan.

It should be noted, therefore, that my concerns have not come to pass. In fact, if this Newsweek report by Owen Matthews and Sami Kohen is correct, the Bush administration deserves some credit for defusing a situation that could have been really, really ugly:

Fortunately for both sides, yesterday's White House encounter produced a solution that allowed both sides to step back from the brink. Bush not only declared the Kurdistan Workers' Party (or PKK), "an enemy of Turkey, a free Iraq and the United States," but also committed to providing actionable intelligence to Ankara on the whereabouts of PKK positions. Officially, Bush publicly stuck to the line that Iraq's territory should not be violated. In practice, though, the United States would cooperate "in order to chase down people who murder people," Bush pledged. Essentially, that appears to be a green light for the Turks to carry out limited raids into Iraqi territory with the blessing of the United States. And, crucially, it also allows Erdogan to call off a full-scale land invasion—though he stressed that that option remained on the table if raids proved unsuccessful.

"Finally, we have a plan of action," says one senior Turkish official not authorized to speak on the record. "We are tired of promises with no action."

Getting to this agreement was the result of weeks of intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy by the administration.
Read the whole thing. The final solution is not a great one, but given the current state of play, it was probably the best feasible bargain.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Is the foreign service like the military?

The Boston Globe's Farah Stockman reports about some trouble a brewin' between Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and the higher-ups in the State Department:

Angry US diplomats lashed out yesterday against a State Department plan that would send them to Iraq against their will, with one likening it to "a potential death threat" and another accusing the department of providing inadequate care to diplomats who have returned home traumatized.

At a rare, contentious meeting, foreign service officers told senior State Department officials that the move to fill vacancies in Baghdad puts them in danger, jeopardizes the well-being of their families, and could deplete the ranks of those willing to serve overseas at a critical time. Several diplomats said privately they would resign rather than accept orders to serve in Iraq. The president of their union pointed out that about 2,000 State Department personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, greatly taxing the ranks of the 11,000-member core.

"We have had four years of people volunteering to Iraq, and as the size of the mission has increased, demand has outstripped supply," said John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association, in an interview after the meeting.

The State Department has struggled to find Foreign Service volunteers to fill 48 of the 252 diplomatic posts that will become vacant next summer in Baghdad as well as other Iraqi provinces. To solve the problem, the department decided on mandatory service in Baghdad if too few volunteers step forward. Yesterday, at a packed meeting to discuss the plan, foreign service officers spoke out passionately against it, an unusual display of internal dissent.

Jack Crotty, a senior Foreign Service officer who has worked overseas, told his superiors that being forced to serve in Iraq is a "potential death sentence and you know it."

"It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers," he said, according to the Associated Press, "but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment."

Rachel Schnelling, a diplomat who served in Basra, Iraq, got a standing ovation when she said the State Department had failed to care for diplomats after they returned home suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

"I would just urge you, now that we are looking at compulsory service in a war zone, that we have a moral imperative as an agency to take care of people who . . . come back with war wounds," she said at the meeting, according to the AP. "I asked for treatment and I didn't get any of it."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not at the meeting convened by Harry Thomas, director general of the Foreign Service. Sean McCormack, her press secretary, said that the decision to draft diplomats to Iraq came with Rice's support, and that the move was not taken "lightly."

"Understandably, people are going to have some pretty strong feelings about it," he said. "But ultimately our mission in Iraq is national policy. We as Foreign Service officers swore an oath, and we agreed to certain things when we took these jobs. Part of them is to be available for worldwide assignments. They all agreed to that."

On Friday evening, the department sent notices to between 200 and 300 Foreign Service officers informing them that they had been selected as possible candidates to serve in Baghdad or on provincial reconstruction teams if there are not enough volunteers. Many officers were upset to read media reports of the new assignment plan over the weekend before they received the department notifications at work on Monday.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, ambitious diplomats flocked to posts there, which were seen as tickets for promotion. But as the danger grew, and as Baghdad became the largest US embassy in the world, filling posts in Baghdad became more difficult....

Naland said it is "almost unprecedented" to force diplomats to serve in a war zone. "During the Vietnam War, Foreign Service officers were ordered to serve, but for everyone on active duty, this is brand new," he said.

Although senior officials defended the plan, others contradicted McCormack's assertion that they had committed to be sent anywhere in the world.

"People didn't sign up for the foreign service to go get killed in the war zone," said a Washington-based State Department official who volunteered and served in Iraq during the invasion but does not want to return.

"In any other country, an embassy like that would be in evacuation status," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Morale is not helped by news from colleagues in Baghdad who say inadequate security has kept them holed up in the Green Zone, unable to interact frequently with the Iraqi officials and ministries they are supposed to advise....

[S]enior military officials accuse the diplomatic arm of the government of failing to send enough personnel to work on the Iraq reconstruction teams. Conflicts have emerged within the State Department itself, as some senior officials pressed for a more aggressive policy of assisting the US-led mission in Iraq.

Henry S. Ensher, a Foreign Service officer who served as director for political affairs in the Iraq office inside the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs argued in the March 2006 issue of the Foreign Service Journal that the State Department should "recognize that service in wartime necessitates a complete commitment by all its personnel." (emphasis added)

Let's just stipulate that the quoted line is really disturbing. That said, the
question I have to readers is, should FSO's be treated differently from soldiers?

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The twin sins of Norman Podhoretz....

Lots of bloggers of the liberal/left persuasion have been linking to this debate between Norman Podhoretz and Fareed Zakaria:

Zakaraia highlights Podhoretz's obvious sin -- failing to understand the logic of deterrence.

Podhoretz commits another sin, however, in that by framing the debate as being about deterring Iran he rather misses the point. Over at Democracy Arsenal, Ilan Goldenberg writes, "you can boil down the entire argument over Iran between the crazies (Podhoretz) and the sane people (Zakaria)." Er, I'm afraid it's not that simple.

If the effect of Iran's nuclear program were limited to what Iran would do with nuclear weapons, that would be OK. But the massive negative externality of Iran's nuclear program isn't its effect on Israel or the United States -- it's the effect on the rest of the states in the Middle East:


The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy explains:

This week Egypt became the 13th Middle Eastern country in the past year to say it wants nuclear power, intensifying an atomic race spurred largely by Iran's nuclear agenda, which many in the region and the West claim is cover for a weapons program.

Experts say the nuclear ambitions of majority Sunni Muslim states such as Libya, Jordan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia are reactions to Shiite Iran's high-profile nuclear bid, seen as linked with Tehran's campaign for greater influence and prestige throughout the Middle East.

"To have 13 states in the region say they're interested in nuclear power over the course of a year certainly catches the eye," says Mark Fitzpatrick, a former senior nonproliferation official in the US State Department who is now a fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "The Iranian angle is the reason."

But economics are also behind this new push to explore nuclear power, at least for some of the aspirants. Egypt's oil reserves are dwindling, Jordan has no natural resources to speak of at all, and power from oil and gas has grown much more expensive for everyone. Though the day has not arrived, it's conceivable that nuclear power will be a cheaper option than traditional plants.

But analysts say the driver is Iran, which appears to be moving ahead with its nuclear program despite sanctions and threats of possible military action by the US. The Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of Saudi Arabia and the five Arab states that border the Persian Gulf, reversed a longstanding opposition to nuclear power last year.

As the closest US allies in the region and sitting on vast oil wealth, these states had said they saw no need for nuclear energy. But Fitzpatrick, as well as other analysts, say these countries now see their own declarations of nuclear intent as a way to contain Iran's influence. At least, experts say, it signals to the US how alarmed they are by a nuclear Iran.

"The rules have changed on the nuclear subject throughout the whole region," Jordan's King Abdullah, another US ally, told Israel's Haaretz newspaper early this year. "Where I think Jordan was saying, 'We'd like to have a nuclear-free zone in the area,' … [now] everybody's going for nuclear programs."

Just to be clear, nuclear programs do not automatically translate into nuclear weapons proliferation. But don't tell me it's not a distinct possibility.

Zakaria might argue that none of this is a problem, since deterrence can still work. My concern is that managing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is kind of like... managing democratization in the Middle East. In theory, the end state is robust and stable... but the road from here to there is so fraught with peril that I'm very skeptical of it actually working.

This is the point Scott Sagan tried to make in a Foreign Affairs article from last year:

[B]oth deterrence optimism and proliferation fatalism are wrong-headed. Deterrence optimism is based on mistaken nostalgia and a faulty analogy. Although deterrence did work with the Soviet Union and China, there were many close calls; maintaining nuclear peace during the Cold War was far more difficult and uncertain than U.S. officials and the American public seem to remember today. Furthermore, a nuclear Iran would look a lot less like the totalitarian Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China and a lot more like Pakistan, Iran's unstable neighbor -- a far more frightening prospect. Fatalism about nuclear proliferation is equally unwarranted. Although the United States did fail to prevent its major Cold War rivals from developing nuclear arsenals, many other countries curbed their own nuclear ambitions. After flirting with nuclear programs in the 1960s, West Germany and Japan decided that following the NPT and relying on the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella would bring them greater security in the future; South Korea and Taiwan gave up covert nuclear programs when the United States threatened to sever security relations with them; North Korea froze its plutonium production in the 1990s; and Libya dismantled its nascent nuclear program in 2003.

Given these facts, Washington should work harder to prevent the unthinkable rather than accept what falsely appears to be inevitable. The lesson to be drawn from the history of nonproliferation is not that all states eyeing the bomb eventually get it but that nonproliferation efforts succeed when the United States and other global actors help satisfy whatever concerns drove a state to want nuclear weapons in the first place.

Again, to be clear, this does not mean we should attack Iran. But it does mean that the U.S. shouldn't be as blasé about the matter as Zakaria suggests. Because it's not just about Iran -- it's about the regional spillovers as well.

posted by Dan at 07:08 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I think the reviews are in

I haven't read The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. However, after the original contretemps, the initial reviews of the book, and the subsequent reviews in the Economist, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post, The New Republic, and The Nation, I was getting a sense that the book wasn't all that good.

And this was before I got to Walter Russell Mead's review of the book in Foreign Affairs -- which clarifies exactly the extent to which Mearsheimer and Walt have failed in their task:

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt claim that they want The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy "to foster a more clear-eyed and candid discussion of this subject." Unfortunately, that is not going to happen. "The Israel Lobby" will harden and freeze positions rather than open them up. It will delay rather than hasten the development of new U.S. policies in the Middle East. It will confuse the policy debate not just in the United States but throughout the world as well, while giving aid and comfort to anti-Semites wherever they are found. All of this is deeply contrary to the intentions of the authors; written in haste, the book will be repented at leisure....

Walt and Mearsheimer's belief that the United States needs to find ways to bridge the gap between its current policies and the national aspirations of Palestinians and other Arabs is correct. But Mearsheimer and Walt have too simplistic and sunny a view of the United States' alternatives in the Middle East -- a fault they share with the "neoconservatives," who serve as the book's bêtes noires. Overcoming the challenges of U.S. policy in the Middle East will not be nearly as easy as Mearsheimer and Walt think, and the route they propose is unlikely to reach the destination they seek, even if some of their concerns about the United States' current stance in the region are legitimate.

The book's problems start very early and run very deep. Mearsheimer and Walt outline the case they plan to make on page 14: "The United States provides Israel with extraordinary material aid and diplomatic support, the lobby is the principal reason for that support, and this uncritical and unconditional support is not in the national interest." Note the slippage. The "extraordinary" support of the first clause quietly mutates into the "uncritical and unconditional" support of the last. "Extraordinary" is hardly the same thing as "uncritical and unconditional," but the authors proceed as if it were. They claim the clarity and authority of rigorous logic, but their methods are loose and rhetorical. This singularly unhappy marriage -- between the pretensions of serious political analysis and the standards of the casual op-ed -- both undercuts the case they wish to make and gives much of the book a disagreeably disingenuous tone.

Rarely in professional literature does one encounter such a gap between aspiration and performance as there is in The Israel Lobby.

The obvious question is, why did they fail? See Jacob Levy on this point.

Last year, I wrote the following:

I think we're at the point where it is time to recognize that it will be impossible to have anything close to a high-minded debate on this topic when the starting point is "The Israel Lobby" essay. Don't get me wrong -- besides the fact that Mearsheimer and Walt badly defined their independent variable, miscoded one alternative explanation, omitted several other causal variables, poorly operationalized their dependent variable, and failed to fact-check some of their assertions, it's a bang-up essay. With this foundation, however, any debate is guaranteed to topple into the mire of anti-Semitic accusations, Godwin's Law, and typing in ALL CAPS.
In writing the book as a follow-up to the article, Mearsheimer and Walt had that rarest of opportunities -- a chance to correct the errors of omission and commission they committed in their original formulation.

It's a genuine shame that they did not.

posted by Dan at 11:07 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Comparing and contrasting McCain and Clinton

Foreign Affairs has released the latest foreign policy visions of the candidates (faithful readers of the blog will remember that Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and John Edwards have inflicted presented their views in previous issues. These efforts have ranged from fair to middlin' to bats@$t insane).

Hillary Clinton, "Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century."

John McCain, "An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom."

Having read through the essays, I have two thoughts....

The first is the diametrically opposed logics these two candidates bring to Iraq. Here's Clinton:

Ending the war in Iraq is the first step toward restoring the United States' global leadership. The war is sapping our military strength, absorbing our strategic assets, diverting attention and resources from Afghanistan, alienating our allies, and dividing our people. The war in Iraq has also stretched our military to the breaking point. We must rebuild our armed services and restore them body and soul.

We must withdraw from Iraq in a way that brings our troops home safely, begins to restore stability to the region, and replaces military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage countries around the world in securing Iraq's future. To that end, as president, I will convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and the National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home, starting within the first 60 days of my administration....

Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians. The fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000: a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a declaration that the conflict is over, recognition of Israel's right to exist, guarantees of Israeli security, diplomatic recognition of Israel, and normalization of its relations with Arab states. U.S. diplomacy is critical in helping to resolve this conflict. In addition to facilitating negotiations, we must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace and willing to engage in a dialogue with the Israelis. Whether or not the United States makes progress in helping to broker a final agreement, consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.

And then there's McCain:
Defeating radical Islamist extremists is the national security challenge of our time. Iraq is this war's central front, according to our commander there, General David Petraeus, and according to our enemies, including al Qaeda's leadership....

So long as we can succeed in Iraq -- and I believe that we can -- we must succeed. The consequences of failure would be horrific: a historic loss at the hands of Islamist extremists who, after having defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the United States in Iraq, will believe that the world is going their way and that anything is possible; a failed state in the heart of the Middle East providing sanctuary for terrorists; a civil war that could quickly develop into a regional conflict and even genocide; a decisive end to the prospect of a modern democracy in Iraq, for which large Iraqi majorities have repeatedly voted; and an invitation for Iran to dominate Iraq and the region even more.

Whether success grows closer or more distant over the coming months, it is clear that Iraq will be a central issue for the next U.S. president. Democratic candidates have promised to withdraw U.S. troops and "end the war" by fiat, regardless of the consequences. To make such decisions based on the political winds at home, rather than on the realities in the theater, is to court disaster. The war in Iraq cannot be wished away, and it is a miscalculation of historic magnitude to believe that the consequences of failure will be limited to one administration or one party. This is an American war, and its outcome will touch every one of our citizens for years to come.

That is why I support our continuing efforts to win in Iraq. It is also why I oppose a preemptive withdrawal strategy that has no Plan B for the aftermath of its inevitable failure and the greater problems that would ensue.

I'm not sure I agree with either Clinton or McCain. The Senator from Arizona is vastly inflating the importance of groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq, but I can't see how the Senator from New York thinks a complete withdrawal -- and the internal chaos that will go with it -- will "enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process."

That said, these two essays are easily the best of the bunch. Both Clinton and McCain -- or at least, the staffers who wrote these pieces -- have a better grasp for policy detail and means-ends relationships than the other candidates. Clinton, in contrast to either Obama or Edwards, makes the connection between a withdrawal from Iraq and a more generous policy towards Iraqi asylum-seekers. She occasionally suffers from the fairy dust that is the word "engagement," but otherwise she hits the appropriate marks. Also, not for nothing, but this essay is much more clearly written than the other essays in the mix.

McCain, more than any other candidate, gets the connection between trade policy and foreign policy. He explicitly connects improving America's image in Latin America and ratifying the bevy of trade agreements from that region. He also pushes for a completion of the Doha round. His "League of Democracies" idea sounds awfully familiar, and I'm not sure it will fly. That said, this essay is a vast improvement over the other Republican challengers.

posted by Dan at 10:14 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Why George W. Bush thinks we invaded Iraq

In the latest issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, Richard Rose recounts his meeting -- along with a few other experts -- with George W. Bush in the Oval Office. The idea -- set up by Peter Feaver when he was at the NSC -- was for Bush to interact with experts on divided societies to see what lessons could be applied to Iraq.

It's entitled, "What Do You Tell the President in Three Minutes about Iraq?" I was a little surprised to see this section:

We were told to expect a wide-ranging and free-flowing discussion--and this forecast was accurate. After the President made several references to the importance of liberty, I reminded him that Isaiah Berlin was not only in favour of liberty but also of order. The place to talk about liberty was not in discussions about a land lacking order but when he next saw President Putin. When the conversation became too academic, the President even began leafing through a book of mine that I had given him that ends with a chapter about America's victory over Iraq in Kuwait, a victory that left his father riding the crest of a wave--after which there was only a one-way option down.

The President listened far more than he spoke and when he did it was to make simple points that many critics dodge, such as: We had to do something after 19 young people blew up 3,000 Americans. (emphasis added)

posted by Dan at 04:32 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Open Turkey thread

CNN reports that the Turkish government has not taken too kindly to the U.S. House of Representatives:

Turkey on Thursday recalled its ambassador to the United States and warned of repercussions in a growing dispute over congressional efforts to label the World War I era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces "genocide."

The U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed the measure 27-21 Wednesday. President Bush and key administration figures lobbied hard against the measure, saying it would create unnecessary headaches for U.S. relations with Turkey.

Turkey -- now a NATO member and a key U.S. ally in the war on terror -- accepts Armenians were killed but call it a massacre during a chaotic time, not an organized campaign of genocide.

The full House could vote on the genocide resolution as early as Friday. A top Turkish official warned Thursday that consequences "won't be pleasant" if the full House approves the resolution.

"Yesterday some in Congress wanted to play hardball," said Egemen Bagis, foreign policy adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "I can assure you Turkey knows how to play hardball."....

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos, D-California, was unmoved by the Turkish government's protests.

"The Turkish government will not act against the United States because that would be against their own interests," he told CNN. "I'm convinced of this."

But Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposing the resolution, and said the backlash threatened by Turkey could disrupt "America's ability to redeploy U.S. military forces from Iraq," a top Democratic priority.

Turkey, a NATO member, has been a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and a conduit for sending supplies into Iraq.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that good relations with Turkey are vital because 70 percent of the air cargo sent to U.S. forces in Iraq and 30 percent of the fuel consumed by those forces fly through Turkey.

U.S. commanders "believe clearly that access to airfields and roads and so on, in Turkey, would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes and the Turks react as strongly as we believe they will," Gates said.

Bagis said no French planes have flown through Turkish airspace since a French Parliament committee passed a similar resolution last year.

He said the response to the U.S. might not be the same, but warned if the full House passes it that "we will do something, and I can promise you it won't be pleasant."

Comment away. A few questions worthy of discussion:
1) Hey, what happened to the Democrats' claimi that they would restore America's image to the rest of the world?

2) Doesn't the Lantos quote sound an awful lot like George W. Bush's strategic thought? UPDATE: This is not the first example of Lantos screwing up U.S. foreign policy.

3) So when will we get to read The Armenian Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy?

posted by Dan at 08:25 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Clearly, there are no constructivists at Foggy Bottom

I've been remiss in not linking to the new State Department blog, DipNote. Part of the reason for the slow-motion link is that Joshua Keating panned it over at Passport ("most of the posts from the big shots consist of little more than summaries of their schedules.... zzzz."). Then there's been the outright mockery.

Clicking over, however, I found this Sean McCormack post about negotiating with Iran pretty interesting. McCormack -- who's the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs -- clearly articulates how Foggy Bottom thinks about the utility of negotiations:

One way the mainstream media breaks down coverage of Iran policy is to place people (both inside and outside government) into two neat categories – those who want to engage Iran and those who want to isolate Iran. Admittedly, there are other ways to create camps on the Iran issue – use of force vs. diplomacy, for example – but the engage vs. isolation dichotomy is the one I most often read about those at State purportedly chomping at the bit to negotiate with an Iranian, any Iranian. Let me offer another way to look at the issue.

I’ll start with a simple premise: diplomacy without incentives and disincentives (carrots and sticks) is just talking. Put another way, diplomacy without the proper mix will accomplish nothing when dealing with an adversary. The question then becomes one of establishing both sides of the equation – incentives and disincentives -- before any negotiation. So those who want to divide the world into engage vs. isolate camps are missing the point. In fact, it is not a binary choice. Instead engagement and isolation are two different sides of the same coin.

Experience tells us that without creating significant leverage, you will fail in a negotiation – unless of course you face a weak or unthinking opponent. So, unless the U.S. creates the right conditions for successful negotiations with Iran, we won’t get anyplace.

This prompts a few questions:
1) Is McCormack correct? If he is, social constrictivists all over the world will be crying themselves to sleep.

2) Does this logic change when one views the very decision to engage in direct negotiations to be an incentive in and of itself?

3) How does the United States look when we don't answer letters?

posted by Dan at 11:08 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Your foreign policy quote of the day

From Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper, "An Israeli Strike on Syria Kindles Debate in the U.S." New York Times, October 10, 2007:

“You can’t just make these [foreign policy] decisions using the top of your spinal cord, you have to use the whole brain,” said Philip D. Zelikow, the former counselor at the State Department. “What other policy are we going to pursue that we think would be better?”

posted by Dan at 08:15 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A first-person account of being lobbied by the Israel lobby

In the Boston Globe, journalist Elaine McArdle describes an AIPAC-funded junket to Israel and the effect it had on her:

I've found myself picking over the question: how much has my opinion on Israel been moved?

It's not hard for me to acknowledge that I'm much more sympathetic to the predicament of Israel than I was before I saw the place so extensively with my own eyes. Traveling the countryside has given me a much clearer picture of its precarious state, with a mere 9 miles separating the West Bank from Tel Aviv - less than from Boston to Concord, and easy distance for rockets. You can certainly see why Israel wouldn't give up the West Bank until it has a partner it can trust. Its existence - and the lives of the people we met - are at risk.

Before the junket, I would have described myself as admiring of Israel but increasingly disturbed by its human rights violations.

Now I would say I find myself aligned with a growing group of former Israeli leftists, those who once believed a peaceful solution was imminent but after the debacle of Gaza have, with heavy hearts, lost their bearings and moved toward the center.

Is this a seismic shift? No. But I also have no way of knowing where I would stand had I paid for the trip with my own money, organized my own interviews, and gotten equal access to the Palestinian point of view.

Our guides, to their credit, showed us the separation wall at its most formidable and depressing. But what life is like on the other side of that wall - whether families are eating olives and grilled fish, what their hopes and dreams for the future are, whether they dream of a nonviolent resolution to the conflict - of this, I have no personal experience.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The 2008 foreign policy wonk list

William Arkin does a public service and compiles a list of all known foreign policy wonks currently advising the major presidential candidates.

Arkin comments:

I think of these advisers as falling into two broad categories: Those providing legitimacy and those seeking legitimacy. The two camps aren't always mutually exclusive. But it's a useful framework for analyzing the list, and may help us sort out any conflict-of-interest charges that may arise in the course of the campaign.
Kevin Drum is unimpressed (hat tip: Ilan Goldenberg):
Of course, what would be more genuinely useful is a list of the people who actually have each candidate's ear on foreign policy, not a telephone book of every single foreign policy wonk who's made an endorsement. I want to know which ones are figureheads and which ones are likely to have West Wing offices in 2009.
It's tricky to do that, because a) wonks will often advise more than one candidate; and b) sometimes wonks from losing campaigns rise to success during the general election (see: Jim Baker).

This is a blog, however, so it seems like fun to take a stab at answering Drum's question. My answers are based entirely on scuttlebutt, half-assed speculation, and some simple rules of thumb. First, ambition goes up, not down -- i.e., Madeleine Albright's not going to be the NSC advisor when she's been Secretary of State. Second, the national security advisor position usually goes to someone who has a longtime relationship with the candidate.

Going through the list:

1) HILLARY CLINTON: Foggy Bottom would go to Richard Holbrooke. National Security Advisor: Lee Feinstein.

2) BARACK OBAMA: Foggy Bottom would go to Anthony Lake. National Security Advisor: Hmmm... interesting list, but I'd put money on Susan Rice.

3) JOHN EDWARDS: Foggy Bottom would go to.... no one on Arkin's list. Not enough name recognition/non-military experience. National Security Advisor: Derek Chollet.

4) RUDOLPH GIULIANI: Foggy Bottom would go to Norman Podhoret... BWA HA HA HA HA HA!!! I'm sorry, I couldn't get that out without laughing. Seriously, on this list, Robert Kasten is the only likely candidate. National Security Advisor: Ken Weinstein Charles Hill.

5) JOHN MCCAIN: Foggy Bottom would go to... well, this depends on whether McCain's contrarian instincts lead him to nominate someone who would constrain his interventionist impulses. If that's the case, then it's Brent Scowcroft or Richard Armitage. If not, then it's James Woolsey. National Security Advisor: Gary Schmitt.

6) MITT ROMNEY: Foggy Bottom would go to... someone on McCain's list -- there's no one on Arkin's list with sufficient gravitas. National Security Advisor: Mitchell Reiss.

Readers are strongly encouraged to disabuse me of any of these predictions with really good inside dirt.

UPDATE: Blake Hounshell informs me that, "Anthony Lake has said in no uncertain terms that he will not return to government and is happy as a Georgetown professor."

Assuming that this statement is genuine and not boilerplate, the only other name on Obama's list that might come up for Foggy Bottom would be Dennis Ross, though it's a major step up.

posted by Dan at 03:49 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, September 28, 2007

China's new foreign policy headaches

Andrew Sullivan nicely recaps the state of play in Burma. I confess I've been loathe to blog about events there because, knowing the military regime's track record in that country, there is only one way this will end.

Quentin Peel uses this flare-up on China's southern border to point out that Beijing is beginning to adjust to the fact that the world expects responsibility to go along with power:

The prospect of growing chaos in the confrontation between Burma’s military junta and civilian protesters provides a critical challenge to China’s efforts to forge a new international image as an influential and responsible world leader.

It calls into question the Chinese position of non-interference in the politics of countries with which it does business, and the absolute priority for political “stability” – which hitherto has always meant an acceptance of the status quo....

Senior Chinese academics attending a Sino-European dialogue in Paris this week repeated the familiar mantra that China puts development before democracy. But they also admitted that growing experience of operating conditions in Africa has caused Chinese officials to start discussing issues such as the rule of law, corporate social responsibility, and institution building.

Neighbouring Burma is far more sensitive for Beijing than distant African states such as Sudan and Angola, but there are similar signs of growing frustration with the Burmese military regime, as much for its incompetence as for its brutality.

“China is changing its identity from being a spectator to being an actor,” said Professor Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, at the Paris seminar, hosted by the EU Institute for Security Studies. “Now it increasingly realises its responsibilities outside China.”

The question, of course, is whether senior Chinese officials are heading in the same direction as the senior Chinese academics.

posted by Dan at 07:47 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is the United States more anxious than it used to be?

In the wake of Ahmadinejad's romp through New York, there's a meme that Americans, by not extending every courtesy to him, have displayed an anxiety that would have never existed during the Cold War, when conservatives had no power.

For example, everyone and their mother link to a Rick Perlstein essay that compares and contrasts Ahmadinejad's visit with Nikita Khruschchev's 1959 visit to the United States. Here's a snippet:

Nikita Khrushchev disembarked from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base to a 21-gun salute and a receiving line of 63 officials and bureaucrats, ending with President Eisenhower. He rode 13 miles with Ike in an open limousine to his guest quarters across from the White House. Then he met for two hours with Ike and his foreign policy team. Then came a white-tie state dinner. (The Soviets then put one on at the embassy for Ike.) He joshed with the CIA chief about pooling their intelligence data, since it probably all came from the same people—then was ushered upstairs to the East Wing for a leisurely gander at the Eisenhowers' family quarters. Visited the Agriculture Department's 12,000 acre research station ("If you didn't give a turkey a passport you couldn't tell the difference between a Communist and capitalist turkey"), spoke to the National Press Club, toured Manhattan, San Francisco (where he debated Walter Reuther on Stalin's crimes before a retinue of AFL-CIO leaders, or in K's words, "capitalist lackeys"), and Los Angeles (there he supped at the 20th Century Fox commissary, visited the set of the Frank Sinatra picture Can Can but to his great disappointment did not get to visit Disneyland), and sat down one more with the president, at Camp David. Mrs. K did the ladies-who-lunch circuit, with Pat Nixon as guide. Eleanor Roosevelt toured them through Hyde Park. It's not like it was all hearts and flowers. He bellowed that America, as Time magazine reported, "must close down its worldwide deterrent bases and disarm." Reporters asked him what he'd been doing during Stalin's blood purges, and the 1956 invasion of Hungary. A banquet of 27 industrialists tried to impress upon him the merits of capitalism. Nelson Rockefeller rapped with him about the Bible.

Had America suddenly succumbed to a fever of weak-kneed appeasement? Had the general running the country—the man who had faced down Hitler!—proven himself what the John Birch Society claimed he was: a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy?

No. Nikita Khrushchev simply visited a nation that had character. That was mature, well-adjusted. A nation confident we were great. We had our neuroses, to be sure—plenty of them.

But look now what we have lost. Now when a bad guy crosses our threshhold, America becomes a pants-piddling mess.

Look, this is a pretty silly historical comparison. There are several reasons why the U.S. treated Khrushchev differently than Ahmadinejad, none of which have to do with the relative power of American conservatives:
1) The USSR was an acknowledged superpower; Iran is not. And yes, these things should matter in how foreign potentates are treated. And last I checked, neither Hu Jintao nor Vladimir Putin has complained about their treatment in visits to the United States during the Bush years. In fact, as Matt Zeitlin observes, Hu got the 21-gun salute and exchange of toasts the last time he was in the USA.

2) Khrushchev had no problem wearing a tuxedo and delighting in the petty charms of the bourgeoisie as it were. If we even offered a white tie dinner to Ahmadinejad, does anyone think he'd actually accept? And what would he wear?

This sounds like a small difference, but it's symbolic of the larger cultural gap that exists between Iran and the U.S. than existed between the superpowers during the Cold War.

3) In 1959, the Soviets weren't viewed as defecting from the tacit rules regarding nuclear weapons. Once they were suspected of violating those rules, I'm astonished to report that Cold War liberals started acting in a different manner.

Take a look, for example, at this video of Adlai Stevenson's famous 1962 UN speech in which he confronted Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin about the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba -- glamorized in Thirteen Days.

Click on over and check out the speech for yourself. We get nuggets like these:

Mr. Zorin and gentlemen, I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I don't have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language, and for doubletalk. And I must confess to you that I'm glad I don't.
Wow, that Stevenson was a pants-piddler, wasn't he?

The current crisis with Iran is not the same as the Cuban Missile Crisis -- but it's worth remembering that Iran concealed its nuclear activities from the IAEA for two decades. So you'll excuse Americans for not taking too kindly to Ahmadinejad.

Historical analogies are always a dangerous minefield, but this cherry-picking of the historical record should make amateur analogists blush with embarrassment.

UPDATE: Robert Farley responds here: "Since the point of the wingnutty is that Ahmadinejad is EVIL DANGER EVIL DANGER EVIL DANGER EVIL and must be silenced at all costs, the comparison seems quite apt."

Farley's post clarifies for me where liberal bloggers are coming from on this point, but it also throws up the problem that Perlstein and Farley are now comparing apples with oranges. Both compare the official U.S. handling of Khrushchev (state dinner, etc.) with the unofficial response of Americans to Ahmadinejad (Columbia, visiting 9/11 shrine, blog responses, etc.). One could argue that to many non-Americans, someone like Lee Bollinger appears to be an official spokesman for the foreign policy establishment of the United States. To Americans, however, that's a pretty ludicrous assumption.

The Bush administration's response to Ahmadinejad's visit hasn't exactly been receptive, but does the president walking out of the General Assembly prior to Ahmadinejad's speech really constitute pants-piddling?

posted by Dan at 01:24 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

White House also intent on finding body of Jimmy Hoffa

AFP reports the following on the 6th anniversary of 9/11:

The White House vowed Tuesday the United States would capture elusive Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as it marked the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

US President George W. Bush has pledged "he'd like to find him. He said all along: we are going to find him," spokesman Tony Snow said, just hours after a new video of bin Laden praising one of the 9/11 hijackers was released.

But Snow added: "The fact is that the war against terror is not a war against one guy, Osama bin Laden. It is against a network that uses all sorts of ways of trying to recruit new terrorists."

Well, so long as President Bush is serious about this -- you can absolutely count on it happening.

posted by Dan at 03:37 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 10, 2007

The 2008 foreign affairs advisor sweepstakes

As I wrote during the last election cycle, foreign policy advisors tend to gravitate towards the candidate they think is the frontrunner -- which makes them a possible leading indicator for which way the race will go.

Via Ross Douthat, I see that Michael Hirsch has done some legwork on this subject for Newsweek's web site.

Two facts stand out. The first is that Obama has held his own vis-à-vis Clinton:

A group of prominent former senior officials in Bill Clinton's administration are informally working for Obama by taking charge of his advisory groups on different regions and issues. Among them: Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar from both the Clinton and Bush administrations; Jeffrey Bader, the Mandarin-speaking former director for Asian affairs on Clinton's National Security Council and assistant U.S. trade representative; former Mideast envoys Rob Malley and Dennis Ross; and the recently retired career CIA official and former Clinton-era National Security Council expert on South Asia, Bruce Riedel. Obama has also managed to recruit a large number of former junior and midlevel Clinton officials, especially many who served on Clinton's National Security Council. Among them: Mona Sutphen, Sandy Berger's former special assistant; ex-Clarke deputy Roger Cressey; former NSC Russia director Mark Brzezinski; Sarah Sewell, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense; and Philip Gordon, a former Clinton NSC director for Europe. (Some of these officials, like Riedel, Ross and Malley insist they are giving advice to anyone who asks, including Hillary.)

The more experienced Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has relied largely on her husband and a triumvirate of senior officials from his presidency—former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former national-security adviser Sandy Berger (who tries to keep a low profile after pleading guilty in 2005 to misdemeanor charges of taking classified material without authorization). Hillary also consults with an informal group of 30 less prominent advisers. But she has shown increasing anxiety over Obama's active recruiting effort—so much so that she recently hired Lee Feinstein, a prominent and well-connected scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, to launch an "outreach" program similar to Obama's. Perhaps the hardest loss for the Clintonites is Greg Craig, the former lawyer for President Clinton who, along with former Albright protégée Susan Rice, a Clinton-era assistant secretary of state for Africa, and former national-security adviser Tony Lake, is considered one of Obama's closest confidants.

Craig told me he hadn't felt any hostility from his former colleagues in the Clinton inner circle. But other former Bill Clinton aides who have lined up with Obama say they have been warned that if Hillary wins the nomination their disloyalty will be remembered. Indeed, many junior or midlevel officials from the Clinton national security team continue to gravitate to Obama because they are wary of what one describes as Hillary's "closed circle." "A lot of us associated with the Clinton presidency had great feelings of loyalty to Bill Clinton, but those didn't extend to Hillary," says Obama Asia expert Jeffrey Bader. "I'm not a great believer in dynasties." Another official says, "There is a sense consciously or subconsciously that we don't want to just go back to same team: Holbrooke, Sandy, Madeleine...the same people having the same arguments about who's going to be in the room."

The second interesting fact is that this metric demonstrates how bad Republicans have it right now:
The Republican candidates have the opposite problem: with the president's popularity at Nixonian lows and his foreign policy in broad disfavor with the electorate, nobody is rushing to hire the president's team. Normally, candidates would rush to seek the counsel of high-powered alumni of the president's foreign policy team. But so many of its members—like neocon hawks Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith—are now thought to be tainted, their views are not widely welcomed. (An exception: the highly respected Robert Zoellick, former U.S. trade rep and deputy secretary of state. But Zoellick took himself out of the game when he replaced Wolfowitz as World Bank president in May.) At the same time, the Republicans' conservative base doesn't have much taste for the realists who dominated foreign-policy thinking in past GOP administrations (except for über-adviser Henry Kissinger, who has managed to transcend these divides with the same aplomb he has shown in past campaigns). For Republicans "there's no upside in declaring, 'These are my advisers.' The base hates realists, and neocons are too controversial," says sometime Romney adviser Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. "So the thinking is, don't define yourself by foreign-policy advisers."

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Petraeus-Crocker thread

Comment away on David Petraues and Ryan Crocker's presentations to Congress on the effects of the surge strategy.

My three questions:

1) Will anyone's mind be changed by what Petraeus and Crocker actually say? In other words, are there any undecideds actually left in Congress (and in the country, for that matter)?

2) How much should their testimony be weighed against the mutiple independent assessments of Iraq -- many of which are more pessimistic?

3) At what point does the failure of any political solution nullify whatever military gains have been achieved in the short run?

UPDATE: Kevin Drum is watching the hearings and points out a problem for Republicans:
Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Republicans are making a big mistake by spending all their TV time this morning complaining about accusations that Gen. Petraeus is cooking the books in his assessment of progress in Iraq? Repeating the accusation, even if it's only to denounce it, is still repeating the accusation.
The Washington Post's Shankar Vedantam would agree with Drum.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This BBC poll is making the rounds in the blogosphere -- and would seem to represent a direct challenge to the Petraeus/Crocker depiction of Iraq.

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The strategic thought of George W. Bush

Robert Draper's new Bush biography, Dead Certain, is being excerpted in Slate this week. Let's see how George W. Bush thinks strategically. This is from late 2006:

"The job of the president," he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, "is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can't play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You've gotta think, think BIG. The Iranian issue," he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, "is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran's a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you've got a dangerous situation. ... That's what I mean by strategic thought. I don't know how you learn that. I don't think there's a moment where that happened to me. I really don't. I know you're searching for it. I know it's difficult. I do know—y'know, how do you decide, how do you learn to decide things? When you make up your mind, and you stick by it—I don't know that there's a moment, Robert. I really—You either know how to do it or you don't. I think part of this is it: I ran for reasons. Principled reasons. There were principles by which I will stand on. And when I leave this office I'll stand on them. And therefore you can't get driven by polls. Polls aren't driven by principles. They're driven by the moment. By the nanosecond."
Look past the description of his mastication and consider the following discussion question: what is missing from George Bush's strategic thought?

UPDATE: Well, Kevin Drum ruins the whole exercise by giving away the answer.

Actually, that's not entirely fair. Bush has thought about the situation in the Middle East, and has clearly determined what he thinks is the best U.S. response. To use some game-theoretic language, however, it's decision-theoretic, not strategic.

Take Bush's description of the situation as a given (I don't, but it doesn't matter for this exercise). He has determined, in his mind, the best U.S. response and defines that as strategic thinking. Except that, in this quote at least, what has not done is contemplate:

a) How the Iranian leadership might respond to U.S. policies;

b) How the Iranian people might respond to U.S. policies;

c) How the rest of the region might respond to U.S. policies;

d) How our key allies might respond to U.S. policies.

Part of strategic thought is contemplating how others might react to what you do. There's none of that in George W. Bush's strategic thought.

posted by Dan at 11:12 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

The tough test of Iran

Last month I blogged repeatedly that the political climate surrounding the Iraq invasion was historically unique. You had a popular president, a cowed opposition scarred from opposition to the last Gulf War, a track record of military success, and the memory of the 9/11 attacks fresh in America's mind. Since one of those conditions hold now, I concluded, "contra the netroots, I don't think what happened in the fall of 2002 will happen again with, say, Iran."

Well, now I see that we're going to have a tough test of my hypothesis. From Afghan expert Barnett Rubin:

Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:
They [the source's institution] have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this--they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty."
Of course I cannot verify this report.
Well, Rubin spoke too soon. The New Yorker's George Packer blogs:
Barnett Rubin just called me. His source spoke with a neocon think-tanker who corroborated the story of the propaganda campaign and had this to say about it: “I am a Republican. I am a conservative. But I’m not a raging lunatic. This is lunatic.”
In the Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave writes the following:
After a brief interruption of his New Hampshire vacation to meet President Bush in the family compound at Kenebunkport, Maine, French President Nicolas Sarkozy came away convinced his U.S. counterpart is serious about bombing Iran's secret nuclear facilities. That's the reading as it filtered back to Europe's foreign ministries:

Addressing the annual meeting of France's ambassadors to 188 countries, Mr. Sarkozy said either Iran lives up to its international obligations and relinquishes its nuclear ambitions — or it will be bombed into compliance. Mr. Sarkozy also made it clear he did not agree with the Iranian-bomb-or-bombing-of-Iran position, which reflects the pledge of Mr. Bush to his loyalists, endorsed by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent. But Mr. Sarkozy recognized unless Iran's theocrats stop enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), we will all be "faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic."

A ranking Swiss official privately said, "Anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East knows that any bombing of Iran would touch off at the very least regional instability and what could be an unmitigated disaster for Western interests."

So, we'll see after 9/11 whether the Bush administration can repeat history without it turning into a farce. Lord knows, Iran's regime will elicit little sympathy from Americans -- nor should it.

That said, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there are strong reasons to believe we won't be attacking Iran anytime soon. According to Spencer Ackerman over at TPM Muckraker:

Cheney's likely motivation for issuing such instructions to his think-tank allies would be to win an inter-administration battle over the future of Iran policy. Cheney, an advocate of confronting the Iranians militarily, faces opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where the primary concern is preventing an open-ended Iraq commitment from decimating military preparedness for additional crises. A new war is the last thing the chiefs want, and on this, they're backed by Defense Secretary Bob Gates. "It may be that the president hasn't decided yet," says Rubin.

On this reading, the real target of any coordinated campaign between the VP and right-wing D.C. think tanks on Iran isn't the Iranians themselves, or even general public opinion, but the Pentagon. Cheney needs to soften up his opposition inside the administration if Bush is to ultimately double down on a future conflict, something that a drumbeat of warnings about the Iranian threat can help accomplish.

This time around, Bush and Cheney will face a sizeable domestic opposition, a hostile foreign policy community, and opposition from within the executive branch. So I don't think they have the ability to just say "f$%* it" and go ahead.

The next few weeks will be a good test of this hypothesis.

One final caveat -- much of this speculation about a rollout in the first place relies on one source -- Rubin. So this might just be a lot of blog bloviation about nothing.

UPDATE: Some commenters are curious about where I stand normatively on attacking Iraq. Click here for an answer.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmmm.... is this evidence for the rollout? Or are Bush and Cheney merely dancing to the whims of the Israel Lobby? Who's the puppet and who's the puppeteer in this production?

posted by Dan at 08:14 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Some non-demagogic reviews of The Israel Lobby

With regard to "The Israel Lobby," Matthew Yglesias argues that, "The originally essay certainly had its flaws, but it was much better than the demagogic counter-campaign it unleashed." Perhaps, but the initial reviews of the book are neither demagogic nor terribly flattering.

For example, check out Geoffrey Kemp and Ben Fishman in The National Interest online. TNI is generally perceived as a having a "realist" bent, but I can't say these reviews are that encouraging.

Kemp -- by far the more sympathetic of the two reviewers -- has this to say:

By my count there are 1,247 footnotes; only three refer to correspondence with a source and only two mention interviews with sources. I could find no references to any communication with key players in the U.S. government, the Israeli lobbies and Israel who might have had some interesting confidential comments on the matter in question. It seems that their research lacked extensive field work, including background interviews, especially among the Washington elite who make up both the lobby and its targets. This is not a trivial matter, and as a consequence the book has a sharp, somewhat strident and detached tone -- devoid of the atmospheric frills and descriptions of the personality quirks and complicated motivations of key players that are to be found in the works of the best investigative journalists. It is also superficial in its coverage of the Washington think-tank community, an issue that is worthy of more space than is available in this quick review....

The book—however flawed and one-dimensional—deserves to be read and challenged in a wide number of forums.

In The New Yorker, David Remnick has a similar take, but a different conclusion: he blames the furor on the Bush administration:
“The Israel Lobby” is a phenomenon of its moment. The duplicitous and manipulative arguments for invading Iraq put forward by the Bush Administration, the general inability of the press to upend those duplicities, the triumphalist illusions, the miserable performance of the military strategists, the arrogance of the Pentagon, the stifling of dissent within the military and the government, the moral disaster of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the rise of an intractable civil war, and now an incapacity to deal with the singular winner of the war, Iran—all of this has left Americans furious and demanding explanations. Mearsheimer and Walt provide one: the Israel lobby. In this respect, their account is not so much a diagnosis of our polarized era as a symptom of it.

posted by Dan at 11:56 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What did the foreign policy community think about Iraq?

James Joyner has an interesting essay in TCS Daily that takes a closer look at what the "foreign policy community" said about Iraq prior to and immediately after the conflict:

While there are several substantive issues within the debate that interest me, what is most striking is that the basic premise - that most foreign policy public intellectuals supported the Iraq War - didn't comport at all with my recollection of the contemporaneous debate. During that period, I was working as the foreign affairs acquisitions editor for a D.C. area publishing house and reading the literature and attending conferences and think tank presentations on a constant basis.

I recalled a security policy community dominated by Realists were almost universally opposed to the war. Perhaps, though, my perceptions were colored by my own biases and the passage of time? I decided that it was worth a long journey through the Foreign Affairs archives to test my memory [Joyner also looks at the Foreign Policy and International Security archives--DD.]. The results are very much a mixed bag....

What's striking [about the archives] is not so much the unanimity of opinion but rather the dearth of articles on the most important foreign policy debate of the day. This trend was to continue for quite some time, despite a bi-monthly publication schedule. Indeed, several issues had no articles at all whose titles or precis suggested more than a tangential mention of Iraq....

In 2004 and afterwards, as one might expect, there were plenty of articles in the magazine critical of the war....

What's striking, though, is how "business as usual" the article selection remained throughout the entire period. Entire issues went by without an article on Iraq or even the Middle East and most issues continued to have the standard mix of articles on Africa, the global economy, environmental issues, human rights, and so forth. Indeed, it might have escaped the attention of a casual observer glancing at the covers (which list the prominent articles in each issue) that the country was at war....

Nonetheless, it appears that the leftist critique, especially Benen's, is right: Despite the overwhelming view of security scholars I encountered in academic conferences and at think tank presentations, the foreign policy Establishment treated the war with dispassion, seemingly afraid to take a strong stand. More importantly, it treated the march to war as a mere curiosity no more worthy of attention than presidential elections in Brazil, whether World Trade Organization judges had too much power, or economic reform in Japan.

That, more than being wrong in their predictions about the future, is the real failure of the foreign policy community. None of us has a crystal ball and our analyses of prospective events are frequently going to fall short. Public policy experts merely owe the public their best reasoning and to engage in a vigorous debate when no consensus exists.

I have a slightly different take than Joyner. First off, a journal like Foreign Affairs is an imperfect subject for this kind of analysis. The lag time between submission and publication can be several months, and I suspect that the speed with which Iraq got to the frontburner overtook publicaton schedules. (Parenthetically, if you check other archives, like The Washington Quarterly's, you'll find some prescient pieces).

[UPDATE: For comparison, I checked the Foreign Affairs archives for 1990-91 to see what happened prior to the first Gulf War. The only pre-war discussion appeared in the Winter1990/91 issue, with articles by Fouad Ajami and Stanley Reed. Neither of those addressed the validity of going to war or not.]

As Joyner acknowledges, "there are forums other than elite foreign affairs journals for experts to influence the public debate." A great B.A. or M.A. thesis, by the way, would be to comb through the op-ed archives of the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today to see what was said there (if someone's done this already, please send it along). [UPDATE: In The American Prospect, Todd Gitlin did a partial analysis of the Washington Post op-ed page.]

Second, there are several reasons why foreign policy public intellectuals would not have written about Iraq in 2002-3. Kevin Drum lists some of the careerist reasons here, and that likely played a part. But another explanation is that it's possible to possess genuine expertise on a foreign policy issue and not have anything close to expertise about invading Iraq (I certainly fall into this category, which is why I only discussed the question on the blog). You can't expect someone writing about presidential elections in Brazil, World Trade Organization judges, or economic reform in Japan to suddenly shift gears and focus on Iraq in thei publications. It might be more accurate for Joyner to criticize the editors of foreign policy elite journals for running too many non-Iraq pieces in 2002-3.

I understand the anger directed at the "foreign policy community" -- I just think the indictment is way too broad.

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 20, 2007

OK, we're making some progress here....

Blog debates tend to have diminishing marginal returns after the initial volley of posts, so I'd like to walk away from debating Glenn Greenwald before we run into Godwin's Law.

Fortunately, his latest post clarifies our points of agreement and disagreement quite nicely.

First, I think we're in agreement about the following:

1) You can critique members of the foreign policy community (FPC) for getting Iraq wrong -- but they are not responsible for the war itself. As Greenwald says:
The Bush administration would have invaded Iraq no matter who was on board. They only sought an AUMF from Congress once Congress promised to vote in favor of it.... So in that regard, Drezner's point is correct that the war would have happened even without the FPC "scholars" cheering it on.
Of course, many on the left -- including Greenwald -- still think that liberal FPC members played a legitimating role. That might be true, but that's a very different discussion than saying these people are responsible for the war.

2) Ideological rigidity or narrowness is bad. Greenwald writes:

Personally, I would not want a foreign policy community composed solely or predominantly of netroots ideologues. Debates benefit from a clash of ideas, from inclusion of the full spectrum of positions. That is precisely the point.
Fair enough. At this point, the netroots perspective on U.S. foreign policy certainly deserves more of a hearing than the neoconservatives.
Greenwald and I factually disagree about the following:
1) The reputational costs incurred by Iraq hawks within the foreign policy community. Greenwald believes that O'Hanlon and Pollack have not paid a steep enough price for their past mistakes:
[T]he credibility hits are still relatively minor -- they can still walk onto the Op-Ed pages of the NYT, WP and cable news shows at will, will still be treated as "serious experts," and almost certainly will occupy key national security positions in the next Democratic administration, particularly in a Clinton administration. That is rather extraordinary, given how consistently, unrepentantly, dishonestly, destructively and fundamentally wrong they have been about the single most important foreign policy question of our time.
I disagree -- in fact, I'll bet Greenwald that neither Pollack nor O'Hanlon will be given a Senate-confirmable position in any Democratic administration. Furthermore, as Shadi Hamid observes, neoconservatives have lost a lot of influence inside the beltway. But this is a matter of interpretation going forward, so we'll see.

2) The extent of the post-Iraq shift within the FPC. Greenwald writes:

[There have been] some rhetorical changes on the margins. But the central premises that led us into Iraq -- particularly the right of the U.S. to use military force even against countries that have not attacked us and the placement of faith in the ability of wars to achieve complex ends -- seem as strong as ever. Compare who the "experts" are and what they are saying now (about, for instance, Iran and Iraq) to the ones who were predominant in 2003 and one sees very little difference.
OK, let's go to the latest Center for American Progress survey of foreign policy wonks. We find the following:
Chastened by the fighting in Iraq, the U.S national security community also appears eager not to make the same mistakes elsewhere. For instance, though a majority—83 percent—do not believe Tehran when it says its nuclear program is intended for peaceful, civilian purposes, just 8 percent favor military strikes in response. Eight in 10, on the other hand, say the United States should use either sanctions or diplomatic talks to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Similarly, a majority of the experts favor some kind of engagement with groups that may be labeled terrorist organizations but have gained popular support at the ballot box, such as Hamas in the Palestinian Territories or Hezbollah in Lebanon. It’s one indication that, after six years, we may be entering a new chapter in the war on terror.
To me this is more than a marginal shift. These numbers would have looked radically different in 2003.
Greenwald and I conceptually disagree about the following:
1) The utility of the term "imperial". Greenwald writes:
[A]nyone who challenges the general entitlement of the U.S. to intervene at will is generally relegated to the leftist fringes, and "pacifist" is a nice dismissive slur that accomplishes that.

By stark contrast, I use the term "imperialist" because it is accurately describes the predominant foreign policy ideology, not because it demonizes.

Give me a break. I certainly did not mean "pacifist" as a dismissive slur -- but Greenwald took it that way. Funny how the words you believe to be value-neutral are interpreted in a different way by others.

Does he seriously believe that members of the foreign policy community would not take the term "imperial" as pejorative? It's a loaded term, and as this back-and-forth with Greenwald suggests, conceptually slippery enough to be of little use. Citing a few examples of its use in mainstream discourse is insufficient. Beyond a brief embrace of the term by neocons between 2001 and 2003, the concept is viewed as tainted inside the beltway.

If Greenwald and the netroots want to hold onto the "imperial" categorization, that's their choice. But it's a loaded term that will poison any debate with the foreign policy community.

There's more conceptual disagreement (I don't think the foreign policy community is as big into "slaughtering innocents" as Greenwald claims), but that's a good statement of the lay of the land of what has, so far, been a fruitful debate from my perspective.

Let's hear it from the commenters.

UPDATE: Over at Democracy Arsenal, Michael Cohen offers a rejoinder to Greenwald that is also worth reading.

posted by Dan at 05:26 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Darn that ideological rigidity!!

Wow, Glenn Greenwald is right, there is a remarkable consensus among America's "foreign policy community" about the use of force:

No effort of the U.S. government was more harshly criticized, however, than the war in Iraq. In fact, that conflict appears to be the root cause of the experts’ pessimism about the state of national security. Nearly all—92 percent—of the index’s experts said the war in Iraq negatively affects U.S. national security, an increase of 5 percentage points from a year ago. Negative perceptions of the war in Iraq are shared across the political spectrum, with 84 percent of those who describe themselves as conservative taking a dim view of the war’s impact. More than half of the experts now oppose the White House’s decision to “surge” additional troops into Baghdad, a remarkable 22 percentage-point increase from just six months ago. Almost 7 in 10 now support a drawdown and redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq.

Chastened by the fighting in Iraq, the U.S national security community also appears eager not to make the same mistakes elsewhere. For instance, though a majority—83 percent—do not believe Tehran when it says its nuclear program is intended for peaceful, civilian purposes, just 8 percent favor military strikes in response. Eight in 10, on the other hand, say the United States should use either sanctions or diplomatic talks to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Similarly, a majority of the experts favor some kind of engagement with groups that may be labeled terrorist organizations but have gained popular support at the ballot box, such as Hamas in the Palestinian Territories or Hezbollah in Lebanon. It’s one indication that, after six years, we may be entering a new chapter in the war on terror.

Here's the list of experts who participated in the survey (which includes your humble blogger).

Click here to read the full report.

If only the netroots could save us from these imperialist pig-dogs. Or, as one conservative blogger characterized the list of experts, "a Kos Convention for George Soros."

UPDATE: More on this point in this post.

posted by Dan at 02:50 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Taking Glenn Greenwald seriously

Glenn Greenwald has a post up in response to yesterday's flurry of blog exchanges between the "netroots" and "foreign policy community."

In his post, he critiques my critique of his critique of the "foreign policy community" as follows:

[T]he notion that the U.S. should not attack another country unless that country has attacked or directly threatens our national security is not really extraordinary. Quite the contrary, that is how virtually every country in the world conducts itself, and it is a founding principle of our country. Starting wars against countries that have not attacked you, and especially against those who cannot attack you, is abnormal. Drezner refers to my "very strange definition of imperialism," but the belief that military force can be used whenever we decide that our vaguely defined "national interests" would be served by such a war is the hallmark of an imperial power.

It may very well serve our "national interests" to start a war because we want to control someone else's resources, or because we think it would be good if they had a different government, or because we want the world to fear us, or because we want to change the type of political system they have, or because they aren't complying with our dictates, or because we want to use their land as military bases, or because they are going to acquire weapons we tell them they are not allowed to have. But those who believe that war is justifiable and desirable under those circumstances are, by definition, espousing an imperial ideology.

Ruling the world that way through superior military force -- starting wars even when our national security is not directly at risk -- is the definitional behavior of an empire. And, without even realizing that he is doing so, Drezner defends the Foreign Policy Community by describing, accurately, its central, unquestioned orthodoxy as embracing precisely this view of America's role in the world. That is the whole point here.

In the Foreign Policy Community, these propositions are virtually never debated and anyone who contests them is almost certain to have their Seriousness credentials questioned, if not revoked. The only real "debate" that takes place within the Community are tactical and implementation questions, all within the assumed belief that the U.S. should act as a hegemonic power and can and should use military force at will.

That is why war opponents on the "left" -- including bloggers -- were and still are deemed Unserious even though they proved to be correct. Their opposition was not based (at least principally) on the belief that we were using the wrong "force deployment packages," that the timing was wrong, that we should have waited a little longer (that type of "opposition" was the only permitted type). Rather, it was largely based on the notion that the war itself was illegitimate because Iraq had not attacked us and could not threaten our national security, and that going around bombing, invading and occupying other countries which haven't attacked us is both immoral and/or self-destructive.

Yet these days, expressing that rather ordinary belief -- that it is wrong to start a war against a country except where they attack you, are about to, or directly threaten your national security (such as by harboring terrorist groups waging attacks on your country) -- will subject you to the accusation that you are a "pacifist," a term Daniel Drezer (sic) incoherently (though revealingly) applies to me.

That is how far we have come, how low we have fallen, how recklessly and extraordinarily pro-war we are as a country as a result of our Foreign Policy Community. Now, if you believe that we should wage war only when a country actually attacks us or threatens our national security, then you are a "pacifist," an unserious leftist who is removed from mainstream discourse....

There is nothing wrong per se with our foreign policy establishment embracing rigid ideological views. But it ought not pretend to be something other than that. And the ideology it has embraced, and the ideologues who exert the greatest influence and command the most respect within it, have engendered disasters of unparalleled magnitude. At the very least, that ought to lead to exactly what the Foreign Policy Community hates most -- namely, an examination of whether our "experts" really still deserve to have their opinions treated with respect and their judgments assumed to be reliable, apolitical and, most of all, serious.

Contra his implication, I think Greenwald's points should be taken seriously, so let me respond in kind:

1) As I explained in my updated post, I was wrong to label Greenwald a "pacifist", and I apologize to Greenwald for the incorrect labeling. "Non-interventionism" or perhaps "Jeffersonian" would have been better terms. That was a poor word choice by me on an important point, and unfortunately it seems to have distracted many from the primary points of disagreement. Sorry.

It is ironic, however, that Greenwald is complaining about being crudely lumped together with others who would agree with him about Iraq, since his original post did an awful lot of lumping together of disparate views by members of the "foreign policy community." So let's move on.

2) Greenwald is using an overly expansive definition of imperialism. "[T]he belief that military force can be used whenever we decide that our vaguely defined 'national interests' would be served by such a war" is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an imperial power. Indeed, by that definition, China, India, Russia, the European Union (the UK and France in particular), Australia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Nigeria are also imperial powers. Greenwald's definition is way too permissive, in that it includes all states that have used force in the past few decades. Using the word "imperial" to describe what great powers have been doing for decades pretty much strips the term of any concrete meaning.

For useful (and academic) debates on whether the United States is an empire, click here and here. It's worth observing that the article more sympathetic to Greenwald's position on imperialism nevertheless concludes that: "Decades-long geopolitical developments have, in fact, tended to render American relations less, rather than more, imperial in character.... the salience of even informal imperial relations in American foreign policy, as we noted earlier, may be in decline." So much for the powerful influence of the imperialist foreign policy community.

3) Greenwald is conflating an awful lot of disparate but "mainstream" views within his definition of the "foreign policy community." There is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and vigorously advocating its use. As I said in my previous post, there are vigorous debates about what constitutes a "vital national interest" Greenwald himself acknowledges that force should be an option when other countries "directly threaten your national security" or harbor terrorist groups that will do the same. How does one define direct threats to national security? For the United States, would civil war in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan qualify? Should the use of force be categorically rejected in both cases? Does Iran's links to the Khobar Towers bombing justify the use of force against Teheran, as per Greenwald's criteria?

These are important questions, and they're being debated amongst members of the foreign policy community. Greenwald seems to think that "rigid ideological views" have stifled such a debate. But consider that you can't get more "foreign policy community" than Brent Scowcroft, and he vigorously opposed attacking Iraq. Does Greenwald believe Scowcroft was "shunned" by the rest of the foreign policy community?

This brings up another point. Greenwald feels that he is not taken seriously by the FPC because he did not support the war in Iraq. But respecting others' opinions has a reciprocal quality to it, and it doesn't seem to me that Greenwald is taking those who disagree with him seriously at all. Is labeling everyone within the so-called foreign policy community as "imperialist" useful to promoting an exchange of ideas?

4) Greenwald did not address some of the points I made in my last post, so I'll rephrase them here:

a) Do you believe that analysts like O'Hanlon and Pollack have the same credibility now that they did in 2002?

What about the neocons? Over at Democracy Arsenal, Shadi Hamid points out:

Maybe a handful of neocons are still around and kicking, in places like AEI perhaps. But PNAC, the former standard-bearer of the movement, appears to have fallen off the face of the earth, while analysts like Steve Clemons has documented extensively how the neocons are an embattled and dwindling minority in the Bush administration. In short, as a movement, they are significantly weaker and less respected now than they were, say, 4 years ago, which makes me wonder if Greenwald is using a different definition than I am.
Even within the Bush administration itself, U.S. foreign policy in 2007 looks very different from U.S. foreign policy in 2002.

b) Do you believe that the "foreign policy community" enabled the Iraq War? Given the political facts of life in the fall of 2002, do you really think that think tank protests would have derailed the war? Is a failure to oppose Iraq the same thing as cheerleading the invasion?

In response to InstaPutz, this difference matters. It is one thing to chastise an analyst for getting his or her analysis of invading Iraq wrong. It is an entirely different (and, yes, more egregious) thing to accuse them of "taking us to war" or "has nontrivial responsibility for the hundreds of thousands dead."

c) Do you believe that the political and policy conditions that made the Iraq war possible in 2002 are still present today? You point to Pollack and (Fred) Kagan getting together, but what about the universe of wonks and analysts beyond Pollack, Kagan, and O'Hanlon? Do you really believe that the rest of the "foreign policy community" has the same view of the costs and benefits of military action that they held five years ago. I certainly don't -- and neither does the Center for American Progress. For example, the ridicule that Rudy Giuliani's essay received in "mainstream" quarters suggests that the ground has shifted.

This doesn't mean I categorically reject the use of force either -- but, as I said above, there's a difference between considering force as a viable policy option and then deciding to use it.

d) You accuse the foreign policy community of holding "rigid ideological views." After hearing reports about, say, YearlyKos, in what way are the outsiders you want included in the conversation more ideologically diverse? Indeed, would a netroots-driven foreign policy community be any more tolerant of ideas than the group you've been lambasting?

There's a lot more, but that can be dealt with in future posts. If Greenwald wants a serious dialogue, I'm happy to engage him.

UPDATE: Greenwald responds to my post here. He's clearly far quicker in being able to compose large blocks of prose than I, so I might be a bit slower in responding. It's a useful, nay, "serious" response, however, and well worth reading.

ANOTHER UPDATE: My reply is here.

posted by Dan at 09:32 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Where's the netroots when you need them?

Despite my latest jabs at the netroots, I don't think their argument is completely without merit. There are issues where the foreign policy community, like any community, begins to placidly accept consensus without going back and questioning first principles. Like, say, the War on Drugs.

In the Washington Post, Misha Glenny discusses the costs of this disastrous 35-year policy quagmire:

Thirty-six years and hundreds of billions of dollars after President Richard M. Nixon launched the war on drugs, consumers worldwide are taking more narcotics and criminals are making fatter profits than ever before. The syndicates that control narcotics production and distribution reap the profits from an annual turnover of $400 billion to $500 billion. And terrorist organizations such as the Taliban are using this money to expand their operations and buy ever more sophisticated weapons, threatening Western security.

In the past two years, the drug war has become the Taliban's most effective recruiter in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's Muslim extremists have reinvigorated themselves by supporting and taxing the countless peasants who are dependent one way or another on the opium trade, their only reliable source of income. The Taliban is becoming richer and stronger by the day, especially in the east and south of the country. The "War on Drugs" is defeating the "war on terror."....

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It's obvious why -- telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, "I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years' time and tell the tale of 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' This is so stupid."

How right he is.

If the netroots really want to expose third rails in the foreign policy community, take this issue and run with it.

posted by Dan at 06:57 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

The netroots' foreign policy calculus

Matthew Yglesias responds to Gideon Rose's critique of the netroots critique on the foreign policy community (discussed here). The highlights:

Rose would, I think, like to make this a conversation about expertise and professionalism. But I'm not, and I don't think anyone in the blogosphere is, against expertise and professionalism. The question is whether some of our country's self-proclaimed experts -- and media proclaimed experts -- really deserve to be considered experts. What, for example, is the nature of Michael O'Hanlon's expertise on the broad range of subjects (his official bio lists him as an expert on "Arms treaties; Asian security issues; Homeland security; Iraq policy; Military technology; Missile defense; North Korea policy; Peacekeeping operations; Taiwan policy, military analysis; U.S. defense strategy and budget") upon which he comments? Obviously, it would be foolish to just let me speak ex cathedra as an "expert" on the dizzying array of subjects on which I comment, but it seems equally foolish to let O'Hanlon do so, especially since his judgment seems so poor. I made a stab at a systemic difference between think tank people and professionals in the public sector, but Rose raises some convincing points to the effect that this dichotomy isn't as sharp as I wanted it to be. Still, we can certainly talk about specific individuals -- particularly individuals who seem to be unusually prominent or influential -- and whether or not they really deserve to be held in high esteem.

What's needed isn't less expertise, but better expertise and above all more honest expertise.

After wading through all this, I'm somewhat sympathetic to Yglesias' point. If one believes in the utility of markets to correctly align incentives, then a price should be paid when foreign policy community experts screw up.

Nevertheless, I have three cavils:

1) While O'Hanlon and Pollack haven't lost their jobs, is it correct to say that they've paid no price for their past errors? Beyond blogospheric ridicule, I'm willing to bet that far fewer people paid attention to Pollack's Iran book than his Iraq book, for example. Bloggers would counter that they are still appearing in the NYT op-ed page and Meet the Press; I would counter that if those interventions are accorded less weight by the audience, then a price has been paid. The netroots might want to exact their pound of flesh, but these guys' reputation has suffered (especially after today's New York Times op-ed). Inside the beltway, this loss of reputation is significant.

2) Is it correct to extrapolate from Pollack and O'Hanlon's errors on Iraq to an indictment of the entire "foreign plicy community" on all foreign policy questions? That seems to be what Atrios, Greenwald, and Yglesias in his earlier posts were attempting, and that's an awfully big leap.

Greenwald, in particular, is making critiques that go way beyond individual analysts. During the latest contretemps, Greenwald wrote:

The Number One Rule of the bi-partisan Foreign Policy Community is that America has the right to invade and attack other countries at will because American power is inherently good and our role in the world is to rule it though the use of superior military force. Paying homage to that imperialistic orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining Good Standing and Seriousness Credentials within the Foreign Policy Community.
Let's excise some of the adjectives and rephrase the wording a bit:
The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.
I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a "national interest" in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would. And I also suspect that Greenwald would not accept this formulation -- it would contradict both his pacifism strict non-interventionism and his very strange definition of imperialism. Indeed, I'm not ntirely sure that Greenwald would accept the concept of "national interest," period.

Does this mean, as Greenwald implies, that there is no debate within the FPC? Hell no. There can and should be vigorous debates over what constitutes a "vital national interest," whether force should be used multilaterally or unilaterally, what other policy tools should be used, etc. That's not a small zone of disagreement. Indeed, as Chris Sullentrop pointed out in March 2003, Pollack's Threatening Storm rebuked an awful lot of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq.

3) A plain truth needs to be said: if, in the fall of 2002, O'Hanlon, Pollack, and the entire Brookings staff had marched on the White House and then immolated themselves in protest over the possibility of going to war in Iraq, it would not have made the slightest bit of difference in halting the war. This goes double if the AEI or Heritage staffers had done it.

In the fall of 2002, you had the following political situation:

a) A president with a 70% approval rating;

b) A Republican-controlled House and a Senate that was barely controlled by the Dems;

c) A Democraic Party that was haunted by what had happened to Senators who voted against the 1991 Gulf War (two words: Sam Nunn);

d) A military that had made its recent wars (Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Gulf War I) seem quick and merciful;

e) A sanctions coalition in Iraq that seemed to be fraying;

f) Fresh scars from the 9/11 attacks;

g) An adversary that elicited little sympathy from anyone -- especially the American people.

The moment George W. Bush decided he wanted to oust Saddam Hussein, the debate was effectively over. Nothing the foreign policy community did or could have done affected the outcome (Pollack is a possible exception -- The Threatening Storm did play the role of "useful cover" for many Democrats, but if it wasn't Pollack's book it would have been something else). The members of the "foreign policy community" were not the enablers of Iraq, because no enabling was necessary.

The good news is that conditions (a) through (f) no longer apply. So, contra the netroots, I don't think what happened in the fall of 2002 will happen again with, say, Iran.

UPDATE: Ilan Goldenberg has an interesting post at Democracy Arsenal about distinguishing experts from "experts" when it comes to the Middle East. Atrios is thoroughly unimpressed.

Kevin Drum makes some interesting points in this post. This point augments what I wrote above:

Sure, the war skeptics might have been afraid to go against the herd, but I think that was just an outgrowth of something more concrete: a fear of being provably wrong. After all, everyone agreed that Saddam Hussein was a brutal and unpredictable thug and almost everyone agreed that he had an active WMD program. (Note: Please do some research first if you want to disagree with this. The plain fact is that nearly everyone — liberal and conservative, American and European, George Bush and Al Gore — believed Saddam was developing WMDs. This unanimity started to break down when the UN inspections failed to turn up anything, but before that you could count the number of genuine WMD doubters on one hand.) This meant that war skeptics had to go way out on a limb: if they opposed the war, and it subsequently turned out that Saddam had an advanced WMD program, their credibility would have been completely shot. Their only recourse would have been to argue that Saddam never would have used his WMD, an argument that, given Saddam's temperament, would have sounded like special pleading even to most liberals. In the end, then, they chickened out, but it had more to do with fear of being wrong than with fear of being shunned by the foreign policy community.
It's also worth pointing out that some foreign policy community-types did argue that a WMD-enabled Saddam would be deterrable. It's just their their writings were pretty much ignored in the debate about Iraq.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Robert Farley responds to all of this here.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Oh, dear, I appear to have upset the mighty Atrios: "Dan Drezner is very serious and we should be listening to him. He's been right about so many things, and he's got the number of that patchouli stinking Greenwald."

Aside from impugning my track record, I'm not entirely sure what Duncan's trying to say. If, as Robert Farley suggests, I might have mislabeled Greenwald as a pacifist (not that there's nothing wrong with that), then I apologize. The thing is, I'm not entirely sure how else to categorize the views he expresses in his post. [Perhaps "non-interventionist" is a more accurate term--ed. See my change above.]

Regardless, this poem is awesome.

EVEN ANOTHER UPDATE... YES, I"M REALLY INTERESTED IN THIS TOPIC: More on this debate from Rick Moran, Michael van der Galiën, and Brian Ulrich.

FINAL UPDATE... OR IS IT?: Gideon Rose follows up on his original post here. You should read the whole thing, but this part does stand out:

[Netroots critiques display] a mindset inimical to foreign policy professionalism. If you don’t see the world in its full context, if you know the answers before you ask the questions, if you consider anybody who disagrees to be a contemptible idiot or traitor, then whatever you’re doing, it isn’t serious policy analysis. Large sectors of the right have gone down this route in the last generation, and now many on the left are joining them.
FINAL UPDATE: Greenwald responds here -- I'll have my response up shortly. My response is here.

posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

The operators' view of Iraq

In a stark rebuttal to the O'Hanlon and Pollack op-ed from a few weeks ago, the New York Times runs another op-ed -- this one co-authored by seven enlisted soldiers based in Iraq.

I think it would be safe to say that Army specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, sergeants Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, and Edward Sandmeier, and staff sergeants Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy have a view of Iraq that differs from O'Hanlon and Pollack:

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side....

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

Read the whole thing.

This op-ed will raise a hornets nest of questions. Once the September report on the surge is issued, there will be a "compare and contrast" exercise between this downbeat assessment of the "operators" of our Iraq policy, as opposed to the "managers" of David Petraeus, Ryan Crocker, and the White House. As John Cole puts it: "While these guys are in the 82nd Airborne, you can see that what they write is sure to infuriate the patriots in the 101st Chairborne."

posted by Dan at 09:06 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The netroots and the neocons

Last week I blogged about some dubious netroots criticism of the "foreign policy community".

Since then, the netroots have been going to town. There's this Glenn Greenwald post... here's a sample:

America is plagued by a self-anointed, highly influential, and insular so-called Foreign Policy Community which spans both political parties. They consider themselves Extremely Serious and have a whole litany of decades-old orthodoxies which one must embrace lest one be declared irresponsible, naive and unserious. Most of these orthodoxies are ossified 50-year-old relics from the Cold War, and the rest are designed to place off limits from debate the question of whether the U.S. should continue to act as an imperial force, ruling the world with its superior military power.
Matthew Yglesias provided his "amen" here.

Gideon Rose, guest-blogging at the Economist, fires back in this post. The highlights:

The funny thing is...hell, I’ll just come out and say it: the netroots' attitude toward professionals isn’t that different from the neocons', both being convinced that the very concept of a foreign-policy clerisy is unjustified, anti-democratic and pernicious, and that the remedy is much tighter and more direct control by the principals over their supposed professional agents.

The charges the bloggers are making now are very similar to those that the neocons made a few years ago: mainstream foreign-policy experts are politicised careerists, biased hacks, and hide-bound traditionalists who have gotten everything wrong in the past and don’t deserve to be listened to in the future. (Take a look at pretty much any old Jim Hoagland column and you’ll see what I mean.) Back then, the neocons directed their fire primarily at the national security bureaucracies—freedom-hating mediocrities at the CIA, pin-striped wussies at the State Department, cowardly soldiers at the Pentagon....

First, many of the people in the various national security bureaucracies are indeed Humphreys, and deserve to have their every move and utterance treated with great skepticism. Second, many of the people at Brookings or CSIS or other top think-tanks are fully as noble, disinterested, serious-minded, and knowledgeable as the best people inside the system, and the notion that they’re not is just cheap cynicism. Third, the idea that there is some Chinese wall separating the professionals inside the system from those outside it is just silly: the higher ranks of the bureaucracies are filled with political appointees, many outside experts have extensive experience inside the system, and the good people in all places tend to know and respect each other.

Bottom line, there just isn’t a good clean answer to the question of how much deference foreign-policy professionals should get from other citizens in a democracy. The populist answer "none" might be appropriate in terms of democratic theory, but it would yield pretty crappy policies in practice. But obviously something like a Federal Reserve for foreign policy would also be absurd, given how nebulous, limited and fallible "professionalism" in this area actually is. Jefferson told us to pay a "due respect to the opinions of mankind"—that seems about right for people with specialized knowledge and experience in the policy arena as well.

I would describe the netroots response to this as mixed.

The moderate elements have reacted like this.

The less moderate elements reacted like this.

I'll react a bit more to this debate over the weekend.

UPDATE: Here's my follow up post.

Finally, I must link to Atrios having some fun with the folks at Democracy Arsenal. As much as it pains me, I have some sympathy for Atrios here, since there have been times when the folks at Democracy Arsenal have confused the living hell out of me.

posted by Dan at 12:43 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Let's re-engage with John Edwards foreign policy vision

Yesterday I took some potshots at Rudy Giuliani's Foreign Affairs essay -- and I wasn't the only one.

In the wake of Giuliani's steaming pile o' crap, however, John Edwards' Foreign Affairs essay "Reengaging With the World," has been badly neglected. The hardworking staff here at will now rectify this omission.

Let's start with the writing. See if you can pick out Edwards' key theme from this introductory paragraph:

We must move beyond the wreckage created by one of the greatest strategic failures in U.S. history: the war in Iraq. Rather than alienating the rest of the world through assertions of infallibility and demands of obedience, as the current administration has done, U.S. foreign policy must be driven by a strategy of reengagement. We must reengage with our history of courage, liberty, and generosity. We must reengage with our tradition of moral leadership on issues ranging from the killings in Darfur to global poverty and climate change. We must reengage with our allies on critical security issues, including terrorism, the Middle East, and nuclear proliferation. With confidence and resolve, we must reengage with those who pose a security threat to us, from Iran to North Korea. And our government must reengage with the American people to restore our nation's reputation as a moral beacon to the world, tapping into our fundamental hope and optimism and calling on our citizens' commitment and courage to make this possible. We must lead the world by demonstrating the power of our ideals, not by stoking fear about those who do not share them.
There's a fine line between emphasizing a phrase for rhetorical effect and bludgeoining the reader into a stupor through mindless repetition. Fortunately, Edwards ignores this line completely and chooses to "reengage" the reader with the literary equivalent of a frying pan to the head.

Then there's this priceless pair of sentences:

What we need is not more slogans but a comprehensive strategy to respond to terrorism and prevent it from taking root in the first place. This strategy should transcend the familiar divide between "hard power" and "soft power." Instead, we need to place "smart power" at the center of our national security policy.
Way to transcend those slogans!!!

Let's go beyond the writing, however, to the policies. Here's Edwards on Iran:

[T]he situation in Iran has only worsened under this administration. With a threat so serious, no U.S. president should take any option off the table -- diplomacy, sanctions, engagement, or even military force. When we say something is unacceptable, however, we must mean it, and that requires developing a strategy that delivers results, not just rhetoric. Instead of saber rattling about military action, we should employ an effective combination of carrots and sticks. For example, right now we must do everything we can to isolate Iran's leader from the moderate forces within the country. We need to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomatic measures that will, over time, force Iran to finally understand that the international community will not allow it to possess nuclear weapons. Every major U.S. ally agrees that the advent of a nuclear Iran would be a threat to global security. We should continue to work with other great powers to offer Tehran economic incentives for good behavior. At the same time, we must use much more serious economic sanctions to deter Ahmadinejad's government when it refuses to cooperate. To do this, we will have to deal with Iran directly. Such diplomacy is not a gift, nor is it a concession. The current administration recently managed to have one single-issue meeting with Iran to discuss Iraq. It simply makes no sense for the administration to engage Iran on this subject alone and avoid one as consequential as nuclear proliferation.
A three-question pop quiz:
1) In what way will talking with Iran's current leadership "isolate Iran's leader from the moderate forces within the country"? I'm not saying "don't talk," but there does seem to be an inconsistency in Edwards' logic here.

2) What would Edwards think about the Bush proposal to sanction Iran's Revolutionary Guards? Surely this would achieve a separation, yes?

3) Does Edwards seriously believe that the negotiations to date have not broadcast the message to the Iranians that "you know, it will be really bad if you develop nukes"??? What would be different about Edwards' negotiations???

Not all of Edwards' ideas are bad (I like the "Marshall Corps" idea), but after reading the whole essay, one has to conclude that Edwards' thinks the word "reengage" actually means "sprinkle magical fairy dust from the House of Gryffindor on the problem, which will cause all parties to recognize their common fate."

posted by Dan at 08:31 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More candidates in Foreign Affairs

In the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards get a crack at articulating their foreign policy vision.

The gist of Giuliani's essay, "Towards a Realistic Peace":

The next U.S. president will face three key foreign policy challenges: setting a course for victory in the terrorists' war on global order, strengthening the international system the terrorists seek to destroy, and extending the system's benefits. With a stronger defense, a determined diplomacy, and greater U.S. economic and cultural influence, the next president can start to build a lasting, realistic peace.
The gist of Edward's essay,"Reengaging With the World":
In the wake of the Iraq debacle, we must restore America's reputation for moral leadership and reengage with the world. We must move beyond the empty slogan 'war on terror' and create a genuine national security policy that is built on hope, not fear. Only then can America once again become a beacon to the world.
Time to go read these essay. Back soon.

Be sure to check out FA's Campaign 2008 website as well.

UPDATE: Sweet Jesus, the Giuliani essay is badly written. James Joyner, Kevin Drum, Jim Henley, and Matthew Yglesias all go to town on it.

Even more disturbing is the failure to comprehend different foreign policy doctrines. Consider this paragraph:

A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the "realist" school of foreign policy thought. That doctrine defines America's interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values. To rely solely on this type of realism would be to cede the advantage to our enemies in the complex war of ideas and ideals. It would also place too great a hope in the potential for diplomatic accommodation with hostile states. And it would exaggerate America's weaknesses and downplay America's strengths. Our economy is the strongest in the developed world. Our political system is far more stable than those of the world's rising economic giants. And the United States is the world's premier magnet for global talent and capital.
You know, you can slam realism for not caring much about human rights, or for advising a hard-hearted approach to world politics. What you can't do is claim that realism "exaggerate[s] America's weaknesses and downplay[s] America's strengths" because it doesn't pay attention to economics.

Then there's this whopper:

America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. Then, as now, we fought a war with the wrong strategy for several years. And then, as now, we corrected course and began to show real progress. Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South. The consequences were dire, and not only in Vietnam: numerous deaths in places such as the killing fields of Cambodia, a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union, and a weaker America. The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse.
Actually, the fall of Saigon was, in the end, the final falsification of the domino theory that Giuliani's essay unconsciously accepts. South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia collapsed. That was it. The Soviet Union's subsequent expansionism proved to be its ruination, as it found itself bogged down in Afghanistan.

I could go on, but it's too tedious. This is an unbelievably unserious essay.

posted by Dan at 09:27 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A step in the right direction

Via Mark Thoma, I see that economist Willem Buiter wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times about a policy innovation that would vastly improve America's ability to promote democracy and economic development in Latin America, while threatening the viability of terrorist networks in Afghanistan:

A pragmatic argument against criminalising drugs is that criminalisation creates vast rents and encourages criminal entrepreneurs to use violence, intimidation, bribery, extortion and corruption to extract these rents. Another pragmatic argument is that it is pointless to waste resources fighting a war that cannot be won. The losing war on drugs wastes resources that could be used to fight terrorism and other crimes.

Another important argument for legalising, in particular, all cultivation of poppy and of coca (and their illegal derivatives) is that this would take away a vital source of income and political support for terrorist move- ments, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (Farc) and various paramilitary groups.

The United Nations estimates that opium production in Afghanistan grew to more than 6,000 metric tonnes last year with a value exceeding $3bn. It is the origin of more than 90 per cent of the world’s illegally consumed opiates.

A significant portion of the profits flows to the Taliban, who act as middlemen in the opium business. They combine extortion and threats of violence towards the poppy farmers with the sale of protection to these same farmers against those who would destroy their livelihood, mainly the Nato allies and the Afghan central government.

Following legalisation, the allies in Afghanistan could further undermine the financial strength of the Taliban and al-Qaeda by buying up the entire poppy harvest. If a sufficient premium over the prevailing market price were offered, the Taliban/al-Qaeda middle-man could be cut out altogether, and thus would lose his tax base. Winning the hearts and minds of poppy growers and coca growers is a lot easier when you are not seen as intent on destroying their livelihood.

This proposal for legalising poppy growing regardless of what the poppy is used for is much more radical than the proposal from the Senlis Council to license the growing of poppy in Afghanistan only for the production of essential medicines. The Senlis Council proposal would not end the problem of illicit poppy cultivation co-existing with licensed cultivation. With the illicit price likely to exceed the licit price, the Taliban would retain a significant tax base.

Is legalisation of all opiates an integral part of the proposal that the allies procure the entire poppy harvest in Afghanistan? Consider procurement without legalisation. The allies would find themselves each year with the largest stash of poppy the world has ever seen. What to do with it?...

So legalise, regulate, tax, educate and rehabilitate. Stop a losing war, get the government off our backs, beat the Taliban and deal a blow to al-Qaeda in the process. Not a bad deal!

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- drug legalization would yield enormous foreign policy benefits.

posted by Dan at 08:50 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Your discussion question for the weekend

Your humble blogger will be away for the rest of the weekend.

Before I go, I could leave you with a link to some fluff like Entertainment Weekly's list of celebrity bloggers (where else but her blog would you find Pamela Anderson's statement, "I love theatre."). But that would be wrong.

Instead, I want to pose a discussion question to the group.

Liberal progressive bloggers are abuzz about this Ezra Klein post about a foreign policy panel over at the third concentric circle of hell Yearly Kos:

[Peter] Beinart in particular has moved substantially left over the past few years, and now says things like, "What separates conservatives and progressives is the recognition that America's pathologies can threaten the rest of the world just as their pathologies can harm us. Interdependence is reciprocal. If other countries owe us more, than we owe them more. If you don't recognize the second part of that equation, than you are, indeed, in some ways, an empire." From there, he moved towards a full-throated defense of international institutions in their oft-loathed role as shackles on American autonomy. "The great triumph of the institutions built during after the Iraq War was that they constrained our power. By giving weaker nations some influence over our power, we make our power legitimate."

A few years ago, it would have been inconceivable that Beinart would be anchoring a YearlyKos panel on a progressive foreign policy. Now, he's not only do it, but he's doing it from within progressivism, rather than as a critic of the crowd's opinions. The degree of convergence among the intellectuals in the foreign policy left in recent years is quite impressive, even if it's not been quite as much in evidence within the class of foreign policy experts who advise Democratic candidates. (emphasis added)

This prompts Duncan "Atrios" Black to ask: "Why is there a 'foreign policy community?'"

This prompts Matthew Yglesias to observe:

It's a good question. The consequences of its existence don't seem to be particularly beneficial. Steve Clemons is talking at a panel on foreign policy, blogging, and activism and gives voice to something that I think a lot of us tend to suspect, saying he was one of the few members of said community to go on television and speak against the Iraq War not because he was the only one to think it was a bad idea, but "because everyone else was a coward."

"People like me," he says, "were being fed quite a bit of inside information from people who were every bit as horrified" but very few people said anything. And it's true -- alongside the famously pro-war elements of the establishment, there's a shockingly large number of people at places like Brookings, CSIS, the CFR, etc. where if you try to look up what they said about Iraq it turns out that they said . . . nothing at all.

His perspective, he says, is that Washington is "a corrupt town." From that perspective, he says that "the political-intellectual arenas is essentially a cartel" -- a cartel that's become extremely timid and risk-averse in the face of a neoconservative onslaught -- and "blogs allow smart people to break the cartel." That all seems very true to me, and I'm not sure what I have to add.

So, in addition to seeing commenter answers to Atrios' question, I have one of my own: If there are no virtues to a monolithic, cartelistic 'foreign policy community,' what are the virtues of an ideologically uniform, progressive foreign policy community?

[But they were right about Iraq!!--ed. Kudos to them, but I'm afraid that this merely deepens my skepticism. Beware of foreign policy hedgehogs -- particularly those seeking ideological conformity within their ranks.]

Oh, and one last thought -- my scant experience with Beltway insider information is that 50% of the time it's dead on, but 50% of the time it's absolute horses#$t.

posted by Dan at 09:04 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 30, 2007

It's not so bad out there

Gideon Rose argues in the international edition of Newsweek that despite the dour headlines, the world is actually not going to hell in a handbasket... yet:

For all the whining and worrying in the United States and abroad, therefore—and for all the real and pressing problems that remain—the world has never had it so good. The most advanced countries are allies and are generally devoted to the betterment of their own and other peoples. More than a third of humanity lives in countries growing at about 10 percent annually. Living standards have never been higher, life spans longer or politics freer, and there is every reason to expect such trends to continue. This generally benign context, in which great-power war and depressions are extremely unlikely, is the backdrop against which less serious or more speculative problems—terrorism, diplomatic rivalries, slow or unevenly distributed growth, future climate changes—loom large.

It is crucial to remember, however, that our generally happy condition is neither accidental nor inevitable. It is the result of wise choices made by leaders and publics in decades past—a legacy that could be squandered if we take things like great-power peace or an open global trading system for granted, or get spooked into rash or imprudent actions that create more problems than they solve.

This was the Bush administration's real failure: intoxicated by self-righteous hubris, it never understood that dominance could be exercised but legitimate authority had to be earned. So it scorned the routine diplomatic maintenance necessary to keep the system in good working order, only to find itself isolated when its pet projects came a cropper. At this point, having squandered most of his capital and having defined himself so starkly through his initial policies, there is little Bush can do to change anyone's mind about anything. His successor, however, will get a fresh start. And if the next administration can avoid Bush's mistakes, it should find keeping the world on track much easier than most currently expect.

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Matthew Yglesias agrees with John Bolton

Matt Yglesias doesn't like the nuclear deal with India:

What's happening in this deal is that we're granting India concessions related to its nuclear program and India is giving us . . . essentially nothing in exchange....

Meanwhile, from a neoconnish perspective the fact that this undermines the nonproliferation regime is probably a good thing. They hate the idea that diplomatic agreements might actually work and undermine their efforts to start an endless series of wars.

Yeah... there are a few problems with this interpretation. The biggest, of course, is that the biggest neocon involved in the nonproliferation question opposed the India nuclear deal.

As for Matt's interpretation of the deal.... I've defended it before, but I'll ask the same question again -- under what set of magical circumstances was India ever going to agree to give up their nuclear weapons?

Not everything the Bush administration does is part of the neocon grand plan. Indeed, I think we can all agree that "neocon grand plan" is a really bad joke.

posted by Dan at 04:45 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Your one-sentence U.S. foreign policy advice of the day

George Packer, "Total Vindication," The New Yorker online, on Iran:

The regime there is brutal, and we should talk to it.
Read the whole piece -- no one will acuse Packer of having any illusions about the Iranian regime.

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dear Mr. President: please leave Iran in limbo

Dear George,

I trust you and yours are doing well. I'm writing because Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger have this story in the Guardian that says you want to solve Iran by the time you leave office:

The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months, the Guardian has learned.

The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the state department over the last month. Although the Bush administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran. A well-placed source in Washington said: "Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in limbo."

The White House claims that Iran, whose influence in the Middle East has increased significantly over the last six years, is intent on building a nuclear weapon and is arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates.

Last year Mr Bush came down in favour of Ms Rice, who along with Britain, France and Germany has been putting a diplomatic squeeze on Iran. But at a meeting of the White House, Pentagon and state department last month, Mr Cheney expressed frustration at the lack of progress and Mr Bush sided with him. "The balance has tilted. There is cause for concern," the source said this week.

Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state responsible for Iran and a career diplomat who is one of the main advocates of negotiation, told the meeting it was likely that diplomatic manoeuvring would still be continuing in January 2009. That assessment went down badly with Mr Cheney and Mr Bush.

"Cheney has limited capital left, but if he wanted to use all his capital on this one issue, he could still have an impact," said Patrick Cronin, the director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The Washington source said Mr Bush and Mr Cheney did not trust any potential successors in the White House, Republican or Democratic, to deal with Iran decisively. They are also reluctant for Israel to carry out any strikes because the US would get the blame in the region anyway.

This story jibes with what I'm hearing about your mindset as well.

George, George, George.... haven't you learned to prioritize? Last I checked, Pakistan's tribal areas are falling apart, Al Qaeda seems resurgent, your homeland security chief has a bad gut feeling, and, oh yes, there's Iraq. Aren't there enough current threats to focus on without fretting about threats that could manifest themselves 5-10 years from now.

Speaking of Iraq, there's another reason I'd like you to kick the Iran can down the road. I was sent a screener of a new documentary, No End In Sight. Here's a preview in case it wasn't sent to you:

The documentary consists almost entirely of observations from former administration officials and servicemen. What they have to say suggests that even if you are the decider, you and yours suck eggs at being the implementer.

The truth is, no matter how many times I game it in my head, I can't see a scenario where, by focusing your energies on Iran and adopting Cheney's perspective on what to do, you make the situation there even a smidgen better. And in almost all of them, you dramatically worsen the problem.

Please, I beg you, just stop worrying about Iran. Worry about other things instead.


Dan Drezner

posted by Dan at 11:02 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Calling all international lawyers!

As a general rule, international law (IL) scholars don't get a lot of love from international relations (IR) scholars. IR types tend to think that IL people hold naive and unsubstantiated views about the power of global rules to compel governments into certain forms of behavior. In turn, IL types tend to look askance at us IR types, convinced that because we do not hold international law in such high esteem, at any moment we will bully them, beat them up, and hog the best hors d'oeuvres at all the good conferences (this last accusation carries a ring of truth).

Nevertheless, there are moments when us IR types need to confess that we're not entirely sure why states are behaving in a certain way, and turn to IL types for support. This is one of those times: why, suddenly, is the Bush adfministration so gung-ho about ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention?

This treaty was negotiated during the seventies and completed in 1983. The Reagan administration rejected ratification at the time because of disputes over seabed mining that appear to have been hashed out. The U.S. essentially honors 99% of the treaty anyway, but only now has there been any momentum to formally ratify the treaty.

Vern Clark and Thomas Pickering have an op-ed in the New York Times today making this case for ratification:

The treaty provides our military the rights of navigation, by water and by air, to take our forces wherever they must go, whenever it is necessary to do so. Our ships — including vessels that carry more than 90 percent of the logistic and other support for our troops overseas — are given the right of innocent passage through the territorial seas of other states. In addition, the treaty permits American warships to board stateless vessels on the high seas.

The treaty also provides an absolute right of passage through, over and under international straits and through archipelagoes like Indonesia. These rights — the crown jewels of the treaty — did not exist before 1982, when the Convention was concluded. Our security and economic interests are tied directly to these rights.

Another provision in the treaty establishes the breadth of the territorial sea — the area within which a state may exercise sovereignty — at 12 miles. This allows the United States to extend its territorial sea from three miles to 12 miles, while making several other nations reduce their excessive claims.

Our national security interests alone should be sufficient to persuade the Senate to act now. But the Convention also advances the economic interests of our country. It gives us an exclusive economic zone out to 200 miles, with sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living and non-living natural resources of the zone. Coastal states are given sovereign rights over the continental shelf beyond 200 miles if the shelf meets specific geological and other scientific criteria. Under the Convention, our Arctic continental shelf could extend out to 600 miles.

Our nation will be in a much stronger position to advance its military and economic interests if we ratify the treaty. We can guide and influence the interpretation of rules, protecting our interests and deflecting inconsistent interpretations. The agreement is being interpreted, applied and developed right now and we need to be part of it to protect our vital interests in the area of security and beyond.

This is pretty much the official Bush administration position as well. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England also add an additional reason:
Accession makes sense from the perspective of U.S. leadership on the world stage. Joining the convention would give the nation a seat at the table, a voice in the debates, to help shape the future development of oceans law, policy and practice. Accession would also give the United States better opportunities to keep a close watch on other nations' efforts to exercise their rights under the law of the sea and to counter excessive claims if necessary.

Finally, accession would powerfully and publicly reiterate the nation's commitment to the rule of law as the basis for policy and action. It would make U.S. leadership more credible and compelling, in important multi-national efforts like the Proliferation Security Initiative -- designed to counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other dangerous materials. And it would strengthen the general argument in favor of more robust international partnership in all domains -- partnerships essential to meeting today's global and transnational security challenges.

So far, so good. Except that earlier this month, Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin argued in the Washington Post that this treaty would actually hinder WMD interdiction efforts:
The Bush administration is urging the Senate to consent this summer to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the complex and sprawling treaty that governs shipping, navigation, mining, fishing and other ocean activities. This is a major departure from the administration's usual stance toward international organizations that have the capacity to restrain U.S. sovereignty. And it comes in a surprising context, since the convention has disturbing implications for our fight against terrorists....

[Ratifying the treaty] would put America's naval counterterrorism efforts under the control of foreign judges. Suppose the United States seizes a vessel it suspects of shipping dual-use items that might be utilized to build weapons of mass destruction or other tools of terrorism. It's not a wild supposition. Under the Proliferation Security Initiative, the United States has since 2003 secured proliferation-related high-seas interdiction agreements with countries such as Belize and Panama, which provide registration for much international shipping. If the United States ratifies the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the legality of such seizures will, depending on the circumstances, be left to the decision of one of two international tribunals....

At minimum, these tribunals would pose awkward questions to the United States about the evidence behind a seizure, how we gathered it and who vouches for the information. At worst they would follow the recent example of the International Court of Justice and use a legal dispute to score points against American "unilateralism" and "arrogance" for a global audience keen to humble the United States. In every case, a majority of non-American judges would decide whether the U.S. Navy can seize a ship that it believes is carrying terrorist operatives or supplies for terrorists.

It's true that the convention exempts "military activities" from the tribunals' jurisdiction, but it does not define the term. The executive branch, worried about this ambiguity, has proposed a condition to ratification that would allow the United States to define the exemption for itself. But this condition amounts to a "reservation" disallowed by the treaty. International tribunals would still have the last word on the validity of the U.S. condition and the resulting scope of permissible U.S. naval actions.

Supporters note that many of the treaty's "freedom of the seas" provisions favor U.S. interests. But the United States already receives the benefits of these provisions because, as Negroponte and England acknowledged, they are "already widely accepted in practice." They maintain that ratifying the convention would nonetheless provide "welcome legal certainty." In recent years, however, the United States has not received much legal certainty from international tribunals dominated by non-American judges, and what it has received has not been very welcome. There is little reason to expect different results from these tribunals.

Over at Opinio Juris, Peter Spiro pours a lot of cold water onto Goldsmith and Rabkin's argument. Spiro may be right that Goldsmith and Rabkin are overhyping the threat from international tribunals. However, I do know the following is true:
1) The PSI is a linchpin for the Bush administration's anti-proliferation policies;

2) One Bush administration's few international law initiatives has been to build up soft law precedents allowing for the U.S. to interdict flagged ships on the open seas if they suspect it of carrying WMD materials.

3) Ratifying the Law of the Sea treaty appears -- here I might be misreading things -- to undercut that initiative just a wee bit.

4) The U.S. already reaps the benefits of the Law of the Sea treaty, since it honors its provisions and every other country respects it as well. In other words, the gains from ratification don't seem that great.

In this administration's balance sheet, it's always been willing to jettison international legal strictures even if it theoretically constrains U.S. freedom of action.

So, my question -- why is the Bush administration suddenly so gung-ho about ratifying the Law of the Sea treaty? Is there a hidden quid pro quo that I'm missing? Is this strictly a PR stunt where the Bush administration can claim it's multilateral? Am I simply overstating the treaty's constraints on PSI? What gives?

UPDATE: Chris Borgen misinterprets this post a little. I'm not stating that the costs of ratifying the LOS outweigh the benefits (to me it really does depend on how much, if at all, LOS constrains PSI). I'm saying that by revealed preference, I would have expected the Bush administration to have made this calculation.

And yet they didn't. Why?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to alert reader S.B., who e-mail a Reuters story suggesting one additional benefit for LOS ratification:

Canada will buy at least six patrol ships to assert its sovereignty claim in the Arctic, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper backed away on Monday from an election pledge for navy icebreakers that would ply the waters of the Northwest Passage all year....

Canada’s claim over the Arctic Northwest Passage that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is disputed by countries, including the United States, that consider much of the region to be international water.

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The thing about handling Iran...

Over at, Monica Maggioni makes a case about how the U.S. should handle Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that will be familiar to readers of this blog:

In Tehran, the mood is quickly shifting. And it’s easy to feel it every time you stop to buy a newspaper, have a coffee, or wait in line at the grocery store. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s star is fading fast.

Since his election in June 2005, Iranians have had conflicted feelings about their president. At first, he evoked interest and curiosity. And there were great expectations from this humble man who was promising economic reform, an anticorruption campaign, and a rigid moral scheme for daily life. Then came fear—when Ahmadinejad began to destroy any chance of good relations with the outside world.

But today in Iran, laughter is supplanting fear. Mocking the president has become a pastime not only for rebellious university students, but also members of the establishment and the government itself.

Behind the high walls of Iranian palaces or in the quiet of Tehran’s parks, Iranian elites will indulge in a quick laugh about the president’s intelligence or his populist bombast. Jokes about his résumé are especially popular. Many refer to his “Ph.D. in traffic” or his letter last May to U.S. President George W. Bush, in which he proclaimed, “I am a teacher.”

The jokes—and who is delivering them—tell the story of a man whose power is on the decline as Iran’s economy collapses around him. Prices for basic goods are skyrocketing, and the government is unable to cope with increasing poverty. Just last month, over 50 Iranian economists sent an open letter excoriating the president’s mismanagement of the economy....

[I]t’s likely that Ahmadinejad’s power will decrease dramatically even before 2009. The elections for Iran’s parliament in March 2008 could represent a turning point if the majority inside the parliament shifts against him. Ahmadinejad still has a strong supporter in Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who heads the 12-member Guardian Council that holds the political reins in Iran. The Council must clear all candidates for the presidency and parliament. But the Council itself is not monolithic, and it will be impossible to keep all the reformists and pragmatist conservatives out of the electoral race. But even if Ahmadinejad makes it through next spring, many analysts in the country are ready to bet that he won’t be reelected in 2009; the opposition is just too strong, and the economy will likely be in worse straits by that time.

In fact, the only thing that could save him now is the United States. Nobody knows this better than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As his support within Iran has evaporated, he has cranked up the anti-American rhetoric, and the U.S. military has publicly accused the Pasdaran of arming insurgents in Iraq and even Afghanistan. At this point, the only way Ahmadinejad can revive his flagging fortunes is by uniting his country against an external threat. U.S. officials adamantly maintain that Washington is committed to using diplomacy to resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program and its aggressive role in the region. Yet pressure is mounting in some branches of the Bush administration to take military action against Iran. That pressure should be resisted. For military action would give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad exactly what he wants most: job security.

I don't really disagree with this analysis, but there's one nagging concern. As Maggioni points out, Ahmadinejad is aware of his own political conundrum. He therefore has an incentive to pursue policies that antagonize the United States as much as possible -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Persian Gulf, towards Israel, etc. The U.S. response, according of every Iran-watcher I've heard from regardless of party affiliation -- should be low-key.

Here's my problem -- doesn't this approach essentially give Ahmadinejad carte blanche to do whatever he wants in the region? Is "multilateral pressure" really going to prevent him from arming Iraqi insurgents, seizing more sailors, threatening the Saudis, and accelerating the nuclear program?

I think the short-run costs of tolerance clearly outweigh the long-term benefits of Ahmadinejad backing himself into a corner. But I also have to admit I'm not thrilled with the menu of options here.

posted by Dan at 08:45 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Just a wee bit of the old historical revisionism

Brad DeLong responds to my post giving credit where credit is due to the Bush administration with the following rejoinder:

[C]onstructive engagement with China is not the policy of "Team Bush" but rather the policy of "Team Paulson" or "Team State Department" or "Team Reality-Based Interest Groups." The China policy of "Team Bush" was and is Cold War followed by Hot War--but fortunately they got distracted by other things: James Fallows Anecdote of the day (from Gary Hart, at Aspen):
[Gary] Hart said. “I am convinced that if it had not been for 9/11, we would be in a military showdown with China today.” Not because of what China was doing, threatening, or intending, he made clear, but because of the assumptions the Administration brought with it when taking office. (My impression is that Chinese leaders know this too, which is why there are relatively few complaints from China about the Iraq war. They know that it got the U.S. off China’s back!)

Lee Hamilton, who had also been on the commission, was sitting at the same lunch table and backed up Hart’s story. Another chapter in the annals of missed opportunities in recent years.

OK, let's stipulate that there were neoconservatives who looked at China as the big, bad threat that justified bellcose action. Let's also make clear, however, four rather important facts:
a) None of these people held an official positions in the Bush administration;

b) Most of these people backed John McCain in 2000, not George W. Bush;

c) If "the China policy of 'Team Bush' was and is Cold War followed by Hot War," then they missed a golden opportunity to act on the second part of their policy in April 2001 when an EP-3E spy plane had a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter and was forced to land in Hainan Island in the PRC.

When that incident occurred, no one was concerned about terrorism being the primary threat to the U.S. If Team Bush had really wanted to ratchet up tensions between Washington and Beijing, that was the moment. Instead, after a week or two of angry rhetoric from both sides, we got the following letter delivered to Beijing:

Both President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have expressed their sincere regret over your missing pilot and aircraft. Please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss.

Although the full picture of what transpired is still unclear, according to our information, our severely crippled aircraft made an emergency landing after following international emergency procedures. We are very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance, but very pleased the crew landed safely. We appreciate China's efforts to see to the well-being of our crew.

After the incident, President Bush did make a provocative statement or two about Taiwan, but even before 9/11 the administration had abandoned a confrontational approach towards China.

d) Does anyone think that Henry Paulson is implementing China policy without the approval of George W. Bush? Does anyone think that Paulson would have accepted the Treasury position unless he and Bush knew damn well that he'd have the China portfolio?

My own counterfactual -- had 9/11 not occurred, bilateral relations with China would be pretty much where they are now.

posted by Dan at 01:52 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Dead men tell no tales

While we're on the subject of historical analogies, it's worth reading a posthumous Vanity Fair essay by David Halberstam on George W. Bush's flawed view of history. First, there's this lovely paragraph on the difficulties of historical generalization:

[W]hen I hear the president cite history so casually, an alarm goes off. Those who know history best tend to be tempered by it. They rarely refer to it so sweepingly and with such complete confidence. They know that it is the most mischievous of mistresses and that it touts sure things about as regularly as the tip sheets at the local track. Its most important lessons sometimes come cloaked in bitter irony. By no means does it march in a straight line toward the desired result, and the good guys do not always win. Occasionally it is like a sport with upsets, in which the weak and small defeat the great and mighty—take, for instance, the American revolutionaries vanquishing the British Army, or the Vietnamese Communists, with their limited hardware, stalemating the mighty American Army.
The ralpunch comes in the closing paragraphs, however, where Halberstam identifies a key mispeception about the end of the Cold War that badly warped post-9/11 thinking about foreign policy:
I have my own sense that this is what went wrong in the current administration, not just in the immediate miscalculation of Iraq but in the larger sense of misreading the historical moment we now live in. It is that the president and the men around him—most particularly the vice president—simply misunderstood what the collapse of the Soviet empire meant for America in national-security terms. Rumsfeld and Cheney are genuine triumphalists. Steeped in the culture of the Cold War and the benefits it always presented to their side in domestic political terms, they genuinely believed that we were infinitely more powerful as a nation throughout the world once the Soviet empire collapsed. Which we both were and very much were not. Certainly, the great obsessive struggle with the threat of a comparable superpower was removed, but that threat had probably been in decline in real terms for well more than 30 years, after the high-water mark of the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962. During the 80s, as advanced computer technology became increasingly important in defense apparatuses, and as the failures in the Russian economy had greater impact on that country's military capacity, the gap between us and the Soviets dramatically and continuously widened. The Soviets had become, at the end, as West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt liked to say, Upper Volta with missiles.

At the time of the collapse of Communism, I thought there was far too much talk in America about how we had won the Cold War, rather than about how the Soviet Union, whose economy never worked, simply had imploded....

After the Soviet Union fell, we were at once more powerful and, curiously, less so, because our military might was less applicable against the new, very different kind of threat that now existed in the world. Yet we stayed with the norms of the Cold War long after any genuine threat from it had receded, in no small part because our domestic politics were still keyed to it. At the same time, the checks and balances imposed on us by the Cold War were gone, the restraints fewer, and the temptations to misuse our power greater. What we neglected to consider was a warning from those who had gone before us—that there was, at moments like this, a historic temptation for nations to overreach.

America remains the most powerful country in the world, but Halberstam's prose encapsulates the inherent limitations that even hegemons face in the modern world.

posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Obama says potato, Romney says potato....

Last year I blogged about how, despite clams claims of growing partisan and ideological divides, there wasn't a whole hell of a lot separating the leading presidential candidates.

This year, we'll continue this theme by doing an ol' compare and contrast of the foreign policy visions of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney -- courtesy of Foreign Affairs.

Here's the game. I'm going to name the issue, then put forward statements by the two candidates. See if you can guess which is which!


Candidate A: "I will work to finally free America of its dependence on foreign oil -- by using energy more efficiently in our cars, factories, and homes, relying more on renewable sources of electricity, and harnessing the potential of biofuels."

Candidate B: "[T]he United States must become energy independent. This does not mean no longer importing or using oil. It means making sure that our nation's future will always be in our hands. Our decisions and destiny cannot be bound to the whims of oil-producing states....

We need to initiate a bold, far-reaching research initiative -- an energy revolution -- that will be our generation's equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the mission to the moon. It will be a mission to create new, economical sources of clean energy and clean ways to use the sources we have now. We will license our technology to other nations, and, of course, we will employ it at home. It will be good for our national defense, it will be good for our foreign policy, and it will be good for our economy."

Candidate A: "We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines. Bolstering these forces is about more than meeting quotas. We must recruit the very best and invest in their capacity to succeed. That means providing our servicemen and servicewomen with first-rate equipment, armor, incentives, and training -- including in foreign languages and other critical skills. "

Candidate B: "[W]e need to increase our investment in national defense. This means adding at least 100,000 troops and making a long-overdue investment in equipment, armament, weapons systems, and strategic defense."

Candidate A: "As China rises and Japan and South Korea assert themselves, I will work to forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea. We need an inclusive infrastructure with the countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity and help confront transnational threats, from terrorist cells in the Philippines to avian flu in Indonesia. I will also encourage China to play a responsible role as a growing power -- to help lead in addressing the common problems of the twenty-first century. We will compete with China in some areas and cooperate in others. Our essential challenge is to build a relationship that broadens cooperation while strengthening our ability to compete."

Candidate B: "A critical part of the economic resurgence and peace of postwar Europe was the United States' support for a unified market and U.S. engagement in cross-country ties. Today, we must push for more integration and cross-border cooperation in the Middle East. As a group of experts working on the Princeton Project on National Security noted recently, 'The history of Europe since 1945 tells us that institutions can play a constructive role in building a framework for cooperation, channeling nationalist sentiments in a positive direction, and fostering economic development and liberalization. Yet the Middle East is one of the least institutionalized regions in the world.'"

Candidate A: "To see American power in terminal decline is to ignore America's great promise and historic purpose in the world."

Candidate B: "We are a unique nation, and there is no substitute for our leadership."

Answer key is below the fold:

Candidate A is Obama, candidate B is Romney.

So, what are the differences between them? There's a few:

1) The Middle East. Romney thinks the problem is radical jihadism; Obama thinks the problem is a failure to solve the Israeli/Palestinian problem. For the record, I think both answers are facile (though Americans like hearing the latter answer).

2) Iraq. Obama wants to withdraw; Romney does not.

3) Nuclear proliferation. Obama devotes a fair amount of space to this issue; Romney does not.

4) Reorganizing the foreign policy chain of command. Obama doesn't say much about this; Romney makes an interesting proposal on this front: "Just as the military has divided the world into regional theaters for all of its branches, the work of our civilian agencies should be organized along common geographic boundaries. For every region, one civilian leader should have authority over and responsibility for all the relevant agencies and departments, similar to the single military commander who heads U.S. Central Command. These new leaders should be heavy hitters, with names that are recognized around the world. They should have independent objectives, budgets, and oversight. Their performance should be evaluated according to their success in promoting America's political, military, diplomatic, and economic interests in their respective regions and building the foundations of freedom, democracy, security, and peace."

Check out both speeches, and tell me if I'm missing anything.

Having read them, I feel a little better about Romney than I did before. His Iraq position is wrong, but the civilian proconsul idea is at least intriguing. This might be because my expectations of Romney were low to begin with.

I feel a bit worse about Obama than I did before. He focuses in the Israel/Palestine problem, blasts the Bush administration for inaction, and then suggests, "we must help the Israelis identify and strengthen those [Palestinian] partners who are truly committed to peace, while isolating those who seek conflict and instability." Ummm...... how is this different from current U.S. policy? Again, however, this might be due to elevated expectations.

See Matthew Yglesias for more.

UPDATE: Check out my colleague Jeff Taliaferro in the comments -- he wants to see more realist content in these proposals.

posted by Dan at 09:19 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Context is everything

I have two reactions to this ABC News Blotter post:

The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.

"I can't confirm or deny whether such a program exists or whether the president signed it, but it would be consistent with an overall American approach trying to find ways to put pressure on the regime," said Bruce Riedel, a recently retired CIA senior official who dealt with Iran and other countries in the region....

The sources say the CIA developed the covert plan over the last year and received approval from White House officials and other officials in the intelligence community....

Current and former intelligence officials say the approval of the covert action means the Bush administration, for the time being, has decided not to pursue a military option against Iran.

"Vice President Cheney helped to lead the side favoring a military strike," said former CIA official Riedel, "but I think they have come to the conclusion that a military strike has more downsides than upsides."....

The "nonlethal" aspect of the presidential finding means CIA officers may not use deadly force in carrying out the secret operations against Iran.

Still, some fear that even a nonlethal covert CIA program carries great risks.

"I think everybody in the region knows that there is a proxy war already afoot with the United States supporting anti-Iranian elements in the region as well as opposition groups within Iran," said Vali Nasr, adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"And this covert action is now being escalated by the new U.S. directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow," Nasr said.

On the one hand, of course the CIA should be doing this kind of thing. Iran's current regime -- whether of the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-let's-wipe-Israel-off-the-face-of-the-map-crazy variant or the Ali Kamenei let's-act-in-a-more-prudent-fashion-to-establish-our-regional-hegemony-and-then-wipe-Israel-off-the-map variant -- clearly respresent a challenge to U.S. interests in the region (Saudia Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, etc.). It's natural for the U.S. to pursue covert policies to encourage a new regime in a country who's populace is pretty pro-American.

On the other hand, I have four qualms with this:

a) The CIA has a mixed track record at best when it comes to peaceful regime change. And the agency's particularly baleful history in Iran means the deck is already stacked against ay success.

b) Look, maybe I'm biased by past events, but I simply don't trust the Bush administration to competently manage this kind of operation. Any other administration, the fallout from a failed attempt would be contained. With this administration, I can't help but think that a failed attempt would have regional implications. The fact that current personnel are blabbing to the press also suggests to me that there isn't unanimity on this, which lowers the odds of success.

c) If I have to choose between a 20% chance at regime change (I'm being generous) or an 80% chance of Iran's current regime agreeing to suspend its nuclear weapons program (equally generous), I'll take the latter option. For that option to succeed, the CIA can't be doing this kind of thing (or, at the vey least, be so fractious that ABC can report about it).

d) The timing of this news story could not be worse for Haleh Esfandiari. It actually gives Ahmadinejad a rhetorical leg to stand on.

So, in the abstract, I'd have no problem with this kind of intelligence finding. In the here and now, yeah, I've got big problems with it.

posted by Dan at 08:16 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Is there still an Iraq window?

Over at Harper's, Marc Lynch answers questions from Ken Silverstein. In light of the Bush administration's desperate new embrace of the Iraq Study Group, I found this response particularly interesting:

Q: So what’s the best policy choice at this point?

A: The United States should commit to a withdrawal, not tomorrow but with a clear endpoint – benchmarks, or whatever you want to call them. The insurgents have made it pretty clear in a series of public statements and private communications that they’re willing to start talking and dampen down the violence if the United States commits to withdrawing from Iraq. We’re at a moment where there’s actually a chance for positive developments, because we have a common interest with the insurgents in defeating Al Qaeda and they are putting out clear signals that they are willing to make a deal. But everything hinges on the United States making a commitment to withdraw – politically, they can’t and won’t get in the political game without that because it would destroy their credibility and because, frankly, getting the United States out really matters to them. But there’s a window here that I’m afraid we’re going to let close because of domestic politics. The insurgency factions turned against Al Qaeda because its Islamic State of Iraq project has been growing in strength, and if they can’t show some gains soon the tide may turn against them within the Sunni community.

Question to readers -- is there any reason to doubt this assessment?

posted by Dan at 01:41 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Time for the September call-ups in foreign policy

The Financial Times' Edward Luce reports that the Bush administration might have to put out a "Help Wanted" sign for its foreign policy team:

The Bush administration is facing growing difficulties in filling a rising number of high-level vacancies following a recent spate of senior departures.

In the last 10 days alone Mr Bush has lost four senior officials and more resignations are expected to follow. “I wouldn’t describe this as disintegration,” said one senior official. “But there are worrying large gaps opening up and it is very hard to recruit high-quality people from outside.”

Recent departures include J.D. Crouch, the deputy head of the national security council, who wants to spend more time with his family, and Randall Tobias, the head of USAID, who resigned after it was revealed that he used a call girl agency for “legal” erotic services. Mr Bush has also lost Dina Habib Powell, the administration’s most senior Arab-American, who is leaving the State Department to join the private sector, and Timothy Adams, the number three at the Treasury department.

Officials say that the flurry of departures is not unusual during the latter part of a second term and deny there are common themes driving their exits. But they come at a time when Mr Bush is having difficulty filling the new position of “war czar” to oversee the administration’s prosecution of the war in Iraq.

The last two years of an unpopular lame-duck presidency have the same feel of a losing baseball team's last month of the season. In September, all teams call up promising minor league players to see if they can hack it in The Show. In both cases, organizations respond to failure by giving the kids a chance to screw up.

The Bush administration will fill these positions because.... well, because they have little choice. My guess is that, rather than getting people with resumes commensurate with the positions (i.e., Paulson, Gates), they'll have to go a bit younger.

[Why would anyone take these jobs?--ed. Because if they want to get even better positions the next time a Republican takes office, they need to punch their ticket now. Are you one of these people?--ed. Not after this statement, no.]

posted by Dan at 05:07 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Do not freak out about Iran's "industrial" nuclear program

In TNR Online, Michael Levi explains why Iran's claim of having an "industrial" enrichment program is a crock:

[Iran's] progress is actually much less than meets the eye. It has developed nothing remotely resembling an industrial capacity to enrich uranium, nor is there any evidence that it has made surprising new strides toward a nuclear weapon. And taking the Iranian claims at face value would be worse than error; it would be a strategic miscalculation that could help entrench the Iranian nuclear program and make it even more difficult to oppose.

According to the "Iran Dossier" prepared by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 3,000 first-generation Iranian centrifuges operating perfectly for approximately one year could produce enough fissile material to fuel one nuclear bomb. That makes the Iranian announcement sound pretty scary. But it's far from clear that Iran can come anywhere close to perfection in operating its machines. David Albright recently estimated, based on data published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that the centrifuges in Iran's 164-machine cascade were operating roughly 20 percent of the time. If the new 3,000-centerfuge plant functions at that level, it would take five years for it to produce enough material for a bomb. There is, of course, an outside chance that Iran has made immense technical leaps in recent years; but we shouldn't let worst-case fears that lack hard evidence dominate our policymaking.

Moreover, as Jeffrey Lewis has noted, Iran has so far used less than one ton of uranium hexafluoride, the form of uranium used in a centrifuge plant. That number has special significance. Iran bought what experts call "hex" from China back in 1991--one ton's worth, enough for the work Tehran has completed so far. But Iran's homemade hex is thought to be of poor quality: If the Iranians fed it into their centrifuges, the machines could break down. So, if Iran has used only Chinese uranium to date, even its shaky performance so far may overstate its capabilities, since, according to my calculations, it would need at least seven tons to make a bomb. It's possible Tehran has acquired more high-quality hex elsewhere, but IAEA investigations suggest that this is unlikely.

Nor would the Iranian facility be industrial scale even if it were functioning perfectly. Common sense demands that an industrial-scale enrichment plant be able to support a nuclear industry. A simple estimate, though, shows that the new facility would take roughly ten years to produce the fuel needed to operate Iran's single nuclear power plant for one year. If the Iranian facility is industrial scale, then my kitchen is a bakery.

posted by Dan at 12:38 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

In the matter of Hobbes vs. Schelling....

Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, along with the showdown over timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, have annoyed the president. Reuters reports Bush's frustration with Pelosi's visit:

President George W. Bush said on Tuesday visits by U.S. officials like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria send "mixed signals" and do nothing to change the behavior of a country the United States accuses of sponsoring terrorism.

The White House has spent days criticizing Pelosi's visit to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, saying it just provides the Syrian leader with a photo opportunity to exploit.

"We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals," Bush said to reporters at the White House.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Susan Milligan reports on how Bush is reacting to Congressional activism on Iraq:
President Bush declared yesterday that the military may suffer quick and devastating cuts if the Democrat- controlled Congress does not submit a war funding bill to his liking by mid-April, warnings that deepened a standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill over the Iraq war.
Bush would find a kindred spirit in Thomas Hobbes here. Bush, like Hobbes, believes that a state can and should have only one center of power. In the Hobbesian formulation, the emergence of competing voices implies division and weakness, which outsiders can exploit.

There's something compelling to this logic. If one analogizes international relations to poker, then surely no one wants the strength or weakness of their hand revealed by someone else.

However, this is not the only logic that one could apply to international relations. As Thomas Schelling pointed out in The Strategy of Conflict -- and as Robert Putnam elaborated in "Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: the Logic of Two-Level Games" -- there are times when domestic weakness can be translated into international bargaining strength.

Leon Panetta makes this point in his New York Times op-ed today:

What has been particularly frustrating about the debate in Washington over Iraq is that everyone seems to be fighting one another and forgetting the fundamental mission of the war.

Whether one is for or against the war, the key to stability is to have an Iraq that, in the words of the president himself, can “govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.” Achieving that goal is largely dependent on the political reforms that Iraqi leaders have promised but failed to put in place in their country....

Instead of dividing over the strategy on the war, the president and the Congress should make very clear to the Iraqis that there is no open-ended commitment to our involvement. As the Iraq Study Group recommended, Iraqi leaders must pay a price if they continue to fail to make good on key reforms that they have promised the Iraqi people.

In calling for a specific withdrawal date, the House and Senate versions of the supplemental spending bill send a clear message to the Iraqis (even if they do face a certain veto). The worst mistake now would be to provide money for the war without sending the Iraqis any message at all about their responsibility for reforms. Both the president and the Congress at the very least must make the Iraqi government understand that future financial and military support is going to depend on Baghdad’s making substantial progress toward the milestones Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has publicly committed to.

Of course, for the Schelling strategy to work, Congress needs to bend -- they would have to agree that if the Iraqis completed a set of reforms by a given date, then complete withdrawal would not be necessary. Bush would also need to bend -- sometimes mixed messages are a good thing.

The really interesting question going forward is whether, in their diplomatic initiatives, both Bush and Pelosi will be more concerned with Hobbesian questions of authority or Schelling questions about signaling. Unfortunately, I share Panetta's frustration -- domestic politics will trump any gain that can be leveraged from these policy disagreements.

posted by Dan at 09:04 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cheap talk is fun!!

The Financial Times' Guy Dinmore reports that unilateralist Democrats are pissed off that the Bush administration is acting so darn multilateral when it comes to Iran:

Senators urged the Bush administration on Wednesday to get tougher with Iran but senior Treasury and State Department officials resisted demands to punish European and Asian companies investing in Iran’s energy sector.

”You’ve got to get a lot tougher,” declared Chris Dodd, Senate banking committee chairman, brandishing charts showing $126bn of foreign investment in Iranian oil and gas fields.

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said: ”We talk tough and act like a pussycat.”

Nicholas Burns, under-secretary of state, and Stuart Levey, Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, replied that imposing US sanctions on foreign investors in Iran would damage the international coalition that the US was trying to keep together to isolate Iran over its nuclear programme.

The US wanted to put pressure on Iran, not its allies, Mr Burns said.

Mr Levey warned of a “backlash” against the US if it imposed sanctions on European or Japanese companies. This risked destroying US efforts to pass sanctions resolutions at the UN Security Council, he added.

He also noted that the extra-territorial application of US law was a controversial issue that would be met with hostility by allies.

Now, let's be clear -- if either Chris Dodd or Robert Menendez was president, there's no chance in hell that they would implement the measures they profess to favor. This is just cheap talk.

You can do this on blogs as well. Try it yourself in the comments!

UPDATE: I wonder if this will satisfy Dodd and Menendez.

posted by Dan at 03:48 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Is it the idea or the execution of the idea?

If someone pointed a gun to my head today and demanded that I say who I think will be the president in 2009:

1) I'd be pretty annoyed, because I thought I had moved to a safe neighborhood;

2) I'd say Barack Obama

This hunch -- and that's all it is -- makes me want to know how Obama thinks about foreign policy. Which leads me to Michael Hirsh's cover story in the Washington Monthly about this very question:
There’s no doubt that Obama has the intellectual curiosity and self-confidence—not to mention the ideal public persona—to fundamentally reconsider American foreign policy. But at this point, for all his promise, he’s still, in some sense, a cipher. After eight years in the Illinois Senate and two in Washington, his foreign policy thinking, unsurprisingly, remains largely unformed. That [Obama advisor Samantha] Power and [Anthony] Lake—both hard-bitten political veterans, not starstruck newcomers—each found themselves gravitating toward Obama on the basis of a speech, a dinner, or a phone call suggests the level of despair to which both had sunk. Bush, it appeared, had so destroyed what was left of the existing system of international security that both Power and Lake, through their separate journeys, had reached a point where they sought a leader who might offer not a return to that system—as John Kerry cautiously did in 2004—but a wholesale reimagining of it.

In this impulse, they are far from alone. The last year has seen a slew of efforts by foreign policy thinkers, academics, journalists, policy wonks, and politicians to envision a new international security system, and a new U.S. foreign policy to go along with it. These varied proposals often have little in common except the assumption that, through some combination of the end of the cold war, the new threat of stateless terror, and the failures of the Bush years, the old system is dead, and an entirely new one must now be created. Intellectually, like the Khmer Rouge, we’re back at the year zero.

And yet, by assuming the need to go back to basics, many of these efforts, though not stinting in their condemnation of Bush’s unilateralism, unwittingly accept the underlying premise of his foreign policy. That premise, during the first term, was that the postwar system of international relations—a system that, since 1945, has helped give the world unprecedented peace and prosperity—was no longer an effective tool for dealing with the world of the twenty-first century, in particular the post-9/11 world. But what if that premise was just plain wrong? If so, then perhaps the international system, though already weakened when Bush took office, appears to be beyond salvation now not because of its own fundamental flaws, but because of the serious damage done to it by the unprecedented radicalism of Bush’s foreign policy.

In other words, it may be that what is most broken today is not the international system, but American stewardship of it. And that, at this pivotal moment for the nation and its place in the world, what’s needed is not an entirely new vision but, rather, something simpler: a bit of faith. Faith that with time, committed diplomacy, and—perhaps most important—some basic good judgment about the use of American force, the essential framework of international relations that got us through the cold war—and that almost any president other than Bush would also have applied to the war on terror—can be repaired.

Read the whole thing. As Kevin Drum points out, "He's actually making one of the most difficult kinds of argument of all, an argument that the current system is fine and doesn't really need big changes [except the people running the show]." Of course, this bears more than a passing resemblance to the argument made by many neocons that the ideas underlying Operation Iraqi Freedom were equally sound, but the Bush administration botched the execution.

I agree with Kevin that it's worth checking out -- but I'm less sanguine with Hirsch's argument that because the system worked well in the past, a recommitment to its structures means it will work well in the future. As I pointed out recently, some difficult adjustments are going to be necessary.

[Hey, aren't there parts of Hirsh's essay that bear an awfully strong resemblance to your Washington Post essay from December 2006?--ed. Well, it seems like that to me, but that could just be an incipient sign of overbearing egotism. Besides, Hirsh's underlying thesis is dissimilar from mine, so I'm willing to let it slide.]

UPDATE: I'm fascinated that some of the commenters to this post infer that because I think Obama will win implies that I think Obama should win. Let's just say that I reserve some doubts about Obama as the candidate for me.

posted by Dan at 03:26 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What I learned at the nonproliferation conference

For the past 36 hours I've been attending the Burkle Center's conference on ""Nuclear Weapons in a New Century: Facing the Emerging Challenges." (Also, I got to use Ron Burkle's bathroom. But let's stay focused for once).

The following is a short list of what I learned:

1) Former SecDef William Perry believes that if Iran and North Korea manage to develop/keep their nukes, "the dam has burst" on the nonproliferation regime.

2) In April 2006, when Iran announced that they had managed to enrich uranium at Natanz, there were female dancers at the announcement holding up vials of the stuff.

3) There was a general consensus that the best way to ensure the continued tenure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's president would be to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.

4) The best way to induce a lunch coma is to have someone rattle off the Bush administration's accomplishments on nonproliferation for 45 minutes.

5) The general consensus was that on nonprolferation, the Bush administration deserved credit for Libya and for the Proliferation Security Initiative. They deserve blame for not talking to Iran or North Korea for too long. Oh, and Iraq was a bad idea too. There was no consensus on the India deal.

6) Despite this assessment, Wesley Clark said someone complained to him that there was "not enough Bush bashing" at the conference. Of course, this was before Joseph Cirincione spoke.

7) The Clinton people, by the way, count North Korea and the former Soviet states as successes -- but they also acknowledge that Pakistan and India were big failures on their watch.

8) At a conference that is open to the public, never, under any circumstances, call on someone wearing a hat to ask a question.

A final point. Mark Kleiman asks:
What I've heard about Iranian politics, from people that I believe know what they're talking about, is that the Guardian Council is somewhat hostile to Ahmadinejad, who isn't very controllable, and that various important power players within the country are nervous about provoking a confrontation with us and the Israelis. I've also heard that the Guardian Council is both faction-ridden and corrupt. How much would it cost for the anti-Ahmadinejad, non-anti-US politicians in Iran to bribe enough Guardians to get their candidates through the next selection round? I don't know, but I doubt it's any substantial fraction of the cost of keeping a CBG on station for a month.
The problem with this analysis is the assumption that a Rafsanjani is a better option than Ahmadinejad. At this point, I'm not so sure. Most of the conservative clerics want the nuclear program as well -- they're just craftier about it. Paradoxically, Ahmadinejad is such a loon that he makes it easier for the U.S. to organize multilateral action against Iran. If the mullahs replaced him with someone who was cagier, it will be next to impossible to get Russia and China to buy into any further action.

posted by Dan at 10:19 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cheney hears boom

Apparently Vice President Richard Cheney's surprise visit to Afghanistan was not a surprise to the Taliban:

Vice President Dick Cheney was whisked into a bomb shelter immediately after a Taliban suicide bomber struck the main American military base he was visiting in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Up to 14 people were killed, including one U.S. and one South Korean soldier, in the Bagram Airbase attack which rebels said was aimed at Cheney.

He had been in his room at the base where he had unexpectedly had to stay the night after bad weather forced postponement of his trip to the capital, Kabul, about 60 km (40 miles) away.

"At 10 a.m. I heard a loud boom," Cheney said.

Base authorities sounded a red alert and secret service officials told Cheney there had been a suspected suicide attack.

"They moved me for a relatively brief period of time to one of the bomb shelters nearby," he said. "As the situation settled down and they got a better sense in terms of what was going on, then I went back to my room until it was time to leave."

NATO's death toll in the attack was four, officials said. A Reuters photographer at the scene saw an additional 10 bodies, putting the total at 14....

"We wanted to target ... Cheney," Taliban spokesman Mullah Hayat Khan told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location.

Given that Cheney wasn't supposed to be in Bagram at the time of the bombing, I find this statement pretty dubious.

However, for more details about Cheney's whirlwind worldwide tour, you would be hard-pressed to beat this diary by Newsweek's Holly Bailey. One fascinating vignette:

But shortly before his plane was to lift off, it began snowing. Reporters and aides who had been waiting on the tarmac for Cheney' arrival were escorted back to the base' firehouse, where they sat and waited. Within an hour came the word: the weather in Kabul made the trip too dangerous to carry on. Already considered the most risky portion of the trip— the road connecting the airport and Karzai's palace was covered in several inches of snow and would need to be cleared. The VP and his entourage would stay overnight at Bagram, in hopes of holding the meeting on Tuesday.

But where would people sleep? Cheney and his top aides quickly found accommodations on the base, but finding a place for the press and the dozens of Secret Service agents and lower level aides on the trip would prove far trickier. Just after 8:30 PM, a Cheney aide tried to escort the seven reporters on the trip to the mess hall for food. (It was taco night, the base reported.) But just a few minutes before arrival came word that the base didn't have enough food for its visitors.

Reporters were then taken to one of the few open barracks on the base and assigned bunk beds—girls in one room, guys in the other. The soldiers escorting the media were extremely apologetic and embarrassed: They had not been prepared for guests. There were no sheets, only a few blankets and even fewer pillows. They handed out Ziploc bags of socks, sweatshirts and other supplies. Eyeing the packages, reporters immediately felt guilty: these were intended care packages for the troops. One Ziploc full of socks had a label describing it as a donation from a Boy Scout troop in Michigan. ('Operation Quiet Comfort,' it said.) Another care package, full of toothpaste and other toiletries, was from the USO. "Can we really use these?" one reporter asked. In the end, the media agreed to use the care packages, but only sparingly.

Just after dawn on Tuesday morning, reporters were taken to the mess hall, where Cheney was dining with the troops. "How was breakfast?" a reporter yelled to the VP. "Breakfast was excellent," Cheney replied, in what were his first three words to the press pool traveling with him on the trip, now in its eighth day.

posted by Dan at 09:30 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 26, 2007

The new new world order

I have an essay in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "The New New World Order". The precis:

Controversies over the war in Iraq and U.S. unilateralism have overshadowed a more pragmatic and multilateral component of the Bush administration's grand strategy: its attempt to reconfigure U.S. foreign policy and international institutions in order to account for shifts in the global distribution of power and the emergence of states such as China and India. This unheralded move is well intentioned and well advised, and Washington should redouble its efforts.
The slightly longer precis that explains the title:
[The growth of India, China, and other rising powers] will pose a challenge to the U.S.-dominated global institutions that have been in place since the 1940s. At the behest of Washington, these multilateral regimes have promoted trade liberalization, open capital markets, and nuclear nonproliferation, ensuring relative peace and prosperity for six decades -- and untold benefits for the United States. But unless rising powers such as China and India are incorporated into this framework, the future of these international regimes will be uncomfortably uncertain.

Given its performance over the last six years, one would not expect the Bush administration to handle this challenge terribly well. After all, its unilateralist impulses, on vivid display in the Iraq war, have become a lightning rod for criticism of U.S. foreign policy. But the Iraq controversy has overshadowed a more pragmatic and multilateral component of the Bush administration's grand strategy: Washington's attempt to reconfigure U.S. foreign policy and international institutions in order to account for shifts in the global distribution of power. The Bush administration has been reallocating the resources of the executive branch to focus on emerging powers. In an attempt to ensure that these countries buy into the core tenets of the U.S.-created world order, Washington has tried to bolster their profiles in forums ranging from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the World Health Organization, on issues as diverse as nuclear proliferation, monetary relations, and the environment. Because these efforts have focused more on so-called low politics than on the global war on terrorism, they have flown under the radar of many observers. But in fact, George W. Bush has revived George H. W. Bush's call for a "new world order" -- by creating, in effect, a new new world order.

Read the whole thing. I look forward to static from liberals because I have actually found an issue where the Bush administration has acquitted itself reasonably well. And I look forward to static from conservatives because the issue I've identified -- playing nice with China and India in multilateral settings -- is not something they would identify as a good thing.

Later today links on sources will be posted.

UPDATE -- SEVERAL DAYS LATER. OK, so I've been busy. Still, a few relevant links.

The genesis for this article was this blog post from August 2006 about the rejiggering of IMF quotas. The Treasury statement on this effort can be found here.

The September 2002 National Secuity Strategy can be found here; the March 2006 NSS is available here.

Condoleezza Rice's speech on transformational diplomacy can be found at the State Department web site; here's a link to Robert Zoellick's "responsible stakeholder" speech on China.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for linking to the piece, and thanks to the Economist's Democracy in America blog for responding more substantively.

posted by Dan at 11:22 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

So what do IR specialists think, redux

Two years ago I blogged about a survey of international relations scholars and their attitudes towards IR theory and U.S. foreign policy.

Two years later.... they're back with another survey. You can access the summary at Foreign Policy magazine. [UPDATE: the full report is available here.]

Dan Nexon summarizes many of the significant findings, impugning the reputation of my home institution in the process.

One finding I found particularly interesting:

Contrary to popular belief, international relations scholars are not doves. Most believe that military force is warranted under the right conditions. Unsurprisingly, given the daily reminder of the challenges of going it alone in Iraq, academics favor using force only when backed by the full weight of the international community. If a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran emerges over nuclear weapons, scholars demonstrate an extreme aversion to unilateral American action. If the U.N. Security Council authorizes force, however, approval for action skyrockets.

This support for multilateralism is remarkably stable across ideology. In the cases of both Iran and North Korea, liberals and conservatives agree that U.N.-sanctioned action is preferable. More striking are the attitudes of self-identified realists. Scholars of realism traditionally argue that international institutions such as the United Nations do not (and should not) influence the choices of states on issues of war and peace. But we found realists to be much more supportive of military intervention with a U.N. imprimatur than they are of action without such backing. Among realists, in fact, the gap between support for multilateral and unilateral intervention in North Korea is identical to the gap among scholars of the liberal tradition, whose theories explicitly favor cooperation (emphasis added).

posted by Dan at 12:21 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

So how's the global war on terror going?
The Center for American Progress, in concert with Foreign Policy magazine, has released survey results of "more than 100 of America's top foreign-policy hands" to see how they think the administration's anti-terrorism efforts are going. [Um... doesn't "they" includes "you"?--ed. Yeah, but I can't call myself a "top foreign-policy hand" without breaking into spontaneous giggles, so I think that just demonstrates a lack of bench strength in American foreign policy circles.]

As that top graph suggests, most of us aren't sanguine. Click here for the whole report. Or, if that whole reading thing bugs you, here is a YouTube video of CAP's Caroline Wadhams explaining it for you:

[Yeah, but the CAP is a left-wing think tank!!--ed. If you click here and scroll down to "Survey Particpants", you can find a complete list of those surveyed -- judge for yourself whether the list is skewed.]

posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

So that's how a competent Secretary of Defense acts

Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin went to town on the United States at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, according to the Financial Times:

Vladimir Putin threw down the gauntlet to the west in a confrontational speech on Saturday, attacking what he called “illegal” US unilateral military action and arguing it had made the world more dangerous.

In a speech that stunned most of the audience at an annual security conference held in Munich, Mr Putin also railed against US plans to build anti-missile defences in Europe, the expansion of Nato to include countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, and a host of other western policies.

Indeed, Putin says the following in his speech:
Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished.
I wonder if any of Putin's advisors have the stones to tell him that, actually, he's wrong.

That's not what this post is about, however. No, this post is about how the Secretary of Defense responded to Putin's rhetorical blast. Here's the opening of Bob Gates's speech:

[A]s an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.

Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background - a career in the spy business. And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.

However, I have been to re-education camp, spending four and half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. And, as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either “be nice“ or “be gone.“

The real world we inhabit is a different and much more complex world than that of 20 or 30 years ago. We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia.

For this reason, I have this week accepted the invitation of both President Putin and Minister of Defense Ivanov to visit Russia. One Cold War was quite enough.

Gates' deft deflection of Putin's charges seem to be going down well in the press.

It's been so long since an American official reacted so correctly to empty bluster that I'd almost forgotten how it should be done.

UPDATE: In Slate, Phil Carter finds other elements to praise in Gates.

posted by Dan at 11:09 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (5)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The lack of campaign chatter about foreign policy

Over at America Abroad, Earnest Wilson tells everyone what he knows about the foreign policy positions of the major Democratic candidates for president:

I don’t know. Other bloggers, journalists, policy wonks and usually talkative political pundits don’t know either. We have to assume the candidates know where they stand on the Big Issues. Maybe. But maybe not. They almost certainly don’t know all they really need to know on foreign affairs. (Except Biden. But he probably doesn’t know the other things.)

We know where the candidates stand on a small handful of Iraq-related issues – when to exit; whether they support the Baker/Hamilton report. But sitting in the Oval office requires more than a position on withdrawing American troops from Baghdad. Just doing Iraq isn’t enough....

If the Senators and governors now in the race don’t pay much attention to non-Iraq issues affairs, it’s not their fault. Having done foreign policy with a bunch of campaigns, I know the candidates’ handlers are telling them to concentrate on assembling a team that can win, with well-connected communications experts, experienced pollsters, a campaign chief who never sleeps, and so on. They need to get through the primaries where in most years (this one accepted) nobody cares about foreign policy. Even when the senator or governor or former Vice President finally makes it into the general election, there isn’t too much demand from the populace for details about Darfur and the Balkans. The foreign policy team is lucky if they get face time with the candidate, and a paragraph in the next speech. The system is designed to keep the candidate away from sticky issues abroad....

But at some point we begin to reflect on the kind of person who will end up with his or her finger on the launch button. With the authority to declare war and fight to keep American jobs from disappearing abroad. The person who will be America’s face to a disenchanted and skeptical, if not downright hostile, planet. Most of us really don’t care about the details. But we do want some insight into the moral character and basic human instincts that will guide the next president’s tough choices on tough global issues of life and death.

We can bet those basic instincts about the world will start to seep out during the campaign, well before the foreign policy ‘plan’ and the advisory groups and the position papers the candidate’s little foreign policy team will dutifully churn out. If George Bush has taught us anything, it is to look at those basic instincts and take them very seriously, because they tell us a lot more than the details offered up about Africa or global warming.

I don't have much objection to the first few paragraphs his post, but I'm not convinced Wilson is correct on his last point. Bush's foreign policy instincts in the 2000 campaign were a mixture of diffidence and indifference -- a far cry from how he has approached foreign policy since then.

Tell me, informed readers: which presidential aspirant -- from either party -- seems the most well-grounded on matters of foreign policy?

posted by Dan at 06:57 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

My black mark on Iraq

Today I received the following in an e-mail:

Since you seem to have been wrong about everything you wrote in support of the invasion... no WMDs, no Al Queda before the war, no connection to 9/11, took troops and reconstruction money away from where real battle was in Afghanistan... now have more Al Queda and no success in either Afghanistan or Iraq... in other words a completely counter-productive disaster as some did predict... I was wondering if you had issued an apology to everybody who did get it right (and for the right reasons)... including Al Gore?
Well, this seems like a good time to address the big blog topic for the week.

There have been a boatload of blog posts, op-eds, and magazine articles that discuss how and whether people who supported the Iraq war in 2002-3 should have their pundit's license removed, and whether those who opposed the war deserve promotions to pundit first class.

This Radar Magazine story by Jebediah Reed kicked things off, followed quickly by Jonathan Chait, Mark Thoma, Megan McArdle, Julian Sanchez, Kevin Drum (follow-up here), Daniel Davies, Scott Lemieux, Obsidian Wings (here and here), and Eric Rauchway.

You can read the above links for their thoughts on the matter now, and their thoughts on their thoughts back in 2002-3. One grand irony is that back in April 2003 it was the pro-war people who basked in their successful prediction, and anti-war activists who pointed out that, as Michael Kinsley put it then: "victory in the war is not victory in the argument about the war":

The serious case [against the war] involved questions that are still unresolved. Factual questions: Is there a connection between Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11? Is that connection really bigger than that of all the countries we're not invading? Does Iraq really have or almost have weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States? Predictive questions: What will toppling Saddam ultimately cost in dollars and in lives (American, Iraqi, others)? Will the result be a stable Iraq and a blossoming of democracy in the Middle East or something less attractive? How many young Muslims and others will be turned against the United States, and what will they do about it?

Political questions: Should we be doing this despite the opposition of most of our traditional allies? Without the approval of the United Nations? Moral questions: Is it justified to make "pre-emptive" war on nations that may threaten us in the future? When do internal human rights, or the lack of them, justify a war? Is there a policy about pre-emption and human rights that we are prepared to apply consistently? Does consistency matter?

Given the current answers to Kinsley's questions, I'm going to indulge in a bit of painful navel-gazing below the fold....

I supported the war going in, and if I could go into the way-back machine and do it all over again, I'd say "HELL, NO!" as loudly and as firmly as possible. I was pretty critical of the occupation phase from day one, and got more critical very quickly. That said, it's a useful exercise to look back and figure out where I screwed up in my pre-war logic.

The main blog posts where I articulated my own arguments in favor of war -- and against those who opposed military action -- can be found, in chronological order, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. There was also this TNR Online piece.

Summing up, I had three major reasons for favoring war in 2002-3:

1) I wanted U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia, because that was a major irritant for devout Muslims, a great talking point for Al Qaeda, and seemed to be destabilizing the Saudi regime in a bad, bad way. That was not going to happen until Saddam was deposed or otherwise removed from power.

2) I thought the status quo U.S. policy in the region was trending in a negative direction. Countries like France, Russia and China were talking about ways to end the U.N. sanctions regime -- and the pre-9/11 Powell initiative to make the sanctions smarter had not borne much fruit. Saddam Hussein was offering future oil contracts to Security Council members as a way of weakening their willpower further. Obviously, Saddam did not have any WMD, and the sanctions worked pretty well on that score -- but my concern was that if the sanctions had ended with Saddam still in power, he was going to try to acquire WMD capabilities. I can't prove this would have happened, but the lack of WMD doesn't dissuade me on this point.

3) I thought that war was the humanitarian option. Throughout the nineties, the sanctions regime, combined with Hussein's rejection of humanitarian aid, had been responsible for tens of thousands dying every year. Hussein's devastation of the marsh Arabs was proceeding apace. I was hopeful that a quick war would, in the long run, reduce the annual number of dead and dying in Iraq.

Note that my e-mailer was in error -- my support for the war was not based on Iraq having WMD, or Iraq being connected to Al Qaeda (indeed, click here for my thoughts in March 2003 on this point).

My major screw-up was both simple and profound -- at the time, with regard to foreign policy, I thought the Bush administration could walk and chew gum at the same time (i.e., fight Al Qaeda and Iraq), when it turned out that they couldn't even chew gum unaided.

I also implicitly assumed that if administration officials -- many of whom had displayed a fair amount of competence in the Bush 41 prosecution of Gulf War I -- discovered that their initial plans did not go, er, according to plan, that they would recognize this fact and adopt contingency plans. I did not think that their response would boil down to something like "stay the course" for close to four years, followed by a surge proposal.

In making this mistake, I didn't just make an ass out of you and me: two-and-a-half of my three reasons for the war got vitiated. Pulling out of Saudi Arabia was still a good move, and the Saudi experts I talk to say this has helped reduce Al Qaeda sympathies on the Arabian peninsula. Of course, compared to the cluster f**k in Iraq, this is small beer. For the Iraqis, this has been a humanitarian disaster by any metric as compared to the pre-war sanctions regime. And I simply cannot believe that an eroding UN sanctions regime, bad as it would have been, compares to what exists now.

In fact, the sanctions might not ever have eroded. In retrospect, it's heartbreaking to contemplate what would have happened had the administration halted its plans to invade Iraq after the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed Resolution 1441. Through that resolution, the Bush administration had a dramatic effect on Iraqi compliance just with the threat of military force. Had Bush stopped there, a lot of treasure and no small amount of blood would have been spared.

Re-reading these posts also reminds me that I do, in fact, owe an apology to Al Gore, who by supporting the 1991 Gulf War and opposing the 2003 war is batting a rare 2 for 2 in Middle East conflicts. He wasn't just right on the outcome: he was right in (much of) his reasoning as well:

I vividly remember that during one of the campaign debates in 2002 Jim Lehrer asked then Governor Bush whether or not America, after being involved in military action, should engage in any form of nation building. And the answer was, and I quote, "I don't think so. I think what we need to do is to convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations."

"Maybe I'm missing something here. We're going to have a kind of nation-building corps in America?"

"Absolutely not."

Now, my point is, this is a Bush doctrine. This is administration policy. Given that it is administration policy, we have to take that into account as a nation in looking at the likely consequences of an overwhelming American military victory against the government of Iraq.

If we go in there and dismantle them--and they deserve to be dismantled--but then we wash our hands of it and walk away and leave it in a situation of chaos and say, "Oh, that's for you all to decide how to put things back together now." That hurts us.

Sorry, Al.

So, dear readers, I definitely erred in the arguments I made in 2002 and 2003. I have and will try to do better. Bear in mind, however, that when it comes to foreign policy prognostications, better is a relative term.

posted by Dan at 07:13 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Anne Applebaum kind of agrees with me

Back in November I argued for outright drug legalization, in part because of the benefits to U.S. foreign policy:

Because of current policies regarding narcotics, the United States is stymied in promoting the rule of law in Afghanistan and several Latin American countries because farmers in those countries keep harvesting products that American cunsumers demand. Because this activity is crminalized, the bulk of the revenues from this activity enriches criminal syndicates and terrorist networks. All for a supply-side policy that does nothing but act as a price support for producers.
In Slate, Anne Applebaum makes a more moderate argument with respect to Afghanistan:
[B]y far the most depressing aspect of the Afghan poppy crisis is the fact that it exists at all—because it doesn't have to. To see what I mean, look at the history of Turkey, where once upon a time the drug trade also threatened the country's political and economic stability. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey had a long tradition of poppy cultivation. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey worried that poppy eradication could bring down the government. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey—this was the era of Midnight Express—was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.

As a result, in 1974, the Turks, with U.S. and U.N. support, tried a different tactic. They began licensing poppy cultivation for the purpose of producing morphine, codeine, and other legal opiates. Legal factories were built to replace the illegal ones. Farmers registered to grow poppies, and they paid taxes. You wouldn't necessarily know this from the latest White House drug strategy report—which devotes several pages to Afghanistan but doesn't mention Turkey—but the U.S. government still supports the Turkish program, even requiring U.S. drug companies to purchase 80 percent of what the legal documents euphemistically refer to as "narcotic raw materials" from the two traditional producers, Turkey and India.

Why not add Afghanistan to this list? The only good arguments against doing so—as opposed to the silly, politically correct, "just say no" arguments—are technical: that the weak or nonexistent bureaucracy will be no better at licensing poppy fields than at destroying them, or that some of the raw material will still fall into the hands of the drug cartels. Yet some of these problems can be solved by building processing factories at the local level and working within local power structures. And even if the program only succeeds in stopping half the drug trade, then a huge chunk of Afghanistan's economy will still emerge from the gray market, the power of the drug barons will be reduced, and, most of all, Western money will have been visibly spent helping Afghan farmers survive instead of destroying their livelihoods. The director of the Senlis Council, a group that studies the drug problem in Afghanistan, told me he reckons that the best way to "ensure more Western soldiers get killed" is to expand poppy eradication further.

Besides, things really could get worse. It isn't so hard to imagine, two or three years down the line, yet another emergency presidential speech calling for yet another "surge" of troops—but this time to southern Afghanistan, where impoverished villagers, having turned against the West, are joining the Taliban in droves. Before we get there, maybe it's worth letting some legal poppies bloom.

I still like my idea better -- but Applebaum does have the advantage of proposing something that seems politically possible in the current universe.

UPDATE: Ilya Somin weighs in.

posted by Dan at 10:57 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, January 12, 2007

A question about Somalia

Over at Across the Aisle, Eugene Gholz is puzzled about U.S. policy in Somalia:

[T]he most interesting choice, from my perspective: as Kenya sealed its border with Somalia to prevent the escape of the Islamic Courts fighters (at the request of the interim government and the Ethiopians), the U.S. used naval forces off the Somali coast to try to block Islamic Courts fighters’ escape by sea....

[T]he choice to declare that policy at all seems remarkable to me. Of course U.S. forces generally do their best to chase al Qaeda operatives around the world — specific people who have done the U.S. harm or have tried to do the U.S. harm. But the Islamic Courts must have had many more supporters than the small number of people there who specifically have attacked the United States (or even our allies). Most people fighting in Somalia presumably cared most about stability in Somalia or, perhaps, Islam in Somalia. Somalia is apparently relatively homogeneous ethnically and religiously, but clan (and subclan) differences lead to a constant struggle for power there; some people seem to think that Islam might serve as a uniting and stabilizing force there. If the U.S. is now in the business of rounding people up solely because they supported an Islamic government, are we not substantially expanding the list of adversaries in the War on Terror?

Read the whole thing. The only point where I might differ with Eugene is that he downplays the Islamic Courts' belligerent attitude towards Ethiopia (an attitude that Ethiopia reciprocated in full). Click here for more background info on this from the Economist.

One last point -- the problem right now with U.S. policy is not that it's tried to strike at Al Qaeda suspects in Somalia, which is perfectly justified. The problem with U.S. policy is that this action is taking place after three years of Abu Ghraib revelations, four years of futile war in Iraq, five years of revelations about faulty U.S. intelligence, five and a half years of internments in Guantanamo, and nearly six years of bellicose rhetoric from the Bush administration. In this context, even justifiable military actions come with terrific amounts of blowback.

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The thing about credible commitment....

The masses ain't too thrilled with the surge option. This has little to do with the actual merits and demerits of the option. According to Mystery Pollster:

[T]he data above suggest that general assessments of President Bush- both among speech watchers and other Americans - are driving judgments about the troop surge. Since the majority of Americans are skeptical of Bush, they are also skeptical of this new proposal.
So what about the actual plan? Over at NRO, John Derbyshire confronts the paradoxes of the latest Bush plan on Iraq:
The central and most glaring contradiction is the implied threat to walk away... Yoked to the ringing declaration that, of course, we can't walk away. We seem to be saying to the Maliki govt.: "Hey, you guys better step up to your responsibilites, or else we're outa here." This, a few sentences after saying that we can't leave the place without a victory. So-o-o-o:

—-We can't leave Iraq without a victory.

—-Unless Maliki & Co. get their act together, we can't achieve victory.

—-If Maliki & Co. don't get their act together, we'll leave.

It's been a while since I studied classical logic, but it seems to me that this syllogism leaks like a sieve.

Tom Maguire offers a valiant attempt to bail out the syllogism:
However, it *may* be that Bush is simply greasing the skids for something resembling an "acceptable" US defeat. Increasing our troops shows our commitment and gives the lie to Osama and others who took from Vietnam, Beirut and Somalia that the US lacked the stomach for an extended fight.

However - if we "lose" because the Iraqis don't have the will to a fight, well, we didn't really lose, now did we? We're not the paper tiger, they are. Say it with me, say it a lot, and maybe someone will believe it.

Look, of course this is pretty thin, but let me throw it out there as a possibility - Bush's plan is meant to lead either to something resembling victory, or to a face-saving withdrawal.

Even Tom knows this is weak beer, but it's worth pointing out one empirical flaw in Maguire's reasoning: what Bush is proposing now is exactly what happened in Vietnam, Beirut and Somalia.

In each case:

1) The United States suffered a pivotal attack that altered their perception of the enemy (the Tet Offensive, the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, and the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident);

2) The American response at some point after the attack was a show of escalation, not de-escalation (Nixon/Kissinger escalation in Vietnam, naval and air bombardments in Lebanon, six-month force expansion in Somalia);

3) After this display of strength, the U.S. withdraws;

4) Despite the increase in forces and retaliatory attacks, everyone recognizes the withdrawal for what it was.

I see very little reason to go through this charade again.... but I'm willing to listen to commenters who disagree. To them, I must ask -- how with the surge option be anything other than a more grandiose version of the Clinton administration's response to the Somalia bombings?

[So you're saying that no matter what we do, our credibility is damaged for the future?--ed.] Not necessarily. In Calculating Credibiliy: How Leaders Assess Military Threats, Daryl Press argues that the past is not a significant factor when leaders assess the credibility of other states' actions.

posted by Dan at 06:58 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Open surge thread

I've been mute about the proposed surge in U.S. troops as a way to achieve some semblance of victory in Iraq. That does not mean my readers have to be mute as well. So, comment away.

To stack the deck a little, however, surge proponents need to answer three questions for me:

1) How would a surge of only 20,000 troops make any difference, when even the proponents of such an option were talking about 50,000 troops in the fall? Is anyone going to claim that Iraq is more stable now than then?

2) Given that even proponents of a surge are only talking about an 18-month window of placement in a limited part of Iraqi territory, why wouldn't insurgents simply melt away/move to other parts of the country?

3) Since November, President Bush has received an electoral rebuke, the Iraq Study Group report, a statement from his own Defense Secretary, and a whole lot of other free advice saying essentially the same thing: the current policy is not working, and it's simply too late for putting more troops on the ground. A surprisingly large number of people who work for him agree with this assessment. In response, Bush has shuffled around his high command and proposed a surge. Is is possible to draw any conclusion other than, "George W. Bush is a stubborn ass?"

posted by Dan at 09:14 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, January 5, 2007

Taking exception to American exceptionalism?

I have an article in the January/February issue of The National Interest entitled, "Mind the Gap." It's an extended review of two books on public opinion and international relations. The first is Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes' America Against the World -- which compares and contrasts the attitudes of Americans and other nationalities, relying primarily on the Pew Global Attitudes project. The second is Benjamin Page and Marshall Bouton's The Foreign Policy Disconnect, which compares and contrasts the attitudes of Americans and foreign policymaking elites.

An excerpt:

In detailing the patterns and gaps between the American public and others, these books nicely complement and occasionally contradict each other. Both The Foreign Policy Disconnect and America Against the World will add grist to the mill for those who profess faith in the wisdom of crowds and doubts about the judgment of foreign policy experts. After cogitating on both books, it would be difficult for the informed reader to believe that Americans hold irrational or flighty views about foreign policy. Most Americans, on most issues, articulate what George W. Bush characterized as a “humble” foreign policy during the 2000 campaign. They want a prudent foreign policy based on security against attacks and threats to domestic well-being—though American attitudes about multilateralism remain an open question. The gaps between American attitudes and the rest of the world are overstated; the gaps between Americans and their policymakers might be understated. The biggest question—which neither of these books answers satisfactorily—is to what extent these views, and gaps between views, matter.
Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Condoleezza Rice's powers of persuasion

After Condoleezza Rice became Secretary of State, she (well, not only she) convinced Robert Zoellick to leave the U.S. Trade Representative's position to take the Deputy Secretary of State position. In the hierarchy of Washington positions, this was viewed by many as a step down in rank.

Since Zoellick left last July, the position had been vacant... until now. Condi's found a replacement, according to the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has persuaded John D. Negroponte to leave his post as director of national intelligence and come to the State Department as her deputy, government officials said last night.

Negroponte's move would fill a crucial hole on Rice's team. She has been without a deputy since Robert B. Zoellick left in July for a Wall Street firm. It also comes as President Bush plans to announce a new Iraq strategy; as former Iraq envoy, Negroponte would be expected to play a major role in implementing that plan in his new role.

Negroponte's decision to step down as the nation's top spy for a sub-Cabinet position marks a sudden reversal. Rice had earlier sought to recruit Negroponte -- as well as other high-profile figures -- for the job, but last month he insisted he was staying at his post.

Over at the New York Times, Mark Mazzetti explains why this move is so puzzling: "On paper, the director of national intelligence outranks the deputy secretary of state, raising questions about why the White House would seek — and why Mr. Negroponte would agree to — the shift."

Maybe there are hidden perks to the dSoS position. Possibilities include:

1) A sweeter parking spot;

2) Unlimited refills at the Foggy Bottom Starbucks

3) A heavy-duty stapler that actually works

4) A lower profile position so that years later, when autopsies of this administration are written, Zoellick and Negroponte are more in the background and less front-and-center.

5) The position is actually more powerful

That last one is suggested by Kessler:
Rice gave Zoellick wide berth as her deputy. He had primary responsibility for relations with China, the crisis in Sudan, Latin America, economic affairs and Southeast Asia. In a first for a deputy secretary of state, he frequently allowed reporters on his plane when he traveled abroad.
Whoa! Talking to the press!! Where do I sign up for this job?!

UPDATE: Greg Dejerejian offers his explanation:

The likely reason Cabinet level people like Zoellick and now, Negroponte, will take a Deputy slot is because, in reality, they know they will often be serving as quasi-Secretaries of State given how weak their boss has proven (Zoellick on Sudan, China etc, Negroponte on a to be determined portfolio, very likely to include Iraq). Sorry to be so plain about it, but there it is, no?
Ed Morrissey thinks this is more about Negroponte than the vacant dSoS position: "The change reflects a possible loss of confidence in Negroponte, especially given his proximity to the President and the obvious opportunity to influence his decisions on policy on a whole range of issues."

UPDATE: More speculation from James Joyner, related to point #5 above -- it's not that dSoS is so great, it's that DNI is so bad a position.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Nelson Report proffers this answer:

Negroponte’s immediate past includes Ambassador to Baghdad, and it is within the context of the Administration’s total immersion in the Iraq situation that his acceptance of the job must be seen, our sources argue.

“The President makes his big speech next week, and he’s desperate to make it look like he has a real strategy, and not just a revised process,” says an informed observer. “Negroponte helps them [Bush and Rice] ‘re-brand’ the policy because he seems credible, and he has personal overseas friendships and contacts. This Administration has almost no one it can deploy for this purpose.”

In other words, “see this as more about Rice, in some ways, than Negroponte. She’s articulate, but if you know something about the topic, you usually see it’s mostly glib salesmanship. She has no serious credibility overseas, she owns no personal relationships with any international leaders which are valuable, deployable in private, face-to-face diplomacy.”

posted by Dan at 07:57 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

What's the grandest strategy of them all?

Remember that blog query I made about available grand strategies? Yes, I had an ulterior motive:

"The Grandest Strategy of Them All," Washington Post, December 17, 2006:

In this climate [of uncertainty], policy heavyweights from Washington to New York to Boston are grasping for the Next Big Idea, the grand strategy that will guide U.S. foreign policy in a post-Iraq world and earn its creator fame and, if not fortune, perhaps a spot on the next administration's foreign-policy team. So who will be the next George Kennan? The current strategies on offer in various books and articles include new buzzwords, promising ideas -- and miles to go before a consensus emerges.
Click on the article to see my take on the candidate strategies -- and which one I think has the best chance of winning out (though it's still a horse race). I even managed to talk about the dangers of economic populism again.

Obsessive readers of might find a few echoes of this piece embedded in various blog posts from the past, including this eulogy for George Kennan, this rave of Jeffrey Legro's book, this discussion of multi-multilateralism, and this critique of the Princeton Project over at TPM Book Club.

UPDATE: The Fletcher School owns the Washington Post Outlook section today. My colleague Lawrence Harrison also has an essay -- on whether free market democracy can travel across cultures.

posted by Dan at 08:20 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Is offshore balancing possible in the Middle East?

In the New York Times, Eugene Gholz, Daryl Press, and Ben Valentino argue that the U.S. should switch to and offshore balancing strategy in the Middle East. They mean this as literally as possible:

The Iraq Study Group’s recommendation that the United States withdraw its combat forces from Iraq reflects a growing national consensus that our military cannot quell the violence there and may even be making matters worse. Although many are hailing this recommendation as a bold new course, it is not bold enough. America will best serve its interests in the Persian Gulf by withdrawing its ground-based military forces not only from Iraq, but from the entire region....

In fact, many of the same considerations that led the Iraq Study Group to call for withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq suggest that the United States should withdraw its troops from neighboring states as well — leaving only naval forces offshore in international waters. As in Iraq, a large United States military footprint on the ground undermines American interests more than it protects them.

Just as our troops on Iraqi streets have provided a rallying point for the insurgency, the United States military presence throughout the region has been a key element in Al Qaeda’s recruitment campaign and propaganda. If America withdrew from Iraq but left behind substantial forces in neighboring states, Al Qaeda would refocus its attacks on American troops in those countries — remember the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia?

Worse, the continued presence of our military personnel across the region will continue to incite extremists to attack American cities. Osama bin Ladin repeatedly stated that the presence of American forces on the holy ground of the Arabian Peninsula was a primary reason for 9/11.

Our presence also destabilizes our important regional allies. Not only do American bases make these countries a target for terrorists, but many of their citizens bristle at the sight of United States bases on their soil. Indeed, the most serious near-term threat to our energy interests is the overthrow of friendly governments by domestic Islamic extremists, a danger that is increased by the presence of our troops.

The good news is that the United States does not need to station military forces on the ground in Persian Gulf countries to protect its allies or to secure its vital oil interests....

You'll have to click on the link to see why they believe this to be the case.

I've got two concerns about this strategy. The first one is that much of its logic boils down to, "Osama wants us out, so we should get out to avoid further terrorist attacks." When does this logic stop? If Osama says Westerners should leave Spain because it's part of the ummah, do we heed his advice there?

This does not mean that we should therefore act in a perfectly contrarian manner either -- it just means that if the U.S. deems putting its troops in a country to be vital for the national interest, I'm not sure Osama bin Laden's objection should count for all that much. Concretizing the problem -- if, say, the governments of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, or the UAE want American troops stationed there, should we say no because of concerns about terrorism?

There's also the question about what regional aftershocks would take place when the U.S. withdraws from Iraq... which could require re-engagement. Would it trigger a wider war? Suzanne Nossel makes an interesting point about this over at Democracy Arsenal:

Many observers predict that if we do leave, the fighting in Iraq will escalate and ultimately reach some sort of stalemate. At that point, we should do whatever we can to facilitate a negotiated settlement through international involvement in mediation and ultimately peacekeeping. It is at this point that a Bosnia-style federal solution may become viable as a more organic outcome, rather than something the US would have to try to impose.
It's worth stepping back for a second and realizing that the U.S. position in Iraq is so bad that this constitutes the rosy scenario of U.S. withdrawal.

Nossel's scenario one way it could go, sure. I'm far from certain that this is likely, however. An open question: would any country in the region really be both willing and able to repulse a combined Iranian-Badr Brigade offensive across the country?

None of this means that Gholz, Press, and Valentino are wrong. It just means that I'm uncertain.

Commenters should probably weigh in at this point.

UPDATE: Daryl Press expands upon the comment he posted below with the following e-mail:

It's really hard to tell how [the Gulf emirates] feel about having us there, to be honest. They say all the right things about their close friendship with the Americans. At least when they're speaking to English-language news outlets. But they must feel pretty conflicted.

* The Iraqi MILITARY threat -- which was the reason they changed their decades-old policy and accepted a "permanent" US military presence, is gone for the forseeable future. What tiny residual MILITARY threat remains could easily be dealt with by "over the horizon" US forces. So the 2003 war means they don't need us for the reason they once did.

* The remaining (and very real) Iraqi threat is a threat of spilled-over domestic turmoil. Having hundreds of armed, experienced fighters return from Iraq to their homes in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the Emirates, may create exaccerbated domestic security problems for those countries, which are further exaccerbated by the US military presence there b/c the angry, armed men returning from Iraq are not friends of the US.

* The Iranian threat -- which everyone says is growing b/c of Iraq's destruction -- is not a direct military threat, but a threat from internal subversion. Again this is exaccerbated by the US presence.

So I'm sure the small Gulf states see some advantage of the close, and visible relationship with the US government -- they must, or they wouuld have kicked us out already. But what that advantage is, it's hard to tell. What I would claim with some certainty is that the cost-benefit balance of having us there is shifting pretty substantially for the reasons above.

My hope is that a US withdrawal is win-win for us and the "pro-U.S." gulf states. The small Gulfies can pretend to be less-close with us than they are, and use their strengthened domestic position to REALLY go after their domestic AQ types within their country, who are targetting their regimes as well as us. And we'd still know we are the backstop in case the oil is going to be taken.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Any other grand strategies out there... anyone?

For the next few days I'm going to be perusing the various grand strategies that have been put out there over the past year or so. So far I've got Francia Fukyama's "realistic Wilsonianism," Robert Wright's "progressive realism," Lieven and Hulsman's "ethical realism," and Slaughter and Ikenberry's "Liberty under Law."

Here's my question to readers -- am I missing anything? Are there other candidate grand strategies that have been proposed in recent years that I'm overlooking?

posted by Dan at 04:33 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

It's a good news Monday.... not

Let's see, what's going on in the world today?

According to Carlotta Gall and Ismail Kahn of the New York Times, it now doesn't matter what happens in Afghanistan -- because Al Qaeda and the Taliban have acquired a permanent and unmolested base in Pakistan's tribal regions anyway:

Islamic militants are using a recent peace deal with the government to consolidate their hold in northern Pakistan, vastly expanding their training of suicide bombers and other recruits and fortifying alliances with Al Qaeda and foreign fighters, diplomats and intelligence officials from several nations say. The result, they say, is virtually a Taliban mini-state.

The militants, the officials say, are openly flouting the terms of the September accord in North Waziristan, under which they agreed to end cross-border help for the Taliban insurgency that revived in Afghanistan with new force this year.

The area is becoming a magnet for an influx of foreign fighters, who not only challenge government authority in the area, but are even wresting control from local tribes and spreading their influence to neighboring areas, according to several American and NATO officials and Pakistani and Afghan intelligence officials.

This year more than 100 local leaders, government sympathizers or accused “American spies” have been killed, several of them in beheadings, as the militants have used a reign of terror to impose what President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan calls a creeping “Talibanization.” Last year, at least 100 others were also killed.

While the tribes once offered refuge to the militants when they retreated to the area in 2002 after the American invasion of Afghanistan, that welcome is waning as the killings have generated new tensions and added to the region’s volatility.

“They are taking territory,” said one Western ambassador in Pakistan. “They are becoming much more aggressive in Pakistan.”

“It is the lesson from Afghanistan in the ’90s,” he added. “Ungoverned spaces are a problem. The whole tribal area is a problem.”....

After failing to gain control of the areas in military campaigns, the government cut peace deals in South Waziristan in 2004 and 2005, and then in North Waziristan on Sept. 5. Since the September accord, NATO officials say cross-border attacks by Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and their foreign allies have increased.

In recent weeks, Pakistani intelligence officials said the number of foreign fighters in the tribal areas was far higher than the official estimate of 500, perhaps as high as 2,000 today.

These fighters include Afghans and seasoned Taliban leaders, Uzbek and other Central Asian militants, and what intelligence officials estimate to be 80 to 90 Arab terrorist operatives and fugitives, possibly including the Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri.

The tightening web of alliances among these groups in a remote, mountainous area increasingly beyond state authority is potentially disastrous for efforts to combat terrorism as far away as Europe and the United States, intelligence officials warn.

For more on the deteriorating situation, click over to the International Crisis Group's report, "Pakistan’s Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants." They pretty much place the blame on the Musharraf government:
Badly planned, poorly conducted military operations are also responsible for the rise of militancy in the tribal belt, where the loss of lives and property and displacement of thousands of civilians have alienated the population. The state’s failure to extend its control over and provide good governance to its citizens in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] is equally responsible for empowering the radicals. The only sustainable way of dealing with the challenges of militancy, governance and extremism in FATA is through the rule of law and an extension of civil and political rights. Instead, the government has reinforced administrative and legal structures that undermine the state and spur anarchy.

FATA is tenuously governed because of deliberate policy, not Pashtun tribal traditions or resistance. Since 1947, Pakistan has ruled it by retaining colonial-era administrative and judicial systems unsuited to modern governance. Repressive structures and denial of political representation have generated resentment. To deflect external pressure to curb radicalism, the Musharraf government talks about reforms in FATA but does not follow through. Instead, appeasement has allowed local militants to establish parallel, Taliban-style policing and court systems in the Waziristans, while Talibanisation also spreads into other FATA agencies and even the NWFP’s settled districts.

And then there's Iraq....

One of the few things the Bush administrationostensibly prepared for in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom was an expectation of massive refugee flows to neighboring countries. As Bush officials delighted to point out in first years after the invasion, that was one calamity that did not befall Iraq.

How times have changed. The Boston Globe has been doggedly reporting on the growing refugee problem. This story by Thanassis Cambanis does a good job of illustrating the regional problems Iraqi refugee flows will create. It cites a UNHCR report that points out,""Iraq is hemorrhaging. The humanitarian crisis which the international community had feared in 2003 is now unfolding."

Today's front-pager by Michael Kranish explains the dilemma for the Bush administration:

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled their homeland are likely to seek refugee status in the United States, humanitarian groups said, putting intense pressure on the Bush administration to reexamine a policy that authorizes only 500 Iraqis to be resettled here next year.

The official US policy has been that the refugee situation is temporary and that most of the estimated 1.5 million who have fled to Jordan, Syria, and elsewhere will eventually return to Iraq. But US and international officials now acknowledge that the instability in Iraq has made it too dangerous for many refugees, especially Iraqi Christians, to return any time soon....

An effort by hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to resettle in the United States would put the Bush administration in an extraordinarily awkward position. Having waged war to liberate Iraqis, the United States would in effect be admitting failure if it allowed a substantial number of Iraqis to be classified as refugees who could seek asylum here.

Arthur E. "Gene" Dewey, who was President Bush's assistant secretary of state for refugee affairs until last year, said that "for political reasons the administration will discourage" the resettlement of Iraqi refugees in the United States "because of the psychological message it would send, that it is a losing cause."

But Dewey said a tipping point has been reached that is bound to change US policy because so many refugees are convinced that they will not be able to return to Iraq. That tipping point was further weighted by Wednesday's report by the Iraq Study Group that called for the eventual withdrawal of most US forces.

"I think there will increasingly be a moral obligation on the part of the United States" to allow resettlement by Iraqis here, Dewey said. "That is the price for intervention. Similar to Vietnam, that obligation is just going to have to be fulfilled."

Here's a question for any remaining Bush-supporters -- is there any way you can still claim that this is all just an artifact of liberal media bias?

posted by Dan at 09:10 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Open Baker-Hamilton thread

Comment away on:

1) The Iraq Study Group's report;

2) The likelihood of any of its recommendations being implemented;

3) The likelihood of any of its recommendations actually working

posted by Dan at 01:24 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 4, 2006

Name that mutual interest!!!

The AP reports that State Department press officer Eric Watnik has a wry sense of humor when it comes to Venezuela:

The State Department, long at odds with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, greeted the populist leader's landslide re-election victory by holding out the possibility of a more cooperative relationship with his government.

"We look forward to having the opportunity to work with the Venezuelan government on issues of mutual interest," State Department press officer Eric Watnik said Monday.

Chavez, meanwhile, saw his victory as a setback for the United States. "It's another defeat for the devil, who tries to dominate the world," Chavez told the crowd of supporters in Caracas. "Down with imperialism. We need a new world."

Watnik's brief comments did not offer congratulations to Chavez nor did it make direct reference to him or what it regards as the increasingly authoritarian course he is pursuing....

On Friday, two days before the election, National Director of Intelligence John Negroponte outlined U.S. concerns about Chavez in a wide-ranging speech at Harvard University.

He said Chavez's "meddling in the domestic affairs of other states in the region — granting Colombia's FARC insurgents safe haven and other material support, for example — already has made him a divisive force."

He criticized Venezuela's attitude toward drug trafficking as "permissive," an allegation Venezuelan officials have denied.

Venezuela's growing ties to Iran and other states, such as North Korea, Syria, and Belarus, "clearly demonstrate a desire to build an anti-U.S. coalition that extends well beyond Latin America," Negroponte said. (emphasis added)

Readers are strongly encouraged to name issues in which Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush would share a mutual interest.

posted by Dan at 02:08 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The quickest and dirtiest path out of Iraq

Laura Rozen has a piece in the Los Angeles Times discussing the Bush administration's Plan B on Iraq (hat tip: Kevin Drum):

As sectarian violence rises in Iraq and the White House comes under increasing pressure to revamp its strategy there, a debate is emerging inside the Bush administration: Should the U.S. abandon its efforts to act as a neutral referee in the ongoing civil war and, instead, throw its lot in with the Shiites?

A U.S. tilt toward the Shiites is a risky strategy, one that could further alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and that could backfire by driving its Sunni population into common cause with foreign jihadists and Al Qaeda cells. But elements of the administration, including some members of the intelligence community, believe that such a tilt could lead to stability more quickly than the current policy of trying to police the ongoing sectarian conflict evenhandedly, with little success and at great cost.

This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting. The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward. Among those attending were President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor Stephen Hadley, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option. Participants were asked to consider whether the U.S. could really afford to keep fighting both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias — or whether it should instead focus its efforts on combating the Sunni insurgency exclusively, and even help empower the Shiites against the Sunnis.

To do so would be a reversal of Washington's strategy over the last two years of trying to coax the Sunnis into the political process, an effort led by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

The political science literatue on civil wars would recommend backing the Shia. Monica Duffy Toft summarized this logic in a Washington Post op-ed:
The fighting can stop in a variety of ways -- by military victory or negotiated settlement. Historically speaking, military victories have been the most common and have most often led to lasting resolutions. So while a negotiated settlement may seem the most desirable end point, this resolution is frequently short-lived even with third-party support....

If [the US] supports the Kurds and Shiites -- the two peoples most abused under Hussein, most betrayed by the United States since 1990 and, as a result, the two most worthy of our support on moral grounds -- it risks alienating important regional allies: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. On the other hand, doing the right thing (supporting the Shiites) also means doing the most practical thing, which is ensuring a stable peace and establishing long-term prospects for democracy and economic development. As a bonus, it is possible that U.S. support of the Shiite majority might pay diplomatic dividends as regards Iran's impending nuclearization.

If the United States supports the Sunnis, it will be in a position very close to its Vietnam experience: struggling to underwrite the survival of a militarily untenable, corrupt and formerly brutal minority regime with no hope of gaining broader legitimacy in the territory of the former Iraq.

Similarly, James Fearon summarized the state of poli sci knowledge about civil wars in his testimony to Congress:
By any reasonable definition, Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, the scale and extent of which is limited somewhat by the US military presence.

Civil wars typically last a long time, with the average duration of post-1945 civil wars being over a decade.
When they end, they usually end with decisive military victories (at least 75%).

Successful power-sharing agreements to end civil wars are rare, occurring in one in six cases, at best.

When they have occurred, stable power-sharing agreements have usually required years of fighting to reach, and combatants who were not internally factionalized....

The historical record on civil war suggests that this strategy is highly unlikely to succeed, whether the US stays in Iraq for six more months or six more years (or more). Foreign troops and advisors can enforce power-sharing and limit violence while they are present, but it appears to be extremely difficult to change local beliefs that the national government can survive on its own while the foreigners are there in force. In a context of many factions and locally strong militias, mutual fears and temptations are likely to spiral into political disintegration and escalation of militia and insurgent-based conflict if and when we leave.

The political science on this is pretty clear. The morality of such a policy is clearly more troubling. That said, Kevin Drum makes a valid point:
Would this be an appalling strategy to follow? Of course it would. Appalling options are all that's left to us in Iraq.

More to the point: is it worse than the other options at our disposal? Or, alternatively, is it slightly less bad? I'd guess the former: There's not much question that Shiite forces are eventually going to wipe out the Sunni insurgency, but it's probably slightly better for them to do it on their own instead of doing it with our active help, something that would alienate every Sunni in the Middle East. And don't think that we might be able to keep this a secret. Even if our support for this strategy were never publicly acknowledged, there's not much question that everyone in the region would understand perfectly well what was going on.

Such is the moral calculus we're left with in Iraq. It's not a battle between good and bad, it's a battle between bad and worse.


posted by Dan at 03:28 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Will Bush 43 become like Bush 41?

The theme du jour is the replacement of Bush 43 people with Bush 41 people. Matthew Yglesias argues that replacing Rumsfeld with Gates is essentially meaningless:

The purported dichotomy between 41 people (good!) and 43 people (bad!) is dramatically overstated.... Paul Wolfowitz was on the Bush 41 team. So was Condoleezza Rice. And, of course, so was Colin Powell. Don Rumsfeld, meanwhile, wasn't. The reality is that presidents almost always -- especially in the first terms of their administrations -- appoint reasonably diverse groups of people to national security positions. They proceed to disagree with each other. The President of the United States then decides what he wants to do. Bush 41 had some real nutters working for him who pushed some nutty ideas inside his administration. Bush 43 had some reasonably sensible people working for him who pushed some reasonably sensible ideas inside his administration. The difference wasn't in the advisors, it was in the presidents. More often than not, Bush 41 made reasonable choices while Bush 43 made bad ones.
This is a fair point, but it does not necessarily mean that the Gates/Rumsfeld switch doesn't matter. The key question is whether Bush 43 has learned from his decision-making failures. One could argue, in fact, that the Gates/Rumsfeld switch is evidence suggesting that he has decided to switch tack.

Or, it could be a PR stunt.

As I said when debating Matt, I'm not sure which it is. I assume my readers will have fewer doubts one way or the other.

posted by Dan at 06:59 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 3, 2006

The A-Rod quagmire

Tom Peyer and Hart Seely, "Yankee Go Home." New York Times, November 3, 2006:

TRADE A-Rod’s continued failure to deliver in the clutch is diverting critical resources and dividing our team. He must go. We need to move on, now!

KEEP Trading A-Rod would lead to a disaster in the American League East. It would embolden other teams and threaten future Yankee clubs. To cut and run is not an option....

TRADE We’re sending our kids to fight an endless war in Boston, when it’s Detroit that attacked us. After we swept the Red Sox in August, you hung out your Mission Accomplished banner, but nothing has been accomplished.

KEEP The Yankees never said it was over. The news media said it was over. And I acknowledge the challenges. We must adapt. We must heed the experts. Joe Torre and his coaches have said they believe A-Rod should come back. We must listen to them.

TRADE Those are the same “experts” that batted A-Rod eighth!

KEEP You would stoop so low as to attack Joe Torre? Have you no shame? Have you no shame!

Best. Op-ed. Ever.

posted by Dan at 08:56 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 9, 2006

Are economic sanctions an option for North Korea?

Now that North Korea has conducted a nuclear test, and now that China and North Korea are actually upset about it, what is the appropriate policy response?

First, let's acknowledge that a military strategy is not terribly viable. I suspect that North Korea's military, as in other communist societies, is not quite as fearsome as defense analysts assert. This suspicion includes whether their nuclear test was really as successful as they claimed. That said, I have every confidence that the DPRK could rain a hellfire of conventional missiles and artillery shells upon Seoul -- so there's no point going there.

When it comes to sanctions, the Guardian's Ewen MacAskill suggests that the UN Security Council will be reluctant to go all-out because it's haunted by the Iraq sanctions:

Negotiations between the council members will centre on a draft resolution prepared by the US that sets out punitive measures including a trade ban on military and luxury items, authorising the inspection of all cargo entering or leaving the country, and freezing assets connected with its weapons programmes. Mr Bolton last night distributed the document listing a broad range of sanctions.

The measures, some of the most restrictive in years, also included the banning of trade in any materials that could be used to make or deliver weapons of mass destruction. The document says the US wants the resolution to fall under chapter seven of the UN charter, which deals explicitly with threats to international peace and security.

But it will be difficult for the security council to find effective sanctions that will put pressure on the North Korean leadership while avoiding further punishing a population already close to the breadline in many regions. And if North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, has decided that possession of a nuclear weapon is more important than ties with the outside world, that may be a fact the world will have to live with.

This problem is pretty much a red herring, because of a grisly fact -- the DPRK leadership has essentially been sanctioning its own people for the past fifteen years. The only North Koreans who benefit from the current structure of the DPRK economy are the elite. Assuming that China and South Korea buy in, sanctions against North Korea would actually have a powerful effect.

Perhaps too powerful -- a point that Aditya Tiwathia raises ove at Passport:

So what can be done? Deepening its isolation, as Ian Bremmer points out in his book, The J-Curve, only shores up the regime. Even if sanctions succeed in regime collapse, that's the last thing that neighbors China and South Korea want. As Ivo H. Daalder points out, this would flood them with millions of destitute refugees and destabilize the region. That explains their minimal enthusiasm for Washington's hardline approach in the six-party talks.

....US policy needs to start reflecting this North Korean calculus and the fact that regime collapse is not necessarily the best outcome.

Tiwathia's positive analysis is correct, but her normative assessment is not. Given the history of the DPRK, regime collapse is the best policy outcome. An eventual DPRK metamorphosis into a peaceful, capitalist-friendly state would be the best outcome.... in Fantasyland. Here on the planet Earth, that's just not going to happen.

So, how to get China and South Korea to favor regime colapse? Ralph Cossa makes some good suggestions in the International Herald-Tribune:

Beijing should also note that economic sanctions imposed as a result of a nuclear test will be accompanied by an "open border" policy and the establishment of UN-sponsored refugee camps on the Chinese side of the Yalu River. China, at North Korea's insistence, presently forces most refugees to return, where they meet a most unpleasant fate. This policy must change.

Neighboring Russia and Mongolia can also provide safe havens and South Korea (along with the United States, Japan, and others) should be prepared to support refugee relocation.
Now it might be more cost-effective to pay off the DPRK periodically rather than pay to reconstruct the North. Given the DPRK's willingness to proliferate, however, I say sanction them. Sanction them now. And sanction them with the Security Council's imprimatur.

posted by Dan at 09:59 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Open North Korea test thread

Comment away on North Korea's decision to see whether the rest of the world will pay attention to it now that it's apparently conducted a nuclear test. According to the official DPRK statement, "[The test] was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation.... It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it." Oh, so there's nothing to worry about then.

The Chinese response so far is interesting, in that it's clear they're pretty pissed off:

The DPRK [North Korea] ignored universal opposition of the international community and flagrantly conducted the nuclear test on October 9. The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to it.
We'll see if the South Koreans are equally perturbed.

More later if possible -- I have discivered my hell on earth and it is being trapped in the Miami International Airport waiting five hours with the kids for a flight for which we only have standby status.

UPDATE: Comments appear to be down. I'll try to get Movable Type on the case.

In the mean time, because Amos Bitzan took the time to e-mail me his comment, it goes in the post:

The Chinese may be pissed off but there is nothing they or the South Koreans can really do. Neither country wants the NK regime to collapse right now. They are just going to have to increase the shipments of food and energy to Pyongyang. In any case, it's another MASSIVE failure for the Bush administration. The US should have been at the table with North Korea, carrying out bilateral talks, a long time ago. I think the South Koreans will be more perturbed by further Bush bungling or by Japanese plans to beef up their military (or, God forbid, go nuclear themselves) than by the North Korean test. In any case, a military solution is simply not in the cards. If only Bush had not been so insistent on linking North Korea to Iran. Now there...that's a real problem. And now he's put himself in the position where a concession to NK also means a victory for Iran because - hey - they're both part of the Axis of Evil.

posted by Dan at 08:19 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is it possible to forge a world of liberty under law?

You can add another grand strategy to the pile of candidates proffered in recent months -- "progressive realism," "ethical realism," "realistic Wilsonianism," etc. The Princeton Project on National Security released its final report, Forging A World Of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security In The 21st Century.

One factor that distinguishes the Princeton Project from these other approaches was the degree of consultation. UPI's Martin Walker provides a nice precis:

The new strategy seeks to absorb the rising powers like China, India, Brazil and others into a law-based global economic and diplomatic structure that avoids open conflict by making them stakeholders within the system, and thus encouraged in their own interests to play by the rules.

Known as the Princeton Project, the venture lasted over two years and brought in over 400 participants, and was chaired jointly by the Reagan administration's former Secretary of State George Shultz and by former President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Tony Lake.

The strategy they have devised, titled 'Liberty Under Law," seeks to chart of long-term course in the way that George F. Kennan in 1946 drafted the concept of "containment" that broadly defined U.S. policy in the Cold War for the next 45 years.

"The difference is that we soon came to realize that there is now no single threat as there was in 1946, so there can be no single theme like "containment," Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson school of public and international affairs and one of the directors of the project, and a former president of the American Society for International Law. [Slaughter co-directed the project with G. John Ikenberry--DWD.]

"There are now a series of threats, including global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, pandemics, the rise of Asia, the energy crisis and threats emanating from the Middle East becoming too numerous to count," Slaughter added.

A lot of bloggers were involved in the project -- Steve Clemons, Christopher Preble of Across the Aisle, everyone at TPM's America Abroad, a couple of the Democracy Arsenal gang, Nikolas Gvosdev, and yours truly. To be clear, however, none of us would necessarily endorse everything that's in this report. I do, however, agree with the point Anne-Marie and John make about the multiplicity of threats.

Read it and debate away.

posted by Dan at 11:20 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

So what's our Iran policy right now?

I blogged in the spring about my puzzlement and confusion regarding U.S. foreign policy towards Iran. On the one hand, it was clear that certain elements of the Bush administration were not big fans of either direct or indirect dialogue.

On the other hand: [E]ven if this skepticism (towards negotiations and incentives) is warranted, exactly what is the hawkish set of policy options on Iran? Is there any coercive policy instrument that is a) publicly viable; and b) would actually compel Iran into compliance without negotiations?
I'm even more puzzled today.

First, Bill Gertz has a Washington Times exclusive that is clearly designed to torpedo one diplomatic option:

Iran is close to an agreement that would include a suspension of uranium enrichment but wants the deal to include a provision that the temporary halt be kept secret, according to Bush administration officials.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, has been working with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani on the enrichment-suspension deal that could be completed this week.....

According to the officials, the suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran would be for 90 days, so additional talks could be held with several European nations.

Many U.S. officials are opposing the agreement as a further concession to Iran, which continues to defy a United Nations' call for a complete halt to uranium enrichment. A Security Council resolution had given Iran until Aug. 31 to stop its enrichment program or face the imposition of international sanctions. Tehran ignored the deadline, but diplomacy has continued.

Some in the State Department are supporting the deal, which they view as a step toward achieving a complete halt to uranium enrichment.

However, other officials said that keeping any suspension secret would be difficult and that it would drag the United States into further negotiations with Iran.

The officials opposed to the deal want any agreement on uranium suspension to be announced publicly.

Also, any suspension of enrichment would require International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections to verify that work has stopped at Iranian facilities. The inspections would likely be disclosed, exposing any secret arrangement with Iran on suspension.

Failing to publicly announce the suspension also would be a face-saving measure for the Iranian government.

Officials said President Bush is not happy with the secrecy demand, although he continues to support the use of diplomacy to solve the problem.

I have to wonder if Gertz asked his editors to headline his article, "A Story That By Its Very Existence Will Alter The Facts Reported In Said Story."

OK, so clearly diplomacy is not the policy du jour of this administration when it comes to Iran. How about sanctions? Here we come to Condoleezza Rice's comments to the Wall Street Journal editorial board:

QUESTION: What do you think about a gasoline embargo on Iran?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I just – I don’t think that it was anything that you have to look at it in the near term and I’m not sure that it would have the desired effect. One of the problems that we have is if indeed you would like not to have a situation in which you reinforce the leadership’s desire to make their people feel that America is anti-Iranian people, then you want to stay away from things that have a bad effect on the Iranian people to the degree that you can. You know, we’ve talked – people have talked for instance about barring Iranian students or barring Iranian – there was at one point the World Cup, you know, bar them from the World Cup or something like that.

The Iranian regime has been pretty insistent on a line of reasoning that this is not between the United States and the Iranian regime; this is between the United States and Iran, the culture, the people, its great national pride. And that’s something we really do have to fight against and some believe a gasoline embargo might play into that.

If you read the whole interview, it's clear that Rice favors financial sanctions ("Iran is not North Korea. It’s not isolated and it is pretty integrated into the international financial system. And that actually makes its potential isolation more damaging to Iran than for instance North Korea which, as you notice, has not been too thrilled with even the rather modest financial measures that we’ve taken against North Korea.").

That said, rejecting the gasoline embargo strikes me as a huge mistake. Iran is also not like North Korea in that there's actually a middle class in Tehran and environs that like their cheap gasoline very much, thank you. I concede that the possibility of a nationalist backlash is there -- but just because Ahmadinejad is painting the conflict as a civilizational one does not mean that Iranians are buying it. There's a decent possibility that of a lot of Iranians taking out their economic frustrations against Ahmadinejad's government -- especially after Iran's government spends so much on Hezbollah.

So, to review: there are administration efforts to sabotage the available diplomatic option, and the most powerful economic sanction has been rejected in the near term. I don't think financial sanctions will bite as much as the secretary, in part because it always takes a long time to implement and after the 1979 asset seizures the Iranians have moved down the learning curve on evading those kind of strictures.

What's left in the policy tool kit besides force?


UPDATE: Fareed Zakaria offers some suggestions that I am quite sure will be ignored by the Bush administration.

posted by Dan at 10:42 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Incompetence or impossibility in Iraq?

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is coming out with a book on the CPA's experiences in Iraq called Imperial Life in the Emerald City. For a taste, check out Chandrasekaran's excerpt in Sunday's Washington Post, as well as his Q&A at today. He opens the latter by stating the following:

I believe that the Coalition Provisional Authority -- the U.S. occupation government in Iraq from April 2003 to June 2004 -- had a rare opportunity to resuscitate Iraq. It's hard to remember now, but back then the Iraqis were turly happy to be liberated from Saddam's government. They were eager for American help to reconstruct their country and they wanted U.S. forces to help establish order. But the CPA, in my view, squandered that goodwill by failing to bring the necessary resources to bear to rebuild Iraq and by not listening to what the Iraqis wanted -- or needed -- in terms of a postwar government. By sending, as I've written, the loyal and the willing over the best and the brightest, we hobbled our efforts there.
This is a theme I've touched on in the past (full disclosure: Chandrasekaran contacted me during the drafting of his book to get in touch with my sources at CPA, and I briefly acted as a go-between).

It also dredges up what will be an age-old debate -- was the failure in Iraq preordained because the mission was hopeless, or was it becaused the administration bungled the execution? Last year, Matthew Yglesias and Sam Rosenfeld argued that failure was preordained.

Yesterday Jonathan Chait took the incompetence position in the Los Angeles Times:

The argument that the Iraq war had no chance to succeed has an undeniable surface appeal. Things are going so badly there that it's hard to imagine how it could have turned out differently.

But the more we learn about the war's conduct, the more we learn that the administration didn't just make the normal sorts of mistakes that inevitably occur in wartime; it was almost criminally negligent. The Bush administration literally refused to do any planning for the occupation. They invaded before all the available troops were in place, staffed the Coalition Provisional Authority with underqualified hacks vetted solely on the basis of ideological loyalty and rashly disbanded the Iraqi army, which could have provided some early order.

One might counter that none of this was really decisive because Iraq is so deeply riven with sectarian feuds that brutal fighting between Sunnis and Shiites was inevitable. But this misunderstands a lot about human behavior. When the authority of government dissolves, people retreat to the safety of tribal solidarity, and under such conditions they can do savage things of which they never thought themselves capable. Once the expectation of chaos sets in, it can spiral out of control.

Yglesias responds here and here. One excerpt:
Let me just note that this is an extremely weak claim being made on behalf of the underlying policy concept. It "wasn't necessarily doomed" though it was bound to be "extremely difficult."

I'd be interested in seeing someone who thinks along these lines venture some vague probabalistic estimates. It wasn't "necessarily doomed" but was it likely to succeed? Or are we merely claiming that there was some chance of success? Ten percent? One percent? And how does that feed into policy analysis? Obviously, you wouldn't want to try and introduce a bogus false precision to these kind of calculations. Still, it seems to be that before launching a war of choice, you're going to want some better odds of success than "not necessarily doomed."

If you read what I've written on this subject, I obviously take the incompetence position -- Iraq could have gone much, much better.

To answer Matt's question, however, it seems to be that had the Bush administration:

a) Not been committed to proving Rumsfeld's thesis about warfighting, and thus had significantly more troops on the ground in the spring o 2003;

b) Staffed CPA based on meritocratic criteria as well as a conviction in having the mission succeed; and

c) Not disbanded the army

Then I'd say the odds of Iraq being at least as stable and open as, say, Ukraine would have been better than 50/50.

That said, I close with what I wrote two years ago:

[W]e can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well.
Tell me, dear readers -- was it the idea or the implementation?

posted by Dan at 11:03 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Paulson's big speech

Your humble blogger is now back in the USA, but jet-lagged and buried under lots of e-mail and lecture notes.

Sooo.... devoted readers of this space should read Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's big speech on the global economy. Paulson is headed to China next week, and this will be his template in future economic negotiations. It's worth noting that in the three months Paulson has been Treasury Secretary, he's received more attention than John Snow received during his last three years on the job.

One interesting part:

Protectionist policies do not work and the collateral damage from these policies is high. By closing off competition and blocking the forces of change, protectionism reduces the losses of the present by sacrificing the opportunities of the future. Jobs saved in the short term job are off-set by more job losses and a lower standard of living in the future.

I believe it is the responsibility of all nations to search for ways to moderate income disparities and help those who lose their jobs to international competition. We in America must think creatively about how to assist those who fall behind. As the President has repeatedly emphasized, the most effective method for generating new, high-quality jobs, and higher living standards, is to develop the skills and the technologies that promote economic competitiveness. This means helping people of all ages pursue first rate education and training opportunities.

Because I care deeply about the competitiveness of the U.S. economy I will be an outspoken advocate for maintaining – and extending – free and fair trade. The United States wants open markets. We welcome foreign investment. And we seek partners to join us in advancing a global agenda that will help realize the benefits of economic liberalization and competition. We will not heed the siren songs of protectionism and isolationism.

All well and good... but I am immediately suspicious of any politician who articulates a program of "free and fair trade." It's one of those terms of art that functions more as a Rorshach test of how people feel about trade -- everyone supports it, but no two people agree on precisely what it means.

posted by Dan at 06:05 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

How to thoroughly annoy a potentially friendly Middle Eastern country

In the past eight months, the United States has done a bang-up job of befriending the United Arab Emirates, a decentralized Gulf country that wants to be the trading hub for the Middle East.

First, there was the whole Dubai Ports World fiasco.

That, of course, helped the U.S.-UAE free trade agreement stall out.

And now the Economist Cities Guide reports that the port of Dubai has further reason to be ticked off at the United States:

Many Dubai residents are threatening to boycott American universities in protest against seemingly discriminatory security practices. The catalyst came on August 21st when immigration officials at Los Angeles International Airport detained Saif Khalifa al-Sha’ali, a 26-year-old student from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and his wife and three children. The family was questioned for 26 hours until the UAE embassy intervened.

Mr al-Sha'ali, who was completing a doctorate in computer science at Claremont University, also happens to be the nephew of Mohammad Hussain al-Sha’ali, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs. Scores of UAE nationals—and many expatriate residents—have written to local newspapers pledging to boycott American universities, which traditionally have been popular with Emiratis. The case has also inflamed general anti-American sentiment in the UAE—normally one of the more sympathetic Arab states—as it comes on the heels of the recent fighting in Lebanon, in which America was perceived to have backed Israel.

posted by Dan at 10:57 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tom Lantos steps into a big foreign policy snafu

Many thanks to Greg Djerejian, Bill Petti, and (especially) Eugene Gholz for articulating why Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) is f***ing up U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, saving me time and effort.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A cost/benefit analysis of the Pakistan alliance

In the Wall Street Journal, Shalid Shah has a good story chronicling the tradeoffs of the U.S. alliance with Pakistan:

Pakistan's cooperation in foiling last week's terror plot shows the benefits to the U.S. of good relations with its South Asian ally. But the case of Safdar Sarki shows that such ties also have complications.

Mr. Sarki, a Pakistan-born American citizen, disappeared in Karachi in February, two days before he planned to fly home to El Campo, Texas. For years, Mr. Sarki had been an advocate for Sindhis, the indigenous residents of a southeastern province of Pakistan, who claim they have suffered political and economic discrimination since the 1947 creation of India and Pakistan.

Mr. Sarki, 42 years old, is one of hundreds of political activists who have gone missing in Pakistan over the past decade. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a nongovernmental organization that tracks human-rights issues, says 57 political activists have "disappeared" in the past two years, including prominent figures such as Asif Baladi, a young scholar, and Nawaz Zaunr, a journalist and poet. When asked about the claim of such "disappearances," the spokesman for Pakistan's embassy in Washington said authorities in Pakistan are investigating the cases but have no information on them.

Mr. Sarki's case is different largely because it has drawn the attention of the State Department and some members of Congress. It illustrates a strain that persists as President Bush works to strengthen America's relationship with Pakistan.

Mr. Bush is advocating the spread of democracy around the world, and Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup, is an example of the kind of leader Mr. Bush has criticized. The disappearances of Mr. Sarki and others are an aspect of Islamabad's human-rights record that the Bush administration has termed troubling.

Bush's agenda for global democracy promotion seems dormant to me, but this case does highlight the difficulty of pursuing an "transformative" strategy of regime change while trying to maximize intelligence-gathering.

posted by Dan at 03:28 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 14, 2006

What happens in the Middle East now?

With a cease-fire ostensibly taking effect, a few things worth reading this morning.

In The New Yorker, Sy Hersh files his latest on the extent of U.S.-Israeli cooperation and expectations going into the war against Hezbollah. Like all Hersh pieces, it's difficult to parse between what's the stone-cold truth and what's being leaked to him by bureaucrats in CYA mode (these two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, mind you). Hersh is never boring however:

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”

A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.” (As this article went to press, the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution, although it was unclear if it would change the situation on the ground.)

According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term—and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah “may be the A team of terrorists”—Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran. “If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million,” Armitage said. “The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

Meanwhile, in a front-pager for the Washington Post, Edward Cody and Molly Moore assess what Americans and Israelia think about Hezbollah now:
Hezbollah's irregular fighters stood off the modern Israeli army for a month in the hills of southern Lebanon thanks to extraordinary zeal and secrecy, rigorous training, tight controls over the population, and a steady flow of Iranian money to acquire effective weaponry, according to informed assessments in Lebanon and Israel.

"They are the best guerrilla force in the world," said a Lebanese specialist who has sifted through intelligence on Hezbollah for more than two decades and strongly opposes the militant Shiite Muslim movement....

Hezbollah's military leadership carefully studied military history, including the Vietnam War, the Lebanese expert said, and set up a training program with help from Iranian intelligence and military officers with years of experience in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The training was matched to weapons that proved effective against Israeli tanks, he added, including the Merkava main battle tank with advanced armor plating.

Wire-guided and laser-guided antitank missiles were the most effective and deadly Hezbollah weapons, according to Israeli military officers and soldiers. A review of Israel Defense Forces records showed that the majority of Israeli combat deaths resulted from missile hits on armored vehicles -- or on buildings where Israeli soldiers set up observation posts or conducted searches.

Most of the antitank missiles, Israeli officers noted, could be dragged out of caches and quickly fired with two- or three-man launching teams at distances of 3,200 yards or more from their targets. One of the most effective was the Russian-designed Sagger 2, a wire-guided missile with a range of 550 to 3,200 yards.

In one hidden bunker, Israeli soldiers discovered night-vision camera equipment connected to computers that fed coordinates of targets to the Sagger 2 missile, according to Israeli military officials who described the details from photographs they said soldiers took inside the bunker.

Some antitank missiles also can be used to attack helicopters, which has limited the military's use of choppers in rescues and other operations. On Saturday, Hezbollah shot down a CH-53 Sikorsky helicopter in Lebanon, killing all five crew members, according to the Israeli military. As of late Sunday, Israeli troops still had been unable to retrieve the bodies because of fierce fighting in the area of the crash.

The Hezbollah arsenal, which also included thousands of missiles and rockets to be fired against northern Israel's towns and villages, was paid for with a war chest kept full by relentless fundraising among Shiites around the world and, in particular, by funds provided by Iran, said the intelligence specialist. The amount of Iranian funds reaching Hezbollah was estimated at $25 million a month, but some reports suggested it increased sharply, perhaps doubled, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took over as president in Tehran last year, the specialist said.

Like Kevin Drum, I don't necesaarily have any fresh or coherent ideas to add.

Here's my question to readers: will the failure to eradicate Hezbollah cause the Bush administration to change it's approach to dealing with Iran?

posted by Dan at 12:06 PM | Comments (74) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

James Baker's mystique and aura

The Washington Monthly runs a story by Robert Dreyfuss on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, supported by no less than four think tanks, in order to "conduct a forward-looking, independent assessment of the current and prospective situation on the ground in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and consequences for U.S. interests."

There's not much out of the ordinary about such a congressionally-created group. However, it's a testament to the times we live in -- and Baker's reputation as the ne plus ultra of power brokers -- that Dreyfuss' entire story seems dedicated to showing why this group really, really politically significant:

Since March, Baker, backed by a team of experienced national-security hands, has been busily at work trying to devise a fresh set of policies to help the president chart a new course in--or, perhaps, to get the hell out of--Iraq. But as with all things involving James Baker, there's a deeper political agenda at work as well. "Baker is primarily motivated by his desire to avoid a war at home--that things will fall apart not on the battlefield but at home. So he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008. "I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train."....

[President Bush] may have had another political motive for giving his blessing to the endeavor. If--and it's a very big if--Baker can forge a consensus plan on what to do about Iraq among the bigwigs on his commission, many of them leading foreign-policy figures in the Democratic Party, then the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee--whoever he (or she) is--will have a hard time dismissing the plan. And if the GOP nominee also embraces the plan, then the Iraq war would largely be off the table as a defining issue of the 2008 race--a potentially huge advantage for Republicans.

I think Dreyfuss is stretching the definition of "leading foreign-policy figures in the Democratic Party" just a wee bit. The Democratic "bigwigs" on the commission are Vernon Jordan, Leon Panetta, William H. Perry, and Charles Robb. While Perry's an undisputed heavyweight, neither Jordan nor Panetta are thought of as foreign policy experts, and Robb is more of a light heavyweight. The Democrats might not have a deep foreign policy bench, but this commission is hardly going to lock the party into any position on Iraq come 2008.

Furthermore, it's not clear at all to me how Baker's commission can put a halt to the alleged scenario Dreyfuss lays out in the first quoted paragraph. Baker's commission is not going to be able to anything between now and the midterms, and after that, it doesn't matter what they do -- either the Democrats will be able to convene hearings or they won't. There's nothing mutually exclusive about holding investigative hearings on past decisions while supporting a commission to devise a way out of Iraq. Indeed, it might actually help Democrats who, having supported the war in the first place, now feel the need to sound more anti-war than Al Gore.

I do hope that Baker's group devises the perfect solution to the Iraq mess. This article is proof, however, that James Baker's gravitas is now so extreme that it badly distorts the reportage that surrounds him.

posted by Dan at 12:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Drezner on Weisberg on sanctions

I've written a few articles about economic sanctions in my day.

So when someone alerted me to Jacob Weisberg's Slate essay on sanctions yesterday, I decided to take a look.

Weisberg's thesis:

A quick survey (of sanctions cases): We began our economic embargo against North Korea in 1950. We've had one against Cuba since 1962. We first applied economic sanctions to Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979 and are currently trying for international sanctions aimed at getting the government there to suspend uranium enrichment. We attached trade sanctions to Burma beginning in 1990 and froze the assets of Sudan beginning in 1997. President Bush ordered sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2003 and against Syria beginning in 2004. We have also led major international sanctions campaigns against regimes since brought down by force of arms: Milosevic's Yugoslavia, Saddam's Iraq, and Taliban Afghanistan.

America's sanctions policy is largely consistent, and in a certain sense, admirable. By applying economic restraints, we label the most oppressive and dangerous governments in the world pariahs. We wash our hands of evil, declining to help despots finance their depredations, even at a cost to ourselves of some economic growth. We wincingly accept the collateral damage that falls on civilian populations in the nations we target. But as the above list of countries suggests, sanctions have one serious drawback. They don't work. Though there are some debatable exceptions, sanctions rarely play a significant role in dislodging or constraining the behavior of despicable regimes.

Tyrants seem to understand how to capitalize on the law of unintended consequences. In many cases, as in Iraq under the oil-for-food program, sanctions themselves afford opportunities for plunder and corruption that can help clever despots shore up their position. Some dictators also thrive on the political loneliness we inflict and in some cases appear to seek more of it from us....

Constructive engagement, which often sounds like lame cover for business interests, tends to lead to better outcomes than sanctions. Trade prompts economic growth and human interaction, which raises a society's expectations, which in turn prompts political dissatisfaction and opposition. Trade, tourism, cultural exchange, and participation in international institutions all serve to erode the legitimacy of repressive regimes. Though each is a separate case, these forces contributed greatly to undermining dictatorships and fostering democracy in the Philippines, South Korea, Argentina, Chile, and Eastern Europe in the 1980s. The same process is arguably under way in China.

Weisberg makes a valid point -- as a general rule, applying sanctions against rogue states unless and until there is regime change tends not to work.

However, against this important point, let me throw in a few modifiers:

1) Sanctions with more specifically tailored demands can work against authoritarian regimes. The 1979 financial sanctions against Iran did play an important role in the release of the hostages. The U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Libya led that country to surrender suspects in several airline bombings -- and probably played a supporting role in Libya's decision to renounce its WMD program. So, if the sanctioning country can be precise in what it wants, and is willing to settle for less than regime change, sanctions have the potential to work. The flaw in America's sanctions policy is not their use, but the tendency to overestimate the concessions sanctions can generate.

2) The constructive engagement approach rests on an odd assumption -- that the leaders of a rogue state are somehow unaware that they will become trapped in a web of economic interdependence. The truth is that applying constructive engagement against rogue states as a means to induce economic and political change tends not to work either. Put crudely, if a regime wants to stay in power at all costs, all of the economic openness in the world is not going to make much difference, because the government that wants to stay in power will simply apply strict controls over trade with the outside world. If the United States were to unilaterally and unconditionally lift all barriers to exchange with Cuba, the government in Havana would immediately erect a maze of regulations designed to limit Cuban trade with the United States (and to funnel such trade towards politically reliable cronies).

This doesn't mean that the engagement strategy is always for naught -- but there are failures (South Africa) and even the successes have a dubious value (China). If someone pointed a gun to my head and asked me which strategy I'd recommend towards Cuba, for example, I'd probably recommend engagement. However, it's the difference between a strategy that has a 20% chance of success and one that has a 21% chance.

UPDATE: On sanctions policy towards Cuba in particular, see this thoughtful post from Eugene Gholz from a few months back. It pretty much matches my skepticism about both sanctions and engagement strategies towards Cuba.

posted by Dan at 11:25 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The trouble with bubble diplomacy

While in Berlin, a friend told me what may or may not be an apocryphal story about during George W. Bush's last visit to Berlin. There was apparently a photo op planned for the president's car to pull up to the Chancellery building in Berlin, where the German prime minister lives and works. Apparently, Bush armored limousine was so heavy, it would have chewed up the cobblestone driveway. The U.S. solution to this problem? Have the Germans repave the road.

I bring this up because of this Deutshe Welle report on Bush's visit to Stralsund -- a German resort on the Baltic coast:

The two-day stop in Merkel's constituency on the Baltic Sea coast is meant to give the two leaders time to get to know each other better, as well as show Bush the "real Germany."

During Bush's last visit to Germany to the southwestern city of Mainz in February 2005, Germans displayed their talent for thoroughness by effectively removing any signs of life from the city's streets. Bush reportedly said himself that he thought the security precautions were exaggerated. He is keen for his experience in Stralsund to be different.

But those in charge of security just can't help themselves, it seems. For days now, helicopters have been circling over the Stralsund while security personnel have been busy repeating precautions taken in Mainz -- welding shut manholes, sealing off letter boxes, and cordoning off the historic town center.

Many locals and tourists in Stralsund are less than amused at the way their lives have been turned upside down in order to ensure the safety of Merkel's prominent guest.

"Look at the shops here in the town center," one tourist said. "They'll all be closed during the president's stay. We're here on holiday and want to have a good time shopping, but they just won't let us."

"According to the politicians in Berlin, the whole town should be happy to welcome the president," a resident said. "But then most of the people here are locked away from the president so as not to present a threat to him. That doesn't make any sense to me."

Though Bush got the desired contact with the locals during Thursday's market square welcome, he met a crowd of handpicked Stralsunders who had undergone extensive background checks. A quarter of the crowd was made up of students from the nearby naval academy. Critics say it was hardly an authentic encounter with the people of Stralsund, most of whom -- like Merkel -- experienced life under the communist East German regime and the transition to democracy following reunification. Many say it's precisely that experience of recent history that makes Merkel and her constituency so fascinating to the president.

Click on this UPI story for more about the security arrangements.

In fairness to Bush's advance team, I suspect that some of this article could have been written about any president with a modern security detail. Still, there's got to be a way for a president to shrink the security bubble.

posted by Dan at 11:59 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, June 30, 2006

There ain't nothing soft about the power of Elvis

In a world fraught with short-term crises piled upon long-term crises, it's occasionally nice to blog about diplomacy going right.

Which brings me to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's trip to the United States. Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports on the first leg of the trip for the New York Times. I think she had as much fun writing up the trip as I had reading it:

In the annals of international diplomacy, it was not exactly Yalta. But today's visit to Graceland — the ticky-tacky Elvis Presley mansion here — by President Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan brought a little bit of shake, rattle and roll to American foreign relations.

Mr. Koizumi, whose penchant for belting out Elvis on a karaoke machine is well known, couldn't resist trying out his moves on Mr. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush as the three of them made their way through the manse, escorted by none other than Priscilla Presley, Elvis's former wife, and Lisa Marie, his daughter.

"Looove mee tenderrrrr," the prime minister crooned, as Mr. Bush, not one for letting loose in public, cracked up. When Lisa Marie Presley showed the prime minister her father's trademark sunglasses, he promptly donned them and thrust his hips and arms forward, an earnest imitation of a classic Elvis stage move.

"I knew he loved Elvis," Mr. Bush told reporters afterward. "I didn't realize how much he loved Elvis."....

The White House left no detail unattended for the visit. The breakfast fare on Air Force One was peanut butter and banana sandwiches, a recipe straight from Elvis's kitchen. Elvis movies — "Love Me Tender" and "Viva Las Vegas" — were available for viewing. And Elvis music was playing loudly over the speakers, until Mr. Bush asked that the tunes be turned down.

My only objection is Stolberg's use of the word "ticky-tacky" to describe Graceland. I had the honor of visiting the Jungle Room back in the nineties, and although there are many, many adjectives that could be used to describe Graceland, ticky-tacky ain't one of them.

Thank you very much.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Now I'll pick on Congress

My last post took the side of the legislative branch over the executive branch when it comes to how this president uses signing statements. So let's pick on Congress a little.

Here's a trivia question: how many legislative mandates govern U.S. policy towards the International Monetary Fund?

Answer below the fold....

A new GAO report gives us the magic number:

Since 2001, we reported that the United States had maintained nearly 70 legislative mandates prescribing U.S. policy goals at the IMF. These mandates covered a wide range of policies, including policies regarding combating terrorism, human rights, international trade, and weapons proliferation....

The mandates date from 1945 to 2005, with the majority enacted in the last decade. Some mandates address multiple policy issues, sometimes overlapping each other.

The truly surprising thing is that this is actually one fewer mandate than last year.

Click on the report to see the specific mandates. Most of them are perfectly unobjectionable -- but with this many constraints, it's a miracle that Treasury can keep track of them all, much less comply with them. Plus, the aggregation of hard constraints makes it difficult for the U.S. to have the policy flexibility that makes it easier to lead the institution.

Not surprisingly, the executive branch would like a little more latitude. In their response to the GAO, Treasury said:

As noted in the past, the extensive mandates tend to undermine our effectiveness in influencing the IMF. We would welcome efforts by the Congress to effect a consolidation of the legislative provisions to remove unnecssary mandates.

Full disclosure: the author of Treasury's response was one of my bosses when I worked there.

posted by Dan at 09:14 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Will Iran and the United States talk?

The New York Times' David Sanger provides some background to President Bush's thinking on Iran:

President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice. [Hey, bloggers could have told him that!!--DD.]

During the past month, according to European officials and some current and former members of the Bush administration, it became obvious to Mr. Bush that he could not hope to hold together a fractious coalition of nations to enforce sanctions — or consider military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites — unless he first showed a willingness to engage Iran's leadership directly over its nuclear program and exhaust every nonmilitary option.

Few of his aides expect that Iran's leaders will meet Mr. Bush's main condition: that Iran first re-suspend all of its nuclear activities, including shutting down every centrifuge that could add to its small stockpile of enriched uranium. Administration officials characterized their offer as a test of whether the Iranians want engagement with the West more than they want the option to build a nuclear bomb some day.

And while the Europeans and the Japanese said they were elated by Mr. Bush's turnaround, some participants in the drawn-out nuclear drama questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence.

This appears to be Kevin Drum's fear as well:
The usual response, if talks are unwelcome, is to demand some kind of obviously unacceptable precondition for the proposed meeting. This forces the other country to make concessions before negotiations have begun, and since no one is stupid enough to do that, it derails the talks nicely....

Here's hoping it works. It might, especially if it's true that Iran is having troubles with its uranium enrichment program and wouldn't really lose anything by halting it for a while. Still, this is straight out of the Diplomacy 101 playbook as a way of responding to pressure to look reasonable without actually running the risk of reaching a peaceful agreement.

Kevin's overstating things a bit. Despite Iran's desire for talks, their rhetoric has been unyielding since Ahmadinejad came to power. Furthermore, as this Glenn Kessler analysis demonstrates, the Bush administration has actually shifted its Iran policy a fair amount since 2004.

Iran's response, however, does suggest to me that there's room to negotiate:

Iran this morning issued a wary but apparently less than final reply to the Bush administration's offer. "Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but won't give up our rights," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, in remarks quoted by Iranian state television. "We won't negotiate about the Iranian nation's natural nuclear rights but we are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, to hold dialogue about common concerns."....

A senior administration official said there is substantial agreement from Russia and China -- two nations that have resisted sanctions against Iran -- on an escalating series of U.N. penalties that would be imposed if Iran does not comply. He said negotiators are expected to finalize a package that includes potential sanctions for noncompliance, as well as benefits if Iran accepts a deal being crafted by several nations during a meeting in Vienna today. Rice left for the meeting shortly after her announcement....

The Iranian statement reflected the two strains that have guided Iran's nuclear diplomacy in recent weeks: A firm assertion that as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the country has a right to develop peaceful nuclear power. But also an appetite to speak directly with Washington, after 27 years of hostile official silence, in hopes of avoiding punishment by the UN Security Council and perhaps eventually restore diplomatic relations.

In remarks to reporters this morning at a news conference in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki gave the impression of dismissing Wednesday's offer from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as "no new words."

But it was unclear whether the remarks, quoted by the state news agency IRNA, were a framed response or the reflexive reaction of a hardline conservative. Mottaki's state television statement, for instance, appeared to represent an effort to keep the overture alive. One diplomat said the reference to "just conditions" could be read as a softening of Iran's official line, which has always demanded that any negotiations begin with no conditions at all.

"It sounds like an opening," said the European diplomat resident in Tehran. "Before they've always said 'no conditions,' so this might mean something."

In any event, few observers of Iran's government took Mottaki's remarks as the final word. Under Iran's theocratic system, the cabinet of the elected president counts for less than state organs under the direct control of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as Supreme Leader of the Revolution holds ultimate power. Observers awaited word from Ali Larijani, a Khamenei favorite who as chair of the National Security Council has led Iran's negotiating team. A response may also come through by appointed clerics at Friday Prayers; the language of the sermons is routinely dictated by Khamenei's office.

In extending the offer to join Britain, Germany and France in direct negotiations with Tehran, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Wednesday said Washington would proceed only if Iran resumed a suspension of its nuclear program, calling that necessary to answer concerns that the program may be a front for developing nuclear weapons.

But Rice's statement also offered an assurance that Iranian officials have made their central demand. "The Iranian people believe they have a right to civil nuclear energy," she said. "We acknowledge that right."

Based on what Rice and the Iranians are saying, there is definitely a zone of agreement to start talks. Tee U.S. acknowledges that Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear energy program, which could obviously include enrichment. However, the Iranians, if they're serious about talks, can acknowledge that recognition without actually engaging in enrichment activities while talks proceed.

What happens next will be a very interesting test of both American and Iranian intentions.


UPDATE: If nothing else, this strategic shift appears to have created a united front at the Security Council, if this AP report is accurate.

Eugene Gholz is more pessimistic about resolving the situation. He makes a strong case. I'm more optimistic than Gholz for the reason he offers -- that by taking this route, the U.S. has augmented the likelihood of multilateral action if Iran refuses to back down. In the end, I think China and Russia will prefer UN action over a nuclear-armed Iran.

posted by Dan at 09:32 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Someone explain the hawks' plans to me

As near as I can figure out, the Bush/Cheney line on Iran is that neither direct dialogue nor indirect dialogue is worth it.

On the direct dialogue, it appears that the administration is ignoring Iran's repeated entreaties for direct negotiations -- at least, that's what I gather from Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer's front-pager in the Washington Post:

Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.

The eagerness for talks demonstrates a profound change in Iran's political orthodoxy, emphatically erasing a taboo against contact with Washington that has both defined and confined Tehran's public foreign policy for more than a quarter-century, they said....

[Saeed] Laylaz and several diplomats said senior Iranian officials have asked a multitude of intermediaries to pass word to Washington making clear their appetite for direct talks. He said Ali Larijani, chairman of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, passed that message to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, who arrived in Washington Tuesday for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

Iranian officials made similar requests through Indonesia, Kuwait and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Laylaz said. American intelligence analysts also say Larijani's urgent requests for meetings with senior officials in France and Germany appear to be part of a bid for dialogue with Washington.

"They've been desperate to do it," said a European diplomat in Tehran.

U.S. intelligence analysts have assessed the letter as a major overture, an appraisal shared by analysts and foreign diplomats resident in Iran. Bush administration officials, however, have dismissed the offered opening as a tactical move.

The administration repeatedly has rejected talks, saying Iran must negotiate with the three European powers that have led nuclear diplomacy since the Iranian nuclear program emerged from the shadows in 2002. Within hours of receiving Ahmadinejad's letter, Rice dismissed it as containing nothing new.

But U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said government experts have exerted mounting pressure on the Bush administration to reply to the letter, seconding public urgings from commentators and former officials. "The content was wacky and, from an American point of view, offensive. But why should we cede the high moral ground, and why shouldn't we at least respond to the Iranian people?" said an official who has been pushing for a public response.

On the indirect dialogue, Guy Dinmore and Daniel Dombey report in the Financial Times that U.S. hawks don't like the EU3 offering anything to Iran:
Opposition by US “hawks” led by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, is complicating efforts by the main European powers to put together an agreed package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel cycle programme, according to diplomats and analysts in Washington.

London is hosting on Wednesday political directors of the “EU3” of France, Germany and the UK, together with China, Russia and the US to look at the twin tools of incentives and sanctions.

Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, was said by one diplomat to have “gone out on a limb” in an attempt to back the EU3’s package of incentives but was facing resistance from Mr Cheney who is playing a more visible role in US foreign policy. Another diplomat said US internal divisions were holding up an agreement with the Europeans....

Mr Cheney is said to oppose the notion of “rewarding bad behaviour” following Iran’s alleged breaches of its nuclear safeguards commitments. The hawks – who include John Bolton, the US envoy to the UN, and Bob Joseph, a senior arms control official – fear a repeat of a similar agreement reached with North Korea in 1994 which did not stop the communist regime from pursuing a secret weapons programme.

The last point is a valid one -- the 1994 agreement with North Korea merely kicked the can down the road.

Here's my question, though -- even if this skepticism is warranted, exactly what is the hawkish set of policy options on Iran? Is there any coercive policy instrument that is a) publicly viable; and b) would actually compel Iran into compliance without negotiations?

If not, then why not negotiate?

UPDATE: Some of the comments respond by telling me what the hawks want -- a non-nuclear Iran that undergoes a regime change. Hey, I want those things too -- and a free pony.

This doesn't answer my question, though -- how, exactly, do the hawks plan on attaining these things? I don't think either economic or military coercion will work, unless there's Security Council backing. I don't think a unilateral invasion is publicly or militarily viable. Am I missing something? Why can we offer a peace treaty to North Korea but not talk to Iran?

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- If the regime in Iran is willing to trade off its WMD program in return for the U.S. abstaining from an active policy of regime change, that's a deal worth making.

posted by Dan at 12:24 AM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Immigration round-up

Matthew Yglesias has some interesting posts and links up on the immigration question. This post takes down Robert Samuelson's recent Newsweek essay on whether Mexican immigrates will assimilate into the United States -- it echoes some of what I wrote about Samuel Huntington's argument from a few years ago.

He also links to this fascinating piece of polling analsis from Bryan Caplan:

I naturally assumed that states with a lot of immigrants would be anti-immigrant. After all, whenever I visit L.A., the complaints about immigration never stop. But it looks like I'm smack in the middle of a biased sample of elderly Angelenos. On average, high-immigration states like California are unusually PRO-immigrant....

The simplest interpretation of this result is that people who rarely see an immigrant can easily scapegoat them for everything wrong in the world. Personal experience doesn't get in the way of fantasy. But people who actually see immigrants have trouble escaping the fact that immigrants do hard, dirty jobs that few Americans want - at a realistic wage, anyway.

But there's an obvious objection: Maybe what drives the results is the trivial fact that immigrants are pro-immigration. To address this possibility, I re-calculated the Immigration Optimism Score for non-immigrants, making the extreme assumptions that (a) 100% of all immigrants are pro-immigration (I personally know some counter-examples), and (b) immigrants were as likely to be surveyed as natives. The result: In states with lots of immigrants, even native-born Americans are more pro-immigration. An extra percentage-point of immigrants increases natives' Immigration Optimism Score by .8 points....

Are there other interpretations? Sure. Maybe more native-born Americans in states with lots of immigrants hide their true opinions. But I doubt that effect is very large. The simplest interpretation of the data is also the best: Direct observation of immigrants leads to more reasonable beliefs about the effects of immigration.

Finally, I've signed Alex Tabarrok's open letter on immigration, which is reprinted below the fold.

Dear President George W. Bush and All Members of Congress:

People from around the world are drawn to America for its promise of freedom and opportunity. That promise has been fulfilled for the tens of millions of immigrants who came here in the twentieth century.

Throughout our history as an immigrant nation, those who are already here worry about the impact of newcomers. Yet, over time, immigrants have become part of a richer America, richer both economically and culturally. The current debate over immigration is a healthy part of a democratic society, but as economists and other social scientists we are concerned that some of the fundamental economics of immigration are too often obscured by misguided commentary.

Overall, immigration has been a net gain for existing American citizens, though a modest one in proportion to the size of our 13 trillion-dollar economy.

Immigrants do not take American jobs. The American economy can create as many jobs as there are workers willing to work so long as labor markets remain free, flexible and open to all workers on an equal basis.

Immigration in recent decades of low-skilled workers may have lowered the wages of domestic low-skilled workers, but the effect is likely to be small, with estimates of wage reductions for high-school dropouts ranging from eight percent to as little as zero percent.

While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, the gains from immigration outweigh the losses. The effect of all immigration on low-skilled workers is very likely positive as many immigrants bring skills, capital and entrepreneurship to the American economy.

Legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on the poorest Americans should not be addressed by penalizing even poorer immigrants. Instead, we should promote policies, such as improving our education system that enables Americans to be more productive with high-wage skills.

We must not forget that the gains to immigrants from coming to the United States are immense. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised. The American dream is a reality for many immigrants who not only increase their own living standards but who also send billions of dollars of their money back to their families in their home countries—a form of truly effective foreign aid..

America is a generous and open country and these qualities make America a beacon to the world. We should not let exaggerated fears dim that beacon.

References and further information can be accessed by clicking here.

Other social scientists who wish to sign can do so by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 10:29 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What is liberal internationalism?

Blogging will be light tomorrow, as I'm attending a Princeton conference on The Future of Liberal Internationalism, which is a follow-up to this conference from last fall.

One question that came up at today's sessions was pretty basic but rather important: how, exactly, would one define liberal internationalism? It's one of those terms that foreign policy wonks like to throw around, but often means very different things to different people.

[So what's your definition, smart guy?--ed. A marriage between the pursuit of liberal purposes (security, free trade, human rights, rule of law, democracy promotion, etc.) and the use of institutionalist means to pursue them (multilateral institutions of various stripes -- not only the UN, but NATO or the G-7 as well).]

Why should foreign policy wonks be the only ones to debate this question? Readers, have at it.

posted by Dan at 11:35 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, May 12, 2006

How to write back to Mahmoud?

In Slate, Fred Kaplan has a pretty good idea for how to respond to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter:

President Bush should publicly respond to the letter—at length and in detail. Daffy as the letter is, it does contain one clue that Ahmadinejad might really be seeking a dialogue. More to the point, many people and governments in the world, especially (but by no means exclusively) in the Muslim world, are taking the letter seriously and believe that it deserves a reply.

In short, it provides a perfect opportunity for Bush to do what he should have been doing for the last few years—to lay out what America stands for, what we have in common with Muslim nations, and how our differences can be tolerated or settled without conflict.

If such a reply leads nowhere—if it turns out that Ahmadinejad's letter is as empty as it seems on the surface—no harm will have been done. Bush can continue to step up pressure on Iran's nuclear activities. In fact, civil correspondence with the Iranian president could be touted as a sign of Bush's good intentions and his desire for diplomacy.

Kaplan is correct about Ahmadinejad's letter being a PR boost in the Muslim world -- which is truly depressing, for the letter is a rambling, inchoate, milleniarian text.

Readers are invited to outline what should be contained in the best possible response letter.

The only downside to responding would seem to be that a response somehow confers legitimacy upon Ahmadinejad -- which Bush is anathema to do.

A final note: Kaplan also goes onto confirm that I'm not crazy in being ticked off at the administration for whiffing on an opportunity to negotiate a grand bargain with Iran back in 2003. Kaplan links to the obvious source for the original FT story on this -- former NSC senior director Flynt Everett. Check out his January 2006 New York Times op-ed here and his Q&A with interviewer extraordinaire Bernard Gwertzman here.

UPDATE: Historian par excellance Mary Sarotte recounts the history of letters as a tool of diplomacy in the Washington Post. Her conclusions are consistent with Kaplan's:

If there is a lesson from this checkered history of correspondence in crisis, it is this: Content doesn't count. The historical record shows a clear mismatch between what was written in a letter and its consequences. Zimmermann meant to threaten the United States in secret; instead, his leaked telegram shored up its public resolve. Bismarck used a boring missive to mount a war; Kennedy ignored public demands of the Soviets to maintain peace.

Now, Ahmadinejad's letter is a highly suspect olive branch and an obvious public relations ploy. But it represents a rare opportunity in this particular contest of wills. Surely, there is a foreign policy official in Washington today who can figure out something better to do with Ahmadinejad's letter than ignore it.

posted by Dan at 10:32 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

I say 51% idealism, you say 49%

Foreign Policy's Passport blog is quickly acquiring must-read status among the hard-working staff here at Even if you disagree with the content, it's certainly thought-provoking.

Which brings me to James Forsyth's post about the Democrats and foreign policy. The hook is the release of Madeleine Albright’s new book The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs:

Albright is the wise woman of the Democratic Party on national security. Her prestigious Georgetown salon operates as a crash course in international relations for Dems with presidential ambitions. So, her work on the role of religion in foreign policy is required reading for anyone who wants to understand what a Democratic administration would do differently. After finishing it, the conclusion I came to was: surprisingly little. Yes, Albright bashes the Bush administration for Iraq, Guantanamo, and its religiously tinged language. But when she starts talking about the future rather than the past, she sounds none too different from her father’s most famous -- and favorite -- pupil, Condoleezza Rice. Albright’s call to “blend realism with idealism,” by promoting democracy at a gradual pace, wouldn’t sound out of place in any of Rice’s speeches about the administration’s goals in the Middle East. All of which suggests that, the democratizing baby won’t be thrown out with the Bush bath water and supports Jai's argument that Middle Eastern tyrants hoping to wait out Bush are wasting their time.
This does raise an interesting question: are people who reject Bush's current foreign policy are promoting something that looks awfully similar on a lot of dimensions? Is Francis Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism" so different from plain vanilla neoconservatism? Is George Clooney clamoring for intervention in Darfur any different from the humanitarian impulse (yes, there were others) that led neocons to clamor for intervention in Iraq (a point some on the left recognize)? Is the only difference between Republicans and Democrats a slight variant in the realism-idealism mix?

Actually, yes, I think there is a difference -- but it's about process and not preferences. The primary difference between liberal interventionists and neocons is that the former group thinks intervention is more successful if it takes place through the multilateral route. Multilateralism acts as a "pleasing illusion" to simultaneously obscure and enhance American power.

Which is great, when it works -- except that neocons raise a valid point when they highlight how difficult it is to get mulilateralism to work. On Darfur, for example, the past four years have been a giant game of hot potato between the United States, the UN, NATO, the EU, and the African Union about who will shoulder the burden. Daniel Davies is correct to point out that negotiations to date have the precise cast of liberal internationalism. There are times when unilateral action has the appeal of slicing the Gordian knot of multilateral diplomacy.

Liberal internationalists are correct to point out the negative fallout of unilateral military action. But liberal like Allbright are guilty of sidestepping questions of what to do when all the diplomacy in the world won't muster the necessary international consensus.

This is one reason why Fukuyama's "multi-multilateralism" concept intrigues me. In a world of multiple, overlapping international institutions, forum-shopping becomes a possibility. This allows realpolitik tactics within an institutionalist rubric. That said, Darfur shows the limitations of this gambit when there is a lack of consensus.

[Get to the grand conclusion--ed. I don't have one -- this is an age-old policy conundrum. But I'm sure my readers can cut through this Gordian knot.]

posted by Dan at 03:12 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

An open debate about U.S. Mideast policy

I must attend a conference at a truly deadful location for the next several days, so blogging will be light or nonexistent.

Here's a harmless topic: assume there exists an identifiable national interest for the United States. What set of policies towards the Middle East would best serve that interest?

posted by Dan at 12:28 AM | Comments (49) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A temporary coda on the Mearsheimer/Walt debate

In recent days, there have been a few more musings about "The Israel Lobby". I wasn't happy with the debate threads from the last time I posted about it, so I'm going to give it one more try.

Reading through the latest volley:

a) the letters to the LRB;
b) Tony Judt's New York Times essay defending parts of the Mearsheimer and Walt (M/W) thesis
c) Juan Cole's discussion/defense of the M/W argument in Salon;
d) Michelle Goldberg's dissection of the piece in Salon; and
e) Jacob Levy's blog post on the topic -- and the comment thread it inspired on Crooked Timber.
I actually think there's more common ground on assessing the paper than most commentators believe.

There appears to be a general assessment that Mearsheimer and Walt have gotten two things right:

1) You need to factor in interest group politics when you try to explain U.S. policy towards Israel and/or the wider Middle East -- including, most obviously, AIPAC;

2) Mentioning this fact can put one at risk of being called anti-Semitic, which stunts debate on the topic.

I haven't read a critic of the M/W thesis not acknowledge that interest group politics plays some role in influencing policy in the region. As Levy says about AIPAC's lobbying power, "There's nothing anti-Semitic about reaching that conclusion." And Goldberg quotes the editor of the Forward as acknowledging that Walt and Mearsheimer are "right that the Jewish community and the pro-Israel lobby, separately and in different ways, make it hard to have a debate, partly on purpose and partly because there's a level of emotion there."

There also appears to be a general assessment that the paper has a couple of conceptual flaws. One is the rather slippery definition of the term "Israel Lobby." Cole points out:

The authors' use of the term "Israel lobby" is at times too broad, simultaneously trying to encompass classic pressure politics and much fuzzier belief systems and taboos. Their tendency to use the term in this slightly elastic, one-size-fits-all way explains the caveats of even some outspoken critics of the Israel lobby, like the Nation's Eric Alterman. Their insistence that America's Middle East policies are centered on Israel ignores the importance of oil. Nor do they explore the history of the "special relationship" between Israel and the U.S. and the way that Israel has become a myth in the American mind, to the point where it is perceived by many as being actually part of America. The belief in the "special relationship," which is a powerful force, is not entirely the product of the Israel lobby.
Cole goes on to say that these weaknesses are "minor," but as Goldberg points out:
This is an enormously sensitive subject, but Walt and Mearsheimer's approach is too often clumsy and crude. That's especially true in their discussion of the divided loyalties of some American Jews, and of the pro-war manipulations of the lobby. They conflate groups that are merely sympathetic to Israel with those that actively back the hard-line policies of the Likud. Though they try to draw distinctions between the lobby and American Jewry more generally, they occasionally use the two terms interchangeably, citing Jewish campaign donations, for example, as evidence of the lobby's power.

The Lobby also has significant leverage over the Executive branch," they write. "That power derives in part from the influence Jewish voters have on presidential elections. Despite their small numbers in the population (less than 3 percent), they make large campaign donations to candidates from both parties. The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates 'depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 percent of the money.'" This treatment of Jewish money as a monolithic force is both ugly and misleading; the agenda of liberal donors like George Soros and Peter Lewis is quite different from that of a hardcore Israel supporter like Jack Rosen, head of the American Jewish Congress....

They note the difference between the two, but then they ignore it, writing, for example, "There are also Jewish senators and congressmen who work to make U.S. foreign policy support Israel's interests." They argue as if there's no need to point out the distinction between, say, Joe Lieberman, one of the Iraq war's staunchest supporters, and Russ Feingold, one of its steadiest opponents. In their formulation, the fact that a congressman is Jewish creates suspicion of dual loyalties.

M/W also do not adequately address alternative explanations for U.S. policy towards the Middle East -- concerns about oil, actual ideational beliefs, etc. This would be less important if M/W were merely pointing out that the influence of groups like AIPAC have been underestimated. But they argue that these groups "almost entirely" explain U.S. policy in the region. That's quite a strong claim. Judt, who's sympathetic to their argument, allows that M/W's assertions "can be debated on [their] merits." He goes on to note:
[D]oes pressure to support Israel distort American decisions? That's a matter of judgment. Prominent Israeli leaders and their American supporters pressed very hard for the invasion of Iraq; but the United States would probably be in Iraq today even if there had been no Israel lobby. Is Israel, in Mearsheimer/Walt's words, "a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states?" I think it is; but that too is an issue for legitimate debate.
Finally, the normative assertions that the U.S. alliance with Israel has been a strategic liability, or that Israel has no moral advantage over other countries in the region, are also "subject to debate." The more I think about it, the more M/W's strategic logic doesn't hold up -- if the friendship with Israel has been such a strategic liability to the U.S., then why has Europe borne the brunt of the post-second intifada terrorist attacks? Still, again, subject to debate.

The funny thing is that "The Israel Lobby" is written in such a way as to foreclose such a debate. As Levy points out:

The structure of the paper is:

Why does the United States provide [so much] support to Israel?
1. Such support is not [in our view] genuinely strategically warranted.
2. Such support is not [in our view] genuinely morally demanded.
3. Such support must be explained by the presence of actors who place the interests of Israel ahead of the interests of the United States.

The mistake is astonishingly elementary, but it pervades the whole paper. The snarky way to put it is: M&W treat their say-so about strategic and moral considerations as if it was naturally entitled to such overwhelming political deference that the fact that the polity hasn't accepted their say-so is deeply anomalous. The probably-fairer way to put it is: M&W proceed as if the political system has some very strong natural tendency to reach true beliefs and justified policies about strategy and morality-- such a strong tendency that, if it fails in some case, there must be an unusual explanation, such as an unusually intense and effective Lobby that includes people willing to deliberately place the interests of a foreign power over that of their own country, and that includes powerful politicians, media figures, and so on who can make their preferred policies come about.

M&W profess to treat strategic considerations, moral considerations, and The Lobby as alternative explanations of U.S. support. For those to really be comparable itsmes, they'd have to be something like "relevant actors' beliefs about strategic considerations," "relevant actors' beliefs about moral considerations," and "lobbying/ interest group influence." But beliefs don't show up. M&W's discussion of whether Israel is a morally nice place or not is neither here nor there in understanding what brings U.S. support about. "Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens" and "The Lobby" are answers to questions of completely different sorts-- one evaluative, one explanatory.

M&W's rejoinder could be: "Well, since we're right about strategic and moral considerations, if other people's beliefs about those considerations lead them to support Israel, then their beliefs are wrong. Such widespread belief in false propositions is itself anomalous and must be explained by the activities of The Lobby." Now, however, I think the implausibility of the account becomes more apparent. Politics is often marked by good-faith disagreement about hard questions. And it's often marked by people getting things wrong. One doesn't need a Lobby to explain political actors believing and acting on false propositions about morality or prudence.

So, we're left with the rough consensus that this is a touchy topic to bring up -- and yet M/W did so in a rather ham-handed fashion. Which is the basic thesis of Goldberg's essay:
On one level, then, the attacks on Walt and Mearsheimer are examples of the very phenomenon the writers describe. Yet for anyone who hopes for a more open and critical discussion of the Israel lobby, their paper presents profound problems. This is not just a case of brave academics telling taboo truths. In taking on a sensitive, fraught subject, one might expect such eminent scholars to make their case airtight. Instead, they've blundered forth with an article that has several factual mistakes and baffling omissions, one that seems expressly designed to elicit exactly the reaction it has received. The power of the Israel lobby is something that deserves a full and fearless airing, but this paper could make such an airing less, not more likely.
The editors of LRB mention that, "Mearsheimer and Walt will reply to the correspondence we’ve published and discuss the wider response to their article in the next issue." I'll be very curious to see whether their response acknowledges their factual and conceptual errors or not. Their choice will either promote or forestall a policy debate.

posted by Dan at 10:56 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)