At America Abroad, the foreign affairs section of TPM Café, Ivo Daalder joins a number of distinguished commentators in a weblog discussion of foreign policy and current events abroad. His posts on the site are reproduced here. For the originals, including extensive commentary, visit America Abroad.
Joe Biden is spot on:
The challenge will be to make sure the administration doesn’t get away with it.
Change People, Not Policy
January 5, 2007
Bush said he’ll announce his “new” Iraq policy next week, which likely will just be the old policy with a new fancy title and more troops in harm’s way. But to make the case that he’s really changing policy when he’s not, Bush will replace all of the top military and civilian Americans in Iraq. “This helps the president to make the case that this is a fresh start,” one official tells the Times this morning.
So rather than keeping the people who actually know something about Iraq and have established relations with the Iraqis who will have to make any new policy work, we’re sending in a whole bunch of new faces to try to convince the American people we’re changing course. Don’t think the public will buy it, do you?
The Iraq Blame Game
January 2, 2007
First it was the Iraqis and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who the administration blamed for the chaos in Iraq. Now, the New York Times tells us in a long exposé, the administration is blaming General George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander on the ground in Baghdad. If only Casey hadn’t insisted that he could do the job with the troops at hand and instead had asked for more American soldiers and Marines earlier, things would be going swimmingly now in Iraq — or so Bush appears to believe. But the problem isn’t Maliki or Casey or even Rumsfeld — the problem is Bush’s failure understand what Iraq is all about.
As he has from day one, Bush insists that this war is one that pits terrorists and extremists against the forces of moderation. “This is an important part of the war on terror,” Bush said last week, referring to Iraq. Well, no. This is about a fierce and increasingly violent competition for power and control inside Iraq — between the majority Shiites who want the power that they were long denied and the minority Sunnis who want to regain the power they long enjoyed and Kurds who want to maintain the independence and territorial control up North they secured 15 years ago. That, not terrorism, is what this war is about.
Unless Bush finally accepts this basic reality, the new strategy that he will shortly announce will only get us stuck deeper into the quicksand that is today’s Iraq.
By the way, the other noteworthy thing in The Times piece was that Bush ordered the Iraq policy review as far back as last September (and decided to fire Rumsfeld at that time as well, making his pre-election lie about keeping Rummy on all the more remarkable). But we know the outcome of the review — which is that we cannot fail and must achieve VICTORY. “It’s a word the American people understand,” he told members of the Iraq Study Group. “And if I start to change it, it will look like I’m beginning to change my policy.”
So what’s taking so long?
No Intel Needed on Iraq
December 29, 2006
Anyone notice that John Negroponte wasn’t at the Crawford “non-decisional meeting” on Iraq yesterday? As Director for National Intelligence, Negroponte is the only statutory member of the National Security Council who wasn’t actually there.
Guess Bush and Co. don’t think they need any intelligence information on what’s going on in Iraq. They think they already know. And given their record, we can be sure that their “new way forward” on Iraq will have nothing to do with what is actually going on.
How Civil Wars End
December 29, 2006
The crushing defeat of Islamist forces by the Ethiopian backed Somali transitional government underscores a central truth of all civil wars — such wars typically end only when one side decisively defeats the other. For all the debate about what to do in Iraq, we seem to have lost sight of this essential truth. So the questions for President Bush is this: Which side in Iraq’s civil war are we going to back decisively?
The answer we’re likely to get is: the Iraqi government. But that answer would show that the administration still doesn’t understand what is going on in Iraq. The problem there is not some insurgency that is trying to wrest control of or overthrow a functioning government. The problem in Iraq is that all sides are vying for complete power and control over at least their territory (if not more) and are using violence to achieve that goal. This is as true for the parties that make up the government as it is for those in opposition to it. The Iraqi security forces are part and parcel of the problem — they contain the very same divisions that exist within the society at large and consequently participate in the very violence they are supposed to be countering.
The central reality confronting Iraq today (as it has been for a year or more) is that the country is in a state of civil war. And the central truth confronting U.S. policy toward Iraq is that this civil war will only end when one side defeats the other decisively. The current talk in Washington of escalating troop levels, intensifying training, and enhancing the security presence in Baghdad completely misses the point that all such increases are useless unless they contribute to the decisive defeat of one side in Iraq’s civil war.
So who do we want to win — the minority Sunnis who ran Iraq through brutal repression or the majority Shiites, many of whom are allied with Iran and not a few of whom are more interested in establishing theocratic rule than open and transparent government? If we can’t decide (and, I for one, wouldn’t know how) or if we aren’t willing to bring the kind of decisive force to bear that is necessary to defeat those we would oppose (and I very much doubt anyone in the United States would be prepared for such brutality) then we should get out of Iraq and let the internal forces there decided the country’s future fate. What we cannot and must not do is to pretend that we don’t have to make a choice.
No Intel Needed on Iraq
December 29, 2006
Anyone notice that John Negroponte wasn’t at the Crawford “non-decisional meeting” on Iraq yesterday? As Director for National Intelligence, Negroponte is the only statutory member of the National Security Council who wasn’t actually there.
Guess Bush and Co. don’t think they need any intelligence information on what’s going on in Iraq. They think they already know. And given their record, we can be sure that their “new way forward” on Iraq will have nothing to do with what is actually going on.
That Was Then …
December 23, 2006
I was talking to a reporter the other day, arguing that while Bush inherited a lot of problems from Clinton, in each instance he had done everything possible to make things worse. The reporter told me take a look at the 2000 GOP foreign policy platform, and reread the litany of indictments Bush & Co. had issued with respect to Clinton’s foreign policy. So I did. Sure makes for interesting reading.
Some of my favorites:
- The administration has run America’s defenses down over the decade through inadequate resources, promiscuous commitments, and the absence of a forward-looking military strategy. [As opposed to breaking the Army and Marine Corp, sending troops to war without adequate body armor and equipment, and only deciding to increase force levels five years into a global conflict.]
- The arrogance, inconsistency, and unreliability of the administration’s diplomacy have undermined American alliances, alienated friends, and emboldened our adversaries. [My all-time favorite!]
- World trade talks in Seattle that the current administration had sponsored collapsed in spectacular failure. [Doha anyone?] An initiative to establish free trade throughout the Americas has stalled because of this lack of Presidential leadership. [Ah, yes. Bush’s leadership on this issue really has made a difference — 6 years later and we’re not a step closer to a deal.]
- The problems of Mexico have been ignored, as our indispensable neighbor to the south struggled with too little American help to deal with its formidable challenges. [Think the Mexicans feel they’ve gotten any help from Bush lately? After declaring the relationship with Mexico America’s most important on September 9, 2001, Bush has ignored our southern neighbors ever since.]
- The tide of democracy in Latin America has begun to ebb with a sharp rise in corruption and narco-trafficking. [And since then, only America’s friends in Latin America have won elections? Not!]
- With weak and wavering policies toward Russia, the administration has diverted its gaze from corruption at the top of the Russian government, the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in Chechnya, and the export of dangerous Russian technologies to Iran and elsewhere. [The biggest mistake wasn’t seeing Putin’s soul?]
- A generation of American efforts to slow proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has unraveled as first India and Pakistan set off their nuclear bombs, then Iraq defied the international community. Token air strikes against Iraq could not long mask the collapse of an inspection regime that had — until then — at least kept an ambitious, murderous tyrant from acquiring additional nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. [North Korea? Iran? Oh, and what do we do when inspectors in Iraq return?]
Who and Why: The Concert of Democracies
December 15, 2006
Lots of comments here on the ideas that Jim and I, amongst others, are pushing. Some of them are supportive; most are not. But we’re grateful for all of them (well, almost all of them…). Jim’s addressed some of the issues that have been raised, and a good many other issues are covered in our American Interest article (which, I should make clear, differs in many key ways from what the Princeton Project has proposed). I urge people to read it as well. Here, I’ll confine myself to two big issues that have repeatedly come up: who and why?
Democratic Allies and Alliances
December 14, 2006
I’ll have more to say shortly in response to the very interesting comments and suggestions our idea of Concert of Democracies has sparked here at America Abroad. For now, I wanted to bring your attention to an oped Jim Goldgeier and I have running in tomorrow’s Financial Times that relates to some of these issues.
Rummy’s Long Knives
December 12, 2006
He’s not even gone, and already Don Rumsfeld has his knives out for his soon-to-be former boss. First, he tells an interviewer that he was fired because of the “outcome of the election” even though Bush said the opposite. Then, he says that the phrase “‘war on terror’ is a problem for me.” What’s next? That Iraq was a mistake?
Should Democracies Unite?
December 10, 2006
OK. We’re going to try something different here at America Abroad. Aside from our regular commentary on current events (which we hope will continue at the brisk pace of the last few weeks) we’re going to discuss — debate, I suspect — a big idea, one that transcends the politics and politicians of the moment. It’s the idea of forging a new compact — a concert really — among the world’s liberal democracies to supplement or even supplant other major international organizations, like the United Nations and NATO.
This is an idea some of us at America Abroad have been pushing for quite a while. We don’t agree on the details, and one purpose of this discussion is to see whether those who think this is a good idea can develop a common view of what is involved as well as on how to move forward. But not everyone agrees this is such a good idea — and that includes some of America Abroad regulars, a variety of our regular readers, and many others. We want them to participate as well.
In the next few days, a number of us will post our argument in favor of this idea. Anne-Marie Slaughter and John Ikenberry will elaborate on their proposal to create a Concert of Democracies, which they spelled out on their final report of the Princeton Project on National Security. Tod Lindberg of Policy Review and the Hoover Institution will write about his proposal to negotiate a Treaty on the Democratic Peace. And Jim Lindsay and I will elaborate on our arguments for why we think the democracies should unite, which we spell out in the lead article of the next issue of The American Interest.
But you won’t just see advocates of this idea. You will also get to read what skeptics have to say. Joining us as well for the discussion are James Traub, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and author of the terrific new book, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power; Charles Kupchan, of the Council on Foreign Relations and Georgetown University, and Suzanne Nossel, of the Security and Peace Initiative and democracyarsenal.org.
We are looking forward to a good discussion here, and very much hope you will join in.
A Lost Year?
December 10, 2006
It must be something in the water, but folks over in the White House are clearly becoming delusional.
Here’s one senior official, quoted by the New York Times, worried about pushing the Iraqis too much (to “pull up their socks” as Rummy put it):
And this would be bad because…? “That would set us back a year.”
And what a year it was: 800 Americans killed; more than 30,000 Iraqis murdered; and over 1 million refugees. With good years like that, what would a bad year look like?
Our Moral Responsibility in Iraq
December 8, 2006
Rachel asks a good question: What is our moral responsibility to the Iraqi people? It surely is not insignificant, for their predicament is in large measure our doing. But while recognizing that we bear a lot of responsibility, it isn’t at all clear to me that we can live up to it or that remaining in Iraq is the responsible thing to do.
“If you break it,” Colin Powell told George Bush before the war, “you own it.” And so we have for longer now than it took us to fight (and win) World War II. And what’s clear is that we did break Iraq, but we never owned it. The Iraqi people do. If there was a way now — not yesterday, or the day before, but now — in which we could help the Iraqi people to put things back together again or even to prevent things from falling apart further, then by all means let’s do that.
But I don’t know that there is such a way — and not only do I not want to bank any more on the hope that there is, the Iraqi people don’t either. Seven out of ten Iraqis — and eight out of ten non-Kurdish Iraqis — want the U.S. to leave within a year or less. An even greater number of Iraqis believe U.S. forces are provoking more conflict than they are preventing. Under these circumstances, is it our moral responsibility to stay or to leave?
I’d say leaving may be as much the responsible thing to do as would staying. And here’s a thought, one Les Gelb put forward some time ago and Tom Friedman suggested today: what if our leaving didn’t make things worse in Iraq, or possibly even made things better? Perhaps our true responsibility is to give this possibility a try.
The ISG’s False Hope
December 8, 2006
The biggest problem with the ISG report is that it, like much of Washington, buys into the notion that because the consequences of defeat are so dire we should not accept the reality that we have lost. Even as they paint a devastating picture of the disaster that has befallen Iraq, the commissioners insist that we must continue to try to make things work — bring neighbors in, train Iraqis, urge reconciliation — in the hope that the situation there will turn around and get better. But hope, as Colin Powell was fond of saying, is not a strategy. Worse, it offers Americans and Iraqis the false prospect that with a bit more effort, and a change in policy, defeat in Iraq can be avoided.
Bush Grabs the Qualifier
December 8, 2006
The trouble with compromise language in commission reports is that those who don’t like your recommendations can quote your words right back at you and then ignore what you say. That’s exactly what George Bush did yesterday:
“Subject to Unexpected Developments”
December 6, 2006
This, of course, is the key phrase in the Baker-Hamilton Report’s recommendation on U.S. combat forces — as in “by the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.”
So what are the unexpected developments that could mean we should still be there, with all our combat forces, fighting a war?
Not the presence of terrorist groups or training grounds (for which the commission wants to retain special operations forces). Not, surely, the collapse of the Iraqi government or an all-out civil war — neither of which can be termed “unexpected” in any meaningful way.
The only “unexpected development” I can come up with would be if the civil war turns into a regional war, in which the neighbors of Iraq become active and open participants in the war. Not sure what U.S. combat troops would do in such a case, but it might qualify as an “unexpected development.”
Any other ideas?
If Britain, Why Not the U.S.?
December 6, 2006
Some readers wonder why, if I believe Britain should give up its nuclear weapons, I do not make a similar case in favor of America doing so. Fair question.
Tony Blair’s Missed Opportunity
December 5, 2006
To no one’s surprise, Tony Blair announced yesterday that Britain will maintain its nuclear deterrent for the indefinite future. “We cannot be sure that a major nuclear threat to our vital interests will not emerge over the longer term,” Blair announced. And so the United Kingdom will commence a modernization program to maintain a nuclear capability it has had for more than half a century. But in reaching this decision, Blair missed a major opportunity to shake up the nuclear status quo.
The Rumsfeld “Memo”
December 3, 2006
Now we know why Rumsfeld was fired last month. No, it wasn’t because he was in charge of a war that has gone disastrously wrong. And it wasn’t because he suggested that “it is time for a major adjustment [since] what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working.” No, I hope Rumsfeld was fired because any one — from the lowest bureaucrat to the highest cabinet officials — who had written a “memo” to the president like the one sent Bush last month ought to have been fired.
Predictably, the press has focused on the fact Rumsfeld called for a major readjustment in Iraq policy days before he was fired (which is presumably why Rumsfeld or someone close to him leaked the memo to The New York Times the Sunday before the Senate opens hearings on his successor). Commentators have also noted the fact that the options Rumsfeld appear to favor all, in one way or another, suggested a retrenchment of the U.S. military role in Iraq (including, in one, the withdraw all U.S. and other foreign forces except for “high-end” special operation forces that would continue to go after terrorists, death squads, and [!] Iranians in Iraq). And he rejected any option to beef up U.S. forces in Iraq or even just in Baghdad.
But what, frankly, was most astonishing about the memo was not the specific proposals, but the total lack of analysis. Here the Secretary of Defense tells the President of the United States that our policy in Iraq is failing. He doesn’t say why and how — just that it is. And then he presents 21 options — 15 “above the line” and six “below the line” — but without providing an explanation of where the line is to be drawn or even what the line represents. He provides no analysis of which opens can be done in what period of time and at how much they would cost. He suggests no prioritizing among them. He is silent on the implications of pursuing some options, but no others. He says some can be pursued simultaneously, but doesn’t indicate which can and which cannot. It’s just a list of musings, with no analytical content or consideration whatsoever.
If this is the kind of “advice” the president has said he valued getting from Rumsfeld for so long, it’s little wonder that we’re in such a deep mess — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and with respect to our entire military. The only thing to say of this memo, and its author, is good riddance to bad rubbish.
Rice, Russia, and Democracy
December 2, 2006
“Freedom,” the administration frequently proclaimed a few years ago, “is on the march.” But that was then, this is now. Not only have the administration’s paragons of early democratic success — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon — each descended into sectarian violence and civil war, but the very international forum that was to promote democracy, the rule of law, and press freedom throughout the Middle East and North Africa has become a joke.
There wasn’t all that much talk about democracy or the rule of law or human rights at the “Forum for the Future” that just concluded its third annual meeting in Jordan — leaders were busy with the more important things of figuring out what to do with a Middle East going up in flames. And then the co-host of the meeting was none other than Russia, where democracy has steadily been curtailed, the rule of law has become the rule of the strong, and investigating journalists are shot, poisoned, and killed.
Asked about the incongruity of Russia co-hosting a meeting on promoting democracy, Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that “there are enormous problems and there have been real setbacks in terms of Russian democracy.” But, and here’s the kicker, it would be mistake to think that “we were going to be better off by isolating Russia somehow from democratic fora.” And why not? Because, Rice argued, its president was elected.
So who’s co-hosting the next pro-democracy meeting? Ahmadinejad? Hamas?
The Hadley Memo on Iraq
November 29, 2006
There are many interesting things in the Hadley Memo that the New York Times unearthed about how to deal with Maliki — not least the continuing belief that, despite all the violence and other evidence to the contrary, the authors still believe there are a sufficient number of moderate Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish forces in Iraq to build a winning coalition of political and military power. But what caught my eye most was the assertion that the Iraqi prime minister might have a mistaken view of what was actually happening in his country: “The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Dawa advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality.”
Now there is a novel insight! Something like this would never happen in Washington, let alone in the Oval Office, now would it? Its most powerful resident of course only receives complete and unbiased information about what is going on in Iraq. So the fact that Bush still has no inkling about what is happening there — as evidenced by his continual refusal to admit there is a civil war going on and his continual blaming of Al Qaeda for everything that has befallen that poor country — must be because Bush doesn’t read the information he gets or fails to understand what it means. Or, perhaps, the information itself is wrong — maybe because it is skewed by a small circle of advisers and thus colors his actions and interpretation of reality?
Getting a hold of the information on Iraq that Bush sees every day — and determining whether it’s the information rather than the president’s interpretation that is flawed — strikes me as among the most important jobs for the foreign relations and armed services committees when they get to work in the 110th Congress.
Summit? What Summit?
November 27, 2006
You’re forgiven if you had failed to notice this, but the original reason for Bush’s trip abroad this week was to meet up with the 25 other NATO leaders of the Alliance for a biannual summit meeting in Riga, Latvia. As James Goldgeier and I argue in a piece that appears in a number of European newspapers this morning, the reason for this summit occurring largely unnoticed are that key leaders assembling in Riga are political lame-ducks, NATO is confronting growing difficulties in stabilizing Afghanistan, and the allies have failed to adapt to the new realities of a globalized world. (On this last point, see our earlier piece here.)
Rumsfeld, Gates, and the Bushes
November 8, 2006
Does Bush’s decision to replace Rumsfeld with Bob Gates signal a bigger shift in the president’s attitude towards national security? Here’s something to consider: It is well known that Rumsfeld and Bush Sr./41 detested each other — which according to Bob Woodward in State of Denial, was a key factor in Bush 43’s decision to make Rumsfeld his first SecDef.
But if anything defines Bob Gates, it is the fact that he is extremely close to the very Bush Rumsfeld so detested. Gates worked for Bush when the latter was CIA director in the mid 1970s (a position to which Bush was appointed by Ford on the recommendation of Rumsfeld in order to put him out of the running for the VP slot in 1976). During Bush 41’s presidency, Gates served as deputy national security adviser and then as CIA director. And since leaving government, Gates has been dean of the Bush School and then president of Texas A&M, which is where the Bush presidential library is located.
In other words, Bob Gates is a Bush 41 kinda guy — not exactly the profile of a Bush 43 national security principal during the last six years. Combine this with the fact that Bush today signaled that he would be looking to Jim Baker (also known as Dad’s best friend) to set his Iraq policy, and you begin to wonder whether Bush 43 may use his last two years in office to return to a Bush 41-style realism. Given the alternative, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
A Vote of No Confidence
November 8, 2006
The American midterm elections are a vote of no confidence in the Bush administration. In a parliamentary system, these results would lead to a change in government; in our presidential system it should lead to a change in policy. Whether this occurs will determine whether Bush remains relevant to the conduct of the nation’s foreign policy.
The Limits of North Korea Talks
November 3, 2006
I’m all for talking with our enemies, so it’s good to know that the six-party talks on Korea will soon resume. “Jaw, jaw,” as Winston Churchill said, is better than “war, war.” But we have to be realistic about what talks with North Korea can now achieve. Even if the administration were willing to enter bilateral talks and offer a real deal of security guarantees as well as tangible political and economic benefits to the North — neither of which it is likely to do — the resumption of negotiations isn’t likely to achieve the ultimate goal of these talks, which is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
After Iraq, What?
October 18, 2006
Like all responsible observers of Iraq, I have long worried about the consequences of an American withdrawal — for Iraq, first and foremost, but for the region and for America as well. Violence is likely to get even worse. Regional actors will likely be more tempted to be involved. Anarchic conditions in parts of Iraq will likely provide safe harbor for terrorists that have flocked to the country in recent years to train new cohorts and provide recruits to strike at targets around the world. Iraq would become another Afghanistan.
None of this means we shouldn’t withdraw our troops — we should, and the sooner the better. But it’s been worries about what comes afterwards that has made so many who agree with this conclusion hesitant about saying so out loud.
That’s why what Les Gelb has to say in Time this week is so important. Gelb reminds us that many foreign policy and strategic analysts a generation ago worried about defeat in Vietnam for fear that the dominoes in Asia would then fall. They didn’t, of course. And Gelb makes a good case why similar prognostications about the dangers of withdrawing from Iraq may be as wrong headed.
The fact of the matter is, very few Iraqis and very few of its neighbors want a greater disaster to befall the country. And so they’re at least as likely to try to prevent that from happening without us being there as they while we’re still there. Bad things may happen when we withdraw; but bad things are happening while we’re there.
We’ve run out of excuses.
Ignoring Al Qaeda Before 9/11
September 30, 2006
The Washington Post has published the first excerpts of Bob Woodward’s new book — and they put the lie into Condi Rice’s statement of four days ago: “What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years.”
On July 10, 2001, CIA Director George Tenet got in his car and called Rice to say he was coming over with his chief of counterterrorism, Cofer Black, on urgent business. Woodward writes:
Of course, nothing happened. “Rice,” Woodward notes, “seemed focused on other administration priorities, especially the ballistic missile defense system that Bush had campaigned on. She was in a different place.” And so, apparently, was the president who a month later reacted to the CIA memo warning that “Bin Laden Determined to Strike U.S.,” by dismissing the briefer, “OK, you’ve covered your ass now.”
If that’s an “aggressive” response to the CIA Director’s direct warning of an impending terrorist strike against the United States, I’d like to know what a tepid response would have looked like.
The True Failure of Bush’s ‘War on Terror’
September 27, 2006
There is a word missing in the declassified “Key Judgments” of the terrorism NIE that was released last night: Afghanistan. Yet it is in Afghanistan that the true failure of Bush’s “war on terror” is now most apparent.
September 7, 2006
In the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, James Goldgeier and I observe that with the advent of a new global politics after the Cold War, NATO has expanded its geographic reach and the range of its operations. Now, NATO must extend its membership to any democratic state that can help it fulfill its new responsibilities. Only a truly global alliance can address the global challenges of the day.
You can read the complete article here.
Those Secret Prisons
September 7, 2006
Excuse me for being confused, but didn’t the administration claim that public knowledge of secret CIA prisons threatened our nation’s security? Didn’t Porter Goss fire a long-standing CIA analyst for allegedly having talked to the press about CIA detainees? Didn’t Alberto Gonzalez suggest that journalists publishing this kind of information might be prosecuted? So why would Bush now confirm publicly what no one was supposed to know? Could it be because it now serves his political purpose?
Five Years After 9/11 — A Balance Sheet
September 6, 2006
Five years into the global conflict that followed the worst terrorist attacks in history, who is up and who is down? The list of winners and losers is long — from the people in Afghanistan and Iraq who were freed from brutal dictatorships only to be confronted with renewed violence and chaos to the people in Darfur who have had to confront a genocide largely on their own.
Not Good For War on Terror
August 10, 2006
Although the details of the UK plot to take down 10 U.S.-bound jumbo jets are still sketchy, the administration and its supporters are sure to point to it as more proof that America and the world need to stay the course in their global war on terror. But, of course, it proves no such thing.
Wrong on North Korea
July 13, 2006
Josh asks whether Bush’s North Korea policy is a fraud. Of course it is. The policy, which was set at the outset of the administration and hasn’t changed much since, was based on two key assumptions – both exactly wrong.
Has Bush Gone Multilateral?
July 11, 2006
A consensus seems to be emerging, at least in the mainstream media, that Bush has given up on the unilateralism of his first term and is now firmly committed to a multilateralist foreign policy. The New York Times has analyzed the apparent shift from strong rhetoric to urging patience. This week’s Time cover story declares the end of “cowboy diplomacy.” And the latest Foreign Affairs magazine has an article by my Brookings colleague Phil Gordon proclaiming “The End of the Bush Revolution.” Meanwhile, conservatives are in an uproar about Bush turning Teddy Roosevelt on his head by talking loudly and carrying a little stick.
Where’s the Beef?
June 8, 2006
I enjoyed The Good Fight. It’s a quick, if at times depressing, read about how too many Democrats seemed to have lost their ways as time marched on. But I don’t think that’s the real problem. Peter seems to think that if only all Democrats return to the foreign policy principles that guided the Truman and Kennedy Democrats in the decades following the defeat of Axis Powers in World War II, all will be fine. Those principles — promoting political and economic freedom, opposing totalitarianism, exerting power in concert with others — are ones most if not all Democrats embrace. The question is how to apply them in the 21st century. Unfortunately, on this Beinart’s book disappoints.
The real debate among Democrats — and indeed within the nation at large — is how to promote freedom, how totalitarian the threat of terrorism really is, and how we best can exert our power together with that of others. Should we promote elections or help build the liberal foundations of a constitutional democracy? Should we invade countries in an effort to liberate the oppressed or should we promote our values and ideas principally by living up to them here at home? Should we spend vast amounts on foreign aid and development assistance or encourage liberalization and development by providing access to our markets? Should we leave nation building to the UN and others or should we revamp our domestic institutions to do so better ourselves? Should the fight against terrorism be the organizing principle of our foreign policy or should we consider it one global menace among many — like infectious diseases, weapons proliferation, global warming — that may affect the lives of perhaps many more Americans? Should we use force only in response to a direct attack on us or our allies or can it be used preemptively or preventively? Should we intervene militarily only with the blessing of the UN Security Council or are there circumstances were we might want to intervene without its blessing? If we must act in concert with others, who are these others — NATO, the big powers, a coalition of the willing, fellow democracies?
These are the questions we have been debating, but Beinart neither really asks nor really answers them. So, frankly, we’re left with a book that tells us something about liberalism’s past, but very little about how it can shape America’s future. Yes, it’s important to understand what we believe — to have a “narrative of American greatness,” as Beinart puts it. But unless that narrative or worldview can inform policy choices and help us decide the tradeoffs among them, it isn’t very helpful. In the end, we need to know not only what we believe, but what we’re going to do about it to make it real. Beinart helps on the first, but he fails on the second.
Death of Zarqawi: No End to Violence
June 8, 2006
A truly evil man is dead. That’s a very good thing. But Zarqawi’s death is no more likely to be turning point in Iraq than was Saddam Hussein’s capture in December 2003. Because while Zarqawi and his terrorist henchmen were responsible for a lot of horrific violence, the present state of anarchy is the result of very different causes.
What we have in Iraq today — and have had for many, many months — is not a traditional insurgency or even wanton terrorism, but a large-scale sectarian conflict. Much of the killing in Iraq today isn’t the result of Zarqawi’s men, but of Sunni and Shite militias engaged in a big fight for control of neighborhoods, towns, cities, and the resources they control. The vast majority of the 1,400 bodies that showed up in the Baghdad morgue last month (that’s right: 1,400 bodies — or nearly 50 people each and every day!) were killed by militias of one kind or another. The guys responsible for these deaths are not fighting an existing government (which is what an insurgency implies) but they’re fighting to determine who governs Iraq and what spoils will fall to which group of Iraqis.
So Zarqawi is dead — and good riddance to him and his ilk. But the violence in Iraq is likely to continue unabated.
The Iran Talks
May 31, 2006
In yet another sign that sanity may be returning to US foreign policy, Secretary Rice is set to announce the administration’s readiness to join in talks with Iran over its nuclear program. This is a good — if long overdue — step in the right direction. But unless a willingness to talk is accompanied by a willingness to engage in real negotiations, it may not be enough to end the crisis.
Public to Bush: Don’t Bomb Iran
May 23, 2006
A few weeks ago, I argued that war with Iran wasn’t inevitable because the current military, political, and international context today differs greatly from that of 2002-03 when Bush was bent on war with Iraq. One key difference, I suggested, was public opinion. Before the Iraq War solid majorities of the US public supported going to war (albeit more preferred doing so with UN backing than without). Not so today. As a recent Pew Poll underscored, only 30 percent of Americans favor bombing Iran. Even among Republican voters this option doesn’t get majority support.
Now Bush does not read polls, but it would be good if he took this one to heart.
Chertoff on Guards at the Border
May 17, 2006
I guess when Bush announced he would deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops at the border, he hadn’t asked his Homeland Security Secretary whether this was wise. After all, it was only last December that Chertoff told Bill O’Reilly:
But, then, this president knows better than to listen to reasoned advice.
Controlling the Border?
May 15, 2006
“We do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that.” While commentators and the Hill will focus on how Bush is going to do that (including on the wisdom or not of deploying up to 6,000 National Guard troops), the real point of this statement is the absurd idea that we can ever “have control of the border.” Not only is there the geographically unalterable fact that we have long borders with otherwise friendly countries. But it misunderstands what borders represents in an age of globalization.
Borders have in many ways become porous, and in some ways irrelevant. People — be they tourists or terrorists, temporary or permanent visitors — cross our borders at will, either without scrutiny or without a guarantee that they will cross back again. Goods of all kinds — toys from China, fruits from Chile, cocaine from Colombia — arrive at our shores in ever greater quantities. Legal shipments are the perfect cover for securing the entry of illegal ones — from contraband to drugs to a nuclear weapon. And when it comes to disease and pollution and global warming, the fact that there are borders is simply irrelevant — they will spread regardless.
Trying to gain full control of the border is a fool’s errand. The only way we can be sure that what comes across is safe and will do us no harm is to work with others to make sure that the world out there is as safe and secure for people who live there as we want to be for our people here. That has nothing to do with controlling borders and everything to do with forging cooperative solutions to the global problems that threaten everyone — whether they live within and without our borders.
The Libyan Example
May 15, 2006
Rice’s announcement this morning that we are restoring diplomatic relations with Libya and removing it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism should serve as an example for how we might deal with other rogue states that support terrorism and pursue weapons of mass destruction. Which is that besides trying to increase the costs to such regimes through economic sanctions, we also engage directly in a dialogue with them aimed at resolving our differences. One without the other is guaranteed to fail. The Libyan case — in which UN sanctions were supplemented by a secret dialogue among Washington, London, and Tripoli — shows how doing both can work.
So when Rice suggests that “just as 2003 marked a turning point for the Libyan people so too could 2006 mark turning points for the peoples of Iran and North Korea,” the onus is on her and the administration to open a direct dialogue with both countries to make such welcome outcomes possible.
A Second Iranian Letter?
May 10, 2006
Looks like Tehran did steal a page from Khrushchev’s playbook. Time reports that there is a second letter that “offers a more concrete foundation for negotiations to resolve the nuclear impasse.” All the more reason for Bush to seize the opportunity provided by these letters and offer to engage in an unconditional dialogue on the issues dividing Iran and the United States.
Reading Ahmadinejad the Kennedy Way
May 10, 2006
In responding to the curious letter from the Iranian president, George Bush should take a page from President Kennedy’s book. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crises, Kennedy received two letters from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev — one conciliatory and open to compromise, the other blustery and full of threats and invectives. Kennedy chose to ignore the second, and responded to the first, opening the way to the peaceful resolution to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.
The Human Rights Abusers Council?
May 10, 2006
A while back, we had a debate here on the wisdom of supporting the watered-down proposal for a new UN Human Rights Council to replace the ineffectual Human Rights Commission. At the time, I argued that the voting rules for council members (which subdivided council membership among regional blocs and required an absolute rather than two-thirds majority) likely meant that the new council would differ little from its predecessor. Anne-Marie and others countered that the rules were an improvement and insisted, along with much of the human rights community, that we should not let the best be the enemy of the good.
Iraq Isn’t Bosnia
May 3, 2006
Is partition — whether soft or hard — the solution for Iraq? An increasing number of people seem to think so. And they’re pointing to Bosnia and the Dayton Peace Accords as the way to go. But Iraq isn’t Bosnia, which is why a Dayton-like solution isn’t likely to work. Instead, what may be worth a try is to convene a major peace conference, under international auspices, to work out a final political settlement of all the important political issues that continue to keep Iraqis apart.
Waltzing the Dictators
April 26, 2006
I’m sure you’ll remember the stirring words of Bush’s second inaugural address: “We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” And so, Bush declared, “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
At the time, not a few wondered how serious we should take all of this. Well, now we know. For this month, the Bush administration is playing host to not one, not two, but three leaders who have done everything possible to undermine democracy and liberty in their own countries. April 2006, it turns out, is the month when Washington waltzed with the dictators.
Last week, of course, Washington welcomed China’s president, Hu Jingtao. Now, there are many reason to meet with the leader of the fastest growing economy and most rapidly rising power in the world. We need their help to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and Iran not to build any. We need them to improve the terms of trade by devaluing their currency. We need their cooperation in addressing global challenges like global warming, avian flu, and energy security. But surely among the most important reasons to meet with the leader of China is to remind his people that we take liberty and democracy seriously not only for ourselves, but also for them. Yet, on this critical issue Bush made as little headway as he did on the other issues.
If greeting the Chinese president with full honors can be explained by the importance of China in the world economy and international politics, the same cannot be said of some other unsavory characters that were received by official Washington this month. Amongst the worst of the lot was the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who was greeted by our chief diplomat at the State Department earlier this month. “You are a good friend and we welcome you,” Rice declared at a press availability with Obiang. This about a leader who the State Department’s own human rights report regularly excoriates for his brutal rule of this small west African nation. “There have been no free, fair, and transparent elections since independence in 1968,” states the latest report. But Obiang’s nation is rich in oil and gas — it is the 3rd largest oil exporter in Africa, and the 10th largest in the world. And so, Obiang gets the red-carpet treatment at Foggy Bottom.
Next in line was is Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan. He’s doing Obiang one better – by going to the White House on Friday for a formal visit in the Oval with Big Guy himself (though, no 21-gun salute for him). According to the White House, the two presidents will be discussing their “common commitment to working together to advance freedom and security.” That should be fun, given that Aliyev has used his riot police to brutally beat down demonstrations by his political appointments, and conducted two seriously flawed elections to solidify his power (which he inherited from his father, Haydar Aliyev, the long-ruling strongman of this former Soviet republic). So why the White House visit? Some officials say that it is to thank the Azerbaijani president for sending some troops to Iraq. (I’m sure those troops really made the difference.) But it wouldn’t be because Azerbaijan has begun pumping its share of the large oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea through a pipeline that runs from the Caspian over its territory all the way to Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, now would it?
Last January, Bush told Congress and the nation, that “America is addicted to oil.” And so its leader is — democracy be damned.
China’s Rise in the Global Age
April 18, 2006
With the arrival of President Hu Jintao in the U.S. for his first (state or official) visit, it may be useful to take stock of what China’s rise portends for international politics and U.S. foreign policy. There can be little doubt that China’s rise is the defining feature of the first quarter of this century. In historic terms, it exceeds in strategic importance the rise of Germany, Soviet Russia, and Japan during the 20th century and it is on a par with the rise of America in the late 19th and early 29th century.
But the global context within which China is rising is very different from the context that prevailed at the time of these earlier power transitions. The USA, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan rose to prominence in the Age of Geopolitics — an age in which the relative power of states was the key determinant of international politics, including of questions relating to war and peace. China’s rise occurs in a very different age — the Age of Global Politics — in which the power of states (both relative and absolute) is transformed by globalization. This essential difference has profound implications for how America should approach this newest power transition.
Today’s debate about the implications of China’s rise and what America can or should do about it largely ignores the fact that we live in a world very different from the one that existed in previous power transitions. That debate focuses on what the rise of China’s power means for the United States and how the U.S. can best try to shape the final outcome — be it through a strategy of containment, a strategy of engagement, or a hedging strategy that contains elements of both.
But in the Age of Global Politics, a pure containment strategy designed to keep China weak cannot succeed because America needs China to achieve many of its most basic goals:
- America’s prosperity depends on expanding the economic interaction with China, with which America’s economy is intertwined like no others.
- Thwarting a global pandemic that might kill as many as 2 million Americans will require far-reaching cooperation with China to halt the spread of a deadly disease once it were to occur.
- Stemming the spread of nuclear weapons requires Beijing’s diplomatic and technical cooperation to prevent the transfer of technologies and put pressure on countries like Iran and North Korea to reverse course.
- Preventing global warming requires America and China, the two leading producers of greenhouse gasses, to cooperate in developing clean technologies that meet their growing energy needs.
The issue for China and the United States is therefore not whether they need to engage — but how and to what end. The ends of cooperation are easy to state, if more difficult to accomplish. They are to ensure the security, prosperity, liberty, and well-being of the Chinese and American people.
None of these goals can be accomplished without active and effective cooperation between the United States, China, and other countries around the world. In some areas, the terms of cooperation are well defined. This is true in the economic area, where the WTO sets out clear rules and means to resolve differences. Active and effective cooperation requires adherence to these agreed rules — on issues like intellectual property rights and others. In other areas, the terms of cooperation are ill-defined or in need of change. This is true in the area of counter-terrorism as well as on questions dealing with proliferation and questions relating to the use of force. Here the requirement is for the United States, China, and others to adapt existing rules or devise new ones — and to reform existing institutions and create new ones — in ways that accord to new realities.
This, I take it, is what is meant by being a responsible stakeholder: to work together on the basis of existing rules or new ones that are be developed jointly in order to meet the demands of the Age of Global Politics. The challenge is to make sure all countries — starting with the United States and China, become responsible stakeholders.
Is War with Iran Inevitable?
April 18, 2006
The emerging consensus in Washington and the blogosphere (including here at TPM Café) appears to be that war with Iran is just a matter of time. There are plenty of good reasons to think the consensus is right. Some within the administration having been gunning for Tehran ever since Saddam Hussein was ousted from office three years ago. “Take a number,” was the advice one senior administration official (sounding suspiciously like John Bolton) offered Iran at the time. And the drumbeat for war with Iran has continued off and on ever since. With Tehran’s proud pronouncements about its nuclear achievements and the publication of Sy Hersh’s article last week, the beat of late has become particularly strong.
But is war with Iran inevitable? I’m not so sure. And the main reason I’m not is that the circumstances that enabled Bush to go to war three years ago are now pointing in the opposite direction. That doesn’t mean Bush won’t decide to launch an attack, but it does mean that he faces many obstacles along the way to that decision — obstacles that are bound to get larger rather than smaller over time.
The one factor that would seem to make war even more likely this time around is that we have much better information about the nature and extent of Iran’s nuclear program than about whatever Iraq was up to at the time. In the case of Iraq, the administration was desperately searching for signs that Saddam had restarted his nuclear weapons program. Its best “evidence” — the Niger yellowcake purchase and aluminum tubes — was disputed even within the intelligence community and only helped to underscore how baseless their case really was. Not so with Iran. Here we know that Tehran wants to enrich uranium (and once it’s capable of enriching uranium for use as a reactor fuel, it will have mastered the ability to enrich it to the level necessary to make a bomb). We also know that it obtained the engineering designs for actually making a bomb.Thus, whereas in the Iraq case we were wondering what Saddam was up to, in the Iran case we are wondering when Tehran will have the capacity to enrich enough uranium to manufacture a bomb and whether it will then do so. Still no slam dunk, but nothing to dismiss either.
In this key sense, the Iranian nuclear threat is more real than the Iraqi nuclear threat in 2003 — a conclusion that many other countries appear to share. But that doesn’t mean war is inevitable — or even probable. For what made war possible in 2003 wasn’t the threat (nuclear or otherwise) that Iraq supposedly posed, but the context within which Bush made the decision to go to war. And in decisions about war and peace, context matters.
Back then, America was still under the spell of 9/11 — so that arguments about the need to prevent possible new threats through military action rang louder and more convincing than they do now, nearly four years since terrorists turned jetliners into weapons of mass destruction. Then, too, America had just scored what appeared to be an easy military victory in Afghanistan, leaving many commentators and civilian defense officials to expect a similarly easy victory in Iraq. “Demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq,” Ken Adelman famously declared in February 2002, “would be a cakewalk.” Some may still think that bombing Iran will prove easy — but many surely know that successfully preempting Iran’s nuclear program requires the kind of intelligence about target locations that we simply do not have. And Iraq has demonstrated that counting on an easy aftermath is sheer folly. Iran can retaliate in multiple ways, from making life in Iraq and Afghanistan exceedingly unpleasant for us to attacking oil shipping in the Gulf and the Straights of Hormuz and even launching terrorist strikes against our forces, our interests, or even our people here at home. Attacking Iran’s nuclear program would be no more a cakewalk than was the liberation of Iraq.
Politically, too, the context for war is very different today than it was in 2002-03. Then, the president was still riding high in the polls, and the American people looked to him as a trusted, competent, and strong leader. Now, Bush’s approval ratings have collapsed and Americans have lost faith in his honesty, competence, and leadership. In one recent poll, fully 54 percent of Americans said they did not trust Bush to make the right decision on attacking Iran. And given the trends in public opinion, these numbers are bound to get worse over time. Equally important, there wasn’t much political debate about the wisdom of war three years ago. Most Senate and many House Democrats joined Republicans in giving Bush the blankest of blank checks — and a significant majority of Americans supported going to war. Today, the possibility of attacking Iran is hotly — and rightly — debated, and it would be inconceivable for Bush to gain congressional backing for such a move absent a far more dire and imminent threat from Iran.
And then there is the international context. While back then doubts about the direction of American foreign policy had already begun to set in, and opposition to going to war against Iraq was mounting, Bush could still count on getting the backing of many important players. In 2002, that included getting a unanimous vote on a UN Security Council resolution declaring Baghdad in breach of past UN resolutions and warning of serious consequences in case Iraq failed to come into full compliance. In 2003, it meant getting significant military backing from Britain, Australia, and some other key allies — and the political backing of still more countries. Today, even Tony Blair has made clear that Bush would be on his own if he attacked Iran.
None of this guarantees that Bush will not attack Iran — good arguments, huge potential costs, and the absence of political and international support have never been decisive in his calculations. But with the human, economic, political, and diplomatic consequences of the Iraq war so very evident to all, there is a chance — even a reasonable one — that Bush will make the right decision this time around.
Security, Liberty, and the Rule of Law
April 18, 2006
The Times reported yesterday that Europeans are putting new restrictions on civil liberties to combat terror. The president’s supporters are sure to greet this as yet more evidence of European hypocrisy for criticizing America’s secret prisons and extraordinary renditions as well as more reason to justify the many efforts to curtail our freedom at home.
There’s just one difference, which The Times failed to point out: While in Europe the new restrictions on civil liberties are openly legislated by elected parliaments and assemblies, here the most drastic changes — from setting up military tribunals and holding people without charge for years to extraordinary renditions and warrantless surveillance of communications in the United States — have been the result of executive fiat.
In one case we see the rule of law; in the other the rule of potentates.
A Neocon on Mindless Unilateralism
April 5, 2006
Readers may be shocked to learn that there still are neoconservatives around who are thoughtful and make a lot of sense. But there are. And Max Boot is one of them, as he once again demonstrates with this Los Angeles Times column on mindless unilateralism. Read it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
A Revolution in Middle East Affairs?
March 17, 2006
Steven Erlanger, the New York Times’s always insightful Jerusalem bureau chief, has an excellent piece on the meaning of the Hamas victory in the International Herald Tribune today.
“Minimizing the impact of unexpected change is a protective instinct, especially when comfortable assumptions and bureaucratic industries are at risk. The victory of Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections has altered the Middle East. It feels comparable to the revolution that overthrew the shah of Iran and brought the mullahs of Shia Islam to power.”
And he goes on to explain the key implications. It’s well worth a read.
March 16, 2006
The headlines greeting the release of the National Security Strategy all emphasize the administration’s full-throttled defense of the preemptive war strategy it enunciated in its previous Strategy released four years ago. But is that really the case? I don’t think so. If you compare the discussion of preemption in the 2006 document with the discussion in the 2002 document, the differences are striking. So much so that the real news is that the Bush administration appears to be walking away from the very doctrine it is said to be reaffirming.
The differences in the discussions of preemption in the two documents could not be clearer. Set aside the fact that the issue occupied more than a page in the 2002 document and a mere paragraph in the much longer 2006 document. Both the language used to justify the need for preemption, and the discussion surrounding it are very different in the latest Strategy document than in the earlier one.
In one important change, the administration seems to have narrowed the conditions under which it might contemplate resorting to preemptive military action. In the new document, it affirmed that it would “not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack.” But this language, which stresses uncertainty about the time and place of an attack rather than on the capacity to do so, implies that preemption is justified only when a country already possesses the capacity to attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction and not when it is in the process of acquiring such a capacity. That’s a big change — and one that is more in keeping with the evolving international consensus on when force preemptively for self-defense purposes.
Another important change involves the utility of deterrence. In 2002, the administration justified the need for relying on preemption by arguing that the threat posed by terrorists, rogues, and weapons of mass destruction could not be met by the time-tested strategies of deterrence and containment. “Traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against a terrorist enemy whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents,” it then argued. “The overlap between states that sponsor terror and those that pursue WMD compels us to action.”
Four years later, faith in deterrence has been restored. “The new strategic environment requires new approaches to deterrence and defense. Our deterrence strategy no longer rests primarily on the grim premise of inflicting devastating consequences on potential foes. Both offenses and defenses are necessary to deter state and non-state actors, through denial of the objectives of their attacks and, if necessary, responding with overwhelming force.” Indeed, far from arguing that deterrence no longer works, the administration now argues that it is “strengthening deterrence by developing ? capabilities [that] will better deter some of the new threats we face, while also bolstering our security commitments to allies.”
Finally, whereas the 2002 Strategy implied that preemptive force was the preferred means for addressing the threat posed by rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, the new Strategy document emphatically argues that is no longer the case. “Our strong preference and common practice is to address proliferation concerns through international diplomacy, in concert with key allies and regional partners.” That’s all too the good — and it is what the administration is rightly doing today in dealing with the nuclear aspirations of Iran. But it is not what it did in the case of Iraq, and it is not what it argued the United States should would do four years ago.
So rather than reasserting the centrality of its preemption strategy, the Bush administration appears to have concluded that its enunciation of the preemption doctrine four years ago was a mistake. The preemptive use of force remains an essential tool available to policy makers in dealing with the threat of weapons of mass destruction and, indeed, other threats — but that it has always been. What was different in 2002, and what has now thankfully disappeared from the national security strategy, is the notion that preemptive war is the best available means to address these threats. As the calamity in Iraq underscores, it isn’t nor should it ever be.
Bush’s National Security Strategy, Clinton Redux?
March 16, 2006
With the publication of its new National Security Strategy, the Bush Revolution is officially over. We’re seeing a return to a foreign policy that is much more akin to the foreign policies pursued by the administration’s predecessors than by this administration in its first term. The new strategy’s twin pillars — of promoting human rights, freedom and democracy and of working together with our friends and allies — have been central pillars of American foreign policy for decades. The reversal is clear in the way the strategy shifts the balance from emphasizing force to emphasizing diplomacy, from relying on America’s unilateral power to relying on multilateral alliances and institutions, from stressing the need to ensure America’s military preeminence to stressing the importance of enhancing our power by working with others.
In some notable ways, the new strategy document represents a return to the foreign policy of Bill Clinton. You can see it in the new emphasis on democratization (no different from Clinton’s enlargement strategy), the new recognition that globalization creates fundamentally different challenges and opportunities (which was central to Clinton’s foreign policy, but entirely missing from the 2002 Strategy document), and in the centrality of working with allies and friends and the decided preference for diplomacy over the use of military force (which was at the core of Clinton’s strategy). And while the new document reiterates that preemption remains a key part of the strategy, it does so in a way that is little different from how the Clinton administration addressed the issue in its discussions on the use of force.
The interesting question is why the Bush administration has decided to reverse course. Part of the answer, surely, lies in the fact that reality demonstrated the limits of its revolutionary foreign policy. One key reality is that most of the threats we face today cannot be effectively defeated by American (military) power alone; it requires a multifaceted use of power and the active cooperation of willing and able allies. Another is that America’s actions must enjoy international legitimacy if they are to be effective in solving global problems.
Yet, it is clear that the administration has accepted these new realities only reluctantly. It has been forced to change course by necessity rather than out of conviction. And it therefore remains to be seen whether its actual conduct of foreign affairs in the weeks and months ahead will be more in keeping with the words of this new Strategy than the sentiments of the old.
How to Salvage the India Nuclear Deal
March 10, 2006
There is a way to salvage the nuclear deal with India. Michael Levi and I suggest how in a piece on www.washingtonpost.com.
The India Nuclear Deal Can Be Improved
March 3, 2006
Jim Steinberg’s right, the nuclear deal with India is flawed and represents a missed opportunity. But the fact that it won’t be able to go through without Congress changing the law and the Nuclear Supplier’s Group changing their guidelines means that there is still time to get it right.
First, let’s be clear about what’s wrong with the agreement and what’s not. I, for one, don’t buy the argument of many in the non- proliferation priesthood that this deal somehow blows a giant hole in the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty. There’s plenty of holes in that Treaty already — not least the fact that a whole host of countries have been caught cheating on their commitments, including not just Iran but also North Korea, Libya, South Korea, and Egypt. Nor do I think that we should treat every country in the world the same, no matter what their proliferation behavior or how it is ruled. As I argued when the outlines of this deal was first announced, it matters that India is a democracy and that it has a stellar non- proliferation record. Which is why this kind of agreement makes sense when it comes to India, and why it would make no sense at all if it were to come to a country like Pakistan.
Clearly, though, there are flaws in the agreement. One problem is that it leaves up to India the question of which reactors will be subjected to international inspections and which will not. The idea that 14 of the 22 nuclear facilities are to be classified as civilian, and therefore subject to permanent international inspection, is a big step in the right direction. But India is embarking on a major expansion of its nuclear program. And while all facilities built with imported technology will be safeguarded, some (including possibly new fast breeder reactors that would produce more plutonium than they consume) might not be placed under any such supervision. That’s a mistake. Another flaw is the fact that Delhi insists on subjecting its facilities to Indian-specific rules for international inspections. That, too, is a mistake, and the IAEA should refuse.
The larger flaw of the deal is the context in which it was negotiated. Jim is absolutely right that Bush missed a major opportunity to place the India agreement within a larger framework designed to revise and renew the nuclear bargain that has guided our non- proliferation policy for decades. One key element of such a revision is the internationaliza tion of fissile material production as well as a worldwide ban on the production of any fissile material for weapons purposes. India could have been drawn into such a larger international framework, thus addressing a key concern of the non- proliferation priesthood. But as we know, Bush isn’t much into international agreements, so he let this opportunity pass.
But that doesn’t mean others — notably Congress — should accept this as an inevitable outcome. After all, Congress (and the NSG) will have the last word on this — not the administration or India. And as the price for agreeing to change the law in ways that will make the transfer of nuclear technology possible, Congress can insist that the key flaws in the U.S.-India agreement be rectified. It can also require that the administration get serious about addressing the fissile material production issues. In fact, because the NSG will also have to change its guidelines, there’s a ready-made opportunity to finally get some international movement on this question — one that will internationalize the production of fissile material for peaceful purposes and permanently ban its production for weapons purposes.
So rather than getting our heads up, let’s use the opportunity Bush’s India deal has provided us to get serious about strengthen the international non- proliferation deal.
Human Rights, the UN, and John Bolton
February 28, 2006
Over at Bolton Watch, Steve Clemons argues that John Bolton doesn’t have a “right” to oppose the most recent proposal for creating a new Human Rights Council. But is that really the right question? Whether Bolton is for or against it, the real question is whether the new proposal deserves our support. On this one, I’m with Bolton—and The New York Times—in believing the proposal needs to be defeated.
When Kofi Annan originally proposed abolishing the Human Rights Commission and creating a permanent Human Rights Council instead, there were two elements to his proposal that were noteworthy. One was that members would have to be elected by a 2/3 majority of the General Assembly in a secret ballot. This gave the world’s democracies a blocking vote — so that countries like Cuba, Sudan, Libya, Burma, and (I would argue) China would find it difficult if not impossible to get onto the Council. The other was the elimination of regional nominations, which had made it that much more difficult to keep bad apples off the Commission.
The new UN proposal retains regional nominations, and lowers the barrier for getting onto the Council from 2/3 to a majority of General Assembly members. That makes it likely, if not very probable, that the new Human Rights Council will have as many serial human rights abusers as members as the Commission did. That being the case, supporting the proposal (as many human rights advocates now urge the US to do), strikes me as the wrong way to go. Their argument that this is the best we can do is what gives multilateralism and the UN a bad name. While the argument that we must support the proposal because Bolton opposes it just misses what is important here.
The Importance of Allies
February 27. 2006
From the very first day of taking office, the Bush administration has denigrated alliances and allies as undue constraints on an all-powerful America to do as it wants. So after 9/11, the administration rejected offers to work with NATO even though the allies had for first time in history invoked the collective defense provisions of the North Atlantic Treaty. To its mind, alliances constrain while coalitions enable. Or as one State Department official boasted earlier this year, “We ‘ad hoc’ our way through coalitions of the willing. That’s the future.”
It’s long been clear that a belief in an America Unbound has come with great costs—notably the reluctance of other countries to support our endeavors. Which is why 85% of the foreign troops, 90% of the military casualties, and 95% of the aid dollars in Iraq have been American. But what hasn’t been all that clear—at least until today—is how much the administration has underestimated the contribution of allies, even of those who oppose American policy.
As today’s New York Times reports, it turns out that the same German government that so vociferously opposed our going to war against Iraq provided crucial intelligence and material assistance to the military effort. It’s long been known that German forces helped indirectly—by protecting US bases in Germany, keeping a chemical warfare clean-up unit in Kuwait, sending Patriot missile batteries to Turkey, and deploying ships in the Gulf. But now we also learn that just one month before the start of the war German intelligence provided our forces with the actual Iraqi military plans to defend Baghdad!
All this from an ally that didn’t even support the war. So the next time you hear the administration denigrate the utility of real alliances and allies, ask them whether they’d rather rely on the help of such stalwart coalition partners as Palau and Micronesia or on the assistance of real allies like Germany.
Ports and Politics
February 25, 2006
In the last few days, many have commented how, on the port deal, Bush has reaped what his incessant fear-mongering has sown. There’s only so many times you can talk about killing “them” over there so you don’t have to kill “them” over here, and only so many times you can tell people that they’re either with us or with “them” for the Americans to believe that all of “them” are dangerous and bad.
So it’s no wonder that Americans are opposing the port deal—by 64% to 17% in a new Rasmussen poll. But the damage to Bush may now go well beyond this one particularly deal. In the same poll, Americans indicate that they now have greater trust in Democrats in Congress to ensure our security than they do in the president (albeit by a small, 43% to 41% margin). And Rove wants to run the mid-term elections on national security? Fine. Bring it on.
Bush’s Mea Culpa
I searched in vain this morning to find any reporting on the big news—Bush for once admitted a big mistake. But I couldn’t find it, even though it’s right there in the 217-page Katrina-Lessons- Learned Report the White House issued yesterday. No, I’m not talking about any admission that the president, the secretary of homeland security, or the director of the federal emergency management agency were somehow at fault. You wouldn’t expect this White House to reach such an elementary finding of personal responsibility. I’m talking about the admission at the center of the report that the idea of building a gigantic new department for homeland security was a gigantic mistake. It’s right there in the report—but no one seems to have noticed.
It’s well to remember that the administration’s proposal to create DHS by merging 22 agencies was motivated mainly by partisan political reasons—and therefore deeply flawed from the start. Recall that after 9/11, when Democrats on the Hill and assorted others pressed the administration to consider creating a homeland security department, the White House dismissed the idea. “Creating a Cabinet post doesn’t solve anything,” Bush’s spokesman said in March 2002. But fearing that the Democrats might be outmaneuvering the White House on homeland security, Bush suddenly reversed course and in June 2002 he announced that the nation needed a new department to secure the homeland against terrorism. Yet, as one top Republican official told me at the time, Bush’s turn-around was motivated more by the need for an issue in the upcoming mid-term elections—then only 5 months away—then by any real concern for national security.
That was clear from both the actual proposal for a new department and how it was drawn up. Bush’s version of DHS had one distinguishing characteristic: it was bigger and bolder than anything anyone else had proposed. Yet, the decision to create the third largest government agency in history was hastily drawn up by a bunch of mid-level White House staffers with nary an experience in organizational matters. Rather than drawing in real experts, they prided themselves on their ability to keep the reorganization secret, even from the cabinet officers whose departments were directly affected by the creation of a new superagency. “They were just totally bamboozled,” one aide proudly proclaimed of the chief cabinet officers.
The result of this deeply political process was the creation of an ineffective agency that failed its first big test—leaving tens of thousands of Americans stranded the day Katrina hit. The White House report recognizes that failure. And so it recommends another set of reorganizations—this time by taking away responsibilities from DHS that had been wrested from the departments in the initial go-around. So, in really big emergencies the Pentagon, not DHS, will be in c. Justice will be in control of law enforcement following less severe disasters. Health and Human Services will take back the disaster medical teams that were transferred to FEMA as part of initial reorganization. Housing and Urban Development will be responsible for finding temporary housing for those displaced. A new White House-based disaster response group will coordinate the disparate government efforts. And other functions, too, are returning to their old agency.
In other words, the White House now implicitly admits that it was a mistake to aggregate these functions in a single department. Interestingly, it also long ago concluded that DHS also shouldn’t have primary responsibility for intelligence coordination, which is crucial to the terrorism prevention function. That responsibility lies with the revamped intelligence community. So of the three major homeland security tasks—prevention, protection, and response—DHS is now left fully in charge of only one: protection. Which was precisely what those of us who opposed the creation of DHS had been arguing for.
After Neoconservatism—A New Foreign Policy Consensus?
Like Matt and many other readers, I was also taken by Frank Fukuyama’s piece in the New York Times Magazine this Sunday. Not only was he right in pointing out where his erstwhile neocon friends have gone wrong (mainly by overestimating what American power could do and underestimating the difficulty of social engineering in a faraway place like Iraq), but he was also right to warn of the dangerous backlash against neocon excesses that may be still to come—putting Bush’s SOTU warning against isolationism in a whole new light.
Fukuyama is right that we’re seeing a worrying return of too much realism in response to the Bush revolution. We are once again seeing a lot of voices arguing that it really is not in our interest to support or promote democracy in places like the Middle East (remember Scowcroft’s claim that the absence of democracy in that region had led to “fifty years of peace?.”). And we’re also beginning to hear many more voices arguing for American disengagement (the fancy academic name for this kind of neo-realist isolationism is “off-shore balancing.”)
But just as Bush and the neocons overestimated what American power can do in this age of global politics, so the realists underestimate the degree to which our fate is ineluctably intertwined with that the rest of the world. It is no longer possible to stand apart from much of the world’s ills. Instead, our prosperity, our health, and our security are increasingly shaped, even threatened, by developments far beyond our borders.
Therefore, as I’ve said many times before, the question is not whether we should be engaged in the world, but how. In the other important contribution to this debate, Fukuyama helps us think about the answer.
In suggesting how we might reconceptualize American foreign policy, Fukuyama makes three important suggestions. First, he says that we need to “demilitarize what we have been calling the global war on terrorism and shift to other types of policy instruments.”
I think that’s an important part of any necessary change, one that in many ways is already happening. (The whole notion that we are in a “long war” against violent extremists suggests a growing appreciation within the administration, or at least within the Pentagon) that there’s much more to this conflict that the force of arms—though whether the construct of a “long war” gets it right is a topic I’d like to debate here at America Abroad at another time.) But it’s not enough. The real problem is that we’re still too focused on terrorism and not enough on how to deal with all the challenges that confront us by the increasingly interconnected nature of our world (terrorism being just one these challenges). The appearance of avian flu in western Europe, Africa, and the subcontinent in these last few weeks reminds us that we are no longer immune from most of the world’s ills. If the avian flu virus mutates in a way that makes human-to-human transmission as easy as the influenza virus normally does, we’re going to be forgetting about terrorism in the blink of an eye.
So we need to reorient—or reconceptualize—our foreign policy in a way that makes the reality of the world having come to America the organizing principle of how we engage that world. Part of the answer lies in understanding that we can’t cut ourselves off from what happens beyond our borders—that the very distinction between what is foreign and what is domestic has lost any real significance. And part of the answer lies in prioritizing our efforts to deal with global challenges that are coming at us. In focusing all our efforts on terrorism (and mishandling even that), we’ve ignored too many other threats—from nuclear proliferation to infectious diseases to climate change to the potential misuse of biotechnology research.
Second, Fukuyama suggests that we “need to come up with something better than ‘coalitions of the willing’ to legitimate its dealings with other countries.” He’s right, of course. And he’s also right in arguing that the existing international institutions—from the UN to NATO—don’t have the necessary combination of effectiveness and legitimacy to do the job. Fukuyama suggests that rather than looking for an answer in a single global body, we should look to “what has been emerging in any event, a ‘multi- multilateral world’ of overlapping and occasionally competing international institutions that are organized on regional or functional lines.”
But that’s really only half the answer. For what we have now is a set of institutions that do some things well, some things badly, and some things not at all. After all, most of these institutions were built in a very different time, when regionalism and state sovereignty reigned supreme. Neither is any longer the case. So we’ll need to supplement the institutions that exist with new arrangements, be they transnational networks of government officials and non-governmental actors or (my favorite) an organization that brings democratic governments across the globe together to tackle common problems and advance common values and interests.
Finally, Fukuyama nails the need to get democracy promotion right. He rightly argues that we focus our efforts on promoting good governance (including the rule of law in its broadest sense) rather than on holding elections. After the elections in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, it’s hard to argue with that advice. He also correctly maintains that “the United States does not get to decide when and where democracy comes about. By definition, outsiders can’t ‘impose’ democracy on a country that doesn’t want it; demand for democracy and reform must be domestic. Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective.”
Focusing on institution building and promoting the rule of law and working with rather than against countries and their people—that’s where we must place our efforts in promoting democracy and human rights around the world.
Who’s In Charge
February 14, 2006
There are many intriguing aspects concerning the story about the Veep who couldn’t shoot straight, but one that caught my attention was this from today’s WaPo:
“? the White House rarely imposes its practices, especially on press matters, on Cheney. The vice president’s office often operates autonomously in a manner that many top White House officials are reluctant to challenge.”
Doesn’t the White House realize that Cheney’s office is part of the Executive Office of the President? Yet somehow the Veep’s office can “operate autonomously” within the same White House of which it is an integral part.
So rather than focusing on the timing and manner of when the shooting incident was made public (which seems to have riled up much the mainstream media), the real question to ask is: Why does the president continue to allow a rogue operation within his own White House? And it isn’t just press matters we’re talking about. It also involves the politicization of intelligence, the leaking of classified information, energy policy and other serious matters of state. Or, perhaps, the president is somehow in on Cheney’s shenanigans and we’re just not supposed to know?
February 1, 2006
So who did Bush have in mind when he railed against the danger of isolationism in the SOTU last night? Matt Yglesias is right to suggest that it wasn’t old-style conservatives; they’re really a fringe even in the GOP. But it wasn’t traditional isolationists either.
I think there are really two explanations for why Bush chose to make isolationism his newest bogey man. One responds to the growing anxiety among Americans about the increasing costs of our engagement; the other reflects an attempt to gain political advantage over his adversaries.
One reason why Bush made isolationism the newest grave and growing threat against which to rail in yet another State of the Union speech is the not unreasonable concern that Americans are once again becoming wary of foreign entanglements. Opinion polls have shown a sharp increase in the number of Americans who believe America should mind its own business internationally — to a level (42%) that is higher than any time since the early 1960s.
There is clearly, then, a growing concern among the American people, that the costs of our engagement abroad, particularly the cost of how we have engaged abroad is simply too great these days — and that the best way we can reduce these costs is by disengaging from the world, by retreating, by coming home.
That sentiment, while perhaps understandable, is one that should concern all of us. For whether we like or not, we have no choice but to engage a world with which we have become increasingly interconnected. Our prosperity, our security, our way of life is increasingly determined not by what we do at home but what happens in places far away. Because the world has come to America, America must remain engaged in the world — helping to shape it in ways that protect our security, enhance our prosperity, and secures our way of life.
This reality is one reason why Bush warned against isolationism — and why he stressed the importance of enhancing our competitiveness and reducing our dependence on oil. The fact that we are now one with the world means that we cannot easily disengage — and that when we try the costs of doing so are likely to be very great indeed.
That, I’d argue, was one reason why Bush warned against the dangers of isolationism. But there was another reason — one less analytical and much more political. Which was to paint his political opponents, particularly those who disagree with him on Iraq, with the isolationist brush. It was no accident that the speech moved straight from a defense of American global engagement into a defense of his Iraq strategy. And it was no accident that he equated retreat from Iraq with retreat from the world — as if the two were somehow the same. “Defeatists” is what Bush called them; “retreatists” is what he really had in mind.
He mentioned the 1930’s, just to make clear that those who are not with him on Iraq are somehow with the Neville Chamberlains of this world.
For Bush, you are either with him all the way or you are with the isolationists — there is never any middle ground. But that, of course, misreads the debate we’re having. Not only can and must we debate what to do about the mess in Iraq — without those who favor a different course being accused of being irresponsible, unpatriotic, or appeasers — but we must debate how we engage the world. For the real debate is not between those who want to engage the world and those who do not. The real debate is about how to engage the world — Bush’s way, which has left us more isolated, more hated, and less powerful, or a more cooperative way that seeks to meld America’s power with that of others to advance our common interests. But that, of course, is not a debate Bush wants to have.