America Abroad (2005) – A Blog on Current Affairs

Ivo H. Daalder

Editor’s note: This blog operated in 2005. Any links to TPM Café are no longer operative.

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.


Isolate or Engage?
December 22, 2005


Daniel Greenbaum asks some good questions about the value of isolating countries like China and Cuba and whether economic sanctions work. He’s asked them before—and answering them gives me an opportunity to expand on what I said in my earlier post.



First, I think the US position (not new to this administration) that we are somehow too pure to talk to certain regimes (Cuba, Iran, North Korea—and, once, China, the USSR, etc.) is, frankly, absurd. Somehow, the notion of engagement—of talking, negotiating, bargaining—with your enemies has been equated with weakness and isolating them as a sign of strength. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The goal surely is to advance our interests by changing the behavior (if not the nature) of the regime in question. I’ll take the record of engagement over isolation any day.



A good example is the EU, which, by offering the benefits of membership to those European countries that live up to its core values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, has been a far more effective instrument of regime change than our insistence on not talking to those we don’t like.



Second, the issue of economic sanctions is complicated. Sanctions that are broadly supported and enforced can be very effective. Good examples are: Serbia (which finally ousted Milosevic), Libya (which gave up its WMD), and … hold your breath … Iraq (which, as the Duelfer Report that Bush likes to cite [sic] showed, disarmed because of sanctions and did not rearm for fear that sanctions would never be lifted). But unilateral sanctions, imposed only by us and not by any other countries, just don’t work. Just look at Cuba and Iran.



All of which suggests that pressure/isolation tactics can only work when the regime or its behavior is so egregious that there is widespread consensus that sanctions/isolation need to be imposed and also when there is agreement on what changes in behavior would bring about their end. Absent such a consensus, I’d argue that engagement … flooding the country with information about the world outside and opening up to trade … is a far more effective way to effect real, positive change. It’s what we should do with regard to North Korea, Iran, and Cuba. As a first step, let’s at least play ball!




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Failed Policy Fouls Baseball—and More
December 21, 2005


I grew up with soccer rather than baseball as the defining sport of my youth, but I’ve come to appreciate the national pastime as I watch my two boys really getting into the game. This morning brought two shockers. One was the announcement that Johnny Damon, the hero of my youngest son, Michael, will leave his beloved Red Sox for the hated Yankees (my oldest son, Marc, a Yankees fan, greeted the news with “the curse returns!”). The other was news that the administration has barred Cuba from playing in the inaugural World Baseball Classic this coming March. As Frank Deford said on NPR this morning, how stupid can you get?



What all this means for baseball I’ll leave to others to consider, but when are we going to get it into our heads that a unilateral policy of non-engagement hurts us more than them? You’d think that 45 years of a failed Cuba policy would have done the trick. Or that the decision to open the door to China over 30 years ago might have led people to reexamine the wisdom of this policy. But for some reason all too many believe that our not engaging with regimes we don’t like keeps us pure—even if it does very little to change the nature of the regimes we’re isolating and even less for the people who continue to suffer under its rule.



It’s long past time that we turn this policy around. Rather than equating isolation with strength and engagement with weakness, we should look to engagement as the best way to force real change. Just ask the people of Eastern Europe, who looked to our reaching beyond the Iron Curtain from the mid-1970s onwards as providing the inspiration they needed to challenge those in power when the time presented itself. Or ask the people of Cuba, who long ago gave up hope for a better life—and are now left with blaming Uncle Sam for dashing any hope they might have had for victory in a game they love as much as any American.



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Is Rummy Toast?
December 14, 2005


Bush on Rumsfeld: “He’s done a heck of a job.” I’d be packing my bags if I were Rummy.



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Banning Torture—Matter of Policy, Not Law
December 13, 2005


Juliette is right, of course—the reason to welcome the McCain anti-torture amendment is that it draws a line in the sand not just on torture, but on usurpation of power by this Executive. And on no issue is this more needed than on the question of torture.



Here’s why. When Rice declared in Kiev last week that “as a matter of U.S. policy, the United States obligations under the CAT [Convention Against Torture], which prohibits, of course, cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States,” some people noted that this contradicted a statement Gonzalez had provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. According to Sen. Feinstein, Gonzalez wrote the committee that “the Department of Justice has concluded that …  there is no legal prohibition under the CAT on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment with respect to aliens overseas.”



So how are these two positions to be reconciled? Simple, as State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told the Financial Times: “Both state and justice believe that though there is no legal requirement to do so, it is our policy to abide by the requirements barring cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment regardless of whether the detainee is in the United States or overseas.”



Of course, policy can change by presidential whim. So that’s why McCain needs to stick to his guns, and make this a matter of law rather than policy.



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What is Rice Saying?
December 11, 2005


So I read Condoleezza Rice’s Post oped carefully—and then read it again. And while it’s probably me, I just don’t get it. No, I’m not talking about how Rice, who only six years ago wrote the perfect realist treatise, has now become the principal exponent of democratic idealism. People change. No, I’m talking about all the contradictions that pervade her 1700 word essay.



Let’s just look at three of these.



One concerns the relations among the major powers. Rice repeats an argument first made explicitly in Bush’s first (and thus far only) National Security Strategy document, which was published in September 2002. For the first time since 1648, Rice argues, “the prospect of violent conflict between great powers is becoming ever more unthinkable. Major states are increasingly competing in peace, not preparing for war.” Ok, I get that (though someone should tell the Pentagon to stop worrying about the growth of Chinese military power if this is really the case…). But Rice goes further and argues that the United States is transforming relations with the other major powers, including Russia and China, in order to build “a more lasting and durable form of global stability: a balance of power that favors freedom.”



Now, I’ve heard Rice and Bush utter this phrase many times before—but I still have no idea what it means. How can a balance of power favor anything aside from stability? It can maintain freedom for some, but how does it promote if for all? And most importantly, how is that Russia and China are part of any effort promoting freedom? They’re not exactly doing much on this score at home (not when both are engaged in brutal efforts to suppress the desire for freedom among national groups within their borders…). Like I said, I don’t get it.



The second relates to Rice’s emphatic statement about the threat posed by weak and failing states. This was also a theme sounded by the NSS in 2002, but here she goes much further. She argues that “the danger they now pose is unparalleled.” Compared to what—Nazi Germany? The Soviet Union? Hirohito’s Japan?



Undeterred, Rice insists that “the greatest threats to our security are defined more by the dynamics within weak and failing states than by the borders between strong and aggressive ones.” Leave aside for the moment whether this is indeed the case (and I, for one, think the threat comes more from the growing interconnectedness of our world), you would have thought that anyone believing weak states are America’s greatest security threat would champion efforts to build the capacity of weak states around the world. But you’d be wrong. For the past three years, U.S. policy has focused not on building up the capacity of weak states but on defeating those states the Bush administration has insistently depicted as strong and aggressive. Afghanistan wasn’t a weak state when we invaded it; the Taliban controlled all aspects of daily life and it was so much in cahoots with al Qaeda that it rather fought to the death than give up Osama bin Laden. And when Bush talked about the “axis of evil” he didn’t have weak and failing states in mind—he pointed to strong and aggressive countries like North Korea, Iraq, and Iran. Like I said, I don’t get it.



One final contradiction. Rice maintains that “the fundamental character of regimes matters more today than the international distribution of power.” And then argues that this is especially true in the Middle East, where “the problems emerging form the character of regimes are more urgent than in any other” region. Now one can argue this point. But whatever its merits, it clearly contradicts Rice’s earlier claim that the main threat to our security comes from weak and failing states. For whatever you think of the Middle Eastern autocracies, they’re hardly weak states. The problem, rather, is their strength and, yes, their undemocratic character.



As I said, I just don’t get it.



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The Future of Preemption
December 4, 2005


Jim Steinberg and I have an article in today’s LA Times in which we argue that it “would be unfortunate if President Bush’s doctrine of preemption were a casualty of the Iraq war. We should avoid waging unilateral preventive wars of regime change. But circumstances will probably arise in which the option of using force preventively should be available—whether to kill terrorists, prevent weapons proliferation, halt genocidal killing or stop the spread of deadly disease. The task is to make the idea a more limited and more legitimate tool for dealing with new security threats.”



The piece summarize an article that appears in the Winter 2005 issue of The American Interest. Unfortunately, in the Times Select age, this article is accessible to subscribers only. (I’ll email a copy to anyone who contacts me directly.)



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Bush Embraces Murtha-And Declares Victory
December 1, 2005


For all the rhetoric about the need to stay the course, what strikes me most about Bush’s Iraq speech is his embrace of Jack Murtha’s basic proposal to redeploy US forces so that they can focus on fighting terrorists first and foremost. The only major difference between the two is that Murtha argues that we need to redeploy our forces because we have failed in Iraq, while Bush argues that we can do so because we’re succeeding.



The most important statement in Bush’s speech was this one:



… as Iraqi forces become more capable, the mission of our forces in Iraq will continue to change. We will continue to shift from providing security and conducting operations against the enemy nationwide, to conducting more specialized operations targeted at the most dangerous terrorists. We will increasingly move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate, and conduct fewer patrols and convoys.



Here’s the essence of Bush’s drawndown strategy: as Iraqi forces take over responsibility for fighting the insurgency and become the primary means for ensuring law and order, the American forces can limit their mission to countering the terrorists in Iraq. That doesn’t require 150,000 troops—or even 80-100,000. It’s something that can be done with far fewer troops.



That’s exactly what Murtha proposed when he argued for redeploying US forces. As part of this redeployment, Murtha proposed the deployment of an “over-the-horizon” contingent of Marines. The main difference is that Murtha would deploy these forces in Kuwait, while Bush wants to maintain them in Iraq. But that, it seems to me, is a tactical difference, not a strategic one.



So what’s the problem with Bush’s approach? He assumes that Iraqi security forces can deal with the insurgency and keep law and order (Murtha, of course, assumes no such thing). But for all the rosy statistics Bush cited to back up this assumption, he’s likely to be wrong. Not only do Iraqi security forces lack the skills and training to get the job done (as James Fallows has documented), but there can be no such thing as an Iraqi security force until there is such a thing as Iraq. Instead of a single Iraq, however, there is today a deeply divided country. And unless the Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni political leaders find a way to create a legitimate and unified Iraq, no amount of training is going to create an effective set of security forces.



Yet, on this central question of how Iraq can emerge from 32 months of chaos as a single, unified country, both Bush and his “National Strategy for Victory” were noticeably silent. Could it be because they don’t have an answer?



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An Alternative Strategy for Iraq
November 7, 2005


After months of hemming and hawing, the Democrats finally seem to be uniting around an alternative to Bush’s Iraq strategy—the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2006 (or 2007). That seems to be the message of recent speeches by Sen. Kerry, former Sen. Daschle, and others, which follow similar proposals by Sens. Kennedy and Feingold made earlier.



Unfortunately, the Democratic alternative is the wrong strategy. Setting a date-certain for withdrawing troops solves nothing. It gives the insurgents an incentive to wait us out—and fully resume their destructive activities once we’re gone. And if we have lost the war, as many seem to believe is the case, then why not withdraw our troops now rather than wait and withdraw them later?



Over the past few months, I steadily moved toward the view that the mission in Iraq had failed and that we therefore should get out sooner rather than later. I still think the chances of success are small—but they are now somewhat greater than I thought even a few weeks ago.



Two recent developments account for this change in my assessment. One was the agreement among the Shi’ites, Kurds, and Arab Sunnis brokered by Zal Khalilzad, our ambassador in Iraq, just prior to the referendum on the constitution where all agreed that the national assembly to be elected in December would appoint a committee to look at possible amendments of the constitution. The other was the large number of Sunnis participating in the elections.



Both of these developments give me some hope that a political process to reconcile basic differences and forge agreement on how power in the new Iraq can be shared is still possible. Remember, that was one of the main reasons why I argued last August that as far as the constitution was concerned, it was better to get it done than to get it completely right.



Having gotten the constitution done, the Iraqis now have six months to get it right—first to hold elections and then to negotiate suitable amendments to the constitution that ensure Iraq remains a unitary, albeit federalized, state. And to give the Iraqi elite, Shi’ite and Kurd as well as Sunni, an incentive to get it right, the best course to follow is not the one proposed by Kerry or Daschle or Kennedy or Feingold but the one put forward by Senator Carl Levin.



Levin, who’s been more right on Iraq for a longer period than just about anyone else, has suggested that rather than setting a deadline for withdrawing now, we should link our commitment to remain militarily engaged in Iraq with a demonstrable Iraqi commitment to resolve their key political differences. If elections are held this December and Iraqis of all stripes participate to the maximum extent possible, if a new national assembly is formed and a constitutional committee representative of all Iraqi interests is established, if the committee can reach consensus on how to amend the constitution within the four month timeframe that has been agreed to, and if the amendments are approved in a national referendum, then there’s hope that, for all their differences, the Iraqis are committed to work them out peacefully within a unified Iraq. And if they do that, we should stay engaged to help them succeed—by providing security, training national security forces, and supporting economic and political efforts to reconstitute the Iraqi state.



But we cannot want this more than the Iraqis themselves—and so if the they fail to achieve this outcome within the agreed timetable (about six months from now), then we should withdraw our troops. So no to artificial deadlines, and yes to using our presence as leverage to get the Iraqi elite to do right to their own people. This is the kind of alternative strategy that all Democrats, indeed all Americans—whether they were for or against the war—can and should embrace.



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More on Intervention (or Not)
November 5, 2005


Stephen Cimbala of the Penn State sent me this comment regarding our discussion here at on intervention. Worth thinking about:



Well, well, an interesting debate, and I’m glad to see that liberal interventionists are finally being held accountable for their well intended, but geostrategically naive, embrace of an imperial American prospect. The problem with the Wilsonians left and right, or perhaps, soft and hard says it better, is that they have spent too much time in elite conversations and paid insufficient attention to the sensibilities of Middle America.



America’s armed forces are not an imperial policing force, nor are they a Red Cross. They are our kids, our students and our future. They should not be sent into harm’s way unless a vital interest is at stake, the mission is clear, and a strategy for victory, both political and military, has been defined. Powell was always right about this, and it’s unfortunate that he was bypassed in the fast lane of Bush policy by Cheney and Rumsfeld—to disastrous effect.



And now we’re surprised that the postwar reconstruction of Iraq has turned into a fiasco—a stalemate at best, or worst. The mechanics of Bush policy are bad enough, but the discussions on policy related Websites show that, in academia as in policy studies, there is insufficient regard for geostrategy and military history—including American history. The Philippine insurrection that followed our victory over Spain was a preview of postwar Iraq from 2003 to 2005. And has anyone seen The Battle of Algiers?



The collapse of the Soviet Union and the seemingly quick victory in Afghanistan in 2001 gave us victory disease and allowed policy makers to morph the “war on terror” into an invasion of Mesopotamia. Now Melvin Laird tells us, in an elegantly written but misleading piece, that we must stay the course in Iraq and not bug out as the U.S. Congress did in Vietnam in 1975. Proof, if more is needed, that the teaching of history and political science in American universities has descended into a cul-de-sac of introspection about theory and methods, while the New Imperialists peddle swill to carpetbaggers in government about the inevitability of universal democracy and market economies. Will Chevy Chase do the movie version?



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Intervention and International Law
November 3, 2005


Devon raises a good point about the apparent contradiction between humanitarian intervention and the supremacy of international law. I’ve been wanting to get into this issue—especially following David Rieff’s challenge to all of us here at America Abroad. I agree with a lot that my colleagues have already said about this (here , here and here), but I’d like to add three points.



First, I think there’s less tension between humanitarian intervention and the supremacy of international law then Devon indicates. I’m no lawyer (and I hate to pretend that I am one, with such accomplished legal minds as Anne-Marie, Lee, and Jim S. on the site), but I’d say that international law regarding intervention has been evolving. During the 1990s, the Security Council increasingly argued that internal conflicts with grave humanitarian consequences could constitute threats to international peace and security and thus warrant outside intervention. The Council accordingly authorized such intervention in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda (belatedly), and, arguably, northern Iraq. Devon is right that it did not authorize the Kosovo intervention, but the Council overwhelmingly defeated an attempt to condemn the intervention once it had taken place and authorized the UN to step in afterwards to help stabilize the situation. Moreover, this September’s UN endorsement of the concept of responsibility to protect—including a commitment “to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner … should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”—suggests that humanitarian intervention is less problematic from a legal perspective than it once was.



Second, as Jim S. and I argue in a forthcoming article in The American Interest (we’ll post a link as soon as it available later this month) the acceptance of “responsibility to protect” opens up the possibility of a more fundamental reassessment of when to intervene—for humanitarian or other reasons. For it suggests a realization that the two founding principles of the UN system—the sovereign equality of states and the non-interference in their internal affairs—are giving way to a new principle of state responsibility. As the world becomes more interconnected, threats to international peace and security are increasingly coming from developments within states rather than from their external behavior. Consider, the last three wars the US has fought were all the result of internal developments—Serb ethnic cleansing of the Albanian minority; Afghanistan’s offering sanctuary to terrorists; and Iraq’s purported development of WMD. Given this change, there is an emerging understanding that states have a responsibility to prevent developments on their territory that threaten others beyond it—be it by developing WMD, refusing to secure dangerous materials against theft, supporting or harboring terrorists, failing to halt the spread of deadly diseases, or some other threatening behavior—and that their failure to live up to that responsibility shifts the burden to the international community to intervene.



Third, the Security Council has increasingly emerged as the key arbiter for determining when such intervention is justified. Before the first Gulf War, the Council had authorized military intervention a grand total of two times (Korea and the Congo); since then it has done so no less than 17 times. Even Bush believed it necessary to justify the Iraq War by arguing that the invasion was authorized by prior Council resolutions. But what if the Council refuses to act—either because it lacks the stomach to authorize intervention or because one or more permanent member vetoes it (as in Kosovo)? In these circumstances countries that believe intervention is necessary might appeal to regional organizations to legitimize the intervention (again, as in Kosovo). Or, ultimately, it might fall to like-minded states—I’m thinking here of the Alliance of Democracies that Jim L. and I have written about—to sanction an intervention. But whether it is the Security Council, a regional organization, or a group of democracies, in each instance an intervening state would have to be able to convince a notable group of other states that intervention is justified. In situations like these, there is little if any room for unilateralism.



All of this makes a case for intervention—thus confirming Rieff’s charge that we here at America Abroad are a bunch of bloody-minded liberals (Rieff himself, it is fair to note, used to be a charter member). I plead guilty. What unites liberals and neoconservatives is a belief that America has an overriding interest in fostering liberal democratic change in the world. What divides them is liberal’s rejection of the neoconservative belief that American military power alone suffices to bring such change about. Liberals believe that change can come only if it is supported broadly from within and without—and that absent such support any intervention is likely to make matters worse rather than better. Oh, and because liberals believe in government, they like to plan ahead before they intervene (a point to note this month, the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Accords which ended the Bosnian War and commenced a peace building operation in which not a single American soldier lost his life to hostile fire).



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Whatever Happened to the Rule of Law?
November 2, 2005


On Monday Condoleezza Rice joined her colleagues at the UN Security Council to denounce Syria for its failure to cooperate with a UN investigation of the murder of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, last February. “We in the international community must remain united and we must remain resolute in our pursuit of truth, our defense of justice, and our support of liberty,” she declared.



Hypocrisy usually isn’t a sound basis for policy.



The costs are evident in at least two ways. First, it undermines the very values we claim to stand for. Yesterday, Steve Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser, sought to reassure Americans that whatever the administration may be doing with detainees, its behavior was “consistent with our values.” But apparently it isn’t consistent with American law. For The Post reports that no sooner had the Supreme Court ruled last summer that American courts had jurisdiction over Guatanamo, or a major CIA-run detention facility at the base was shut down and the detainees transferred to new facilities in third countries. Like an outlaw, the administration ran away from the long reach of American law. How’s that consistent with our values, the most fundamental of which is the idea that we are a nation of laws?



Second, The Post reported that the secret facilities in East European countries violated the national and international legal obligations of these countries as well. So here we fought a cold war and worked valiantly to bring countries in central and eastern Europe into the western, democratic fold only to ask them to abandon the rule of law when it suits our purpose. What kind of an example does that set? And how does this advance our fundamental goal of transforming autocratic regimes that do not accept the rule of law into vibrant democracies that do?



While Abu Ghraib soiled America’s image around the world, the revelation of American secret prisons in other countries deals a perhaps fatal blow to our policy of promoting democracy abroad.



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The National Guard—At Home or Abroad
October 21, 2005


In the days after the disastrously slow response to Katrina, Bush went out of his way to argue that the delay in deploying National Guard and other troops had nothing to do with Iraq. “It is preposterous to claim that the engagement in Iraq meant there wasn’t enough troops here, just pure and simple,” Bush said on September 6. “We’ve got plenty of troops to do both.”



He may have been right about the troops—but now we learn they didn’t have the equipment necessary to do the job.



A new GAO report concludes that by this summer Guard units remaining State-side only had 34 percent of their essential equipment. The rest had been shipped with off with other units deployi