Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Spring 2006 issue of The National Interest

The National Interest No. 86 Spring 2006

The Realist: Geopolitical Jihad by Ximena Ortiz
In the Muslim world, the political has an “Islamic” identity, “Islamists”
promote the political, and geopolitics and Islamism converge in rage.

Comments and Responses: China and Asia

Pang Zhongying, Sherman Katz, Devin Stewart and Jorgen Ostrom Moller.

Iran: Threatened Regimes

A Modest Proposal by Brent Scowcroft
It’s about the fuel cycle, not the regime.

A Profile in Defiance by Ray Takeyh
Ahmadinejad came of age in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq War. He sees
little benevolence in the West’s interventions and conflict as inevitable.

The Osirak Fallacy by Richard K. Betts
If the strike on Osirak failed to turn back the clock on Saddam’s
nuclear program, why would one work for Iran?

Contemplating the Ifs by W. Patrick Lang & Larry C. Johnson
There’s no Hollywood solution to dealing with Iran—just a bunch of bad

A Fragile Consensus by Bruno Tertrais
Unlike the Iraq War, the Iranian nuclear crisis will not convulse
transatlantic relations—for the time being.

Democracy, Realistically by John M. Owen IV
Advancing U.S. interests and global democracy promotion are complimentary

A Difficult Country by Anatol Lieven
There are no textbook solutions for the problems of a country like
Pakistan—but a creative approach can go a long way.

Al-Qaeda’s Media Strategies by Marc Lynch
Jihad is as virtual as it is real.

Strategic Myopia by Leon Fuerth
Policymakers must network responses and see beyond categories to react to
potentially dire threats.

In Brief: Thoughts on National Security

Graham Allison, Ian Bremmer, Harlan Ullman and Derek Chollet.

The Threat of Global Poverty by Susan E. Rice
Poverty aids the spread of transnational threats, from terrorism to

Less than Dolce Vita by Mark Gilbert
Italy’s upcoming election and political theater could have real implications
for American
and Europe.

Conflict Conundrums by Tim Potier
For the United States, mediating territorial crises must involve
geopolitical juggling.

The Culture Club by Lawrence E. Harrison
Not all cultures are equally conducive to progress.

Leveraging Islam by Amitai Etzioni
Islam should be harnessed, not neutralized, to create a moral and stable

Clinging to Faith by Paul Hollander
From the wreckage of communism’s legacy, the ideology rises again.

The Struggle for Democracy by Irving Louis Horowitz
The promotion of democracy is the centerpiece of Bush’s foreign policy, but
the president has yet to define democracy.

Strategic Horizons by J. Peter Pham
Despite predictions to the contrary, America’s superpower status remains

China’s Power Paradox by Warren I. Cohen
China has striven to moderate at least the appearance of its global

Patriot Games by Zeyno Baran
The Tom Clancys of Turkey have a clear and present bias.

The Middle East Waiting Game by Claude Salhani
Many in the Islamic world experience their own internal clash of

Iran: Just a Simple Wish-List

After attending meeting after meeting on Iran in Washington, this is what it all boils down to:

The United States would like Iran to give up all the infrastructure, technology and programs that might be used to fabricate a nuclear weapon and a workable delivery system, stop all support for terrorism, recognize Israel, give up its Islamic revolution and move in the direction of becoming a secular liberal democracy, and recognize the paramount role of the United States in maintaining the security architecture of the Persian Gulf; and it wants to accomplish all these things without war or a significant military operation, using a broad multilateral framework where the Europeans, Russians and Chinese all play a major role and assume significant portions of the burden, with no significant losses in U.S. blood or treasure, and while keeping stable or even lowering the price of oil, and ensuring that in the process there will be no disruption of stabilization efforts in Iraq or Afghanistan.

No problem.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ukrainian Fairy Tales in the Washington Post

Jackson Diehl's column in today's Post is yet another attempt to try and prepare for the likely repudiation of the Orange Revolution at the polls in Ukraine in March. As in Russia in 1993, so in Ukraine in 2006: the reformers and revolutionaries who claimed to be on the winning side of history are being handed their walking papers.

As with the popularity of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, the political recuperation of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych after his defeat for the presidency points to popular dissatisfaction with promises left unfulfilled. The Orange coalition did not tackle corruption, did not lead Ukraine to a closer relationship with Europe and presided over a major economic slowdown. Yanukovych's ertswhile position--stick with the devils you know--seems to have borne fruit.

A defeat for the Orange team in March would be a major setback to those who believe that CNN-televised rallies rather than patient and massive investment make the difference in spreading and consolidating democratic systems.

It is thus interesting that Diehl again tries to paint the March elections as a "choice" between the West and Russia for Ukraine, never once addressing the fact that there is no choice. If I am at a restaurant and the waiter offers me coffee or tea, but then says, the restaurant has no coffee and won't order any new supplies for coffee for the next ten years, then I don't have a choice between coffee or tea; I have a choice between tea and nothing. This is the "choice" that faces Ukraine today. Yushchenko was given the same agreement that his authoritarian predecessor Kuchma was offered. Ukrainians in March are not "choosing" because there is no choice on offer.

Diehl also chooses not to follow the journalistic threads of the story about the shadowy company handling Ukraine's gas supply--that in addition to organized crime figures one of the beneficiaries is the presidency of Ukraine, since that would also spoil the story.

If Ukraine matters to U.S. national security, we've done precious little about it. I made this point in November 2004 and reiterated it in September 2005. Back then I wrote (in National Review):

I wrote in the November 26, 2004 issue of the International Herald Tribune that if the Orange Revolution were to succeed, a Yushchenko government “would have to demonstrate that his westward-oriented policies would generate results. And here the United States and the European Union would have to lay down clear benchmarks for facilitating Ukraine's closer integration with the Euro-Atlantic world — and be prepared to commit real resources. Even if European leaders hold out the prospect of EU membership decades in the future, there is no reason that tangible benefits cannot be offered now — such as a free-trade agreement, or a guest worker regime that allows Ukrainians to live and work legally in Europe or in the United States.”

And it seemed that leading members of the Congress agreed — and even couched facilitating Ukraine’s closer integration with the West as a vital national security interest of the United States. At a hearing of the House International Relations Committee on December 7, 2004, Congressman Henry Hyde declared: “An independent Ukraine allied to the West, then, is the key to security in the East. … Because if Ukraine's independence is to be made secure, it must be fully integrated into and protected by the West and its institutions. I don't know what the European Union may do toward this end, but I believe that Ukraine's independence can only be guaranteed by it becoming a full member of NATO, and it can become a member of NATO only if it has become a true democracy. Full membership may not be possible in the immediate future, but many of its benefits can be harvested by making our commitment clear now.” For his part, Congressman Tom Lantos expressed his distress that the United States and Europe had done so little to block Russian neo-imperialism.

Back in June I wrote: “Seeds of democracy may have been planted throughout Eurasia; whether they take root and flower depends on whether they are nourished. We need a new strategy — the old one is no longer viable.”

So where does Ukraine go from here? Can Yushchenko put the Orange Coalition back together? After all, the forces which backed ex-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych last year are organizing for next year’s parliamentary elections. I can see the slogan now: “We were corrupt but we gave you 13 percent growth.” (So far, under the current regime, growth has slowed to 4 percent). And just as Iranians gave their votes to a hard-line candidate who promised to root out corruption and improve ordinary Iranians’ quality of life, might Ukrainian voters next year decide that the “democrats” can’t deliver and that that the “old regime” was the better option? Russian voters who overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Boris Yeltsin in 1991 embraced his political enemies two years later.

It is also too early to tell what the impact will be of the decision of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus at the recent Kazan summit to proceed with the formation of the “Common Economic Space” by March 2006 without waiting for Ukraine to decide whether it wants to take part. Significantly, it seems that Russia has rejected Kiev’s proposals for bilateral arrangements; thus, by the time of the parliamentary elections, Yushchenko may have the worst of all possible worlds; blamed by the eastern half of the country for self-excluding Ukraine from a free-trade arrangement with two of its major economic partners without being able to demonstrate any conclusive progress toward eventual EU and NATO membership.

Americans lost interest in Ukraine once the squares emptied and the cameras moved on. But if the success of the Orange Revolution is indeed as vital to U.S. national security as so many here in Washington have claimed, then we’d better be prepared to act.


Let's stop playing games.

What Ever Happened to Self-Determination?

Is this the direction we are headed in, a revival of a system of great power trusteeship? If so, then let's be quite explicit about it.

ARTICLE 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations:

To those colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world, there should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilisation and that securities for the performance of this trust should be embodied in this Covenant.

The best method of giving practical effect to this principle is that the tutelage of such peoples should be entrusted to advanced nations who by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographical position can best undertake this responsibility, and who are willing to accept it, and that this tutelage should be exercised by them as Mandatories on behalf of the League.

The character of the mandate must differ according to the stage of the development of the people, the geographical situation of the territory, its economic conditions and other similar circumstances.

Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.

Other peoples, especially those of Central Africa, are at such a stage that the Mandatory must be responsible for the administration of the territory under conditions which will guarantee freedom of conscience and religion, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, the prohibition of abuses such as the slave trade, the arms traffic and the liquor traffic, and the prevention of the establishment of fortifications or military and naval bases and of military training of the natives for other than police purposes and the defence of territory, and will also secure equal opportunities for the trade and commerce of other Members of the League.

There are territories, such as South-West Africa and certain of the South Pacific Islands, which, owing to the sparseness of their population, or their small size, or their remoteness from the centres of civilisation, or their geographical contiguity to the territory of the Mandatory, and other circumstances, can be best administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions of its territory, subject to the safeguards above mentioned in the interests of the indigenous population.

In every case of mandate, the Mandatory shall render to the Council an annual report in reference to the territory committed to its charge.

The degree of authority, control, or administration to be exercised by the Mandatory shall, if not previously agreed upon by the Members of the League, be explicitly defined in each case by the Council.

A permanent Commission shall be constituted to receive and examine the annual reports of the Mandatories and to advise the Council on all matters relating to the observance of the mandates.

Grain of Salt

An ongoing trend that I've noted in a good deal of foreign policy reporting is for someone to cite something they've been told as if it is unimpeachable fact. I've seen this from Chinese attitudes on Kosovo to the desire of Iraqis to see the United States keep its troops in-country (see, for example, Larry Kaplan's piece in the latest New Republic).

The test, for me, is whether what a person tells an American is more or less identical to what that person tells someone else. And often there can be important distinctions in comparing what someone has told an American interlocutor (and more importantly how that American interlocutor has interpreted what he or she has heard) and what is said to others.

Friday, February 24, 2006

End of the Week--Post Modernism, Debates on Russia, Iraq and Sovereignty

The Financial Times on its front cover has a box quote from Moqtada Al-Sadr commenting on the recent devastation in Iraq: "If the government had real sovereignty, nothing like this would have happened."

Bob Tucker and David Hendrickson were concerned about the neither-fish-nor-fowl situation in Iraq, where on the one hand we want Iraqis to take on more of the burdens of regulating life in the country but at the same time we want to continue to be able to guide and influence developments and be able to intervene. I don't know whether the destruction of the Samarra mosque is the tipping point where we have to decide whether to essentially go back and begin to remake Iraq from the ground up--certainly no enthusiasm for such a project here in the Untied States--essentially along the proposals John Paul Vann had for Vietnam; or we begin to wash our hands and say it is not the job of the U.S. to prevent a civil war. The Seattle Times has this to say: "Iraq's political leaders and U.S.-led forces can shut down the country for a time and reduce the violence by flooding the streets with checkpoints and soldiers. But few doubt who really holds the cards.

"If the religious leaders decided to go all the way to a civil war they could, in no time," said Hassan Bazzaz, a political scientist at Baghdad University. "And if they really wanted to stop it, they could. The religious leaders are the ones who have the real power."" But we've been uncomfortable in dealing with the religious figures--a point that Amitai Etzioni discusses in a forthcoming TNI piece in the spring issue.


Nicolai Petro and Mischa Gabowitsch debate what is happening with media freedom, stabilization in Chechnya, and the future of democracy in Russia at Open Democracy. A useful debate because both are interested in what's actually happening in Russia rather than advancing a Washington agenda.


The Stiftung Leo Strauss, in looking at the debates on U.S. foreign policy, raises the following:

... Katrina, Iraq, etc. are not mere crises of 'competence' but emblematic of Post Modern Power. ...

The question of the Administration, American Power and 'what comes after' is beyond the current confines of a debate by the Usual and Aspiring Suspects. A Post Modern agenda with its priority on psychological dominance and control of belief systems — the life blood for irrationality, romance and myth — is wholly apart from the experience of either Realism (such as it is) or even Neoconservatism.

So we pose the questions again — 'Can American succeed as a Post Modern Power?' 'And at what cost?' 'And can we recover?'

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Choosing Between Bad Options

TNI's spring issue is going to have a focus on Iran--with contributions from Brent Scowcroft, Pat Lang, Ray Takeyh, Richard Betts, Larry Johnson and Bruno Tertrais. One of the common themes running through the various contributions--and something we still seem to have difficulty getting our arms wrapped around--is that no matter what policy option you endorse for Iran--war, surgical strikes, sanctions, "do nothing", etc.--there are going to be negative consequences. Yet in the popular discourse we seem to only be able to contemplate a choice between a "good" and a "bad" option.

I'd like to excerpt the following comments from Dick Betts' piece:

As pressure mounts to reckon with Iran’s nascent nuclear program, some strategists are arguing that the United States has run out of alternatives to military action. Many of them are pointing to Israel’s 1981 air attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor as a model for action—a bold stroke flying in the face of all international opinion that nipped Iraq’s nuclear capability in the bud or at least postponed a day of reckoning. This reflects widespread misunderstanding of what that strike accomplished. Contrary to prevalent mythology, there is no evidence that Israel’s destruction of Osirak delayed Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. The attack may actually have accelerated it.

Osirak is not applicable to Iran anyway, since an air strike on a single reactor is not a model for the comprehensive campaign that would be required to deal, even unsatisfactorily, with the extensive, concealed and protected program that Iran is probably developing. As the United States crafts non-proliferation policy, it should soberly consider the actual effect of the Osirak attack and the limitations of even stronger air action. ...

Reliance on containment, deterrence and pressure short of force remains unsettling to Americans who seek closure in conflict and suspect that restraint betrays fecklessness. Force has the allure of apparent decisiveness. But the greatest military philosopher, Carl von Clausewitz, warned, “In war the result is never final.” Unless victor and vanquished come to agreement on a peacetime order, peace will not endure. Military action might at best suppress Iran’s nuclear ambitions temporarily; at worst, and no less probably, an attack could make them more intense and more dangerous.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Does Any of This Really Matter?

I wanted to share a note that comments on some of the recent issues discussed in TWR and elsewhere. I post for discussion:

"Dear Nick:

"I think you've been in the fishbowl of the Beltway for too long. Think tankers are obsessed about publishing op-eds and articles that no one ends up reading, except fellow members of the so-called "foreign policy community", or appearing on shows like the Newshour or Charlie Rose or filling up space on the cable networks, in an endless self-referential loop. News flash: outside that narrow group, NO ONE CARES.

"I think you publish a quality product at TNI, but it appeals to such a narrow group. Lump in your circulation with that of Washington Quarterly, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Orbis--all those journals--and combined you still wouldn't make the top 100 list. Even the "influential" weeklies like New Republic, Weekly Standard, etc. have a tenth of the circulation of a magazine like Jet, Food and Wine or Marie Claire--and those aren't exactly mass appeal magazines. You have to convince foundations to underwrite you as a public service because the free market won't sustain your existence.

"I've heard all of the arguments about why the journals and think-tanks and blogs matter--venues for sharing thoughts, space for testing ideas, place for policymakers to engage with analysts, you exist to educate the public, raise the level of discourse, yada yada yada. Let's get real. I don't think that the president, secretary of state or other administration officials wait for their copy of Foreign Affairs to tell them what policies to undertake.

"You are all engaged in a smoke and mirrors act trying to demonstrate influence and access and relevance.

"You are not creating anything. You are, essentially, living off of your ability to manipulate language, or are just the modern-day equivalents of the Roman augurs coming up with prophecies from reading entrails."

Harsh, direct, blunt. I don't have a reasoned reply ready (in part because we are getting ready to send the spring issue of TNI to the printers) but may post something in the comments.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Principle versus Interest ... Again

Growing domestic opposition to having a UAE firm operate U.S. ports (see this report in the Los Angeles Times, especially in Congress, follows on the 2005 uproar over the Chinese bid for UNOCAL.

This raises real questions about whether the U.S. is prepared to live with the same rules it has encouraged other countries to adopt, a point raised by Maurice R. Greenberg in the Winter 2005/06 issue of TNI:

"What has most concerned me is how the United States, which since the Second World War has championed free trade and open markets as the basis for an international economic order designed to spread prosperity around the globe, is now so quick to adopt protectionist measures as soon as we feel threatened. The way the Unocal bid was negatively characterized in some segments of the American government and the decision of some members of Congress to propose legislation to impose arbitrary sanctions on Chinese goods was not only short-sighted and bad strategy, but also sent a very bad signal to the Chinese that we were not prepared to play by our own rules. One of our longstanding foreign policy objectives vis-a -vis China has been to encourage China to become more comfortable with a rules-based regime in conducting business; the CNOOC debacle certainly did not advance this goal."

I think that every country can make a reasonable national security argument for why certain industries or sectors should remain either in the hands of domestic firms or "reliable" allied ones. So I don't necessarily oppose the stance. But in that case we should be very transparent about how those decisions are made and much more understanding of why other countries may choose to restrict or limit the workings of the free market.

The Debate Goes On ...

My thanks to all of the posters for an interesting discussion on yesterday's column.

If I might "single out" three posters and comments raised ...

David Billington's introduction of the time factor as a determinant is one I hadn't really thought about other than in the context of revolutionary vs. evolutionary change in promoting democracy--and the paradigm presented is quite useful in remembering that foreign policy positions do not exist in "the abstract" but a real world defined by the passage of time.

James Poulos, via Postmodern Conservative, introduces some new "subspecies":

"Unscrupulous neocon"--. The policy type that favors the evangelical spread of freedom and democracy, to the point of manufacturing it under artificial conditions ...

"Ulterior idealist"--. The policy type for which idealism is a vehicle for ulterior motives that place geostrategy or international capital as ends and democracy as means ...

"Unitarian evangelist"--. This type, which is sometimes called "neoliberal" and sometimes "neoconservative," understands global strategy, global capital, and global freedom as a three-in-one trinity that should guide American policy in self-reinforcing ways. ... For the "unitarian evangelist," risks of civil war or backsliding -- that is, temporary policy failure -- are part of the great game, worth taking because the stakes are not only high but catholically so.

Tony Foresta, the "Cynic" and some others raise points about relevance. Does this seemingly endless debate about labels, schools of thought, foreign policy orientations really matter?

Monday, February 20, 2006

There is No Third Way

In recent months, both within the Administration and among intellectual circles, there has been a growing attempt to try and divine a "third way" between realism and neoconservatism. This is an outgrowth of an observation that John Mearsheimer made in the Fall 2005 issue of The National Interest, when he wrote that the Iraq war "has been a strong test" of the competing realist and neoconservative theories about international affairs, leading him to conclude, "It seems clear that Iraq has turned into a debacle for the United States, which is powerful evidence, at least for me, that the realists were right and the neoconservatives were wrong."

Neoconservatives, of course, disagree with Mearsheimer's assertion, and argue that short-term difficulties should not obscure long-term objectives. But one thing that leading neocon thinkers have agreed with Mearsheimer on is that "neoconservatives and realists have two very different theories of international politics." This does not mean that neocons and realists can't have overlapping objectives, or can't agree on policies--indeed, the formation of TNI took place precisely during a period of "alliance" as both neocons and realists viewed the USSR as a major threat to U.S. national interests.

Nor should we fall into the trap of using "straw men" to represent inflexible positions. There is a strong realist case that can be made for democracy promotion; neoconservatives can certainly embrace the prudence of Burke rather than the revolutionary fervor of Trotsky. Henry Nau remains one of the most eloquent proponents of the view that neconservatism and realism are like the ying and yang of the conservatives (ying and yang being my characterization), necessary to balance each other.

But recent critiques of neoconservativism that have appeared generally do not start from a Nau-ian search for balance. Instead, they take one of two forms. The first is the "competence" argument, usually made by Democrats--that is to say, the neoconservatives had it right but the neoconservatives were not the ones to do the job correctly. ("Good plan, bad execution"). Neocons, in this view, were too partisan, too dogmatic, too inflexible. This view seems especially prevalent among those who were insufficiently partisan to be invited into the Bush Administration in the first place.

On a side note, about Senator McCain, on whom many of those who hold this first view seem to pin their hopes: McCain is an independent political figure, with strongly held views and someone who will reach across the aisle to form political alliances to get the job done. To assume, however, that a future McCain Administration would hold open the door for hordes of out of office Democrats to cross the line into top jobs--that seems to me to be a bit far fetched. Every McCain staffer I've met has solid conservative, Republican credentials.

The second critique is that of insufficiency (or perhaps superseded revelation): neoconservatism emerged to correct a defective realism, which remains defective, but neoconservatism's defects require a new approach. First, this line of argument treats both realism and neoconservatism as if they were a set of frozen policy prescriptions rather than ways of thinking about the world. Usually too stock figures like Kissinger are trotted out as shorthand (e.g. Kissinger equals love of dictators and tyrants). But re-reading Kissinger's Washington Post op-ed of May 16, 2005, shows how the man often termed America's "uber-realist" could discuss ways in which the freedom agenda could be advanced.

Second, I am not clear how any of these new "third ways" differ.

Let's take Kissinger's points here:

"No serious realist should claim that power is its own justification. No idealist should imply that power is irrelevant to the spread of ideals. The real issue is to establish a sense of proportion between these two essential elements of policy. Overemphasis of either leads to stagnation or overextension.

"Values are essential for defining objectives; strategy is what implements them by establishing priorities and defining timing."

Realists and neoconservatives differ over that sense of proportion, over how establish priorities, to weight different objectives and how to treat different situations. And within neoconservatism and realism, there are different camps and schools of thought--among realists, for example, there are clear distinctions between the realism of a Mearsheimer and the realism of a Lieven. One wing of the neocon camp is very close to one wing of the realist camp--those who might be seen as prudential neoconservatives and those who might describe themselves as democratic realists.

But my point here is that while people may reject the label neoconservative or realist to describe themselves--and want for political purposes to come up with something different--among the center and center-to-right approaches for American foreign policy, I think that neoconservatism and realism are the main schools. To the further right (and to some extent on the left as well) there is isolationism, to the left various forms of progressive internationalism or transnationalism.

If a new school of foreign policy thought is emerging, then its progenitors need to move beyond changing labels or finding fault with tactical decisions. And this new school should be able to make the case it would have emerged even if the Iraq war had gone according to plan.

Instability in Nigeria

From ABCNews.com:

"Militants holding nine foreign hostages in southern Nigeria said they attacked an oil pipeline Monday and blew up a military vessel in violence that has cut about 20 percent of crude production in Africa's oil giant.

"The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said they attacked a Shell-operated oil-pipeline switching station known as a "manifold" and a navy vessel. "Both were destroyed with explosives," the group said in an e-mail."

Harlan Ullman, in the forthcoming Spring 2006 issue of The National Interest, notes that while most people's attention is still focused on Iraq, we better start focusing more on what happens in Nigeria:

"Of the less visible potential danger spots, Nigeria must rank among the highest on this list. We know that Nigeria has the largest population in Africa, with its 129,000,000 people, half of whom are Muslim; has huge oil reserves (2.3 million BPD, about the same as Iraq on a good day) and natural gas reserves; and is being led by an elderly president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is term-limited. Presidential elections will occur this time next year. The makings for crisis and insurgency are present and intensified by rising tribal and ethnic brutality, huge corruption (including the theft of about $1 billion of crude oil a year called “bunkering”), and the desperation of a population riddled with AIDS and other diseases.

"In January insurgents attacked two oil rigs belonging to Royal Dutch Shell and attacked an Agipa pumping station. Meanwhile, China acquired a majority interest in a Nigerian company, as part of its strategy to secure long-term access to energy. That acquisition followed its decision to withdraw its bid to buy the U.S. energy firm Unocal, following a strong negative reaction from Congress.

"The unknown unknowns are striking. Are Al-Qaeda and other jihadi extremists eying Nigeria as a potential target, given the size of its Muslim population? We have already seen a rise in Islamic militancy. If Nigeria is being actively targeted by jihadists, what is the timetable for action? If an Islamic insurgency—or, for that matter, another civil war—were to break out, to what extent would central Africa be affected? Also, how might oil importing countries, such as the United States, and the world economy be affected if an interruption in the Nigerian flow of oil should send the price sky high?

"Despite the Bush Administration’s best efforts, Congress has restricted financial and military assistance to Nigeria because of its sheltering of Liberia’s former dictator, Charles Taylor, from an arrest warrant filed by Sierra Leone, even though Nigeria took in Taylor in order to aid Liberia in its efforts to recover from years of ruinous civil war. Unfortunately, American public and preventative diplomatic efforts have been minimized. Nigeria is a good bet for a crisis in the not too distant future—an unknown unknown that poses the most profound implications for U.S. and global security, both because of oil and the potential for humanitarian disaster that chaos would create. Should a real Islamic insurgency break out and the flow of oil be cut, gasoline at $5 a gallon or more is not unthinkable. "

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Kosovo Debate Continues

James G. Poulos published this essay in the American Spectator. which builds on my response in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs to Charles Kupchan's Independence for Kosovo from the November/December 2005 edition.

I don't know that our positions are all that far apart. I found it quite refreshing that he noted, "If independence for Kosovo would cause others to assert similar, even if not identical, claims, why would the resulting adjustments create unmanageable instability? ... To the extent that a firm Kosovo decision can force the issue for other international inconsistencies, the West should seize the opportunity to eliminate areas inviting to corruption, smuggling, the sex trade, and terror, by enfolding them into either a neighboring nation or into the legitimate community of independent nations." This is in marked contrast to some who while strongly advocating independence for Kosovo with tremendous vigor argue for holding other states together at all costs. My warnings are that a unilateral Kosovo precedent that we try to argue is so singularly unique so as to have no relevance elsewhere in the world will cause us a great deal of problems. If, in pushing for a final status solution for Kosovo, this allows us to make progress on other frozen conflicts, on a case by case basis, then those possible risks that I outlined can be mitigated.

At the U.S.-Russia Dialogue this past week, the Kosovo question did come up and the Russian participants made it pretty clear that they do not believe Kosovo to be a unique case but part of a larger continuum of frozen conflicts across the greater Black Sea region, and some held up, again, the idea of a general settlement of granting independence or a great deal of autonomy to all such enclaves, not just Kosovo. Even Chechnya, at this point, is envisioned to have a broad degree of autonomy within the Russian Federation. Senior Chinese officials I've spoken to have been more indirect but they have indicated they would not support a solution that would have to be imposed on Serbia and/or would not continue safeguards to prevent a Kosovo precedent from being utilized by others (not only Taiwan, but Sudan and other places).

Thursday, February 16, 2006

U.S.-Russia Dialogue: Eurasia (Post-Soviet Space)

One of the most contentious issues in the dialogue was over "Russia's neighborhood" (the "post-Soviet space"). The U.S. remains suspicious that the Russians do not really consider the Eurasian states to be fully independent. The Russians are angry at what they see as unjustified U.S. interference in their bilateral relations with their neighbors.

It is clear that there is no accepted thinking about the "proper" role for Russia to play in the Eurasian space—and the extent to which Russia’s economic and political dominance gives it the right to chart the overall direction of the region.

There is also increased concern that other Eurasian states might seek to draw the United States in to potential conflicts. While we were there, the incident with the detention of three Russian officers in Southern Ossetia by Georgian forces was coming to an end, and there were discussions about whether or not the Georgian government of Mikheil Saakashvili might be tempted to use force or provoke an incident in an attempt to bring the separatist regions of Georgia back under central control--confident in the belief that the United States would fully back Georgia in any possible clash that might result with Russia. My concerns is that there appear to be too little crisis management operations set up in Washington and Moscow to prevent a small incident from blowing up into a major confrontation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

U.S.-Russia Dialogue: Energy Concerns

No matter what the formal topic of discussion was for any particular session, sooner or later someone would bring up the question of energy (oil, gas, nuclear). Given that this had been a major topic of discussion at the G-8 ministerial, it is not surprising that it also dominated our conversations as well.

What exactly is "energy security"? One of the American participants suggested that U.S. investment and technical expertise could be quite valuable in helping Russia get more energy to consumers. One of the Russians shot back that having Russia supply larger quantities of energy at lower prices may indeed be an American priority, but it isn't automatically a Russian one--that Russia should be in no hury to deplete its energy reserves, particularly, as another participant pointed out, the ongoing recovery of the Russian economy has meant surging domestic demand.

Another Russian participant noted that, effectively, there are two major energy "blocs" in the world--OPEC and Eurasia (my formulation of his concept). OPEC is less reliable for the U.S.; continued problems with Iraq, a clash with Iran, hostile populations in other OPEC states reduces OPEC's reliability. Russia, on the other hand, could become a more reliable partner to the U.S., but others took that to mean that the U.S. should watch out and ensure it doesn't alienate both "energy blocs" at the same time.

Is the Conoco-Phillips model the guiding one for American involvement in the Russian energy sector--a minority stake with the Russian major calling most of the shots? What role should Russian independent firms play in the development of the country's energy sector--and should American firms be allowed to work with those private firms, or only with state-dominated or Kremlin-friendly majors? Should Russia take the lead in formulating a global system for nuclear fuel with appropriate safeguards so that more states can take advantage of nuclear energy for power generation but not be able to develop a weapons program? Some of the issues that were discussed.

Yeltsin Model for Abbas and Yushchenko?

During one of the breaks in the sessions, an interesting discussion on the sidelines:

Hamas has taken control of the Palestinian parliament and will form the new government; the likely results of the parliamentary elections in Ukraine will be a coalition between Yanukovych, Litvyn (the Rada's speaker) and the Communists, which will enable them to have a majority. In both cases, a more pro-Western/pro-American chief executive will be isolated and have diminished authority.

The Russian I was speaking to noted this was the situation that faced Boris Yeltsin after the 1993 elections--and that the U.S. advice to Yeltsin was to rule by decree, bypass the legislature and in essence short-change the democratic process and that this was justified as "destroying democracy to save it." He wondered whether Washington might now be tempted in both the Palestinian and Ukrainian cases to encourage presidents to try and consolidate power and marginalize the legislatures. This might be possible in the PA, which already has a stronger executive, but in Ukraine's case it would require Yushchenko to nullify the constitutional changes that helped to bring him to power in the first place. (And he also noted this is what has been happening in Georgia since the Rose Revolution, where you now have a super-presidency and where checks and balances have really eroded.)

It is an interesting question. Strategically speaking, it might work in the short term but carries real long-term risks. And it would require the United States to essentially abandon its own rhetoric about democracy.

Monday, February 13, 2006

First Thoughts on the U.S.-Russia Dialogue

Greetings from Moscow. I'll post more extensively later on, but I wanted to give my first impressions of the meetings.

One of the things that is very apparent is the high degree of mistrust between both sides as to the other's motives, goals and intentions. From the American side, concern about Russia's intentions in the "former Soviet space" or "Russia's neighborhood" and its stewardship of its energy resources (a point much discussed at the G-8 Finance Ministers' meeting which overlapped with our sessions). From the Russian side, deep suspicion about whether America is really committed to democracy or simply expanding its influence, not only in Eurasia but around the world (and holding the forthcoming Ukrainian elections as a test case, if, as expected, former Prime Minister Yanukovych and his allies win a majority of seats in the Rada and take over the government). Another is about whether the U.S. is prepared to see its policies through in the Greater Middle East--one Russian participant said the U.S. is in the process of creating a belt of failed states from Turkey to India which will directly and negatively impact on Russian national security.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What Now for U.S. Middle East policy?

This question was at the heart of the second roundtable discussion yesterday, in what I hope will be an ongoing series, co-sponsored by The National Interest and the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

We had two "faciliators" for discussion yesterday, Alexis Debat, terrorism consultant for ABC News and a contributing editor of TNI, and Leon Hadar of the Cato Institute, using the recent victory of Hamas at the polls as a starting point.

Since I'm preparing to leave for Moscow to take part in the U.S.-Russia Dialogue, let me just make the following observation: to the extent that U.S. policy toward the Middle East has three overarching objectives--ensuring a steady flow of oil to world markets, preventing extremism from destabilizing the region and spilling over to other parts of the world, and maintaining the U.S.-Israel connection--it is not clear whether either strategy--finding friendly dictators or encouraging democracy--works to advance those interests. Friendly dictators might be able to keep violence under control, to hold down extremists and are prepared to make pragmatic deals but their regimes can become extremely brittle and subject to overthrow; free elections, however, are going to reflect the "will of the people" and to the extent that people will continue to define their interests in opposition to perceived U.S. hegemony and are not prepared to recognize Israel, then democracy doesn't advance our agenda either. I don't mean to pick on Marc Grossman, and in all fairness to him, in his 2003 testimony he expressed this as a hope and not as a certainty, but the idea that a post-Saddam Iraq reconfigured as a democracy might recognize Israel as one of its first acts fell into the trap of assuming that the advance of democratization moves hand in hand with the extension of key U.S. interests.

What the discussion pointed to was the extent to which the dictators or democrats choice does force the United States to have to prioritize its interests--and also that the democrats who emerge on the ground may not be the people we wanted to deal with--but we may have to be prepared for engagement none the less.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

King Abdullah, Please Clarify

In response to the growing fracas over the Danish cartoons, King Abdullah II of Jordan made this comment today during his meeting with President Bush:

“With all respect to press freedoms, obviously anything that vilifies the Prophet Muhammad ... or attacks Muslim sensibilities, I believe, needs to be condemned.”

What precisely does this mean?

I've always been an admirer of the religious tolerance of the Mongol Empire, its ability to allow different religions to propagate their claims and to be present in the "public square" without requiring any faith to compromise its core beliefs or trying to promote a common understanding that "we all believe the same thing." The "Great Yasa" of Genghis Khan enjoined Mongol khans to respect and honor the traditions, facilities, objects and personnel of all religions, to protect all religions not only from the state but from their rivals, and extended tax privileges that anticipated the United States by several centuries.

But the Mongols also allowed missionaries of different faiths to challenge and debate the propositions and beliefs of others.

So my question to King Abdullah would be, does questioning the credentials or experiences of the prophet, not in an offensive or blasphemous manner, but in a reasoned, respectful way, amount to vilification of the prophet or an attack on Muslim sensibilities? A biography of Muhammad that wasn't hagiography? What about the suggestion, found in some medieval Christian literature, that Muhammad's revelation should be understood not as a new religion but as a Christian heresy (pace St. John of Damascus)? Or modern re-evaluations of his experiences which would try to explore the psychological make-up of Muhammad? Or efforts to establish the historicity of Muhammad?

I raise the question because in the United States we see an ongoing debate over the role, motives and mission of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Mormons). To members of the LDS Church, Smith is a prophet called by God, the Book of Mormon is authentic, Smith had the highest motives. There is also a long historical tradition which sees Smith as a false prophet, a fraud, that the Book of Mormon was cribbed from the King James Version of the Bible, Masonic texts and popular literature of the time, that Smith used his position to satisfy his material wants. We've seen, not only in Utah and Arizona but all over the U.S., debates about how to discuss Mormonism, whether one can be simultaneously respectful of LDS claims about Smith while expressing skepticism.

To cite just a few examples, I enclose links here to the debate over the Smithsonian Institution's letter dealing with questions arising out of the Book of Mormon, with a Mormon response and further commentary, as well as a connected link that is the Smithsonian Institution's response to questions about Noah's Ark. Essentially the Smithsonian is saying it cannot validate religious claims and that, in the case of the Book of Mormon, the evidence points against the book's claims. Is this an attack on Mormon sensibilities by a public institution of the U.S. government?

I raise this point because King Abdullah's criteria is vague and could easily be interpreted to mean that entire subjects and questions are to be put off limits for discussion and debate.

Western Sahara and Somaliland

This report caught my eye in today's Washington Times, about Morocco's proposal to give autonomy to the Western Sahara.

What is interesting is this attempt to reconcile self-determination with territorial integrity. Whether it will work remains to be seen. Similar proposals were made for Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia without much apparent success. It bears watching.

Also of interest for those who follow these questions of the separatist movements are the comments of the ICG's Horn of Africa program director Matt Bryden, who argues for moving ahead with recognition of Somaliland as a separate state from a larger and dysfunctional Somalia (see the report from the African News Dimension) and that its claims are better than those of Eritrea and Western Sahara. Also of interest in that report is the contention that recognition of a new state should be a collective decision of the regional organization (in this case the African Union). Another situation to keep under observation.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Telhami on Impact of Hamas Victory

Shibley Telhami was speaking today at The Nixon Center on the impact of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Authority, a subject we have been following here at The Washington Realist.

Telhami outlined some of the dilemmas we now face.

On the one hand, this is a major development--he termed it a "revolution"--for the first time in the Arab world, you have had a fully free election where an incumbent government steps down--this is not simply the transfer of a few seats in parliament to give the appearance of change. It is, indeed, an overthrow of the old regime, the former ruling party, at the ballot box.

But now not only the Palestinians but the entire Arab and larger Muslim worlds are looking to see how the United States can relate to an Islamist government. Is the United States, once again, going to backtrack on its commitment to democracy because it is not satisfied with the outcome?

Hamas' victory also demonstrates that Islamists do have at least a good portion of the "street" behind them--that they can win elections. The recent riots and protests over the Danish cartoons shows the mobilizing power of the Islamist politicians and how existing governments have not been able to tap down the anger, but instead have tried to co-opt it.

If Hamas succeeds in buidling an effective administration, it also creates problems for U.S. allies like Jordan and Egypt which have used authoritarian methods to contain and control the Islamist movements.

How will Hamas govern? No one should have been surprised that Hamas had such support--but it was not entirely expected that Hamas would end up dominating the government. Even Hamas leaders were expecting to have "influence"--perhaps gain control of several ministries that would enhance their social welfare infrastructure, be in a position to act as critics and gadflies--but the expectation was that Fatah would continue to handle the international portfolios. Now that Fatah has made it clear it plans to be in opposition and not to enter any sort of coalition, Hamas will have to handle these matters.

Will Hamas govern as a nationalist or a religious movement? It is the "Islamic Resistance Movement" but its focus has been limited to the Palestinians--Hamas has not sent fighters to Afghanistan or Chechnya or Bosnia. It has been a nationalist movement but its legitimacy has rested on religious grounds. Over time, the PLO could intellectually accept the idea that it would have to accept the existence of Israel in order to get a Palestinian state, on pragmatic and nationalist grounds; could Hamas undergo a similar evolution? And while Israel might be able to live short-term with Hamas in power, over the long term if there is no basis for negotiation and compromise, the situation will worsen.

What about using sanctions to change Hamas ideology and behavior? In the short term, sanctions are likely to harm the poltiical forces most likely to be amenable to the U.S. position--since the police and administration are still largely staffed by Fatah members. Sanctions are more likely to boost Hamas' popularity and Hamas might be able to capitalize on them by increasing its fund-raising among wealthy individuals and non-governmental entities in the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, particularly in the Gulf.

Useful points to ponder. I find it interesting that some of the commentary on my recent testimony before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom highlighted my comment that I didn't have neat policy solutions to trot out and that we were dealing with difficult issues. I think the same applies here.

Monday, February 06, 2006

New York Times Finally Reports What TNI Had Half a Year Ago ...

The New York Times is carrying a report on concerns about the diversion of Iraqi oil income to support the insurgency.

This was covered in-depth in "The Business of Insurgency" that appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of the magazine, which opens:

"Media attention on the insurgency in Iraq has tended to focus on dramatic incidents or horrific acts of violence. At the same time, policymakers in the United States and other coalition countries have often viewed the insurgency in largely political terms. Yet, particularly worrisome is the convergence of large segments of the Iraqi insurgency with elements of organized crime. Unfortunately, improved anti-terrorism effectiveness has resulted in increased criminal activity by several significant groups within the insurgency. So while the political and military aspects of the insurgency have received most of the world's attention, the insurgency's subtle shift toward increased reliance on criminal activity has implications that are just as important for the Iraqi economy. ..."

Friday, February 03, 2006

Russia, Human Rights and U.S. Policy

For those interested, here is a transcript of the roundtable hearing sponsored by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on the human rights situation in Russia and the U.S. response.

Democracy and Religion: Hamas Announcement

I am intrigued by the Hamas announcement that it plans to apply Islamic law as the "basis" for how it will administer the Palestinian Authority, but that "people would not be forced to comply with sharia." (See the report of Ecumenical News International ) A Palestinian priest expresses cautious optimism that Hamas leaders, as Palestinians, are better educated than Islamists who have taken power in other parts of the Middle East and that this may lead to a certain degree of pragmatism and moderation.

I am always concerned about these vague formulations--we've already seen them in Iraq and Afghanistan--about Islamic law being a "basis" or "source" for legislation. Not because I don't think a nation needs to look to its own culture and values--but because these vague formulations seem deliberately tailored to be two-faced; to say to the West and secularists that there will be "room" for non-religious understandings of law and society but to also say to harder-line supporters that "we really mean Islamic law will be the only basis" for how society is structured.

These formulations are problematic because they ignore the tension and provide no means of resolution; further, as Amitai Etzioni points out in an article for the forthcoming spring 2006 issue of The National Interest, they never specify what version or interpretation of Islamic law. He notes that there is a major difference between a moderate interpretation and an extremist one--and that such differences should be openly stated.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

State of the Union questions

Every blog under the sun is commenting on the president's State of the Union address ... but I want to focus my attention on the following questions.

First, the figure of "122" democracies in the world. How arrived at? Who determines? Freedom House designates 122 countries as democracies, but, interestingly enough, only 89 as "free".

The number drops dramatically, however, if Robert Dahl's twenty-year rule for calling a country a "mature polyarchy" is applied--meaning that the institutions and practices of democracy have become so ingrained that it takes a major disaster to upset the status quo. And one test is peaceful succession of power via elections. By this criteria, the Dahlian clock for Georgia starts in 2004, since both of Georgia's first two post-Soviet presidents did not serve out their terms but were overthrown.

And later on in his speech, he acknowledged, "Elections are vital, but they are only the beginning. Raising up a democracy requires the rule of law, protection of minorities and strong, accountable institutions that last longer than a single vote."

The second question has to do with whether the president recognizes the democracy paradox. He addressed the Iranian people thus: "We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran." The implication is that free and fair elections will bring a government to power in Iran that will align itself with the United States.

We still have no recognition that people might choose their own future that would bring them into conflict with the aims and interests of the United States. Let's face facts: Palestinians voted for Hamas with full knowledge of what the Hamas charter says and that its goal is the destruction of Israel. "Now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism and work for lasting peace." That sounds about as likely as the United States taking Osama bin Laden up on his offer to embrace his version of Islam and enact sharia law.

Hamas might be forced to recognize Israel because it has no choice, because it is defeated, or because it makes a pragmatic decision to do so--but I don't think that the president's appeal will have much weight.

Finally, the president took a page out of Jim Schlesinger's article in the Winter 2005/06 issue of The National Interest and said the "America is addicted to oil." We already have a lively discussion on the previous thread dealing with "Domenici's Challenge" and my thanks to all posters, including David Billington and Greg Priddy, for their comments and for providing facts. I don't know whether the tradeoffs were fully elaborated or whether the American people have had a stark enough vision of the threat (Schlesinger uses the metaphor of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD).

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