Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cold War Lite?

It is safe to say that U.S.-Russia relations are at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. The newest salvos in the op-ed pages confirms this.

But are we moving beyond legitimate criticisms of what's not going right in Russia in favor of ramping up Cold War style polemics?

Nicolai Petro's piece in the Asia Times once again highlights double standards in Western media coverage; he opens his essay by noting:

Among Russian President Vladimir Putin's many sins, surely the most outrageous is that he dares to compare Russia to the West. He has clearly forgotten Russia's proper role in our Narrative of Western Civilization: to serve as a poignant example of all the sins that we never commit. Putin has the temerity to suggest that Russia and the West face similar problems, and the gall to think that the West could even learn a thing or two from Russia.

In today's National Interest online, Nezavisimaya Gazeta's Andrey Terekhov takes a close look at Anders Aslunds piece in the Weekly Standard and sees some of the same type of selective fact-gathering that characterized our approach to intelligence assessments of pre-war Iraq:

You can have your own views, but you cannot have your own facts. In his October 23 essay in The Weekly Standard, “Putin Gets Away with Murder. It's time to confront the Russian leader”, the distinguished Russia expert Anders Aslund has yielded to the temptation of playing hard and fast with evidence. I’m not going to argue that Aslund’s perspective on today’s Russia is completely mistaken, nor do I want to justify President Putin’s vision for Russia. My goal is rectify the half-truths in the essay.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Carnegie Council, Quiet Car, and K Street

The audio file of my presentation at the Carnegie Council last Thursday and presentation with Devin Stewart moderating("North Korea's Nuclear Detonation") is now available. One point I mentioned in the talk is that it is no longer possible to neatly and deftly separate and compartmentalize issues. Dealing with North Korea's nuclear program interconnects with trade policy in China and Iran's nuclear program and Russia's relationship with Georgia and Japan's greater military profile and the U.S.-India strategic dialogue.

Two small incidents demonstrate, to me, some of the difficulties we face in foreign policy.

The first was on the way to New York. Amtrak has a "quiet car" where cell phone conversations are forbidden. Over time, they've been forced to take more drastic measures to try to ensure that the car stays quiet--they now have conductors constantly reminding passengers ("this is the quiet car") and signs posted and hanging throughout the car. But in the end the quiet car stays quiet only if passengers self-police themselves. At Baltimore, a gentlemen entered the car. Cell phone rang. Fine, there's a "grace" that most of us extend, you forget to turn it off or put the device in quiet mode. But after two more successive phone calls came in, I turned around, and said simply, this is the quiet car.

Now the section of the car was filled with people most of whom were displaying signs of growing irritation, but I was the one who took the risk that the person might get belligerent or try to make the rest of my train ride unpleasant. Luckily nothing happened, and the car returned to its quiet mode.

Two points. First, that America is eroding the basis of the liberal order which rests upon the notion that limited government is sustainable if the citizenry is prepared to self-regulate its behavior. The quiet car will not become economical for Amtrak if it needs to have a conductor on constant cell phone patrol or if the strapped line has to install cell phone jammers to ensure that no one in the car can receive or send on their units. There is no ignorance at work here--people know quite well which car is the quiet car. If we move to a society that unless something is expressly against the law it is allowable, you end up with a much more intrusive government.

Second, people (and states) are prepared to let determined rule breakers slide in order to minimize confrontation. Since I was going to New York to talk about North Korea and Iran, it seemed fitting.

The second observation: despite having signal lights, they now have to deploy two traffic police at K and 17th Sts NW to direct traffic because drivers will not obey the law about not blocking intersections and yielding to pedestrians. So the traffic light, which a century ago was touted as a labor-saving and cost-saving device is now irrelevant since we need two human police officers to direct traffic because drivers will not allow their behavior to be regulated by the light.

Traffic as metaphor for foreign policy?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Unpleasant Options on North Korea

Just finished a talk on where we go vis-a-vis North Korea after the nuclear test and Secretary Rice's Asian tour at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York.

New Yorkers seem to have a better grasp of the concept of setting priorities and balancing costs and benefits than Washington (after all, we run deficits all the time). But seriously, we are approaching a juncture that with North Korea and Iran we will either have to bargain with other major powers for a shared outcome--which may be far short of our optimal position--or we will have to shoulder larger burdens to do things largely unilaterally or with only a few other major partners.

I'm really getting tired of DC rhetoric from both right and left about "low cost solutions." There aren't any. We have to start talking about different types of costs.

But then again, as I reminded the audience, I'm not a politician. ("I promise you victory, I promise you good times!")

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

One response to "Don't Hold Your Breath"

The IHT printed a response to my op-ed, which I reproduce here:

Nikolas Gvosdev (''In foreign policy, don't hold your breath,'' Views, Oct. 19) argues that despite campaign rhetoric to the contrary, there is little difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. But Gvosdev uses a sleight of hand to make his case.

Regarding Iraq, it's safe to say that no serious Democratic candidate would have rushed to war. Arguments over failed intelligence have obscured an important policy difference. Neoconservatives were advocating war with Iraq even before Bush won the presidency in 2000 and were public about their distrust of UN inspectors. But despite neocon suspicions, we now know that the inspection regime effectively ended Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons programs. Democrats would have been more likely to pursue the sort of multilateral arrangements that we now know were effective.

Even before Sept. 11, the White House aggravated our allies by refusing to cooperate on issues important to them. It walked away from the Kyoto environmental treaty. It later asserted a first-strike option with tactical nuclear weapons. These and other examples alienated other nations.

So Gvosdev is right that Democrats can't snap their fingers and induce other nations to cooperate with us. To do so would be impossible in the current climate. But a greater emphasis on soft power and multilaterism consistently applied over time would yield substantially different results.

Michael Phelps--San Pedro, California

My response would be: the past is done. Whether Democrats would have gone to war or not is not relevant for how we get out of Iraq--and I think misses the point about Democrat "enabling" of the war (as I like to put it, Clinton set the table, Bush sat down for dinner--even if Gore might not have done so). All the elements were in place after 1998.

He's right that a "greater emphasis on soft power and multilaterism consistently applied over time would yield substantially different results"--except the mainstream of the Democratic foreign policy establishment, while talking a better game, isn't willing to pay the costs that true multilateralism will entail. Asking the French more nicely is not the issue; it is what the U.S. is prepared to do to accommodate the concerns and interests of other major powers.

Part of the problem as well is that some of the leading Democratic spokesmen for this type of multilateralism are NOT the ones who would end up occupying the key offices in a future Democratic administration.

But I thank him for his response and contribution to this ongoing debate.

TNI, Liberal Organ?

Do the labels "conservative" and "liberal" mean anything anymore? I've noticed that some in the blogosphere have decided to put TNI in the "liberal" camp when they read something that criticizes the Administration or isn't AEI-compliant.

I published yesterday in National Interest online a short essay ("Original Intent") on how the first issue of the magazine continues to serve as our "editorial lodestone." In it, I noted:

Re-reading the first three items that appear in the premiere issue shows to what extent the magazine throughout the years has remained loyal to its founding principles.

“A Note on The National Interest” proclaimed that the magazine would “be characterized as conservative. And so it is, though only in the sense that, these days, the assumptions from which it proceeds are more congenial to conservatives than to anyone else.” (emphasis mine).

One of those assumptions—“that the Soviet Union constitutes the single greatest threat to America’s interests”—was rendered moot six years later. Conservatives and moderates today continue to debate whether there has been a replacement (Islamic radicalism? China? Iran?). This is one of the areas where the magazine stays loyal to its founding injunction that the “foreign policy of this country can only benefit from such a sustained and open exchange, however sharp the disagreements that may emerge.”

But the other two remain very valid—that “the primary and overriding purpose of American foreign policy must be to defend and advance the national interests of the United States” and “for better or for worse, international politics remains essentially power politics.”

The second item—the first signed article to appear in TNI—was Irving Kristol’s “Foreign Policy in an Age of Ideology”—in which he warned that the “real trouble with American liberal-internationalism is not that it is hypocritical and disingenuous but, on the contrary, that it is naïve and utopian.” Two pages later, he identifies the principal task of U.S. foreign policy at that time as to defeat the Soviet Union’s messianic ideology “not so that the world can be made ‘safe for democracy’ but so that the nations of the world can have the opportunity to realize whatever potential for popular government and economic prosperity they may possess, or come to possess.”

Finally, the third item in the table of contents was Robert Tucker’s “Isolation and Intervention.” Tucker, one of the founding editors (who is now an editor emeritus), questioned—in 1985!—whether promoting freedom ought to be the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. “The issue,” he wrote, “is not the value of freedom. Instead, it is what power can accomplish in spreading freedom. It is also whether universalizing freedom is a proper interest of foreign policy. … Conservatives, despite their deep attachment to liberty, should be the first to recognize this.”

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Chinese Model for Russia?

My colleague Paul Saunders, in the Moscow Times, contrasts the Chinese and Russian approaches to using economic power to win friends and influence neighbors.

An excerpt:

No less interesting are the differences between China's and Russia's approaches to converting economic might into political weight. China's economy reached the size of the present-day Russian economy about 16 or 17 years ago, roughly at the time of the Tiananmen Square tragedy. China did not, however, suddenly begin to express its frustration at hundreds of years of perceived abuses by Western imperial powers or to push around its neighbors. On the contrary, over the last 15 years, Beijing has generally been quite moderate in its own behavior, with a view to promoting the regional and global stability necessary to encourage further economic growth. Today China sometimes appears to bend over backwards to reassure its neighbors and others of its benign intentions. And it seems to have worked.

In Moscow, by contrast, a few short years of energy wealth have led to a growing sense of foreign policy entitlement not unlike the sense of economic entitlement that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The interesting question is whether it is based on similarly flawed assumptions that will lead to a new and different kind of disappointment and disillusionment.

A priceless line later on, in addressing the sentiment expressed by some Russian officials that energy wealth gives Russia the ability to "go it alone"-- Russia was unfairly disparaged in the 1990s as "Upper Volta with missiles," but few would view "North Korea with oil" as progress.

More on "A Dose of Realism"

The UK and Ireland plan to restrict migration from Bulgaria and Romania once these two Balkan countries join the EU in 2007.

On top of that:

``We will expect employers to look exclusively to workers from EU nations to meet any low-skilled labor shortages within the U.K.,'' Home Secretary John Reid said in a statement. ``From the first of January 2007 we will be phasing out all low-skilled migration schemes for workers outside the EU.''

This of course would affect post-Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia.

I'm tired of all the pundits here who keep carping about "integration" of post-Soviet states with the West but want someone else to pay the bills.

So, if Georgian guest workers are being deported from Russia, and the EU doesn't want them--we are now at "put up or shut up" time for the U.S. Still waiting to hear a single member of Congress endorse the idea I first put forward more than 3 years ago--for a post-Soviet guest worker/visa program. Won't be holding my breath.

A "Dose of Realism"

The Fall 2006 issue of the Journal of International Security Affairs is out, with my response essay "A Dose of Realism on Russia."

Time for the critics of the realists to step up to the plate. You say you can balance American values and interests. Show me how. It's not an article of faith you get to put forward as a response to us realists who "hate freedom." It just doesn't relate to Russia. How we deal with Pakistan and China are just as affected.

Distinguishing between short-term preferences and long-term trends. Foreign policy needs to be about the latter, not focused on two-year increments and the vissitudes of the electoral calendar.

Fallout from the Rice Trip

Today’s editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun politely calls Secretary of State Rice’s trip to Asia “unsuccessful.” Apparently they wished to avoid using the “f” word—failure.

But, let’s be honest, that is what it is. As the editorial continues:

“The five countries [China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States] have been unanimously adamant in objecting to North Korea’s nuclear test and its possession of nuclear weapons. However, their inability to implement forceful and specific actions against Pyongyang means they have failed to send a strong message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.”

Of course, the Japanese paper is a bit optimistic when it says, "We believe the five nations should implement necessary sanctions ... as swiftly as possible. This should be complemented by an effort to establish cooperative relations among them." (Perhaps shades of the "North East Asia Regional Forum" proposal?)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rice's Trip; More on "Lack of an Alternative"

I had the chance to comment on the Secretary of State's "North Korea tour" on the BBC's Newshour yesterday. It says a great deal that North Korea's detonation of a nuclear device has not automatically caused a grand coalition of the great powers to insist on immediate and verifiable de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

I'm not privy to the Secretary's deliberations. I hope that she did not engage in the usual "a threat to us is an equal threat to you" rhetoric in Beijing and Moscow (with regard to North Korea and Iran). This is time for what George W. Bush might call a "humble" moment. You say to China--we know that North Korea doesn't threaten you, plan to use a nuclear weapon against you or transfer it to Taiwan or Uighur separatists. But you have a great deal invested in the economic prosperity of the United States and in the maintenance of the international trading system--and so we ask you to take this threat to our security seriously.

To continue the thread of earlier discussions, I listened to a Democratic candidate yesterday outline her "alternative vision" for Iraq: fire Donald Rumsfeld, spend more money on the troops, and withdraw from Iraq after benchmarks have been met by the Iraqi government. Firing Rumsfeld is a personnel decision, spending funds is a budgetary one. Neither represents a radically new direction. And the last one leaves unanswered what is the critical question. What happens if the Iraqis can't or won't measure up? Stay the course? Or leave?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

No, Change Really Isn't On the Way

There was a very strong response to my article in yesterday's International Herald Tribune, and so I've "extended my remarks" in today's National Interest online:

A Real Alternative?

Scarcely was the ink dry on my essay that appeared in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune (“In foreign policy, don’t hold your breath") and I started to receive feedback. (Some of the comments are posted on my blog). Most disagreed with the premise of the article (and which I discuss at greater length in a longer essay that will appear in the forthcoming November/December issue of The National Interest)—that, in this midterm election season, the Democrats have not presented a real alternative for U.S. foreign policy.

Let me dispense with two of the standard responses I have received. The first is to protest that Democrats (and for that matter, some Republicans) have been very critical of the way the Bush Administration has conducted foreign policy. They point to statements assailing the current team for not assembling a more coherent international coalition to pressure Iran; for “coddling” Vladimir Putin and demurring from strongly pressuring Beijing on a whole host of economic and human rights issues, and so on. But all of these criticisms do not a coherent policy alternative make.

The second is simply to parrot the campaign rhetoric of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and others (“President Bush’s failed foreign policies aren’t getting the job done. America is ready for a new direction that includes policies that are both tough and smart.”) Of course, no one seems to think it necessary to actually spell out the details of this “new direction” that is going to be both “tough and smart.”

Some pointed out that Democratic politicians have in fact proposed quite detailed alternatives to current policy, and even pointed out that the last issue of The National Interest featured Senator Joe Biden’s (D-DE) suggestion “to establish three largely autonomous regions with a strong—but limited—central government in Baghdad” (“Breathing Room,” The National Interest, September/October 2006). Others cite as an example the stance on Iraq taken by Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania.

I concede that some individuals are offering different approaches; the question is whether or not these proposals have any broad base of support beyond the specific individual concerned. Whether the Democrats retake the House or Senate has no impact on whether Biden’s proposal is more or less likely to become U.S. policy. Murtha’s proposed 2005 joint resolution calling for withdrawal from Iraq did end up with 106 co-sponsors, but enough House Democrats oppose it so that even if control of that chamber shifts, there would be no major change in policy.

Another objection is to raise the point that, had Al Gore been president instead of George W. Bush, the United States would never have gone to war in Iraq in the first place—and citing this as proof that Democrats ipso facto have a different set of policies on foreign policy. First, we can’t be absolutely sure of that. All of the leading Democratic presidential contenders for the 2008 nomination from the Senate voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing the president to take military action; unless they didn’t read the text too carefully, they accepted all the premises (Iraq having an active WMD program, Iraq’s links to terrorism, and so on); many of them voted for the initial 1998 resolution endorsing “regime change” in Iraq. But more importantly, that point is irrelevant today. Unless someone is proposing constructing a time machine to go back to 2002, policy has to be based on current 2006 realities. Repudiating a stance you took four years ago doesn’t provide guidance for how you plan to deal with the situation today.

One reason that I don’t have much confidence in the proposition that a change in the ruling party leads to major reorientations of U.S. foreign policy is that I haven’t seen or heard leading Democrats talking about hard choices or setting priorities in a way that might produce different outcomes.

Take North Korea or Iran. Democrats fault the current administration for not doing enough to build an effective multilateral coalition to dissuade Tehran and Pyongyang from pursuing a nuclear program. But many Democrats take the same approach the current Republican administration does—that cooperation on this issue should be unconnected to any other. So Democrats seems to think that gaining Russian support is unrelated to U.S. interest in expanding NATO to encompass Georgia or proposals for greater restrictions on trade between the U.S. and China have no impact on closer Sino-American cooperation in the security sphere.

Or let’s look at energy independence. As former national security advisor, Robert McFarlane, has noted, Russia’s vast reserves of natural gas would be a key component in any strategy of weaning the United States from dependence on Middle Eastern sources of supply and to give us the two decades of breathing room needed to shift to real energy alternatives. Have Democrats shown a willingness to “hold their noses” and deal with Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a “lesser evil” in pursuit of energy independence? Not really.

In the forthcoming issue of the magazine, I rhetorically ask the following questions about Iran:

“What about the issue identified as the single greatest challenge to the United States—Iran? It is no act of political courage to signal one’s support for diplomatic action and to hope that a process can be undertaken with the support of the Europeans, the Russians and Chinese. And there is no cost in declaring, as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) has done: ‘We cannot and should not—must not—permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons.’

“It is what follows that needs to be discussed—and has not been. If Iran develops the infrastructure from which it might be able to construct a nuclear bomb—but does not actually assemble a deliverable warhead (in other words, achieves the Indian position of 1974 but not 1998)—what would our response be? If negotiations fail—and a gambler would bet they are—is the correct approach an Eisenhower-style containment approach or a MacArthuresque pre-emptive military strike? What incentives should we be prepared to offer Russia and China in order to gain their full cooperation for meaningful pressure against Tehran? Would we offer Beijing, for example, any sort of compensation for the disruption of energy supplies from Iran in return for their support? Does ‘must not permit’ mean acting unilaterally if much of the rest of the world decides that Iran is no different than Israel, Pakistan or India—a regretful development, but not the apocalypse?”

The Weekly Standard and the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party offer clear answers to these questions and others on foreign policy issues of the day. Have the Democrats—not speaking as isolated individuals but as a party—done so?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Change is NOT On Its Way

My thoughts, in today's International Herald Tribune, as to why no great midterm course corrections are in store should the Democrats take one or both of the houses of Congress ...

An excerpt here:


Sure, the results will determine who gets to call hearings, fill staff positions, oversee budgets, influence presidential appointments and claim a greater share of the attention of the media and lobbyists.

And yes, Democrats have been quite vocal in criticizing how the Bush administration has carried out foreign policy, particularly with regard to Iraq.

But when the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, says, "The president's freedom agenda has been replaced by the era of incompetence," he doesn't enlighten us as to whether the freedom agenda itself is flawed as a foreign-policy strategy, or whether it is a good and sound approach that has just been poorly executed by the Republicans.
That's a major difference - with major implications for the direction of U.S. policy - and it is not being discussed.

Observe the pre-election campaign. Are politicians having a serious conversation about the costs and benefits of expanding NATO further to the east? About how to deal with a resurgent Russia if we can no longer count on its weakened, debilitated condition of the 1990s to ensure reluctant compliance with U.S. directives? About the way China is reshaping the landscape of East Asia and is increasingly playing a more activist role around the globe? About the desirability of "spreading freedom" in the Middle East?

Are Democrats providing substantially different answers than those given by the Bush team? No, they aren't. Simply compare the statements of Senator Hillary Clinton with those of Senator John McCain and you will see a nearly identical approach to world affairs.

Even with regard to Iraq, there is less debate than meets the eye. With the exception of the few calling for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal, most Democratic proposals seem like kinder, gentler versions of what the president is advocating.
I am not sure precisely how a phased, conditional withdrawal (the consensus Democratic position) differs from President George W. Bush's criteria that "when Iraqis stand up, we stand down."


The full text of In foreign policy, don't hold your breath is available in today's IHT.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wrong Tense

My thanks to those who publicly and privately gave comments on my recent piece in the Boston Globe. Below is my "extension of remarks" which appeared in today's National Interest online.

Wrong Tense
by Nikolas K. Gvosdev
October 17, 2006

Several weeks ago, I co-authored (with Ray Takeyh) a short op-ed, “The Myths and Realities of Iraq” (The Boston Globe, September 29, 2006,) that said “it is time to transcend the prevailing myths and consider the ramifications of an American departure from Iraq.”

Since the piece appeared, we have been criticized by the usual suspects as being advocates for “cutting and running” or misguided, misinformed policy wonks who will “hand the terrorists a great victory.” One small problem with most of this commentary: it gets the tense of events wrong. Our critics assume that bad things will happen in the wake of a U.S. redeployment and ultimate departure—when it is clear that they have already occurred.

Iraq is now a haven for terrorists, while the United States is still present. It is the only place in the world where prospective jihadists can engage in live-fire exercises with the U.S. military and hone their skills in battle. It is not accidental that techniques pioneered in Iraq—such as the use of IEDs—have been exported to other battlefields such as Afghanistan. There seems to be a fundamental misconception—that there is only a finite number of potential terrorists in the world and the use of Iraq as “bait” will lure this group for destruction at the hands of the United States and its coalition allies. Rather, as my colleague Alexis Debat has been documenting, for the last several years, there has been a steady flow of recruits to Iraq. Sometimes we are lucky and kill a major figure; often what has happened is the terrorist version of Darwinism—the less skilled or inept end up being killed (or being used for suicide operations), while the talented survive. What will happen in the next ten years when the cadre of Iraq-tested terror veterans have dispersed to their homes and new theaters of action?

Why a strategy based on containment rather than engagement is more likely to produce experienced terror veterans is beyond me. Iraq’s well-armed (and thanks to the United States well-trained) Shi‘a and Kurdish militias can pacify their regions; let local Sunni leaders and chieftains make whatever arrangements to neutralize the foreign elements in their midst. And if some recruits make it through the net to find havens in parts of Iraq, our objective should be to prevent their egress from the country, not give them a crash course in how to fight the U.S military and fend off U.S. intelligence.

The other objection raised is that a U.S. departure will signal “defeat.” But as we have argued, that narrative is already in place. The United States had three opportunities to credibly declare victory—the day Baghdad fell, the day Saddam Hussein was captured, the day after the first elections were held. We defined victory, however, as successful transformation rather than the overthrow of the previous regime. Our opponents have seized upon our criteria and are prepared to wait us out. Consider Claude Salhani’s analysis in the Summer 2006 issue of The National Interest:

“The insurgents know that America's chronic attention deficit disorder when it comes to foreign affairs will eventually work in their favor. Odds are the American public will get tired of the war much sooner than the insurgents. The improvised explosive devices that are killing on average 1.5 American soldiers every day in Iraq resound in American public opinion and therefore sway U.S. politicians. Despite America's superior firepower and its highly motivated and better-trained military, the insurgents in Iraq and those supporting them believe they can hold out until the end of the Bush Administration's term of office. They know that the next administration, even a Republican one, will undoubtedly bring with it much change to its Middle East policy.”

U.S. strategy in Iraq needs to be based on a sober assessment of our security needs and what we can realistically achieve, and not be guided by myths and what will play on the Arab street.

The forthcoming November/December issue of the magazine offers differing perspectives about how to move forward in Iraq. Dan Pipes makes a critical point—which I end with here:

“The administration can still frame the debate in terms of U.S. interests, not Iraqi ones. It can contrast Iraq today with yesteryear’s totalitarian model rather than a potential ideal. It can distance itself from Iraq’s fate by reminding the world that Iraqis are responsible for shaping their destiny.”

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sri Lanka and "In Praise of Warlords"

I am always amazed at insular Washington types who believe that what happens in one part of the world (or statements made in Washington) have no relevance or impact in geographically disparate regions of the world. You hear this quite often in the Kosovo debate (what happens in Kosovo has no relevance for Somaliand or Kurdistan).

This article from Dayan Jayatilleka in the Asian Tribune is quite interesting for demonstrating the point I made earlier today about the spread of English and the internet: it places the Sri Lankan conflict in the context of what was done in Russia and then applies the analysis given by Alexis Debat and John Hulsman in the summer issue to a way forward.

I realize that for some this source is not an objective one (see the entry for "Asian Tribune"); my point in posting is not to become involved in assessing its objectivity but more to make the point about how information circulates.

Common Sense, Please

How enthusiastically is China going to enforce sanctions on North Korea?

Folks, let's walk through the calculus here.

Does North Korea threaten China? No. Is China concerned that North Korea will deliberately transfer nuclear technology to enemies of Beijing? No.

Is China concerned that nuclear technology will leak in an uncontrollable process from North Korea? Yes. North Korea may not arm Uighur groups or Taiwan, but there's a point on the international black market supply chain where Pyongyang loses control (as it did with A. Q. Khan).

Is China concerned about the U.S. taking forceful action which could destabilize East Asia? Yes.

This is the way in which Beijing's national interests are being formed and means that China will continue to "do enough" on North Korea to prevent major transfers of technology and to forestall a U.S. armed response.

Reversing Babel

This is a title of a short essay I have done for Policy Innovations, about the spread of English proficiency coupled with new technological developments. I draw on the piece James Bennett did for us several years ago ("The Coming Info-National Order").

Even TWR shows this trend, since a number of the readers and commentators are located around the globe.

Friday, October 13, 2006

More on yesterday's event

Media files of yesterday's event can be found at the website of the New America Foundation.

Can Leftists Be Realists?

This was the underlying question at last night's forum co-sponsored by The National Interest, the Nation, New America and the World Affairs Council of Washington, DC, and debated and discussed by Dimitri Simes, Dov Zakheim, Kai Bird, Sherle Schwenniger and Anatol LIeven.

There is no need for me to reinvent the wheel--an excellent summary has already been posted at Stop the Spirit of Zossen.

New America should be posting video of the event and when it is available I'll notify readers of TWR.

Some initial thoughts:

--the phrase "unintended consequences" was interestingly enough used by representatives of both camps as something to be aware of in assessing policy;

--following a point made by Paul Starobin, FDR was invoked as a progressive icon who was also quite the realist in foreign policy

--the real question is while there might be points of convergence or even occasional agreement, does realism serve as a sufficient base for a new broad-based coalition in U.S. foreign policy? Can "balance of power" blend with "community of power"?

I'll post more on this question shortly.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

War over the Numbers

With a new estimate claiming some 600,000 (approximate) Iraqi deaths as a result of the war, it will be quite interesting to watch the reaction over the next several days.

Let me say that I am not trying to be flip with the notion of the loss of life--death is never a laughing matter.

But we have estimates all over the place. The Iraq Body Count project estimates 40,000 killed. The Iraqi government seems to be comfortable with a figure of around 100,000. There is a slight difference between those numbers and a much higher figure.

And what we are seeing now, like death counts in previous wars as well as the ever popular clash between ballots counted and opinion poll data in disputed elections, is that the first rule of thumb is never to seek the objective truth but to find the numbers most useful to your cause. Remember the 100,000 killed in Kosovo in 1999 line? Or how in recent years the high numbers cited for the Bosnian civil war have time and time again been revised downward. Opinion poll data that was said to be more reliable in Ukraine in 2004 than the actual ballot counts was held to be flawed when there were major discrepancies in Azerbaijan in 2005.

What we are going to have over the next several days is fighting over numbers and ignoring the trends--because all the various surveys do agree that the death rate is going up and more and more are being killed in recent months.

Berlin instead of Washington

Another brick in the Russian energy strategy was cemented into place with the announcements that Gazprom (for now) will develop the Shtokman gas field "on its own" (my prediction: German and other European firms will be invited in at some point to "help") and that the gas from this field will feed the new Baltic pipeline system to Germany instead of the original assumption that Arctic gas would be liquified and shipped to America.

This means that former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane's hope that Russian natural gas could be one of the ways in which the U.S. weans itself off Persian Gulf hydrocarbons while proceeding along the route to energy independence is likely to be dashed.

Meanwhile, Germany is being positioned to be Russia's distributors--particularly to the rest of eastern Europe. I imagine Poland will enjoy having to buy gas from German firms and paying a nice mark-up in the process.

Notice also the lack of enthusiasm in a number of European capitals for what's happening in Georgia.

Merkel, the great hope in Washington for changing the tenor of the Russo-German relationship as it was developing under Putin and Schroeder, has her own version of Ostpolitk--with a clear sense of Germany's interests.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya

Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist murdered last week, was buried today in Moscow.

Her gangland-style execution is a chilling reminder of the major problems still facing Russian society--including, as people like David Satter and Lawrence Uzzell have been reminding us, the continuing moral crisis. Government cannot legislate morality, and civil society cannot exist unless there are sufficient bonds of trust.

Russia's economy is improving--but increased cash flow alone does not a healthy society make.

Politkovskaya was a critic, a muckracker in the best old Mencken tradition (but in a Russian style), and as much as proponents of strong executive power either in Moscow or in Washington don't like them, they are part and parcel of what makes an open society. President Putin didn't have to like her commentary or her exposes--but he should recognize that her murder is the latest reminder that corruption continues to infect and debilitate Russian society--and that having unchecked sources of power, whether in Chechnya, the business community or the security services doesn't work to achieve his own stated vision of a prosperous and stable Russia.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The North Korean Test

Many thanks for the comments on last Thursday's post ("Let them test").

My thoughts on the aftermath of the test are published at National Interest online; one point I made in that piece:

"The challenge is whether this development will galvanize the major powers and the international community to take action. The initial reaction seems positive. China and Japan—whose relationship has been acrimonious as of late—discovered a new-found sense of common purpose in denouncing the action. Beijing may want to reconsider whether it wants to continue to provide food and fuel to a regime that uses that assistance to free up resources to continue work on its nuclear program. The test may also shatter some of the illusions of the South Korean political elite about the efficacy of the “Sunshine policy.” There is a strong possibility that, because of Pyongyang’s reputation for smuggling, China and even Russia may be more inclined to take part in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), or at least work more closely to be able to quarantine North Korea."

Sijin Cheng from the Eurasia Group shares that assessment, predicting that "Beijing will adopt harsher unilateral sanctions and endorse multilateral measures to punish and rein in Pyongyang."

China holds the key here--and this again points out why the U.S.-China relationship needs to remain grounded.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

North Korea: Let Them Test

I find it odd the strenuous effort being undertaken to try and prevent North Korea from going ahead with a nuclear test.

We already treat North Korea as if it is a de facto nuclear power; why not have some definitive proof that they can actually assemble and detonate a device?

A test also forces the other countries that comprise the Six-Power talks to decide whether or not getting North Korea to de-nuclearize is truly a priority for them or not.

The argument I often hear is that a test (always assumed to be successful; no one takes the point that it could fail with even more negative consequences for the regime) crosses some sort of pre-agreed line beyond which there can be no de-nuclearization. I don't see what the fuss is about over the test. The real question is dismantling or destroying the infrastructure that is in place; the test has little to do with whether that infrastructure remains functional or not.

I also don't know why we want to continue this state of ambiguity over North Korea's capabilities.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Glad to see we have our priorities straight!

We are setting aside (and rolling over) funds for an eventual victory celebration for whenever we leave Iraq.

Meanwhile, we lack funds and sufficient trained personnel to monitor the correspondence of convicted terrorists sitting in U.S. prisons--including contacts they've had with people who've gone on to carry out other terrorist attacks such as the bombings in Spain.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

How the World Failed Kosovo

Peace at Any Price: How the World Failed Kosovo is a new book out by Iain King and Whit Mason, both of whom worked for the UN Mission in Kosovo.

For all those who cite Kosovo as a "success" this book is important to read and its discussions of what worked and what failed quite important.

Two points from it that apply across the board, not just to Kosovo.

First, the observation that Americans often believe "that inside every apparently embittered militant was a tolerant, pluralist democrat waiting to emerge once favourable conditions ahd been created."

More importantly, their concluding paragraph:

"If violent places like Kosovo are to be transformed into peaceful ones, voters in the most powerful countries must allow their elected leaders to take risks and to remain engaged long after the conflict has faded from the headlines. But democracies tend to be slow to recognize dangers and quick to tire. Given that places requiring intervention are likely to remain obscure to most in the West, gaining public support will be difficult. The best hope is for the bodies involved in international administrations to improve their own institutional memories and to be frank with their political masters and the public."

This theme, repeated again and again, of telling the truth, of being honest--keeps coming back to the fore.

A Tale of Two Editorials

Both The Times of London and The Washington Post have editorialized on the escalating crisis between Russia and Georgia. I invite you to compare and contrast the two.

The London newspaper says that Georgia should be "wary of unnecessarily provoking a thin-skinned Russia" while the Post trumpets that Russia is trying to "crush a neighboring democracy."

I invite you the read the two. Which one is more apropos for guiding policymakers in the West? Which one presents a sober, factual analysis of the situation, which neither pulls punches nor feels the need to spin developments to present "good" and "bad" guys? Then ask yourself, why we Americans have to turn to a British newspaper to get the "fair and balanced" treatment needed to make effective policy?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Takeyh on Bush

An interesting quote from Ray Takeyh's "Hidden Iran":

"A president with an inadequate understanding of the complexities of regional politics and a propensity to view events in stark black-and-white terms spearheaded a foreign policy that was often self-defeating."

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