Thursday, November 30, 2006

The nexus of energy and climate policy

For further reading, I direct you to my colleague Paul Saunder's op-ed (with Vaughan Turekian) in today's Washington Times.

Mr. Bush is clearly not ignorant of the growing political importance of the climate issue — but just as clearly has his own views on how to address it. During his conciliatory post election press conference, Mr. Bush twice referred to energy policy, rather than climate, as an area in which he expected to work with congressional Democrats. Since then, other White House officials have repeated and expanded this theme while focusing predominantly on policies to reduce American dependence on imported oil through incentives to encourage the use of alternative fuels. Despite a sharp drop in prices after months of three-dollar-a-gallon gasoline, this issue still resonates with voters (in part because it is tied to U.S. engagement in the Middle East, including Iraq) — and the use of ethanol and other biofuels could reduce America's net greenhouse-gas emissions too.

Interestingly, a number of powerful Democrats may not object to Mr. Bush's approach. In key swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, some will likely fear that the call for targets and timetables to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions could put excessive pressure on struggling U.S. automakers and the coal industry — and, in turn, on union members worried about their jobs.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More on costs of superpowerdom

Some points Ray Takeyh and I make in the November 30 issue of the Boston Globe:

FORMER Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's confident claim a decade ago that the United States was the world's "indispensable nation" -- the one country whose participation was needful to solve the most pressing challenges facing the global community -- is looking mighty threadbare.

The "transformational presidency" of George W. Bush was supposed to reinvigorate America's global leadership and enhance its ability to project power throughout the world. Instead, debilitated by the quagmire in Iraq, America is increasingly disrespected by its adversaries and mistrusted by its allies. Gone are the days when the United States could almost single-handedly cut a recalcitrant country off from the global economy or raise a truly multinational coalition to take military action against a rogue state.


America's invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq have raised serious questions about its judgment. The campaign of exaggerated threats and distorted intelligence that preceded the invasion has led many to question whether American power is a source for good. The departure of the principal architects of the policies of the last few years and their replacement by more tempered, seasoned personnel is no longer sufficient. The goodwill and trust that America has historically enjoyed has evaporated. Today, the essential grand strategy, not only of countries like Russia and China -- but even, at times, of some key European states as well -- is to contain and impede, rather than support and enhance, the use of American power to reshape the global order.

Nor has the White House's Iraq calamity been without domestic repercussions. Repudiated at the polls, the Bush administration is gradually appreciating that there exists no consensus within the American body politic for further unilateral adventures abroad -- especially if they send energy prices soaring sky high. The Bush administration has neither congressional nor public support for the most limited of strikes against either Pyongyang or Tehran, for intervention into Darfur, for undertaking a major new effort to bring peace to the Middle East, or for tackling a whole host of other problems.

At the height of the Vietnam War, a besieged Richard Nixon declared America "a pitiful, helpless giant." Today, an anguished American public desperate to be relieved of the Iraq burden is finding false comfort in isolationist shibboleths of the past and instinctively recoiling from further entanglements abroad. For those in Europe and Asia still expecting Washington to shoulder any burden should, for the next two years, look elsewhere.

Paying for Superpowerdom

Last night was the World Affairs Council/TNI discussion, "Post-Election Analysis: A Mandate for Change or More of the Same?"

One point I made that provoked some discussion was my assertion that the election results demonstrate that many Americans are unwilling to pay the costs associated with being the "indispensable nation" and that support for the Iraq and Afghanistan missions was much stronger when the focus was defined as removing immediate threats to national security rather than long-term transformational goals.

I don't think that most Americans want to be isolationist. I think that there remains broad support for American leadership to maintain a global system based on open lines of communication; for America to help underwrite broad security guarantees that help keep the peace in Europe and East Asia; for some humanitarian projects. But not for the U.S. to solve every problem, every ill, or to intervene everywhere at all times.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Iraqi Realism

Peter Khalil of the Eurasia Group has this to say about Iraq's simultaneous diplomacy with both the United States and Iran:

"Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei in Iran in the past day highlighting Bush’s hastily organized dash to Jordan to meet Maliki as catch up diplomacy. ... Talabani consequently can see that worst case scenario of Iraqi state collapse (and all the negative consequences that would have on Iran) worrying the Iranians and is using US weakness and the carrot of possible US concessions to Iran as leverage to encourage Iran to work harder on the stabilizing side of their Iraq strategy.

"Effectively Talabani’s visit to Iran is recognition that Iraq has reached the brink of complete collapse and it is time for Iran to swing its influence more heavily towards stability – but the Iranians will exact a heavy price and that is the US conceding its albeit waning strategic influence in Iraq to the Iranians and further legitimizing Iran as the only regional power that can help bring Iraq back from the brink. That is the same message Maliki will be delivering to Bush.

The US administration has been played into a corner where they will have to accept the current reality of Iranian power and influence over Iraq and agree to this increasing - if they are to avoid a complete collapse of the Iraqi state."

Priorities. That is the name of the game. Preserving Iraq requires an accommodation with Iran. Or we can decide that confronting Iran means presiding over the collapse of Iraq.

Maliki has a strategic calculus in play. Do we?

Monday, November 27, 2006


The Cincinnati Enquirer republished the essay Alexis Debat and I wrote about Iraq this past Sunday and then opened up an online forum for comments from their readers about what we had written. I'll make some further comments of my own in a later posting.

My reaction to Richard Holbrooke's essay in today's Washington Post--a very unrealistic piece, in my opinion--is now up at National Interest online; how nice it must be when the world conforms to your expectations and directives!

World Affairs Council event tomorrow

For those interested in my thoughts on the matter--

World Affairs Council of DC presents:

Post-Election Analysis: A Mandate for Change or More of the Same?
Cosponsored by The National Interest

With Democrats winning a majority of seats in both chambers of Congress, the 2006 midterm election results demonstrated the public's increasing displeasure with the administration's handling of the Iraq war. Please join our distinguished panel as they discuss the midterm election results and what they will mean on Capitol Hill and for the White House.

Paul Glastris: Editor in Chief, The Washington Monthly (Invited)
Nikolas Gvosdev: Editor, The National Interest
Karen Tumulty: White House Correspondent, Time Magazine
Jerry Hagstrom, Moderator: Contributing Editor, National Journal
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
B1 Conference Center, Center for Strategic and International Studies
1800 K St, NW, Washington, DC, 20006

METRO: Farragut West (Blue/Orange); Farragut North (Red)
PARKING: Public Parking Located on 18th St, NW, Between I and K Sts, NW
REGISTRATION: Call 202.293.1051 or Email

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Another Revolution Grinds to A Halt

The Cedar Revolution looks to be joining the ashheap of history, on the heels of the Tulip and Orange Revolutions, as we learn there are no low-cost solutions to radically reshaping the geopolitics of regions of the world in flux.

Alexis Debat and Ghassan Schbley have this to say about recent developments in Lebanon:

With Gemayel’s death, the Siniora government is teetering on the verge of collapse. If one more cabinet member either resigns or is killed, it will fall, and with it will collapse Western fantasies that Syrian influence in Lebanon could be erased with the wagging of fingers in Washington, New York and Paris. It seems clear that the assassination attempt on Pharaon was designed to trigger that last resignation to bring the government down.

Make no mistakes: this will happen. We are already and unfortunately in the post-Siniora era in Lebanon, where no doubt Hizballah will do everything it can (including forging an alliance with another Christian leader, Michael Aoun) to gain veto power over the next Lebanese government, and, over the long run, forge a new and broader constitutional order in Lebanon—one where the Shi’a dominate the political scene. As we now know, this kind of earth-shattering shift seldom comes in Lebanon without political violence.

Washington and Paris must first and foremost realize that, even though their aims in Lebanon were noble, their method was extraordinarily naive. Even without troops on the ground, Syria is strong in Lebanon, and will remain so as long as Hizballah reigns supreme over the Shi‘a community. In Lebanon, as in Iraq, we need a new method, emphasizing clear political goals. As Israel now knows, the best weapon against Hizballah is not the F-16 but a new, rejuvenated Amal.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Channel the Violence

Alexis Debat and I offer our thoughts on the situation in Iraq in the forthcoming International Herald Tribune.

Some excerpts:

Nancy Pelosi, speaker-elect of the U.S. House of Representatives, calls for a "new direction" in Iraq but hasn't provided much guidance. How Robert Gates would do things differently in Iraq from his predecessor as defense secretary is unclear.

Meanwhile, some of those formerly known as neoconservatives have parted company with the Bush administration, arguing that its incompetence is responsible for the present debacle, rather than any fatal flaw in the neocon vision for using U.S. power to transform Iraq into a liberal democracy.

It is easy to see why the U.S. midterm election debate fell far short in proffering any concrete solutions to regain the advantage in Iraq. Despite polls showing over and over that the American electorate responds favorably to pragmatic, hard-nosed foreign policy solutions, Washington's spinmeisters still choose to dress the hard choices ahead in the warm blanket of slogans and sound bites about new courses of action that will be "tough" and "smart."

Neither party has dared glance into the abyss to consider the few remaining strategies for victory in Iraq because they are intricate and politically gruesome. Take "controlling the frontiers." To reduce the flows of funds, arms and recruits across the Iranian, Syrian, Jordanian and Saudi frontiers into Iraq, would lawmakers from both parties support drastic measures - including laying mines - to create effective no-go zones?


The current American strategy - of treating the violence in Iraq as if it is occurring outside of the political process - gives no incentives to the Shiites to negotiate (since the U.S. military is trying to eliminate the Sunni resistance) while Sunnis see no reason to give up their only significant card to play: violence. This is why there has been no progress on settling the most pressing issues that were left out of the Constitution but are the most important for the future of Iraq: what federalism will mean and how oil revenues will be apportioned.

Elections have failed to produce a government that can solve these questions. What is taking place in the streets is the second round, as militias and insurgents use the gun to claim what the ballot box could not deliver.


In a very cold-blooded fashion, the United States, in the course of the Bosnian war, helped to engineer a military stalemate that forced all parties to the negotiating table, turning a blind eye to ethnic cleansing and selectively using U.S. military power to alter the balance of forces on the battlefield.


Channeling the violence toward a political solution, rather than fighting on for "ultimate victory," would require far fewer than the 135,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Iraq. What emerges would not be a Jeffersonian democracy in Mesopotamia, but if Republicans and Democrats alike are willing to lower expectations, we might just end up with something that works.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Misappropriating Munich, Take 2

Several weeks ago the magazine held a roundtable on Misapproprating Munich, the tendency of Americans to make every threat into a repeat of World War II.

My colleague Ray Takeyh will likely win no friends for coming out bluntly and saying that Ahmadinejad is "not the next Hitler." Some excerpts from his "incideniary" essay from Sunday's Los Angeles Times:

IF YOU THINK IRANIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes outlandish comments, consider what Mao Tse-tung said to a visiting head of state in 1954: "If someone else can drop an atomic bomb, then I can too. The death of 10 or 20 million people is nothing to be afraid of."

Nonetheless, 15 years later, a nuclear-armed China was not only contained by the world, it opted for normalization of relations with its archenemy, the United States. Today, it is fashionable to equate Ahmadinejad with Hitler, yet the lesson of the 20th century is that rash leaders can, in fact, be deterred. And Iran's president will prove no exception.

Remember that Ahmadinejad's comments are not even unique in the context of Iranian discourse. In 2001, the former Iranian president and putative moderate, Hashemi Rafsanjani, declared that although Israel would be destroyed by an atomic bomb, the Islamic world would only be damaged by one and therefore "such a scenario is not inconceivable." Nevertheless, four years later, when Rafsanjani was running for president, Washington and its European allies were eagerly hoping that he would win.

Ahmadinejad is considered nutty in the United States because of his denial of the Holocaust--but that's nothing new in the Islamic Republic either. The foremost ruler of the country, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared: "There are documents showing close collaboration of Zionists with Nazi Germany, and exaggerated numbers relating to the Jewish Holocaust were fabricated to lay the groundwork for the occupation of Palestine and to justify the atrocities of the Zionists." Yet today, it is quietly hoped in Washington that Khamenei will be the one to restrain the intemperate Ahmadinejad.

All this suggests that in dealing with Iran, American officials have historically discounted its bluster and paid attention to its actual conduct. And they were right to do so. Khamenei and Rafsanjani, despite their irresponsible assertions and pernicious support for a variety of terrorist organizations, have pursued a relatively pragmatic foreign policy that has sought to eschew direct confrontation with the U.S. and Israel. ...

It is a peculiar American fascination to continually look for the next Hitler. Josef Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and even Saddam Hussein were all touted at one time or another as Hitler incarnate. Ahmadinejad is simply the latest figure to be contemplated for that role. Evidently, many in Washington simply cannot grasp the fact that Hitler was a uniquely evil politician and that he is in fact dead. The United States--the country that won the Cold War and contained its adversaries--should be able to deter a second-rate power with an intemperate leader.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The India Nuclear "Stipulation"

The Senate has approved the U.S.-India nuclear deal but has added a stipulation--that India must join multilateral efforts to contain Iran's nuclear program before technology is shared.

Interesting stipulation. Who defines "multilateral"?

Zee News carried this report about the joint statement of the Indian and Russian foreign ministers:

India and Russia today said all possible means should be attempted to resolve the issue through dialogue rather than by "coercion" and "use of force".

"Coercion and application of force is not the answer to resolve the issue," External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters after talks here with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during which the Iran issue figured.

"We shared the view that all possible means to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner through dialogue and negotiations should be attempted," he said.

Mukherjee, who yesterday met visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, said India believes that Iran has the right to pursue its nuclear programme for peaceful civilian use.

This is the position of China and of some European countries as well.

Is this the type of multilateral effort the Senate had in mind? Don't think so.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Most Influential Jihadi

A new study by the U.S. Army's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point found that the most influential jihadist thinker was the Jordanian Abu Muhammed al Maqdisi, rather than deceased Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, top Al-Qaeda strategist Ayman al Zawahiri, or even Osama Bin Laden. But whereas Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Zarqawi have been subjects of numerous profiles and analyses, much less is known of Maqdisi.

Earlier this year Nixon Center Research Associate Steven Brooke wrote an in-depth analysis of Maqdisi's life and ideology (including an extremely acrimonious dispute with his former student, the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi).

"For insight into Zarqawi, one needs to understand his teacher, the Palestinian- Jordanian theologian Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Maqdisi devoted much of his life to churning out religious and polemical works that condemn democracy, attack Arab regimes for their apostasy and disbelief, and provide ideological guidance to holy warriors operating throughout the greater Middle East...This is indicative of a critical gap in our understanding of the contemporary salafi-jihadi movement, and especially our lack of appreciation for the disparate and often conflicting ideological strains within that movement. Examining Maqdisi's life and thought will help to fill in these critical gaps."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Now On to Iran

Spoke this evening at a panel hosted by the America's Future Foundation on the theme, "Iran: Clear Problem, Unclear Solution."

I can propose all sorts of policy solutions, but the real issue is for the United States to assess the risks it wants to bear, the costs it is willing to pay and the outcomes it is prepared to live with. Too often, policy toward Iran is compartmentalized in a box away from the rest of the world--and we seem unprepared to acknowledge that Iran has to be fitted into a larger set of priorities.

Russian, Chinese and even some Europeans I've spoken with express amazement that the U.S. rhetorically claims Iran is the biggest threat facing the United States, yet Iran does not seem to be an organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy. We still treat energy independence as some sort of domestic policy matter separate from foreign policy. What is our end game for Iran--no nuclear program or change of regime? What costs are we prepared to pay. Sens. McCain, Clinton and others say Iran must not acquire a nuclear capability. Are they asking Americans to pay $6 at the pump to realize this?

I don't see a serious conversation about Iran policy coming anytime soon. I think that we will continue to react to what Iran does rather than be proactive; and I don't see us prepared to make the Hobson's choice about scaling back our goals in return for a substantial international effort versus unilateral action (and paying the cost) to pursue our specific agenda.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Yet more on the Iraq Debate

Some excerpts:

Reporting on the Friday debate between Peter Pham and Chuck Pena by Marisa Morrison is now available at National Interest online.

"Realism", as J. Peter Pham stated Friday at an event hosted by The National Interest, "is not monolithic." The debate between Charles Peña, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, and Pham, director of the Nelson Institute at James Madison University, underscored this point. Though Peña and Pham agreed that the invasion of Iraq was a serious error, they differed on the best course of action now.

Sean Singer reports on yesterday's Iraq symposium, which featured Stephen Biddle, Daniel Pipes and Dov Zakheim:

As James Baker makes his rounds inside the Beltway, strategic alternatives for Iraq are also circulating throughout Washington.

Before the Iraq Study Group releases its proposed changes for American strategy, The National Interest assembled a panel to expound on policy recommendations expressed in the November/December 2006 symposium, "Is this victory" (available here). Dov Zakheim, Daniel Pipes—both members of The National Interest Advisory Council—and Stephen Biddle evaluated potential steps towards a redefined victory.

All three panelists recognized the dire situation in Iraq and the need to embrace reality. Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, emphasized the initial misdiagnosis of the insurgency as an ideological counter-insurgency, as opposed to a burgeoning civil war. American strategy exacerbated the situation through methods aimed at squelching an ideological resistance—such as building up the national military—which fanned the flames of civil strife.

Zakheim, former undersecretary of defense, admonished America's leadership for not recognizing the ongoing civil war. "There is some kind of determination not to face reality", he said. "To base a policy on something that isn't but actually is already tells you that there's a problem."

Terminating this civil war, or at least mollifying it, requires an emphasis on security and stability, not democracy building. In reference to the coalition's expectations of Iraqi democracy, Pipes, director of The Middle East Forum, said: "[Democratization] was just done too quickly, too ambitiously. The short-term requires stability and security, not democracy."

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Myth of the Multilateral Force

I see that the myth of the multilateral force for Iraq has re-emerged. The idea is that the U.S. should solicit other countries to take over security for Iraq so American forces can leave. Sounds great, right?

What country wants to get involved in Iraq? As Stephen Biddle noted in tonight's Iraq roundtable, who is going to put on the blue helmets?

A short run-through of the countries where reliable sources have indicated the position of the respective governments to sending troops to Iraq:

China: No
India: No
Pakistan: No
Saudi Arabia: No
Egypt: No
Germany: No
Russia: No
Ukraine: No

The list might continue on ...

Saying "multilateralism" is not a magic or kabbalistic phrase that produces automatic results. Why other governments--particularly other democracies--would want to get involved in the Iraq mess--the growing anger about which fueled the Democratic takeover of the Congress--is beyond me. Perhaps if there is "peace to keep" as one diplomat told me, then his government MIGHT consider contributng forces. Not before. Certainly not to assist a U.S. withdrawal in the next 18 months.

The Iraq Symposium

The Belmont Club has a useful "shorthand" description of the positions taken by the different contributors to TNI's Iraq symposium.

For Franks, the problem is one of expectations: "In Iraq, has too much emphasis been placed on achievement of secondary objectives or preferences as the benchmark for victory? After all, the primary objective—the removal of a hostile regime—has been achieved." ...

For Steven Biddle the problem was that America got switcherooed. It came in to fight terrorists and did a good job on the targets it expected to find. Then somewhere along the line the mission changed to making a multiethnic Iraq work. ...

John Owen IV defines victory as establishing a stable successor state that does not seek nuclear weapons — and can serve as a counterweight to Iran. ...

Daniel Pipes thinks that the concept of victory in Iraq was pitched too high. American rule should have begun with an American puppet and then civility should have been slowly ground into the Iraqis. ...

Gary Rosen argues that civility should be forced on the fractious Iraqis, if necessary, at the point of an M-16. ...

Dov S. Zakheim thinks the important thing is to leave Iraq in one piece, with integral borders. Anything else would be a plus. If it takes accepting a strongman, then so be it.

[NOTE: The Belmont Club summary contained a description of Peter Choharis' contribution as well but is not summarized here as it does not appear to be an accurate account of what Peter actually said. TWR readers can go to the BC site to see what was written and Peter's response.]

Friday, November 10, 2006

Thinking Realistically About Iraq

J. Peter Pham of the Nelson Institute and Charles Pena of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy debated the merits of staying in or withdrawing from Iraq--both from a realist perspective--and the impact of Iraq on the war on terror.

(There will be an article in National Interest online summarizing the arguments, and they have already "crossed swords" on the issue in NIo.)

Both made cases based on facts and on prioritizing interests and laying out costs. Several people afterwards commented on how this discourse is almost completely lacking from the political discourse.

The symposium in the current issue of The National Interest on Iraq--featuring Tommy Franks, Stephen Biddle, Peter Charles Choharis, John M. Owen IV, Daniel Pipes, Gary Rosen and Dov S. Zakheim--is now available online as well.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Democrats and National Security

Steve Andreasen, who served on the NSC as director for defense policy and arms control during the Clinton Administration, offers his thoughts on the aftermath of the elections:

Relations between congressional Democrats and the White House could quickly deteriorate to the point where national security policy gets stuck in neutral as the country awaits the 2008 election. Democrats, however, have a big stake in proving they can now develop concrete proposals for improving America's security, recognizing that Bush will retain a strong hand in national security and foreign affairs.

Some points he raises:

"Democrats should use their new majority power to schedule congressional hearings, not to rehash the past but to create the foundation for a new policy. They should address how we can manage our withdrawal from Iraq in a way that preserves our ability to positively influence the raging political and military currents within Iraq while minimizing perceptions that America is retreating from the region. Democrats may get an assist in this effort from the conclusions of a new bipartisan report on Iraq by former Secretary of State James Baker and Rep. Lee Hamilton. Republicans who survived in 2006 by distancing themselves from the president on Iraq might also pitch in.

Second, constructive congressional oversight can be used to create political support for the president to deal boldly with the spread of nuclear arms in volatile regions. Congressional Democrats should make clear they would favor a commitment, in exchange for the verifiable dismantling of North Korea's and Iran's nuclear arms capabilities, to end sanctions and normalize relations with both Pyongyang and Tehran, and to guarantee Washington will not attack either nation."

Interesting to see how things develop. Andreasen is calling for a bipartisan approach. I suspect that on both sides of the aisle the next two years are an interlude for stoking partisan warfare--although I do think that the clock is running out on Iran and North Korea and the pressure for some sort of solution will force both the White House and the Democratic leadership into some sort of compromise position.

On Gates

My contribution to the National Review symposium on the departure of Rumsfeld and the nomination of Gates:

By accepting Don Rumsfeld’s resignation, President Bush has nullified the first plank of the Democratic agenda on national security (as outlined by Diane Farrell prior to the election) and forces the Democrats — months before the new Congress has convened — to move to point number two — outlining their plan for achieving success in Iraq.

This accelerates what I have termed the “Orange Revolution meltdown clock” for the Democrats. In opposition, it was quite easy for Joe Lieberman, Jim Webb, Nancy Pelosi, and Henry Waxman to agree that Rumsfeld should go — but much more difficult, if not outright impossible, for all of them — as the new legislative majority — to coalesce around a common strategy.

Meanwhile, by nominating Robert Gates — someone closely identified with both the Reagan and Bush ’41 administrations — the president has taken a step to defuse a possible “civil war” within the Republican party over security policy. Symbolically, Gates’ appointment could help promote the “Reagan synthesis” Rich Lowry counseled Bush to pursue in the pages of The National Interest last year. Gates’s arrival at the Pentagon also gives the president room to explore new options for Iraq and puts someone in place who can quietly continue with the ongoing transformation of the military and intelligence communities.

With this decision the president seeks to regain some of the initiative he lost as a result of the elections.

Meanwhile, up at NI online, a profile of Gates by a former colleague, Fritz Ermarth ("Knowing Gates")

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

More on the Elections

A point Bruce Bartlett makes about the Democrats now that they control the legislative branch:

They’re going to be under a lot of pressure, their candidates for president, to do certain things. A number of the Democratic candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, are in the Senate, where they’re in the position on a day-to-day basis to shape political strategy on legislation in ways they view as helpful to them, or harmful to their opponents. On things like the deficit, unless the Democrats are willing to go after taxes and talk explicitly about raising them, their hands are as tied as the Republicans’ are. How they deal with that, and how they show some movement without losing credibility, or alienating constituencies, is to me a very difficult problem. They’re going to have their hands full.

Iran moves to the top of the list. Sure, everyone loves multilateralism, but Democrats also made a point of running to Bush's right on the Iran issue. So when negotiations fail, or other states say, we can live with Iran having a nuclear program, what will Democrats do? Support more unilateral action? Military force?

After the Elections

My first reactions, at National Interest online:

John Hulsman, contributing editor for The National Interest and now the first von Oppenheim-Scholar in residence at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, has been saying for months that if the Republicans did poorly in the 2006 midterm elections, the “civil war” in the Republican Party over foreign policy would begin today.

Over the next two years, Republican presidential hopefuls will have to decide whether to run on the basis of or in opposition to the Bush legacy in foreign policy. The election results will strengthen the case of those who have argued that it was a mistake for the president to depart from the realist sentiments he expressed during the 2000 campaign. Of course, in recent weeks leading figures who have been associated with the neoconservative camp have validated a second Hulsman prophecy—that failures in Iraq, the Middle East and elsewhere around the world have been attributed not to any flaws in the world view that posits that, if only for the proper amount of will, American power can be used to fundamentally reshape entire segments of the world at little cost or danger to vital U.S. interests, but to personal incompetence. Perhaps a Weimaresque version of the “stab in the back” thesis is already being drafted; that success in Iraq was snatched away by a motley crew of traitors and weaklings unable to properly handle a “muscular” foreign policy.

But any such view is likely to be vigorously contested by what we might term the Midwestern pragmatic realists of the Republican Party and their stalwarts in the Senate. And the battle for the legacy and mantle of Ronald Reagan will continue to be the barometer. I expect a continued tug of war over the WWRD (what would Reagan do) answers. Which is a better guide to true “Reaganism” for the foreign policy questions of the day? With regard to Iraq, the Reagan of Grenada or the Reagan of Lebanon? (And, on a related note, will there be a religious factor? Will a moderating impulse be generated from the low church Episcopal-Methodist-Lutheran segment of the party which in the past two decades was displaced to some extent by the rise of the extra-denominational megachurch movements and the migration of Southern Baptists from the Democrats to the Republican fold?)

While a low level civil war may engulf the Republicans, it won’t be smooth sailing for the Democrats, whose “Orange Revolution meltdown clock” has also started ticking. I compare America’s Democrats to Ukraine’s Orange coalition—which in opposition was a masterful and powerful political force—but proved unable to hold itself together once electoral victory was achieved in December 2004. Anti-Bush sentiment held together a quite fractious and diverse coalition, but really, can there be a cohesive position on issues that Casey and Webb Democrats, Lieberman, Clinton and Biden Democrats, and Pelosi, Dingell, and Conyers Democrats can all agree on? It is not simply about how to move forward in Iraq; what to do about Iran may just as easily rip wide open any tenuous unity that has been achieved among Democrats. Moreover, what happens, say, if President Bush asks for and accepts the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld and then nominates Joe Lieberman a la Bill Clinton bringing Bill Cohen on board during his second term—making an appeal to disinterested bipartisanship for the sake of the national interest? So many Democratic congressional candidates ran on an anti-Rumsfeld platform—but who they would want to see replace him was left unsaid. Would that be sufficient? How would a Senator Clinton react, for example, to such a proposal?

This raises a final observation. Opinion polls demonstrate that many Americans want a foreign policy that, while not grounded in amoral Metternechian realpolitik, is none the less firmly rooted in realism of a more ethical variety. Will divided government produce a new alignment toward a realistic foreign policy—or will idealistic interventionists of left and right, particularly in the Senate, forestall the “return of realism?” Remember Joe Biden and John McCain’s warning about the dire consequences two years ago if the “realists” come back? Will Joe Lieberman’s victory be spun to the tune that a more “moderate” version of the current Bush approach can win the “vital center” of the American electorate?

Americans want a more focused, pragmatic foreign policy based on a morality of results, not intentions. Whether this election will deliver change in this direction, however, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day!

Depending on the results, what will really matter in Washington is whether or not a number of Congressional staffers will be getting pink slips and whether the consultancies and think-tanks can absorb fired staff; at the same time, this may be a Godsend for people at less than solvent think tanks and coalitions looking for a more stable paycheck from Uncle Sam.

Can expect resumes to start hitting the wires as soon as results are in.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Saddam Hussein Sentenced To Death

I don't know what I can add to the ongoing discussion that would be original or particularly noteworthy. I don't know that this is a particularly defining milestone for the Middle East; dictatorial leaders have been deposed, overthrown and executed by their successors for much of the 20th century. Hussein is yet another Iraqi leader following this well-worn path. It again serves as a reminder to other Middle Eastern leaders that their hold on power can be quite tenuous. Does this lead them to consider more reforms or to tighten control? What lessons does a Mubarak draw from the Hussein experience, for example?

Will the trial and discovery process continue? As it stands the Hussein verdict would be similar to convicting top Nazi leaders at Nuremberg for one or two specific events (e.g. Lidice). Is there going to be a full accounting of the Hussein record? Problematic of course for the Gulf Arab states, Saudi Arabia and even the United States because of the Iran-Iraq war.

This raises another question: why can't this be the "victory" point for the United States. Hussein was defeated, deposed, tried and now convicted. Doesn't this constitute sufficient victory?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Europe and Integration, Pitfalls of Analogies

Articles on the two events held at the Nixon Center are available now.

Robert VerBruggen reported on the talk given by Jyllands-Posten culture editor Fleming Rose (AKA the man who published the Muhammad cartoons.) In speaking about Muslim immigrants in Europe, Rose observed:

Many in Denmark see themselves as living in a value-neutral society.

As a result, there is no pressure to become European. Whereas seven-year immigrants living in America often identify with the United States, foreigners in Europe normally identify with their home countries, Rose said. For example, in Denmark, 20 percent of Muslims identify themselves primarily as Danes, 40 percent do not identify themselves as Danes and 40 percent see themselves as both Muslims and Danes.

Rose argued that European countries should stand together to make the demand of integration more explicit. He believes Western media outlets could have reduced violence by reprinting his paper’s cartoons, because such a move sends a strong message. He pointed to the French anti-veil law as a supporting example—the French population stood squarely behind the legislation, and no notable violence took place in protest.

Another specific step he mentioned was welfare reform. In America, the employment gap between immigrants and citizens is 2 to 3 percent; in Denmark, the difference is about 40 percent, despite labor shortages.

“In the U.S., the labor market is the most effective mechanism for integration,” Rose said. “In our society, immigration has been an economic burden.”

A radical cleric Rose referenced was even allowed into Denmark so his son could get medical care—on the taxpayers’ dime. While in Denmark, the cleric did not learn Danish and made inflammatory comments in his mosque.

It will take some adjustments for Muslims to hold up their end of the deal, Rose said. He went through a litany of statistics revealing immigrants’ mixed feelings.

The most telling numbers: 9.5 percent of Denmark’s Muslims think freedom of speech should always take precedence over protecting religious sensibilities, while 51 percent think religious sensibilities are always more important. The general population reports opposite sentiments at, 65 and 8.5 percent, respectively.

Marisa Morrison reports on yesterday's "Misappropriating Munich" event.

An excerpt:

If analogies—in particular, the lesson of Munich—often lead to incorrect judgments, why are they still present in policy discourse? As part of the prologue to America's "last great war", the Munich Agreement remains imprinted on the collective U.S. imagination. In the discussion following the comments of Record and Dueck, Michael Vlahos remarked that World War II-related analogies connect Americans to "our mythical past", allowing us to preserve our sense of national identity. The war's continued relevance is such that Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, neither of whom actually experienced that conflict, used examples from that era to justify certain policy decisions.

Furthermore, the lessons of Munich are unlikely to be discarded because Americans tend to have a poor knowledge of history. In order to gain approval for proposed military interventions, American presidents often present their policies in moralistic terms. To successfully appeal to the citizenry’s sense of moral outrage, presidents and policymakers must paint their enemies as wicked and irrational. As Hitler may be the only recent historical figure that almost all Americans recognize as unquestionably evil, policymakers have been quick to point out the resemblance between the German dictator and contemporary U.S. adversaries. Of course, these comparisons tend to be faulty. Even the cruel and aggressive Saddam Hussein was not as disposed to risk-taking as Hitler was.

Indeed, the Munich Agreement has cast a long shadow over U.S. foreign policy. For instance, its troubling influence can be perceived in the United States' refusal to consent to direct talks with the North Korean government. The failure of Chamberlain's policy of appeasement almost seven decades ago has convinced the Bush Administration that the desire to negotiate is an indication of weakness of will.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Misappropriating Munich

We had a roundtable at the magazine, co-sponsored by the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, with Jeffrey Record of the Air War College and Colin Dueck of George Mason University.

Record noted that presidents routinely invoke analogies such as Munich either to inform their own thinking about policy (usually to rationalize a particular course of action) or to mobilize public opinion, noting that in recent history the U.S. public could only be rallied to support a "war of choice" by comparing the threat to the one posed by the symbol of ultimate evil--Hitler--and characterizing other options as the equivalent of appeasement at Munich.

Dueck described analogies as cognitive shortcuts and pointed out how different schools of thought can draw different conclusions from analogies (e.g. is the lesson of Vietnam for Iraq to "win" or "go home"?) He also pointed out the very selective use of history. Most U.S. interventions over the last centuries have been failures; Japan and Germany were exceptions. Would the discussion about Iraq have been different if the primary analogy referenced had been Somalia or Haiti?

In the discussion, an interesting point that nowadays Munich is used as a way to shut down calls for negotiations or diplomatic action altogether; another poiont raised, was that the failure at Munich was not that of will but of lack of military power to oppose Hitler, and how in particular the British ruling class did not want to set priorities to conclude alliances (with Mussolini or Stalin) that might have contained Hitler during the 1930s.

A final note was that Record pointed out the enduring appeal of World War II--that we are now in our second president born after World War II with no living memory at all of the events yet how analogies drawn from this period continue to exercise such a spell on the U.S. imagination.

Another Modest Georgian Proposal

GAZPROM is going to double the price for Georgia for natural gas. We can expect the usual comments from Western circles.

So why not propose some solutions? Do we want to wean Georgia away from energy dependence on Russia? Enhance the U.S. position in the Caucasus? How about this: U.S. loans and guarantees to develop Azerbaijan's gas fields, construct the infrastructure to ship to Georgia, and credits for Georgia to buy Azeri gas? Azerbaijan gets further income, Georgia gets a gas supply, GAZPROM loses a market ... sorry, I forgot. The U.S. strategy is to get Russia to subsidize the gas.

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