Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam's Execution

In all of the myriad number of reactions to Saddam Hussein's execution (and it has been especially interesting to watch how television networks have tried to split the difference with effectively split-screen retrospectives on Hussein's career and that of Gerald Ford's)--what has struck me the most is how no one's position has changed. It is as if Hussein's execution is but a footnote in the narratives of Sunnis, Shi'a, Kurds, opponents of the war, proponents of the war, pro-American and anti-American forces, just another event to be slotted in to one's list.

Hussein, of course, joins the large number of Arab leaders, both monarchs and "revolutionaries", not to peacefully step down from power but to be killed--highlighting a major hurdle that has to be overcome if democracy is to take root in the region--the notion that leaders can be peacefully removed from office.

Finally, in the old days, the death of the enemy leader signaled victory and his followers stopped fighting. [Consider this example from the Bible, the rebellion of Sheba against King David,2 Samuel 20:22: "Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bicri and threw it to Joab. So he sounded the trumpet, and his men dispersed from the city, each returning to his home. And Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem."] For the United States, however, even Saddam being put into the grave neither ends the insurgency nor does it allow the U.S. to claim victory and to withdraw with honor.

Friday, December 29, 2006

More on yesterday's roundtable

Marisa Morrison has written a piece which examines the propositions put forward by David Rivkin and Ian Bremmer at yesterday's event:

n the sphere of high-stakes diplomacy, talk may not be so cheap after all—at least according to David Rivkin. The current partner at the Baker Hostetler law firm sparred with Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, over the utility of engaging rogue states. The debate, held at The National Interest yesterday, paid special attention to the Baker-Hamilton report’s endorsement of talks with Syria and Iran.
Rivkin expressed disappointment that James Baker—his former colleague in the George H.W. Bush Administration—did not examine more closely the consequences of forming relations with these states.

In general, the decision to foster a dialogue with hostile regimes must be made after a careful cost-benefit analysis. ...

In the same vein, discussions with Iran’s leaders will damage the hard-fought effort to forge UN Security Council-approved sanctions against Iran. As bilateral U.S.-Iran talks would amount to “throwing out” this already existing “multilateral machinery, however creaky”, the choice to press forward with engagement must not be taken lightly. If the costs of engagement are found to outweigh its benefits, the United States must seek to contain Iran within a regional security structure.

Bremmer dismissed as “foolish” concerns about granting legitimacy to adversaries. The states that care most about legitimacy, argued Bremmer, are those who already share common values with the United States. On the other hand, states that U.S. policymakers would classify as “hostile”, are unconcerned about obtaining U.S.-endowed legitimacy. Not only are these states indifferent to international scorn, but their rulers can actually employ forced isolation to shore up domestic authority. Unfortunately, the United States’ declining global influence reinforces this rogue tendency.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Roundtable: Negotiating with Rogues?

Today's roundtable is up now in the C-SPAN archives.

The two articles I referenced are now up as well at National Interest online:

The Sanctions, According to Iran (Iran's UN Ambassador Javad Zarif)

On Iran and Energy, According to Russia (Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

C-SPAN covering magazine roundtable

Tomorrow, on Thursday, from 12:30 to 2 PM EST, C-SPAN is expected to provide live coverage of a roundtable sponsored by The National Interest.

The last roundtable, this past August, examined whether or not the U.S. was a crippled superpower. Carrying on from that theme, this roundtable will examine whether success for the United States in the Middle East and in East Asia requires negotiations and compromises with "rogue regimes" like Iran and North Korea.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Palpable Realism"

Nitin Pai over at The Acorn has published an interesting essay,
"Palpable Realism", that argues India has recognised that morality in foreign policy lies in the pursuit of the national interest.

What is also important to note is that India's foreign policy, grounded in a clear set of understandings about what constitutes India's "national interest", is also "consistent with general public opinion." It might be interesting to compare some of the conclusions that Daniel Drezner reaches in his forthcoming TNI essay about public opinion and U.S. foreign policy and see whether or not they apply in the Indian case.

Headline Roundup

News respects no holiday season ...

Over the past year people in our pages (virtual and online) have been warning about instability in Nigeria. The pipeline explosion in Lagos is yet another reminder of the potential for instability in a country with a declining infrastructure, uncertain political future and emerging militias who are learning how to target the oil industry.

Pakistan announces it will mine its borders with Afghanistan in an attempt to stem the flow of militants across the border.

Ethiopia presses its attack in Somalia, as Addis Ababa has no desire to see a hardline Islamist state take root on its borders and perhaps begin to stir up Ethiopia's own Muslim population. Taking a page out of the Israeli playbook?

So we now have a sanctions package against Iran, but 1) will they be effective and 2) will we get anything more? I think no on both counts.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Not Looking Good ...

So, as we prepare to close out 2006, problems that we carried over from 2004 and 2005 will still be with us.

Let's peruse the headlines:

6-Power talks end with no new date scheduled in sight.

Members of the South Korean delegation told the Yonhap News agency after the talks that the gulf separating the United States and North Korea was so wide that the participants could not agree on when to resume the discussions.

However, despite the lack of progress, South Korea's chief envoy, Chun Yung-woo, said the week's discussions would help bridge understanding in future talks.

The delegations - the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia - did not issue any kind of joint declaration Friday. The chairman of the talks, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, the lead Chinese negotiator, said the six nations agreed 'to reconvene at the earliest opportunity.'

US envoy Christopher Hill said that it was 'clear that the North Korean team did not have the instructions to go forward.'

'It is my strong hope that when we go back to the negotiations they are prepared to negotiate,' he added.

Little progress has been shown in the more than three years of the nuclear talks, and as a result, Japan's top envoy called into question whether the six-party format should continue.

'There will be opinions questioning the credibility of the six- party talks,' Kenichiro Sasae said.

The same issue was on the American envoy's mind.

'The question is what happens to the process if we don't achieve some success,' said Christopher Hill, the lead US negotiator. 'We are interested in this process in so far as they can lead to results. We are not interested in the six-party talks in order to talk.'

Meanwhile, no progress on creating a sanctions regime against Iran that all major powers can agree upon:

Diplomats said Russia and China questioned a demand to freeze the financial assets or resources of Iranians working for their country's nuclear programmes.

'We do believe that the financial aspects as well as others are valid elements in the resolution,' said Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. 'But we must make sure that perfectly legal and innocent activities that have nothing to do with nuclear proliferation can proceed normally.'

No no-cost solutions in sight; and no likelihood that Iraq, which is consuming so much of the attention of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, will improve anytime soon so as to allow for more of a focus on these other problems.

What is even more frustrating is that I could take two posts from December 2005 and repost them here and they would sound "fresh" and current. I'd recommend this one and this one.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

WaPo on Pakistan

I have to love the faith of the Washington Post editorial board in "secular democrats." Apparently, the solution to our problems in Pakistan is to bring back the "secular democrats" overthrown by Pervez Musharraf--another Putin-esque dictator who is too close to the Islamists.

These are the secular democrats whose electoral fortunes have been falling; whose inability to govern led to the whole coup in the first place; and who presided over both the nuclear test and support for the Taliban in the first place.

It's nice that troublesome facts don't have to intrude on editorializing.

Anatol Lieven presented a challenge in the recent issue of TNI about Pakistan--one the Post's editorial doesn't answer:

Unlike most of the Arab world, Pakistan has had several prolonged experiences of democratically elected parliamentary governments in the past, from 1947 to 1958, 1971 to 1977 and 1988 to 1999. None of these democratically elected governments succeeded in lifting the country out of mass poverty, and some were economically disastrous. All civilian governments have been guilty of corruption, election-rigging and the imprisonment or murder of political opponents, in some cases to a worse degree than the military administrations that followed.All of these periods involved serious unrest in some or all of Pakistan. The losing parties in elections have, as a rule, denounced these elections as rigged (which admittedly they often were) and encouraged the military to seize power. When the army eventually did so, in all three cases this was initially at least welcomed by a large majority of the population, utterly fed up with the experience of "democratic rule."Given these three previous experiences, to argue that if formal democracy were to be reintroduced in Pakistan tomorrow it would be radically different and better, one must be able to present credible evidence that something fundamental about Pakistan has changed radically for the better since the 1990s.

Surprising, too, the consistency we Americans have in labeling parties and countries democratic or not--and simply ignoring inconvenient facts. Does the following point Lieven makes about Pakistan bear some resemblance to the democratic forces we keep hearing about in many parts of the former Soviet Union?

In Pakistan the only true national political parties are those of some of the Islamists. The parties routinely described in the Western media as "democratic" are in fact congeries of landlords, clan chieftains and urban bosses vowing more-or-less temporary allegiance to some national leader like Benazir Bhutto. As noted, all have been more than willing to adopt highly undemocratic methods when necessary. Most Pakistanis have fully accepted the form of democracy but are still far from truly accepting the content.

On another note: my latest contribution to the foreign policy debate--No "No-Cost" Solutions--now up at National Interest online.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Mark Steyn's column in the latest issue of National Review falls into a long-standing trap of assuming that "Muslims" on the territory of the former Soviet Union form a single, undivided, monolithic group--and the extrapolation that the Chechens somehow represent the standard.

Side note--noting demographic trends, he wonders what will happen if and when a majority of the Russian armed forces are made up of "Muslims" (I keep putting this in quotes because many of the "Muslims" are counted as Muslim by culture/nationality rather than active belief) and what will happen in Chechnya then? Perhaps he is unaware that a majority of "Russian" forces in Chechnya today are local Chechens, and as we've seen, "Muslims" have no problem fighting other "Muslims" either inside Russia or in other parts of the former Soviet Union.

To the best of my knowledge, the largest Muslim-designated ethnicity in Russia--the Tatars--have produced not a single recruit who has turned up in Al-Qaeda or in Afghanistan--and if TWR readers know otherwise, please let me know ASAP. Tatar Islam is one of the best examples of what has been termed "Euro-Islam"--modernized and reformed. It also helps--although not without streneous objections that have been mounted by Western human rights groups--that the Tatar government does not allow imams who have been trained abroad (e.g. in Saudi Arabia) to assume pulpits in mosques until they have been mentored by local clerics. Again, my information may be out of date--but Wahhabi/Salafi tendencies seem to have been kept at bay in Tatarstan.

How Muslim identity will be negotiated in a Russian Federation that at present is configured to accept Orthodoxy as the de facto "national" religion with Islam as a "younger brother" for specific ethnic groups remains to be seen. But it would also help if people focused on Islam as it actually exists in Russia and not extrapolate from the Middle East in making their assessments.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Credit to the Administration: U.S.-India relations

It is a sign as to how much oxygen the Iraq situation is drawing away from other foreign policy issues that something which has the potential to redraw the strategic map of the 21st century--the rapprochement between India and the United States--has received far less attention. This is arguably going to be the major "success" legacy for the Bush Administration.

It reflects what is sometimes becoming an all-too-rare quality: the ability to think in terms of proactive, forward-looking strategy. It is also important because it does draw U.S. attention away from the Atlantic world where so much has been focused over the last century toward the shifting eastward equilibrium of global power.

I do have one bone with the media coverage, however, as well as some of the analysis being presented by pundits. India is not a "new democracy"; it has been one since 1947 with the exception of the months of the emergency in the 1970s under Indira Gandhi. And the history of U.S.-India relations in the past puts to rest the myth that shared democratic values automatically produce common foreign policy objectives. What has happened over the last five years is not that India became more democratic, but that fundamental U.S. and Indian interests have coincided and, along with democracy, provided a solid foundation for a new relationship.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Incomprehensible Stance

I don't understand at all the White House stance and the vehemence of the attacks against the Senators who have been or are planning to visit Syria.

Basically, the attitude is, until the Syrians comply with all U.S. demands, we shouldn't talk to them. They know what they need to do, is the State Department and White House line.


We're lucky that other countries understand the realities of diplomacy. One of the things that helps keep me safe here in Washington is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Cyprus takes part in the PSI. If memory serves, Cyprus is in sixth place in terms of the number of merchant ships registered and on the high seas. Their participation helps to reduce the risk of WMD being transported or a ship rigged to blow coming up the Chesapeake.

What would happen if the Cypriot ambassador walks into the White House and says, you have failed to enforce the UN resolutions calling for all foreign troops to leave our island and to end their occupation--resolutions you voted for--walks out to the press, says, we are withdrawing from the PSI and the U.S. "knows what it needs to do." Don't think it would go over that well at all.

We don't have to talk to the Syrians if we don't want to. Then put 100,000 extra troops into Iraq to secure the borders.

I don't think we look weak if we talk to Damascus--talk, get a sense of what's on the table. We can say the price is too high. We do look weak--and stupid--if we don't want to talk and then whine about how no one wants to alleviate our burdens.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Nixon Center dinner and the realists

Tonight was the 2006 Distinguished Service Awards dinner for the Nixon Center, honoring Senator Richard Lugar and General Brent Scowcroft.

Having just returned from this event, I am not prepared to post any exhaustive transcript (speakers included a good cross-section of what might be considered the Republican realist community--James Schlesinger, Henry Kissinger, Maurice R. Greenberg, Dimitri Simes, Senators Lugar, Chuck Hagel and Pat Roberts and Scowcroft.)

Two impressions.

First, despite all the ballyhoo about the Iraq Study Group being a "realist report", there was certainly a good deal of scepticism expressed not only by speakers but but people in attendance about its conclusions and about its strategy.

Second, despite the common opinion of U.S. foreign policy realists as being "unrealistic" in having an antiquated and outdated world view, there was certainly a good deal of commentary about the revolution in international affairs and the impact of globalization and the decline of the nation-state.

UPDATE: This is what the Washington Times had to report:
The Nixon Center honored former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, at its annual Distinguished Service Award dinner Thursday with a program filled with spirited commentary that is too rarely seen these days.

Speakers mulled not just the changing characteristics of the enemies of freedom but the world in general. With the war in Iraq looming over every syllable, the conflict splintered the experts' wisdom on the subject.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Republican Debate on Foreign Policy

In the next issue of TNI, two prominent Republican practitioners and thinkers on foreign policy will offer their thoughts on what the Bush Administration should be doing for its last two years in office. I offer some advance excerpts here:

Kim Holmes:

For [the president's] agenda to have any resilience, however, the president will have to make a number of adjustments. First, he must tone down the rhetoric about democracy in Iraq. While it is understandable that the administration tried to create a democratic government to fill the gap left by Saddam Hussein’s demise, it unfortunately also tied his freedom agenda to the fate of the government in Iraq. America did not go to war in Iraq to establish democracy. It went to war to free America and the region from the potential threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a rogue regime. Democracy was a second-order goal to meet the very real need to create some form of legitimate government to fill the power vacuum. It may or may not work in the short run, but if it does not, that should not mean that America has to abandon its general commitment to freedom, the rule of law, human rights, good governance, and representative government.

Second, the administration will have to sort out the distinction between freedom as a long-range moral and strategic goal and democracy as a short-term political tactic. The two sometimes coincide, but they just as often are in conflict. Electing a government with a plurality or even majority of Islamist extremists does nothing for either freedom or democracy. In profoundly illiberal societies, elections are actually a danger to freedom and representative government. This hard fact is not easily understood and difficult to capture in inspirational speeches. But it is a fact nonetheless. In the real world, sometimes the lesser of two evils is the best choice. The inability to handle that ambiguity unfortunately has hobbled both the president and the critics of his freedom agenda—the former in being unable to explain adequately why, for example, he opposes the “democratically elected” Hamas government, while the latter escape into irrelevant debates about “neo-conservatism” and have an ideological meltdown because freedom and democracy are so difficult for some peoples to achieve.

In both cases some patience and historical perspective are in order. What cannot be achieved overnight may still be worth pursuing in the long run. What may cause instability in the short run may, when the time is right, be the only guarantee of stability in the long run. The key is in understanding both the difference in circumstances and the conditions of timing. There is no formula or one-size-fits-all model for advancing freedom around the world. The faster both the administration and its critics realize this, the better off America and the world will be.

Richard Haass:

... the experience of the past six years should lead to a reorientation of U.S. foreign policy. It is not simply that it needs to become more multilateral and more diplomatic. It also needs to shift its emphasis. Years were lost while the United States distracted itself with fanciful hopes of regime change. This time allowed North Korea to expand its nuclear arsenal. It also allowed Iran to continue clandestine efforts to develop an enrichment capability. In the process, the United States squandered the chance to pressure Iran when oil was one-third its current price, before the United States became bogged down in Iraq, and when Iran was governed by someone more open to normal relations with the outside world. Ambitious hopes for transformation also help explain why the United States embarked on its flawed policy in Iraq.

The problems with this approach to foreign policy are less philosophical than practical. Mature democracies are more peaceful. But creating mature democracies is a daunting task. Pacing, the sequencing of political and economic reform, taking into account local culture and tradition—these and other factors complicate all efforts to instill (much less install) democratic ways. Partial successes can translate into total failures, as incomplete or “emerging” democracies are prone to populism and extreme nationalism. Elections, far from a panacea, can introduce additional problems. In Iraq, they have reinforced sectarian rather than national identity; in Palestine, elections have brought to power a party with an agenda inconsistent with conflict resolution.

What is more, all of this social engineering necessarily takes place at the same time the United States must call upon some of the very governments it seeks to change (and on occasion oust) to help meet the pressing political, economic and strategic challenges of the day. Emphasizing the need for dramatic political reform can make cooperation on other priority matters more difficult; backing off opens the United States to charges of hypocrisy and double standards. For these reasons, the principal business of American foreign policy must be the foreign policy, not the domestic policy, of others.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Washington Times on Russia

A sober analysis from the Washington Times on the U.S. -Russia relationship. Some excerpts:

With Russia neither avowed friend nor enemy, Washington needs a solid understanding of what kind of relationship it can realistically expect with the Kremlin, and how to work toward that relationship.

One view is that what the United States can expect and should work for with Russia is "narrowly defined strategic cooperation, not full partnership, not close and intimate friendship, but meaningful strategic cooperation on key issues which the United States needs to address," Dmitri Simes, the founding president of the Nixon Center and a respected expert on Russian relations, told The Washington Times in an interview last week. Washington needs to understand that it is dealing with a more nationalist and resurgent Russia -- a Russia "that is not interested in anybody's guidance regarding domestic affairs," said Mr. Simes.


"If we did not have serious external threats like nonproliferation, like terrorism, an argument could be made for a kind of normal but distant relationship with Russia," said Mr. Simes. But like Mr. Simes, we believe the United States does not have this luxury.

Turkey's Sour Grapes

Prime Minister Erdogan has complained to the Turkish parliament that his country has been treated unfairly in the EU process.


When Yugoslavia decided to adopt the techniques used by Turkey in combating its Kurdish insurgency in dealing with Kosovo, they got a NATO intervention.

I understand many Turks are frustrated by what appears to be a slow process. And decades of Europeans not leveling with Turkey about the real challenges are partly to blame. But to say Turkey has been treated "unfairly" is a bit of a stretch. Turkey has been granted the benefit of the doubt on so many points to keep the process moving forward.

Perhaps the Turks should have taken a page out of the Russian playbook. The Russians decided not to move forward with a bid for EU membership, in part because they did not want the interference in their internal affairs, and partly because they felt that compliance with EU regulations would compromise Russian sovereignty and freedom of action. Moscow, as a result, has concentrated on partnership relations both with the EU but more importantly with key EU countries.

Turkey, on the other hand, made it clear it wanted full membership. But that comes at a price.

Ankara cannot get around the fact that Cyprus is a EU member and that the government of the Republic is recognized as the government of the entire island. The Cypriot government has been as accommodating as it can be--not blocking the opening of accession talks and in its public statements supporting Turkey's bid--unlike some other EU states.

But there is a principle here that the EU is supposed to operate on the basis of rules. Perhaps one reason why the Euroskeptics are pushing the Turkish bid forward even when Ankara still does not want to deal with Cyprus is the hope that if the EU can be shown to be ineffective in enforcing its own rules, the seeds of its dissolution have been planted.

One final note: Ankara could have been much more flexible and won a good deal of sympathy if it was prepared to be more accommodating. If Turkey is really concerned for the welfare of the Turkish Cypriots, then why not ask for a NATO peacekeeping mission to keep the peace and patrol the de facto separation lines--a mission NATO has carried out in Bosnia? Then Turkey could have made a big show of withdrawing its forces. Plus the EU does a good job of enforcing rules to protect the rights of minorities.

It seems Ankara doesn't want to choose between exercising a protectorate over 1/3 of Cyprus or joining the EU. That inability to choose has caught up with Turkey--but it isn't a sign of unfairness.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Biddle's points on Iraq

There has been renewed interest in what Stephen Biddle had to say about Iraq in the latest issue of TNI ever since the George Will column of last week and his invitation to the White House today to brief the president. The full symposium is still available at National Interest online.

Some of what he wrote:

In a better world, some multinational institution would broker the deal and provide the peacekeepers. This is not going to happen in Iraq. So if the civil war termination script is going to be followed here, the United States is going to have to do the heavy lifting itself.

Current U.S. policy, however, undermines our prospects for this in at least two ways. First, we have little leverage for compelling the mutual compromises needed for real power sharing. Each camp sees potentially genocidal stakes in power sharing: the downside risks if the deal fails to ensure their security could be mass violence at the hands of communal rivals. Against such enormous stakes, major leverage will be needed to convince nervous parties to accept the risks; U.S. offers of development aid or trade assistance or political recognition are trivial by comparison. And this thin gruel is getting thinner as the United States begins to cut even the modest aid we now provide—the Marshall Plan this is not. Such weak leverage will never persuade Iraqis to take the huge risks involved in real compromise.

Second, we are apparently unwilling to play the role of long-term peacekeeping stabilizer. Though disliked by many Iraqis, in principle U.S. forces could still do this. In recent months American efforts in suppressing Shi‘a militias and our comparative sectarian evenhandedness in places such as Tal Afar and Baghdad are persuading Sunnis that we are potential defenders against Shi‘a violence. Though Shi‘a are wary of American motives, three years of U.S. combat against Sunni guerillas give us the bona fides to keep Shi‘a trust if we play our cards right. We can be neutral—the problem is that we are not willing to stay. Who would trust a deal enforced by a peacekeeper who announces its intention to leave as soon as it can hand its job over to one of the combatants in an ongoing civil war?


Iraq today is a race between progress toward a settlement and acceleration of inter-communal tensions fueled by sectarian killing. Success requires that a settlement precede the loss of tolerance; defeat will occur if killing outpaces compromise. And to obtain the former rather than the latter will almost certainly require that Americans be willing to accept a long-term role in policing any ceasefire.

For now, the trends in these metrics are not promising: Compromise has been slow and grudging; while the death toll occasionally falls, the overall trend is sharply upward; and Americans are displaying diminishing tolerance for the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Time is thus not on our side. Current U.S. policy is not yielding an aggressive pace of communal compromise in Baghdad; we risk letting the war slip out of control if we cannot find a means of accelerating the deal-making, and soon. And the longer the fighting goes on and the more Americans die without intercommunal accommodation or a ceasefire, the slimmer the political prospects for a significant long-term American troop presence. If a truce comes soon, trends in U.S. support for Iraqi deployments might reverse; if not, they surely will not. We still have a chance, but this window will not stay open forever. And this implies that we must aggressively seek out new forms of leverage to move this process along soon—before it is too late.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Response to Critics

Don't like my stand on foreign policy issues? That's fine--always open to debate and argument. (No ad hominem attacks, though.)

But for those critical of some of my recent pieces (in National Interest, the Boston Globe, the IHT, and elsewhere)--arguing that the U.S. is losing global influence and that we have to set some unpleasant priorities--I have four questions for you.

1. Is Iran's development of a nuclear capability one of the major challenges to U.S. interests?
2. Can meaningful pressure be brought against Iran without the support of Russia or China?
3. Can the United States put together a meaningful coalition in the absence of a UN resolution?
4. Is the United States prepared to shoulder the burden and pay the costs of unilateral action?

Those who answer yes, no, no, no to these questions and nonetheless advocate "sticking it" to Moscow, Beijing, and Paris (among others) are the ones who need to explain why their policy makes sense, and not simply say they are champions of freedom.

(A different debate can occur with those who answer no to question one and advocate a stronger U.S. role in the Eurasian space, or who answer yes to #3 and/or #4 that the U.S. should not be making any quid pro quos. I disagree with those answers and think that the balance of facts argues against it, but at least that is a coherent position to take).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Realists Resurgent?

One of the themes in media coverage the day after the release of the Iraq Study Group is the "return" of the realists; the notion that realism is once again ascendant.

Doesn't seem that way to me.

To use what perhaps may be a crude metaphor, U.S. foreign policy realists are the janitors of the system. If someone throws up on the country club dance floor, you want them there in a flash to clean up, disinfect and generally remove any trace of the unfortunate accident. But they aren't often invited to the cotillion and certainly not to sit on the membership committee.

Realist advice is usually ignored at the beginning of a venture; it is solicited only when everything else appears to be failing.

While realists are being asked to come up with ways to either salvage something of victory (or stave off defeat) in Iraq--the foreign policy establishment and mainstream media seems to be right on course for creating new problems and crises. No need to let a setback like Iraq prevent other crusading efforts.

Bonus prediction: James Baker, today being touted as the hero of the hour, will be in five or ten years time condemned as the man who prevented freedom from spreading in the Middle East, cited as the latest example of the amoral realist who prevented America from fulfilling its destiny (see entries for Kissinger and FDR as examples).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Reflections on the Iraq Study Group report

First impressions ...

A report that is two years too late. These are recommendations that might have had a better chance of being integrated into an overall strategy for success had they been proposed in December 2004 when the U.S. was still in a much stronger position.

Still too U.S.-centric reflecting the belief that the U.S. still has the principal freedom of action and room to maneuver. It reminds me of the scene in the movie Midway when, after hearing about the plan to destroy what is left of the American fleet at Midway, Admiral Nagumo tells Admiral Yamamoto that the plan will bring success if the enemy does everything as expected. So where do we go if Syria and Iran don't want to play ball, the Palestinians don't want to negotiate with Israel (or vice versa), and the Iraqi factions don't shape up? Do we leave? Do we try to "force order"? What happens if no other actor does what we expect them to?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

CNN discussion

Appeared on Paula Zahn's show this evening to discuss events surrounding the Litvinenko poisoning.

I was hoping we'd have more of a discussion about how this incident fits into the overall track of relations between Russia and the West, but apparently it was decided to focus on the spy angle.

I don't know why the position I've advocated--let's let the investigation continue and begin to put more facts on the table--since there are so many rumors and theories floating about--and peoples' stories keep changing--is so controversial. Didn't we learn from the whole Saddam and weapons of mass destruction issue not to make policy on a rush to judgment?

At any rate, what worries me the most about this entire episode, as I said at the end, is whether or not these operations are freelance or for hire, which is much more troublesome a scenario to contemplate.

Monday, December 04, 2006


We're in the final stages of getting the January/February 2007 issue of The National Interest ready for the printers.

I think it will be a good issue. Richard Haass and Kim Holmes--both former Bush Administration officials and now at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Heritage Foundation, respectively, offer their opinions as to what president Bush should be doing in foreign policy for his last two years of office. Dimitri Simes will weigh in with an appeal to "end the crusade"; John Yoo and Roger Delahunty will make the case for the U.S. to move away from always upholding territorial integrity of states as a starting point for policy; Dan Drezner gives us a review essay on "vox populi and foreign policy"; Ian Bremmer makes his case for engagement over isolation as the best way to deal with rogue states; Congressman Saxton worries about our lack of worst-case scenario planning for dealing with Iran and Hizballah. I'm writing from the "top of my head" and so don't want to slight other contributors to this issue--John Voll, Michael O'Hanlon, Dan Benjamin, Brendan Conway and others.

Will be out at the beginning of the year.

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