Friday, March 30, 2007

Latest News from the Afghan Front

Seth Jones from the RAND Corporation and Alexis Debat, my TNI and Nixon Center colleague, were discussing the situation in Afghanistan today in the run-up to the expected "spring offensive" by the Taliban. I am not planning to summarize all their points but to "pick out" a few that were of great interest to me.

Seth wanted to put things in the larger context of how and why insurgencies thrive. Insurgencies usually get off the ground for two reasons--the first is an incompetent indigenous government often with legitimacy problems unable to provide security and services; the second is having outside support in terms of aid, equipment and sanctuary.

In Afghanistan, and particularly in Kandahar province, he noted that there is an almost complete absence of either central government or international presence in the rural areas; by his estimate, some 97 percent of the province. The foreign aid groups are limited to a few urban areas as the rest of the region is not safe for them. Locals identify lack of infrastructure, particularly access to water, as the major problem.

Combine this with a resurgent Taliban which can still draw on support from elements within the Pakistani military, an international jihadi network and the narcotics trade--and the stage is set for a resumption of the insurgency.

The Taliban has also learned from its failures last year particularly its efforts to take Kandahar city and to engage NATO forces in conventional battles. They are now concentrating on developing a rural-based insurgency village by village. (I thought to myself listening to Seth, shades of Mao Zedong).

Alexis Debat who has just returned from Pakistan added some additional points. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are still quite wealthy. And while Pakistan's ISI reports that the Saudi government has been able to interrupt to some extent the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia, Debat called attention to a group of rich Saudi merchants and businessmen operating out of Malaysia ("under the radar") able to fly cash to Peshawar and from there to be disbursed.

Iraq is also playing a role in the development of what he sees as a "new Taliban/new Al-Qaeda" which is more militant. He quoted estimates that some 200-300 Pakistanis have been taking part in the insurgency in Iraq and have returned bringing new techniques with them--including much more sophisticated IEDs which have now made their first appearances in this region of the world.

However, he also cautioned not to assume we are dealing with a monolithic organization. THere are significant splits and a wide diversity of groups--he estimates some 25 different organizations operating in Waziristan. There are sources of tension as traditional tribal leaders and patron-client networks have been displaced by the new arrivals, and there is ethnic tension as well, citing problems in the tribal areas between locals and outsiders such as Uzbeks. "Allegiances are very short-lived" in this part of the world, which presents us with both difficulties but also opportunities.

The Costanza Doctrine

Michael Fullilove lays out the "Costanza doctrine" in today's Financial Times.

As he notes, the "Costanza doctrine" "recalls the classic episode of the TV comedy Seinfeld, “The Opposite”, in which George Costanza temporarily improves his fortunes by rejecting all the principles according to which he has lived his life and
doing the opposite of what his training indicates he should do."

He goes on to say, "The Costanza doctrine is most closely associated with President George W. Bush and his first-
term confidants: the wild-eyed neo-cons and the dead-eyed ultra-cons. But there is a wider group,
which includes most presidential candidates and many of Washington’s foreign policy elite, who
are not fully paid-up subscribers to the doctrine but went along with it nonetheless. Allied
governments in London, Madrid and Canberra also signed up."

What are some of these principles that the Costanza doctrine seeks to overturn?

That "military and diplomatic resources are finite and should be directed towards your greatest

That you should not "weaken your intimidatory powers through poor military performance."

That " you get by with help from friends."

That you recognize "state-building is hard. ... Luckily there are numberless reports identifying lessons learnt. The
alternative would be to do the opposite of what those reports recommend."

That you acknowledge "democracy is a blessing that requires patient nurturing."

Finally, remembering that "if two dangerous states are struggling for dominance of a strategic region, maintaining a balance between them may be the least worst option."

He then invites the reader to determine to what extent all of these lessons have been ignored in Iraq.

New Locale for TWR

The Washington Realist is setting up its presence on the National Interest homepage, to more closely integrate its commentary with the magazine's online presence.

This current location will continue to serve as a mirror site.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

It's Not 1985

One of the things that often surprises me in seeing how people assess U.S. relations with states like Germany or Turkey is the extent to which they are still operating on 1980s assumptions. Saudi Arabia also falls into this category as well.

Saudi Arabia is joining the club of states around the world which are hedging their bets on the United States. And while there is certainly a great deal of overlap between Saudi and American interests, we can and no longer should assume that Washington's agenda is automatically Riyadh's agenda.

Eurasia Group analyst Rochdi Younsi pointed out some interesting facts from the ongoing Arab summit:

"King Abdullah’s keynote address labeling the situation in Iraq as an 'illegitimate foreign occupation' coincided with reports that he also declined an invitation to a 17 April state dinner that US President George Bush was to offer in his honor. ... [A]nti-US sentiment in Saudi Arabia and throughout the region remains on the rise, and King Abdullah cannot afford going against his public opinion. As a result, while Saudi back-channel diplomacy toward the US will continue to be active under Prince Bandar’s leadership, the king will likely avoid highly-publicized social events that may project agreement with President Bush’s policies.

"US-Saudi relations are likely to face new challenges in the near and medium term, mainly because of the two-track strategy that the kingdom has been pursuing. Such diplomacy will consist of maintaining a strategic alliance with the US while at the same time spearheading individual initiatives on regional matters, including the situation in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Iraq and Iran. ... Although princes from both sides of the dilemma fear the emergence of Iran as a major regional power, they also realize that Saudi Arabia will have to coexist with its Iranian rival and that compromise with Tehran should be sought. Consequently, the Saudi government is likely to oppose any military strike against Iran, while at the same time advocating strict containment of Iranian military capabilities."

Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal has endorsed Iran's bid to become an observer of the Arab League: "Given the importance and key role of the Islamic Republic of Iran and in order to further strengthen cooperation between Tehran and the Arab League, we voice our full support for Iran's membership in the League with observer status."

And Syria is trumpeting its role as a bridge between the Arab world and Iran.

Seems to confirm what Ray Takeyh and I noted in the Financial Times on February 15th: "[T]he region's Sunni powerhouses are much less inclined to support US efforts and, in fact, may obstruct them."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Yet More on Iran--And Ambassador Zarif!

Cliff Kupchan reports how the Iranian crisis is deepening ... His conclusions are sobering.

This evening Iran's UN Ambassador Javad Zarif spoke at The Nixon Center. He noted that continued pressure on Iran--and the belief that just a little more pressure will produce results--has instead led to opposite outcomes. The nuclear issue is resolvable but each day it becomes much more difficult. I found it interesting when he said something to the effect that over the next year the U.S. can persuade the UN to authorize more resolutions but at the same time Iran can start up more centrifuges.

The question and answer session was extremely interesting with audience members asking probing and detailed questions--but unfortunately that part is off the record.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My Musings on Iran

I contributed to today's NRO symposium Tehran Seizure.

It proved to be very difficult for me to write this short contribution. (TWR readers will recognize why the previous entry is about Sun Tzu, by the way.) I don't know if I made the points well that I was trying to convey--namely, if you threaten war or military action, you have to be prepared to carry it out--and you better have done your cost-benefit analysis for whatever course of action you undertake. And most importantly, if you bait the bear in his lair, be prepared for a violent reaction.

I think Larry Johnson and Pat Lang's update piece for TNI is pretty stark--that there are no good, cheap, easy or "safe" options.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Reminder from Sun Tzu

I was re-reading the Art of War. Perhaps a refresher course is needed here in Washington?

Book Two

2.When you engage in actual fighting, if victory
is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and
their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town,
you will exhaust your strength.

3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources
of the State will not be equal to the strain.

4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped,
your strength exhausted and your treasure spent,
other chieftains will spring up to take advantage
of your extremity. Then no man, however wise,
will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war,
cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited
from prolonged warfare.

19. In war, then, let your great object be victory,
not lengthy campaigns.

Book Three

12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring
misfortune upon his army:--

13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat,
being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey.
This is called hobbling the army.

14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the
same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant
of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes
restlessness in the soldier's minds.

15. (3) By employing the officers of his army
without discrimination, through ignorance of the
military principle of adaptation to circumstances.
This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dimitri Simes on Kosovo and Russia

For your perusal:

Play ball with Russia--The Kremlin softened its position on Iran; now it rightfully expects the U.S. to listen up on Kosovo.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

... and Lind and Lieven

One other point from this afternoon's discussion. At one point Michael Lind, in discussing the concert of power strategy, noted that his lack of interest in a government position gave him the freedom to think openly and voice his criticisms and opinions without having to worry about a confirmation committee taking his TNI article (he was holding the proofs of his forthcoming essay in his hand) or anything else he has written in search of negative evidence.

Then later this afternoon I received a copy of Anatol Lieven's forthcoming essay on Russia in The American Conservative and, in his section about the near-lack of debate about whether or not Ukraine should be considered for NATO membership (in 2005), he notes that a number of experts had reservations in private but weren't willing to publicly state them since it appeared that there was a strong political coalition in favor--even though the possible admission of Ukraine to NATO would have major geopolitical consequences. Basically it was Ukrainian voters returning Viktor Yanukovych to power as prime minister, rather than any sustained policy debate in Washington, that took Ukrainian NATO membership off of the table.

This is a disturbing trend. If entire policy questions are deemed off limits to debate and discussion--or to raise questions and doubts makes someone politically radioactive--how do we get informed policy? It makes it even less likely that Stef Halper's "rational center" will re-emerge anytime soon.

Etzioni and Lind

Amitai Etzioni and Michael Lind facililated one of our regular "squaretable" discussions on U.S. foreign policy at the magazine today.

Etzioni said that U.S. policy is not simply in need of adjustments (saying we need to "work with allies" isn't enough) but needs to be grounded in what he called Freudian realism--policies that are based in reality testing as to whether they can be achieved or not. He compared some of the foreign policy analysts to Evan Pritchard's rain dance practitioners--when rain didn't happen it was because the dance was done wrong (perhaps not enough dancers deployed) or that in fact it would rain--just later on (perhaps after the next election cycle).

For Etizoni, the organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy needs to be to prevent nuclear terrorism. This means reducing the amount of deadly material and getting regimes to give up weapons programs. For him, the success story has been Libya. The bargain was Libya got rid of its WMD programs in return for no overt attempts at regime change. If other states feel that after complying more demands are coming--don't expect them to give up WMD.

Etzioni believes democratization is a long-term goal and needs to be done by generational, educational means. Meanwhile, you work with the regimes you have, and you engage realistically. Getting Iran to give up WMD might be feasible; getting a pro-American liberal democracy probably isn't, or as likely as thinking that faced with sanctions Bush would give up the White House to Gore and become an advocate for gay marriage and abortion rights.

For Lind, the classic American approach has been to avoid a foreign policy that requires excessive militarization or leads to an autocratic, secretive executive. Isolationism (more properly, "spheres of influence"--the U.S. being the hegemon of the Western Hemisphere but not getting involved in other regions of the world) was one approach. The Theodore Roosevelt, FDR and to some extent Wilson and Truman vision was the concert of great powers--not a utopian vision of harmony but a push for collective shared hegemony. More recently, we have had both neoconservatives and neoliberals articulate a vision of American hegemonism based on hegemonic stability theory--that a concert of power is impossible and so the United States can use its overwhelming advantage to deliver peace by convincing other powers not to challenge U.S. supremacy and by providing their security. The problem, as Lind sees it, is that the American people do not want to pay the costs of this approach. So we have a bait-and-switch approach where the maintenance of this hegemony is cloaked in the mantle of "threats" to the American heartland--a tendency reinforced by a foreign policy community which needs "threats" to stay in business. This produces a situation where the government increasingly lies not about specific details but about the overall foreign policy strategy--which in turn erodes the democratic system.


Once again that hectic time at the magazine in terms of getting final edits done to manuscripts--but my follow-up piece on Kosovo, for your perusal, at National Interest online:

We need a honest, open and reasoned debate on the future status of Kosovo.

No solution or proposal should escape detailed and close scrutiny. We need no repeats of the run-up to the Iraq War, with its rosy predictions about cakewalks and being greeted as liberators and how Iraqi oil income would pay for reconstruction.

We know the many drawbacks of plans which fall short of granting the province full independence—with one of the major objections being the right of self-determination. Fair enough. None of the plans for any sort of confederal state, maximum autonomy or even something along the model of the Aland Islands are cost free, particularly because they would have to be imposed on a population that wants independence.

But those who argue for independence must also answer a few hard questions.

The first is to explain why they are so confident why a local government that under UN and NATO supervision has been unable to crack down on crime and human trafficking or to provide adequate guarantees for the ethnic minorities of the province will somehow be much more effective if independence is granted. I don’t buy the argument that the province’s "undefined status" prevents effective governance. Case in point: Taiwan.

"Standards before status" was a good policy to have adopted and should still remain the guiding principle. And as we have seen in East Timor, granting independence is not a panacea and does not in and of itself guarantee stability.

"Conditional" independence is problematic because once granted I don’t see the EU or NATO going back in to retake control should things not work out. So I think we have a right to see something more concrete than statements about how things will get better if only independence is to be granted.

The second is why Kosovo sets no precedent. Forget whether or not the Russians are going to recognize Abkhazia or Ossetia in retaliation. I can’t see the U.S. government—particularly the Congress—prepared to extend the formal guarantees to other countries (and separatist regions) about Kosovo not setting any precedent. Already the first rumblings among some conservatives has begun about Taiwan not really being a part of China, Shanghai communiqué be damned! Can a U.S. president send a letter to Hu Jintao that publicly affirms no Kosovo precedent for Taiwan? A similar resolution about Nagorno-Karabakh getting past Speaker Nancy Pelosi? (By the way, the official representation office of the unrecognized Nagorno Karabakh Republic has this to say on its website:

Since its decade-old independence, NKR has enjoyed all attributes and institutions of statehood. Indeed, Karabakh's de facto statehood fully satisfies the requirements of conventional and customary international laws for de-jure recognition. Since its decade-old independence, NKR has enjoyed all attributes and institutions of statehood. Indeed, Karabakh's de facto statehood fully satisfies the requirements of conventional and customary international laws for de-jure recognition. . . .

The Nagorno Karabakh Republic appeals to the U.S. Congress to formally recognize the right of its people to live free of external threats and be masters of our own destiny. . . . We ask the United States to welcome a new nation that truly embraces and stands unequivocally for such universal values as freedom, democracy and equal justice under law for all.

Because it will promote stability, peace and economic prosperity for all peoples of the South Caucasus, formal recognition of the independent Republic of Nagorno Karabakh is in interest of the international community.

These arguments sound familiar, don’t they?

Saying that Kosovo sets no precedent is not like a magic phrase that if repeated three times (and accompanied by a clicking of the heels) means that it is so. The Regnum News Agency is quoting unnamed sources that a number of Middle Eastern countries in light of the Kosovo precedent are preparing to recognize the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus and that even the U.S. State Department may be considering such a step by the end of 2007. On that latter point, I hope that that is Levantian hot air and not seriously being considered at Foggy Bottom.

I understand the desire of many here in Washington to get Kosovo "off" the agenda. Independence may end up being the best course of action. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that there is an easy, cost-free solution.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Agenda Podcast

Appeared on the Agenda (TV Ontario) with Steve Paikin yesterday to discuss whether realism is making a comeback or not in U.S. foreign policy--a panel discussion with Janice Stein (University of Toronto), Tom Donnelly (AEI) and Samantha Powers (Kennedy School).

My take: a readjustment may be in the works but being more pragmatic is not necessarily becoming a realist.

Here's the podcast.


Nick Xenakis and I weigh in on the Burgas-Alexandropoulis pipeline issue in today's National Interest online (The World is Not Enough).

One of the argumentd deployed against Greece signing a pipeline deal with Russia is what we pointed out here:

"“As we have seen before in Lithuania, Poland and elsewhere, EU and NATO memberships are not enough to protect a country from Russian pressure.”

"This is an amazing statement. NATO is the world’s most powerful military alliance, and member states subsist under an Article 5 guarantee of their security—including the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The United States is preparing to deploy missile defense systems in the former Soviet bloc. The European Union—in terms of its population and economic might—far dwarfs the Russian Federation, even one flush with oil revenues.

"Yes, Russia is a recovering regional power, and certainly its strength has grown in recent years—but let’s not get carried away here!"

Are we so eager to go back to the Cold War (perhaps because we are having such problems adjusting to the post-Cold War environment) that casting Russia as being the equal of the combined nations of NATO and EU is taken seriously?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Baghdad Shuffle

Many thanks first and foremost to all the posters who have been commenting on the "Trips Down Memory Lane" and the questions of accountability. I add here a piece from Michael Fullilove, who wrote earlier this week in The Australian about the continuing lack of accountability among pundits and policymakers there:

It is a sign of the thinness of Australia's public debate that there has been no such reappraisal here. With a few honourable exceptions, Australian hawks have instead done the Baghdad Shuffle. The war was right in principle but wrong in execution. The whole mess is Bush's fault, or Donald Rumsfeld's fault, or the Iraqis' fault - but it's not their fault. They move seamlessly on to the next foreign policy issue, as though the war had nothing to do with them.

American neoconservatives are also doing the Baghdad Shuffle. But the more impressive American hawks now admit there were clear warning signs before the invasion about the Bush administration's approach to intelligence, diplomacy, war-fighting and state-building. Fred Kaplan, an early supporter of the war who changed his mind before the invasion, wrote in March 2003: "If the administration lacks the acumen or persuasive power to deal with such familiar institutions as the UN Security Council or the established governments of France, Germany, Turkey, Russia, China - even Canada - then how is it going to handle Iraq's feuding opposition groups, Kurdish separatists, and myriad ethno-religious factions, to say nothing of the turbulence throughout the region?'

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Kosovo Question

My thoughts on Richard Holbrooke's op-ed in today's Washington Post on Kosovo and Russia, for your perusal and discussion.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Going Down Memory Lane Part Three

Let me leave readers of TWR with a final essay, "Why Iraq's WMD Matters," written in June 2003. Then there is my Choices in Iraq piece from August 2003.

Let me say first I am not offering these to be boastful. I have some real doozies of statements in there, whether about the reliability of what was being proferred by the Administration in terms of pre-war intelligence, to an overestimation of the Iraq threat. But I think these posts demonstrate that I've had a consistent position and did not change my views in 2004, 2005, or 2006 when the "going got tough." Paul Saunders and I were willing to raise what we saw as problems and objections when all you could see on cable tv news networks for days was footage of Saddam Hussein's statue being toppled.

Let me close with a selection from an April 30, 2003 essay, "Occupational Hazards":

First and foremost, America has neither the time nor the energy to turn Iraq into a vast laboratory to test social science theories about democracy in the Arab and Muslim world. Nor was this the primary purpose of the war. Already, the United States has found itself becoming involved in internal political schisms within Iraq .

The United States should focus on achieving a limited set of goals vis-à-vis a postwar government. The post-Saddam regime should not seek to develop weapons of mass destruction or sponsor terrorism. The government should be reasonably transparent and allow for the development of a viable civil society--a challenge noted by Shibley Telhami elsewhere in this issue. It should allow for a devolution of power from Baghdad to the regions to allow for a good deal of local self-government, but not at the expense of maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq .

There is a real and profound tension in American postwar policy. Our idealistic desire for perfection in Iraq --crafting a pro-American, secular liberal democracy--would require a great deal of American control and micromanagement. It would necessitate a long-term and very intrusive U.S. presence. It would also preclude the ability to bring others into the process--including many Iraqis themselves--but also other partners and donors who could share the burden, cost and responsibility of reconstruction.

Some in Washington fear that opening the process of Iraqi reconstruction to other players--the Europeans, the Russians, and indeed to the entire spectrum of Iraqi society--would prevent the United States from being able to precisely shape the outcome to meet pre-determined ideological goals. There is, however, an important trade-off. The more others are involved, the simpler it will be to develop a realistic exit strategy for U.S. forces--not the widely inflated and patently unrealistic claims of "three months" (after all, let us not forget that President Clinton promised that Bosnia post-Dayton would be a one year mission--one that has lasted for eight)--but an exit strategy where U.S. combat forces can be replaced over time with civilian and police specialists from other states. If for no other reason, U.S. combat forces are needed to provide a more credible edge to efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the Korea crisis, and to credibly demonstrate--both to North Korea and to China --what the alternate to a negotiated settlement would be. American tankers and special forces should not be bogged down directing traffic and protecting banks in Baghdad while serious negotiations are being conducted in Beijing with North Korean emissaries. The sooner U.S. combat forces are out of Iraq , the less chance there is of a backlash developing throughout the Muslim world, and this would also free up military assets to deal with other pressing matters.

Reconstruction efforts in Iraq also set the template for what happens in places like North Korea . A "go-it-alone" attitude in Iraq is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy for North Korea --a country that economist Marcus Noland described in an earlier issue of In the National Interest as " the world's largest contingent liability." (

The United States has a preponderance of power in the world, but not unlimited resources. It cannot afford to squander either its resources or its prestige gained by the recent victory by engaging in an over-ambitious program for Iraq .

Going Down Memory Lane Part Two

Paul Saunders and I wrote this essay, "Liberation Theology," on April 2, 2003.

The war in Iraq is concluding its second week and the multiplication of Monday-morning quarterbacks evaluating the American war plan is continuing almost without restraint. While these kinds of questions are always appropriate in a democracy, few seem to share our view that, not unlike Otto von Bismarck's comparison of politics to sausage-making, war should be judged by its outcome rather than its process.

Nevertheless, there are in a sense two wars underway; one is a narrow effort to dislodge Saddam, the other is a broader campaign to democratize Iraq and eventually the rest of the region. The United States is certain to prevail in the first war, though the timing and cost of its victory are unknowable. The outcome of the second war—which will necessarily last much longer--is considerably harder to predict.


Prominent neo-conservatives like William Kristol have suggested repeatedly for years we would receive a friendly reception from the Iraqi people; for example, Kristol testified in February 2002 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "As in Kabul but also as in the Kurdish and Shi'ite regions of Iraq in 1991, American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators." (He bravely went on to say that "Indeed, reconstructing Iraq may prove to be a less difficult task than the challenge of building a viable state in Afghanistan"--a statement that remains to be tested.)

Though Baghdad has not yet been taken, none of these predictions have been borne out in other Iraqi cities, even in the predominantly Shi'ite south, which many assumed would not only enthusiastically greet U.S. forces but turn decisively against Saddam Hussein's regime. There have been no mass surrenders; no widespread popular uprisings; and resistance has intensified in some areas. Many Iraqis probably do desire an end to Saddam's tyranny, that is true, but the brunt of the fighting to remove him from power is going to be done by coalition forces, not by Iraqis.


At a broader level, the neo-conservatives' effort to create a sense of inevitability around Saddam's demise to encourage quick surrender has a considerably less attractive mirror-image, which seems to have become Baghdad's strategy. The mere fact that the military campaign will be measured in weeks or months rather than days creates substantially more opportunities for war's deadly roulette wheel to generate terrible accidents, such as the casualties in Baghdad's markets (though the cause of these incidents remains to be seen), or this week's civilian deaths at American checkpoints, which fuel resentment of the United States. Taken together with manifest efforts by the Iraqi regime to make such incidents more rather than less frequent, this has the potential to create a self-reinforcing cycle of anger toward America that slows the war and, as the clock ticks on, generates new tragedies.


This is in no way intended to question the war; Iraq was and is a threat to the United States and what has begun must be completed successfully in a manner that upholds American interests and values. Similarly, we do not seek to judge the results of a war that has not yet been completed; in the famous words of Yogi Berra, "it ain't over 'til it's over." Nevertheless, the evolving contours of the conflict do raise questions about the extent to which U.S. liberation would be welcomed by others in the region and the degree to which military power is likely to be an effective instrument of democratization. We will have to wait for the answers.

Going Down Memory Lane Part One

With all of the recent focus on officials and candidates coming clean with what they said about the Iraq War--and more importantly, when they said it, I also want to apply a standard of strict scrutiny to my own writings.

I was not an opponent of the Iraq War (in the sense either of a Kucinich from the left or a Scowcroft from the right). But I would describe myself as being skeptical about the timing and aims.

Paul Saunders and I wrote the following on January 15, 2003, before the war began. This is an excerpt of an essay entitled, "Pyongyang and American Priorities":

Needless to say, the United States is currently engaged in a massive military deployment to the Persian Gulf and seems likely to be at war with Iraq in the near future. Suggestions that North Korea should be a greater priority for America have generally been dismissed with the superficial statement that the United States has passed the point of no return in dealing with Baghdad and must maintain its primary focus of attention on Iraq. Apart from budgetary and logistical considerations, this position has also been buttressed by the self-serving but not entirely false argument that a decisive victory in Iraq could increase American leverage over Pyongyang. At the same time, significant attention has centered on the question of whether or not the North Korean situation should be considered a "crisis." The important U.S. interests at stake deserve more serious discussion.

The starting point of any such dialogue must be the recognition that Washington has considerably more options than most people seem prepared to recognize. We may eventually reach the conclusion that many of them cannot be exercised at an acceptable cost—but this should be a reasoned conclusion based upon careful analysis rather than an a priori judgment.

The Bush Administration’s increasingly seems to be attempting to appear sufficiently flexible in dealing with Pyongyang to buy time to resolve U.S. concerns about Iraq. As suggested above, the two principal advantages of this approach are that we are well into both the diplomatic and military processes necessary to deal with the problem and that a (presumed) decisive defeat of Iraq could discourage Kim Jong-il from testing American resolve. The greatest cost of this approach is that it could create the impression that possessing even one or two nuclear weapons is an effective deterrent in dealing with the United States. Also, it is not clear how quickly Washington could shift gears to deal harshly with North Korea even in the wake of the rapid and impressive victory widely expected against Iraq. The challenges of "the day after" may well be greater than those of the conquest itself and could produce their own unexpected constraints.

One of many alternatives to the "Iraq-first" approach would be to give United Nations weapons inspectors more time to work in Iraq—a move that would be welcomed by America's allies, including Britain—and to focus more squarely on North Korea in the interim. Saddam Hussein does not currently have nuclear weapons, and he can make little progress in obtaining while inspectors are roaming around his country. Moreover, he is too much a survivor to take provocative action with U.S. troops poised to invade. Finally, the longer the inspectors work, the stronger the case against Iraq becomes. And as unappealing as it may be to many in east Asia, and particularly to South Korea, the United States could do substantial damage to North Korea’s fledgling nuclear arsenal and its supporting infrastructure with a very modest military force. A brutally honest explanation of this fact, combined with a plan to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program and discuss economic or other assistance, might be successful. If not, Washington should certainly consider a unilateral attack on Kim’s nuclear facilities.

Of course, such a strategy is not without its own attendant risks. The greatest potential danger is of a North Korean attack on South Korea while considerable U.S. forces are deployed in the Middle East. The American relationship with Seoul could also be severely weakened—though the degree and duration of the damage would clearly depend heavily on the outcome. Escalating its conflict with the United States by attacking the South would be suicidal for North Korea and Kim Jong-il’s regime, and all indicators seem to suggest that the Beloved Leader is interested in perpetuating his rule rather than presiding over its obliteration.

We present this outline, however, with the intent to be illustrative rather than definitive. The United States cannot allow itself to be locked into a narrow course of action vis-à-vis North Korea simply because it has begun a deployment in the Gulf.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Kiss Me I'm Russian

Andrew Sullivan labels me a pro-Putin realist in linking to my commentary on the Safronov case. Fair enough, it is an accurate shorthand description. Although I never hear anyone described as a "anti-Putin Wilsonian" ... perhaps because that's the default position?

I've received some useful feedback on those pieces. But I am less appreciative of the ones that suggest that I'm going to be in trouble with my Kremlin paymasters (because, after all, no one can have my set of positions on Russia without being a stooge or KGB plant--oh, and by the way, to any aspiring vandals seeking to change my Wikipedia entry, if you are going to make me a KGB agent, I want the rank of at least a major, if not a colonel).

Since I have a surname that many Russians describe as being a "nastoiashchaia russkaia familiia" it is so easy to spread the inneundo that I must be from "over there." I don't see why I have to trot out my familial history in order to establish my bona fides as a commentator on U.S. policy. I'm not a naturalized citizen, I don't hold dual citizenship, I'm not eligible for the citizenship of any other state. Don't like my position, fine; disagree with me on issues. But why would my commentary be any more or any less valid if I had a different last name. My son is directly descended from an officer in the Continental Army. Would my commentary be more "acceptable" if I adopted the persona of my Revolutionary War ancestor-by-marriage?

I'm proud of my ethnic heritage, and I've studied it--warts and all. And I claim the right of every American to know and appreciate where I came from (in ancestral terms) without it making me one less iota of an American.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Petraeus Agrees With Us?

According to reports from the Associated Press:

Military force alone is "not sufficient" to end the violence in Iraq and political talks must eventually include some militant groups now opposing the U.S.-backed government, the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Thursday.
"This is critical," U.S. Gen. David Petraeus said in his first news conference since taking over command last month. He noted that such political negotiations "will determine in the long run the success of this effort."

In other words, the use of military force can only go so far and that ultimately we need a political solution. Sounds similar to themes Alexis Debat, a senior fellow at The Nixon Center, and I articulated in an essay in the International Herald Tribune last November.

We wrote:

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. … 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.

We had recommended a U.S. policy that would channel “the violence toward a political solution, rather than fighting on for ‘ultimate victory.’” Is this the direction General Petraeus is moving in as well?

(This will be up on National Interest online.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

India and Terrorism, Safronov and Putin

Two unrelated items. Thanks to Ilan Berman and the American Foreign Policy Council for a luncheon invitation to spend some quality small group time with Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, a senior fellow at India's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. I am going to try and get him to write something for TNI in one of its forms, but very impressed by what he had to say about terrorism (the limits of the military solution, the need for a combined political-military approach, the need for the long-term view, starting from the perspective of managing the problem, then shrinking it away, rather than a more simplistic desire for "victory", and so on.)

My initial thoughts on what the death of Kommersant journalist Ivan Safronov means for Russia at National Interest online ("Moscow, We Have A Problem").

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Foreign Policy--The Last Two Years

We had an interesting discussion here at the center today with Marvin Kalb (Shorenstein Center), Andrew Kohut (Pew Research Center) and Robert Merry (Congressional Quarterly) on foreign policy in the last two years of the Bush Administration.

I thought it was interesting that Bob Merry rooted our current dilemmas squarely in the 1992 Somalia operation--which he said was a humanitarian mission where there was no justification made at all that any interests were at stake--but where foreign policy elites also argued that there was no reason to debate the mission. Somalia opened the door for interventions in the Balkans which in turn paved the way for Iraq.

In Iraq, Merry said, we were presented with two rationales: a rationale of necessity (WMD) and a rationale of success (making the Middle East safe for democracy)--the fallout now is that neither of these worked out.

Democrats can win by default, he said, but while they can be successful in opposition he questioned whether they have a credible foreign policy approach given the divisions in the Democratic party.

Kohut noted that there is a lot of public frustration with how foreign policy is conducted but not a good deal of guidance about what to do. The public doesn't know what it wants. I found it fascinating how he broke down polling data. That many of those who say yes to the question that we should pull troops out of Iraq as soon as possible define "as soon as possible" in very gradualist terms. Thus 54 percent say "as soon as possible" but only 16 percent define that to mean "right now this instant." Similarly, a majority of those who say we should "stay the course" also talk about assigning a deadline to the Iraq mission.

There are other contradictions. There is a real "partisan divide" in responses to questions. 47 percent of Americans believe we can succeed in Iraq but 74 percent of those described as Republicans say success is possible. Most Americans say Iran is a threat but 63 percent also don't trust Bush Administration assessments.

Kalb said the president's legacy lies in the Middle East. If he wants to change the downward trajectory he needs by 2008 to end or scale down drastically the war in Iraq, persuade people that the war in Iraq is not going to be widened to include Iran, and be able to demonstrate measurable progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Anything else, particularly a surge effort that does not translate into a sense that a real change has occurred for the better, won't help.

A more in-depth discussion should be up soon at National Interest online.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Chinese Conundrum

Let's leave aside, for a moment, the debate over whether or not China and the United States are destined to clash (something addressed in the current issue of TNI by former Defense Sec'y Bill Perry and Ashton Carter and in the next issue by Robert Art of Brandeis). Let's also leave out the Taiwan factor as well.

At bottom, what you are left with, when faced with the announcement that, at least for the foreseeable future, China's military spending will occur at double the rate of its economic growth, is whether the U.S. really does want other countries to begin assuming more burdens for world security (our loudest and biggest complaint vis-a-vis our allies and partners) or whether the benefits of having other powers continue to depend on us to keep the international system "ordered" outweigh the costs we have to assume to dissuade other powers.

But what the Chinese announcement is the wakeup call for is that we cannot continue to indefinitely postpone our choices in the matter.

Do we welcome China into a security-first paradigm--as Amitai Etzioni argues should be the organizing principle for U.S. foreign policy? Or do we treat China as a future adversary?

We keep saying to ourselves, it will be decades before we have to choose---but the years are slipping away ...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Why Even Bother

I love how unaccountable Washington is.

I worked for a time after completing my doctorate in "the real world"--a small brokerage house.

Advice here matters. You tell someone to invest in a certain mutual fund or stock--and if they lose money--they take their business to someone else. There is accountability for the course of action you prescribe.

Fund managers were also accountable. I would love reading the Morningstar reports which would give you the history of a fund's performance and assign a rating.

Shouldn't pundits, academics and policymakers be subjected to a similar Morningstar five-star rating system?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Does the UN Have A Future?

This was the subject of a discussion the magazine held this morning with Lee Feinstein and Ruth Wedgwood. Yes, it does--but both gave what I would term as qualified answers. Ruth noted that founding moments come very rarely and so despite all the issues we have with the UN we are unlikely to get another chance anytime soon to found something to replace it. But she called attention to the need for the General Assembly to push through reforms--the Secretary General can only do so much--and also what she described as the Chinese approach these days--no longer as willing to let through resolutions that convey "authority by implication" (e.g. all necessary means) and much more interested in resolutions that lay out specific grounds for action (e.g. we authorize sanctions but not use of force). She also called attention to the fact that countries by underinvesting in military capacity affect the UN's ability to carry out effective peace-keeping and security operations; the Charter, by implication, calls on countries to provide support not when they "feel like it" but when the situation warrants it.

Lee, who has charted the emergence of what he calls a "cross-ideological" consensus in the United States about the UN, pointed out how the UN has moved closer to some U.S. positions (e.g. moving away from seeing democracy as one of many systems toward democracy as the norm, a closer move to allowing interventions in dire situations without always requiring Security Council approval. But he also pointed out that the U.S. historically has punched under its weight at the UN and that the U.S. presence there is understaffed, not able to take advantage of what can be achieved there.

Other interesting points: the cold war stalemate is being replaced by energy diplomacy as states don't want to take actions that affect their energy and economic interests; and whether or not a movement toward reform that brings in the United States and a number of developing countries eager to move out of being in lock-step with the non-aligned movement could succeed. Also whether or not the U.S. feels threatened by the UN and to what extent UN legitimacy is required to give an imprimatur to U.S. actions--a debate that was not settled by the end of the session.

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