Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The New Old Fashioned Middle East Strategy

So the United States is formally embarking on its traditional strategy for the Middle East, the one Ray Takeyh and I said in the Financial Times six months ago was going to happen:

"Despite the rhetoric about bringing "freedom to the peoples of the Middle East", the Bush administration's "new approach" to the region looks suspiciously like the ones his predecessors pursued. It is hoped in Washington that an alignment with Sunni monarchs and authoritarian regimes will contain Syria, Iran and Hizbollah."

The U.S. wants to sell sixty billion dollars worth of arms to the Saudis, the Gulf Arabs and other U.S. Arab allies.

The Guardian had this to say in its coverage: "The Arabs welcomed the prospect of the proposed arms sales to help contain their traditional enemy, Iran. But they were cool towards pleas by Ms Rice and Mr Gates to provide diplomatic and economic support to the Iraqi government."

Ray and I had written: "But the Bush team is in for two disappointments. The first is that the region's Sunni powerhouses are much less inclined to support US efforts and, in fact, may obstruct them. ... Despite being flush with oil revenues, the Saudi and the Gulf states are not rushing to provide financial assistance for the reconstruction of Iraq, nor are they restraining their Sunni clerical and intellectual classes from fanning the flames of the insurgency. The under-reported story of Iraq's sectarian convulsions is the extent that Sunni rebels enjoy financial and material support from the wealthy donors in the Gulf sheikdoms and Jordan.

"The second is that the very notion that the Middle East can be stabilised by reconvening a 1980s-style alignment of Sunni states is fallacious. The identification of Shia power with anti-American radicalism and frantic efforts to try to overturn the realities of Persian Gulf geography, however, are not only old policies but failed ones. The removal of Saddam Hussein from power has forever shattered the possibility that Baghdad will take the lead as an Arab bulwark to Tehran - and the power and status of Iran simply cannot be contained or negated by the weak city-states on its periphery. Without Iraq's participation, there is no viable constituency for America's attempt to insulate Iran and obstruct its influence."

The Saudis and others will buy our weapons and hedge their bets--but they aren't going to be U.S. proxies to either stabilize Iraq or confront Iran.

On History ...

Yesterday the House of Representatives called on Japan (in a non-binding resolution) to apologize for the use of "comfort women" (women dragooned by the Imperial military during World War II to serve as involuntary prostitutes). Earlier Japan's ambassador in Washington had warned that passage of the resolution would "almost certainly have lasting and harmful effects on the deep friendship, close trust and wide-ranging cooperation our two nations now enjoy."

The resolution passed unanimously. So it is interesting that members of the House who have argued that the House should not be involved in "writing history" when it comes to matters such as recognizing the large numbers of Armenian deaths that occurred as a result of deliberate Ottoman policy especially if it threatens the U.S. - Turkey security resolution didn't see a problem with the precedent this resolution sets (or didn't show up to vote?)

So, do these resolutions in the U.S. rise and fall on lobbying and public relations? Is something like the "comfort women" vote considered "safe"?

The New Republic ran an interesting essay a few weeks ago about lobbying efforts to defeat the Armenian genocide resolution by Michael Crowley. This certainly doesn't enhance America's reputation for "moral leadership".

Monday, July 30, 2007

Peace Mission 2007

Next week, approximately 6500 troops from Russia, China and other member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—including uni.ts from Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan—will converge on the Chebarkulsk training ground in Chelyabinsk to carry out a series of anti-terrorism drills, while chiefs of the general staffs of the respective countries will gather in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

China is sending 1600 military personnel and dispatched 16 Mi-17 transport helicopters and 16 Z-9 attack helicopters that left an airbase in Xinjiang and are flying directly to the exercise site in Chelyabinsk. Other Chinese forces entered Russia by train. This is the first time that units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have entered Russian territory to carry out joint exercises and also marks a test of China’s capability to project power over long distances.

"This is the first time the PLA has sent so many soldiers and armaments so far," Qiu Yanhan, deputy commander of the Chinese contingent, said in comments to Xinhua.

Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, was hopeful that the SCO exercise “would help strengthen relations between the militaries of SCO members and enhance cooperation in defense security.”

This is important. What made NATO a successful alliance was that, over time, the military forces of the allied countries developed close working relations and a “comfort level” in carrying out joint operations. We aren’t talking about a large number of forces here—but every joint exercise builds up a foundation. I have heard some Chinese begin to refer to the SCO as a “NATO – East”—perhaps a premature assessment, but a sense of where some in Beijing at least view the likely outcome of such cooperation.

Of course, Russian Lt.-General Vladimir Moltenskoy took pains to stress that “Peace Mission 2007” is “not targeted against a third state”—the diplomatic code being that these exercises are not meant to have an anti-American cast to them.

I think we can agree. But what these exercises are meant to demonstrate is that Eurasia doesn’t need a U.S. security presence, thank you very much—that the United States is not an “indispensable nation” in this part of the world.

The SCO announced that dozens of journalists have been accredited to observe the exercises. It will be interesting to see how many Americans are present—and how much reporting we see in the U.S. press.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Message to Georgia: Standards Matter

I came across a remarkable analytical essay written by Taras Kuzio for the Kyiv Post this past April (an op-ed of April 18, 2007) This is from someone who is an advocate of NATO expansion eastward and certainly not someone who could be described as trying to accommodate Russian preferences. So his concerns about Georgia are striking.

Kuzio raises a number of concerns about the direction Georgia is moving in. The move to a super-presidential system and the elimination of checks and balances "served to push Georiga away from its declared goal of Euro-Atlantic integration. As a consequence, Georgia's political system is closer to the Eurasian CIS than to Europe." (Back in 2004, when I wrote that "Saakashvili is taking steps which some consider to be Putinesque" that sentiment was roundly criticized.)

But a number of ongoing developments make it harder to ignore the trajectory. Kuzio cites a number of disturbing trends (including the closed trial of supposed "coup plotters"--the Maia Topuria case--and notes, "Democratic regression could also dissuade some NATO members from extending an invitation to Georgia." He concludes:

"Georgia's attempts to appease the Bush administration by offering to increas[e] the number of troops in Iraq to 2000 (a move that would give Georgia the third largest contingent) and to host a base for the new Defense Shield cannot paper over the thrats to democratic reforms that exist. Post-communist states that have joined NAOT and EU all have parliamentary systems, do not marginalize the opposition by unduly high thresholds or arrests ande uphold the rule of law. Georgia is deficient in all three areas."

How will Washington respond? Some might argue that concessions have to be made to the neighborhood Georgia finds itself in and its very strained ties with Russia, not to mention the two frozen conflicts on its territory. But one leading Georgia observer wrote three years ago:

Some in Washington suggest that current undemocratic tendencies in Georgia are merely transitional challenges and that ultimately things will improve because Saakashvili and his allies have good intentions. Unfortunately, we cannot judge intentions – only actions and results. To ensure that the situation does not spiral out of control, Washington should maintain a vigilant eye on Georgia and urge the new leadership to move away from its more authoritarian positions. Giving the government a blank check and waiting for results could have very dangerous consequences. Instead, the best move would be to nurture an environment of civil political discourse and to stop believing that Saakashvili is Georgia’s “only” or “last” chance.

Or is the U.S.-Georgia relationship going to begin to resemble less the ties with a NATO country and more those the U.S. enjoys with Azerbaijan or Pakistan--a security relationship but less and less expectations about making progress on political reform? The U.S. government has the power to unilaterally designate countries "non-NATO allies" but it seems increasingly unlikely that Washington would be able to convince other NATO members to overlook Georgia's democracy deficits. And at a time when the U.S. commitment to "democracy" in the abstract sense versus the desire to have pro-American governments in place continues to be debated, the trajectory of the Rose Revolution becomes increasingly important.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gingrich Agrees? No Debate?

This is what Newt Gingrich had to say last night on Hannity and Colmes:

The fact is right now what you have is people giving patently political speeches in patently political settings. You don't get the kind of sense you got from Ronald Reagan of a historic effort to define America's future in a way that takes on Washington.

Back in the May/June issue of TNI, Dimitri Simes noted:

Lou Dobbs has asked rhetorically, "Is there not one decent, honest man or woman in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, in either party’s leadership, who possesses the courage and the honesty to say, ‘Enough. The people who elected us deserve better’? So far the answer is no." I assume that even Mr. Dobbs himself would admit to rhetorical exaggeration in this sweeping indictment, but it is no exaggeration to say that unless we do better—much better—as a body politic, the United States will not be able to develop an effective foreign policy.

In the forthcoming issue, Grover Norquist will develop points he made at a recent symposium held at The Nixon Center, where he observed that each party uses foreign policy as a means to address grievances over domestic policies that directly affect their constituencies and noted that there is no lobby or major constituency scrutinizing the direction of U.S. policy abroad to produce a coherent grand strategy on either side of the aisle.

On a side note, the invocation of Reagan again confirms Jacob Heilbrunn's thesis about how Reagan has become the central iconic principle for the GOP but also indicates that, as of yet, Republicans are not willing to heed his advice:

His followers might do well to let Reagan be Reagan, as the famous phrase had it in the early 1980s. While turning back to Reagan may be emotionally satisfying for the GOP, it will not serve as a magic elixir that allows conservatives to recoup their sagging fortunes. Conservatives need to get over their Reagan fixation.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It Is Kosovo Week at TWR

I took part today in a roundtable sponsored by Al-Jazeera on Kosovo. Several of the points that came up:

I noted that the U.S. preference--and this is my preference as well--is to find ways of reconciling self-determination with territorial integrity. In Nagorno-Karabakh, in Abkhazia (a point I also made to Georgia's Rustavi-TV today), in Western Sahara, in Aceh--there are a number of mechanisms which can give effective self-governance and regional control without compromising overall state integrity and raising the hornet's nest of changing boundaries. I think that what has happened with Kosovo is that it has become part of the "legacy" debate for both the Clinton and Bush Administrations, especially since Iraq by all measures is not going that well. The Clinton team wants to contrast Kosovo with Iraq; the Republicans want to retain partial ownership of Kosovo.

The Russian participant in the roundtable--Dimitri Suslov of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policies--issued a withering critique of NATO and the UN in terms of effective state-building in Kosovo--where are the institutions, where is the rule of law, where is the protection of minority rights? Is the United States going to be active in policing whatever final settlement is reached in Kosovo? I had to conclude no it will not--it is looking for a quick exit from the Balkans.

Suslov also took issue with the notion that the U.S. and the EU collectively can and should impose a settlement, arguing that the days in which the "West" can present the world with a fait accompli are coming to an end. In that sense he supports the arguments being advanced by Steven Weber and his co-authors, and we will be having a roundtable next week at the magazine to discuss his arguments.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

... But Honesty On Karabakh

Matthew Bryza, the U.S. Co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, is quoted as saying that any resolution of the Karabakh conflict rests on a compromise between the principles of territorial integrity and people's right to
self-determination. Of course, to prevent any comparison to Kosovo--or for that matter Western Sahara or Somaliland or Abkhazia or Trans-Dnistria, he qualifies: "there's no universal formula to do that."

But it is still useful to see a recognition of the problem.

Kosovo Watch Continued

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana sounded some of the same themes that Greek Ambassador Alexandros Mallias made at his presentation several weeks ago at the Nixon Center.

After the first day of talks with the EU foreign ministers, Solana said, “"We want to give negotiations a chance, and therefore we are going to see how to go about it, together with our friends from the U.S. and Russia, to move forward the process.”

Unlike U.S. politicians, who want to declare “victory” and go home, Solana—as Mallias did earlier, stressed that “"Kosovo is profoundly a European matter. We need a sustainable settlement to ensure long-term stability in the region.”

The key here is “sustainable.” This means an agreement that Serbia can accept, that all countries in the region can uphold.

This requires real negotiations and real discussion about adherence to standards, not simply taking promises at face value. It also means that both sides—Pristina and Belgrade—have to come to the table with serious proposals. Unfortunately, continued U.S. statements about a guaranteed final status take away incentives for reaching any sort of compromises over a number of very serious. It also prevents creative thinking from coming up with new approaches. Is the United States prepared to take the lead to break the diplomatic logjams? Gordon Bardos recently wrote in NI online:

During the next round of negotiations, the full range of Dayton’s ethnic power-sharing and conflict-regulating mechanisms should be considered: constitutional provisions making both Albanians and Serbs (as well as Kosovo’s other ethnic minorities) constituent peoples of Kosovo; rotating ethnic presidencies (at least for symbolic purposes); and the creation of entities or cantons with the right to "special parallel relationships" with neighboring states that Dayton provided. Similarly, during the coming months, international negotiators need to go back to the region and take far more seriously the concerns and advice of Kosovo’s neighbors as to how to move forward.

Mallias had called for one of the tracks in reinvigorating the Kosovo process to be engaged the neighbors. He also had urged returning to the “Contact Group” which includes Russia as the other the track for a renewed diplomatic effort on Kosovo. France’s UN ambassador Jean-Marc De La Sabliere announced that the focus on finding a solution for Kosovo will move from the “Western caucus” that had proposed the recently withdrawn draft Security Council resolution (Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States) back to the original Contact Group.

Diplomacy has a chance--but U.S. politicians both in and out of government need to stop playing around with Kosovo as a "legacy issue" for either the Bush or Clinton Administrations and focus on getting talks--real negotations, not presenting ultimatums--restarted.

Monday, July 23, 2007

World Without the West Debate Continued

Steven Weber asks today, Why is it so hard for Americans to realize that we have real competition for leadership roles in international politics? He posts a response to comments that have been offered in reaction to his original piece.

Podesta's Leaps of Logic

John Podesta, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, has a short essay in today's Washington Post on Kosovo.

He points out that the U.S. and Europe have agreed to "one final round of good faith negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo ..." Then he says, "It is clear that after those talks concude, the United Stats is prepared to recognize an independent Kosovo."

That doesn't sound like good faith negotiations to me about final status.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Public Opinion and Iraq: Numbers Not Adding Up

Malou Innocent is one of the “next generation” voices commenting on U.S. foreign policy. Her analysis suggests why the "numbers" aren't adding up on Iraq.

She notes, "Latest polls show that more Americans are souring on the Iraq War. According to CBS News, 77 percent of the population believes the war is going badly, including 40 percent who want all U.S. troops withdrawn. This poll comes amidst the recent defections of Senate Republicans John Warner of Virginia, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Richard Lugar of Indiana. …

"To start, the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, published in December 2006 by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, states that operations underway in Iraq require a density ratio of 20 to 25 soldiers per 1,000 residents. By the U.S. military's own standards, the Iraq mission would require between 525,000 and 620,000 U.S. troops, rather than the paltry 160,000 U.S. soldiers currently deployed.

"In addition to force presence, the manual argues that the central tenet of counterinsurgency is not killing adversaries, but protecting civilians. However, a recent survey found that less than half of U.S. soldiers agreed that "all non-combatants should be treated with respect." This finding does not impugn the motives of American forces in Iraq; rather, it is clear that they have simply lost their sense of mission. Given the inevitable disillusionment, self-preservation has become the top priority for troops on the ground, and that does not bode well for the counterinsurgency goal of protecting civilians."

Let me interject here--this is a repeat of the problem facing "peacekeepers" in the Balkans and elsewhere during the 1990s, including in Kosovo in 1999. The mission is to protect civilians and the folks at home think this is an honorable task--but to do so requires getting in harm's way--which means that if soldiers are killed or injured, political support at home for the mission dries up. So her final line is a key takeaway. But getting back to her analysis:

"If our occupation already appears lengthy, we may have many years yet to go. General David Petraeus and the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, will release a report on September 15 on how the surge is working. Considering Petraeus told the BBC’s John Simpson that counterinsurgency operations typically last nine or 10 years, that report will likely urge the administration to forge ahead and keep a significant number of troops on the ground.

"Yet the evidence suggests that the surge is not having a decisive beneficial impact. While violent civilian deaths fell sharply, down to 1,227 in June, the number of U.S. soldiers and Marines killed spiked to 101. In the face of these sacrifices, the Iraqi government has been unable to meet its political benchmarks, such as the inclusion of Sunnis in the government, the adequate provision of goods and services, and an equitable oil-sharing plan. But as far back as November 2006, CIA director Michael Hayden told members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that "the inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible." Was anyone listening? If Hayden is correct, even a more robust U.S. military effort will only postpone an inevitable failure.

"The American people increasingly recognize the futility of the Iraq mission. Public misgivings about the administration's course of action are well-founded. Sadly, the facts on the ground are grimmer than many Americans may think."

My own thoughts: Do we let Iraqis fail, and then move to a fallback position where we try to insulate ourselves from the consequences? I suggested last week for the discussion program sponsored by Newsday that when U.S. support dried up for interventions in Haiti and Somalia, the fallback was on getting out and then trying prophylatic measures to prevent spillover. Is this where we are headed in Iraq?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Updates: Britain/Russia--and the EU

So the Russian Federation matched the British by expelling four diplomats, suspending visas for visiting UK officials, and sent a further signal by suspending counter-terrorism cooperation with London. Then President Putin announced that "'You have to respect the legal rights and interests of your partners and then the situation will get better."

The EU reaction is quite interesting. A very lukewarm statement that fell far short of what London was expected in terms of EU solidarity in its insistence that this is really a bilateral matter. The Portuguese--who hold the presidency of the Union right now and who don't really have a close relationship with Russia--had no incentive to try and water down the EU response--they seemed to have not gotten much encouragement and with hours ticking by, wanted to get a lowest-common denominator statement on the record. And while France seems to be in firm support of the British, German chancellor Angela Merkel again demonstrated that German policy is driven by interests rather than sentiments--she even allowed that the British government had "overreacted" in their response by expelling the four Russian diplomats and freezing the visa talks in the first place.

So now what? Tit-for-tat, expulsion for expulsion? Another sign that the Russian (and for that matter the American) strategy of cherry-picking the countries of the EU works?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Get Ready for the Twisted Logic

So the Senate voted on whether to BRING TO A VOTE the measure that would call for the U.S. to withdraw troops from Iraq. This would close debate rather than be a final vote on the proposal itself.

Predictably, the four Democratic presidential contenders in the Senate--Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama--voted in favor; their two Republican counterparts voted against (Sam Brownback and John McCain).

This is another one of these wonderful procedural votes that can mean anything depending on how you choose to interpret it. Hillary Clinton, still not completely embraced by the antiwar left of her party, now can say she supported the measure--but of course she did not have to cast a vote on the measure itself. The Republicans, of course, can say that they simply wanted to "keep talking" and give the president's surge "more time" but should things continue to get worse down the line they can say they weren't opposed to the idea of withdrawal but just voting on a parliamentary measure.

It will be interesting to compare and contrast the differing interpretations of today's vote in the months to come.

The Real Reagan?

We had an interesting discussion today at the magazine with Jacob Heilbrunn--who wrote the major review essay on Reagan and his legacy that appears in the current issue (and who did a fireside chat" after the diaries were published).

One point in the discussion (which should be covered also on NI online shortly) that puts the whole Reagan-as-democracy-crusader versus Reagan-as-pragamtic-and-realistic into context is the famous 1987 quote, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." The wall should come down--but there is also no follow-up that says, "or I'll do it for you".

Monday, July 16, 2007

Testing Compartmentalization

Britain is expelling four Russian diplomats because the Russian government has refused the extradition request for Andrei Lugovoy, the prime suspect in the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Both Gordon Brown and Vladimir Putin are now faced with a question. Does Moscow accept the British response as limited and proportionate to London's very clear anger at the Kremlin's unwillingness to accede to its request? At what point does London decide that this case cannot overshadow other very important British interests (not the least of which is the growing economic interdependence between the two countries). Can London sanction sections of "official Russia" but not interrupt the continued flow of "private-sector Russia" into Britain--which does not only benefit Russia but the UK as well? Will Gordon Brown ask for solidarity from his European and American colleagues in putting pressure on Russia? Will the Kremlin decide that, if it does not extradite Lugovoy, it should undertake a much more transparent and thorough investigation that would satisfy Britain's concerns?

Will we see ripple effects in the US-Russia and German-Russia relations?

Overall, are we now on autopilot--the way that train mobilization schedules drove declarations of war in 1914--or can this crisis be navigated?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Russia's Share of the Hog

A good bookend to Ambassador Freeman's event earlier this week was the presentation today by Vladimir Averchev, director of research for BP Moscow, on "The Politics of Russian Energy Policy."

A few points in passing:

--like Freeman, Averchev noted the growing importance of domestic demand as a driver for growth. In this case, that by 2011 Russian domestic consumers will be paying world prices for energy. So Gazprom or any other producer in Russia will have no preference one way or another as to whether they are exporting energy abroad or selling it at home. So the leverage of consuming countries will continue to decrease.

--Russia is developing its energy reserves based on guaranteed markets at preferential prices. Russian companies will not develop additional capacity for the sake of simply delivering more supplies to market. Gazprom for example already has long-term supply contracts to Europe locked in place and so has guaranteed market share; it is not so desperate that it will need to sell large amounts of additional energy at any price. As commodity prices go up, and as consumers are prepared to bid more, then additional development will take place.

--Russia is awash in foreign reserves especially dollars. So some in Moscow are asking, what is our incentive to produce more energy and to sell it so we can buy more dollars and U.S. Treasury bonds?

I concluded from both presentations this week that we (the United States) need to be prepared for the loss of additional amounts of our leverage to shape global events--something I don't think we are prepared for and certainly that our politicians don't want to address. Both presentations this week also speak to the "World Without the West" debate currently occuring at NI online.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

China and the Whole Hog

Sat in on a discussion at The Nixon Center on "China and the Global Resource Balance" featuring Ambassador Chas Freemen. The title for this blog posting comes from a comment at the beginning that China possesses half of the world's pig supply and is generally the leading consumer of most commodities.

Some points that either came up during the discussion or crossed my mind--

--China's industrial output is set to grow by 17 percent in 2007 alone, so there is an almost insatiable need for resources

--Are we truly isolating "rogue states"? Something Drew Thompson, director of China Studies at the Center, noted, that logs harvested in Burma (Myanmar) are bought by China, yes--and then turned into furniture sold in IKEAs all over the world. So in the end result we Western consumers are not isolating these states at all. It also reminded me of a remark Fareed Zakaria made at a Gramercy Round last year, about China in essence picking up the "scraps" of the commodities deals Western countries didn't want. So is one role China plays in the global economy being the processor of materials for the West that the West doesn't want to sully its morals by acquiring directly?

--China is spending 9 percent of its GDP to modernize its infrastructure; the United States is spending less than 1 percent on maintenance and modernization of its infrastructure.

--China's economy is increasingly being powered by domestic demand rather than by exports. This is also true increasingly for Russia. For me, it raises questions then about the loss of leverage the United States has. And China's demands for resources all over the world means that the U.S.--even with European backing--cannot impose meaningful sanctions on any country unless China (and India and Russia) also agree to take part and to enforce.

--How much more profitable recycling is set to become of all sorts of metals and minerals as new sources decline or become more expensive. And something that James Schlesinger noted in our pages last year about liquid energy, the same for other scarce commodities--the country that comes up with a workable substitute first (whether for gasoline or anything else) will have an immense economic advantage.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Post Surge

Howard LaFranchi has an in-depth article in the Christian Science Monitor on what happens after the surge. Full disclosure: he turned to me as one of the analysts.

We've reached the fork in the road whereby most of the definitions for success in Iraq require a renewed and much more massive commitment of forces and attention or where the United States can begin to draw down its participation in the enterprise, but where the status quo is now untenable. (Jeff Stacey's piece in the current issue of TNI is titled "Re-Occupy Iraq?" for a reason--because, as he puts it, there is no Plan B.) The question is, how much is now driven by events on the ground in Iraq and how much has domestic U.S. politics taken over? (I'd also call attention to Bob Novak's column who wondered aloud whether the policy is now to stay on autopilot until the armed forces can no longer stay the course in Iraq and then concluded:

"As the first in a succession of Republican senators to be critical of Bush's Iraq policy, [Chuck] Hagel feared the worst when he returned home to conservative Nebraska for Fourth of July parades. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by cheers and calls for the troops to be brought home."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Open Thread

Wishing U.S. readers of TWR a restful and enjoyable Independence Day. The Washington Realist will be on hiatus for the rest of the week. Spent most of today continuing to comment on the Kennebunkport mini-summit (good summaries of my further thinking in today's National Review and in tomorrow's International Herald Tribune.) A number of interesting topics for discussion over at National Interest online, including Thomas Carothers, Andrew J. Bacevich, Wayne Merry, Robert W. Merry and Amitai Etzioni debating democracy (something I'll do in a taped segment that will appear tomorrow on the Newshour, along with Lorne Craner, Amr Hamzawy and Anne-Marie Slaughter). Alexis Debat on what the UK terror plots should force us to re-evaluate about Al-Qaeda. The beginnings of a further conversation about the implications of a "world without the West." Plenty of material in the news headlines for discussion.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sometimes Dull is the Best Thing of All …

So nothing dramatic happened in Maine. The two presidents cruised around the coastline and ate lobster.

That was the point.

In recent months, on a variety of issues, from missile defense to Kosovo to Iran to democracy, the United States and the Russian Federation were locking themselves into opposing positions. Increasingly, it appeared that no common ground could be reached between the two sides and that the only possible outcomes were confrontation or for one side to engage in the humiliating ritual of backing down.

So, no compromises were reached. No solutions were found. But what both George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin needed was breathing room.

The theme of the Bush-Putin meeting was: we are still talking. No definitive conclusions have been reached. No options have been ruled out. Dialogue is ongoing. We have disagreements on a number of issues—and some of them are serious—but the relationship is too important to be left to spiral downward on autopilot.

In the course of the talks, Putin provided some new ideas on missile defense; on contentious issues like Iran he promised that there would be “further substantial intercourse” between the two countries.

More importantly, both presidents are still resisting the call increasingly heard from a variety of circles for engaging in a diplomatic version of the game of chicken. Dare the Russians to veto a resolution on Kosovo final status. Reject outright Putin’s proposal to build a missile defense system for Europe centered on the Gabala radar system in Azerbaijan.

Finally, the meeting is a clear reminder that there is nothing pre-ordained about a new chill in relations. If both Moscow and Washington want to make it a priority—and are willing to compromise down the line, solutions to the most contentious issues are possible. But the clock is running.

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