Friday, August 31, 2007

Last Word: Significance of Bishkek

I close the August 2007 section of The Washington Realist with two different assessments over the Shanghai Cooperation Organization maneuvers and summit. Major development? Minor annoyance? Harbinger of the World without the West? Speedbump on the eventual convergence of the great powers?

Ian Bremmer had this to say, in a piece tellingly entitled, "There's no need to worry about a Sino-Russian axis":

Russia and China will continue to find tactical advantage in working together on specific foreign-policy issues. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is, in part, a tool designed for that purpose. Some of that coordination is bound to come at the West's expense. But the two countries' foreign policies will continue to diverge, limiting the likelihood of any anti-Western alliance.

Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar has a somewhat different take, one that points to possible trends. He notes:

Clearly, if the SCO is developing into a "NATO of the East", that can only happen in the fullness of time, quite a long while from now. But in the meantime, security cooperation within the SCO is assuming new dimensions and has intensified. To be sure, the possibility of the organization evolving into a fully fledged security grouping cannot be ruled out.

In the short term, we may even expect an expanded framework of military cooperation, which would include different formats for forward basing and equipment propositioning. The turning point to be watched would be if and when the SCO assumed mutual security obligations among its members. ...

Again, the Bishkek summit marks one more step toward the SCO's evolution into a "supra-regional" organization. It has gained observer status at the UN; it is forging links with sister organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. That is to say, the SCO is incrementally placing itself on the same political pedestal as, say, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and with a military profile somewhat resembling NATO's.

Indications are that China has finally concurred with the Russian proposal for establishing a partnership between the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the SCO.

I think that where both are right is that China will be the determining factor in how this breaks, and that how the U.S.-China relationship evolves will be a critical factor.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean ...

I realize that the GAO leak is going to dominate the news and blogosphere, although it isn't exactly new or unexpected information.

But the rest of the world moves on too. And so I'm bucking the trend by trying to look at other news stories that slip through the cracks but could have ramifications for U.S. foreign policy.

Starting with this one:

The headline is a bit dramatic: France, Libya in secret defense pact. The Xinhua report then notes that its source is a French satirical newspaper, Le Canard Enchaine—although this paper is well-known for its investigative journalism and for featuring “leaks” from inside the French government.

The gist of the report is that France has agreed to train Libyan Special Forces and will work to equip the Libyan military. This follows announcements earlier this month that Tripoli would purchase Milan anti-tank missiles and the Tetra communications system from the European defense consortium EADS and a deal inked by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi for France to build a nuclear reactor to power a Libyan desalination plant.

So France is moving ahead to fully rehabilitate Libya at a pace faster than Washington may want. While France's actions seem very consistent with the recommendations made by Amitai Etzioni as part of his Security First propositions, they may not sit well with those who wanted to continue to pressure Tripoli to move on other areas.

France seems intent on asserting its position in the Mediterranean—but it also means that Paris is not going to automatically accept the U.S. characterization of other regimes and countries. My guess is that the French see the forthcoming transition of power from Qadhafi to his son Seif al-Islam as akin to the transfer from Geydar Aliev, former KGB general and then president of Azerbaijan, to his son Ilham. Everybody after all has their useful authoritarians.

GAO Report, Iraq and U.S. Effectiveness

The leaked GAO report indicates that 3 out of the 15 benchmarks for determining progress in Iraq have been reached. We will fold this into our semi-annual National Interest round-up on U.S. foreign policy that will be held shortly (and which will be taped by C-SPAN for later broadcast).

It fits into the overall theme of today's discussion: why has the U.S. been ineffective in meeting its stated agenda for the greater Middle East.

Will alert readers of TWR to broadcast time.

Continuing Shift in European Positions on Kosovo

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxim Verhagen said on Tuesday on his tour to Belgrade and Pristina that his government will accept any negotiated solution to the Kosovo issue, including a partition of the province. "Should both parties be willing to accept a solution that is both sustainable and possible to implement, the Netherlands government would find it acceptable," Verhagen was reported as saying.

This is certainly a shift away from talk about "imposing" a solution and also carries with it some interesting conditional points: "both parties" need to agree, and any solution has to be both "sustainable" and "possible to implement."

Hidden criticism of Washington in this statement, that U.S. advocates for a unilateral recognition of self-declared independence would then have to be willing to sustain and implement this solution using American resources, rather than making commitments we would then expect Europeans to carry out?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chinese History, Setting Priorities at Potomac

I am a little surprised at the slow response so far to the initial responses to the Walt/Mearsheimer book. It raises the question as to whether or not most of the passion was exhausted on the initial article--and whether that will translate into sluggish book sales.

In response to a comment I heard in the aftermath of the Bishkek summit, about how China had no business being involved in Central Asia and Middle Eastern affairs, I penned this short historical retrospective. I still find it interesting that an Armenian prince was recognized as a vassal of the Chinese emperor in the early 2nd century.

Spoke as part of a panel organized by Yonah Alexander at the Potomac Institute today (along with David Smith and Soner Cagaptay). The basic conclusion: security for the Caucasus cannot be separated from larger issues such as Iraq, Iran, Russia and where Europe draws its boundary lines--and that states are engaged in "hedge and wedge" operations (my characterization of Soner's presentation, which itself discussed how Iran has replaced the U.S. as the most popular country in Turkish eyes, apart from Azerbaijan, in large part because of shared opposition to the PKK).

Define interests, set priorities, assess costs. Seems like a simple approach to foreign policy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A First Look at Mearsheimer/Walt

National Interest online has the first reactions to The Israel Lobby and U.S Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, from Geoffrey Kemp and Ben Fishman.

Kemp feels that the argument, although flawed and presented in a one-dimensional fashion, deserves to be discussed; Fishman (a special assistant to former Ambassador Dennis Ross) takes a somewhat different tack, concluding that "their description of American foreign policy is often inaccurate or misleading, and their overall thesis is contradicted by central figures in their story." Both Kemp and Fishman, however, feel that the two academics also did not get to the heart of how policy is made in Washington--Kemp notes:

"I could find no references to any communication with key players in the U.S. government, the Israeli lobbies and Israel who might have had some interesting confidential comments on the matter in question. It seems that their research lacked extensive field work, including background interviews, especially among the Washington elite who make up both the lobby and its targets. This is not a trivial matter, and as a consequence the book has a sharp, somewhat strident and detached tone—devoid of the atmospheric frills and descriptions of the personality quirks and complicated motivations of key players that are to be found in the works of the best investigative journalists."

I am biased, of course--but I think that it is important that some of the first reviews of what is going to be a controversial book appeared in NI online--and that they were serious critiques and examinations, not based on ad homimen attacks--even when the reviewers had serious disagreements with Mearsheimer and Walt.

Terrorism, Profit and Otherwise, and World Without the West Update

Monday morning roundup of the weekend's news--and where and how TNI editors and contributors have laid down the analysis:

1) For Profit Terrorism, Pakistani links to terror:

Recently, Justine Rosenthal had noted:

Terrorists have always needed to finance their violence, and considering the fact that they function at the fringes of society, this funding has often come from illegal enterprises. But now that money can become such a temptation it can often override ideological motivations. Such groups continue to use their ideological rhetoric to mask their drive to profit both because it can help them continue to recruit and because it can help them avoid being persecuted and prosecuted as criminals.

The UN report on drugs and Afghanistan confirms her analysis. Today, Helmand province in Afghanistan is now the single biggest drug-producing region of the world. And almost of all opiates on the streets around the world flows out of Afghanistan.

Also backing up her analysis, reports coming in from Iraq that the prospect of cash is what often attracts young men to the militias and insurgent groups.

Meanwhile, the latest terror attack in India is said to have Pakistani connections.
"There were Bangladeshi and Pakistani connections to the twin bomb explosions that rocked Hyderabad on Saturday leaving 40 people dead and 54 injured. The Karachi-based terror outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, which originates from Bangladesh, is the mastermind of the blast," said Y.S. Rajshekher Reddy, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state, where the bombing occurred.
Trends that Alexis Debat has been tracking for years.

2) World Without the West update

I raised last week at a farewell dinner for Anatol Lieven a question that I have been thinking about recently--whether "Euro-Atlantic solidarity" holds together vis-a-vis China, or whether Europeans would be more comfortable with the notion of a Chinese sphere of influence in the world that interacts with Europe. Well, Xinhua reprints an article from China's former ambassador to Germany (on the occasion of Angela Merkel's visit to Beijing) where he says: "China and Germany have great influence in their own regions and in the world at large as well" and puts forward the idea of a German-Chinese dialogue as a better way for the West to address concerns than the approach taken by certain other unnamed countries.

And by the way, two Chinese warships arrived on a friendship visit to St. Petersburg today.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Kabuki Dance Continues

So, now that Virginia Senator John Warner has called for a small troop withdrawal by the end of the year, to send a message, the kabuki dance continues. Cannot leave until Iraqis step up, is one response. Iraqis won't step up because they aren't interested in doing so, is a second response. Iraqis are standing up, the surge is working, is the third response.

Another group of pundits and Congressmen will take more fact-finding missions to Iraq, and come back, and issue their pronouncements, and the dance will continue.

Enough of this.

Thanks to James Joyner at Outside the Beltway for picking up on yesterday's post.

From now on, we should demand answers to the following:

--What outcome are you looking for in Iraq?
--Do you believe America's continued deployments in Iraq are sapping away resources and attention from other vital interests?
--How does what you are proposing we do in Iraq deal with the answers to the first two questions?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Speech No One Makes on Iraq

I confess, I did not follow closely the president's remarks on Iraq, nor the inevitable flurry of commentary that followed. Why? We now have such a stylized Kabuki dance when discussing Iraq policy that the statements and reactions can be predicted and scripted in advance.

The speech or response that we never hear would have the following elements:

--A clear acknowledgement that Americans are not willing to devote the time, resources or personnel that would be needed to engage in a truly transformative occupation (and accept the costs, especially in casualties);

--That many of the problems that face Iraq are beyond America's ability to solve and may be increasingly beyond our ability to influence;

--That we need to adopt what a senior Indian official once told me was the Indian approach to fighting terrorism: contain and manage, with a long-term goal of shrinking the space in which such groups can operate--which means adopting a tactical approach to combating Al-Qaeda and related groups;

--Which in turn means that we can't fix every broken area in the world and that, yes, Al-Qaeda will try to find places in which to operate.

--So an Iraq policy needs to be grounded in what is achievable and more importantly needs to be something that can endure a change in administrations.

On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Alexis Debat and I wrote:

American political culture, however, which increasingly allows parochial interests to preclude the development of a hierarchy of priorities, and our habit of thinking only in terms of two- and four-year election cycles make the emergence of a long-term counter-terrorism policy supported by political consensus a chimera. 9/11 produced no equivalent to the Truman moment. Congress, in particular, has shown little inclination to recognize that an effective counter-terrorism program not only requires putting politics aside, but also making choices and setting priorities with only partial and incomplete information and with finite resources.

Nothing in the latest round of speechifying on Iraq seems to rise to this standard.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

One Bishkek Follow-Up

Today's Nezavisimaia Gazeta has an article by Aleksandr Zhelenin on Moscow's follow-up offer to Kyrgyzstan in the aftermath of the Bishkek summit.

I had noted in an earlier post that Chinese experts saw the Shanghai grouping as a way to expand China's global role. Some of their Russian counterparts agree; Adzhar Kurtov, an analyst with the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, concluded that the recent steps taken with regard to the Shanghai grouping are "one of the elements in the resurrection of Russia as a powerful actor in the global arena."

And Russian president Vladimir Putin is demonstrating that he is willing to commit resources to back up his rhetoric. Kyrgyzstan, the last country in Central Asia where the United States has any strategic leverage, is now being wooed by Moscow. Putin promised his Kyrgyz counterpart, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, increased Russian investment-both in upgrading military facilities as well as in promoting new economic projects. At the Bishkek summit, the Russian president said, "We are prepared not simply to make declarations, but to realistically formulate an economic situation under which conditions we could guarantee the influx of $2 billion into the Kyrgyz economy." NG described this as "an offer [Bakiyev] he can’t refuse."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Didn't Realize the "Demos" for Other Countries was the U.S. Congress ...

Most of the headlines in newspapers today that could be found in the Washington, DC area had some reference to U.S. senators calling for the Iraqi prime minister to be removed from office (of course, with dutiful mention that the Iraqi parliament, which has the authority to do this, should follow their indispensable guidance.) This follows on the heels of Congressional advice for how executive authority in Pakistan should be structured. I didn't realize that when we talk about democracy around the world, that taking into account what the U.S. Congress wants is part of that process.

Having the senators make these recommendations from a conference call in Tel Aviv might also not have been the most wise location as well, but that is a separate issue.

The ongoing problem in the Middle East is for the U.S. to find leaders who can advance the U.S. strategic agenda and also be perceived as legitimate. The Arab monarchies have a bit of wiggle room--although the constant pronouncements from Washington that only democracies are legitimate forms of government undermines the notion that other forms of authority sanctified by tradition might also be perceived as legitimate (and exist with the consent of the governed).

Maliki has had problems with Congress before. And the criticisms made are all very valid. But in the end Iraqi voters empowered parliament (and a number of Iraqis, as Alexis Debat has noted, have empowered the militias)--so finding the type of leader we would like for Iraq who could also enjoy a democratic mandate is highly unlikely.

Max Boot writing in the forthcoming issue of Commentary on "How Not to Get out of Iraq" is critical of those who call for the "strongman" approach, but himself acknowledges at the end that "the surge might still fail in the long run if Iraqis prove incapable of reaching political compromises even in a more secure environment." So what are our options?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Final Thoughts on Bishkek

So the SCO exercises and the Bishkek summit is over. Charles Ganske over at the Russia Blog did a round-up of reactions.

I've always maintained that we should not be looking for grand, great gestures at these events--what is most important to focus on is how the foundation is being laid for an alternate global order that gives powers options to hedge. To reiterate some points I made on Friday ...

Even before the Bishkek summit—and before Barma, Ratner and Weber unveiled their thesis—it is clear that a number of Chinese foreign policy thinkers and analysts were exploring the ramifications of a parallel world order. Last year, Wang Yizhou, deputy director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, had declared that " … the steady growth of the four BRIC countries that are non-Western, non-European and non-members of the developed world, has made quite an impact" while Liu Baolai, vice president of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, had observed that "the growing Shanghai Cooperation Organization has provided an important platform for China to expand its influence."

And while the recent Peace Mission 2007 exercises were small in scale and did not involve large numbers of forces, Zhen Shouhua of the Chinese Academy of Military Science noted that the drill had "historic significance as a milestone in military cooperation among the six SCO member countries."

What it means is that Moscow, Beijing and other states are increasing their ability to hedge against the United States and to have other options. A Xinhua report concluded that one of the goals is "to push for a fairer and more reasonable international order."

But there is also an interesting "ideological" component as well. Not only a post-Soviet Russia but also the People’s Republic of China have abandoned the notion of spreading a particular social-political-economic ideology to all corners of the globe as well as the idea that for states to cooperate, they must share similar systems of governance. Mei Zhaorong, former Chinese ambassador to Germany, wrote last year in an article for China’s Foreign Affairs Journal that a key proposition of China’s foreign policy was that "People of all countries enjoy the inalienable right of choosing their road of development according to their own national conditions."

And what is striking is that the SCO’s members and observers run the gamut—from liberal democracies to semi-authoritarian states to those considered to be "unfree"—but all of the countries represented share a commitment to preserving state sovereignty. Not surprisingly, then, one point President Hu stressed in his remarks in Bishkek was that "The most serious challenge we face is that whether all member states can effectively maintain their sovereignty, security and development."

Last week in the Washington Post, Paul Saunders raised the point: "Trying to create a ‘Concert of Democracies’ inevitably invites a ‘Concert of Non-Democracies’", which could be very damaging to American interests and values." The Bishkek summit did not formally do this—but foundations are being laid.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Could A Republican (or Democratic) Candidate Write This?

Why do presidential candidates find it so difficult to say what are self-evident truths about the role and position of the United States in world affairs? Why is it next to impossible for them--and for many pundits--to spell it out that way former Secretary of State James A. Baker III does (from his essay in the forthcoming issue of The National Interest):

"... the United States is and will be the major global power.

"American might, however, is not limitless. The history of empires and great powers from Rome onwards provides an important lesson. power must be husbanded carefully. It is precious and finite. Spreading it too thinly can lead to disaster. Choices still matter. We must be able to differentiate between our preferences and our priorities, between what is essential to preserve U.S. national security and what is only desirable."

Seems logical, right? But then, perhaps anticipating the comments made by Rudy Guiliani in his missive, Baker feels it necessary to write:

"Let me make myself clear: I am anything but a “declinist” when it comes to the United States. I reject gloomy predictions about our national eclipse and am absolutely convinced that our country’s future is a bright one. But while the United States may be the most powerful state in history, we are not omnipotent.

"So the challenge confronting policymakers is how best to use our power in ways that advance both our interests and values while avoiding strategic overreach."

Does anyone think that the candidates have been laying out any such vision?

Baker's essay then lays out a guide for action. He talks about the indispensability of American leadership, the sources of American power in the world--including our military, economic and (gasp! for somehow sometimes labelled an uber-realist) ideological power. But, you see, then he does something else. He talks about limits. He acknowledges that we don't live in a "perfect world."

"Our power is limited in other areas as well. As strong as our economy may be, we still need the cooperation of others in
such areas as expanding trade and investment, and coordinating macroeconomic policy. The same is true in the diplomatic
arena, where our influence can be constrained when we are unable to persuade others."

I think that the American people understand very clearly a point the Secretary makes later on, reflecting on his own experiences in the Reagan and Bush Administrations: "We understood that sometimes policymakers must choose from a range of less-than-desirable options." So why can't the candidates?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Oh Yes ... The Guiliani and Edwards campaign speeches

Most of the foreign policy blogosphere devoted its attention this week to the advance release of the next two foreign policy campaing speeches in Foreign Affairs (from John Edwards and Rudy Guiliani). (Visit and get some initial comments and links via Dan Drezner.)

TWR spent much of its week looking at developments in Central Asia, which of course got little to no coverage in the U.S. media. I happened to feel that what transpired in Peace Mission 2007 and at the summit in Bishkek was more important for the future of U.S. foreign policy than re-reading a list of cliches from candidates.

It is beyond me why candidates seem unable to process two realities of the international system today, that the U.S. is and remains the predominant power of the world but that our share is not as great as it was ten years ago and that costs for us to act unilaterally are going up.

The forthcoming issue of TNI has a contribution from former Secretary of State James Baker who I think takes down quite effectively Rudy Guiliani's dismissal of the realist approach--more on that in later posts.

Another Limb for Kosovo?

Alan Kuperman's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal is another variant on some of the "partition within unity plans" that are being proposed as a way to think creatively about dealing with Kosovo.

Kuperman writes:

... the U.N. plan should be modified to create a fully autonomous "Serb Republic of Kosovo-Metohija" (as Belgrade calls the province) within a Kosovo that would be recognized as independent only when the Albanians accept this provision. Russia, which until now has blocked U.N. action on Serbia's behalf, could claim a major victory and then insist that Belgrade endorse the plan, paving the way for Security Council approval.

This follows the advice Gordon Bardos gave U.S. policymakers two months ago:

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.

The Europeans and the Russians are looking to avoid a Balkan train wreck. What is the U.S. now prepared to offer?

The "Leave Us Alone" Concert

From President Hu Jintao's speech in Bishkek at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization:

"The most serious challenge we face is that whether all member states can effectively maintain their sovereignty, security and development."

Can the heterogenous group of states that comprise the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's members and observers "hang together"? The Chinese think that they can if the interests are right. Otherwise, sky's the limit. Want your country's executive branch to be decided by competitive elections? Think that laws should be enacted only if they are in conformity with the particular interpretation of a religion? Create what to all intents and purposes is a "republican monarchy" (call him president but treat him like a king--and pass power to his progeny). No problem.

You do what you want, we do what we want, and that's that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Iran's Revolutionary Guards and "President Corleone"

The desire on the part of the Bush Administration to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization points to a growing problem we face in the 21st century--that the easy separation of organizations into distinct and classifiable categories (government vs. non-government; commercial vs. non-commercial; etc.) is becoming harder to accomplish.

What are the Guards? A state military formation? A terrorist group? A business enterprise? My colleague Ray Takeyh had this to say today:
"They are heavily involved in everything from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and pipelines -- even the new Imam Khomeini Airport and a great deal of smuggling. Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the Revolutionary Guards. They're developing along the lines of the Chinese military, which is involved in many business enterprises. It's a huge business conglomeration."

Alexis Debat notes that this is not an isolated phenomenon. "When you pump gas in West Beirut," he points out, "it is almost guaranteed that at least some of the money will flow into the hands of Syrian intelligence--the same as when you buy hashish in the same area."

He and I have termed this phenomenon "President Corleone"--a situation where it become extremely difficult to neatly pry apart a state's "national interests" and the private (and in some cases criminal) interests of those who occupy the positions of government.

Last year, Ian Bremmer wrote in The National Interest that foreign policymakers needed to pay greater attention to "the geopolitical influence of large companies, corporations and state-owned enterprises. Policymakers too often think of other countries' state-owned companies as mere extensions of their government's foreign policy"--but he noted that often decisionmakers in such institutions "pursue their own interests in ways that influence" their country's "relations with other states."

Which means, coming back to the Guards, that they will wear different hats and have different lines of accountability. It raises all sorts of questions about the extent to which state power can be privatized and at the same time how the cloak of sovereign immunity can shield a variety of activities. When this designation is made, are Guardsmen who might be captured by U.S. forces in an operation who are otherwise acting and behaving as soldiers as defined by the Geneva Convention (in uniform, acting under recognized command and control) to be treated as prisoners of war? Unlawful combatants? Is the property of the Guards subject to seizure? Would sanctions be levied against companies that do business with Guards-linked firms (e.g. anyone doing business at Imam Khomeini airport)?

Things are getting a lot more complicated.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Going out on a Limb on Kosovo

I told the BBC World Service in an interview on Tuesday afternoon that we should be prepared for the possibility of a surprise Russian move on Kosovo similar to Putin's "Gambala Gambit" on missile defense earlier this year. (Whether this part of the interview will be aired or not I don't know).

I argued earlier this week that by opening the door for partition to be returned to the table as an option for Kosovo, the EU may be looking for a way to square its two competing imperatives: independence for a Kosovo while finding a formula that could get Moscow's support (and ultimately Belgrade's as well). But EU troika representative Ischinger's statement on Sunday made it clear that partition could only happen if both Serbia and the Kosovo Albanian side agreed to it, which based on immediate reactions is highly unlikely.

The United States would also find it extremely difficult to support partition after its promise of support for complete independence for the province.

Over the past months, Vladimir Putin has shown a high degree of diplomatic skill: opposing a U.S. initiative outright at the beginning, creating what appears to be a zero-sum game, and then proposing an set of out-of-the-box ideas that put Washington in a difficult position of either appearing unwilling to compromise or requiring the U.S. to back away from some of its promises and assertions.

Of course, the Russians in Belgrade are denying that Russia supports partition or would have any interest in imposing it, but in the end Putin will do what he thinks is best for Russian national interests.

So perhaps he and French President Sarkozy might lay out the following plan:

--partition of the current province into two entities; with each entity having the right to remain in Serbia or separate based on a popular vote;

--extra-territorial designation for a number of the religious, cultural and patrimonial sites (with the planned EU mission, perhaps under the lead of the Italians who have shown the most interest in preserving them intact as part of the current KFOR, playing a special role in safeguarding them and ensuring free access, perhaps with Greek assistance as well);

Why it works for the Russians? The Europeans get their "independent Kosovo/a" and this is defused as a point of tension between France and Germany on the one hand and Russia on the other. Moscow again proves that it can be creative as well as obstructionist. The Russians prove that they can in fact have a major impact in how a key European security issue is resolved. The U.S. is forced to backtrack to some extent. Putin tells his nationalist and Orthodox constituencies in Russia that he got the best deal for protecting the religious sites.

Most importantly, a useful precedent might be obtained. If a distinction is drawn between a Kosovo defined as the Yugoslav province and an independent Kosova with different borders, then why not argue for other border changes with other frozen conflicts?

In June, I called attention to an interesting statement reportedly made by the Russian co-chair of the Minsk Group charged with finding a settlement between Azerbaijan and the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where he seemed to draw a distinction between "Soviet" Azerbaijan where Nagorno-Karabakh was an integral part as an autonomous republic, and "independent" Azerbaijan where the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh was unresolved. But it seemed an attempt to square Mosocw's recognition of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity with the desire to permit some sort of Nagorno-Karabakh secession to occur.

I could be wrong. I was wrong in my prediction that Putin was going to bring fresh Kosovo proposals to his mini-summit in Kennebunkport. But I think that we should be prepared for Moscow to surprise us and for the U.S. government not to be caught unawares.

Glad We Agree

Looks like I misinterpreted Ramesh Ponnuru's point, but it appears that we are in fact all on the same pages when it comes to alliances. That's good. I understand his point about taking one of Paul Saunder's arguments and using it to support an isolationist point of view, but also think that that doesn't reflect Paul's own position about the value of alliances.

It is also worth noting that the U.S. has both formal and "implied" alliances with a number of non- or semi-democratic states (Pakistan, for instance, is designated as a "major non-NATO ally" while India does not enjoy this status) while having no such alliance relationship with a number of democracies.

Alliances, Not Concerts

I don’t understand some of the reactions to the skepticism that has been expressed about the proposals for a “League of Democracies.” Ramesh Ponnuru, in commenting on Paul Saunder’s thoughts, concluded: “Taken seriously, Saunders's argument against establishing a league of democratic nations is an arguments against having alliances at all. That can't be right.”

And it isn’t.

Christopher Preble and David Rieff made it clear that in opposing this idea, “This does not mean that the United States should wall itself in from the outside world or that Americans will balk when force really is required. The issue is not legitimacy so much as good judgment.”

Norway and New Zealand are both liberal democracies, and both have at one point or another been allied to the United States, but neither Norway nor New Zealand would view each other as allies or even as strategic partners. Why should they, simply because they share similar forms of domestic governance?

Thucydides argued that “identity of interests is the surest of bonds whether between states or individuals.” The world’s most successful alliances and commonwealths have been those predicated upon common and shared interests. Grandiose alliances based on ideology (like the vaunted Holy Alliance) have never endured.

Yes, China has Its Problems Too ...

For the record, yes, China has its problems as well.

When I took the opportunity of using the bridge collapse in Minneapolis to point out that China is spending a greater portion of its GDP on infrastructure than a United States which is also beginning to see its own ageing infrastructure run into some problems, some were critical that I was buying into a narrative of China's rise and America's decline that overplayed China's virtues and downgraded its vices.

I've also been on record that pundits and analysts have to be able to admit errors.

So here's today's news report that is sparking this post:

" A bridge being built as a tourist attraction in central China has collapsed, killing at least 28 people, injuring 22 and leaving dozens missing, China Central Television reported Tuesday, but witnesses expected the death toll to rise substantially.

"The official Xinhua press agency said that 86 people were rescued, including the 22 who were injured when the 320-meter, or 1,050-foot, bridge spanning the Tuo River in Hunan Province collapsed Monday. The cause of the collapse was under investigation, it said."

China has major difficulties in racing to first world status--pollution and corruption for starters.

But I do think that the United States cannot be complacent in letting its own infrastructure and economic base become decrepit, so I still think the overall warning stands.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Russia and the West Continued ...

Last year, I penned an essay for Orbis (Russia: European but Not Western) in which I argued that most Russians see their country as part of Europe but are more ambiguous about belong to the West (defined as the Atlantic Community).

A July poll by the Levada Group has some interesting polling data. 74 percent of Russians polled see Russia as a distinct "Eurasian" state with its own path for development; this is up from 53 percent in 2001. Only 10 percent see Russia as "Western" (and only 7 percent as "Eastern"--understood here to mean "Asian").

What I also found interesting was the comments about Russia's "split" view of the United States. As Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy head of the Levada Center, noted:

"When we speak about the United States as a geopolitical player, it is portrayed as an adversary. When we consider business cooperation, it is a partner. And if we ask Russians about their attitude to Americans as a nation, there will be many more positive answers. Our leaders' moves do not influence our attitude to the people ..."

(At any rate, the overall assessment of the U.S. has fluctuated a great deal over the last few months. 48 percent negative in the aftermath of the Munich security conference in the spring, down to 36 percent following the Kennebunkport summit.)

Kosovo and the Trans-Atlantic Relationship

Events sometimes move faster than publishing schedules, but in this case the developments on Kosovo that I blogged about yesterday confirm some arguments that I and my colleagues have been making.

In today's Atlantic Community I asked the question (prior to Ambassador Ischinger's announcement) whether differences of opinion on Kosovo might end the trans-Atlantic honeymoon.

Meanwhile, Paul Saunders "takes excepption" to the Daalder/Kagan piece in today's Washington Post.

He asks:
What they want is for "the United States and its democratic partners in Europe and Asia," and especially "the world's great democratic nations," to decide. But which governments are these? Do they really think that India and Brazil, two great democracies by almost any standard, will energetically back an interventionist American foreign policy, not to mention the active and regular U.S. use of force that Daalder and Kagan advocate? What will be the consequences for America's perceived international legitimacy if they don't?

Daalder and Kagan appear to believe that enlisting a few European allies, and perhaps Japan, to support military action will be enough. This clearly did not work in Iraq and seems extremely unlikely to work in the future, especially if Europe is divided, as seems likely. Outside the United States and Europe, even many democracies would not necessarily welcome what some may see as a new form of colonialist intervention in their regional affairs. The Atlantic community and the "international community" are not identical.

He wasn't writing explicitly on Kosovo, but some of the fault lines are there. India and South Africa, for instance, have always been concerned about any U.S. imposed solution. And cherry-picking among our allies in Europe is likely to backfire.

A final interesting point: let's say the Europeans and the Russians reach a common position based on the EU's two principles of independence and a UN resolution, that results in independence for Kosovo--but a Kosovo differently defined than the current province. If a majority of the world's democracies in Europe and around the world endorsed such a compromise--which would require the U.S. to also back down on its own rhetoric--does Washington defer to the consensus of the world's democracies?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Partition for Kosovo?

A few months back, writing in the Los Angeles Times on Kosovo and the U.S.-Russia relationship, Dimitri Simes wrote: "A reasonable solution would be to find a compromise that would win Serbia's support by either falling short of complete independence or by allowing a few areas of Kosovo to remain in Serbia, thus setting a middle-of-the-road precedent for Georgia's regions as well.

"But for an influential group of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists inside and outside the Bush administration, compromise is unacceptable."

Well, the growing sense in Europe that some creative thinking would be needed to get things moving seems to have resulted in the remarkable openness shown by the EU envoy, former German ambassador to the U.S. Wolfgang Ischinger, to partition.

"It is the principle of the troika to be prepared to endorse any agreement which both parties manage to achieve. That includes all options ... We are urging both sides to think outside the box."

So many Americans who are proponents for trans-Atlantic action when the other side of the Atlantic gives Washington a blank check may not like these developments--but anyone who was with us at the meeting with Greek Ambassador Mallias a few months back heard him loud and clear: the EU was going to put its energies behind finding a workable solution that could clear the way for Kosovo's Albanians to get independence but also in a way that could provide for a new UN resolution.

Partition is not a magic solution--but it was an option that should never have been unilaterally removed off the table (since, as so many U.S. 2008 presidential candidates like to remind us, "no option is off the table" when considering how to deal with Iran's nuclear program). Now it may be restored as one possibility to the diplomatic toolbox.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Update: Peace Mission 2007--NATO East or No?

Peace Mission 2007 is underway.

Again stressing the theme of "this is our own affair" and not something that Washington should be involved with, Liang Guanglie, chief of the general staff of the PLA, re-iterated that the exercises do "not concern the interest of any third party" nor or they intended to pose a "threat to any country."

Interestingly, the drills now being conducted take the Andijan events in Uzbekistan as their inspiration--with armed militants seizing control of a town by using protests as cover. Negative Western reaction to how the Uzbek government dealt with Andijan, of course, was a key factor in propelling Tashkent away from its association with the United States (followed by the closing of the U.S. base) toward closer ties with both Russia and China.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant, in an article tellingly titled Maneuvers to Go Around the United States (again, shades perhaps of a "World without the West that bypasses the United States") sees the exercises and the summit that will follow in Bishkek as part of a renewed Russian effort to push back against the United States "on all fronts" from opposing plans to deploy missile defense components in central-eastern Europe to "expelling" the U.S. from Central Asia altogether. Kommersant also highlights the role played by former defense minister and current deputy prime minister (and presidential contender) Sergei Ivanov in acting as the godfather of this mission, beginning with his visit to Beijing in 2006.

The Chinese, of course, are more circumspect. Chen Hu, executive chief editor of the World Military Affairs magazine, made a point of stressing, "'Peace Mission 2007' targets no country, nor does it mean military alliance," and argued taht the Shanghai grouping is not trying to create a counterbalancing bloc against Washington, describing it as a "new type" of regional security organization which has made obsolete the "traditional security outlook" of seeking a balance of power.

But there was a not-so-subtle dig at Washington--because countries felt the need to work more closely together in the Shanghai framework since "different countries have different anti-terror combat criteria and a few of them push forward hegemony under the cloak of war on terror ..."

How far to take all of this? Devin Stewart of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Relations, raised the point at the World Without the West forum last week that the idea of close, enduring Sino-Russia security cooperation, especially if meant to be a counterbalancing act against the United States, is not taken seriously by many Chinese. So are we seeing another brick in the edifice of what Simon Tisdall of The Guardian called central Asia's answer to Nato, or something far less significant?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Question of Affiliations

One of the more interesting sub-conversations around the Daalder/Kagan piece in the Washington Post is the question of why campaign affiliations had to be listed. I know, I can already see eyes rolling (doesn't he know the ways of Washington yet? You always want to say how you are a connected insider! And so on).

But by listing those affiliations, the implication was that, even if the candidates they represent may not endorse every point they made in the piece as gospel, they are somehow nonetheless reflecting a general position. After all, the two gentlemen--already well known in the foreign policy community--hardly needed the imprimatur of belonging to a campaign in order to have their ideas taken seriously. And other op-ed writers appearing in papers across the country are also connected to campaigns without that fact being trumpeted.

In the case of Senator McCain, who earlier this year called for a League of Democracies, it is clear that he would identify strongly with the positions taken. But what about Senator Obama? It used to be said that Obama was looking to the pragmatic stance of a Republican Senator like Lugar in terms of how he saw the components of a bi-partisan foreign policy.

Re-reading his speech on foreign policy in Chicago in April, I would think that he shares more in common with the perspective outlined by another "pairing" -- in this case, David Rieff and Chris Preble -- who argue against A Troubling Interventionist Consensus . Their points about dealing with terrorism, WMD proliferation and human rights seem somewhat more in line with Obama's views.

And even in his Wilson Center speech, which got the most attention because of his remarks about intervention in Pakistan, the bulk of that address focused on these earlier themes. Overlooked in the Wilson Center remarks is his citing his co-sponsorship of legislation produced by Senator Lugar and Senator Hagel for dealing with security threats to the U.S. which owe much more to Amitai Etzioni's "Security First" agenda then to the sentiments expressed in the Kagan/Daalder op-ed.

So is the Obama tent a "big tent" but with competing and different foreign policy visions, of which the one laid out by Kagan and Daalder is but one? Does Obama share a Clintonian view that different and opposing views can be reconciled together (we can get effective cooperation from all governments, we can have a League of Democracies that won't create a counter "World Without the West" (I like Weber, Ratner and Barma's formulation better than a League of Non-Democracies)? Beyond the ritualistic statement of "I am speaking for myself and not the campaign," how much of what appeared reflects what the Senator is actually thinking--and a related question, if one makes the explicit identification that one is part of the campaign, even in an advisory capacity, does one clear things with the candidate?

There is a difference, of course, between being an advisor and being a spokesman. But there is a way to make it clear when one speaks absolutely for one's self--by not being identified with the campaign. So if the Post piece is set up essentially to lead a reader to conclude he or she is seeing something where the two advisors are speaking in place of the candidates, then it needs to be asked, how much does what appeared reflect what the candidate is thinking?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Case of the Murderous Missile

Let me start this post with a major caveat: I am NOT following very closely the breaking news reports about the Russian-made missile that landed in Georgian territory, especially as hard facts are coming in from the ground.

I am more concerned about the negative and troubling implications for the three main scenarios as to how this incident happened.

If we rule out that the missile launch and its subsequent impact in Georgia was some sort of accident, we have three main possibilities.

One possibility--and an explanation embraced by some circles in Russia--is that the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili manufactured this incident. I know that Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza has already, in the name of the U.S. government, rejected this possibility. I don't think it can be ruled out a priori, given that in other conflicts in the Balkans, in the greater Middle East, and throughout the "global Balkans" targeting one's own population has sometimes been used as a tool (and the U.S. in the past has accused some states in the region of doing this)--but I would argue that the bar for proof of this explanation would have to be set extremely high, and in the absence of any compelling evidence would have to be set aside.

Motive? Saakashvili, still under pressure at home to reunify the country, and beginning to face some criticism abroad for his super-presidential Putinesque style of governance, is given an incident that puts him squarely back on the side of the angels. Perhaps also a version of the strategy Chris Marsh (with M. Heppner) elaborated in their essay on the KLA's efforts to enlist NATO's help (cf. "When Weak Nations Use Strong States")

Another option: this was an operation conceived of and given the blessing of senior figures in the Kremlin--maybe not President Putin himself, but done in a Henry II style--"rid me of this troublesome priest". Motives? Continue to harass an uncooperative country, and more importantly, manufacture a crisis that could serve as the basis for extending President Putin's term in office, especially if the key stakeholders are unable to agree on a sucessor.

Again, to get conclusive proof would be difficult.

A 1a/2b option: collusion between some elements of the Georgian and Russian establishments? This really begins to enter into James Bond territory.

Finally, what appears to be the most likely--but no less troubling--local "frontier" elements working with South Ossetians. There is of course precedent in Russian history for commanders on the borders to act with no instructions (or in defiance of instructions) from the center, but this isn't 1783. So it raises one of my biggest fears (one I've discussed in other outlets as well)--that the resources and capabilities of the Russian state can still be privatized or used by people to further their own agendas and interests.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Holding Pundits Accountable?

In the wake of two recent high-profile pundit "op-eds"--the Pollack/O'Hanlon NY Times piece on Iraq and the Kagan/Daalder Washington Post piece on a concert of democracies in the Washington Post--there have been a renewed interest in the question as to how foreign policy experts are credentialed--as well as the extent to which experts are willing to get ahead of any consensus.

Joel Klein notes in the current issue of Time that most Americans supported the Iraq war at the beginning--meaning most politicians supported it--meaning that most foreign policy experts were going to support it if they wanted to not be cut out of the herd of acceptable commentators. This points to the trend that Anatol Lieven complained about earlier this year in the American Conservative:

In the case of the non-debate on NATO membership of Ukraine, once the leaders of both the Republicans and Democrats had committed themselves to this, no Washington expert who hoped for a job in the next administration—i.e. most of them —was going to raise his or her voice in protest. This is the way that most of the Washington think-tank world works.

So what is to be done? Justin Logan wrote yesterday: :

The best way to correct the situation is by developing a predictions database, where experts can weigh-in on specific, falsifiable claims about the future, putting their reputations on the line.

Predicting the future is hard, and if nothing else, pundits are experts at explaining why their failed predictions are somebody else’s fault. It may be the case that even the best experts rarely make accurate predictions of important events. But the only way to better our predictions in the future is to learn not just who gets things right, but why. Putting our reputations where our mouths are would teach us a great deal.

But I don't think we'll see this happen anytime soon.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The League that Wouldn't Die ... Sorry, A Concert

What's that line from "Never on Sunday"--"I wish I could put reason in place of fantasy in her mind?" The fantasy of a vast alliance of democracies all anxious and eager to support the United States in the world just refuses to die.

Today, two advisors--to Senators Obama and McCain--once again push this idea. All of the objections that have been raised before are just set aside and ignored.

Messers Kagan and Daalder, why not listen to what representatives of other democracies actually have to say? Listen to what Ambassador Mallias was telling us about European difficulties both in coming to a common position on Kosovo (which doesn't bode well for their assertion that democracies see the international order in the same way; the EU, as a regional "concert of democracies" should have a much more coherent foreign policy than it actually does)--and why and how the EU may have to part company with the U.S. when it comes to a unilateral action that bypasses the Security Council? Why not listen to close advisors to Angela Merkel telling us why Germany has a different perspective on how to deal with Russia? Or why Prime Minister Singh or President Mbeki have different ideas about engaging non-democratic neighbors like Burma (Myanmar and Zimbabwe)?

And what happens if the world's democracies "outvote" the United States? Didn't this happen with the Iraq war in 2003--tallying up France, Germany and India--that outweighs the "coalition of the willing"? (Or, as in Catch-22 or in the original proposals for the UN, does the U.S. get extra votes in any "Concert of Democracies")?

Sorry to rain on the parade, but the sooner we put a stake through the heart of this seductive idea, the better for U.S. foreign policy?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Minneapolis Warning and China's Challenge

In the aftermath of the Minneapolis bridge tragedy, experts are warning that the United States has a problem:

“We have a major infrastructure problem in this country,” said Maureen L. McAvey, an executive vice president with the Urban Land Institute, which recently published a report on global infrastructure issues. “The civil engineers have estimated that we have a $1.7 trillion shortfall in this country alone.”

Meanwhile, China is taking a different track. Ambassador Chas Freeman noted that the government in Beijing is
spending 9 percent of GDP on modernizing infrastructure in contrast to the United States which is spending less than one percent.

Infrastructure renewal is a key part of maintaining economic competitiveness. Right now we still have the option of drawing on our international credit card to borrow at low interest rates. But as long as Americans want to carry debt to facilitate personal consumption, we could end up in a few years with the double whammy of a strained infrastructure imposing higher costs while trying to deal with a mountain of debt that precludes our ability to get additional capital.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

World Without the West symposium

Steven Weber came to the magazine today to take part in a roundtable that assessed and critiqued the concept of the "World Without the West." To recap, this is the notion that we are seeing the emergence of a parallel international system that routes around an American-led order.

Dov Zakheim raised an interesting point about the nature of the "West" in general--if that is defined as Europe, the United States and Japan. To what extent are the Europeans and the Japanese engaging with the states that might otherwise be part of the "World Without the West" in ways the U.S. is not? He also supported Weber's point that the U.S. does have options in terms of competing for the allegiance of a number of states that are "in play"--citing the forthcoming naval exercises between Japan, India and the United States.

Devin Stewart noted that some of the states that might find the "World Without the West" concept intriguing nonetheless will continue to face pressure from their own citizens, the international community and in their bi-lateral relationships to accept and implement standards of conduct, say in human rights. He--and others echoed him here, such as Paul Starobin--also called into question the cohesion of a parallel system that would comprise states with disparate interests and perspectives such as Russia, India and China. Paul asked whether the "World Without the West" would also require a hegemonic power to impose order and referee disputes among its members--and which state would fulfill that role?

Ian Bremmer stressed that the nature of the global economy means that China and the United States are in the same system and bound together in a form of mutually assured economic destruction.

Several final points--since there is going to be extensive coverage of this event on NI online--

One was Flynt Leverett's observation that states like China had no objection to American hegemony in the Middle East when it served their interests--e.g. the U.S. provided stability that allowed for energy to flow cheaply and quickly. What we now have is a perception that the U.S. is a dysfunctional hegemon who has made policy choices such as taking Iraqi energy off market and who wants to keep Iran's massive oil and gas reserves in the ground. It raises a question as to whether the U.S. could regenerate support for its leading role in the world if it was again seen as the guarantor of low cost global energy.

Peter Ackerman's observations that in the long run the need for capital investment and for technology innovation favors free societies, meaning that the short term accummulation of economic power by state capitalist systems harnessing natural resources is not sustainable.

And Steve Weber's closing point that the U.S. has a choice: it can ask China and other states to provide a greater share of global public goods only if it is willing to cede much more decision-making authority to them; that the Gulf War I model of the U.S. sets strategy and others pay is not going to work anymore.

So much more--the future of the dollar as a global currency, etc.

A very provocative discussion and one that will be continuing.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Obama: Unreality on Pakistan

Senator Barack Obama has delivered his major address on coping with global terrorism today at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Several of his paragraphs touch on the U.S. relationship with Pakistan. The Senator had this to say:

“As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.
“I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.

”And Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism. As the Pakistani government increases investment in secular education to counter radical madrasas, my Administration will increase America’s commitment. We must help Pakistan invest in the provinces along the Afghan border, so that the extremists’ program of hate is met with one of hope. And we must not turn a blind eye to elections that are neither free nor fair – our goal is not simply an ally in Pakistan, it is a democratic ally.”

This is the Washington consensus on Pakistan. Musharraf can do more. He should democratize. He should go after Al-Qaeda and related elements with greater vigor.

Many of these people apparently didn’t read Anatol Lieven’s essay on Pakistan in the summer 2006 issue which was deliberately titled, “A Difficult Country.” Anatol, of course, is not writing about an abstract Pakistan but a country with which he is extremely familiar.

Let’s first get to the question about “dealing with the terrorists.” Anatol wrote:

“On January 13, [2006], a U.S. missile strike on the Pakistani village of Damadola, intended to kill Al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, missed its target but killed at least 17 other people, probably including Al-Qaeda members but certainly including local women and children. If it had succeeded, this would have been a notable coup in the struggle against Al-Qaeda. Instead, this violation of Pakistani territory has humiliated the administration of President Pervez Musharraf and compromised his government's assistance to the United States.

“The Damadola incident illustrates a central dilemma in the War on Terror. It seems not only necessary but also just that the United States should retain the right to strike against acknowledged terrorists in those areas of the world where states cannot or will not take action.

“There are, however, two central problems with this approach.

“First, most of the countries where large-scale terrorist activity is occurring are like Pakistan, where governments do control the greater part of their territory--just not all of it. They are not failed or even failing states, but functioning states suffering from certain weaknesses. Moreover, while their governments are allied with Washington, their populations are largely unfriendly to the United States.

“The second, even more obvious point is that the United States and its allies cannot in fact invade and control such territories themselves. In the case of Pakistan, the United States will never have any choice but to work with and through a Pakistani government--almost any Pakistani government--if it wishes to exert any wider control over the fight against terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. This is especially true of the indirectly administered tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

And what about democracy? He posed this question:

“… 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. …

“Lack of political progress in recent decades has been generally attributed in the West, and by Pakistani liberals, to the military's repeated seizures of power. There is an element of truth to this, but it is also true that those interventions have usually occurred because the civilian political order has already broken down. …

“The nature of Pakistani society, and the weakness of real democratic development, is shown above all by the lack of real, modern, mass political parties. Without such parties, democracy is bound to be more or less a sham or facade for oligarchic rule--just as it has been in so much of Latin America. 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 …”

Pakistan is an excellent example of a foreign policy problem where we are not dealing with a good choice and a bad choice, but between a series of bad choices. And many of the problems Pakistan faces are not subject to or under Washington's control to fix, no matter what he or anyone else is "preapared to do" as President.

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