Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Surge and Sovereignty

Fighting is on the upswing in Iraq and U.S. casualties increased in April, mainly as a result of combat against the Mahdi Army.

For the last several months, it appeared that the U.S. strategy was to prioritize stability and local control at the expense of the writ of the central government in Baghdad. This included reaching out to Sunni elements who were suspicious of the Iraqi central government but who might be prepared to work with the U.S.

Now, however, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki wants to disarm Shia militias and Sunni fighters--by force if necessary--if they refuse to disarm. The Iraqi army will need help--and will turn to the U.S. for it.

So the stability that has been achieved could then be threatened as Maliki wants, in advance of local elections, to assert the supremacy of his government.

This is a problem that NATO is also confronting in Afghanistan and in Kosovo. There is a big difference between being engaged in “stability operations”—essentially keeping the peace—and dealing with the fact that the government in the capital city doesn’t control all the territory of the country. So in both places, you are going to have NATO allies who say the mission is to make sure fighting is over and just keep things quiet, versus those who identify the success of the mission in ensuring that orders from the capital are enforced in the outlying areas-which may force NATO troops into fighting with locals and make the mission more dangerous in terms of casualties—which then undermines public support back home.

We'll see how this plays out in Iraq.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ceding the Initiative

My final thoughts on the U.S.-Russia conference and what happens in the future. My pessimistic sense is that the initiative in the U.S. -Russia relationship, whether by choice or by accident, seems to be slipping out of the hands of the policymakers in Washington and Moscow. I was struck by repeated comments that the goal for the next year is to avoid any major confrontations--but it also seems that other, third-party actors are in a position to damage or alter the trajectory of the U.S.-Russia relationship. Instead of the agenda the two presidents agreed on in Sochi--even recognizing that much of it is highly ambitious and cannot be realized in 2008--we have a situation where what leaders like Saakashvili, Kostunica, Bagapsh, or Thaci have a good deal of influence over the tenor of relations between Moscow and Washington. In other words, both powers have not sufficiently insulated their relationship or build the ballast needed to ride out difficulties.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Last Thoughts: U.S.-Russia Relations

Listening to our last speakers in the final session, in particularly Igor Yurgens talking about the future direction of the Russian economy, got me wondering. Let's assume that the Russian economy continues to grow, Russia becomes the economic center of the region, continues its path of constructing interlocking businesses with Europe, and also continues reforms that promote the rule of law and greater transparency and democracy in decision-making.

What then?

Is Russia fundamentally a revisionist or status quo power? (And, from the luncheon discussion, when does revisionism become revanchism?)

Are Russia's goals for the reconstruction of its power fundamentally at odds with key U.S. interests--meaning that the future of the U.S.-Russia relationship may depend a lot less on personalities (or have less room for good personal relations between leaders from being able to insulate the relationship from these developments).

Just some final thoughts.

The Dead-End/Tupik

To continue from the first post of the day, in the second session Mark Medish (Carnegie Endowment, former Clinton Administration NSC director for Russia) opened his remarks by saying that twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we've come to a dead-end in our relationship with Russia. We need new ideas and a new framework--and this may require people on both sides to take steps "out of character". A comment from the floor raised the point that all three of the presidential campaigns are staffed by "old hands" on Russia policy--so can we expect this new approach to emerge or not?

Alexey Pushkov, host of Post Scriptum (a Moscow television news and discussion program) made an interesting observation. He said that the main pillars of the U.S. -Russia relationship are well-known--and people who know me know that I've gotten frustrated with the ritual repetition of these phrases: terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, and international stability. He said the problem is that these are very vaguely-worded, general, abstract goals--and we've never really defined common means or points of agreement.

Do we need another "dramatic event" to shake up the thinking or get us to rethink the relationship?

A Post-American Country?

I realize that it is a bit much to read too much into a comment made by Gleb Pavlovksy in the first session of today's "U.S.-Russian Relations in a Time of Transitions" conference, but I think it does capture the sense of priorities. In the midst of the discussion of possible new rivalries between Washington and Moscow, he commented that Dmitry Medvedev's agenda is mouch more focused on the "Europeanization of Russia"--that is to say, Russia's enmeshing into the economic and security life of Europe--than engaging in competition with the United States.

As I had written in 2005 and 2006:

The problem, of course, is that for the past five years or so Russia has not been America's "to lose." In many ways, Russia is a "post-American" country. It still has an important relationship with the United States, and there are still several "global" issues where Moscow and Washington continue to interrelate (mainly nuclear). But in terms of many of the day-to-day things that underwrite any bilateral relationship--trade, people-to-people exchanges, and so on--the Russia-Europe and specifically the Russia-Germany relationship is much more important.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Harding, Hedging and the Kober Challenge

At yesterday's magazine event, I thought Harry Harding made a critical point during the discussion. In an uncertain international environment, fraught with instability and risk, countries hedge. This is natural and should not be misinterpreted. Countries may hedge by reaching out to the United States--this should not be exaggerated into a prelude towards a close and meaningful alliance. Countries may hedge by trying to balance against the United States--this should not automatically, however, be seen as a priori proof of implacable hostility towards us.

As part of that discussion, Stanley Kober raised a question to the audience--and I'm taking advantage of the blog to spread his question further afield. He said that he was curious as to whether in the Chinese media there had been any major criticism either of India's continued military buildup or Russia's role as India's main supplier of advanced weaponry. TWR readers that may have any information or citations are urged to post links.

The interesting question this raises is whether Beijing sees India's buildup as directed primarily against China (and thus hostile) or whether, despite complications it may raise for China, whether it is seen as making India feel more independent and secure--and thus less likely to seek close relations with other major powers.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wall Street, Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue

The unexpected news that Ford Motor Company posted profits in the first quarter of 2008 after successive quarters of losses is a microcosm of the divergences that will only widen over U.S. foreign and economic policy.

Ford cut more jobs and operations in the United States--not good news for Main Street. One area of major growth for Ford is its Russia division--where it will be increasing operations in its plant outside of St. Petersburg and hopes to increase sales by 75 percent. Russia and other emerging markets were big winners for Ford. Good for Wall Street.

And Ford is going to have a much different perspective about developments in Russia than most U.S. politicians. A stable regime that promotes and sustains economic growth and leads to a more robust middle class is better for Ford than political and economic instability. They will want Medvedev to be much more "Putin" than "Yeltsin". And any increased political confrontation between Moscow and Washington threatens the position of U.S. companies--so Cold War-esque rhetoric from American politicians is not a good thing. So the divergence opens up between Wall Street and "Pennsylvania Avenue."

Main Street's view of relations with Russia will depend, increasingly, on whether Main Street sees jobs and economic benefits coming as a result of a closer economic relationship with Russia.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

India: We Still Don't Learn

Next week, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to visit India, the "world's largest democracy" and frequently touted as a leading candidate to join any League of Democracies.

We've seen, consistently, that whenever the U.S. makes PUBLIC statements about what India ought to do vis-a-vis Iran, it creates a negative public backlash in the Indian political establishment. Indians on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum resent any appearance of loss of sovereignty in how India conducts its affairs. Communists line up with the BJP to condemn any appearance of interference in their affairs.

So what do we do?

The State Department issues a public statement about what we hope the Indian prime minister would tell Ahmadinejad about what to do about Iran's nuclear activities. Sure, it was phrased in the polite language of a request ("we would hope") rather than as a requirement, but still, it was a public--and here I keep stressing that point, public--statement about what the U.S. wants India to do in its bilateral relations with another state.

So, not surprising, India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee--who it might be added didn't have a particularly stellar visit to Washington recently--had to march down to the Lok Sabha to tell the parliamentarians, "'We are suggesting to the US, do not take upon yourself the task of determining whether Iran is manufacturing nuclear weapons or not. Let the IAEA decide." Mukherjee's spokesman Navtej Sarna was more blunt: “India does not need any guidance on its conduct of relations with Iran as both the nations are perfectly capable of managing all aspects of their ties."


Anyone ever hear of quiet diplomacy? Back channels? Discrete letters? Prime Minister Singh and his government aren't fools. They know U.S. concerns.

It just seems that increasingly we conduct a policy toward Iran designed for our domestic audience here--witness Senator Clinton's "obliteration" remark--with no sense of how this complicates our efforts to actually achieve something overseas.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Global NATO Once Again

Over at Outside the Beltway, James Joyner gives a rundown on Rupert Murdoch's endorsement of expanding NATO to becoming a global alliance defined by shared values. The initial post, and the debate it is engendering, is worth reading.

One thing that I keep missing, however. Polling data or evidence that Japan, Australia or any other country envisioned as being part of Global NATO actually WANTS TO JOIN. I'll admit, I don't follow the Australian press religiously, but I haven't seen any sign that most Australians are clamoring to become part of the Alliance or to transform it.

Perhaps this doesn't matter; after all, the opinion polls showing most Ukrainians are right now opposed to or highly ambivalent about NATO membership are deemed to be irrelevant. But given that a new global NATO would impose burdens on these states that at present they don't have--after all, a flip side for Australia's participation in coalitions of the willing is that when it is NOT willing it is not bound to act--one would assume that there should be pretty large majorities that span the political spectrum in each of these states about the need, benefits and desirability of joining such an alliance.

The worse outcome, of course, would be for the U.S. to propose these measures and then to have no takers ...

Bad News on the Energy Front

Several weeks ago, I asked the question as to whether energy producers were under any obligation to increase production simply because of growing consumer demand. OPEC gave us an answer: no. The major oil producers seem to feel that there is enough energy coming to market, that it is not their problem if non-market forces interfere with those developments (e.g. MEND blowing up pipelines in Nigeria or refinery workers striking in Britain), and that while higher oil prices make consumers uncomfortable, they do not, at present, threaten the health of the global economy. VOA reports from the OPEC meeting in Rome:

OPEC Secretary-General Abdalla Salem al-Badri has said the group is prepared to raise production if the price pressure is due to a shortage of supply - but also said he doubted the connection."There is a common understanding now that [oil prices] has nothing to do with supply and demand," he said.

More bad signs.

Iraq's oil minister, Hussein al-Shahristani, said contracts signed between the Iraqi Kurds and foreign companies remain invalid. Not only does this delay getting fields operational but it also means that progress toward an overall Oil Law is stalled.

Perhaps this isn't a bad sign--eye of the beholder--but Vladimir Putin's visit to Libya indicates that Russia is continuing full speed ahead with its strategy of becoming the world's leading energy broker, not only from Eurasia but increasingly other sources as well--and working to ensure that Russia has a hand in all possible energy supply lines to Europe.

And here again, something that all these league of democracy advocates ignore--Russia is doing this by forging ties with key European conglomerates. In Libya, Gazprom bought some of BASF's assets (this is a German firm) and is now working to set up joint projects with Italy's ENI. And Russia continues to develop the strategy I laid out at the Robert Taft meeting of creating interlocking structures that give Europeans a real interest in Russian success. ENI make work with Gazprom in developing projects in Libya; ENI also controls natural gas fields in Russia--in the Yamalo-Nenets region and holds a 20 percent stake in Gazprom Neft.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Ad-hoc League of Democracies of the Willing?

Paul Richter reports that Senator McCain's idea about a "league of democracies" may already be in the process of being watered down. Now it is being described as "ad hoc coalitions of the willing" that happen to be drawn from democratic states.

This is understandable. The notion of any league as a real organization was always far-fetched. If the Senator, for instance, really believes that Russia poses a renewed threat, he'd find three major democracies--Germany, France and India--with far different views on Russia (and far different policies to match, as we've seen both at the Bucharest NATO summit and during Prime Minister Singh's visit to Moscow); and lukewarm support at best from some of the leading southern democracies like South Africa and Brazil.

But the ad hoc coalition approach, I think, would also be a failure in most areas--moving beyond either short-term approaches such as disaster relief or responding to very specific situations. Ad hoc assemblages of democracies so far have not been successful in coping with the problems the Senator said a new league would be assembled to deal with.

The ad hoc coalition of the willing approach also opens up greater possibilities for what I've termed the "league of the semi-democracies"--those states that have intermixed democratic and authoritarian features that would trade support for the U.S. in return for being given a clean bill of democratic health.

At any rate, it is interesting to see the walking-back from this idea--and before the general election, no less.

Troubling Signs for the U.S. on the Horizon?

Steve Weber, Flynt Leverett and Fred Kempe all gave their thoughts on whether a "World Without the West" is posing a challenge to U.S. interests at the UC California Center here in Washington this past Thursday. (Here is a summary.) One of the interesting debates: whether the "New Atlanticism" plus a vigorous effort to win the support of the "southern democracies" may blunt the "World Without the West"--depending on what a new U.S. administration does starting in 2009.

But I wanted to highlight some of the trends I found quite disturbing--and worry that there is far too little discussion about.

The first: that even with oil at $110 + a barrel, oil is still a far cheaper and more cost-effective "liquid" for fuel than any of the alternatives. Alternative energy sources are not going to be feasible even at this or a higher oil price, they won't produce enough energy and--as long as oil still remains the dominant fuel, no one will really invest in the infrastructure needed to produce, transport and dispense alternatives.

Second, oil prices will remain high--even though there is going to be some cyclical movement in price--but nothing where prices come down to $40 or under a barrel in the near future--unless there is such a dramatic global economic shock where demand crashes all around the world. But while everyone points the finger at increased demand from China and India--and this demand is keeping prices high--the real hidden secret is that energy-producing countries--especially Russia and the key Middle Eastern producers--are also consuming record amounts of energy as well--it is their own upward demand which is also a factor in keeping prices high. People forget that the collapse of the Russian economy in the 1990s collapsed Russian domestic demand for energy--that is now no longer the case.

So, a foreign policy approach predicated on collapsing oil prices is probably not feasible.

But a third item that was very interesting--and troubling. Most people assume that we are simply seeing a drain of excess wealth to the energy producers. True, we are. But this drain of wealth--especially from the U.S.--goes to the energy producers who then are increasing their purchases from the leading Asian and European manufacturing powers--not just China but from Korea, Japan and Germany as well. They have seen their positive balance of payments increase just as energy prices have been going up--and despite the fact that Germany and Japan have no indigenous energy sources of their own but have to import--and having been paying higher prices. So there is a growing symbiosis between energy producers and manufacturers.


The United States is seeing its manufacturing base decrease further? We aren't producing the equipment and machinery and exporting the construction services that might help to put our own economy back into balance?

Second, and this is specifically in relationship to Germany. Germany's strong trading statistics are what, in essence, keeps the entire EU in a slight surplus. Germany is continuing to subsidize the rest of the Union. We've seen in recent years that Germany feels it should have a greater say in Europe based on its economic role. Given Germany's special relationship to Europe's main energy provider--Russia--and given Germany's continued position as Europe's economic engine--does this foreshadow a continuation of what we saw in Bucharest?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Advice from Australia

Despite all the talk about leagues of democracies and partnerships and so on, it remains unfortunate that we here in Washington pay so little attention to what some of our most important allies are saying and doing.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's comments in Beijing--delivered in Mandarin Chinese--seem more thoughtful about the West's complicated relationship with China than what U.S. politicians are saying. Also, by neither accepting nor snubbing the PRC's invitation to attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, Rudd preserves his own freedom of action.

The speech is a bit of a compromise, in that Rudd delivered it directly to Chinese students at the university but it was not broadcast live, so some of his criticisms were not aired to the public at large--but his intended audience, the leadership, heard him loud and clear. I think it has some echoes of Reagan's 1984 Fudan speech in Shanghai as well.

The full text is available via the prime minister's site but I'd like to excerpt the following:

"To many people in China, these changes bring a better and richer life. People are able to make decisions about where they work, how they live and set their own goals. They can build their own businesses. At the same time, there are still many problems in China – problems of poverty, problems of uneven development, problems of pollution, problems of broader human rights.

"It is also important to recognise that China’s change is having a great impact not just on China, but also on the world.


"The global community looks forward to China fully participating in all the institutions of the global rules-based order, including in security, in the economy, in human rights, in the environment. And we look forward to China making active contributions to the enhancement of that order in the future. It is a necessary task of responsible global citizenship.


"Some have called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics because of recent problems in Tibet. As I said in London on Sunday, I do not agree. I believe the Olympics are important for China’s continuing engagement with the world. Australia like most other countries recognises China’s sovereignty over Tibet. But we also believe it is necessary to recognise there are significant human rights problem in Tibet. The current situation in Tibet is of concern to Australians. We recognise the need for all parties to avoid violence and find a solution through dialogue.As a long-standing friend of China I intend to have a straightforward discussion with China’s leaders on this.


"A strong relationship, and a true friendship, are built on the ability to engage in direct, frank and ongoing dialogue about our fundamental interests and future vision. In the modern, globalised world, we are all connected; connected not only by politics and economics, but also in the air we breathe. A true friend is one who can be a “zhengyou”, that is a partner who sees beyond immediate benefit to the broader and firm basis for continuing, profound and sincere friendship. In other words, a true friendship which “offers unflinching advice and counsels restraint” to engage in principled dialogue about matters of contention."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Theodore Roosevelt: What Did He Say?

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Irwin Stelzer calls on John McCain to embrace his "Inner Teddy Roosevelt"--because "only a nation with a strong, growing economy is sufficiently self-confident to bear what TR called the "heavy responsibility" of projecting "the cause of free self-government throughout the world" and has the wherewithal to discharge that responsibility."

So it sounds like TR would be a democracy-promoter around the globe, right?

But reading Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address, which contains the line "the cause of free self-government throughout the world", and I am left with a different impression.

TR sounds a lot more like Ronald Reagan speaking at Fudan University in Shanghai--celebrating the American ideal, setting it forward as an EXAMPLE for other states, but not arguing that the U.S. must force change on other societies.

Here is the full quote: Upon the success of our experiment much depends, not only as regards our own welfare, but as regards the welfare of mankind. If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations, and therefore our responsibility is heavy, to ourselves, to the world as it is to-day, and to the generations yet unborn.

Notice the word "projecting" or some other variant is NOT there.

And TR, in the previous paragraph, had this to say about international relations: "Toward all other nations, large and small, our attitude must be one of cordial and sincere friendship. We must show not only in our words, but in our deeds, that we are earnestly desirous of securing their good will by acting toward them in a spirit of just and generous recognition of all their rights. But justice and generosity in a nation, as in an individual, count most when shown not by the weak but by the strong."

That TR leaned more toward the "America as a city on the hill to be emulated" than lining up with any sort of freedom crusade seems the case when one reads this:

"Now and then we hear the appeal to give such and such a nation self-government. ... You cannot give self-government to anybody. He has got to earn it for himself.

"You can give him the chance to obtain self-government, but he himself out of his own heart must do the governing. He must govern himself. That is what it means. That is what self-government means." ("Duty and Self-Control")

In the end, TR's guiding principle--and one we should embrace in this day even more so, when the economic problems we face are far greater is this:

"We in our turn have an assured confidence that we shall be able to leave this heritage unwasted and enlarged to our children and our children's children."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come in Russia

Vladimir Putin was unanimously chosen by the congress of the United Russia party to become its new leader. Putin will replace Boris Gryzlov. Since United Russia controls a supermajority of seats in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, he in theory now has the ability to amend the constitution or to have legislation passed.

Whether he still needs to become prime minister is therefore questionable. Perhaps the prime minister might remain as the day-to-day figure for keeping the government's trains running on time, leaving Putin as party leader and de facto national leader. Interestingly, president-elect Dmitry Medvedev chose not to join the United Russia party, meaning that he is officially a non-party figure (which means that United Russia does not have two heads, but remains in essence "Putin's party.")

This may still leave open the possibility of the Mexico scenario which I have talked about in the past, or be the next step in constructing a new party-government symbiosis on the LDP model from Japan.

Interestingly, Silvio Berlusconi's first major meeting after winning the Italian elections will be with Putin--this Thursday in Sardinia. Again, it continues to demonstrate that there is a trans-Atlantic "gap" on Russia. First Merkel flew to meet with president-elect Medvedev after the elections, and now Putin goes to Italy.

So the process of transition is underway.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The End of Containment

Ray Takeyh and I argued in Sunday's Boston Globe why we are going to keep finding it harder to pressure other states to do our bidding.

We noted, "With only a few exceptions - countries almost completely dependent on the United States for trade - economic sanctions against a country will work only if all major economic players, but especially China, support them. If Washington is unwilling or unable to bring Beijing on board, US-driven measures may hurt a country but be insufficient to change its behavior."

We wrote this essay before the latest developments in Tibet had erupted--but I don't think that changes any part of the dilemma we say Washington now finds itself in.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Liberty Fund: Realism, Order and Liberty in American Foreign Policy

I took part in the Liberty Fund conference here in Arlington, VA that was devoted to the subject, "Realism, Order and Liberty in American Foreign Policy." The Liberty Fund conference brings together a small group of thinkers to examine a series of texts--in this case, speeches by John Quincy Adams and John Randolph and some of the writings of George Kennan.

Because the emphasis is on discussion rather than on finding some lowest-common denominator consensus, the conversations were quite wide-ranging. I'm not going to do this summary any justice, but I thought I'd share some of the points.

Is there such a thing as "American realism"? Can Americans be comfortable with power/interest-based policies, or must there be an appeal to values? Is promoting a "balance of power that favors freedom" a uniquely American compromise?

What does it mean for America to "provide an example" to the rest of the world? Is this done passively or by the expression of American power? What exactly is our example that we want others to emulate--our constitutional order, our material success, or something else?

Who is responsible for defining interests? A professional elite? To what extent should the "palsied will of the constituents" to use a later J.Q. Adams phrase play a role in controlling/defining policy?

What are the distinctions between being a well-wisher for the liberty of others (and is liberty for others defined in terms of liberty for peoples or liberty for individuals) and being responsible for them?

In looking at foreign policy, is war inevitable? How much that happens occurs accidentally? Do statesmen make mistakes?

How do we deal with the apparent paradox in the American mind, the tensions between liberty and power?

And the timeline for the inculcation of liberty as defined by the West; the cultural and institutional background needed.

The notion that a government should reflect the "genius" of the people, and whether the principles, perspectives and animating spirit of a country changes as its power position changes.

A discussion I enjoyed and which I feel happens too little in Washington, where we don't often spend as much time not only on ideas but on examining the intellectual heritage of the Republic.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ducking the Blame on Sudan (and Zimbabwe ...)

It's interesting how politicians are quick to paint China as the one to blame for all the troubles and human rights violations in Sudan. The logic runs as follows, and is not completely unjustified: China resists efforts to sanction Sudan in the UN Security Council, which gives cover for the government in Khartoum. The international community would be in a better position to pressure Sudan if it could speak with the unified voice of the Security Council.

But it is a funny kind of logic, in that it seems to argue that, because China can exercise a veto in the Security Council, the democracies are somehow OBLIGED to continue trading and doing business with Sudan. Moreover, doesn't this suggest that China somehow prevents democratic countries from, on their own, putting pressure on Sudan? How convenient. Beijing becomes the excuse for inaction. (And is China forcing other countries to trade with Sudan).

Democratic Japan--a country identified by Senator McCain as a leading power to be included in any concert or league of democracies--is Sudan's largest export destination (48 percent)--because Sudan's oil, to be blunt, doesn't stink. Democratic Britain via its official trade and investment promotion agency talks up Sudan as a place for investment and business. Yes, China is Sudan's largest provider of imports (at 18 percent) but democratic France and democratic Germany together make up 10 percent and democratic India nearly 5 percent.

I've also seen China identified as a main supporter for Mugabe in Zimbabwe, propping up and sustaining his regime--but, surprisingly, China is not a major trade partner for Harare. But the United States is--absorbing 10 percent of Zimbabwe's export and supplying nearly 5 percent of its imports.

Perhaps some of this is explained by having Chinese companies doing the producing and then selling on the open market to democratic states. Does this assuage Japanese or Korean or European or American consciences, that the products of these states were sold by Chinese middlemen, while absolving us of responsibility?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Robert Taft Society presentation: Some Links

When I made my presentation at the Robert Taft Society on Monday, there was some incredulity among some members of the audience to my points that democratically-elected European leaders have a difference of opinion with the U.S. mainstream about Russia. That there is a real debate about Russia, the best way to engage, and, just as importantly, an ongoing process of economic integration that builds up the basis for pro-Russian business lobbies.

So, for those interested, some links to back up what I asserted;

President Klaus of the Czech Republic, why Putin's Russia is not the Soviet Union

President Sarkozy calling to congratulate President Putin on the results of the December 2007 elections (Note also the justification in relation to improving France's economy)

A related story: why Total is positive on Russia.

Finally, John Vincour's column on the ongoing debate in Europe about Russia and why the views of Senators McCain and Clintons on Russia might not be well received.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Nation v. Weekly Standard on Iraq

Dimitri Simes, the publisher of TNI, likes to say that while people are free to have different opinions, they shouldn't have different facts. But I couldn't help wonder whether or not this is indeed the case, when reading the essays, one by Frederick and Kimberly Kagan in the Weekly Standard, the other by Nir Rosen in The Nation.

What is most interesting is not that they disagree and present diametrically opposed pictures, but that, in essence, they attack each other's sources. Rosen does so directly, writing, "Kagan ... speaks no Arabic and was baby-sat for a few days by American soldiers." Rosen groups Kagan with others who "know nothing about Iraq except what they gain second- or third-hand, too often information provided by equally disconnected members of the US military."

Kagan doesn't directly address Rosen's charges, but responds more generally that the less than positive stories about recent events in southern Iraq "come from Iraqi stringers, the usual anonymous Iraqi officials, and, it seems, some Sadrist media outlets. In all previous operations where U.S. forces were present, we have learned that such information is of limited value."

Kagan sees what has happened as further evidence of positive developments; Rosen's picture of Iraq is one where "the proper standard for judging Iraq is the quality of life for Iraqis, and sadly for most, life was better under Saddam."

By the way, do we think that our elected representatives are going to do better at sorting through this?

Meanwhile, the Washington Post quotes an anonymous U.S. military officer in Iraq who gives this summary of the results of what happened in recent days:

While some Iraqi troops "fought well," he wrote in an e-mail, others were "largely ineffective." Up to 1,000 army and police personnel reportedly either deserted or refused to fight. In the National Police, which is known to be sympathetic to Sadr, "hundreds" of officers were fired, ... The most "positive spin I can put on it," the official said, is that "the Iraqi Army didn't cut and run." The Mahdi Army, also known as Jaish al-Mahdi, or JAM, "did not prevail. Did the Iraqi Army rout JAM? No."

Accurate summary, or just splitting the difference?

The Problem with Paleocons

Seriously, the discussion hosted by the Robert Taft Club (and cosponsored by American Cause) was lively and provocative. So perhaps not as much as a problem as a challenge. And not just for paleocons but for the various disparate groups that comprise the pragmatic-based wing of the American foreign policy debate--the libertarians, the conservative and centrist realists, some of the communitarians, and so on.

The first is that realism--broadly defined--has no easy and neat bumper stickers to present on foreign policy. We don't have easy soundbites to deliver, we have paragraphs of nuance to present. We have to clarify and explain. Against that, the simplicity of being able to say, "I support freedom" is hard to match.

Second, what we have to offer--the need for the country to make choices and set priorities--runs up against both a popular and political culture that says, "You can have it all" (and adds that there won't be any costs). As an American realist, I say that what I am aiming to achieve in the world is a balance of power that favors American leadership and creates conditions for the eventual spread of peace, liberty and prosperity--but that this requires management and skill. It's hard to argue against someone who believes that freedom is inevitable and that the body blows the U.S. is currently absorbing are nothing to worry about because "our cause is just."

Third, we tend to be honest about the world we live in and the flaws of the partners we have to work with. But it is far easier to say why we can't work with country X followed by a long list of that country's flaws, or to insist that country Y should just follow our lead because we are right (but of course, NOT to suggest that the U.S. might then have to bear a much greater burden).

So when faced with a supposed choice between a "cost free liberation" (even if it doesn't turn out that way and there was no reason for it to turn out that way) or someone saying "we have to make choices" the first is always going to prevail, at least for now.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Derbyshire on NATO

Over at NRO, John Derbyshire questions the continued value of NATO. He concludes:

"If China makes a grab for Hawaii, how will Albania be able to help? Someone please tell me."

(Actually, since the Charter only obligates other allies to assist if there is an attack on the United States in the north Atlantic area, Albania doesn't have to help at all.)

An interesting counterpoint is the forthcoming essay by Marcel van Herpen that will appear in the next issue of The National Interest, on the French attitudes to NATO. Nicolas Sarkozy does provide some answers. NATO exists primarily as a security organization for Europe; it is primarily a military group; there is no sustainable basis for turning it into some global alliance of democracies. It is, perhaps, a "limited conservative" as opposed to a "big-government" conservative view of the alliance.

Sovereignty, Democracy and the Role of Outsiders

I haven't been able to devote as much attention as I might like to events that are unfolding in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Armenia--but there is a common thread that links some of the developments in these countries with ongoing issues in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

The first is the issue of sovereignty as it relates to the territorial integrity of a country. The textbook Westphalian position was that a government had to control its territory or have good reasons for its inability to do so that might require assistance from outside powers.

The second has to do with questions of democracy, elections and the regulation of political conflicts. Who referees disputed contests--and, for countries that make the promotion of democracy a priority for their foreign policy, when an election is disputed or in doubt, is it better to find a compromise formula or no? I am interested in this because it seems the West has accepted for Kenya the formula it would not do for Ukraine in the past.

But then the question for outside forces and actors is whether or not they have the leading obligation to impose these decisions. I know many of the headlines about recent operations read that "US and Iraqi forces" are in action but it still seems that it is primarily the US which is doing the work.

And we come back to the distinctions between peace keepers and peace enforcers, doing stability operations versus extending the writ of governments. A comment I made at the Atlantic Community on this:

One other problem facing the alliance—both in Afghanistan as well as in Kosovo—is that there is also a big difference between being engaged in “stability operations”—essentially keeping the peace—and dealing with the fact that the government in the capital city doesn’t control all the territory of the country. So in both places, you are going to have NATO allies who say the mission is to make sure fighting is over and just keep things quiet, versus those who identify the success of the mission in ensuring that orders from the capital are enforced in the outlying areas-which may force NATO troops into fighting with locals and make the mission more dangerous in terms of casualties—which then undermines public support back home.

Let solutions evolve, or have solutions be imposed? One of the unsung but needed foreign policy debates.

Friday, April 04, 2008

NATO, Iraq, Russia, and Wrong Directions

So the headlines today read that "81 percent" of Americans think the country is on "the wrong track."

Perhaps the lack of real debate and original thinking on Iraq has contributed.

Perhaps when pundits convince us that success is really failure--so that the Bucharest summit, instead of being seen as largely positive, is seen as a setback.

Presidents Bush and Putin meet in Sochi in the aftermath of the Bucharest summit. I'll be able to give my two cents/two kopecks on that at the meeting being organized by the Robert Taft Club on Monday. Meanwhile, Tom Graham lays out what he thinks could be an effective agenda for the Bush-Putin meeting.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Did Bush Set Merkel Up?

So, based on various press reports, it seems German Chancellor Angela Merkel was upset with President Bush's continued forceful lobbying for Georgia and Ukraine to get a Membership Action Plan at the Bucharest summit. She apparently thought that the two of them had agreed last week to a common script: no MAP now, but no end to NATO expansion either.

But does she feel that, with the president's vigorous and very public statements for MAP Now!--she's been set up? The president can appease his many domestic U.S. critics who feel he's too solicitous of Russia by blaming "old Europe", appeasers at heart, for scuttling the MAP at Bucharest (Germany and France, recast in their 2003 roles)--and can say, I pushed for it to happen. But of course, he can go to Sochi to meet with Putin and say, Vladimir, no MAP for Ukraine and Georgia on either of our watches, so let's put this issue aside and get a deal on missile defense.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

India/Tibet and Kosovo/Nagorno-Karabakh

Some bits of news that might otherwise go overlooked in the Washington debate (because they can also be quite inconvenient).

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on national television, speaking about the status of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile community: "India will continue to offer him all hospitality, but during his stay in India, they should not do any political activity, any action that can adversely affect relations between India and China."

Nagorno-Karabakh's parliament issued a declaration calling on governments to recognize its independence, citing the same list of reasons often advanced in support of Kosovo's declaration, including the argument that, because of ethnic cleansing and discrimination, "from the moment of the legal collapse of the Soviet Union Azerbaijan has lost all legal and moral rights to exercising governmental authorities over Nagorno Karabakh."

Will any government act on it? Probably not--just as no one has acted on similar declarations elsewhere--yet.

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