Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pakistan - Afghanistan Predictions

It is a bit disturbing to realize that I can take Ian Bremmer's December 2007 comments on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and reproduce them right here verbatim and they apply just as much to what to expect in 2009 as they accurately anticipated what played out in 2008:

"The bigger related problem is actually in Afghanistan, where existing international forces will prove incapable of doing much more than maintaining the security of president Hamid Karzai and a select number of additional government forces. Tribal leaders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan will quickly learn that the calculus for their political advantage is solidly on the side of Islamic radicals. Short of significant additional NATO funding and troop commitments on the ground by spring--when the snow clears and mountain passes are again traversable--that will lead to a significant spike in terrorist violence both in Afghani and Pakistani urban centers and, longer term, internationally."

I'll leave it at that. TWR readers are invited to read other posts in the December 2007 archive and test the veracity of the predictions against events.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Administration's Legacy

Tom Nichols looks at the foreign policy "orphans" of the outgoing administration:

Presidents are often remembered for the things they did, but like many administrations before his own, a significant part of George W. Bush's legacy might well lie with the things he failed to do. The Bush administration essentially "orphaned" several foreign policy issues after 2000 (relations with Mexico and Canada, and the environment, among others) but two are particularly important: tensions with Russia and the future of nuclear arms control.

He also warns us about expecting any sort of rapid change under the new team:

Barack Obama will not solve any of these problems in four, or even eight, years. They will haunt us long after the last American soldiers leave Iraq. They are problems we will bequeath to our children. That's why they're called "legacies."

Paul Richter also looks at what it being bequeathed to the incoming Administration:

As President Bush's term comes to a close, the United States has the world's largest economy and its most powerful military. Yet its global influence is in decline. The United States emerged from the Cold War a solitary superpower whose political and economic leverage often enabled it to impose its will on others. Now, America usually needs to build alliances -- and often finds that other powers aren't willing to go along.

Meanwhile, the clock is running out for using the line that there is only one president at a time--and it does appear that the Gaza situation is moving, perhaps to equal India-Pakistan, as the "crisis" that the new president will have to address from minute 1 after the Inauguration.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The India Prism?

Reuters has published an analysis by Golnar Motevalli that suggests that U.S. strategy in Afghanistan (and vis-a-vis Pakistan) is increasingly centering around an India focus. Motevalli quotes an unnamed diplomat as saying, "Obama has also been clear that he sees the Pakistan situation very much through the prism of India" which is an interesting comment (and somewhat of a departure from past policy which put the emphasis on Pakistan).

If in the past the U.S. had a tilt toward Pakistan, is the opposite now occurring--and will it accelerate under the new administration?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Russia in Latin America

So the Russian pitch to Argentine president Kirchner is that Russia is in a position to help develop the energy infrastructure of South America. Gazprom can help develop Bolivia's natural gas reserves and Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina can work with Russia to construct a continental gas pipeline. Russia also would offer to develop the nuclear power industry in the region to assist in electricity production.

This all fits with an overall Russian strategy of wanting not only to develop and market Eurasian energy but to become a global middleman for energy in general.

The plans are ambitious; whether they move to the execution stage, however, remains to be seen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Losing Breathing Room

Sometimes, temporary agreements are meant to create breathing room in the hopes that over time, a more permanent arrangement can be negotiated (or tempers can cool). This hope in terms of the Hamas-Israel cease-fire over Gaza appears to have been in vain. The truce comes to an end with no further progress.

It also appears that the power-sharing talks for Zimbabwe, an attempt to begin to negotiate what the shape of a post-Mugabe state might look like, are also breaking down.

So we have two reviving crises to add to the plate for January 2009.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ba'ath Nostalgia?

I read with interest the reports about the Ba'ath restorationists within the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior--lower level officers apparently interested in some sort of revival of the Ba'ath Party. It raises an interesting question--and I don't know whether there is any sort of polling on this--the level of nostalgia for the past in Iraq, compared with the security and economic situation of the present.

It also raises the question as to whether at least some elements of Ba'ath ideology--particularly secularism and nationalism--might still have some appeal, especially against the sectarian divide of the current government.

I've read about the rise in Yugo-nostalgia even in Slovenia, which by all accounts has done much better for itself since it separated from Yugoslavia. Is there a similar phenomenon at work here?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yemen's Test

India has handed over the Somali and Yemenese pirates it captured last week to the government of Yemen (since the incident took place within the Exclusive Economic Zone claimed by Yemen). Yemen has promised the detainees will be interviewed and face court charges.

This is a test as to whether local governments in the region are prepared to enforce anti-piracy laws. It's also a test of Yemen's own institutions. In the past, there have been escapes of terrorists and extremists from Yemeni jails and concern about Yemen's "bus station" approach to terrorism (get them out of the country).

A Yemen News Agency announcement about the handover.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama to Indonesia?

Michale Fullilove argued in the pages of the New York Times earlier this week that the foreign policy destination the new president should embark to in the Islamic world should not be Egypt or Turkey, but Indonesia.

He argues:

"Choosing Indonesia would throw light on the diversity and richness of Islam, which is not, contrary to lingering perceptions, practiced solely by Arabs or only in the Middle East. The country, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, does a reasonable job of managing its considerable religious heterogeneity. Going there would help Mr. Obama to reframe the debate in the West about Islam and terrorism.

"An Indonesian audience would also make sense. Indonesians have been both victims and perpetrators of terrorist attacks, including the deadly Bali bombings. The government in Jakarta is an important partner in the effort against terrorism.

"Selecting Indonesia would demonstrate that Mr. Obama takes democracy seriously, given that Indonesia is a rowdy democracy — the third-largest in the world. It would show that President Bush’s misshapen democratization agenda has not turned his successor into an icy realist."

Not that I have a problem with a bit of cold realism--but there is also a strong realist argument to be made for going to Indonesia, as he notes: "It would show that he understands the shift of global power eastward, and telegraph that Washington was finally going to take the nation — the linchpin of Southeast Asia — seriously."

ASEAN has ratified its charter and is taking further steps to develop a regional identity. The greater Asian crescent--from Iran to the Eurasian plain to China and Japan and down to Australia--is going to be the focal point of global development. It seems to make sense for the new administration not to put all of its energy and effort into the repair of trans-Atlantic relations. (This is again why in some of my writings over at NI online I'm arguing for a division of labor among the foreign policy team).

Interesting to see whether Indonesia gets picked or not.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What Now for Republicans?

Is the GOP headed for a "civil war" within its ranks over foreign policy? How will the foreign policy of George W. Bush be assessed? Colin Dueckfires the latest salvo, in defense of conservative realism being a better fit with a "traditional Republican emphases on limited government, constitutionalism, low taxes, and limited spending at home." Perhaps not surprisingly, some of those identified with greater interventionism abroad want a larger role for government at home--so it does seem that there is a case to be made that one's views on domestic policies will influence foreign policy as well.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Restructuring the National Security Process Further ...

I've jotted down in two recent essays in NI online my thoughts on how the incoming administration might want to redistribute responsibilities around the cabinet and presidential staff less in terms of formal job descriptions and more in terms of expertise and who they best "liaison with" in the international and domestic political systems. I think, for instance, that the energy czar needs to have both ends of the climate change account--domestic and international. You can't have U.S. politicians at international events making statements while other politicians are devising regulations at home and expect synergy.

Perhaps another heretical thought--making presidential envoys responsible to the president and either the National Security Council or what PNSR has proposed in its report, a presidential security council? And finding a way to better align the State Department and DOD's combatant commands would be useful too--perhaps each COCOM has a liaison to the Security Council (not someone who votes, but is the link)?

Just some thoughts for the day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Third Time's the Charm in Ukraine?

So the Orange Coalition has pulled itself back together to form a governing majority in Ukraine once again. Somehow "incompetent" Yushchenko and "traitor" Tymoshenko (in the eyes of some of the respective partisans of both politicians) are back on the same page. Months wasted and then the economic crisis hit as Ukraine's main exports decline in value and people pull money from the banks.

Understandable why no one might want elections in those conditions--but it doesn't seem that any of the underlying issues which led to the second "Orange Divorce"-particularly over who gets to control what positions--have been settled. So is it just a matter of time before the coalition fractures--or this time will these questions get settled?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

John Quincy Adams for the 21st century?

It will be interesting to see whether the incoming Administration tries to balance its idealistic and pragmatic sides by reviving and updating John Quincy Adams--that the U.S. is the "well-wisher" to all those who may seek liberty but in the end can only be the vindicator of its own. The pressure to use American power to "do good" runs right up against the realities of the economic crisis. Moreover, the president-elect's wish to begin a withdrawal from Iraq depends on the security provided by groups whose views on a variety of issues--including women's rights--run counter to American preferences. How is the new secretary of state designate going to be able to convince some of her domestic constituencies here that U.S. security interests are being served by forging ties with Taliban-style groups?

This is why I think that the J.Q. Adams aphorism may be picked up and dusted off for use.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A New Cold War?

Are we headed into a new Cold War with post-Soviet Russia? This was the question posed by National Review in the aftermath of the Russian naval exercises with Venezuela and the passage through the Panama Canal of a Russian warship, the first since Soviet submarines were allowed to pass during World War II. My comments, summarized in the advice of monitor, but don't overreact, and those of my panelists, are open for your comments.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Revisiting Parting with Illusions

At the beginning of 2008, I wrote an analysis on U.S. policy toward Russia for the Cato Institute (Parting with Illusions).

One of my overall conclusions for the report was that "Washington lacks sufficient leverage to its policy preferences" and in footnote 43, which is attached to the section on Russia's economic recovery giving the Kremlin greater confidence to project power, I noted:

"The World Bank estimates that the oil and gas sector accounts for about 20 percent of Russia's GDP but generates some 60 percent of the country's export revenues. Approximately 50 percent of the government's revenue is derived from the energy sector. Given rising global demand for energy, plus continued unrest in the Middle East and West Africa, energy prices are likely to remain high for the foreseeable future."

Oil prices are now at January 2005 levels (around $44/barrel). This obviously deprives Russia of a good deal of its windfall income. It also raises the question as to whether this changes any of the conclusions I came to in that report.

Yes and no. A collapse of the oil price definitely hurts Russia, hurts its economy, and deprives it of the extra income it was counting on. It reduces the attractiveness of the Russian economy and reduces the country's soft power in Eurasia.

But the collapse of the oil price comes at a time of global recession when all economies are hurting. The United States is also coping with a reduction in what it can do around the world. Oil prices are falling because demand has collapsed--not because there is a glut of supply. If demand revives, the price goes back up.

I have heard from some colleagues who have suggested to me that the collapse in the oil price "finishes" Russia as a major power. Perhaps, but the U.S. is also dealing with negative ramifications of its own economic crisis. I found this piece from the WSJ on the fall in university endowments. Russia's fall is not taking place amidst the rise of others; instead, we are in a race to the bottom, it seems.

And so Russia's leverage is reduced but ours hasn't increased--so I think the initial conclusion I reached is still sound.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Improving our Maritime Vision

Some thoughts on that subject. It does seem a case of penny-wise, pound-foolish.

What is interesting to consider is that Mumbai is India's technological and business center--some of these technologies, especially the software, can be generated there--but if patrol boats are rusting away in sheds and the police and military aren't equipped and trained, then it all comes to nothing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The South Asian Balancing Act

M.K. Bhadrakumar has an interesting contribution to World Politics Review; it is part of a larger section on the Asian triangle.

Whether or not you agree with Bhadrakumar's analysis, one cannot escape the sense that sooner or later choices have to be made and we have to be prepared to live with those consequences. It doesn't seem possible that we can find an approach that Pakistan, Iran, India, China, Russia, and the Europeans will all equally agree upon for Afghanistan.

I don't have a sense yet as to whether the Obama Administration will move to rehabilitate or contain Pakistan (or try to do both). I argued earlier that Obama may have to decide, depending on how talks go, whether or not to accept some sort of deal between Hamid Karzai and some parts of the Taliban. Bhadrakumar's article argues that India and Russia do not want such a settlement (in part because New Delhi and Moscow don't believe there is such a thing as "moderate Taliban"). How this plays out within Obama's "team of rivals" national security apparatus is also unclear. Bob Gates, for instance, has voiced some degree of support for the Karzai approach.

It was also interesting for me to read--and TWR readers may want to offer their own thoughts--the extent to which Bhadrakumar says the luster of the U.S.-India nuclear deal is already fading--the sense that it still doesn't open the "treasury" of advanced U.S. technologies to India. I assume that France and Russia will both be competing hard against the U.S. in this regard.

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