Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Obama Administration and Choices

In reacting to the president's "fate of the union" address, Steve Clemons anticipates the Obama team having to make "some tough judgment calls" when it comes to the economy. This is also something that will have to occur with U.S. foreign and defense policy as well. (Policy toward India, the subject of yesterday's post, may well prove to be one of the first challenges.)

On the question of choices, Derek Reveron over at New Atlanticist made these observations:
With two important operations ongoing and security assistance programs with 149 countries, the U.S. military is in high demand. President Obama’s strategic outlook does not suggest this will change. And with the inability or unwillingness of allies and partners to increase contributions to international security, the post-modernists are likely to guide future defense spending to get Gates’ balanced force structure.
(Visit his post to get his description of the three "schools" for defense policy.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Losing India?

Although the Obama Administration is just beginning to set its priorities in terms of foreign policy, some are worried that the signals being sent to India from the new team aren't the most encouraging.

Peter Pham (at National Interest online) worries that "the nascent strategic partnership [is] being given short shrift—if it is not being subordinated outright to short-term (and shortsighted) preoccupations."

Over at Shadow Government, Dan Twining raises the same concerns and then asks:
So who will have the India account in the Obama administration? Arguably, in the ancien regime, Bush himself was India's biggest booster, which in turn led Secretary Rice to devote considerable time and energy to building the relationship, with day-to-day management by Undersecretary of State Nick Burns and then his successor, Bill Burns. In the current line-up, the president does not appear to hold a particular brief for India. Though her presidential candidacy enjoyed strong support from the Indian-American community, Secretary Clinton seems focused on East Asia. At a traveling press conference this week, her press secretary reportedly dismissed one reporter's inquiries with the declaration, "No questions about India."

It's still early, of course. But the new U.S. - India relationship, while it has progressed a great deal, still remains unconsolidated. New Delhi cannot be taken for granted by Washington. It would be a pity if because of inattention or lack of focus, we have to cover some of the same ground again in the future.

Thoughts from everyone else? (One can see from the comments to Dan's piece a range of opinion, from "have patience, the Obama team will do this right" to "it's amateur hour".)

Friday, February 20, 2009

NATO Half Full? (and North Korea too)

Secretary of State Clinton sees the positive side of the news from the NATO ministerial meeting. Asked by James Rosen whether she thought the committment by the other 26 alliance members to send an additional 1,400 troops was a "disappointingly low figure"--signaling that, so far, the Obama team has been no more successful than the Bush one in convincing Europeans to take up more of the burden--she replied:
Well, we are only at the beginning of that process. Secretary Gates knew that there were some who were ready to commit now, and [he] obviously made the ask. But we are in the midst of our policy review, and I think that a number of countries are waiting to see more specifically what our plan is, why we think their contribution of troops would be helpful. But also, it's important, James, to point out that we want their civilian help as well. We want their help training the Afghan army; we want their help training the Afghan police. So there's going to be a number of ways people can contribute.

I found it interesting that the fallback is to go back to the old "we provide the military and they can provide more civilian help" divide, which is something I thought we were trying to move away from.

Also interesting to read the discussion about North Korea and it reminds me of known unknowns and unknown unknowns. On a North Korean enriched uranium program: "I am going to be as, as, as clear as I can be about this. I think that there is a, a sense among many who have studied this that there may be some program, somewhere. But no one can point to any specific location. Nor can they point to any specific outcome of whatever might have gone on, if anything did."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Testing of Obama

British politician (and former UN high representative for Bosnia) Paddy Ashdown thinks that the new president is facing an especially high number of early challenges and tests from different countries around the world.
They are testing to see how far they can go. I don't think this is a coordinated thing where they rang each other up and said let's all do this at once, but this is what happens when people with an agenda want to see what the reaction of the new administration will be ... This is more than what's happened with previous presidents.

Among the challenges listed by Gregory Katz of the AP:

*North Korean preparations for a missile test

*Yemen's release of 170 militants linked to Al-Qaeda

*The release of A.Q. Khan from house arrest in Pakistan

*The Taliban attacks in Kabul

*The announced closure of the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan

One might add the referendum results in Venezuela for how they have reenergized Hugo Chavez--as well as Chavez's comments about shifting to become China's leading oil supplier in the future.

I'm sure we could expand this list even further ...

One point of interest == and a first test == can President Obama win Canadians over to his view of how things should be done in Afghanistan?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Test of Strategy in Pakistan

This is the gamble in Swat, as Pakistani columnist Zubair Torwali has noted:
"With this truce, the government believes it has isolated the militants from the locals, and the militants believe they won because their demands are being met."

In reading some of the accounts, I am not sure to what extent locals want Islamic law per se or simply want autonomy. Part of the deal in allowing Sharia is that cases can no longer be transferred to or heard in Islamabad.

But certainly not any victory for secularism in Pakistan. One soon to be quite visible reminder: all future judges are to be bearded.

Will it work? If you end the "interference" of outsiders in these regions of Pakistan, will locals end support for groups who are in turn "interfering" elsewhere? Sharia for you, secularism for me?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where is the U.S.-Russia Relatioship Headed?

Gave my two cents to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty on the trajectory of U.S.-Russia relations after Manas and Munich. Brian Whitmore also integrated comments from Paul Saunders, Andrei Piontkowski and Sergei Rogov into his analysis piece.

Comments welcomed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hu Jintao's Grand Tour

The overseas visits of China's president Hu Jintao again underlies the emergence of China's grand strategy. Unlike the West, which seems to take Africa for granted, this is Hu's second high profile visit to the continent in less than three years. And then off to Saudi Arabia and talks with the Gulf states.

Securing China's access to resources is driving Beijing's approach. C. Raja Mohan notes:
Amidst China’s growing dependence on imported natural resources, both energy and mineral, and its massive export of manufactured goods to foreign markets have made the protection of sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean a high priority for Beijing and a major justification for the rapid modernisation of its naval forces.

Also, Abu Aardvark (aka Marc Lynch>notes the near-absence of coverage of Hu's visit in the U.S. media, even by his own Foreign Policy site.

Monday, February 09, 2009

... and the Russian Navy's Here!

Continuing last week's nautical theme ...

Roger McDermott notes that "[the Russian navy] is assuming greater strategic importance as Russia seeks to maximize its resurgence as a great power." Apparently the Russians are planning to set up some overseas bases--Socotra, Yemen, Tartus, Syria and Tripoli, Libya.

Russia, like China, like India--wants to make its presence felt.

Again, monitor but don't overreact--my new mantra. After all, the INDRA-2009 exercises between Russia and India involved a grand total of five Russian ships (the Peter the Great, the Admiral Vinogradov, the Fotiy Krylov, a rescue tugboat--and two tankers, the Pechenga and Boris Butoma.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Avoiding Overreaction

China has doubled its submarine patrols in the past year, as Colin Clark notes at DODBuzz. But does that mean an increase in threat?

On the face of it, having more Chinese subs deployed far from home, or having Russian ships appear in places like the Panama Canal, seems to indicate a threat. And it is easy to raise hackles because we Americans don't like to have others intruding on our sense of what constitutes our collective "mare nostrum". But we should also avoid overreacting as well.

"Monitor, but don’t overreact" was my advice on how to cope with Russian naval deployments in Latin America. Same principle applies here.

NOTE: a poster to DODBuzz adds another observation about what we gain from increased Chinese missions: "The more they go to sea, the more info we get from them."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Secret of American (and Russian?) Leadership?

Martin Sieff explains it all.

Be Careful in How You Use Language

Bryan Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman, described Kyrgyzstan as a "good ally" in expressing regret at the announcement that Bishkek intends to close the U.S. airbase at Manas.

We need to be careful. Last time I checked, we had no binding treaty with Kyrgyzstan, a defense pact, mutual assistance accord, etc. We had and still have until it is terminated an agreement for the lease of a base and for associated rights to move personnel and equipment.

"Ally" is a strong word. Many in Georgia heard Americans throw that word around and assumed that when push came to shove with Russia, they would have the support of their American "ally." It didn't happen.

We have the equivalent these days of grade inflation in diplomacy. Everyone is now a "strategic partner" of the United States so to distinguish "partners" we start throwing the term "ally" around to signify a greater level of cooperation.

We have to go back to being crystal clear. An "ally" for America is a country that has a treaty relationship with us--either via an organization (NATO) or via a bilateral pact (Japan). Perhaps other states can be termed "associates" of America--and perhaps this is the better term for Kyrgyzstan vis-a-vis our efforts in Afghanistan. But don't throw the word "ally" around lightly--and certainly not in Eurasia.

Afghan Updates

--A TWR reader reminded me that if we take President Obama's statements to MSNBC as indicative of policy, we've returned to September 2001--to the initial offer made by President Bush to the Taliban. Turn over Al-Qaeda and don't export subversion to other states, and we won't interfere in your internal affairs. Is that an accurate read--commentary welcome.

--In reference to my National Interest piece, a comment: that the U.S. hasn't been ejected from Kyrgyzstan yet--but now is the time for haggling and bargaining. The question is whether Washington tries to outbid Moscow in direct talks with Bishkek, or whether the future of the Manas base becomes tied to the U.S.-Russia tete-a-tete regarding NATO.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Afghan Redefinition

In his interview with Matt Lauer, President Obama made a very clear statement about U.S. goals and objectives:

We are not [going to] be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian
democracy. ... What - what we can do is make sure that Afghanistan is not
a safe haven for al-Qaida. What we can do is make sure that - it is not
destabilizing neighboring Pakistan, which has - nuclear weapons. The key is
... we've got to have a clear objective. And there's been drift in
Afghanistan over the last couple of years. And that's something that we
intend to fix - this year.

TWR readers can draw their own conclusions from what was said over the weekend.

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