Thursday, June 25, 2009

Remember Nigeria?

We can get so focused on one international story (Iran -- two if you count the governor of South Carolina in Argentina) that other events slip under the radar.

But an attack in Nigeria on the oil industry translates into higher prices at the pump for U.S. consumers ...

More over at the Atlantic Council.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Hard Questions on Iran

My colleague Paul Saunders moves beyond all of the emotion and passion on the continuing situation in Iran to ask the hard questions that people with actual responsibility for policy have to address.

For instance, how much hard information do we have? He asks:
Moreover, Iran's political system is no less complex and is probably less well understood in America than Iraq's was before March 2003. How many American experts, officials or members of Congress have been to Iran in the past 30 years? It is Iran's 66 million citizens, not tough rhetoric or token assistance, who will determine how events in the country unfold.
And he asks a question I keep asking myself when I hear people saying we need to "do something": do what, beyond what we've already said?
If the American people are not prepared to offer real help to the protesters in Tehran's streets -- up to and including military force to ensure that they win -- it is profoundly immoral to urge Iranians to action from the sidelines. Some of the American commentators and politicians now critical of the president gave the same rhetorical "support" to Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili last year, emboldening Saakashvili and contributing to a war that was disastrous for Georgians.

No one advocating support for Mousavi seems prepared to accept responsibility for the outcome. But without doing so, fighting Ahmadinejad to the last Mousavi voter would be far more cold-blooded than anything the Obama administration has done -- especially knowing what we know about the Iranian regime.

The U.S. did "nothing" when the Polish government, acting on Soviet orders, crushed Solidarity and imposed martial law in 1981. Yet the seeds were planted for the disintegration of the entire Soviet bloc within a few short years. As Paul concludes:
Mousavi's backers will prevail in Iran if they have sufficient public and political support, including inside the country's military and security services. If they don't, we can hope that they survive and draw useful lessons to try again another day. U.S. efforts to force the issue are more likely to set back Iran's political evolution than to advance it, and President Obama has done the right thing with his measured comments. If the crisis escalates, it may be necessary to do more, something the administration itself has said. Otherwise, those who truly want to see political reform in Iran would do well to stay out of the way.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What I'm NOT Hearing About Iran

One can get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information coming out of Iran. Pages of twitter posts, e-mails, etc. The news channels are putting anyone on the air who has even the remotest connection to the situation to offer their thoughts. But a lot tends to be speculation and advocacy--not hard facts.

TWR readers--if you have links to sources I'm missing--fill me in. What I'm not reading about is probably the intelligence deficit that is also besetting the White House and may be guiding the cautious reaction of the administration.

1) Police defections? Any evidence that police are not carrying out their missions; that units have refused orders to disperse demonstrators?

2) Mood of the army. Do most soldiers feel that they too "were robbed" in the elections, or do most think that Ahmadinejad is the rightful victor? Are they prepared to carry out instructions from the government?

3) The "behind the scenes" talks. We get some leaks that indicate that the clerics on the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council are divided; that there are differences of opinion as to how to proceed. I saw reference to one Al-Arabiya report that said some clerics were mulling the idea of "collective rule" as opposed to continuing to follow the guidance of the Supreme Leader, but others said this report was suspect.

4) Key economic sectors. Any strikes or work slowdowns by the oil industry in response? Roads being blocked? "Blue flu" especially among the police?

Protests are the energy behind any "color revolution" but what makes them successful in the end is when the security services say they will be neutral and key elites negotiate the terms of change--as happened in Georgia and Ukraine and Lebanon.

A final note: how much has Musavi really "changed"? His appeal last week calling on protestors to see the basijis and the Revolutionary Guards as their brothers who defend the revolution doesn't suggest that if he came to power, there would be major changes in store. Sure, he seems more pragmatic, more likely to negotiate and ocmpromise--but would he really change course 180 degrees?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Drezner and the BRIC

Dan Drezner warns against overemphasizing the power and influence of the BRIC in international affairs. But I think he is too quick to dismiss the grouping, even though he's right about the challenges it faces and its structural weaknesses.

For me, what is most important at this point is that there is now a regular set of meetings taking place between four major powers that otherwise might not and would not meet. That to me is significant in and of itself.

This is what I posted, in part, on Dan's site:

... we should not overestimate the power and relevance of the BRIC. But I think we should also recognize that at this point in its existence, simply continuing to exist marks a major step forward for the BRIC. Yekaterinburg-2008, the first BRIC meeting, ended up not becoming a one-hit wonder. Despite predictions to the contrary (especially after the Russia-Georgia war), India and Brazil still see value in being associated with Russia and China in this format. Each time the BRIC meets--whether in a summit or at the UN--it is one more bean filling the sack. Each time the BRIC meets it moves the concept further away from a Goldman Sachs reports and gets the foreign ministries of the four countries used to preparing for these summits. There is also a particular view of international politics, as underdeveloped as it may be right now, which stresses state sovereignty. (The 2008 summit, for instance, produced a unanimous conclusion on not supporting independence for Kosovo.)

If in 2015 the BRIC summits are like the G-8, issuing meaningless and uneforceable declarations, that will be a separate question.

Not hyping the BRIC as representing a real challenge in 2009 to an American-led global order makes perfect sense. But it could easily evolve into a way for these four states to use their assets to renegotiate the terms of their positions within that order.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran After the Elections

Over at the Atlantic Council, James Joyner produces a great summary of the analysis about the "day after" in Iran.

I've just posted my own reaction to it, which I'm duplicating here:

1) Mousavi was and is not a "liberal" but a pragmatic figure who understands the need for moderation in politics. The willingness to project all sorts of reformist impulses on an "anyone but Ahmadinejad" figure is misleading. Hence, your conclusion is spot on: " ... the West is in exactly the same position vis-a-vis Iran as we were Friday morning. And more or less in the same position we would have had Mousavi been declared the 65 percent winner."

2) What was on the table. The economy may be bad in Iran but a good deal of the population is still getting some aid and handouts from the state. Mousavi could not promise economic improvements because he had no way of guaranteeing that his election would lead to a shift. I had argued last year that the West should be prepard to talk some specifics about what Iran could expect if there was a change in leadership. I wrote,

Perhaps such an offer might be sweetened, as it was in the Libyan case, by lining up specific economic incentives that would go into effect immediately after verification. In Iran’s case, this could be new international loans and a guarantee for the construction of the NABUCCO line, with firm contracts specifying prices and duration for natural gas.

Iran has presidential elections scheduled for 2009. It may be useful to recall that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, not on a platform of developing nuclear weapons or destroying Israel, but instead by promising to tackle corruption and deliver economic growth. If, prior to the forthcoming election, the United States and its European allies laid out a very specific and detailed program that included actual projects and the projected benefits to the Iranian people—rather than more generic assurances about goodwill and some small nickel-and-dime measures—not simply Iranian voters but Iranian elites might be more energized to bring about change.

This might have cut into Ahmadinejad's support base among the poor and lower middle classes that otherwise feel there's no benefit to them to elect a candidate perceived to be the tool of the "corrupt elites of North Tehran."

SCO and BRIC meetings

Power and Principles: International Leadership in a Shrinking World, edited by Michael Schiffer and David Shorr, has just been released by Lexington Press. I have a contribution to this volume, as part of the section on redefining American leadership. One of the questions I raised is whether the United States would become more comfortable in integrating the work of other regional blocs and organizations in pursuing its foreign policy aims.

We'll have a partial answer this week. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit is underway in Yekaterinburg, Russia; what is interesting is the extent to which the summit is hosting a series of bilateral meetings. Pakistan's president Zardari and India's prime minister Singh are attending and will meet; Hamid Karzai will consult with Afghanistan's neighbors; Iran's president, assuming the domestic turmoil in his country doesn't get out of control, will attend as well. All of this reinforces the positions of Russia and China.

Then, we'll see what happens at summit #2 of the BRIC--what Brazil, Russia, India and China decide and whether this grouping has staying power or not.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Blues" and "Reds" in Iran

I have been reading with interest analysis of the forthcoming Iranian elections which suggest to me that Iran has its own version of the red state/blue state divide. Former premier Mirhossein Mousavi is running stronger in the major cities and among the elites--in particular because of his calls for greater integration of Iran with the rest of the world. Incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has his bases of support in the smaller towns and rural areas that respond to his nationalism and to his attempts to redistribute the economic pie.

This leads me to worry about some of the expectations--because the Iranians that back Mousavi are much more likely to be English speaking and linked to the global information superhighway--while Ahmadinejad supporters, the "sons of the soil", are going to be less represented in media reporting. Will the big city voters be able to overcome the rural vote--we will have to see.

A problem that Mousavi has, however, is that like other politicians who run on platforms of "greater integration" (I'm thinking here, for instance, of the Orange politicians of Ukraine)--it takes two to play. Mousavi hasn't been able to demonstrate that he could facilitate better ties and bring in the investment needed to jump-start economic growth--so I would think for the rural and town vote, if you think the loaf isn't going to get bigger, you'll stick with the incumbent. After the first round of the election is done, it will be interesting to see if we can determine the motivation of voters.

At this point, I can't help but think of Mousavi as the John Kerry of Iran--trying to ride on anti-incumbent dissatisfaction--but perhaps the incumbent has important sources of electoral strength that will propel him to victory despite expectations.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Strategic Partnership with Brazil?

A delayed reaction to the news posted by Laura Rozen over at Foreign Policy that outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon is going to be our new ambassador to Brazil. Given that Secretary of State Clinton spoke highly of him in a press conferece prior to the OAS Ministerial meeting, it seems that he is being sent to Brasilia on a mission.

And then I read Andres Oppenheimer's column on "Brazil's growing emergence as Latin America's regional leader."

So it got me to thinking: is Shannon tasked to pursue a strategic partnership between Brazil and the United States in the way that Robert Blackwill was for the U.S. and India when he was appointed ambassador in 2001? I realize that Shannon does not have the relationship, as a career foreign service officer, with president Obama the way that Blackwill had with president Bush, as one of his "Vulcans." But it is still intriguing whether Obama plans to reach out to Brazil. Of course, whether he and his administration can continue the momentum achieved in the U.S.-India relationship is also an open question at this point. But it would be interesting to see whether U.S. diplomacy can be flexible and creative in such a way as to cement strategic partnerships with two of the rising great powers of the 21st century (and with two of the four "BRIC" powers).

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Global Populism and "Looking South"

Two quick dispatches.

Very interested in the analysis presented by the Christian Science Monitor about President Obama's "global populism"--his efforts to transform his popularity into policy, especially by creating new discussions.

Charles Kupchan is quoted as saying: "Obama is going over the heads of elites, attempting to establish moral legitimacy as a leader, turning popularity into policy. What we are seeing is not spin, but a sincere effort to reach out to hearts and minds, appealing to better instincts, to the reasonable nature of others. It is a revolutionary approach."

We'll see. First he needs to convince his own elites here to follow. The second is whether or not elites in other countries can counter.

The second deals with my concerns that in expending so much energy to try and expand the Euro-Atlantic world eastward, we lose the ability to consolidate the "Atlantic south"--at a time when a period of reconsolidation might be in order for the Atlantic world.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Cairo Speech

There is so much commentary on the president's speech in Cairo that I find I have little I can add of substance.

My thought after hearing the president's remarks is this: how much will this speech translate into concrete policy directives that guide the actions of government? Is the text of the speech going to be figuratively posted on every wall of every department and agency--and override pre-existing directives and procedures? Will mid-level career government employees be in a position to alter "standard operating procedures" and claim the president's speech as providing the "advance authorization"--or will the reaction be, until there is a formal change and we are notified, this is just presidential rhetoric?

Bob Blackwill, as ambassador to India, noted the disconnect between what the president was saying in his speeches, and what the president had told him personally, and the instructions he continued to receive from Foggy Bottom. Is this pattern going to repeat itself--or will the president's staff follow up by translating what was said in Cairo today into directives?

That's what I'll be watching.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

More on Piracy Security ...

Last month, I suggested the development of a Piracy Security Initiative; as one of its components, I argued for "the governments who register and flag merchant vessels impose and enforce standards that would make the pirates’ job harder."

The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (Contact Group) held its third meeting in New York City on May 29, 2009. One of the items adopted:
Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas and the Marshall Islands signed the New York Declaration, in which they state that they will promulgate internationally recognized best management practices for protection of ships against piracy attacks and require that all vessels flying their flags adopt and document self-protection measures as part of their compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.
Movement in the right direction!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Brazil's Nuclear Submarine Program

Brazil is going to try and develop an indigenous capability to build and deploy nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Ambassador Paul Taylor asks in the current issue of Proceedings, "Why does Brazil need nuclear submarines?" A related question is how does this help or hinder U.S. interests?

President Lula sees the ability to master this complicated military technology as an important national interest, recently noting that "Brazil will be one of the select group of nations that possess this indispensable capability for effective deterrence." The Brazilian Navy sees having nuclear submarines as part of a toolbox of being able to play a greater role in regional and global efforts to patrol the seas and keep lines of communication open.

Taylor quotes Rear Admiral Antonio Ruy de Almeida Silva, who argues that Brazil has to take much more responsibility for protecting its maritime patrimony:
The Navy has actually strongly defended a larger participation in the effort to protect the maritime area under national jurisdiction, suggestively named Amazania Azul (the Blue Amazon). Keeping control of this maritime area is a big challenge that grows as sea-related activities, connected to the exploitation of living and non-living resources, increase as happens with oil exploration in the Brazilian continental shelf.

And as Brazil increases its cooperation with South Africa and India for patrolling and securing the South Atlantic and South Indian Oceans, having such capabilities increases the clout of this regional organization.

What's the U.S. interest? Do we want more states to have advanced capabilities that previously were largely an American preserve? Would a nuclear submarine capability make Brazil more assertive against U.S. interests? Or can burdens be shared or passed along to other states? In other words, is this a positive step which shows that an emerging great power like Brazil is preparing to shoulder greater responsibilities for the defense of "international public goods" like the sea-lanes?

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