This is excerpted from the full-length piece with the same title published by the American Interest, available here.
After months of conspicuous silence and arguing that the sequester was Congress's problem to solve, the White House went into full panic-inducing mode shortly after the beginning of the new year. As part of that effort, the Joint Chiefs of Staff asserted that, should the sequester come into force on March 1, the impact on U.S. military capability would be catastrophic. To help drive home the point, the chiefs canceled an aircraft carrier deployment, with the result that only one carrier battle group was deployed overseas at a time when North Korea was becoming increasingly belligerent, Iran was forging ahead with its nuclear program, and the Arab Middle East writhed in unprecedented turmoil.
It now also appears that Congress will stave off the worst effects of the sequester on the Defense Department's operations. It has provided the department some relief in the form of the fiscal year 2013 continuing resolution, which funds the administration's defense budget request, though at levels mandated by the sequester. The continuing resolution also affords the department some additional flexibility by raising the ceiling for moving funds from one budget account to another, though such major "reprogramming actions" will, as in the past, require prior congressional committee approval.
Congressional leaders are now confidently predicting that the sequester will not survive the fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget process. True or not, more defense cuts are in the offing that could amount to at least $15 billion annually through FY 2020. These cuts would come hard on the heels of not only the annual $47 billion in reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act but also earlier cuts ordered by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Of course, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that predictions regarding the sequester's demise will prove misplaced. If sequestration does not touch off apparent calamity or political anxiety in the White House, it is much more likely to persist. After all, recall that no one really believed at the time that the sequester would ever happen.
The White House is continuing to bet that somehow the sequester will no longer be in place in 2014. To that end, the administration has produced an FY 2014 budget that is $52 billion above the cap for defense spending imposed by the sequestration provision of the 2011 Budget Control Act. Should the sequester remain in force, the Department of Defense (DOD) once again will have to implement across-the-board cuts to come down to the cap. No doubt the personnel accounts will again be exempted, as they have been in 2013, and the brunt of the reductions will once more fall upon the operations and acquisition accounts, with the notable exception of those elements of the Defense Health Program that are included in the operations accounts and that will be protected as military entitlements.
In theory, the sequester could remain in place through FY 2021, making for a total of $1.2 trillion in defense cuts. Unless the administration takes major steps to reduce DOD's overhead costs, it will have to cut back on force levels, force posture, deployments, and other operations. The greatest consequence of such radical changes would be to diminish America's overseas presence. A drawdown in forward air, naval, and land deployments -- the inevitable product of annual budget cuts amounting to at least $60 billion -- would unnerve allies, encourage adversaries, and dissuade historically nonaligned emerging powers such as India from moving closer, both politically and militarily, to the United States.
There are better ways to realize savings than to impose a mindless sequester on DOD. Congress could legislate changes to the package of benefits offered to the military. It could legislate both changes to the oversight of contractors, especially contingency contractors, and the creation of an internal audit office (not to be confused with the Office of the Inspector General, which is not suited for such a function). It could close unneeded military facilities and commissaries, contracting out the latter. Finally, the number of both civil servants and "staff augmentation" contractors can be severely restricted.
President Barack Obama has consistently argued that defense must contribute its "fair share" to deficit and debt reduction. But the sequester reduces defense spending more than nondefense spending: Of the $109 billion that needs to be cut each year of the sequester, defense contributes $54.5 billion in cuts while all other discretionary programs account for less than $40 billion. In fact, defense has already sustained two major reductions: the Gates cuts, which were unique to the department, and the annual $47 billion reduction over 10 years that was mandated in the FY 2011 Budget Control Act. In addition, the "fair share" argument overlooks the real cause of the debt crisis -- namely, untrammeled growth in Medicare and Medicaid costs and, to a lesser extent, Social Security. If these three entitlements were factored into the baseline for budget reductions, the so-called "fair share" to be levied on defense would drop from more than half of mandated cuts to about 20 percent. The international security consequences of the difference between those two figures cannot be overstated.
The sequester does offer DOD the opportunity to implement long-needed efficiencies, though a more efficient Defense Department may be no less costly. Nor might greater efficiency obviate the need for some additional budget reductions. To the extent that those cuts are only a minor addition to the major ones already sustained, America's prospects for maintaining a credible defense posture will increase markedly. America's allies, friends, and enemies will then surely take note and calibrate their actions accordingly, in a way that can only benefit America and a more stable world order.
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An interesting argument has emerged in recent years about the future direction of U.S. foreign policy after Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of it focuses on how interventionist the United States should be. This is an unhelpful way to frame a foreign-policy discussion.
For example, columnist Ross Douthat favorably notes the rise of "populist libertarians" who are, among other things, "more anti-interventionist abroad." Stephen Walt regularly criticizes what he calls "liberal imperialism" by policymakers on both sides of the aisle whom he sees as too fond of intervening in other states.
In these commentaries and others, "intervention" is not a useful organizing concept for a foreign policy. Foreign policy must encompass a vast range of ideas and issues -- from great-power rivalry to international trade, transnational terrorism, environmental treaties, and more -- that are not related in any way to intervention.
Nor is it clear what "intervention" really means. If it means "land invasion followed by regime change and a protracted reconstruction and stabilization mission," then the argument focuses on something the United States very rarely undertakes anyway. It is true that it did so twice in recent memory, but the simultaneous missions in Iraq and Afghanistan were highly exceptional and are unlikely to be replicated elsewhere anytime soon. In short, those interventions were historically unique.
But if "intervention" means anything more than the definition above, it is too broad a concept to have much meaning at all. Policymakers who oppose large peacekeeping interventions may support smaller training missions. Those who oppose humanitarian intervention may be strongly in favor of counterdrug, counterterrorism, and counterpiracy operations. The blanket categories of pro- and anti-intervention fail to capture these nuances.
Furthermore, proponents of an intervention (in Syria, say) are not necessarily in favor of every possible intervention. Some might have opposed the war in Iraq but supported the one in Afghanistan. Others may have opposed the bombing campaign against Serbia but supported the one in Libya. Proponents of a given intervention are unlikely to describe their overall foreign-policy stance as "pro-intervention." They are more likely to frame it in terms of the interest that an intervention purportedly serves, such as humanitarian aid, counterproliferation, or regional stability. Arguing about "intervention" as an abstract concept serves little purpose.
A more useful debate would address if, when, why, and how to intervene in other states and how a given approach should fit into broader U.S. strategic goals. Under this framework, the argument on the "anti-intervention" end of the spectrum would be that intervention rarely, if ever, serves U.S. interests and thus should almost never be undertaken.
There are several weaknesses to this position. For example, proponents do not have a consistent view about how to intervene in the rare cases in which that action is justified. Some might argue for the smallest and quickest intervention required to effect change, followed by a rapid withdrawal. Others might argue that once an intervention is started, it is best to go in with overwhelming force to guarantee success.
In any case, under the force of its overriding stance -- "don't intervene" -- it fails to recognize any conditions under which an intervention could usefully contribute to U.S. national security goals.
A more productive position would recognize that intervention -- here understood more broadly -- can serve U.S. national security interests. This small concession prompts coherent answers to questions of how, when, and why to intervene. Interventions should be undertaken when U.S. interests are at stake with an intervening force tailored to achieve specific objectives.
In helpfully reframing the discussion about intervention, this position also would push the discussion toward broader, more important questions: What are U.S. interests? How do we define them? What threatens them? How can they be secured? These are the questions around which a meaningful debate on the future of foreign policy should be conducted.
Sometimes intervening in other states might be the best means for securing U.S. interests; sometimes not. But defining those interests will foster more meaningful debate about foreign policy, and these are the debates that will shape the country's policy future.
Paul Miller is a political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp.
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Because of the sensitive material covered in the NSA leaks, it is hard for Shadow Government contributors to talk much about the topic du jour. The obvious is obvious, however: This is one of the most damaging national security leaks the United States has suffered in a while. This is qualitatively different from other leaks -- for instance, those about the drone-strike program that seemed calculated to generate favorable headlines for Barack Obama's administration. On the contrary, as with the earlier WikiLeaks fiasco, and as the leaker has explicitly claimed, these were designed to hobble the U.S. government in general, and the Obama administration in particular.
Coming on the heels of multiple headlines about abuses of government power, especially the efforts of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to target political opponents of the Obama administration, it may be tempting for Republicans to pile on to criticize the administration for the intelligence programs revealed in the leaks. Some Republicans, notably Sen. Rand Paul, are already doing so.
This is a mistake, however, as Bill Kristol explains. It is important to distinguish between the IRS scandal, which is indefensible, and intelligence collection programs aimed at tracking terrorist networks, which serve legitimate public interests.
If Paul's reaction is any guide, the Republican Party's libertarian wing seems disinclined to draw that distinction. Perhaps some of the collateral damage from all these leaks will end up being a further splintering of the Republican Party on national security.
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The World Bank's Doing Business metrics have been the focus of a review of an independent panel and an intense debate over their usefulness. On June 7, World Bank President Jim Kim pronounced himself in favor of keeping the Doing Business metrics, maintaining the ranking system, and even expanding them. His statement is here. This is a win for development, for the World Bank, and for America and the over 100 countries that support Doing Business.
I have written about the struggle over Doing Business here and here. Strong forces were aligned against Doing Business. With a new World Bank president, those forces saw a chance to end Doing Business. For the rest of Kim's first (only?) five-year term, Doing Business should continue to bring about hundreds of reforms in the 185 countries it covers.
Significant credit for this turnaround in thinking should go to, among others:
It is very good news, but we are not out of the woods yet. There remains a bureaucratic danger to Doing Business: There are rumors within the World Bank that Doing Business will be moved to "DEC," the World Bank's research department, which in theory would provide protection and freedom for Doing Business to operate. Up until now, Doing Business was a shared budget item between the World Bank and International Finance Corp. (IFC). IFC's board should continue to provide core funding to Doing Business though it may be housed in DEC.
As an insurance policy, supporters of Doing Business such as Singapore, South Korea, the Nordics, the Russians, and the United States would do well by creating a separate fund to protect Doing Business from being crippled financially in a year or two after being moved from its original home. Donors should think about creating a $25 million to $40 million fund to cost-share the expenses of putting the indicators together. This is a big opportunity for "nontraditional donors" that do very well on the indicators and are not going to be seen as "gaming" the indicators since they already do so well on the indicators -- I am thinking of Singapore in particular.
Overall this is a big win.
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As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares for his extraordinary private retreat with Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 7 and 8, the stated aspirations of officials on both sides for a "new type of great-power relationship" perversely risk undermining regional and global security rather than dampening Sino-American conflict.
No country, including the United States, wants to see armed confrontation or even a cold war between Washington and Beijing. Naturally they should work together wherever they can to build trust and habits of cooperation that can reduce strategic competition. At the same time, no country (other than China) wants Beijing to have such a privileged relationship with Washington as to elevate Chinese interests above those of Tokyo, Brussels, New Delhi, and other friendly capitals. Leaders of American friends and allies note acidly that, despite far greater affinities of interests and values, they do not get to spend two days alone with the president of the United States on a ranch in California.
On the Chinese side, the symbolism of Xi's conclave with Obama is being exploited to demonstrate that China has a special relationship with America that elevates it above other countries. This dynamic has particular resonance in countries like Japan and India, which face dangerous territorial disputes with China but are unsure of the extent of American support for their sovereign rights.
In the traditional Chinese worldview, international politics operates more as a hierarchy than as a world of equal, sovereign countries. Recent Chinese moves to elevate the Sino-American relationship onto a higher plane by extension elevate China over every country except America. This has the effect less of dampening conflict than of ramming home to others China's status as the world's deputy superpower -- one that is not being contained so much as being courted by the reigning superpower, despite an intensifying clash of interests.
As Jamil Anderlini wrote in the Financial Times this week, Chinese diplomats "seem obsessed with getting the Americans to acknowledge that the 'new type of great power relationship' is one between equals." The result is that "lesser nations [feel] left in the cold." But Sino-American summit chumminess sits uneasily with the reality of China's aggressive campaign to undermine the global liberal order and America's place in it.
Powered by China's extraordinary rise, Asia is home to the world's leading economies outside the West. Access to Asia's teeming and increasingly prosperous consumer markets is decisive to America's prosperity. Any country that would lock the United States out of this region, or undercut its ability to project the power and influence that underwrite its commerce and investment there, would gravely threaten core U.S. economic interests.
China's emergence as the world's second-largest economic and military power is now causing it to openly chafe at the extraregional role of the United States in its backyard, even though nearly every Asian power welcomes the American presence and works actively to enable it. To secure some degree of regional consent for its aspirations to be Asia's hegemon, Beijing needs to weaken the links between the United States and Asian powers threatened by China's authoritarian rise. However, despite deep interdependence among Asian economies, China's ascent has in some ways had the opposite effect: The fear of Chinese domination among China's Asian neighbors has benefited the United States by drawing it more deeply into various forms of partnership with those neighbors.
This has strengthened elements of the U.S. position in the region even as China seeks to more actively edge America out of it. So as China seeks to push out its influence and assertively project greater power in its neighborhood, for instance by staking expansive territorial claims in the South China and East China seas, the United States becomes more fully invested in opposing those claims, propelled by its own interests and those of friends and allies that see American influence as a balancer and hedge against Chinese dominion.
The stakes extend beyond the Asian neighborhood. The Obama administration and the U.S. Congress are rightly highlighting the extraordinary Chinese theft of American intellectual property that is resulting in the "greatest transfer of wealth in history," according to the head of the U.S. National Security Agency. A commission chaired by retired Pacific commander Adm. Dennis Blair and former Ambassador Jon Huntsman estimates the value of American economic losses to cyber-espionage from countries led by China to equal the value of all American exports to Asia. Meanwhile, China recently marked the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre with a new round of domestic repression and has helped block international action to end the bloodletting in Syria.
Obama is right to look for a way for Washington and Beijing to manage their many differences. But given the concern among American allies that "G-2" logic retains a strong pull on the official U.S. imagination, and China's intensifying pursuit of policies designed to achieve asymmetric gains at U.S. expense, downplaying American grievances for the sake of Sino-American comity at this weekend's summit would be a strategic error that could undercut America's still-strong position in a rising Asia.
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Many in Washington have been expressing growing alarm over the devastating toll that drug trafficking and gang activity have taken on the countries of Central America, primarily in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Caught between more robust counter-narcotics efforts in Colombia and Mexico that have forced drug-trafficking organizations to expand operations elsewhere while absorbing convicted gang deportees from the U.S., these countries' already weak law enforcement and judicial institutions have simply been overwhelmed.
It is in this context that controversial and risky policy prescriptions such as calls for drug legalization by Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina or El Salvador's "truce" with criminal gangs are being met with less skepticism than they deserve. It is not always true that desperate situations demand desperate actions. In many cases, they only make matters worse.
This week, the Washington Post weighed in with an editorial endorsing El Salvador's gang truce (and Honduras's decision to follow the same path) as "a worthy peace offering" because El Salvador's government claims a drop in the murder rate since the agreement was announced last year.
Yet a closer scrutiny of the El Salvador situation raises more questions than it answers. It is not hard to conclude it represents more of a false promise of peace than any lasting solution to the region's troubles.
That's because, to begin with, the government's pursuit of a truce with the gangs comes not from a position of strength, but of weakness - a fact no doubt understood by the gangs, who are now in a stronger position vis-à-vis the government than they would otherwise be. They now control the agenda and can use the threat of violence (i.e., breaking the "truce") to exact more concessions from the government, whether it is more scarce state resources devoted to their interests (such as social programs designed just for gang members), more so-called "peace zones" where gangs can operate with impunity, and more recognition of gangs as political players in the country's domestic scene.
Indeed, public sentiment in El Salvador continues to be extremely wary of the truce, not least of which is because the gangs have not stopped other criminal activities such as kidnappings and extortion that have wreaked havoc on their society. (There are also questions about the government's accounting of the murder rate.) But also because they see gangs getting financial rewards and political relevancy not by following the rules, but by breaking all of them.
The Obama administration has wisely kept its distance from these "truce" initiatives. That's because veteran policymakers know there are no shortcuts to rooting out criminality; it requires instead committing to the hard slog of building viable law enforcement, judiciary, and penal systems - in short, credible and effective rule of law. (Only then can social programs designed to reintegrate truly repentant gang members into society succeed.)
One also has to recognize the political dynamic at play here. The ruling, former guerrilla Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) came to power promising citizens a safer and more stable country. This they have not delivered. Heading into presidential elections in March 2014, one doesn't have to be a cynic to believe the FMLN wants the issue of street violence off the table before the campaign season kicks into high gear. Their political calculations have to be an issue in how they are trying to achieve real peace.
One can certainly otherwise understand sincere efforts to try and quell the violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. But political expediency or rolling the dice and hoping for the best are rarely sound bases for public policies.
The Post editorial ends by endorsing the Obama administration's request for a 20 percent increase in funding next year for the Central American Security Initiative, a multi-faceted program supporting law enforcement and judicial reform and social programs to support civil society. That is welcome, but it may not be enough. All must recognize there are no quick fixes to helping our friends deal with problems due in part to U.S. demand for illicit narcotics. It is a battle we and our allies can win, but not in the short-term and not with schemes that will only make matters worse in the long-run.
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We are witnessing a classic political mistake stir unrest in an otherwise tranquil Turkey: letting political popularity inflate one's ego to the point that you think it is you that people like, instead of your ideas. Unless Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan does an about-face in his response to recent protests, he risks an unraveling of support for him and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), despite all they have done to propel Turkey forward.
As a vital ally and key power in a region filled with turmoil, this should be of concern to all Americans. It is in America's best interest for President Obama to utilize the immense soft power of the executive branch and privately counsel his friend on how best to respond to community engagement.
Erdogan and AKP have risen to heights of support not seen in recent times in Turkey. They came to power tapping into popular resentment against restrictions on individual freedoms, such as the ability for women to wear headscarves in schools and public buildings imposed by decades of secularist rule. In response, the Turkish people gave Erdogan and AKP unprecedented results at the ballot box.
Given the opportunity to lead, AKP has delivered. The economy has boomed, with per capita income tripling to more than $10,000. The nation has never been closer to reconciling with its Kurdish population after decades of strife. Turkey's standing in the world has risen as a result. By speaking boldly on regional issues, Erdogan has become one of the most popular leaders in Turkey and the Arab world. With success at home and abroad in a land with such a rich history, it is easy to see how success could go to one's head.
The protests, initially sparked by opposition to replacing a park with a shopping mall, reflect both this economic success and a political reversal. It is a mistake to dismiss these protests as mere environmental agitation or partisan inspired opposition. It is in fact the same expression that propelled AKP to power: the desire for personal freedoms and inclusion.
The emerging Turkish middle class yearns to be heard during the political decision making process. Having had their taste for freedom and inclusion whetted, they want more. Quizzically, Erdogan has decided to give them less on several recent occasions including:
These moves inflamed the passions of previously politically disengaged citizens that were surprised to see their lifestyle choices under assault.
Rather than being receptive to the public outcry, Erdogan has dug in, insisting that the construction plans would continue. He defended the alcohol law saying on television "Whoever drinks alcohol is an alcoholic." When challenged on whether he would call those who voted for him and happened to enjoy an occasional pint or two drunkards, he began to backtrack.
People of consequence in Turkey tell me that Erdogan is no longer listening to advice from anyone. This approach is not helping. His attempts to stifle the press and the lack of coverage of the protests within the Turkish media does a disservice to government officials who need to see all sides of the argument in order to legislate effectively. Erdogan's dismissal of social media sites such as Twitter as a "menace" undermines the democratic appeal of his and his party's leadership.
Turkey is at an important pivot point. If Erdogan returns to the inclusive approach that propelled him to power there is so much good he can do. The nation has geographic and ideological links between the East and West that will serve it well in a 21st century interconnected world, so long as its government remains receptive to all of its citizens' voices.
This is exactly the time when it is important for a friend and fellow leader like Obama to make a frank private call. His roots as a community organizer would come in handy in providing sound counsel to Erdogan. If this call has been quietly made, kudos to the President. If it has not been made, it should be soon.
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Facing a series of significant foreign policy challenges, the Obama administration appears to be responding with an array of diplomatic initiatives built around negotiations. Thus, the White House hopes to convene a diplomatic conference on the Syrian war in Geneva , and to launch a dialogue with China on cybersecurity, both to take place in July. Meanwhile, the administration still hopes to resume yet another round of negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.
The problem in each of these cases is not that the Obama administration is following a diplomatic track. The problem is that the White House and State Department seem to be pursuing negotiations from a posture of weakness, and are not taking the needful steps to strengthen their negotiating hand. Diplomacy always takes place in the context of facts on the ground, and in each of these cases America's adversaries are doing a better job of creating facts on the ground more favorable to their positions. Meanwhile, perhaps seduced by the false dichotomy of thinking that diplomacy is always an alternative to the use of force rather than often a complement to force, the Obama administration may be setting up its various diplomatic gambits for failure.
Take Syria. While Secretary Kerry is begging and cajoling various parties to agree to attend the peace conference, in the war itself the Assad regime's patrons such as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are helping Damascus regain the battlefield initiative against the rebels through substantial weapons upgrades and territorial advances. Even if the Geneva gathering does take place next month, it will occur in circumstances far more favorable to Assad and his backers - and will consequently be far less likely to lead to Assad's departure and any viable settlement.
In the case of China, the White House in recent weeks has at last begun publicly speaking out against China's state-sponsored hacking of American military and commercial targets, but the only real action in response seems to be a call for dialogue because, in the words of a senior administration official "we need to develop some norms and rules." Well, yes, developing norms and rules would be nice, but the immediate issue is much simpler: the Chinese government needs to stop stealing technology from American companies, and needs to stop engaging in low-grade acts of cyberwar against the American military. China will continue this cyberwarfare as long as it can do so without any consequences - and a diplomatic dialogue or even "sternly-worded demarche" from the State Department do not count as consequences. Especially since Beijing has proven very artful at using dialogues as diversionary tactics to resist taking concrete policy steps, with the episodic U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue being just one example (an especially sad reminder of the failures of U.S. human rights policy as this week marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre).
Iran, meanwhile, is starting to resemble "Groundhog Day," with Tehran pursuing a salami slicing strategy of incrementally advancing its nuclear program while sporadically coming back to the negotiating table. Here at least the US diplomatic strategy has included coercive instruments such as economic sanctions and other measures. But as Mike Singh and others have repeatedly pointed out, missing has been a credible, unambiguous threat from the U.S. of the use of force. It is just such a credible threat that would, ironically, reduce the likelihood of war by showing the Iranian regime that a diplomatic solution is their best and only option.
Looking at history, many previous negotiations succeeded because of the strong hand the U.S. wielded. Nixon and Kissinger used the Linebacker bombing campaigns to strengthen the American position in the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War. Reagan's diplomatic outreaches to Gorbachev took place amidst America's enhanced military posture, development of the Strategic Defense Initiative that drove the Russians nuts, and pressure on the Soviet periphery through support for insurgents in places like Afghanistan. The Clinton administration had a strong hand to play in negotiating the Dayton Accords thanks to Operation Deliberate Force.
In contrast, the Obama administration has dealt itself a weak hand in its various diplomatic initiatives. This is not at all to say that diplomacy should be abandoned, but rather that the White House should look for ways to approach negotiations with incentives for the other side to change its behavior. In Syria, this could mean steps like arming the rebels or imposing no-fly zones. With China, it could mean engaging in some retaliatory cyber-measures against Unit 61398 (one hopes this is already being done?), so that when Chinese officials sit down for the dialogue they will do so knowing that refusing to cooperate will carry costs. In the case of Iran, the regime needs to know that its choices are a negotiated settlement or the destruction of its nuclear program.
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Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.