Don't get me wrong, I loved the Kony video and truly hope it can help bring an end to the murderous crimes of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army. But there is one thing missing from this otherwise admirable effort: What are we going to do about it?
Unfortunately, while the video producers have done a great job of drawing attention to this cause, they have, not surprisingly, fallen short of explaining how to stop Kony. All of their hopes seem to rest in Kony's eventual self-rendition to the International Criminal Court. That's right, self-rendition. In other words, Joseph Kony, international criminal and mass murderer extraordinaire, facing certain life imprisonment in a Dutch prison, will presumably be so shamed by a global internet campaign that he will walk out of the jungle and turn himself in to The Hague. Now, one cannot ever rule out anything (especially if Kony believes the alternative may be to be killed -- which U.S. Special Forces appear to have in mind) but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Instead, the Kony YouTube producers have put their full faith in the International Criminal Court. The chief prosecutor of the ICC is, predictably, reveling in the media attention. How pathetic. Has anyone missed the fact that the ICC indictment was issued seven years ago? The ICC has not been the solution, the ICC has been the excuse -- since 2005 -- for inaction. In the misguided thinking of the ICC's supporters, no government or military needs to do anything about stopping Kony because once he is captured he will be put on trial. One problem: Who is going to catch him? Just like its predecessor, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the ICC has proven to be an exercise in non-interventionist self indulgence. By focusing exclusively on the eventual prosecution, non interventionists (generally a collection of cowardly governments, conservative realists, and left-leaning peace activists) can wrap themselves in the moral satisfaction of appearing to take action while avoiding the unpleasant reality that someone has to step up and do something about it. As predicted by the ICC's critics at the time of its founding, it is all law and no law enforcement.
When it was created, the Court's supporters argued for its existence precisely to have an excuse for why they oppose the use of force as a tool (along with sanctions, diplomacy and intelligence efforts) to end the brutal reign of stateless actors and dictators alike. Yet, all of their comparisons between the ICC and the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials are irrelevant. Those historic trials were preceded by the vanquishing of the fascist governments that started World War II and perpetrated its most horrible crimes. In short, victor's justice. As in all crimes large and small, enforcement is the essential antecedent to justice. Imagine if instead of mobilizing the world's democracies to combat fascist extremism in World War II, the democratic nations of the world instead banded together in 1939 to set up a court and issue indictments to prosecute Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo -- after they had their way. No doubt these war criminals would have chuckled at the prospect, and the world would look very different today.
So, here is what we know: Joseph Kony was indicted in 2005 for crimes against humanity (crimes that themselves trace back several years earlier still) and Joseph Kony is still free. I understand that nobody, left or right, interventionist or isolationist, takes any pleasure in that fact. But I fear that the distinction may be lost on Kony's many additional victims since 2005, while they no doubt are eager for justice, that for the past seven years he has committed those crimes as an indicted criminal. In this case it appears that a sternly worded indictment, or a well produced video, may not be quite enough.
By Steve Biegun
Perhaps in the breast of the most ardent supporters of President Obama there beats a proud heart -- proud that their man has been so recognized as to receive a Nobel Peace Prize a few months into his presidency; proud that the world (via the Nobel Committee) has affirmed the greatness that they see in him. Still, even there one will no doubt find whispers of doubt.
It is hard not to think that the Nobel Committee did the president a disservice by (prematurely) awarding him the Peace Prize. It is not his fault, and it is largely not within his control as one can hardly expect that he could gracefully decline such an honor. It is, however, valuable commentary on how the world sees America and, perhaps as we will see in the next few days, how America sees the world.
From the actions of the Nobel Prize Committee we can surmise what angst the United States must have caused in so many corners of the world over the past many years. Anxious about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, anxious about unilateralism, about a seeming lack of urgency on climate change, about the financial crisis, Guantánamo Bay, Texas, religion and so many other things that they do not like nor understand about us, they see Obama -- or anyone else but Bush but especially Obama -- as truly the answer to their hopes.
From what will undoubtedly be a divided response to this great honor among the American public, we will see that, even under this president, America remains fundamentally different and out of step with the aspirations represented by the Nobel Prize Committee. Americans still -- even in the midst of two protracted wars and an economic recession -- seem to intuitively understand that the path we must walk as a nation is very different than that of other nations. What may look to some allies and adversaries as a choice of how we conduct the affairs of state is seen by many Americans as our responsibility.
It is easy to believe that a successful Obama presidency for America will in the end disappoint those confirmed this award. Lasting peace in the Middle East will require far more sacrifice from the Arabs than from Israel. Ending Iran's nuclear ambitions will get much harder before it gets easier -- and the same with North Korea. Fixing climate change will require every nation at the table, and more countries than the U.S. have thus far been sitting it out. Closing Guantánamo Bay will require others to share the risks that America faces daily for her efforts to keep other nations safe, or for seeking to bring peace and liberty to distant lands like Afghanistan.
On the other hand, an unsuccessful Obama presidency could meet all the aspirations of the Nobel Committee and still leave America, and Norway, and so many other nations in greater peril than ever before in history. That chapter is yet to be written, and will unfold in the three or seven years that President Obama has yet to serve. Let us all hope for the best, and hope that the president remains unaffected by the award he received today.
It is easy to believe that were Jimmy Carter's presidency to have followed Ronald Reagan's, he too might have been so honored months after taking office simply for being anybody but Reagan. One wonders how that decision would have stood the test of time -- in America or in the many corners of the world that owe their freedom to Reagan's leadership in the world.
The first 100 days? Still too early to say one way or another. A good start on foreign policy but no real challenges yet either. Kind of seems like the easy part has been upfront -- regards, apologies, photo ops, etc. A bit too much blaming the predecessor, and some steps on issues like terrorist interrogations that haven't roiled the waters too much (yet) but will come back to haunt if political division deepens. Still, many solid personnel appointments, no apparent turmoil inside the administration, no noteworthy mistakes on the international stage, and Congress is following the president's lead. Four years of this would be great. Let's see where things are at six months.
By Steve Biegun
An addendum to the recent stories on President Obama's letter to Russian Prime Minister Medvedev. Much has been made about the nature of the reported Obama proposal to swap NATO missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic for a Russian-assisted end to the Iranian nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. The Russian reaction to the letter is that there will be no swaps; President Obama explains that the letter only contained what he has always said publicly.
Interestingly, there is still a dog that has not barked, so to speak: What do the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic, or for that matter the NATO alliance (which committed itself at the 2008 Bucharest Summit to the deployment of missile defense in Eastern Europe), think about the proposal in Obama letter?
Surely, as close friends and allies, the Poles and the Czechs and others in NATO were all fully consulted in advance on a letter that has such consequence for their interests. Where is their endorsement? Vice President Biden gave voice to the sentiments of most Americans, regardless of party affiliation, when he said at the Munich Security Conference less than a month ago: "We believe that international alliances and organizations do not diminish America's power -- they help us advance our collective security, economic interests and values. So we will engage. We will listen. We will consult."
Great words. How are they working in practice?
By Steve Biegun
Yesterday, a Russian newspaper leaked the contents of a February letter sent from President Obama to President Medvedev of Russia in which a trade was offered: The United States would abandon its deployment of a NATO missile defense site and radar placement in Poland and the Czech Republic respectively if Iran's nuclear weapons program were ended. Since the entire purpose of the NATO missile defense system in Central Europe, as conceived by the Bush administration and approved by the full NATO Alliance, is to counter a rapidly advancing Iranian nuclear and missile threat, this grand bargain looks on its face to be eminently reasonable. We will see. But depending on the fine print of this agreement, it could also turn out to be a second coming of Yalta -- a sell-out of America's eastern European allies of epic proportions.
In today's Washington Post and New York Times stories, there are differences in how the "bargain" is described by the State Department, the Defense Department, and the White House letter. State appears to suggest that the missile defense deployment will be abandoned if the Russian government cooperates on ending the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Undersecretary of State Bill Burns is quoted as saying, "If, through strong diplomacy with Russia and our other partners, we can reduce or eliminate that threat, it obviously shapes the way at which we look at missile defense." Secretary of Defense Gates is quoted as suggesting that deployment of the missile defense system should be halted "if there is no Iranian missile program." And in yet a third construct, the Times today describes the Obama letter as saying, "the United States would not need to proceed with the interceptor system, which has been vehemently opposed by Russia since it was proposed by the Bush administration, if Iran halted any efforts to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles" (all emphasis mine). These are important differences. Let's hope the New York Times has it right (for once).
In understanding the U.S.-Russian "bargain," the actual text of the Obama letter and the intentions of the Obama administration are ultimately more important than the descriptions in today's papers. But as the words and intentions become clearer, one should consider the following choices that are likely still being debated inside the U.S. government, and will ultimately prove the worth of this initiative:
1. Halt deployment of the NATO missile defense if the Russian government is more cooperative in international diplomatic efforts to suspend Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons (e.g. Russian support for additional sanctions, slowing cooperation on Russian-Iranian civilian nuclear energy projects, etc);
2. Halt deployment of the NATO missile defense if the Russian government is more cooperative in international diplomatic efforts with the result being to end Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons;
3. Halt deployment of the NATO missile defense if the Russian government fully joins a successful effort to verifiably end Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile programs; or
4. Suspend deployment of the NATO missile defense if the Russian government fully joins a successful effort to verifiably end Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile programs.
Choice 4 is the only outcome that should be accepted by the United States and its allies in NATO.
From a scan of today's newspapers, one gets the sense that this issue may not yet be fully decided within the Obama administration. The coming debate is hugely consequential. It will determine whether the Russian government must simply cooperate in diplomatic efforts to put off the deployment of the NATO missile defense, or if that cooperation must produce an end to Iran's efforts. Likewise, decisions must be made whether to accept a suspension or to demand a verifiable end of the Iranian nuclear and missile programs -- and, for that matter, whether the focus of the policy is even to achieve an end to Iranian nuclear programs or missile programs or both. These decisions will shape how the United States defends the North Atlantic area (the territory of NATO), how U.S. relations with Poland and the Czech Republic develop (already under some strain according to reporting yesterday), and how the United States responds to Russian irredentism in central and eastern Europe.
If the United States trades off the defense of its own interests in Europe and the security of its NATO allies for anything less than an end to the Iranian nuclear and missile programs, the harmful consequences would go well beyond the direct threat those Iranian programs pose. First, the United States will strengthen Russian resolve to pursue irredentist claims in Central and Eastern Europe. The Russian government's opposition to the NATO missile defense has never really been about Russia's security. The small number of interceptors NATO intends to deploy makes it completely useless in defending against a Russian nuclear strike. In fact, the Russian government is simply enraged that its former satellites in Central and Eastern Europe have the temerity to cooperate with NATO in the deployment of defensive capabilities of any kind on their sovereign territory -- a decision that is not Russia's to make.
Second, the United States and its NATO allies have a mutual interest and responsibility to maintain the defensive capabilities of the North Atlantic area. This is at the core of the NATO Treaty. If the Iranian nuclear and missile threat is allowed to develop unchecked, and if the United States, through its geographic location and its own missile defense capabilities, remains largely impervious to the threat, NATO will see a perceptible decoupling of transatlantic security interests that all NATO members have understood as a weakening of the alliance's ability and resolve to provide for a common defense. As for the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic, which have taken great political risks at home to support the NATO missile defense deployment, if the United States pulls the plug on missile defense simply to produce more cooperative Russian behavior, but with no requirements for what must be achieved, it will send a signal loud and clear that central and eastern Europe are trade bait -- a sort of Yalta II, if you will.
The NATO missile defense was not conceived as a reaction to uncooperative Russian diplomacy. It is intended to respond to a growing alarm among NATO members regarding Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. If Iran's weapons programs are halted, it is a fully supportable policy by the Obama administration to suspend the missile defense deployments. To settle for anything less is folly.
By Steve Biegun
Unlike the clumsy and ill-timed blast that Russian President Medvedev launched at the United States on the day after Barack Obama was elected president, the Russian government now appears to be trying to make more of the opportunities presented by Obama's inauguration. To wit, Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have both welcomed Obama's arrival as an opportunity to undo NATO's decision to proceed with a Central Europe-based missile defense system (to defend against a potential threat from Iran) and to hold back Ukrainian and Georgian ambitions to join NATO. Most recently, sources within the Russian Ministry of Defense appear to be hinting at a retreat from their plan (which Medvedev announced in his November 5 speech) to deploy Iskander short range missiles closer to Central Europe, in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Good news? Perhaps. Here are a few things to consider:
1. The Russian government can and should use the opportunity presented by the U.S. election to arrest the downward spiral in U.S.-Russian relations. Driven by a general American difference toward Russia's concerns in the world (right or wrong) and an exaggerated sense of injury and overt anti-Americanism by Russian leaders, with a little effort, Medvedev and Obama should be able to show whether there is still a reasonable basis for U.S.-Russian cooperation on many issues.
2. The Russian government is hardly in a position to spend the vast sums necessary to deploy costly new missiles in Kaliningrad as a symbolic gesture against the missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. In effect, the Russian government -- with its economy in tatters and hemorrhaging badly -- may be making a virtue out of necessity by walking away from this ill-considered deployment.
3. President Obama should move in a measured but sincere way to strengthen U.S. relations at every level -- including at the top -- but the top means President Medvedev. It is an objective fact that, today, Putin is the most powerful politician in Russia. Even with the election of Medvedev last year, it was not possible for President Bush to shift the locus of relations away from Putin, who had been his interlocutor for seven years. Now, with Obama in place, the United States can truly test the degree to which Medvedev can be the leader of Russia -- and whether his instincts run any closer to the liberal political and market thinking that Washington hopes for.
4. Obama has to beware that the Russian piper will want to be paid. During the campaign, Obama fudged questions on the NATO missile defense by saying he wanted to be sure the system was first viable before moving to construct it. Those evasions will not work for long as president: Either the system will have to be built or the Czech and Polish governments, which committed to its construction at significant political risk, will have to be cut loose. All of this is complicated of course by Iran's continued aggressive pursuit of both a nuclear weapon and a long range missile delivery system (and Russia's unhelpful role in ending those pursuits).
5. The Russian government's other demand is to reject Ukrainian and Georgian desires to join NATO. For nearly two decades, the United States has held inviolable the right of all European nations to make a sovereign choice of the institutions (e.g. NATO) that they will join to ensure their security. To rebuff outright the Ukrainian and Georgian desires to join NATO is likely to have a steep cost both in terms of the message it sends to struggling democracies in Central and Eastern Europe as well as the encouragement it gives to Russian irredentists.
So, it is a good thing the Russian government is signaling a desire to ease tensions. And both we and Russia are better off if the Iskander missiles are not deployed to Kaliningrad. But it should also be understood that this is still the preliminaries -- positioning in advance of the three, real conversations that are likely to take place in the coming year between Medvedev and Obama (in London at the G-20 Summit in April, in Italy at the G-8 in July, and in Singapore at the APEC Summit in September).
Bottom line: Central and Eastern Europeans beware. Early handicapping is that the NATO missile defense system is dead and that Ukrainian and Georgian ambitions to join NATO will be on the slow boat to China.
By Steve Biegun
As President Obama takes office, his ability to construct a successful foreign policy over the next four years will be a function of the earliest decisions he makes. Beyond the choice of personnel, (which appears thus far to be an orderly process that has drawn in highly talented and accomplished officials at the senior levels), he must also set priorities for his team to engage. Unlike the campaign, where a slogan of "Change" could be seen as an acceptable answer to how things will be done differently, the Obama administration must sort through and prioritize where it will use its capital, influence, and energy to achieve said change.
New administrations inevitably come into office with broad sets of goals. The Obama administration is no different in this respect, though with the added weight of a serious, domestic and international economic downturn to overcome. In the limited amount of time that the new President will have for foreign affairs -- while grappling with serious economic issues -- it will be essential to prioritize among the many proposals. And, while the most productive way forward is to accept the world as it is on January 20, 2009 and move ahead, inevitably there will be a sorting through of what the previous administration had done.
When the Bush administration took over from the Clinton team in 2001 there was a self-satisfying feeling among many Republicans that the adults were back in charge. Discipline and experience would rule the day, and a more measured and humble policy led by the professionals would steer the ship of state on a true course. The advice of the Clinton team was seen as unnecessary, and divisiveness was the predictable outcome. Unfortunately, for Republicans this harvest was reaped when the realities of the world, the frailties and rivalries of senior officials, and events (credit due to Harold Macmillan) intervened.
There was a widely held view among Democrats that the early days of the Bush administration were in effect an exercise in doing the opposite of whatever the Clinton administration had done, as Peter discusses here. Likewise, there was a hypersensitivity that the Bush administration was quick to blame any early challenges it faced on the shortcomings of the previous administration. While both of these impressions were exaggerated beyond reality, as a result, many Democrats adopted a knee jerk opposition to anything the Bush administration did. Yet, especially in the early years of the Bush administration, Democrats would usually fall into line when their hand was forced, making them appear strident and weak at one and the same time.
There should be little doubt that similar tendencies will be a temptation for the incoming Obama team, and similar sensitivities will be exhibited by Republicans now that the shoe will soon be on the other foot. Pitfalls await both sides.
So, what will change with the next administration? Will U.S. troops be out of Iraq any quicker than the current trajectory? Will the United States lean on Israel to ignore Hamas rocket attacks on civilian centers? Will the United States push a peace process faster or broader than the democratically elected government of Israel would desire? Will Iran and North Korea really succumb to persuasion and end their nuclear ambitions? Will the oceans cease to rise?
Or, perhaps the Obama team, like the Bush team that preceded it, will self-satisfyingly believe that once again it will all be in the execution; that in their turn, the professionals will take over; that the adults will again be in charge; and that a humble and measured approach to the world will in and of itself be all that is necessary to steady the ship of state.
We will see. But beware the intervention of realties, the frailties, the rivalries and events -- above all events.
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.