Another BRICS summit brings another round of angst in the West over the new world the rising powers seek to build without us. The combined weight of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is indeed breathtaking. Each is subcontinental in scope; together they represent nearly every region; their combined GDPs may surpass those of the G7 within two decades; as a group they have contributed more to global growth over the past five years than the West; and between them they boast nearly half the world's population.
Moreover, the BRICS possess complementary advantages: China is a manufacturing superpower; India is the world's largest democracy, with a deeper well of human capital than any other; Russia is a potential "energy superpower," according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council; Brazil dominates a region lacking any great power competitor; and South Africa represents a continent that has grown faster than Asia over the past decade. An alliance among these behemoths could indeed change history in ways that diminish the West.
Except that nearly all of the BRICS covet a special relationship with the United States, have development aspirations that can only be achieved with Western technology and investment, have security concerns they do not want to put at risk through confrontation with Washington, and quietly understand that strategic and economic rivalries within their grouping may be more salient than the ties that bind them together.
There will be several ghosts in the room at the BRICS summit: America, which India, China, and Russia have identified as more important to their interests than other rising powers; Indonesia, whose demographic and economic weight gives it a stronger claim to membership than South Africa; and Mexico, whose dynamic economy is more integrated with the world than Brazil's and wonders who appointed a Portuguese-speaking nation to represent Latin America.
Ironically, it may be the cleavages within the BRICS club that more accurately hint at the future of the global order: tensions between China and Brazil on trade, between China and India on security, and between China and Russia on status. These issues highlight the continuing difficulty Beijing will have in staking its claim to global leadership. Such leadership requires followers, and every BRIC country is reluctant to become one.
As my GMF colleague Dan Kliman puts it: "Talk of a new international order anchored by the BRICS is just that - talk. The two largest emerging powers in BRICS - Brazil and India - desire modifications to the current order; they do not seek to scrap it. Without geopolitical or ideological mortar, the BRICS summit remains less than the sum of its parts."
The BRICS countries may posture, but their strategic interests by and large lie in working more closely with the West rather than forming an alternative block that seeks to overthrow the existing world order. Indeed, the largest of the BRICS tried just such a strategy in another era -- and failed. India's experiment with non-alignment during the Cold War was a recipe for keeping Indians poor and shutting their country out of premier global clubs like the U.N. Security Council. We know how Moscow's quest to mount a Soviet ideological and material challenge to the West ended. And China long ago abandoned its Maoist zeal for world revolution. The country's biggest trading partners today are the European Union and the United States, and its leaders understand that the nature of China's relationship with the United States will be the main external determinant of China's ability to become a truly global power.
Power is diffusing across the international system, and the BRICS grouping is a reflection of that. But we should not let the occasional rising-powers summit lead us to lose sight of the main reality of a more multipolar world -- that in the race for influence in the 21st century, the United States remains in pole position.
ROBERTO STUCKERT FILHO/AFP/GettyImages
We have a problem in Mali: an al Qaeda franchise has taken over most of the country. President Obama only two days ago recommitted the United States to "combat[ing] the scourge of terrorism in the region." An American ally has been working tirelessly to bring the United Nations forward, provide a political solution, organize countries in the region to provide troops, and take the lead in operations. It would seem a perfect illustration of the Obama Doctrine: U.N. mandate, regional buy-in, leadership by an American ally, the United States one contributor among many.
And oh, by the way, the military coup that overthrew a democratic government in Mali, setting off the instability that enabled al Qaeda to prey on the country? That coup was the work of military officers and units trained by the United States. The fighters mowing across the country in conjunction with al Qaeda are veterans of the war in Libya, armed with weapons looted there. They are part of the widespread insecurity that Libya's transition has spawned and U.S. policy has done nothing to attenuate. So we bear some culpability for the terror engulfing Mali. And it is in our security interest -- and in the interest of the administration's vision for the new international order -- to stamp it out.
And yet our ambassador to the United Nations publicly described the French plan as "crap," and delayed U.N. action for weeks. When France commenced military operations to prevent the al Qaeda franchise from overrunning Mali's capital, the Obama administration demanded payment for any military support provided. Ten days into the operation. U.S. officials haven't even decided whether to make requested air-to-air refueling sorties available for French planes. "This is a deliberate effort to consult with the French to assess how best we can support them in the context of support provided by other countries," said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
That's not leading, even from behind. That's undercutting your allies.
It's also incredibly damaging to the United States, even on the terms the Obama administration itself espouses. The White House wants our country to step back from unilateral actions, to have a share but not the lion's share of the work. That requires others to be both willing and able to step forward.
Our European allies have twice in the past couple of years shown themselves willing to lead military operations when we would not. In neither Libya nor Mali has the Obama administration denied that we have an interest in achieving the objectives for which our allies fought, and are fighting. So we agree it needs doing, we just don't want to do it.
Europe has several of the world's most capable militaries; not just Britain and France, but also Denmark, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and others have all acquitted themselves admirably. But even those militaries lack outright or run short of some of the things that Americans take for granted in our operations: persistent surveillance of battlefields, reliable communications, rapid identification and targeting, the ability to strike promptly, transportation to deploy troops and equipment, precision-guided munitions to minimize unintended casualties, air-to-air refueling to enable strikes from great distances and repeated passes at targets.
That Europeans don't have these "enablers" in sufficient supply is their own fault. They chose to spend their money differently, predictably reducing military prowess and increasing the risk of failure. They mostly ignored decades of American pleading and NATO initiatives to boost defense spending, from the percentage rules of the Carter administration to the current incarnation of "smart defense." And they often spoke of their cultural superiority in spending money on social programs rather than militarism, even while they depended on our militarism. There is in some quarters a smug satisfaction about the Europeans finally realizing what we've been trying to tell them for so long.
But indulging that schadenfreude is unworthy of us. We want a world in which countries that share our values act to protect and promote those values; otherwise, the hard work all accrues to us. We want allies that see the right and take responsibility for acting to advance it.
Why not expect the Europeans to pay for what they need, especially when the United States borrows 30 cents of every dollar that our own government spends? The Obama administration isn't wrong to try and shift the burden-sharing toward Europeans. But there is a time for negotiating the terms of support to allies. That time is not when they are undertaking a military operation with goals that we support -- nor even when they are undertaking a military operation we don't think is a good idea.
Denying support in extremis leaves scars -- as Americans well know (Turkey denying us search-and-rescue operations from their territory during the Iraq war, France denying us their airspace during the El Dorado Canyon attacks on Libya, Belgium threatening to close its ports to us in 2003). Our own experience as an ally often in need of support even when governments oppose our policies ought to make us more, not less, willing to help when it counts most.
The French defense establishment had the grace to be embarrassed by their government's choices in 2003. The Obama Pentagon has not expressed similar embarrassment, either with regard to Mali or generally. It is from the Pentagon that the demand for reimbursement emanated. Nor is the fault confined to political civilians. Gen. Martin Dempsey has said the United States did not want to be complicit in any Israeli strike on Iran. If I were in Tehran, I would interpret that to mean we would deny Israel assistance. Denying France assistance now will reinforce the perception -- both among allies and enemies -- that U.S. allies are on their own.
The Obama Doctrine depends critically on others stepping forward and undertaking the work we are stepping back from. There will be fewer allies willing to do that if we continue to be stingy with our help and generous with our criticism
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Civil war in Syria and terrorism in Bulgaria are dominating headlines this week, but the ongoing deterioration of Mali is the type of simmering issue that is starting to claw its way on to the front pages. Among other things it is a vivid illustration of how the events of the "Arab Spring" are having profound ramifications in non-Arab countries; Ross Douthat's discussion of this is particularly insightful. An unintended consequence of the Libya war (which I supported at the time and still regard as on balance the right decision) has been the spillover of chaos, instability, and malevolent elements into neighboring countries such as Mali, which may be emerging as a new terrorist safe-haven.
As recently as one year ago Mali stood as an emerging African success story. An Islamic democracy that in 2007 hosted the global Community of Democracies ministerial meeting in its capital city of Bamako, Mali is now fractured with militant Islamists controlling half of its territory and an uneasy post-coup coalition of civilians and military controlling the other half. I worked with Malian leaders in the planning for the 2005 Community of Democracies ministerial in Santiago, and their pride in their nation's accomplishments was palpable, as was their enthusiasm in being an African Muslim democracy in an otherwise troubled region. Now that progress has dissipated. Their country is falling apart, and northern Mali may well be emerging as a new Al Qaeda base of operations, attracting jihadists of many nationalities, African and non-African.
Reports from the north, such as this New York Times story, bring chilling echoes of Afghanistan as it first fell under Taliban rule 15 years ago. Malian women and non-Islamist Muslims, especially Sufis, are being subject to horrific repression. One worrisome indicator is the jihadists' destruction of traditional Muslim burial grounds and other iconic sites, a sign of the vicious religious intolerance that militant Islamists show towards other Muslims, let alone believers in non-Islamic faiths. (I have an article in the forthcoming issue of Policy Review exploring the connection between religious freedom violations and potential security threats, a connection that is unfortunately under-appreciated by the policy community). This campaign of religious intolerance may be an early warning indicator of a looming security threat, particularly if northern Mali becomes a terrorist safe-haven and magnet for jihadists planning attacks on the West.
American policy options are extremely limited, and the current focus on encouraging the African Union to take the lead is probably the best of a bad set of choices. American leadership is needed more urgently in other areas, such as Syria. But at a minimum, American counterterrorism and religious-freedom policymakers should be watching Mali closely, and talking to each other. In the case of Mali, their concerns may be more aligned then they realize.
The first round of the Egyptian vote for president has concluded, with a runoff to be held in June. Five of the 13 candidates are considered frontrunners and at the close of the second day of voting, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate is claiming the lead. Things couldn't be worse, no? Well, yes, they could be -- in fact, things are not so bad. Steeling myself as I anticipate my fellow democracy campaigners calling me overly optimistic, I will nevertheless plunge ahead. My optimism has a foundation.
What should evoke some optimism is 1) that this vote happened at all; 2) that it was preceded by demonstrations of grassroots political participation that has been influencing leaders for over a year and that is very likely to continue no matter who wins and no matter how entrenched the military elite remain; and 3) while we don't know the true count of the first round yet, several of the frontrunners vying for second place are not hardline Islamists. In fact, among those vying for second spot are a moderate Islamist who courts Christians, liberals, and leftists; two former Mubarak cabinet officials; and a leftist.
What we can gather from polling and journalists' reports is encouraging. Polling in Egypt, as in most developing countries and former tyrannies, is of course not very reliable, but what polls exist, in addition to much journalist-based anecdotal evidence, shows that many Egyptians, even in solidly pro-Islamist regions of the country, are wary of the Brotherhood or any Islamist party getting dominance over the country. The public has been unimpressed with, and even afraid of, too much control falling into the hands of the radicals. The Brotherhood's 6-month stint running parliament has given pause to an electorate, even among the Brotherhood's friends. Egyptians have been quoted as saying they want to see more than one party or point of view have some power. That's a democratic attitude that bodes well if a critical mass of Egyptians hold it and continue to vote that way.
And interestingly, it appears that some Egyptians are acting in the civic arena like Westerners: families are divided, and without bitterness, over candidates and party platforms.
In short, with this vote, even if the Brotherhood candidate wins it all, Egypt seems to have changed from a society that was under the sway and "tutelage" of despots to one that is awakening to the rights of citizens to choose their leaders from among many options and to hold those leaders accountable for good governance. The path forward will surely be rough at times -- probably often -- but the path forward appears to be one of Egyptians continuing to demand that government be more their servant than their master, as it has been for 5000 years.
So without getting caught up yet in the specific outcomes of the presidential election, let's recall how far Egyptians have come in the democratization of their country and appreciate why it should afford us a measure of hope -- even if there is little chance that a democratic reformer will be announced the winner next week and assume a mandate to operate within constitutional limits. We'll be able to rest more easily about the stability of Egyptian democracy when we know Egyptian grandmothers are hectoring their grandchildren to do their civic duty and go vote -- as the latter have come to take it for granted. That day is a long way off, but the last two days have been a promising start toward that day.
The Obama administration's two major weekend summits, the G-8 gathering at Camp David and the ongoing NATO meeting in Chicago, happen to be occurring as the U.S. presidential campaign gets underway. That coincidence of timing presumably helps explain an otherwise baffling statement by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon posted over at the Cable previewing the meetings:
Look for the Obama team to drive home the argument this weekend that the G-8 and the NATO summit are a testament to Obama's ability to repair alliances frayed during the George W. Bush administration.
"It had been an exhausting period leading up to 2009, and the president set about reinvigorating -- indeed, one of the first sets of instructions that we got during the transition, at the beginning of the administration, was to set about really building out and refurbishing, revitalizing our alliances," Donilon said.
"No other nation in the world has the set of global alliances that the United States does... And alliances, I will tell you from experience, are a wholly different qualitative set of relationships than coalitions of the willing."
The best explanation I can muster for this is that Donilon is channeling David Axelrod and indulging in some spin for the campaign "silly season." One hopes that the Obama administration doesn't actually believe that its record on alliances is so exemplary, because to do so means that the notorious White House-bubble must be even thicker than usual. Yet I suppose that as long as the media gives a free pass on these kinds of claims, they will be made. Even the Humble Cable-Guy, normally vigilant to call out any manner of fluff, spin, or distortion, seems to have missed this one.
Campaign spin notwithstanding, the reality is different.
First, taking Donilon's own timeline, the Obama administration inherited a set of alliances in solid shape. When Obama took office the Bush administration had largely repaired bilateral relationships that had been admittedly frayed during its first term. Gone were the "old Europe/new Europe" lines, the feuds with Chirac and Schroeder, etc. By 2008, America had very solid relationships with allies such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, as well as emerging partners such as India. Expanding these partnerships and inviting rising powers to the high table of international politics, Bush had even convened the first-ever G-20 summit in Washington to deal with the eruption of the global financial crisis.
Second, the Obama administration's record on relations with U.S. allies is wanting, to say the least. American allies and friends on almost every continent have been neglected or undercut by the Obama administration. These include specific countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Israel, Poland, Czech Republic, Georgia, Ukraine, and Colombia. While the specific issues may have varied -- whether neglected and re-litigated free trade agreements, abandoned missile defense commitments, cancellations of state visits, shirking of defense needs, rebuffs on energy cooperation, dithering on multilateral interventions, hectoring on fiscal policy, or just thoroughgoing neglect -- all of these nations, among them America's most important allies and partners, have suffered poor treatment at the hands of the Obama administration. Anecdotally, one can hardly visit a European capital without hearing private complaints from European diplomats over the neglect they feel from the Obama administration.
Third, Donilon's sanctimonious dig contrasting "alliances" with "coalitions of the willing" was unflattering as well -- to the Obama administration. After all, this White House has, for justifiable reasons, made frequent use of coalitions of the willing on its most significant foreign policy initiatives, such as the Libya War (which included non-NATO members such as Sweden, Qatar, Jordan, and UAE), the P-5 Plus One coalition on Iran, the "Friends of Syria" Group, and the Afghanistan War (forty non-NATO participants).
The Obama administration's efforts to keep blaming Bush have an almost perfunctory quality. If anything, they reveal this White House's own anemic record to base re-election on [insert obligatory "three envelopes" joke here]. I have some sympathy for the administration in that working with allies in practice is much harder than campaign rhetoric would indicate. But here the gap between the rhetoric and the reality is significant.
Obama campaigned claiming he would improve America's global image, but his treatment of allies has undermined our nation's credibility. In a way, Obama's international reputation seems to mirror his domestic reputation. At both home and abroad, personal affection for him far exceeds approval for his policies. He has been successful at cultivating his personal image in the world, but in the process America's standing has been diminished. In terms I hope our Anglosphere allies will appreciate, this White House may talk like Ringo Starr, but too often it has acted like Mike Reno.
The disruption of a new underwear bomber plot, once again attributable to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) -- one of the most active branches of al Qaeda -- is a welcome and yet worrisome development. On the one hand, kudos to our counter-terrorism establishment which, through good intelligence and police work, stopped the bomber before he could carry out his attack. On the other hand, AQAP has shown that it -- and al Qaeda in general -- are alive and well, despite our best efforts to disrupt and destroy them. After years of deadly strikes against the group (see Bill Roggio's excellent work on this here), AQAP has been able to regenerate and continue to plot and plan destructive terrorist attacks against the homeland.
Even more worrisome, however, is that AQAP managed to organize this attack while its fighting cadres are winning battle after battle against the Yemeni government, seizing territory and imposing al Qaeda's version of sharia on the populace. I'll have more to say on this issue soon, when the first part of my reaction to the recently released Osama bin Ladin documents will be posted. For this piece, I will just say that it is a false dichotomy to categorize al Qaeda's strategy as one that is meant solely to take territory OR solely to carry out attacks on the U.S. As the actions of AQAP make quite clear, the group desires both and, more importantly, has the capabilities to do both simultaneously.
The U.S. is on high alert to watch for any further bombs that might be on the loose; I wonder if we have a similarly well-thought out plan in place to deal with the deteriorating situation in the country that allowed these plots to be hatched.
ABC News via Getty Images
In an earlier post I noted that there have been strong protests to my thesis that al Qaeda has not been fatally damaged by U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, and in fact is stronger now than ever before. In the earlier post I listed five specific objections that I have heard from administration officials and from al Qaeda and terrorism experts (like Will McCants). Since then Seth Jones has published a piece that also argues al Qaeda is not dead, although he takes on different points of contention than I do.
At the center of the first three objections that I list -- and that lead directly to the fourth -- is a profound disagreement over what exactly al Qaeda is, how able "core" al Qaeda is to command and control its affiliates, and what the group can therefore hope to achieve (despite its boasts to far greater things). The objections also reflect a difference in opinion about the public statements made by al Qaeda's leaders, seen by many as expressing aspirational -- but unachievable -- goals, or as rhetoric designed to inspire terror attacks, but by me and others as official statements of the group's policy vision.
I've already discussed thoroughly the differing views of "what al Qaeda is" in this post, but would stress that I take al Qaeda's leadership at their word, and agree that the "core" is the high command of a global organization that includes many branches (as al Qaeda calls the affiliates) and that these branches are an integral part of al Qaeda. Their relationship is somewhat like that between the Pentagon and the Combatant Commanders, although more decentralized and with latitude for splintering and serious disagreement-as in any insurgency. The oath of obedience that binds leadership and forces in the field -- called "baya" -- is one piece of evidence that both "core" and branches are precisely the same thing and that there is a command and control function built into their relationship. In theory, baya operates in much the same way as a feudal oath of fealty. When joining al Qaeda, only the overall affiliate military commander -- and the head of shadow governance, if one exists -- swear loyalty to the al Qaeda high command, subordinate commanders swear loyalty to these leaders, and the ordinary foot soldiers swear loyalty to the subordinates. Just as with feudal oaths where the meanest peasant could not argue that he did not have to obey the ruler because he had not personally sworn an oath to him, so the local forces of al Qaeda -- through their oaths to their unit commander -- are bound to obey as well the orders of everyone above them in the chain of command. One recent example of this theoretical hierarchy in practice is the baya sworn by Shaykh Atom to the Amir of the Shabab in Somalia, an oath that made him -- and his men -- as much a part of al Qaeda as the Shabab.
But these oaths, while suggestive, do not prove that the "core" is really able to command and control the affiliates. Again, there is evidence that tells us they are, but in the same way that all insurgencies are under the command and control (C2) of often distant superiors. In regular militaries and regular wars, C2 is a rigidly defined issue, with strict rules about who obeys whom, daily reporting by subordinates to officers, constant oversight to make certain that orders are obeyed, and set penalties for insubordination or direct disobedience. Irregular wars -- such as insurgencies -- are very different, however, as a recent publication by the Department of Defense on the insurgency in Afghanistan makes clear. As in other insurgencies, the Taliban leadership in Pakistan provides broad strategic guidance and resources as needed, but not specific daily orders with daily reportage back up the chain of command. Instead, tighter C2 is handled through the local shadow government and commanders on the ground, who report back to their distant superiors on a regular basis. This, in miniature, is how al Qaeda is controlling their forces in places like Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and the Sahel. Captured documents from Iraq show in action both the strengths and limitations of this sort of guidance. Zarqawi was directly ordered by his superiors to stop cutting off heads in public, to refrain from ever attacking neighboring countries again, to create the foundations for an Islamic state in Iraq, and to try harder to win over Sunnis to his cause. All these orders he obeyed. He was also ordered to stop killing Shia and Sunnis in large numbers, but events seem to show that he ignored this demand. From their distant headquarters, al Qaeda could not do much about this insubordination, although his subsequent demotion to a lesser position within al Qaeda in Iraq is suggestive, and I'm sure they did not mourn his passing a few weeks later.
Another example of this sort of C2 should give pause to those who argue that the "core" does not really control the affiliates. In the summer of 2009, the official view of the U.S. was that the affiliates were focused solely on local concerns (i.e. overthrowing the rulers of their own countries). That June, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the General Manager of al Qaeda, gave an interview in which he stated that the branches were an integral part of al Qaeda and that the leadership was ordering them to carry out attacks on the U.S. Six months later, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-assessed by the U.S. government as having purely local objectives-carried out an unsuccessful attack on the homeland. A few months later, Tehrik-i-Taliban, a Pakistani group tied to al Qaeda that was also viewed as having purely local concerns, attempted to blow up Times Square. Our failure to take seriously the "rhetoric" of al Qaeda leaders led to two near catastrophes.
This discussion also matters because the U.S. policy proposals that flow from these viewpoints are substantially different. If al Qaeda can be divided into a core leadership that has as its primary objective attacking the U.S. and affiliates that are not an integral part of that core (or at least not under real command and control), then it is possible to carry out a successful counter-terrorism (CT) strategy against the "core" and perhaps the leadership of the affiliates, while allowing regional partners to handle the local insurgencies of the affiliates themselves. If, however, al Qaeda is both core and affiliate, that is both high command and ground forces, and the leadership is able to exert real command and control functions, then CT methodologies -- and its foundation of attrition -- will not destroy al Qaeda or prevent its spread. The only method that we have for dealing with this sort of warfare is counterinsurgency.
In my next post, I'll expand on this assertion and give my take on how the Arab Spring and the death of Bin Ladin have affected al Qaeda.
ABDURASHID ABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images
April 20th. That's the day activists are urged to cover towns and cities with posters exposing the atrocities of African warlord and International Criminal Court fugitive Joseph Kony.
The predominately youth-driven movement, Invisible Children, hit the cyber world on March 5th. It spread like a marketer's dream. In just two days, the Kony 2012 video garnered more than 43 million hits. Traditional mainstream media, including CNN, NBC, and the Washington Post continue covering it. Now at 100 million plus views and counting, it has spread to at least 204 countries and generated about 3.6 million commitments from those pledging to take action in local communities.
Regardless of your opinion on its message or depiction of on-the-ground circumstances, Kony 2012 is a case study in the reach and influence of social media. It has the attributes that evolving digital technologies can employ to connect, inform, organize and motivate. But it also provides valuable insight for President Obama and his administration on ways to advance liberty and support oppressed people around the world.
Social media doesn't create ideas. Nor does it create political opposition in closed societies. But its ability to serve as an equalizer gives those in authoritarian countries one more avenue to hasten the changes they seek. U.S. leadership would go a long way in helping them realize those changes.
It's no secret that fostering democracy and freedom isn't high on the president's agenda. Those ideals were not part of his 2009 inaugural speech. Secretary of State Clinton notably omitted democracy in her confirmation hearings, saying the three "Ds" of U.S. foreign policy were limited to defense, diplomacy, and development.
More recently, the Obama administration was largely absent in rhetoric or action on events ranging from the Arab Spring to the continuing Chinese crackdown on political dissent to widespread irregularities in Russia's March presidential election. As the president has worked to distance himself from anything associated with his predecessor, opportunities have been lost to empower reformers in global hotspots.
Today's digital technologies can support democratic political movements in ways not seen before. Unlike communication methods and techniques of just a decade ago, social media makes it easy to connect, rally around a common cause, and empower people with what they need to collaborate.
If the Obama administration chooses to elevate liberty as a valued American export, Kony 2012 offers several guiding principles. Here are just a few.
First, the power of moral clarity. In his 2004 book, The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky dissects the chasm between free societies and fear societies. In articulating this "moral clarity," Sharansky, a former Soviet political prisoner who champions the universality of human rights, looks at the tendency over time of free peoples to lose sight of what divides freedom from fear, open from closed, and tolerant from oppressive. True to his analysis, many in today's foreign policy apparatus, as well as many opinion leaders, have lost a collective grip on moral clarity.
Kony 2012 visualizes the face of evil on one side and those who suffer its consequences on the other. It's a stark reminder of the fundamental freedoms and human dignity shared by all.
Understanding and embracing moral clarity -- free versus fear -- is a simple step. It's easily regained, by this administration or a future one, in a world that desperately needs it.
Second, the power of a single idea. Kony 2012 isn't burdened by diplomatic-speak, realpolitik, or convoluted posturing. It's articulation of a straight-forward vision of what the future can and should be. Stop the brutality of Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army in Central Africa, in particular the abduction and abuse of children. It's made straight-forward and personal with part of the story told through reaction of the narrator's son, Gavin.
It brings to mind President Reagan's signature call to rid the world of communism, which intellectual elites derided as naïve up until the day of the Soviet Union's collapse and the Berlin Wall's destruction.
The causes of Soviet communism's fall fill lengthy textbooks. But activists and reformers in former authoritarian countries credit Reagan's singular, repeated, and passionate articulation on the right of self-governance as inspiration. Imagine how social media could have accelerated the changes that eventually swept Central and Eastern Europe, just as they could elsewhere in the world today.
And, third, the power of a call to action.
Authoritarians fear social media because they can't control the message. Given the opportunity to communicate and connect, activists and reformers wanting a better future for themselves and their country will call for change and how that change can be achieved, just as they did in 2011 in Tunisia, Syria and Egypt using Twitter, Facebook, and smartphones.
Kony 2012 told viewers exactly what they could do to help in three easy steps. More than 3.5 million signed up.
At a recent Washington conference, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio described the role the internet and social media could play "in empowering the Cuban people to reclaim their country from the Castro tyranny." He's right.
Brian C. Keeter has provided communications assistance to democratic activists and observed elections in Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. He served at the Department of Transportation in the Bush administration, and is currently director of public affairs at Auburn University.
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Was the Libya mission a model for an Obama doctrine on the use of force or was it just a one-off pick-up game? It appears it may have been both.
After Qaddafi's fall, the White House was keen to tout the Libya operation as a perfect exemplar of how the Obama administration could wield U.S. power more effectively than previous administrations, something an advisor subsequently branded as a "lead from behind" approach. Even though Libya is still an unfinished project, if you talk to enough Obamaphiles as I do, sooner or later the Libya model will be touted again, especially the dramatic comparison of how low cost Libya was compared to Iraq.
It was low cost, at least for the United States, but as for a model, it may be a precedent for doing nothing in the future -- at least that is the impression one gets from the latest reporting on Syria. Apparently, the White House has told Syrian rebels that they are on their own, that the United States will not be assisting them further, and so Assad may be on track to accomplish what Qaddafi could not: kill enough of his own citizens fast enough to defeat the rebellion before outsiders can intervene to tip the balance in favor of the "right side of history."
In this, the Obama administration may be following the Libyan precedent to the letter. The problem with "leading from behind" is that it really means "following another leader." In the Libyan case, the real leaders were the Europeans, especially the French and British. They led, Obama followed, and Qaddafi fell.
On Syria, no one is leading, not yet anyway. Perhaps the cross-border violence will finally prod Turkey into leading and, if so, perhaps the "Libyan model" will lead the Obama administration into acting. But until then, the Libyan lesson may simply be this: When no one leads, no one follows, and when no one follows, the international community does not act.
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It is bad enough to read that the military has launched a coup in Mali and ousted the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré. Even those of us who believe that Francis Fukuyama made a sound and defensible point about the "end of history" know that there will continue to be setbacks for a long time in much of the developing world. Just because there is now no credible social, economic, or political argument in defense of tyranny does not mean that there won't still be attempts to make that argument by self-serving or even well-meaning putchists.
But it is most disheartening to learn how and why the coup came about just weeks before a scheduled election that was to peacefully replace Touré, only the second democratically elected president of a democratic Mali. Worse still to learn of the reaction to this coup by Malians who should know better.
Mali was somewhat of a success story in the African Sahel region. Only five years ago it hosted the Community of Democracies gathering attended by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. As we planned for this event (I was then the deputy assistant administrator for democracy and government programs at USAID), there was considerable internal discussion of how well things might go and what the optics would be like for the world's democracy promoters (states as well as NGOs) to gather in Bamako for this important meeting. All were aware that there was of course still much poverty and lack of development in Mali along with unresolved tribal and sectional strife. But the elected government of Touré had been for several years working with the IMF and World Bank and other international donors to cut spending and regulation and improve governance. So it was deemed worthwhile to hold the meeting there. It was a success and the Malian government was a gracious host.
Fast forward to today, a few days after an ill-planned coup by what appear to be incompetent military leaders who have already broken their promises to begin restoring democratic order. Sanctions have been imposed and there are reports that the rebels in the north have taken advantage of the chaos and are furthering their rebellion and implementing sharia law, while as many as 200,000 people are fleeing.
So, democracy has been violently interrupted and al Qaeda, which has designs on Mali as it does in the rest of the Sahel, now has a widening gap in which to insert themselves and to work their wicked will.
But all these problems are compounded by the reaction of the Malians themselves. The coup has been welcomed by various civic groups, peasant leaders as well as other important sectors. Their interest in maintaining democratic processes is as weak, apparently, as the Touré government. The reason is because they have not seen sufficient improvements to their livelihood and an end to the northern rebellion. They have also grown fed-up with the way in which foreign interests have been able to, in their view, exploit the country and its land resources. Their motto is "peace first, elections later."
This is the enduring problem we see in several areas of the developing and democratizing world: Democracy and markets cannot make enough headway before the people become disillusioned to the point of being willing to welcome a coup if it will achieve the objectives they seek. There seems to be no permanent turning away from democracy and polls continue to show that people support democracy and want it for their country. We see this in parts of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. But some people in some states and regions are not willing to endure the progress that democracy can make only slowly. And there is a severe shortage of indigenous far-sighted leaders who should be encouraging the public to work tirelessly and patiently for democratic success instead of taking advantage of public disillusionment and rancor to promote themselves.
This is not a flaw in democracy, representative institutions, or law-based governance. The question is not whether freedom and liberty under law is the solution to lack of development and disorder. They are the only elements that can bring sustained order and progress.
The question is how long will it take and will the public endure the wait? That question is answered only by cultural factors, but Western and international forces can help with wise policy and firm commitments to the democratic path. Now is the time for the West and the U.N. and related organizations to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with African organizations and the leaders of other African countries who are condemning the coup, imposing sanctions, and insisting on a return to normal democratic order. It is also time to support, encourage, and even warn Mali's civil society leaders that they should not make a deal with the devil, as it were, by welcoming violations of democratic order in hopes that good can come of it. Good is very likely not to come of it, especially with a deepening and widening rebellion in the north that the incompetent military cannot control and that is being used to its advantage by terrorist groups like al Qaeda.
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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.
The media is rightly focused on Iran and Syria lately, but something brewing in southern Africa merits our attention, specifically the Obama administration's attention. Zimbabwe slips further into the abyss as President (for life) Robert Mugabe keeps winning at the game of dictatorship. Two news items stand out: the dictator announced he's running for president again, and opposition leader-cum-Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has gone over to the dark side.
Mugabe has been in power for over thirty years and all he has to show for it are grinding poverty and a deplorable human rights record. But it gets worse. His announcement comes amidst reports that his party, ZANU-PF, is not happy that he is running again. It is not yet clear why they are unhappy, but we can speculate. Though the party elite is privileged and comfortable -- benefitting also from the seizure of white-owned lands among other forms of corruption, injustice and economic mismanagement -- it realizes that perpetual dictators are not faring very well these days and their international allies are growing weary of supporting them. Watching the solidarity among Arab authoritarians breakdown must give them pause. Besides, the young dictators-in-waiting might simply be tired of waiting on the old man to retire. Mugabe arrogantly notes "Our members of the party will certainly select someone once I say I am now retiring, but not yet." He has more to do he says, such as continuing to defend independence (who threatens it? The British whose aid programs help keep him comfortable? -- see below) and furthering "black empowerment." With his dismal economic record, that last part as a campaign slogan adds insult to injury.
But it gets even worse. That other news item is a commentary in The Daily Telegraph that asks "Is the U.K. aiding corruption in Zimbabwe?" The piece notes that the British Department for International Development (DFID) is providing tens of millions of pounds for schools and health care while the Zimbabwean government spends nothing on capital outlays for schools and little for health care. So far, no story here. But the piece goes on to note that what the Mugabe regime is spending money on by the tens of millions is international travel and luxury living for the president and his regime -- including the opposition leader whom Mugabe allowed to share power with him three years ago after disputed elections and much violence. The Daily Telegraph is asking why the British government is enabling the dictatorship and its now compromised opposition leader to spend lavishly on itself for parties and palaces while the British taxpayer picks up the bill for the needs of the desperately poor and deprived Zimbabwean citizens. Good question.
Aid programs have been fraught with such waste and enabling for years, but in this day and age to help a dictator stay in power and aid in the debauching of a once-heroic opposition leader like Tsvangirai, is unacceptable.
So now we have Mugabe undaunted and running again, aided in his quest by British aid; the corruption of the opposition leader; and quite possibly the beginning of the internal breakdown of the authoritarian regime that could sow chaos if the young decide to dethrone the old and there's no opposition with integrity to pick up the pieces.
Now is the time for the US and the EU to pay attention and speak out against this turn of events and to encourage the UK to rethink its aid policy in Zimbabwe.
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The Obama administration's decision to deploy 100 U.S. special operations forces to Uganda to help defeat the ludicrously barbaric Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) -- or, in Obama's lawyer-esque euphemism, to "remov[e] from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA," -- is another example of just how muddy the Obama foreign-policy is.
To start with, deploying troops to defeat Africa's Hitler, as Kony will inevitably be called any day now, is not "in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States," as Obama claimed in his letter to Congress. The LRA is not even a remote threat to our homeland, our allies, or our way of life. We have no important economic stake in Uganda or the region. Uganda is even more removed than Libya from vital American security interests -- and Libya's war was not "a vital interest of the United States," according to the Secretary of Defense who oversaw our intervention there. Uganda's fight is about as peripheral as it gets.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't go there. Obama would be on safer grounds if he gave up all pretense of our having an interest in Uganda and simply said "We're going after Joseph Kony because he's an insane barbarian with guns and if we don't take care of him, no one will." The United States is the global provider of public goods, and seeing off a well-armed lunatic megalomaniac wreaking havoc in states too failed to protect themselves might just be our human duty. Jonah Goldberg thinks so.
But what really confuses me is Obama's willingness to embark on adventures in Libya and Uganda while simultaneously calling for some of the deepest cuts in the defense budget in twenty years.
According to this analysis by Lt.Gen. David Barno, looming budget cuts may compel us to cut an aircraft carrier, reduce our strategic airlift, slow down or halt our procurement of next-generation weaponry, and eliminate several divisions from the Army and Marine Corps. Whether or not you think these cuts make sense, the question should be obvious: if we are in an age of austerity and cannot afford the missions and force posture we have, what are we doing taking on more?
The Ugandan deployment is unlikely to be the straw that breaks the budget camel's back. Considered in isolation, it amounts to less than a rounding error. But there are two reasons to be wary. First, it will almost certainly grow larger. Today, 100 advisors; tomorrow, a Foreign Military Financing (FMF) package; next year, access to excess equipment; and then more trainers to teach them how to use all the new equipment -- and soon Uganda costs $1 billion a year. Add in Libya and the next three interventions, and that's real money.
Second, Uganda appears to be a part of a pattern, of which Libya was also a part. Uganda and Libya together illustrate that Obama is perfectly comfortable using the U.S. armed forces not only in service of vital U.S. security interests, but in defense of peripheral interests, for humanitarian goals, and in defense of the global commons. I think those are at valid, defensible roles -- they are the price of global leadership which Obama says he wants to maintain. But those roles cost money.
By cutting budgets with one hand while maintaining U.S. military commitments around the world with the other, Obama is showing a lack of strategic thinking. A coherent strategy would match resources to requirements, increasing the former if insufficient, reducing the latter if necessary. Obama is doing neither. If Obama is going to use the military these kinds of missions, he'd better be prepared to foot the bill. If he, or Congress, is not willing to pay up, the missions to Uganda and Libya should be the first we no longer expect our military to perform.
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We don't often have reason to celebrate political developments in Africa, but Michael "King Cobra" Sata's Sept. 23 victory in the recent Zambian presidential elections is a reason, indeed. The 74-year-old tough-talking opposition leader has managed to score a victory for democracy in Zambia and against Chinese neocolonialism.
Credit is due to the recent incumbent, Rupiah Banda of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy, who gave up power peacefully after a clear defeat to Sata and the Patriotic Front Party. In the aftermath of the election, both men appear determined that the peaceful change of power be accepted as normal with both retribution and sour grapes being set aside.
But a larger and more interesting issue is the fulfillment in Zambia, and in the person of the new president, of the idea that Africa should not become prey to a new colonial power, that of the Chinese. China-watchers have been observing for about a decade now the growing influence of China as it buys friends in the developing world among the producers of raw materials to feed the growing Chinese economy. A combination of Chinese party, government, military and preferred businesses have been extracting and importing raw materials -- in the case of Zambia, copper -- by means of cheap labor and sometimes abusive labor practices and with the complicity of the host country's government.
Sata was transparent about his plans and tough in his talk regarding the Chinese during his campaign for office. He called the Chinese investors "infestors" and vowed that if elected he would put an end to the flouting of labor and tax laws and other abuses, abuses that cannot happen if the government is determined to stop them. In other words, through corruption and neglect, many African governments allow foreign interests to treat their countries as easily commandeered cheap resource pools. Sata was so insistent that the Chinese threatened, in an obvious attempt to sway the election, to divest in Zambia should the people elect Sata. The people were undaunted, Sata is now elected, and there is no sign that the Chinese will make good on their threat. They can hardly afford to do so given that Zambia is the continent's largest copper exporter.
Sata has no intention of closing Zambia for business; rather, he simply is requiring that his country's labor laws and safety regulations be respected by both foreign firms as well as the government itself. He has embarked without delay on his promised 90 days of reform, sacking people and reforming the government. He sounds like he'd perform well in the current GOP debates: not only is he announcing plans to battle corruption -- that is a given for a newly elected leader in a developing country -- but he is also announcing his intention to slash the size of government. Further, he intends to review all mining contracts with the Chinese to ensure they are in the interests of Zambians and to make sure that the wealth of Zambia is shared with the nation as a whole through fair contracts, fair wages, and a distribution of wealth not encumbered with corruption, cronyism, and bloated government.
We should wish him luck and our government should support him, because he will need it, but we should be encouraged given that few African leaders have been so bold to have staked their election in part on such a program of reform. Importantly, Sata's election represents the working out of the predictions of some observers that if the Chinese, in collusion with dictators and de facto presidents for life, continued to unfairly exploit developing countries, there would be a backlash redounding to the harm of both the incumbent governments as well as the foreign interests. Those of us who have worked in foreign assistance often heard how unwise we were to let the Chinese provide visible support such as the building of infrastructure and schools while we supported the intangibles of democracy, the rule of law, fair labor practices and economic freedom. We averred that if we did the right thing, the best thing, in time the fruit of our labor would be the movement of developing states from the category of failed and dependent to stable and flourishing. I trust that we are being proven right in Zambia and that this example will spread. It is too soon to predict that a backlash is building generally across the globe against the Chinese exploiters and against aid practices that only further dependency, but the ripples of the Zambian election -- and what it could mean for development policy -- are likely to be felt beyond its borders.
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In addressing despotic regimes, President Obama tends to pose a question and a challenge: we know what you are against, now tell us what you are for. Now, as he prepares to deliver a major address on the Middle East, the same question might be posed to the president when it comes to U.S. policy in the region. Whether or not his speech is deemed a success will depend on how convincingly he answers this challenge.
When President Obama took office, it seemed clear what he was for in the Middle East. In Cairo in June 2009 he outlined his objectives. Featuring prominently among them were progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace, easing the mutual mistrust between the United States and Iran through dialogue and engagement; withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq; and improving U.S. standing amongst Arab publics.
Almost immediately after the speech was delivered, the reality of Middle Eastern politics intervened. Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran on June 12 to protest a rigged presidential election, and were brutalized by the very regime President Obama hoped to engage. The U.S. response, which seemed to coldly prioritize negotiations with Iran's rulers over empathy with its embattled populace, was starkly at odds with the tone of the Cairo speech.
Since then, the president's initial agenda in the region has foundered, and many of the assumptions that informed his initial approach have proven mistaken. Engagement with Iran is not only no silver bullet, it is not new -- every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has reached out to Tehran, all with disappointing results. Moving forward on Israeli-Palestinian peace requires that Washington win the trust of both parties. Instead, the trust of both was lost in one fell swoop over a highly public and ultimately unnecessary spat over Israeli settlements.
As for U.S. standing in the Arab world, it turns out, is tied less to comity and more to solidarity, which was in short supply during both the Arab and Iranian uprisings. Our views on Islam globally are less relevant than our impact in the lives of Muslims -- and Christians, Jews, and everyone else -- locally.
These days, as the Middle East is gripped by a wave of historic change, U.S. policy appears at best slow and inconsistent and at worst increasingly irrelevant to events in this vital region. Like those we criticize, we find ourselves at risk of being defined by what we are against. We are against violent extremism, and the death of Osama bin Laden will rightly be touted repeatedly by the president as evidence of U.S. determination in the face of our enemies. We are against rapacious autocracy, but we are also against, more dubiously, U.S. involvement in what the administration has termed "organic" revolutions.
But what exactly are we for? Over the past weeks and months, we have given little indication apart from repeated intonations of our commitment to "universal values" which could apply as easily to the Medicare debate as to the Middle East. In Tunisia and Egypt, we spoke up only when forced by events. In Syria and Iran, we hesitate as regimes ratchet up their repression. Even in Libya, where we have called upon Qaddafi to "go," our military approach stands in curious contrast to our stated policy aims.
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The president made it clear in his speech that the U.S.-led war against Libya is primarily motivated to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. "We were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale," he said. "To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and - more profoundly - our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different."
This gives credence to the reports that Hilary Clinton, the secretary of state, Susan Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the U.N., and Samantha Power, N.S.C. senior director for multilateral affairs, led the charge to war specifically to avoid "another Rwanda." The latter two especially have been outspoken in their belief that the United States was wrong not to intervene to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which the ethnic Hutu Interahamwe militia slaughtered some 800,000 fellow Rwandans in a few weeks while the world watched. One diplomat told Power she shouldn't let Libya become "Obama's Rwanda," according to the New York Times. Rwanda looms darkly in the liberal conscience as a powerful prod of guilt, whispering "Next time, do something. Do anything. Anything is better than nothing."
Liberals have a point about Rwanda. It was grotesque that troop-contributing countries actually withdrew their forces from the U.N. Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), rather than beef it up with more resources and authority, as the genocide unfolded. (However, Power betrays her ignorance of military realities when she argued in her book, A Problem From Hell, that the U.N. could have stopped the genocide with the assets it had on the ground at the time).
But Libya is not Rwanda. Rwanda was genocide. Libya is a civil war. The Rwandan genocide was a premeditated, orchestrated campaign. The Libyan civil war is a sudden, unplanned outburst of fighting. The Rwandan genocide was targeted against an entire, clearly defined ethnic group. The Libyan civil war is between a tyrant and his cronies on one side, and a collection of tribes, movements, and ideologists (including Islamists) on the other. The Rwandan genocidiers aimed to wipe out a people. The Libyan dictator aims to cling to power. The first is murder, the second is war. The failure to act in Rwanda does not saddle us with a responsibility to intervene in Libya. The two situations are different.
Advocates of the Libyan intervention have invoked the "responsibility to protect" to justify the campaign. But R2P is narrowly and specifically aimed at stopping genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity on a very large scale. It does not give the international community an excuse to pick sides in a civil war when convenient. Qaddafi has certainly committed crimes against humanity in this brief war, but R2P was designed to stop widespread, systematic, sustained, orchestrated crimes. If Qaddafi's barbarity meets that threshold, the administration hasn't made the case yet, and I'm not convinced. If R2P justifies Libya, then it certainly obligates us to overthrow the governments of Sudan and North Korea and to do whatever it takes to prevent the Taliban from seizing power in Kabul.Historical analogies are sloppy thinking. U.S. policymakers went to war in Korea and Vietnam because they wanted to avoid another Munich. Liberals believe that Iraq is another Vietnam. Paleoconservatives worry that Libya is another Iraq, while liberals fear it is another Rwanda. These are rhetorical shortcuts that partisans use to excuse themselves from having to think very carefully or learn the details of each new case. One hopes the strategists in the White House will resist that temptation, but judging from Obama's speech, they aren't.
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The United States, its allies, and its coalition partners have been at war for over a week now. For political, ideological, and legal reasons, the White House is reluctant to use the terminology of warfare, so Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney resorted to acts of linguistic contortion, terming the conflict "kinetic military action" and "time-limited, scope-limited military action." But make no mistake; we are at war. If we are to prevail, we must be clear-headed in articulating our aims and formulating a strategy to meet them.
Like most, I'm eager to hear what President Obama has to say in his speech on Libya tonight. As someone who has devoted the better part of his career teaching and practicing strategy, here are four questions I will be looking to him to answer.
What changed? For a month, as opposition to the Qaddafi regime in Libya swelled, Obama and his advisors pooh-poohed the notion of a no-fly-zone over Libya. Then, a week and a half ago, with momentum having shifted in favor of Qaddafi and his mercenaries, he seemingly had a sudden change of heart. I, like others, will be looking to the president for an explanation as to why military action makes sense now, as opposed to two weeks ago.
What are our aims? What is our strategy? The great Prussian philosopher of war, Carl von Clausewitz, wrote nearly two centuries ago, "No one starts a war -- or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so -- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it." It appears that we have done just that.
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The New York Times reports that the Obama administration has committed itself to a policy of regime change in Libya and is now publicly contemplating military action, "The administration [has] declared all options on the table in its diplomatic, economic and military campaign to drive Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power." The talk is of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, which may sound like an incremental and moderate step. Defense Secretary Gates helpfully clarified to Congress that a no-fly zone "begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses." It is an act of war.
On first glance, the move appears to represent a dramatic departure for the Obama administration and, indeed, U.S. foreign policy. Until now the United States did not have a policy of overthrowing governments solely because they violated human rights. If we did, we would be at war with half the world, starting with China. Not even the neoconservatives at their most bellicose had such grand ambitions.
In reality, Obama probably does not either. More likely, Obama is moving against Libya because Qaddafi's actions have shocked the world's conscience and Obama felt the United States, as leader of the free world, ought to act.
In other words, his attempt to overthrow the Libyan government is not a principled stand for liberty; it is an opportunistic attempt to stay in the good graces of world opinion. It is otherwise unclear what U.S. interests Obama thinks are at stake in North Africa that would justify military force and regime change. It cannot be human rights: nothing in the administration's record would suggest it values human rights highly enough that their violation would prompt the overthrow of a government.
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When drama fills the headlines, reason deserts the pundits. Here are just a few thoughts:
1. Egypt says nothing about Obama. The United States had no control over events in Egypt. It is silly to proclaim that events in Egypt proved Obama either feckless or brilliant in his foreign policy. All he could do is watch, make carefully-moderated public statements, and place a few private phone calls. Making that a test of his foreign policy acumen is like judging the Super Bowl by the coin toss. Obama's foreign policy mettle is tested on issues in which he actually has a role to play, like the war in Afghanistan.
2. If Obama gets any credit, so does Bush. Obama rightly sided (albeit cautiously) with the protesters. His pro-democracy rhetoric would have been stupendously hypocritical and opportunistic if George W. Bush hadn't given Obama legs to stand on. Bush reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by publicly criticizing Egypt and Saudi Arabia for their political oppression. Obama sounded more plausible as a result when he threw Mubarak under the bus and reached out a hand to the protesters.
3. Despite the basic goodness of people rallying against autocracy and corruption, their movement won't seamlessly usher in a golden age of good governance. Recent pro-democracy movements across the developing world are largely discouraging about the long-term effects of such popular outbursts.
4. Be careful what you ask for. Every day I expected The Onion to run the headline, "Egyptians Demand Military Rule," because that, for now, is exactly what they have got. Democracy is possible, contrary to cultural determinists who think Arabs are barred by the laws of history from self-government -- but neither is it inevitable, or even particularly easy. The eventual emergence of good government and democratic elections would be a better test of Obama's handling of Egypt than parsing his utterances of the last month.
5. No one knows how the Muslim Brotherhood will react, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Elections have a track record of blunting the hard edge of some revolutionary, illiberal movements (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), and empowering others (the Nazis). The Brotherhood's greater freedom of action in the post-Mubarak Egypt is something to watch closely. The Brotherhood's choices in the coming months and years will be more important to Egypt and the Middle East than the toppling of one autocrat. They may be a bellwether for political Islamist movements across the world.
6. James Clapper should resign.
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In a four-day journey at the beginning of November that took him through Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, and Benin, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki asserted that the United States was "displeased with the expansion of relations between Iran and African countries," and opined that while the U.S. had a "thirst for power," Iran practiced the subtler "power of logic." He described his top priority in Africa as "the exportation of technical and engineering services."
Less than two weeks later, Mottaki had to hastily return to West Africa to deal with the exposure by Nigerian authorities of another, more nefarious export: rocket launchers, grenades, and other illicit arms disguised as building materials and accompanied, apparently, by two members of the elite "Quds Force" unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
The contrast between Iran's public campaign to drum up diplomatic support and build economic ties to stave off increasing isolation and its shadowy network of arms smuggling, support for terrorism, and subversive activities serve as a stark reminder of the nature of the Iranian regime and the dangers it poses well beyond its own borders, and well beyond the nuclear issue.
This latest revelation of Iranian malfeasance is hardly without precedent. Whether using the Quds Force -- described by the U.S. Department of State as "the regime's primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad" -- or proxies such as Hezbollah, the regime since its founding in 1979 has sought to project its power and influence far afield, often with lethal results.
The examples are manifold. In January 2009, Israeli forces bombed a convoy in Sudan allegedly containing Iranian arms bound for Hamas fighters in Gaza. That same year, at least three cargo vessels were found to be carrying weapons from Iran, likely bound for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, in violation of UN sanctions prohibiting Tehran from exporting arms. In 2007, a derailed train in southern Turkey was found to be carrying Iranian arms, also likely destined for Hezbollah arms caches. And for several years, the Quds Force has been supplying militants in Iraq and Afghanistan with weapons, training, and funding.
Iran's activities are not limited to arms smuggling. Earlier this year, Kuwaiti authorities uncovered an alleged Iranian "sleeper cell," souring what had been one of Iran's calmer regional relationships. Morocco in 2009 severed its diplomatic ties with Iran amid accusations that Iran was engaged in subversive activities there. The same year, Egyptian authorities broke up a Hezbollah cell reportedly planning attacks against tourism and infrastructure targets.
The list goes on, geographically and chronologically. U.S. authorities have targeted Hezbollah networks in West Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere. INTERPOL has issued warrants for high-ranking Iranian officials -- one of whom ran for Iran's presidency in 2009 -- in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina. And Iran's complicity in assassinations in Europe and the 1996 terrorist attack on U.S. servicemen in Riyadh stymied EU and U.S. initiatives to repair relations with Tehran in the 1990s.
These activities, taken together with Tehran's refusal to cooperate with the IAEA on its nuclear activities and callous violations of its own people's human rights, paint a picture of a regime which pursues its own security by flouting international rules and norms of acceptable behavior. The recent revelations of Iranian arms smuggling are not an isolated incident, as the list above makes clear, but part of a consistent strategy utilizing terrorism, intimidation, and destabilization to enhance the regime's own power and influence.
As the United States and its allies try to restart negotiations with Iran, the regime's support for terrorism and other troubling activities counsel vigilance and realism. It calls for vigilance, because even as Western officials seek new points of pressure and avenues for outreach to bring Iran to the negotiating table, existing sanctions designed to constrain Iran's ability to sow violence and instability beyond its borders must be vigorously enforced. And it calls for realism, because it demonstrates that even a resolution of the nuclear issue would only begin to address the far broader concerns about the regime and its activities, making a true U.S.-Iran reconciliation far away indeed.
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The freedom section of President Obama's address to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday deserves applause -- two cheers at least. It was the most extensive, fulsome, and compelling defense of human rights and democracy of his presidency, and it strategically placed political freedom in the context of economic freedom and development. To be sure, it was also a long overdue statement; Obama's relative silence and inaction on such issues until now has been a major disappointment. Whatever the reasons may have been for the prior reticence -- an immature "Anything But Bush" reflex, a relative disinterest in foreign policy, an enervated and miscast "realism," -- they have now been supplanted. With this speech, the historically bipartisan U.S. commitment to supporting liberty and human dignity abroad has returned, and on the world stage of the United Nations General Assembly.
Why not three cheers? While presidential rhetoric matters, to have enduring meaning it must be backed up by action. As strong as it was as a statement of principles, President Obama's speech did not point to a policy course going forward. Tellingly, the first third of his speech in the "what we have done" section reviewing his first two years contained not a word on the cause of freedom. It was only in the looking ahead, "what are we trying to build" section at the end that he turned to human rights and democracy.
But it is a welcome turn, and fortunately comes at what could be a propitious time for the advance of liberty. As powerful as the presidency is, it is still in the service of events. George W. Bush did not set out to be a wartime president until September 11th; Harry Truman did not assume office intending to be America's first Cold War president. The challenge a president faces is to read events and respond by seizing the initiative, to steer history's tides rather than merely be swept along.
What of events today? Even a cursory glance around the globe shows a number of nations that are in tyranny's crucible, and whose citizens may find the possibility of freedom within their grasp. Sometimes this grasp can be aided by presidential attention or even a few strategic gestures that tip the scales. Such can be the opportunity for President Obama.
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By Peter Feaver
analysis of Team Obama's Sudan policy is kind. Perhaps too kind. From my
vantage point, today's Sudan rollout has all the feel of a group being hoisted
with their own petard, in this case the bombast of their campaign rhetoric. And
precisely because it was all so foreseeable,
perhaps this counts as a teachable moment.
The two protagonists, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and Sudan czar Scott Gration, had key roles during the 2008 presidential campaign. In particular, their job was to peddle the meme that Barack Obama could be trusted on national security because he was going to be even tougher than George W. Bush or John McCain when push came to shove. Gration, a retired Air Force general, was trotted out to participate in one of the more remarkable attacks on Senator McCain -- a series of retired military people floating the notion that McCain was temperamentally unsuited to be commander in chief, a not-so-subtle effort to play off of the notion that McCain's time as a PoW may have left him unhinged. Gration put it this way: "I have tremendous respect for John McCain, but I would not follow him."
Ambassador Rice, for her part, was especially barbed on the issue of Sudan: "The Bush administration has spent years not only talking at very senior levels with one of the world's worst tyrants, who is responsible for genocide, but also reportedly offered the regime major concessions in exchange for minor steps and rolled out the red carpet for some of its most reprehensible officials." She didn't mention "gold stars and cookies," but she might as well have.
The notion that President Obama was going to be more hawkish on Darfur than President Bush should have been easy to dismiss from the outset. For years, President Bush was the single person in his administration most passionately committed to the Sudan issue (first the North-South civil war and then the Darfur genocide). If memory serves, he would raise it in his bilaterals with other world leaders even when his staff had not included it in the briefing materials. He regularly pressed the staff to come up with viable ways to move the Darfur issue along. Yet we were unable to make as much progress as the president wanted for several reasons: (1) our nonmilitary coercive diplomacy toolkit was already heavily utilized on Sudan; (2) our military coercive diplomacy toolkit was fully extended in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; and (3) the global balance of resolve heavily favored those backing the Khartoum regime (what we called Khartoum's "heat shield") and not our weakly committed allies.
The Obama campaign made it sound like the problem was with President Bush. With today's roll-out, the Obama administration is conceding that the problems actually lay elsewhere and they have proven just as insurmountable for President Obama as they were for President Bush. Perhaps it is time for a different kind of apology tour.
By Will Inboden
Seven months ago, when President Obama announced the appointment of
retired Maj. Gen. Scott Gration as special envoy on Sudan, I offered some
cautious words of praise and a few constructive suggestions.
As the White House prepares for Monday’s roll-out of the administration’s new Darfur strategy, it is a good time to make a
mid-course assessment. It is not positive.
According to weekend news reports prompted by administration officials previewing the strategy, in a head-snapping departure from Obama's own campaign promises, the new approach will be a combination of "pressure and incentives" that privileges positive engagement. But no new measures of "pressure" are mentioned, and the administration's own descriptions place all of the emphasis on incentives and dialogue: "to get to the best-case scenario -- which is to change the behavior of the Khartoum government -- we are going to have to work with a government responsible for so many atrocities."
But what if that government doesn't want to work with you? And what if it continues to refuse to change its behavior? Recent events and policy trends do not lend a favorable interpretation to the administration's line. Consider:
By Tom Mahnken
The seizure of the merchant vessel Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia shined a spotlight on a problem that has been spreading in the shadows for years. Piracy has grown in the waters bordering the Horn of Africa because states have failed to act like states and leaders have failed to lead. Whether military force is permitted as a response to piracy is, as my lawyer friends say, settled law. International law has recognized pirates as outlaws who may be killed on sight since the Roman Empire. More recently, and more precisely, late last year the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1851, which permits operations against pirates in Somalia. Even with such authorization, it has proven more expedient to many to buy off criminals than to enforce international law. The non-response to piracy has sent a dangerous signal to all those who oppose international order. As William S. Lind noted in a recent essay, "Piracy not suppressed represents history lifting its leg on the whole state system."
The Obama administration's reaction to piracy in general, and the seizure of the ship in particular, betrays muddled thinking about the nature of the threat posed by piracy and the proper response to it. At least implicitly, the Obama administration appears to be treating pirates as if they were insurgents. Criminals (including pirates) represent a challenge of an altogether different sort. Whereas a mixture of political and ideological motivations drives insurgents to violence, it is the search for profit that fuels criminality. It is true that both terrorists (in the form of the Islamist insurgent group Al Shabab) and the pirates that prey upon merchants in the waters off Somalia thrive off the fact that Somalia lacks a government capable of bringing order to that benighted land. However, it is hardly necessary to "fix" Somalia in order to deal with piracy. Addressing Somalia's role as an ungoverned area will take time; addressing piracy in Somalia need not.
What the United States and those who wish to join us need to do is to drive up, rapidly and decisively, the cost of engaging in piracy. The successful operation to free Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates is a good start, but it is just a start. More will be needed to remove this threat to the global commons. Specifically, President Obama should give on-scene commanders permission to shoot pirates on sight. He should also authorize punitive strikes against the bases from which Somali pirates operate. Such actions, over the course of days or weeks, should be sufficient to drive the pirates off the seas. Of course, punitive strikes will not turn these criminals into law-abiding citizens; they will still be free to smuggle qat or steal relief aid. Nor will military action bring order to Somalia; it will still be a troubled and troublesome land. But military action can ease the threat of piracy to international commerce and to world order.
The United States is the most powerful state in the world and possesses the most powerful navy in the world. It is high time that we began to act like it.
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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.