My colleague Roger Noriega has an excellent post over at the American Enterprise Institute blog on the contentious relationship between Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, and his country's last two presidents, the husband and wife team of (the late) Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, two populists well known for their authoritarian, bullying behavior.
For my part, I am struck by the ferocity of the attacks against Pope Francis I regarding his allegedly passive behavior towards the military junta that ruled Argentina 1976-1983. (Those generals without a doubt waged as brutal a war against the violent Left as the latter waged against Argentine society.)
This line of attack was represented best in Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson's high-handed, guilty-until-proven-innocent jeremiad that ran under the print headline, "Does Francis have a confession to make?" (The Post followed with a front-page story here.)
The Vatican, meanwhile, attributed the attacks to "anti-clerical left-wing elements" as "part of a campaign that's often slanderous and defamatory."
Now, of course, examining what Cardinal Bergoglio did or didn't do during that difficult period in Argentina's history is fair game. Yet, I couldn't help but think back to a mini-furor that erupted during Pope Benedict's May 2012 trip to Cuba, when an official from the U.S. government-run Radio Martí delivered an on-air commentary in which he took Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega to task for his passive behavior towards the Castro dictatorship.
According to the editorial, delivered by the station's director Carlos Garcia-Perez, "this attitude of Ortega just goes to show his political collusion with the government and his willingness to follow the official line. This lackey attitude demonstrates a profound lack of understanding and compassion toward the human reality of these children of God."It ended: "Cardinal Ortega, please be faithful to the gospel you preach."
Tough words to be sure, but in light of the standard set by Mr. Robinson, one would think that Mr. Garcia-Perez would have been congratulated for calling out Cardinal Ortega for not doing enough to stand up to the abuses committed against the Cuban people by that despotic regime. But, of course, one would be wrong, because in Cardinal Bergoglio's case, it involved a right-wing dictatorship and in Cardinal Ortega's case, well...you know.
Those offended by the temerity of Mr. Garcia-Perez piled on (here, here and here). His comments were denounced as "beyond belief," "name-calling," and most fretfully, "equivalent to a U.S. government statement."
The whole affair only demonstrates how little attitudes have progressed since the late Jeane Kirkpatrick's seminal 1979 Commentary essay, in which she in part lambasted the double standard of those who directed their righteous fury towards right-wing dictatorships but suddenly became quiescent when it came to those of the left-wing variety.
In any case, the bottom line is that judging the actions of clerics operating under extremely difficult conditions -- especially from abroad -- is no subject to take on flippantly. Who can really know what is in an individual's heart and the calculations and compromises he makes in the silence of his conscience to carry out what he sees as his mission? Yet if one is determined to enter that minefield, then let's apply a single standard on which to judge that behavior. What is expected or demanded under one type of dictatorship cannot be apologized for under another.
We have a pope, and the announcement came on the afternoon when, bored after a couple of days of no results, the same shade of smoke four whole times in a row, and dwindling leaks, the media turned to the line "divided cardinals can't decide who will lead church (which is plagued by scandal)." The choice was not the woman E.J. Dionne hoped for to heal the church (fraught with scandal), nor the African whom Dennis Rodman journeyed to Rome expecting to meet after his wildly successful basketball diplomacy in North Korea (the church whose new leader Rodman sought to meet has faced a long series of scandals). Rodman, however, was closer than most to predicting correctly the outcome of the conclave (held at a moment of crisis over scandals).
The leader of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, is known informally as "the black pope" because of the black vestments worn by that order, and the title is sometimes used ironically (until yesterday, anyway) because of the ups and downs of the relationship over the centuries between the pope and the Jesuits (who were once suppressed by a church now beset with scandal). But the new pope is the first Jesuit to assume the throne of Peter (and he must now deal with a range of scandals). One wonders if the Lord really has a sense of humor, telling the Jesuits, "You guys are so smart? Let's see how one of you likes being in charge of 1.2 billion mortals. And a bunch of scandals."
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina walked into the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI and, apparently to his own surprise, was not far from walking out as the pope elected by those who sought to block Joseph Ratzinger's papacy. So while Cardinal Bergoglio was not among the front-runners this time around as handicapped by Vaticanistas, his selection was not entirely out of left field (springtime brings these mixed sports metaphors, amidst the scandals).
Pope Francis walked out on the balcony yesterday after a relatively quick conclave, which was thankfully months shorter than the 2000 election court challenges in the U.S. Although not well known by the international media, he comes with a great reputation. He is thought to be thoroughly orthodox in his theology, which may disappoint some of his brother Jesuits and plenty of others who were hoping for a brand of modernizing, progressive reform comparable to what Americans are experiencing under President Obama (and progressivism is thought by some to be the only remedy for the many scandals afflicting the church).
But there is much in a name (even in a church struggling with scandal). Those of us whose primary cultural references include the Animal House film genre (and, in my case, fighter squadrons -- much of a muchness) can forget that renaming has a long and very serious scriptural history. Abram is renamed Abraham, Simon is renamed Peter, and there are many other such cases.
While the name Francis may in part allude to that great Jesuit global evangelizer St. Francis Xavier, it seems clear that the new pope has taken his name from St. Francis of Assisi. That is a wonderful choice in many ways. No pope has taken that name before, suggesting a willingness to do something fresh while remaining firmly within tradition by asking for the protection of a great figure in church history (that history is now being challenged by scandal). St. Francis famously renounced his family wealth in favor of a life of genuine poverty and love for the poor, and the new pope has "walked that walk" in Argentina. St. Francis is also known (and idealized in ways that might have horrified him) for his love of wildlife and what we now call nature. His statue adorns many gardens of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. His qualities give him a universal appeal (important for a church fighting to overcome scandal). The choice of name responds, intentionally or not, to the universal interest in this election, in and out of the church (about which Maureen Down has open questions based on scandals).
Moreover, although not taken by a pope before, the name Francis has the hallmark of a certain kind of continuity. St. Benedict began the western monastic movement at the end of the Roman empire, a time of chaos, as Europe entered the middle ages (sometimes ineptly dubbed the "dark ages"). G.K. Chesterton, in his biography of St. Francis, calls this period one of necessary penance, from which continued reform (and the rise of Europe) would emerge. The markers of that emergence were the foundation of two new church orders, that of St. Dominic and that of St. Francis. The transition from Benedict to Francis took several centuries the first time around. Perhaps this pope is seeking to speed to process this time, or more likely, to call attention to the long tides of temporal events in which church history plays out.
We can expect that, like his predecessor, this pope will conduct a diplomacy that is, at root, more evangelical than political. While his perspective as a non-European will be different than previous popes, he has spent much time in Rome and comes from Italian heritage (which, along with choosing a name associated with Assisi, will ease his way into the chair -- the Curia at the Vatican has all the bureaucratic features of DOD or the State Department, and outsiders have much work to do gaining respect and loyalty).
This pope is not afraid to take on the powers of the planet. He has challenged the authoritarian tendencies of the Kirchners, but he will likely not go picking unnecessary fights. He is comfortable with democracy (long-ago reports of ties to the Argentinean junta were evidently dispelled by testimony of the Amnesty International director there -- we certainly hope there is not yet another scandal brewing, but this time it looks safe). He will have to spend much time on his flock in places where Christians are routinely persecuted.
The scandals brought upon the church by the malice and error of too many of its all-too human members are real. Pope Francis must indeed deal forcefully with them. He seems to be a vicar of Christ who will do so, at the same time moving to put the historical Christian message -- the gospel's scandal of the cross -- at the forefront of his papacy. While the right administrative and, where needed, punitive measures will be essential, that central message will be the most Franciscan, most effective priority that Pope Francis could adopt. And he will.
His election has brought joy to Catholics, and many others, from around a world that St. Francis, living before the European age of exploration, had little familiarity with. A few weeks ago in this space, I suggested that Catholics pray that we not get the pope we deserve. From the initial indications, it looks like that prayer may have been answered.
A couple months ago, the New Yorker posted a story and wonderful online video about a master pickpocket. This person was willing to demonstrate his art on camera. Even so, he moved so quickly that it can take multiple viewings to see just how he relived his target of his possessions. The key to it, of course, is misdirection. The pickpocket makes sure your attention is directed somewhere other than where the action is taking place.
This came to mind when reading Dan Drezner's rejoicing about recent polls showing improved U.S. public sentiment about trade. I welcome a new public receptiveness to trade as much as anyone, but Dan, in his euphoria, concludes:
"The spike in public enthusiasm from last year is politically significant. At a minimum, it suggests that President Obama won't face gale-force headwinds in trying to negotiate trade deals. Which means I could win my bet with Shadow Government's Phil Levy. Which is the only thing that matters."
Nor was Dan the only one to wax optimistic about trade prospects this past week. Mike Green thought things had gone rather well with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's summit meetings with President Obama in Washington.
"Even on the trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), where expectations were low, there was much more substance than met the eye.... The Japanese delegation had a quiet spring in their step after the summit and were keen to move on TPP in a matter of weeks..."
This, too, is promising. Peter Feaver had it exactly right when he noted that engagement with Japan could be an essential part of delivering on Obama administration promises of attention to Asia.
So, as far as public wisdom and the Asian pivot are concerned, these are both healthy developments. Yet, when it comes to prospects for trade policy accomplishments over the remainder of President Obama's term, anyone laying odds or taking wagers should pay close attention to where the action is. To that end, here are four questions to help maintain focus:
1. What will Japan's entry do for TPP prospects?
Japanese entry into the TPP, if it happens, will be a good thing. It will dramatically increase the economic significance of the TPP, and it will establish the agreement as the premier accord governing trade liberalization and economic rules in the Asia-Pacific region.
If Japan does not join, we have problems. The administration had previously suggested that Japan could enter in the next round, after this version of TPP concludes. That, however, would pose serious difficulties. Japan is no small economy able to sign on to an agreement with a few innocuous accession talks. If the TPP reaches a successful conclusion soon, after four or more years of negotiation, will there really be an eagerness to reopen the deal in the near future? But the size and complication of Japan's economic relations also mean that the task of concluding the TPP just got much harder. One former USTR recently opined at a conference that if Japan joins the talks the TPP will not be concluded in President Obama's term.
2. What do key interest groups think?
While it does not hurt to have the public embracing trade, U.S. agreements are not decided by referendum. I will leave it to all the political scientists buzzing around this site to provide details, but a more sophisticated approach would focus on the dynamics of the Congress. A more sophisticated approach would still think about the relations with key constituencies, such as organized labor. From the time President Obama first took office, it appeared clear that he had the votes in Congress to pass the pending FTAs with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Yet he did not put them forward until late in 2011, despite loud complaints from the business community. This at least suggests that there was something more than vote counting going on.
Along these lines, there was an alarming bit of news in the Hill recently. One promising feature of a trade deal with Europe was that it would seem immune from divisive questions about labor standards that had plagued FTAs with developing countries such as Colombia. The Hill, however, reported that "unions want to use negotiations on a U.S.-European Union (EU) trade deal as leverage to win stronger labor laws here in the United States."
If so, this does not bode well. Those are among the worst trade fears of Republicans on the Hill -- the prospect that labor legislation that could not pass a straight vote could instead be slipped in through the back door of a trade deal.
3. How are Congressional relations these days?
Per the constitution, trade is Congress' domain. Congress can try to delegate some of the negotiating power to the executive branch but ultimately must approve of any deal that is struck. If this is to work through periods of detailed negotiations, there must be good, open communication between the Hill and the White House. In particular, the committees that deal with trade -- House Ways and Means and Senate Finance -- must be on board. As it happens, these are the same committees that deal with the sort of taxation issues that have been a recent struggle. I'll leave it to the reader to grade the degree of comity between branches.
One less subjective measure, however, is whether Congress grants the executive trade negotiating authority (known as TPA -- trade promotion authority). The administration has also been saying for years that the idea of TPA is a reasonable one, but the time is not ripe. In the 2013 trade agenda, released today, the administration said it would work with Congress on obtaining such authority. That will be a contentious fight, since it will raise issues such as the permissible scope of labor provisions in an accord. The document does not set a date.
4. Who's your USTR?
It is also helpful, when negotiating complex trade agreements, to have a representative who will go forth and conduct the negotiations. The incumbent USTR, Ambassador Ron Kirk, reportedly just held his going-away party. Though there have been rumors, the administration has not yet named a new USTR, much less confirmed one. That could prove an obstacle to racing ahead with complex agreements.
So I see the trade policy landscape a little differently than Dan Drezner does. He may want to keep in mind that, if you don't keep your eye on where the action really is, someone may take your lunch money.
In an interview on MSNBC with George Weigel, an expert on the Catholic Church and the author of a biography of John Paul II, on Feb. 28, the day that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI took effect, Chris Matthews asked Weigel about the possibility that New York's Timothy Cardinal Dolan might be summoned to the Chair of St Peter. Matthews remarked that Dolan is an attractive candidate, "very American," "a guy's guy."
Weigel's response was interesting from a strategic perspective. He explained that in years past, there has always been an unwritten proscription on an American pope. The reasoning went, essentially, that because the United States is so powerful in the world, it should not have one of its sons rule the Church. In many ways, this is the obverse of American fears that John F. Kennedy would collude with the Vatican to bring the U.S. under the sway of the Holy See (interestingly, Obama-supporting Catholics attacked Paul Ryan in last year's campaign by arguing that he was insufficiently attentive to Catholic social doctrine, a charge Ryan's bishop helped refute).
Behind that power calculation against an American pope, there is the long-standing suspicion as well that Americans were prone to, well, "Americanism" as it was known in Church circles in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That is, Americans are given to individualism, private conscience, and a general lack of docility. No telling what might happen if a Yank put on that ring.
But Weigel continued that this "superpower veto" is now inoperative. The United States is no longer seen as so dominant in world affairs that the Church should fear an American pope. Dolan will be looked at seriously as a candidate, Weigel believes, as will Cardinal Ouellet of Canada, whose proximity to the U.S. might have placed him under the penumbra of the superpower veto in the past. Both would offer the Church a leader capable of the kind of evangelical Catholicism that Weigel and many others see as essential and timely.
New developments are not lightly picked up by the Catholic Church. So it would be ironic if the strategic withdrawal under President Obama, so dangerously obvious to both our enemies and friends, were also seen as so dispositive of the end of American global leadership as to convince the Cardinals that an American pope might not be a bad idea.
I'm not betting that when the white smoke goes up, Dolan or Ouellet or anybody else in particular will emerge from the coming conclave as Benedict's successor. But the consequences of American strategic decisions reverberate in all sorts of unexpected ways.
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Shadow Government is pleased to run thus post from guest-blogger, Mark Kennedy, a former member of congress and former key advisor on trade issues in the Bush Administration. He is currently Director of the Graduate School of Political management at George Washington University.
President Obama's surprise announcement in his State of the Union address that he plans to start talks on a free trade deal between the United States and the European Union could serve as a boon to the nation's economy or a bust for the nation's competitiveness. Though reaching any sort of deal will be difficult, leaders in the United States should avoid a proposal that could make American markets more like their European counterparts and should instead seek a plan that helps introduce the best of the American labor markets to the EU in order to boost growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
A successful free trade agreement (FTA) will achieve the following: expand U.S./EU trade, renew the Atlantic political/economic alliance, improve competitiveness in both markets, and set a benchmark for future trade accords.
In order to walk across the finish line together, the United States and the EU must effectively resolve their differences on two key economic policies.
The EU has several long-standing regulations preventing many U.S. agricultural products from coming to market. America has long argued that European demonization of genetically modified (GMO) crops as "Frankenfood" is not grounded in science. With the pressing need to meet the nutritional needs of a growing planet, the potential of GMO crops should not be set aside so quickly.
The United States' previous treatment of food controversies in free trade agreements can serve as a benchmark in this respect. The terms of the South Korean free trade agreement provided a timeline for when U.S. beef would gain access to Korean markets. A similar time-delayed structure with the EU would allow for officials to adjudicate the safety of American agriculture and for producers to make adjustments necessary to compete in a more open market. Allowing scare tactics to dominate what should be an economic and scientific debate is a loser for consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.
A common stumbling block for free trade agreements concern the differences between nations' labor regulations. American labor unions often balk at FTAs with the countries from the developing world because they fear that their members will be unable to compete with the emerging market's low-wage employees. This time around the shoe is on the other foot.
According to the World Economic Forum's 2012-13 Global Competitiveness Report, the United States' approach to labor flexibility is among the best in the world. EU nations tend to take a more populist and protectionist approach, which can limit productivity and harm young workers. Those protectionist policies have lead to high youth unemployment and unrest in EU nations like Greece and Spain. A final deal should recognize that and center labor arrangements around the idea that a growing economy can provide more job security than government rules.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso warned at a press conference recently that the EU would not compromise on its "basic legislation" in trade talks.
Rather than approaching these trade discussions in a defensive posture, leaders on both sides should aggressively pursue outcomes that would be highly beneficial to their citizens and the world:
It is critical that those who support lower economic barriers stay engaged in support of a joint accord, but one that fosters openness rather than protectionism. A successful deal will expand Atlantic trade, strengthen the Atlantic alliance, improve competitiveness on both continents, and set a standard that stimulates expanded trade agreements with other regions
CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images
The conquering of the euro crisis seems like something out of a fairy tale. Faced with a gut-wrenching peril, our hero closes his eyes and chants an incantation: "Whatever it takes!" Suddenly, once-insurmountable troubles melt away and everyone lives happily ever after.
So what happened? Was it all in our minds? Was the episode anything more than a panicked bunch of bond traders, stampeding toward a precipice but now safely pacified and redirected?
As last summer turned into fall, Italy and Spain were wobbling. The two countries -- the third and fourth largest economies in the eurozone -- saw their bonds shunned by global investors. For the heavily indebted pair, a bond sell-off meant that interest rates rose and disaster loomed. At some point, the high price of borrowing would become unbearable. The eurozone nations had gathered funds to try to avert a crisis, but the sum would not be enough to cover the needs of such large member economies.
Then Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, stepped in to save the day. He announced that the ECB would do whatever it took to save the currency. If extra funds were needed, the ECB would provide them through a program it called Outright Monetary Transactions -- the unlimited purchase of troubled nation bonds once those countries asked for help.
The effect of his announcement was dramatic. Bond yields fell as buyers relaxed. While the previous bailout fund might have been limited, the ECB's ability to print money and buy bonds was not. The restoration of calm was so successful that the ECB did not have to actually do a thing -- the mere announcement that it was willing to act relieved the pressure on Spanish and Italian borrowing.
It is hardly a novel idea to think that a dangerous market panic could be settled by words alone, so long as those words were credible and uttered by the right person. So, do we mark this up as an instance of judicious intervention? A daring move by Mario Draghi that saved the European project and merited his selection as the Financial Times' Person of the Year?
Maybe. The problem is that the sovereign debt problems plaguing Spain and Italy were only one part of a multi-dimensional crisis. The other problems remain, two in particular. First, the untenable contradictions of the eurozone's approach to banking have not been resolved. Second, the beleaguered countries along the eurozone's periphery are being asked to endure potentially unbearable levels of unemployment and economic stagnation.
The banking problem can seem the most obscure part of the problem. Yet as the global financial crisis demonstrated, the provision of credit is the lifeblood of an economy. Cut off credit and economic asphyxiation sets in quickly. Europe's additional discovery was that, in a single currency zone, money could flow very rapidly from any bank perceived as risky to others perceived as safe. Any hint that a bank's host country might leave the euro or that the bank might have gorged itself on dubious sovereign debt would be enough to start the exodus of funds. No funds, no credit, no economic activity.
Eurozone leaders resolved to fix this with a banking union. And then they ran into politics. Banking regulation is sensitive. There was little appetite for ceding control. Last week, discussing a recent bilateral move by France and Germany to coordinate their banking policies, the Financial Times' Wolfgang Münchau wrote:
"My suspicion is that the ultimate intent of the Franco-German legislation is to secure the position of their national champion banks ... The most important signal sent by the unilateral legislation in France and Germany is the lack of political will to sort out the banking mess, which is at the heart of the eurozone crisis. Instead, governments are seeking refuge in symbolic gestures ... The renationalisation of banking means that the monetary union is as unsustainable today as it was in July last year -- and now the policies needed to fix this problem have been abandoned."
This was one danger of Draghi's move. By alleviating the sense of impending doom, he also may have undermined the impetus for overcoming entrenched opposition to reform.
The growth and unemployment situation is not much better. A story this week, contrasting positive Spanish sentiment with dismal performance, detailed the economic turmoil in the country:
"...in the last quarter of 2012 ... the number of companies declared bankrupt soared by almost 40 per cent to 2,584. It was the highest number since the crisis began, suggesting that the situation for credit-starved Spanish companies is not only getting worse -- but getting worse faster than before ... Nor has there been any sign of a turnround in Spain's dismal unemployment numbers, which continue to rise towards 6 million, or more than 26 per cent of the workforce ... The IMF expects a drop in GDP of 1.5 per cent this year -- a worse recession than in 2012."
We also come upon another danger of Draghi's move: By restoring confidence in the euro, he paved the way for the currency to rise, which did no favors for eurozone exporters. That's hardly the cause of Spanish economic woes, but it is no help, either.
And then, as always, the democracies of Europe have politics. Spain's governing party is caught up in a political scandal. Italy is moving back to electoral politics after a technocratic interlude. It is not clear that difficult political choices will get much easier in either case.
The list of eurozone perils is alarmingly long. Yet a remarkable sense of calm prevails in the markets. Perhaps this will be a crowd-pleasing story book ending, the sort in which impossible obstacles are overcome and everyone goes home happy. Or perhaps it will be the kind of story one rarely sees out of Hollywood, in which our blissful hero opens his eyes, only to find that he had dreamt his salvation and the threats remained, more menacing than before.
DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI's surprise renunciation of the Chair of St. Peter generated a tsunami of commentary usually reserved for events such as a presidential election or a Super Bowl. The pope's struggles with scandal dominated most stories, some of which noted that while these scandals were not of his own makings, they created an enormous burden for him.
The announcement has been greeted with dismay, resigned sadness, and hope in the pope's admirers, Catholic and not. David Goldman, a.k.a. Spengler, wrote, "As the shepherd of the founding institution of the West, Benedict personally embodied its best traditions. He is one of the last men living to have assimilated the fullness of European culture, a member of the ‘heroic generation' of Catholic theologians that included Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar."
The analysis of Benedict's papacy will roll on in the run-up to the conclave that will select his successor, and long beyond. The world's fascination with this office suggests that a pope plays many roles with influence beyond the Roman Catholic Church.
One such role is diplomat. The Holy See is an international personality of long standing, recognized since the middle ages. (The State of the Vatican City is a more recent entity, established in the 1929 Lateran treaties to resolve the status of the pope and his former territories in Italy). The Holy See has its own diplomatic corps, formal relations with 179 countries (including the U.S. since the Reagan years), observer status at the UN, and it is to the Holy See and its head of state, the pope, that arriving ambassadors present their credentials.
Pope Benedict played this role effectively. Although some of his early trips were disturbed by awkward moments with the press, he learned. His 2008 visit to the United States, with stops in Washington and New York, was especially successful and was one of several encounters that cultivated a real friendship with President George W. Bush.
World leaders are eager to visit the pope. Certainly some of that eagerness is deference to Catholic constituencies at home. And, as probably the world's biggest distributor of aid to the poor in every land, the Church has a hand in human development that gives it shared interests with both donor and recipient countries.
In other cases, the substance of the meetings is more geo-political, as the Church deals with the persecution and plight of Christians in China, the Middle East, Pakistan, and elsewhere; faces concerns about encroachments on religious liberty in the United States and Europe; pursues unity within Christianity, including especially with the Orthodox Churches; and generally seeks the space to continue its ministries and activities. The story of Cold War cooperation between President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is well told in John O'Sullivan's book, The President, The Pope, and the Prime Minister.
The Obama administration would be well served to consider all of this as it nominates a new ambassador to the Holy See, who will be received by a new pope.
But diplomat was not the role most cherished by Benedict. He was first a priest, second an intellectual force and phenomenally prolific theologian. He is one of the few people anywhere capable of debating, and changing the views of, a philosopher like Jurgen Habermas and co-authoring books with leading non-believing politicians such as Marcello Pera, former president of the Italian senate. Then a young priest, Benedict was a major influence in the Second Vatican Council and has spent much of his papacy clarifying the correct interpretation of that Council's teaching. He has constantly emphasized the vital complementarity of faith and reason to overcome fundamentalist extremism and secular nihilism.
Perhaps Benedict's most important legacy will be his writing during his papacy: his three volumes on the life of Jesus, his encyclical letters (especially Caritas in Veritate, or Love in Truth, and Spe Salvi, Saved in Hope) and his regular homilies.
The betting has begun -- literally and figuratively -- on who will replace Benedict. The pope must be priest, teacher, diplomat, administrator, and reformer of a Church still recovering from self-induced tragedy and mismanagement, an arbiter of conservative and liberal viewpoints, authoritative yet gentle. As George Weigel writes in his recent book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church, no sane person wants the job, much like the American presidency.
And as we look around us these days, those of us who are Catholics might recall the traditional prayer cited this week by David Warren: "Lord, do not send us the pope we deserve."
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
France and now Britain have recognized the Syrian opposition and are on the verge of sending "defensive" arms to the newly unified opposition. No doubt these are welcome developments from the perspective of those who wish to see Bashar al-Assad's regime finally get tossed into the dustbin of history. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that Assad will depart anytime soon, if at all.
Moreover, it is unclear whether the Europeans are prepared even to supply anti-air and other heavier systems to the opposition unless Washington does so as well. As yet, however, there is no indication that the Obama administration is prepared to do so.
The administration's caution is understandable -- up to a point. Syrian air defenses are far more capable and sophisticated than those NATO faced in Libya. The prospect for collateral damage -- that is, civilian casualties -- is greater as well. And the last thing Washington needs is another conflict against a Muslim state. Yet without successful suppression of Syria's air defenses, it will be exceedingly difficult to maintain the no-fly zone that many supporters of the opposition are urgently requesting. A no-fly zone therefore does not seem likely, nor should it be.
On a separate but related track, it is noteworthy that, despite several attacks from across its border with Syria, Turkey has not tried to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which would commit member states to seek authority to go to war on behalf of a member under attack. The Turks are not sure what they want; in that regard they are no different from an Obama administration that has studiously avoided making any major commitments to the Syrian opposition.
Given the very active support he is receiving from Iran, the assistance that Hezbollah is providing, the reluctance of the great Western powers to establish a no-fly zone, the distraction that is the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas, Assad may well outlast his opponents for another year, if not longer. If he is to be forced out sooner, there will have to be a major effort to arm the opposition with offensive weapons, notably anti-air systems. It appears that Britain and France might do so, but they would have to work in tandem with the U.S.
Not surprisingly, the administration worries that the transfer of these systems could result in their ultimately being used against Israel in particular. Yet the flow of these arms could be carefully monitored to prevent a repeat of the history of Stingers that originally were sent to the Afghan mujaheddin but then fell into the hands of terrorists.
The longer the Syrian civil war goes on, the more likely the entire Middle East will plunge into a prolonged period of instability. Now that the presidential contest is over, the administration needs to send arms to the rebels on an accelerated basis. There is simply no excuse for inaction. On the contrary, every effort must be made to get arms onto the hands of the opposition as soon as possible. If Assad survives, the real winner will be Iran, his biggest backer. That is hardly a prospect that the second Obama administration should be willing to contemplate for the near, medium or long term.
Alessio Romenzi/AFP/Getty Images
While we have no doubt that Bob Schieffer, the moderator of Monday night's foreign policy debate, will have plenty of material to choose from in formulating his questions for the candidates, we couldn't resist a chance to add our own suggestions. Following are some potential questions for the debate as submitted by the Shadow Government crew:
1. Mr. President, is there any foreign policy challenge America faces that you would concede has gotten worse on your watch because of actions you have taken or not taken? In other words, is there any foreign policy problem that you would say can be blamed at least partly on you and not entirely on Republicans or President Bush?
2. Mr. President, what is the fairest criticism of your foreign policy record that you have heard from Governor Romney over the course of this campaign?
3. Mr. President, what is the most unfair criticism of Romney's foreign policy platform that you have heard your supporters levy over the course of this campaign?
4. Mr. President, why do you say that Romney is proposing defense expenditures that the military have not asked for when Romney is just proposing restoring funding to the levels you claimed were needed in your own budget a few years ago. That budget, which you asked for, reflected what the military asked for didn't it? And didn't you order the military to accept deeper cuts -- thus they can't now speak up and ask for those levels to be restored without being insubordinate, so isn't it misleading to claim that they are not asking for them when you ordered them not to?
5. For both: Both campaigns have featured senior retired military endorsements as a way of demonstrating your fitness to be commander-in-chief. Don't you worry that such endorsements drag the military into partisan politics, thus undermining public confidence in a non-partisan military institution?
1. Mr. President, history tells us that prestige matters; that is, nation-states who are regarded for their power, whether military, economic or moral, are less often challenged by those who wish to upset the peace or change the international order that favors the interests of the great powers. Has your administration seen an increase in the prestige of the United States or a decrease, and why?
2. For both: Isn't a reform of our foreign aid system and institutions long overdue, and shouldn't reform have as its primary goal the promotion of direct and tangible US interests, such as more trade with more countries that govern themselves democratically? If this is truly the appropriate goal for international development funds, then why aren't all aid recipients required to practice sustained and real democracy?
1. For both: Do you believe that the economically endangered nations of Europe should adopt policies of austerity, as countries like Germany have argued, or that they should turn instead to more fiscal stimulus? If you prefer stimulus, is there any level of debt/GDP at which you get concerned about their ability to pay those debts? If you believe these countries should borrow more, from whom should they borrow? Should the United States be offering funds?
2. For both: There has been almost no progress on global trade talks since the summer of
2008. How would you assess the health of the World Trade Organization and the
world trading system? Is this important for the United States? What would you
do to strengthen the WTO, if anything?
3. For both: In 2009, in response to the stimulus bill, a top Chinese economic official said, ""We hate you guys. Once you start issuing $1 trillion-$2 trillion... we know the dollar is going to depreciate, so we hate you guys but there is nothing much we can do...." Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, has accused the United States Federal Reserve of igniting a global currency war with its policies of quantitative easing. To what extent does the United States need to consider the international ramifications of its economic policies? Do you believe a strong dollar is in the U.S. interest? If so, what does that mean?
1. For both: What do you consider the top two national security threats to our country?
2. For both: How do you see increasing energy independence for the United States affecting our foreign policy?
3. President Obama, you have threatened to veto any changes to the 2010 Budget Control Act, yet both your Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe sequestration going into effect would be disastrous. How will you enact the Budget Control Act without damaging our national defense?
4. Governor Romney, you have committed to increase defense spending; where does the money come from to do that in year 1 of a Romney administration?
5. President Obama, Vice President Biden has said that your administration will withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanstan in 2014, whether or not the Afghan security forces are then capable of taking over the fight. Do you agree?
1. For both: Under what circumstances would you authorize military action against Iran's nuclear facilities? Will you intervene to stop the civil war in Syria? If so, what lessons have you learned from our recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya that will shape how you undertake an intervention? How do you plan to accomplish a responsible transition to Afghan leadership for security there? What should be the mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after transition, and how many troops will be required to accomplish it? Or do you envision a complete withdrawal of all forces?
2. For both: Should the United States support the spread of democracy abroad? What is the role of democracy assistance in U.S. grand strategy, and how does it relate to our overall national interests? How will you respond to future peaceful uprisings like the Green Revolution or the Arab Spring?
3. For both: Some Americans are concerned that the government has accumulated too much power over the last decade in its effort to develop a robust counterterrorism capability. Others believe we need to keep those powers because the terrorist threat has not abated. Do you plan to sustain the government's new, post-9/11 war-time powers, reportedly including targeted killings and indefinite detentions, indefinitely? If not, will you publicly and explicitly commit to defining a clear end-state to the war against al Qaeda, the achievement of which will terminate the new powers?
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Ah, the emotional roller-coaster ride that is modern central banking; the way our collective hopes and mutual funds soar and plunge with the advent of each new acronym from Europe - EFSF, SMP, and LTRO. Yesterday, a new bout of global financial euphoria erupted with the ECB announcement of OMT. The Financial Times lead headline proclaims: "ECB signals resolve to save euro."
To set the scene, the troubled nations along the periphery of the eurozone have recently been plagued by high and rising interest rates when they try to borrow. For countries that have racked up a substantial amount of debt, high interest rates translate pretty quickly into spending obligations they cannot meet. Greece, Ireland, and Portugal all had problems of this sort, but were small enough to be bailed out by their eurozone brethren. Spain and Italy are too big for that, so when their interest rates began to climb, it looked like a mortal threat to the euro project.
Traditionally, when a sovereign nation has bills it cannot pay, it can resort to printing money. The central bank will buy up the sovereign's unloved bonds, thus injecting newly-printed money into the economy, driving up the price of the bonds, and, in turn, driving down interest rates. But Spain and Italy cannot do that. A key facet of having a common currency is that only the European Central Bank (ECB) has this power. Yesterday, the ECB came up with yet another plan to do so.
Why so many plans? Why not just print money until the pain goes away? There's a downside to the printing. When countries satisfy insatiable spending desires by printing money, ever-increasing piles of currency chase after a limited number of goods and inflation ensues. There are cautionary tales seared into national memories, like the scenes from Weimar Germany in which people carried wheelbarrows full of cash to make their daily purchases.
With such memories in mind, Germany demanded some conditions when it gave up its Deutsche Mark for the euro: No bailouts and no central bank financing of sovereign borrowing. The ECB would have a mandate even simpler than that of the Fed in the United States -- it would just seek to avoid inflation. These strictures have proven an obstacle for the modern ECB, as it has sought to engage in bailouts and central bank financing of sovereign borrowing.
So how did the ECB end up choosing between its founding principles and the salvation of the euro project? For much of the last decade, lenders perceived sovereign bonds around the eurozone as equally safe, more or less. Spain could borrow at rates close to those that Germany faced, all of which were low. Then, in the wake of the financial crisis, these "spreads" -- the difference in borrowing rates -- began to grow. Germany still paid very little, but Greece, Spain, Italy and others began to pay a lot. There are a couple different explanations for why, and which one you pick should largely determine whether you think yesterday's ECB action will work.
Explanation #1: While Greece had real trouble, markets panicked and fled from otherwise viable economies. This looked like a classic bank run, in which a healthy institution could be run into the ground under a public stampede. Just as in a bank run, if a lender of last resort steps in and reassures the twitchy masses that everything is fine, that reassurance will be self-fulfilling. In the case of Spain and Italy, the argument would go, if people were not so worried about the countries' ability to finance their debts, they would charge lower interest rates and the countries would have no trouble financing their debts. In this scenario, the ECB's move yesterday was its boldest attempt yet to quell the panic.
Explanation #2: When Greece got into trouble, it roused investors from their slumber. Whereas they had previously just assumed that all euro zone sovereigns were equally risky, they now pored through the books more closely. They did not like what they saw. Countries were on unsustainable fiscal paths. The ratio of debt to GDP was high and climbing. There were attempts at government reform, but they were politically painful and looked in any case to be too little, too late. Better to get out while one could. Sell.
While the ECB is largely betting on the first explanation, it is worried about the second. Under its new plan for Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT), it will buy up the debt of troubled countries. It significantly relaxed two limitations it had earlier put on such measures: it is not demanding that it get repaid before everyone else (a clause that had scared away private investors) and it is lowering standards for the kind of collateral it will accept. At the same time, countries must formally ask for help and sign up to a reform program. Further, the ECB will only buy short-term debt.
A number of problems loom:
If recent experience is a guide, there will be a period of elation on the belief that the ECB has solved the euro zone problem. Then people will begin to read the fine print and the roller coaster will begin its next descent.
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Ever since Julian Assange sought the diplomatic protection of the government of Rafael Correa in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in June, there has been much commentary on the seemingly odd political pairing of a supposed champion of government transparency with an erratic president mostly known for his horrendous record of press abuse at home.
I have written previously that Assange's embrace of Correa exposes the former computer hacker as a fraud and that his reckless exposure of U.S. confidential documents was no blow for freedom of information. Instead, that his real agenda was to try and harm the United States' attempts to play a leadership role in ensuring the security of the prevailing global system.
For Correa's part, many have speculated his association with Assange is meant to expressly counter his (well-deserved) international image as intolerant of a free and independent media. Others see him embracing the Assange cause as an audition to replace an ailing Hugo Chávez of Venezuela as the leader of South America's perpetually angry Left.
It is certainly all that, but also more. And President Correa pretty much summed it up in comments this week: "This is not a about patching up systems that have not worked for centuries," he said. "It is about changing the systems, and that is why we are clashing with national and international powers that want things to stay as they are."
Thus, his granting of political asylum to Assange is meant as a direct provocation and challenge to long-established roots of international order and accepted behavior. Painstakingly built up by the United States and its allies over the last century, this interlocking system of institutions and largely accepted international norms has helped not only to maintain a remarkable level of global stability in recent decades, but has irrefutably created the conditions for unprecedented global economic growth that has pulled billions out of poverty.
Is the system perfect? Of course not. But as Robert Kagan has pointed out in his recent book, The World America Made, the alternatives are not very appealing.
But you will always have the outliers, the self-alienated who feel compelled to act out against the system for whatever reason - historical, cultural, or just plain personal. This is precisely what Assange and Correa are all about: tearing down what has gone before, motivated by no more than spite.
As the old Midwestern saying goes, "Any jackass can kick down a barn." In other words, destruction is easy. Where the credit for human progress lies is with the builders and creators - and those who carry the burden of protecting environments where builders and creators can thrive.
Granting political asylum to someone wanted in Sweden (of all places!) for questioning on allegations of sexual assault is by any measure a gross abuse of accepted standards of behavior (no matter what outlandish conspiracies theories people think lie behind the charges).
Thus, the central question in London is this, will established rules and norms prevail or are we prepared to allow the Assanges and Correas of the world to begin rewriting them as we go along?
For my money, the future most certainly should not be allowed to lie in the hands of these two pied pipers of anarchy.
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The Obama team is bragging that Romney's recent foreign trip is a campaign bonanza for them. I am not so sure.
Romney's comments certainly generated negative press coverage, but were they really gaffes of the sort that can come back to bite a candidate in a presidential campaign?
Here are the supposed gaffes:
One way to measure a gaffe's potency is to assess whether directly quoting the alleged gaffe would fit nicely in a television advertisement. In some cases, the ads virtually write themselves. If you see an ad in which President Obama is telling reporters "the private sector is doing fine," you know it was paid for by Republicans. If you see an ad with President Obama telling small business owners "If you've got a business, you didn't build that," you know President Obama's campaign didn't run it.
By that standard, nothing Romney said on the trip would seem to make a good Obama attack ad. For starters, everything Romney said is true, even if some audiences did not want to hear it. More importantly, Romney's statements weren't insulting to actual voters, as candidate Obama's were in 2008 when he dismissed the concerns of Pennsylvania voters who preferred his rival, Hilary Clinton, as folks who are "bitter, [and] they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them..."
Romney's supposed gaffes from the trip fall well short of serious, but the controversy is not entirely inconsequential. The controversy matters because it means the trip was something of a missed, or at least a not-fully-realized opportunity. The trip was well-designed to draw attention to how President Obama's approach to foreign policy has managed to offend close friends and partners, all to no good end. Whether it was the trivial insults of Obama's tacky gifts to British counterparts, or the more consequential dismissal of missile defense commitments to the Poles, or the very serious mismanagement of U.S.-Israeli relations, Obama has repeatedly offended allies without accomplishing anything important for U.S. national interest in the process.
Romney's trip could have drawn attention to those facts, indeed was probably designed to do so. The media controversy, artificially hyped by Obama partisans, was designed to distract attention from those facts. At least for the most recent news cycles, it seems that Obama's designs trumped Romney's.
As for the larger effects on the campaign, it is doubtful this trip will have much lasting impact and, if it does, it probably marginally helps Romney. The negative spin from the trip is mostly artificially media-driven, and the press will quickly move on to some other controversy, faux or genuine. However, some voters care very deeply about Israel and Poland, and Romney's trip likely resonated with them more positively than the Obama campaign would like to admit. They may be the only ones who remember details from the trip and, if so, the details they remember may reinforce their inclination to cast a ballot for Romney.
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Eurozone leaders emerged from their latest all-nighter with a plan that sent the markets into paroxyms of relief: The German and French stock markets were up more than 4 percent Friday. The key heralded result was a commitment to move toward a banking union. This was taken as a critical concession by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a key move toward resolving the crisis.
As the good folks at Foreign Policy have helpfully documented, this is not the first time European summiteers have stepped out, bleary-eyed, and announced there would be economic peace in our time. It's roughly the 20th. I warned before about celebrating any European plan to have a plan, and that's what this is. But how good is the plan? Is it a significant step toward solving the euro crisis?
The most striking move was the promise of a banking union. The European Central Bank would be given new regulatory powers over eurozone banks and European bailout funds could be sent directly to ailing banks to support them, without adding to national indebtedness. It would be nice to be able to dissect the details of how this new scheme will operate, but there aren't any yet. The bailout funds cannot be tapped until the ECB is empowered, and that will take at least a few months.
In theory, a move to bolster Europe's ailing banks could help. As the 2008 financial crisis aptly demonstrated, the financial sector provides the lifeblood of an economy; cut it off and the economy turns distinctly blue. Europe's economies are notably more dependent on bank finance than the U.S. economy and the banks of the troubled economies on the periphery have had trouble raising funds and retaining deposits. A move to bolster them could potentially stop a direct drain on the funds of impoverished sovereigns and move toward restoring normal functioning and growth in those economies.
There has been a clamor for such moves, partly on the well-established theory that banking panics can be self-fulfilling. The normal operation of banks is risky. If everyone tries to get their money at once, even a healthy bank will succumb. This is the rationale behind deposit insurance. Let all those small savers know their money is secure, restore calm, and the insurance may never even need to pay out.
So that's the hope. If the eurozone banking troubles are just the result of unfounded panic, a new backstop could restore calm. If there are a limited number of banks troubled by past lending into now-burst real estate bubbles, a well-funded cleanup could set things aright.
But the potential problems are enormous. Here are five sets of questions facing the new European banking union plan:
1. Politics of operation. In the story above, banks are just going about their ordinary business when an unfounded panic attack strikes customers. But banks can make choices about how much risk to take on. Riskier projects can offer higher returns. This is why the bailout has been coupled with regulation; Chancellor Merkel does not want a situation in which "Heads Bankia wins, tails Brussels loses." Bank regulation is difficult in ordinary circumstances (banks are big and complicated and even they may not realize the risks they are running). The situation is even more complex when you have close relationships between banks and politicians and bank lending is used to further political or industrial policy ends. Will Germany or France tolerate that kind of interference from the ECB?
2. Back door fiscal union? One of the risky behaviors that European banks have recently engaged in has been lending to the governments of Greece, Spain, and Italy. If the banks are allowed to keep purchasing government bonds, then direct lending to the banks looks like a back-door fiscal union, only without controls on government spending, a point made by James Mackintosh of the Financial Times. That would also beg the question of where the money will come from, since the summit proposed no new resources and existing ones would not cover those countries' needs. If a new bank regulator cuts off the flow of funds from the banks to the governments, that raises the question of who will be left to lend to the governments. When bond buyers disappear, interest rates soar.
3. Politics of resolution. All of the political questions apply even more strongly when it appears a bailout has failed. Who decides to pull the plug? Will powerful governments let national champion banks be disassembled by eurozone technocrats? Who decides how the losses are allocated? There are already lawsuits from small Spanish shareholders who claim they were misled into funding Spanish banks. If such shareholders or bondholders are wiped out - normal in a bankruptcy - that can have an economic and psychological impact.
4. What about London? Britain is not in the eurozone, of course, but London is the financial center of Europe. The EU is supposed to have a single market in financial services. Omitting Britain entirely would be like saying that we would regulate finance in the United States, except in New York. But on what grounds could the ECB hold sway over behavior in London?
5. Which risk are you insuring against? In the standard deposit insurance story, some banks get unlucky with their loans and their depositors are rescued. Europe's problem is that there is another sort of risk lurking: euro departure. Imagine two Greek depositors, one of whom keeps his money in his Athens bank, the other who moves her money to Frankfurt. If Greece were to leave the euro, our two depositors would have drastically different experiences. He would be much worse off than she would be, since his savings would be in depreciated drachmas. Would deposit insurance compensate him? It is hard to believe it would, particularly when one hears Europeans talk about how a departure would be an unacceptable violation of European law. Even if Europe were tempted toward forgiveness and inclined to reimburse such losses, the cost would be enormous. This would be covering virtually all bank deposits in a departing country, not just an unlucky few. The latest summit did not propose any new funds, much less the trillions of euros this could cost. If you do not insure against this risk, then insuring against the lesser, idiosyncratic bank risk is completely futile. If you do insure against this risk, the promise has to be credible to do any good.
In sum: another European summit; a burst of euphoria; a plan to have a plan; and many questions left unanswered. Eurozone leaders have expressed their good intentions, but in mid-crisis it is the seemingly-obscure particulars of banking practice that will determine whether or not the markets' relief was merited.
So far as I know, there is no summit taking place at the moment to address Europe's problems (the Euro2012 quarterfinal between Greece and Germany doesn't count). Given the frequency of meetings between leaders --- the G20 earlier this week, a major European summit next week -- it would seem easier just to report when the leaders have retreated to their own capitals to regroup.
One can hardly begrudge the European leaders their meetings; there is no global economic issue more pressing than the looming euro crisis. But it is worth keeping the frequency in mind when we try to determine whether big, expensive global conclaves accomplished anything. So how should one grade a summit?
In the spirit of next month's London Olympics, I think it would be appropriate to adopt the diving approach of adjusting scores for the degree of difficulty. If Olympic divers perform only elementary dives, with nary a flourish, they will not end up on the podium.
Summitry has its equivalents. The Obama administration emerged from the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico claiming progress; they had impressed upon their European colleagues the urgency of resolving the crisis.
Judges say: Reasonably executed, but negligible degree of difficulty. The Europeans were aware they had a crisis. It's been in all the newspapers. They understand how serious it is; they live there. Yes, there will be negative repercussions for the rest of the world when the euro splits apart, but the potential for repercussions had already fully grabbed their attention.
What else? Per Reuters:
"Euro area countries pledged to "take all necessary policy measures" to safeguard monetary union. Europe also intends "to consider concrete steps towards a more integrated financial architecture", including common banking supervision, bank recapitalization, winding down of failed banks and guarantees for bank depositors..."
Judges say: Yawn. There was a time when this maneuver would have drawn delight from the crowd. Markets would have rallied for days on promises to ‘do what was necessary,' to ‘consider concrete steps' (ever so much better than considering feeble steps). But now one must do more to impress.
The European crisis certainly features a loss of confidence among investors and the public, but it is not exclusively about a loss of confidence. President Obama seemed not to grasp this, when he enthused about summit pledges "breaking the fever" gripping Europe. There are real and pressing problems that require substantial resources and dramatic shifts in sovereign powers. Far too many previous summits ended in "plans to have a plan" or statements of resolve and good intentions. Market critiques have become increasingly discerning.
When earlier this month European governments announced an actual plan to direct real money toward salvaging Spanish banks, the market soured on it in a matter of hours, as details became available. The problem was not the plan's evanescence, it was that the resources for the bailout were being added to the tab of the Spanish government, which was already overburdened. Further, it looked likely that these new loans would take precedence over old loans and thus worsen the already gloomy outlook for holders of regular Spanish government debt.
So what could our avid summiteers do to impress? The problem is sufficiently complex that it probably cannot be solved over a weekend of bilateral chats. But it is worth keeping in mind the three dimensions of the crisis:
Back to our exacting judging. To get a high score, you have to nail all three of these. The problem with the recent Spanish bank bailout was that it addressed the first while worsening the second. The problem with grand austerity plans is that they address the second while neglecting the third. The problem with ambitious plans for a growth agenda is that they address the third while worsening the second.
In the midst of such an intricate challenge for our euro zone performers, having outsiders lecture them on the seriousness of the problem might even come across as annoying. By these standards, the G20 summit did nothing to pull the euro zone out of its dive. Since leaders managed to paper over their differences and preserve the appearance of comity, we can score it as a straight, simple entry into the water, rather than a belly flop. But no need to stick around for the award ceremony.
Now that summer is upon us, the global economic problems are no less serious, but perhaps our blogging can be. This is summertime, when one just wants to roll down the car windows, crank up some classic songs on the iPod, and sing along.
The pressure on Germany to fix Europe's looming problems is something I've addressed before, more seriously. The ever-louder pleading for Chancellor Merkel to just do it already, though, has lately put me in mind of other sorts of importunings. So, with apologies to Billy Joel, herewith a reworking of his 1977 classic, "Only the Good Die Young" (redone as "Stopping the PIIGS Bank Run"):
Come on, Angela, don't make me wait/ You Protestant countries start much too late/ Ah but sooner or later it comes down to fate/ You know what must be done/ When they sold you the euro and took the Deutsche Mark away/ They promised restraint and said we'd converge some day/ Ah but they never told you the price that you'd pay/ Now that Bankia's come undone
Stopping the PIIGS bank run/ That's what I said/ Stopping the PIIGS bank run
You might have heard we run with a dangerous crowd/ Private investors just can't be found/ Our national budgets often tend to run aground/ Ah but that never hurt no one
So come on Angela show me a sign/ Send up a signal I'll throw you a line/ Those old time treaties you're hiding behind/ Just won't get it done
Darlin stopping the PIIGS bank run/ I tell you stopping the PIIGS bank run/ Stopping the PIIGS bank run
You get a fiscal treaty/ And more input as a consolation/ You'll set a brand new goal/ And no risk of an export hole/ But Angela they didn't give you/ Quite enough information/ You didn't count on Greece/ When you were counting on low debt/GDP
And they say there's political union for those who will wait/ Some say it's better though there may be a taint/ But wouldn't you rather laugh with the sinners/ Than cry with the saints?/ The sinners are much more fun
You know you've got to stop the PIIGS bank run/ I tell you stopping the PIIGS bank run now/ You've got to stop the PIIGS bank run
You said your voters told you/ All they worried about was inflation/ They worry about subsidies/ Transfers that continue endlessly
Come on, come on, come on Angela/ Don't make me wait/ You Protestant countries start much too late/ Sooner or later it comes down to fate/ You might as well get it done/ You've got to stop the PIIGS bank run/ Tell you baby/ You've got to stop the PIIGS bank run
Imagine this with an interwoven saxophone and you should be all set for summer crooning on the autobahn. Of course, from a policy standpoint, Chancellor Merkel should probably have some of the same concerns about giving in that the apocryphal Virginia would have had in the Billy Joel original.
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.
A few days ago, I had the privilege of testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject of the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago.
The whole testimony is here, but the bits that Shadow Govt readers need to know is this.
The gathering of allied heads of state has to be more than the administration's desire for a low-key "implementation summit." The NATO meeting needs to "provide credible reaffirmation of the Transatlantic Bargain -- one in which the United States demonstrates commitment to Europe's regional security interests and our European allies demonstrate that they stand ready to address global challenges to transatlantic security."
Toward that end:
First, the president must credibly reaffirm Europe's centrality in U.S. global strategy. The drifting apart of the two continents has many causes, but a key one is a U.S. transatlantic agenda whose dominant elements recently have been a vaguely defined reset of relations with Russia, a defense guidance that articulates a pivot to Asia, and reductions of combat capability deployed in Europe. Through robust military engagement with Europe, the United States would reinforce the credibility of its commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty and sustain, if not improve, the ability of European and U.S. forces to operate together within and beyond the North Atlantic area.
Second, the Chicago Summit should be used to reanimate the vision of a whole, free, and secure Europe as a guiding priority for the transatlantic relationship. NATO heads of state can and should: declare their intent to issue invitations to qualified aspirants no later than the next summit; underscore the urgency of resolving the Macedonia dispute with Greece over the former's name, the last remaining obstacle to Skopje's accession to the alliance; assert that Georgia's path to NATO can be through the NATO-Georgia Commission; and applaud Montenegro's significant progress under the Alliance's Membership Action Plan. By leading the effort to fulfill the vision of a unified, undivided Europe, the United States would drive forward a process that strengthens Europe's stability and security and thereby reaffirms the centrality of Europe in America's global strategy.
Third, the Alliance must chart its way forward in an era of financial austerity. In an age of austerity, the focus of the Alliance's Smart Defense initiatives should be on the practical and attainable. Such projects in the realms of effective engagement, JISR, logistics, and training are not only needed for operational purposes, they are more credible to NATO publics than promises concerning the distant future.
Fourth, the Chicago Summit should be used to expand and deepen the partnerships the Alliance has developed around the world. The globalized and increasingly hybrid character of today's challenges make it important for the Alliance to expand and deepen its relationships with non-governmental organizations and non-member states around the globe. By leveraging the potential offered by a network of NATO global partnerships, the United States and Europe can "pivot" together in the effort to address the global challenges that already define this century.
Finally, NATO must demonstrate unambiguous determination to sustain a stable Afghanistan. In Chicago, NATO aims to map out a strategic partnership with Afghanistan that will endure well beyond 2014. The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership, even if it is fleshed out robustly, will likely be insufficient to ensure success in Afghanistan in the absence of a long-term transatlantic commitment to the Afghan people.
In these ways, the Chicago Summit can emerge as an important, if not inspiring, benchmark of American commitment and European ambition regarding the Transatlantic Alliance.
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President Obama is right to invite France's new president to the White House in the coming weeks for a series of exploratory talks. The Obama team will understandably put a positive spin on such a visit, but I bet the motivation is as much fear as opportunity. From the point of view of American foreign policy, I think Doyle McManus has it right: Obama is sure going to miss Sarkozy.
Sarkozy was the indispensable key figure in two of the more prominent policies that Obama officials tout as "successes." First, it was Sarkozy, not Obama, who led on Libya. Without Sarkozy (and British Prime Minister Cameron) pushing the agenda, it is likely that Obama's initial policy of refusing to intervene in Libya would have held. Obama joined the bandwagon somewhat belatedly, something that even White House spinners couldn't ignore, thus giving rise to the infamous "lead from behind" frame.
Likewise, it has been Sarkozy (and the U.S. Congress) more than the Obama administration out in front on using economic coercion to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions. Obama's innovative contribution to Iran policy was the unsuccessful attempt to hold unconditional talks with the Iranian leaders in 2009. However, with Sarkozy pushing hard from one end and the U.S. Congress pushing hard from the other end, eventually, after a year or so delay, the Obama administration did join in to impose tighter sanctions.
Thus, Sarkozy may well have been the indispensable figure in two of the more prominent talking points on Obama's brag sheet. If his French partner had been more of a spoiler in the mold of Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, is it plausible to think that President Obama would have intervened in Libya or secured new rounds of multilateral sanctions on Iran?
Finding out what kind of partner President Hollande will be is a high priority for President Obama. And finding that out may also tell us some important things about President Obama. To borrow a sports analogy that the president would doubtless understand, we may learn that Obama is not as good a point guard when the other guys on his team can't or won't run the fast break.
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Yesterday's elections in France and Greece are being interpreted as a rejection of austerity policies. The French president-elect, Francois Hollande, had campaigned against the austere pact struck between defeated president Nicolas Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel. The leading Greek political parties had been compelled to back austerity measures as a condition of the Greek bailout; they saw their combined support slide to roughly one third of the vote.
There is a rebellious thrill to such defiance, just as when a downtrodden employee finally tells his boss just where he can put his godforsaken job. After the thrill dissipates, it helps to have a Plan B.
In Europe's case, there is already a rallying cry -- growth! Instead of the soul-crushing paring away of social programs and the painful levying of taxes, Europe can just grow its way out of its problems. A faster-growing economy lifts people out of unemployment, reducing the need for welfare payments, and generates tax revenues as the people receive their new paychecks. The newly employed are newly confident, so they go out and spend. This further stokes the economy, creating a virtuous cycle.
The only catch is how to get this whole "growth" thing started. Here's one idea: The countries of Europe could get together, honestly critique the structural failings that have plagued their economies, acknowledge the need for radical change, and resolve to embrace reform. The European Union could set a strategic goal "to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion."
The quotes are there because this comes directly from the press release describing the EU's Lisbon growth strategy in March 2000. The concept of growth is not a new one. That particular strategy preceded a decade in which tepid reforms in many countries, fiscal laxity, and unchecked housing bubbles left the zone in its present state. This is not to argue that a failed past run at reform precludes trying again. But it does point out the obstacles to growth by proclamation.
Where else might one look for growth? Critics of austerity will point to the possibility of false economies. For example, if a worker renounces spending on transportation in an attempt at frugality, then fails to show up at work, the ensuing loss of that worker's job undoes any budgetary benefit from the saved gas money. The worker would have been better off spending a little to earn more. Applied to a country, the argument would be that some judiciously applied stimulus or well placed investments could launch that virtuous growth cycle described above.
That's plausible enough. But, as with growth by proclamation, the idea of government spending to boost the economy is not a novelty in Europe. It is possible to have long, involved debates about the past effects of such spending, or whether this time would be different. In the interests of brevity, though, one can circumvent such a debate with the simple requirement that if an individual or a country is to borrow more, there must be someone willing to lend. Our worker who needs wheels for a way to work can go to the bank and get a car loan, if the bank is persuaded of the wisdom of the venture. What of France and Spain and Greece? If they are to borrow more, they must find willing lenders. At the moment, those seem rather scarce. Private credit seems to be drying up. China has been unenthused about European proposals that it buy up debt. The United States is a borrower itself, competing (successfully) for lenders' favor. Germany could lend the money, but its skepticism led to the austerity pact in the first place.
The alternatives to austerity seem ever fewer. One popular one -- a eurobond (a variant of fiscal union) -- is not much different from finding willing lenders. In this case, instead of lenders, our borrowing countries just need to find someone to co-sign their loans. It has not escaped Germany's notice that its liability as a co-signatory is not much different than it would be as a lender.
Then there is the European Central Bank. Aren't central banks supposed to be lenders of last resort? Actually, the ECB is prohibited from funding governments this way, but it has overcome some of those inhibitions and found some clever ways around such strictures (lend the money to troubled banks, who then buy up sovereign debt). One can argue whether the risks of aggressive monetary policy outweigh the benefits (see Robert Samuelson today). In any case, the ECB has made clear that its intervention should not be seen as an easy substitute for fiscal control and reform.
If Greece were not in the euro zone, the International Monetary Fund would surely have suggested that it seek growth through a currency depreciation. That still may be Greece's best hope, but it will hardly offer an escape from austerity. A Greece that renounced its remaining debts and left the euro would still need primary budget balance.
Europe has maneuvered itself into a difficult spot. The Keynesian prescriptions for government spending to counteract slumps presume that governments saved in the good times. Many of Europe's troubled governments did not. That leaves them with few good options now. So, in a twist on the old cry accompanying changes in European leadership: Austerity is dead! Long live austerity!
Europe did not collapse this last week. That was something of a pleasant surprise, since portents of the economic grouping's demise have been accumulating for years now. In lieu of collapse, there were just more troubling signs: the fall of the government in the Netherlands; unemployment approaching 25 percent in Spain and a credit rating downgrade; French elections that featured growing nationalist strength and a likely split with Germany over austerity.
This raises a question. Given all the analyses proclaiming "the end is nigh," when, exactly, might we expect it? Some European friends would argue that this is the point -- we shouldn't expect it. This sort of brinksmanship is the way of Europe. Crises loom, there is wailing and lamentation, a summit is held, someone makes a concession (the Germans a likely candidate) and the crisis is averted. Thus it has been and thus it shall always be, they say. This is largely a matter of faith, but one must admit that it is a reasonable description of the recent European experience.
Here, though, is an alternative interpretation, presented in the form of a parable:
Imagine a friend who earns $3,000 a month, but has an unhealthy tendency to spend $5,000 a month. You observe this and remark to yourself: "This is unsustainable; it's got to stop." You wait for your friend to realize this.
But it turns out your friend has some savings he can use. These savings tide him over for a while, but when he burns through those, you once again figure his time has come. Surely he must now change his behavior.
But your friend finds he can take out a home equity loan. This funds his lifestyle for months more until, at last, those funds are exhausted, too. Time's up, you think.
But your friend announces that he still has plenty of borrowing room on his credit cards. The good life continues (albeit at a rather high interest rate). Sooner or later, of course, he maxes out his cards. This has got to be the end of it, you think. But then your friend mentions that he has heard about this loan shark downtown...
So what's the moral of the story? Is it not to worry -- your friend always finds a way? Or is it that a difficult adjustment can be postponed at ever-increasing cost? And what of the original question -- at what point does "the end" come? Is it when you first recognize that the situation is non-viable? Or is it when the loan shark finally shows up with his truncheon to collect?
This is an imperfect parable for Europe's situation in a number of ways. First, not all troubled European countries got there because of profligate spending. Spain and Ireland, for example, saw good fiscal positions go bad when they had to backstop troubled banks. Nor can one argue that Spain and Greece are continuing to live 'the good life' -- they're suffering real pain. It's just that the major adjustments they have made appear insufficient. And Europe's crisis is multifaceted; in addition to sovereign debt there are faltering banks and uncompetitive economies.
The real problem with the parable is that it tends to suggest that the growing costs are all financial. The more troubling costs may be political. Part of the way Europe has pushed past previous decision points has been to shunt aside democratic input -- as when new governments were installed in Greece and Italy, or when the major Greek political parties had to pre-commit to support an austerity plan, or in the push for a zone-wide austerity pact to be enforced from Brussels. Here the "loan shark with a truncheon" takes the form of more extreme movements in these countries taking up a nationalist cause and winning growing support, as with Marine Le Pen's Front National in France, or the slipping support for New Democracy and Pasok in Greece. Indebted and shamed nations in Europe, pushed around by their neighbors, rallying to a nationalist cry, what could go wrong? Europe does have a history along these lines.
The euro zone has bought itself time and may continue to do so for a while, but the costs seem to be mounting.
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Trilateral dialogues come in many forms. Those that mix allies with competitors can have the deleterious consequences of diminishing like-mindedness for the sake of inclusivity. More successful trialogues combine like-minded countries that can bring capabilities to bear in ways that cut across national and regional divides, creating an effect that is greater than the sum of its parts.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the rhetoric surrounding the U.S. "pivot" to Asia was the perception that Washington, even as it intensified its commitment to trans-Pacific leadership, was pivoting away from Europe, home to its historic allies. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell is working hard to correct that interpretation and transcend regional divides -- by leading a U.S. push to coordinate with Europe on Asia in unprecedented ways.
As he told the Trilateral Forum Tokyo organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Tokyo Foundation today, there are enormous opportunities for the Atlantic allies to work together in a structured, systematic way in rising Asia. These include:
Burma, where a historic political opening can be constructively encouraged (and where backsliding on liberalization can be deterred) through close coordination between the United States and the European Union, including via a graduated loosening of the sanctions that helped spur Burma's military government to opt for managed political change -- and where the allies can bring to bear lessons learned in Europe (for instance, in the Balkans) to support Burma's fragile process of ethnic reconciliation.
China, where U.S. and European concerns over issues like human rights, protection of intellectual property, and rule of law are convergent, and where the West wields much more leverage than commonly understood as a result of being China's dominant trade and investment partners.
Asian institution-building, where no one can teach Asian nations with only a superficial history of multilateral cooperation more about how to build durable and robust regional institutions in the fields of security, trade and investment, and transnational governance.
Security issues, where Europeans have not been pivotal players since the days of gunboat imperialism a century ago, but where a more global Europe must step up its game as competition among Asia's rising and established powers creates dangerous security dilemmas that threaten international security and prosperity.
This is more than just talk: American and European officials now meet regularly on an Asia-specific agenda; the United States and the EU have agreed to roll out a new mechanism for transatlantic cooperation on Asia at the next ASEAN Regional Forum summit this summer. This is an initiative that should be welcomed by Asian officials who overwhelmingly believe Europe punches below its weight in Asia, despite the resilience of European power and ideas in the world, deep economic ties, and the increasingly global impact of developments across the Indo-Pacific region.
The reality is that for too many European nations -- and for too many European Union officials -- China trade policy has been a substitute for an all-of-Asia strategy that encompasses the full spectrum of Western interests and leverages Western ties to powers of great significance, including Japan, South Korea, India, and Indonesia. For their part, American officials until recently have given little creative thought to connecting the two alliance systems that the United States has built and nurtured for 60 years, spanning the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, into a more global arrangement that transcends bureaucratic stovepipes constructed for another era.
Asia's rise is a global phenomenon, not simply a regional one: to take just one example, consider how China's rise affects global energy markets, global governance, and developments in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. At the same time, military modernization and intensifying competition within Asia -- between Japan and China, North and South Korea, and India and China, for instance -- implicates Western powers with deep ties to Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, and Beijing.
Power shifts within Asia promise to displace existing balances in ways that will require the United States, to sustain its leadership, to secure every advantage it can in a more fluid environment by working with its friends, many of whom are in Europe. From the Asian perspective, every key power has a compelling stake in Europe's ability to emerge from its sovereign debt crisis and restore economic growth. Despite wishful thinking about decoupling between the West and the rest, the global economy cannot grow sustainably as long as Europe, a primary market for and source of Asian trade and investment, is in the grip of recession.
Given the overlapping interests of Asian and Western democracies, it only makes sense to coordinate much more systematically, rather than relying on a set of outdated regional toolkits unadapted to a more globalized century. Similarly, to the extent that China is both a top economic partner and top security concern for so many countries, it only makes sense for them to use their combined influence to manage relations with Beijing from a position of strength -- rather than succumb to a more national approach that will disadvantage every country that cannot alone match China's clout.
For these reasons, the U.S. State Department's effort to bridge that Atlantic and Pacific communities, if matched by seriousness in European and Asian capitals, promises to pay dividends for Western interests in a more non-Western world.
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A great hero for our time, Andrei Sannikov, was freed on Saturday afternoon.
For readers of Shadow Government who don't follow Belarus, this is very important. Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe, run by Alexander Lukashenko. Strategically located among Russia, Poland, and Ukraine -- Belarus has its own history but has been basically a Russian satellite since Lukashenko was elected in 1994. The only European country to be thrown out of the OSCE, Belarus has become more repressive with time. The December 2010 elections were considered farcical by all accounts. Andrei Sannikov, a former Deputy Foreign Minister and diplomat, was the most prominent opponent to challenge Lukashenko in those elections.
Lukashenko runs the country as a puppet state based on the worst instincts and whims of Vladimir Putin. One problem has been that Belarus is politically oppressed but has enjoyed relatively benign economic times, which many speculate is due to subsidized Russian energy that Russia provides Belarus and that runs to Western Europe through Belarus. Lukashenko enjoys some political support but that has dropped over time and he remains in power illegitimately using harsher and harsher tactics.
After the rigged elections, Sannikov was imprisoned on trumped-up charges and Amnesty International listed him as a prisoner of conscience. He was beaten while in custody and his life was in very serious danger as his health deteriorated. His four-year-old son was threatened with being removed from the custody of his family and put into a foster home. A key aid of Sannikov's died under very suspicious circumstances. In short, the regime has put incredible pressure on Sannikov and his family. He has kept faith and risked his life for a free Belarus.
The United States and Europe have maintained sanctions on Belarus for several years. Europe has been divided on Belarus and the U.S. especially under George W. Bush was particularly vocal against the bad actions of the Belarus government. The Obama administration has maintained sanctions, but is perceived to be less animated about seeing the end of the Lukashenko regime. The German Marshall Fund with offices in Washington, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and elsewhere maintained Belarus on the agenda in ways that others could not, as sanctions require a transatlantic approach in order to work.
It is possible that Lukashenko is using the Sannikov release as an opening gambit to try to have the sanctions lifted. A free Belarus would likely want a foreign and economic policy similar to Kazakhstan -- with the ability to engage and balance among Europe, the U.S., and Russia on a free basis -- not operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Russia. The best medium-term outcome would be for Lukashenko to not seek another term in 2014, seek a cold exile in Moscow, and allow for democratic elections in Belarus. A free Belarus would be a big win for the United State and Europe. In the meantime, this weekend is a moment of relief and joy.
On the flight from Rome to Mexico prior to his visit to Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI stirred the hearts of many by declaring that Marxism had lost its relevance in the 21stcentury. The comment was seen as a preview to how he would comport himself in Cuba -- an anticipated and welcome contrast to the traditional international indulgence of the Castro dictatorship.
Alas, that was to be the most provocative thing he had to say over the entire trip. Instead, it is what he said next that appears to typify how the Church is approaching its mission in Cuba: that the Church was ready to help the island find new ways of moving forward without "traumas."
Apparently, "traumas" is Vatican-speak for the kind of upheavals seen elsewhere in the world of late, in which populations have risen up against oppressive and bankrupt dictatorships.
In other words, the Church has decided that its role in Cuba is not to be a change agent and it would shun any abrupt turn away from Castroism. It also means that the Church is placing its faith in the Castro regime (and its repressive apparatus) to manage a "soft landing" as Cuba supposedly transitions to wherever it is transitioning.
That is why the Pope's trip is a profound disappointment to many who were hoping for a stronger signal that the cries of the Cuban people were being heard for a better future over their dysfunctional and spiritless existence under the Castro regime.
Pope Benedict did pepper his public remarks in Cuba with words like "liberty," "prisoners," (although not "political prisoners") and reached out to "Cubans, wherever they may be" (more than one million in exile), but even the international press covering the visit seemed disappointed by his lack of powerful symbolism and rhetoric. The Pope "delivered a carefully worded, nuanced and balanced arrival address" and "kept his language lofty, his criticism vague and open to interpretation." Frankly, there is little in Cuba today that is "open to interpretation."
Indeed, the effort to avoid saying anything that would offend the Castro government was too conspicuous, as was the smothering regime choreography of the visit -- high-ranking officials always appearing near the Pontiff, media restrictions to control public perceptions, the arrests of dissidents. The Cuban people needed no translation on what was really going on: The regime was demonstrating that the Church did not exist as an alternative voice of authority, but that they and the Pope were compatible.
Neither was the visit enhanced by the fact that the Pope declined to meet with beleaguered Cuban dissidents (as Pope John Paul the Great had done 14 years earlier) because of a "busy schedule," yet found the time to reportedly add a last-minute meeting with cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (in Cuba for medical treatment), a man who has notoriously insulted Church leaders in Venezuela time after time.
In one encouraging note, however, a brave Cuban refused to go along with the regime's charade and began shouting during one of the Pope's addresses: "Down with the Revolution! Down with the dictatorship!" As he was being led away, he was punched by an official wearing a Red Cross vest. (Such is life in Cuba.) His fate remains unknown.
Cuba is, of course, hostile territory for the Church, which has been repressed -- at times violently -- for five decades. And it stands to reason there may be a bit of a whipped dog syndrome in the Church's reluctance to be bolder. But the Church is not without its own strengths -- a fact that terrifies the Castro regime, hence, the overexertion to try and co-opt it. But the bottom line is Pope Benedict declined the opportunity to meet the regime on equal terms, and the Cuban people are poorer off for it.
The irony is that the Vatican's choice of a passive and accommodating approach will only help to bring about the kind of turmoil it ostensibly seeks to avoid -- as the pent up frustrations of the Cuban people continue to be denied any viable outlet. It also diminishes the Church's own image as an honest broker in a future Cuban transition.
History will ultimately render the verdict on the Vatican’s choice, but the record shows that placing one’s faith in the hoped-for good will of a dictatorship never really does work out very well in the end.
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Michele Flournoy’s extravagant campaign spin on the president’s foreign policy is politics, not policy, which inclines me against replying. But the outsize claims the campaign is attempting to peddle that America is “more secure, safer and more respected” deserve to be tested. The president's record is not nearly as good as this campaign puffery suggests, nor is it as thoroughly bad as his most boisterous critics claim, in part because the Pentagon has been effective in shaping policy on the war in Afghanistan and other key areas. Some of the credit for that is due to Michele herself, who handled her portfolio is a creditable way. But Michele Flournoy the policymaker is much more credible than Flournoy the campaign spinner.
First and foremost, it merits remembering that the counter-terrorism policies that made America safer are almost in their entirety policies that Barack Obama opposed in the Senate and campaigned against when running for president: long-term detention of terrorists, trial by military tribunal, support for the Patriot Act, Executive Authority to kill American citizens engaged in terrorism. Where he sought to change those policies, such as closing Guantanamo or prosecuting intelligence agents for torture, he was prevented by the Congress from doing so.
Second, the administration’s claim of the president’s unique courage in approving the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed is deeply unfair to President Bush. Can they really believe their predecessor, who bears the scars of having been in command during the attacks of September 11th, would not have made the same decision? It is uncharitable in the extreme, especially for a politician who claimed he would return civility to our public life.
Third, the campaign narrative on Iraq is dishonest. The president did not conduct a responsible withdrawal from Iraq; he conducted a retreat in place. By setting an arbitrary end to combat operations in August of 2010, he conveyed to Iraqis we were no longer committed to the objectives for which we were fighting the war -- as his withdrawal timelines have also done in Afghanistan. Far from “crafting a responsible plan to leave Iraq in the hands of its people,” he crafted a scenario in which Prime Minister Maliki had both the means and motive for seizing power and the non-sectarian future Iraqis had voted for fractured. The president also crafted an expensive and wholly implausible civilian mission that is already crumbling.
Fourth, the president reluctantly joined, he did not lead, the international coalition in Libya. Germany defends it’s refusal to participate in the mission on the grounds that their position was shared by the Obama administration two days before the vote. Instead of setting our allies up to be successful where they would take military action in our interest, the Obama administration only grudgingly supplied them enough help so they would not fail. That President Obama is taking such credit for Libya is resented, not respected.
Michele Flournoy makes it sound as though “fiery Republicans” are the only people who could object to her self-serving narrative of the president’s achievements. But her claims are actually testable propositions. Let’s take one of the president’s favorite metrics: American popularity in the so-called Muslim world. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, President Obama’s policies have caused our country to be more disliked in Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia; and considered unreliable by Israel, and Europe. Only 8 percent of Pakistanis have confidence in President Obama to do the right thing, not surprising given the wild swings of policy toward Pakistan.
There are many more ways President Obama’s national security policies have either failed (trade policy) or are the continuation of previous administrations (the pivot to Asia, after all, mostly consists of accepting Bush administration trade agreements and multilateralism policies in Asia). And that's not even counting the colossal increase in our national debt that the president has piled up. But the most damaging effect of the president’s tenure is the divisiveness he has sowed in our body politic.
It didn’t have to be this way. A better president could have built bipartisan support for his policies. A better president could have worked with Congress to solve our country’s pressing problems. A better president could have graciously acknowledged where he built on the policies of its predecessors, reminding Americans of our broad agreement on most national security issues. Our country deserves such a president.
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Within the next 24 hours, observers say, we are likely to see an agreement reached among Greek political parties that will clear the way for a second bailout from Europe and the IMF. Observers have been saying this for two months now, but never mind. It is certainly possible that the members of the Greek ruling coalition will meet the demands of "the troika" of lenders -- the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. And even plausible suggestions of a crisis resolution have tended to bring a feeling of euphoria to markets -- a good Greek word.
There are optimists and pessimists about Euro zone prospects. I'm in the latter camp, but it's interesting to see where the analyses diverge. You would probably get broad agreement that the essence of the euro zone problem is that a number of countries on Europe's periphery have racked up unsustainable levels of debt. There is also a general consensus that if those peripheral countries followed the traditional prescription of devaluing their currency (by leaving the euro zone), this would be a large economic shock for Europe and, thus, for the rest of the world (note, though, the different views among Northern European leaders on whether Greece alone might be expendable).
The divergence in opinion really comes in the analysis of potential solutions. Here are three ways one might look at fixes:
Europe as a whole handle the debt issue?
This is the question the optimists ask. The answer, they find, is yes, Europe could. While individual countries within the euro zone have debt problems, the zone as a whole is roughly in balance. If everyone agrees that the money is there and that failure to find a solution could be very costly, then it's just a matter of a little obligatory posturing before the money is reshuffled and the matter solved. Another way of putting this would be that economic hurdles are difficult to overcome, but political hurdles are trivial.
2. Could current national leaders in the Euro Zone handle the debt issue? Posing the question this way takes political constraints a little more seriously. While there are certainly now phone numbers and interlocutors for an apocryphal Kissingerian call to Europe, the major players are still national. Chancellor Merkel ultimately answers to a German electorate, President Sarkozy to a French citzenship, and Prime Minister Papademos to a Greek. Those German voters are distinctly unenthused about bailouts and a central bank that is willing to print money to solve problems. Those Greek voters are distinctly unenthused about austerity programs in the face of 19 percent unemployment. With these political constraints, the problem looks significantly harder. The question becomes whether these leaders can overcome the reluctance of their respective electorates and 'do what must be done.' Those who analyze at this level are hanging on every report out of Athens and Berlin.
countries commit that all future governments will follow the paths agreed today?
This is the pessimists' playground. What happens when leaders fail to persuade their electorates that their unpopular measures were really necessary? They're usually ousted in the next election. There are certainly some policies that, once undertaken, are very difficult to revoke. But the central issues in Europe now revolve around annual national budgets, for which commitments are eminently reversible. One can try to lock in good behavior at a constitutional level -- as much of Europe just did with its brand new fiscal pact, and as it did at the zone's inception with the Stability and Growth Pact. These have proven exceedingly difficult to enforce in practice.
A story on Greek politics in the New York Times nicely captured the essence of this last problem.
"After years of turning its back on its social welfare platform, the Socialist Party, known as Pasok and Greece's dominant political force since 1974, has virtually disintegrated, falling to fifth place with 8 percent support, according to a poll that the firm Public Issue released on Tuesday.
...The most probable winner of future Greek elections would be New Democracy, which held power from 2004 until 2009, when Greece's debt soared from slightly more than 100 percent of its gross domestic product to at least 127 percent.
Its leader, Antonis Samaras, has been criticized repeatedly by European leaders as irresponsible, but with every new tax increase in Greece, some voters are warming to his constant critique of austerity in the absence of growth measures. The party is leading in opinion polls, with Public Issue putting its support at 31 percent of the vote."
The story also noted that "the hard left and extreme right are rising."
Thus, Greek acquiescence today guarantees nothing after the next vote. The magnitude of this problem is not lost on the major European players. In fact, the quest for a solution can be seen as the unifying theme behind Northern European proposals to address the crisis: the fiscal austerity pact, fiscal union, Brussels oversight of national budgets, even political union. Each of these would insulate future tax and spending decisions from the whims of Greek voters.
Barring a momentous development along such constitutional lines, Greek voters still have a say. So if, in the near future, there is an announcement of an accord among current political leaders, the question will be which Greek word is most pertinent: euphoria, or democracy.
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On the campaign trail, Republican candidates such as Gov. Mitt Romney frequently criticize President Obama for moving America towards a "European-style entitlement society" with sclerotic social welfare programs and crushing debt burdens. Two recent decisions by the Obama administration raise the prospect that the White House might also be following the European ethos -- or at least the prevailing French model of "laicite" and aggressive secularism -- on religious liberty. With apologies to historic French America-philes such as Lafayette and de Tocqueville, this is not the direction our country should go.
Normally domestic policy developments like Obamacare insurance mandates and school employment disputes in Michigan wouldn't be of much relevance for a foreign policy forum like Shadow Government. But the administration's position on the recent Supreme Court case on Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School and Friday's Obamacare mandate eviscerating conscience provisions for religious institutions providing healthcare -- while appalling in their own right -- might also help explain a foreign policy puzzle that I have raised before -- why this administration has been so indifferent to the promotion of religious liberty abroad.
To briefly recap, on the Hosanna-Tabor case, the Obama Justice Department took the position that religious liberty does not protect the right of religious institutions to hire their own employees in accordance with the organization's faith commitments. And the Obama Health and Human Services Department mandated that religious institutions such as hospitals and schools need to fund and include sterilization, contraceptive, and abortifacient coverage in their health insurance plans regardless of any doctrinal convictions otherwise. Just how bad for religious liberty were these two positions that the White House took? So bad that the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the White House on Hosanna-Tabor in a 9-0 smackdown (those votes included Obama appointees Justices Sotomayor and Kagan), and the normally understated US Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced the HHS decision as "literally unconscionable" and "a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights."
The Obama Justice and Health and Human Services Departments -- with at least a green light if not a strong push from the White House -- embraced positions on religious liberty that can only be described as extreme. Religious believers may disagree among themselves on any number of theological, moral, and political issues, but they hold near unanimity on the imperative and importance of religious freedom -- in part precisely because religious freedom preserves the space for diversity and tolerance of differing opinions.
Why does this matter for foreign policy? Because it might help explain the Obama administration's otherwise baffling apathy on international religious freedom. I have lamented previously the administration's negligence on this issue, including the delay until over halfway through its first term to even put in place an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, and the complete omission of religious freedom from the 2010 National Security Strategy. When seen alongside the administration's myopic positions on the two domestic policies mentioned above, it is hard to escape the conclusion that this White House sees religious liberty with indifference.
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Signs are gathering that the European Union's most recent bail out has not stemmed the rising tide of concern in markets about Europe's fundamental financial or political solvency.
Britain's government barely prevented a rebellion by conservatives against their own Prime Minister forcing a national referendum on whether to remain in the European Union, and Britain isn't even principally exposed to the default risk because it does not participate in the common currency. Still, the Business Secretary is planning for "armageddon" of the euro's collapse.
Spain voted out its socialist government over the weekend, bringing in an opposition that ran on a "not the people who got you into this mess" platform but refused to commit itself to a program for reducing Spain's 40 percent unemployment rate for those under 25. Yields on Spanish bonds rose on the election results, suggesting a lack of confidence the new government will continue the draconian austerity measures that got its predecessor voted out.
One French commentator pointed out resentfully that once Berlusconi resigned, markets began to realize France was actually in a worse position than Italy. Even though Italian bonds are trading at 7 percent interest -- generally considered unsustainable levels -- Italy at least has a primary surplus, where France does not. France's debt may soon be downgraded, pulling it further into the contagion pool. Berlusconi's antics ensured he got attention that otherwise would have been scrutinizing France's balance sheet; technocratic Mario Monti removes that heat shield.
The European Financial Stability Fund, created to backstop governments shut out of lending markets, is nowhere near large enough to placate market concerns. Subtracting obligations to Greece, the EFSF has somewhere around $200 billion in the bank. Italy alone will need to refinance nearly $400 billion in the coming year. European countries being pulled down the drain are now sharp-edged in their calls to let Greece fail in order for the EFSF to have money to save others.
The debate has taken on a strong moral overtone, as David Gordon of the Eurasia Group has pointed out: thrifty northern Europeans believe those countries in trouble deserve it and are persuading themselves it would be wrong to shield sinners from the consequences. A Puritanical ethos has overtaken European solidarity.
Europeans may desire to shift the bail out to the IMF, but there is little prospect poorer countries will countenance using all available IMF reserves for rich Europeans during a time of global economic downturn. EU appeals to the Chinese and other potential sovereign lenders have not been successful.
The European Commission, which has been shoved to the sidelines by national governments -- itself a rather striking statement of the limits of pooled sovereignty that is the core promise of the European project -- has tried to interject itself into the debate by advocating issuance of bonds by the EFSF, something Germany has adamantly refused.
Adopting the Euro bond proposal would constitute a change to the EU treaty -- which forbade bail outs at Germany's insistence -- requiring ratification in every EU country. It would surely fail in Germany, but it would also fail in numerous other EU countries.
All of which means that worse is yet to come for Europe's financial crisis. Markets are sure to continue testing governments' credibility. Banks' exposure has not been honestly assessed or politically owned up to in the condemnatory countries like Germany. The EU stress tests were widely dismissed as politicized and Germany is hoping markets will continue as carrion on profligate spenders rather than turn their attention to profligate lenders.
American conservatives have few reasons to cheer Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, but the stress testing of American banks was serious, quiet, and gave our banking system essential time to strengthen balance sheets, which is something Americans can be thankful for this week.
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This week, global economy mavens are waiting once again for European leaders to emerge with a panacea. Tradition dictates that financial panaceas should be presented on Sunday evenings, before Asian markets open. The Europeans actually scheduled their panacea accordingly, but whiffed. The cure-all was rescheduled for Wednesday.
There has been much gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes over eurozone leaders' repeated inability to solve their financial crisis once and for all. U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner traveled to Poland last month and told a gathering of European finance ministers to Just Do It. Oddly enough, the gathered Europeans did not really appreciate the admonishment.
So President Obama joined in and added further encouragement: "In Europe, we haven't seen them deal with their banking system and their financial system as effectively as they needed to." Quoth the coverage: "Obama didn't specify what steps should be taken."
And therein lies the problem. There has been a presumption that if only German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy could stop bickering and summon the political resolve, they could take the decisive set of actions to put everything right. The rest of the world can best help, the reasoning goes, by shouting exhortations at Europe to just try harder.
But what, exactly, are Europeans being urged to do? The grand fix must address a knot of interconnected problems. First, there is the issue of Greek debt; it's huge and the Greeks can't pay it. That leads to worries about what will happen with other larger highly indebted countries around Europe's periphery; such worries mean that lenders demand higher interest rates and worry turns to panic. This sovereign debt crisis, in turn, stirs fear in those who hold all that debt; since many of the debt holders are European banks, that stirs fear in pretty much everyone -- or it should.
Now consider some candidate solutions.
1. The leaky lifeboat solution: start bailing.
This was Europe's first response, with the creation of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), with a lending capacity of roughly $600 billion. Although Greece's debt is huge relative to the size of the Greek economy, it is certainly small enough to be handled by the fund. Why not just pay it off and be done with all this? There are three problems. First, that wouldn't solve Greece's problems. Although the country has significantly cut its budget deficit, it would still need to borrow even if its old debt were wiped out. Second, there is the moral hazard of rewarding miscreants. Cutting budget deficits is painful and politically treacherous; if Europe will ultimately pick up the tab, why go through the agony? Third, Greece is not alone. Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy have all drawn the suspicion of bond markets. To cow those markets into submission would take a bailout fund of trillions of dollars, not just hundreds of billions.
Could Europe just swallow hard and provide the cash? Obstacle: the borderline state of French finance. France currently has a AAA credit rating, but has substantial debt of its own. If it were to join Germany to backstop such a large fund, its credit rating could be downgraded, as Moody's warned last week. Without a top credit rating behind it, the finances of the bailout would not work.
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President Obama has before him an opportunity to promote U.S. values and a more comprehensive policy toward Russia because of the political and economic needs of Vladimir Putin and his "court." The right action now will promote U.S. interests, arguably the interests of the Russian people, and make it possible for the United States to have a better relationship with what we hope will be a more democratic Russian government in the not too distant future.
Russia's Prime Minister and de facto power center, Putin, currently finds his position not as stable as he'd like it to be. Poll numbers for his party remain low, cynicism remains high, all around him many of the world's autocrats and corrupt regimes are collapsing or wobbling, and the Russian economy and standard of living is stagnating even in a time of high oil prices.
This perhaps explains Russia's renewed effort to gain entrance into the WTO. This is good news in and of itself as free trade is a boon to all countries, but the U.S. policy should not be simply to say "amen" and push for Russia's accession with no other considerations. Russia's desire to join the WTO is just one of several levers that the president can use as part of a strategy to support Russia's becoming a more democratic country and the delegitimization of those trying to return it to tsarism.
The strategy the president should pursue could be comprised of three parts. First, a "reset" on U.S. policy toward Russia in terms of how we react to the government's treatment of dissidents and democratic activists. This effort is actually already in motion in that the president plans to nominate Michael McFaul to be the next ambassador to the Russian Federation. Dr. McFaul is a well-known and respected expert on Russia; but more importantly, he is an expert on democratic development and a firm supporter of same. His nomination alone sends a strong signal that the Obama administration is serious about its concerns regarding Russian politics. McFaul should go to Moscow with the full backing of the president to be an influential voice for democratic governance; he should be instructed to meet with dissidents and democratic activists. The timing is excellent: some of the best known democratic leaders in Russia have formed a new party and petitioned the government to allow it to participate officially. The U.S. position should be clear that such a party should be welcomed. Perhaps Putin will grasp that doing this makes Russia look good for WTO purposes if he needs a reason beyond just doing the right thing.
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In Paul Miller's excellent post below, he makes a persuasive case that much of the European reluctance to make the necessary resource commitments to NATO stems from a decades-long "rational choice" to free ride under the American security umbrella. I think Paul is largely correct, but would add that there is an additional dimension of culture and historical memory that also shapes the European mindset on defense.
Last week when Secretary Gates gave his Brussels speech, I happened to be on vacation with my wife in southern France. We spent a few days touring the French countryside and its many villages. As enchanting as each village was, with their timeless stone houses, quiet streams, and idyllic vineyards, every last town center also featured a monument to death, in the form of an obelisk listing the names of the men of the village who had died in World War I. These monuments, each one bearing witness to scores of names, serve for the French as inescapable reminders of the carnage and costs of war. In France's case, this meant the deaths of 1.3 million of its soldiers in the Great War alone. Even as the World War I generation has now passed from the scene, such obelisks, and their comparable memorials in other European countries, continue to shape Europe's collective memory - a memory further seared by the Great War's even bloodier sequel.
This traumatic twentieth century history forms much of the prevailing twenty-first century European worldview on security issues. The German Marshall Fund's invaluable annual survey, Transatlantic Trends, offers one of the most vivid illustrations of these transatlantic differences. According to the most recent 2010 edition of the survey, "when asked whether they agree that war is necessary to obtain justice under some circumstances, three-quarters of Americans (77%) and only one-quarter of EU respondents (27%) agreed. Although both numbers are up slightly from last year, these numbers have largely remained the same over the past several years and represent a significant and lasting divide in American and European public opinion....The differences are even more pronounced when considering 49% of Americans and only 8% of EU respondents agree strongly."
For Europeans, despite the European Union's prevailing economic woes, the EU's great political achievement has been forging the bonds and identity that make another continent-wide war almost unthinkable. And as Paul points out, NATO's formation after World War II may have been prompted most immediately by the Soviet threat, but it also played an important role in the Franco-German reconciliation and the foundations for European peace.
While American policy-makers should be mindful of how this historical sensibility influences European choices, this is not to excuse those choices. In Europe's case, the fact that history helps shape a culture does not mean that history should determine a culture. As a matter of policy, Secretary Gates' sharp critique is correct, both in its substance and tone. European nations do need to increase their defense budgets and their political will to use force for alliance missions, whether in Afghanistan or Libya or future conflicts. Just as Europe has largely been able to escape its past of catastrophically destructive continent-wide wars, Europe also needs to escape its more recent past of anemic commitments to security.
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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.