The Washington Post has run a few excerpts from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's latest book, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. It contains such shockers as the revelation that inter-service rivalry at the Pentagon led to bureaucratically sub-rational outcomes. As Captain Renault said to Rick, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"
Rajiv gets a few things right. He claims that "U.S. commanders thought that managing the NATO alliance was more important than winning the war." A lot of the senior brass seems never to have fully internalized the strategic importance of the war in Afghanistan, despite two presidents insisting that it was a vital American national security interest. When Bush and Obama can agree on something, you have to at least consider they may be right.
But much of the book dwells on interagency rivalry in Washington during the early months of the Obama administration, when I served as a staffer on the NSC. Here, Chandrasekaran embellishes, dramatizes, and exaggerates until the story is no longer recognizable.
In Chandrasekaran's telling, there was an epic rivalry between the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, and the NSC's special coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Doug Lute. I worked for Lute during some of the period covered by Chandrasekaran's story.
There was plainly a rivalry of sorts, but Chandrasekaran blows it out of all proportion and neglects obvious historical and institutional factors at play. The NSC and the State Department have been rivals since the NSC was created in 1947, and the rivalry endures across policy issues and regardless of personalities. Add to the standard institutional competition the fact that the Obama administration decided to have two separate 'special' leads for Af-Pak policy, one at State and one at NSC, and it is unsurprising that the two offices clashed over their confusing, overlapping and unclear roles. That's the natural consequence of the president's poor managerial decisions and the administration's neglect of clear institutional organization.
Instead of recognizing these obvious, if un-dramatic, facts, Chandrasekaran claims that the rivalry between Lute and Holbrooke cost the United States the opportunity to reach a peace deal with the Taliban in 2009-10. He claims that "The Obama White House failed to aggressively explore negotiations to end the war when it had the most boots on the battlefield," in part because of the rivalry. The claim is false. No such peace deal was within reach. Chandrasekaran even concedes that "It was not clear that [the Taliban's] leader, the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar, wanted to talk" to the United States. Indeed, despite Lute and Holbrooke's differences, they agreed on the fundamental policy of pursuing talks to end the war and the Obama administration has, however falteringly, made some progress towards that goal.
But Chandrasekaran goes so far as to say that "[National Security Advisor James] Jones and Lute hated the thought of Holbrooke basking in the spotlight as he did after peace in the Balkans." The accusation that two professional military men would let a personality conflict obstruct the president's ability to wage and win a war is petty, unfounded and worthy of the National Enquirer, not the Washington Post.
In fact, Lute went out of his way to re-engineer the interagency process and make a great display of co-chairing a new higher-level interagency forum with Holbrooke, something neither Chandrasekaran nor Woodward picked up on in their respective books. Lute and Holbrooke kept their disagreements out of the public eye, as professionals are supposed to do.
Lute and Holbrooke clashed, but that's what bureaucrats do, especially when there are real issues at stake that they disagree about. Chandrasekaran relates that Lute believed that Holbrooke "had ruined his relationships with Karzai, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul and officials in the Pakistani government." That's essentially true; I don't know many who would dispute that account. Holbrooke's histrionics and his belief that the U.S. should have tilted the playing field in the 2009 Afghan presidential election were responsible for much of the damage to U.S.-Afghan relations in the early years of the Obama administration.
I have always admired what Lute was able to accomplish during the transition between the Bush and Obama administrations. He provided crucial continuity during the first war-time presidential transition since 1968. He cooperated with the incoming administration as a foreign policy professional, embodying the non-partisan ethos that the community used to stand for. And, when the Obama team inexplicably demoted his position, he accepted it with a rare humility not often found among bureaucrats. A lesser man would have resigned to nurse his wounded pride. I like to think that he stayed because he believed, rightly, that the job was too important to put his ego first.
That doesn't mean Lute's record is flawless. I have been a frequent critic of the Obama administration's record on Afghanistan, some of which inevitably must reflect on Lute as the administration's longest-serving point-man on Afghan policy. But that is an honest disagreement on policy, the sort of thing that should drive public debate. Chandrasekaran may sell books with his tabloid accusations, but history will set the record straight.
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Peter Bergen has a new piece up on CNN's website that argues the United States can declare victory over al Qaeda and wind down the war against the group. Reading through his article, I found several places where I profoundly disagreed with his analysis and therefore with his overall conclusion that al Qaeda has been defeated.
First, Bergen begins with a false analogy by arguing that the current war is nothing like World War II, and that therefore there can be no culminating peace as was signed between the Allies and Nazi Germany. This argument implies that a definitive victory over al Qaeda, one on the model and scale of the victory over the Nazis, is impossible. The current war is indeed nothing like WWII -- it's an irregular conflict being fought against an insurgent group, while WWII (for the most part), was a regular conflict fought against recognizable nation-states. It might therefore be impossible to sign a peace treaty on the decks of a battleship when this war ends, but it is entirely possible to win irregular wars and to win them as definitively and recognizably as WWII was won, as the examples of multiple conflicts throughout the twentieth century show. For instance, from 1898-1954, the U.S. absolutely defeated three separate insurgencies in the Philippines, including a nationalist insurgency, an insurgency by local Muslims, and a communist insurgency. The British took on and repeatedly defeated insurgencies (the Boers, the Malay communists, and the Kenyan Mau-Mau, for instance), and it is actually difficult to find, beyond the Sandinistas and Castro's group, an insurgency that has succeeded in Latin America.
Second, Bergen argues that the war against al Qaeda is not an "essential challenge" to the U.S. and thus can be safely relegated to some level of effort short of war. It is true that the death of 3,000 Americans in the first attack on the U.S. homeland since WWII was not an existential threat to the U.S., nor have the pinpricks that al Qaeda has managed since 9-11 posed a serious challenge to the continued existence of the United States. On the other hand, this assessment fails to take into consideration the global growth of al Qaeda, its absorption of every other major jihadist group on the planet, and its ability to take and control territory throughout the Muslim-majority world. While I have heard some deride this spread as only threatening the 'garden-spots' of the world, we need to remind ourselves that it was from just this sort of uncontrolled territory that 9-11 was carried out, and once the 'garden-spots' are taken, our vital lines of communications and territories that we (apparently) care more about will be threatened. In addition, I would note that it has only been through our wartime footing that we have managed to keep al Qaeda in even this loose net. If we downgrade our effort, al Qaeda will be able to grow even faster and push its control even further.
Third and fourth, the article goes on to conclude that it is possible to "declare victory" and move on because 1) al Qaeda's offensive capabilities are "puny" and 2) U.S. defenses are strong. The first of these assessments is based on an assumption about al Qaeda that is unwarranted; that is, that al Qaeda's main objective and goal is to attack the United States. The recent release of documents from Abbottabad make it clear that attacking the United States was (and is) but the first step in a staged strategic plan, a plan that begins by attriting the United States, and weakening it so much that the United States will be forced out of all Muslim-majority countries. The next stage of al Qaeda's strategic plan is to take over and control territory, declaring "emirates" that will be able to spread safely because the United States will be too weak to intervene. This means that the affiliates are not just dangerous when they attack the United States (which Bergen implies in his article), but are a threat to our security when they overthrow local governments and set up local emirates that have greater, global ambitions. I would also note that while polling data is important for understanding how well we are doing in our fight against al Qaeda -- and here the indications are positive -- it is a fact that insurgencies need only a tiny percentage of active support in order to be self-sustaining (usually defined as 5 percent of the populace). Al Qaeda would like the consent of the governed, but they are perfectly happy to violently enforce obedience to their rule when necessary. And by the way: No al Qaeda affiliate or partner (including the Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, or the Shabaab) has been deposed from power by an uprising of the local population alone. They have needed outside intervention in order to expel the insurgents, even when the people have hated al Qaeda's often brutal rule.
On Bergen's second point, I agree that U.S. defenses are strong, but disagree profoundly with the current mission of Special Operation Forces as the right method to defeat al Qaeda. This counter-terrorism mission is based on killing al Qaeda members, i.e. attrition, a strategy that assumes that al Qaeda is still a terrorist group as it was in the 1990s. This is simply not true. Even then, the group's leadership aspired to bigger things, and al Qaeda has now succeeded in becoming an insurgent group, one that takes and holds territory, recruits far more soldiers than we can kill, sets up shadow governance and attempts to overthrow governments around the Muslim-majority world. While attrition can succeed as a strategy against terrorist groups (see i.e. the Spanish and French fight against ETA), it is absolutely counterproductive against an insurgency, which simply uses the killings to recruit more members and to fuel its propaganda.
Fifth, some part of Bergen's declaration of victory is based on wishful thinking. He argues, for instance, that killing or capturing AQAP's bomb-maker will 'likely' cause the threat from AQAP to recede. This assumes that 1) the bomb-maker never trained replacements and 2) that AQAP is incapable of thinking up other ways to attack us. It also ignores the real threat from AQAP if it manages to overthrow the government in Sana'a and push on into Saudi Arabia.
Finally, the last sentence of his article is a straw man. The objective of the Allied war on the Nazis was the same as every other regular war: To break the enemy's will to resist. It was simply not necessary to kill every Nazi in order to achieve this objective. The objective of irregular wars is rather different, however: to secure the population by clearing out the insurgents; then holding the territory through persistent presence; and finally creating the political conditions necessary to prevent any further appeal by the remaining insurgents. In this view, winning against al Qaeda does not depend on body counts, but rather would look very much like victories against other insurgents: the spreading of security for populations in Somalia, Yemen, the Sahel, and elsewhere; the prevention of a return of al-Qaeda to these cleared areas; and the empowerment of legitimate governments that can control and police their own territories. By these standards, we have not yet defeated al Qaeda; in fact, beyond Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia, we have hardly engaged the enemy at all.
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Outrage over the recent national security leaks has been slowly building. It has all the signs of having legs, as they say in the business -- of being a long-term Big Problem, rather than a short-term distraction.
The outrage is bipartisan, and in particular has been voiced with authority and passion by the senior senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, who claims that she learned things from David Sanger's book that she didn't learn as chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.
And the outrage is beginning to have a focus: on National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. Old Beltway hands see the dots as connecting and pointing to Donilon as the most senior, if not the earliest and certainly not the only, source. The focus may be unfair, or at least based only on circumstantial evidence. Undoubtedly others were leaking sensitive information, perhaps without the knowledge or approval of senior leaders like Donilon, let alone his boss, the president. But when folks like Tom Ricks are starting a death watch the focus is likely to stay riveted on White House advisors, and on Donilon in particular.
This is all bad news for the Obama administration, obviously. The issues at the center of this scandal are the very ones that have been rare bright spots on Obama's record, where even his most ardent critics have given him praise. Indeed, what the self-aggrandizing leaking has done is to shift the story-line from how the Obama administration helped protect our national security by successfully pursuing Bin Laden to how the Obama administration has hurt national security by bragging about the operational details of the strike -- a pattern repeated over several sensitive covert operations. The first story-line makes for a nice Democratic campaign commercial. The second story-line is fodder for Republicans.
One way this ends is with a lengthy criminal investigation that may or may not resolve the matter. Andrew McCarthy has argued persuasively that as egregious as the leaking has been, it is unlikely to end in criminal convictions. And it is unlikely to end before the election, leaving the scandal as an open wound that cannot heal.
Which suggests another way this could end: with a high-profile resignation, most likely Tom Donilon's. By all accounts, Donilon is fiercely loyal to the president and completely committed to Obama's reelection. He must see, therefore, the damage this is doing to the administration and must be keen to stop the damage if he can. Perhaps he has already offered to resign; several of his predecessors have tendered resignations over far more minor matters. The current scandal, which is quite serious and far-reaching, would likely have driven a principled NSA to offer his resignation long ago. The fact that he is still on the job may simply indicate that President Obama did not accept the offer.
I suspect President Obama may be reconsidering. In the past, Obama moved fairly decisively to distance himself from other close friends and advisors who became campaign liabilities. This scandal has all the makings of a major campaign liability, and in a close election, this president can't afford the distraction.
One of the more interesting analytical products put out by the intelligence community (IC) is the Global Trends series, a quadrennial look-ahead that sketches how the world might look some 15-plus years hence. The IC is currently working on Global Trends 2030, which will be officially published after the U.S. election in November. Right after the 2008 election, the IC released Global Trends 2025 and so on back to the first edition published in 1996-97.
The lead author for the current cycle, Mat Burrows, has taken a draft version of Global Trends 2030 out on the road for numerous off-Broadway reviews. I have been invited to multiple murder-boards, which involve the usual suspects of American national security strategists each offering comments big and small. (I had some more substantive comments, but I confess I delighted in beginning my remarks at one recent session by identifying a couple of typos. I told Mat, who has to be one of the more gracious and long-suffering souls in the business, that it takes a special kind of internal fortitude to listen to so many people criticize your work and offer "helpful suggestions.")
What makes this review process unique, however, is that the IC literally spans the globe for feedback. Burrows has briefed the draft around the world to audiences of international strategists and I suspect the feedback he has gotten in those sessions would make up a fascinating analytic product all by itself.
The IC also wants feedback from the attentive public, and here is your chance to provide it. They have set up a website where the various themes can be debated. Each week this summer, a different think-tank will guest host a blog in order to further the public conversation. This week, my home organizations -- Duke's American Grand Strategy Program and the Triangle Institute for Security Studies -- will be hosting the blog. Our theme is "the role of the United States in 2030." This happens to be the first iteration of Global Trends that explicitly considers the role of the United States and so this aspect of the report is of special importance.
Perhaps you could drop by and weigh in...
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Read more about the Indo-U.S. strategic partnership here.
Critics of the civilian-nuclear deal between the United States and India -- proposed in 2005 and ratified in 2008 -- have more recently charged that its supporters oversold the broader benefits of Indo-U.S. strategic partnership. Their critique has been given unearned momentum by the Indian parliament, which passed nuclear liability legislation that does not meet international standards, effectively making it impossible for U.S. companies to build civilian-nuclear plants in India. Critics have also been emboldened by a certain drift in U.S.-India relations since 2009 -- for which both sides bear responsibility -- and by India's own lackluster economic performance, which diminishes its attractiveness as the pivotal U.S. partner in 21st century Asia. But these developments do not mean the relationship was oversold. The more accurate charge is that it has not yet been fully consummated.
The Obama administration sent decidedly mixed messages to New Delhi upon taking office in 2009. Bush administration officials had argued convincingly that a shared appreciation for managing the balance of power in Asia was at the core of the U.S.-India entente -- music to the ears of leaders in a country that has still not recovered from the psychological scars of a war with China in 1962. However, early in their tenure, senior Obama administration officials reportedly told Indian counterparts that the United States was no longer "doing balance of power in Asia," while senior U.S. officials, including the president and secretary of state, gave credence for a time to the notion of a Sino-American "G-2" condominium in Asian and global affairs.
This unnerved Indian officials who believed Washington had chosen New Delhi -- not Beijing -- as its privileged partner in rising Asia. Spurned Indian officials fell back on old non-alignment instincts and began speaking of "triangulating" between the United States and China. But events happily changed the discourse: China's militant assertiveness in 2010-11 reminded officials in Washington and across Asia of the growing danger posed by budding Chinese power. President Obama's self-declared "pivot" to Asia in 2011 moved the United States much closer to the Indian position of sustaining a regional equilibrium not tilted in China's direction -- a project of such immensity that India cannot achieve it absent close alignment, if not alliance, with the United States. Nonetheless, the early damage to a U.S.-India relationship whose central logic is rooted in the balance of power caused mistrust that still lingers.
More recently, Indians have been disappointed that the United States, after reassuring them for a decade that U.S. forces would finish the job they started in Afghanistan, will withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan through 2014. Beyond its intrinsic importance, Afghanistan was in fact a key test of the proposition that the United States, as a new strategic partner, could help India solve its toughest security challenge: the propensity of its neighbors to export terrorism into India, with state support. The Taliban's eventual return to control in at least parts of Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan's virulently anti-Indian security services as NATO forces draw down, will undermine Indian security in tangible ways. For many Indians, the United States' lack of staying power reconfirms old suspicions about American unreliability. It reinforces the conviction that India may have more to gain from collaborating with Russia and Iran to support Afghan groups committed to the Taliban's defeat than from relying on (and working with) the United States to do the job.
Americans, in turn, have been disappointed by India's apparent willingness, for a time, to risk its U.S. relationship over energy trade with Iran. The good news is that India has moved to reduce oil and gas imports from Iran, earning New Delhi a waiver from U.S. third-party sanctions set to take effect next month. This is particularly significant in light of India's energy-import dependence and its previous reliance on Iran as a top supplier. But American officials have spent precious time and energy over the course of several years urging India to cut back on its Iran trade -- time and energy that would have been better spent forging ahead on a wider agenda for Indo-U.S. cooperation, were it not for Indian reluctance to take American appeals to heart. New Delhi would have benefited more from early movement on this issue, rather than making a show of standing up to the United States even as India, out of concern for its own interests, systematically reduced its dependence on Iranian energy supplies.
Americans excited about the rise to great-power status of the world's largest democracy have also questioned how India's passivity toward the Arab uprisings has served Indian interests, much less prospects for partnership with both Washington and reformist Arab regimes. While India's election commission did assist in organizing Egypt's first democratic elections, New Delhi has been seriously behind the curve in Libya, Egypt, and Syria (though it has not blocked U.N. Security Council actions on the latter). It is Indian interests that suffer from such passivity, in the form of cool relations with post-revolutionary countries strategically positioned on its western doorstep. Such passivity has undermined the case, not just in Washington but internationally, that India is ready to provide global public goods and assume genuine responsibilities beyond its borders as a permanent member of the Security Council.
Nonetheless, over the past three years India and the United States have made quiet progress in consolidating their new relationship. India is the world's largest arms importer, and the United States is at the top of its list of defense suppliers -- notwithstanding American disappointment that India did not choose a U.S. fifth-generation fighter jet as part of its ongoing military modernization. Indian armed forces exercise more with U.S. counterparts than those from any other country -- a remarkable development for two countries that were on opposite sides of the Cold War divide. Intelligence-sharing is at historic highs; Washington and New Delhi cooperate more actively on counter-terrorism than ever before. The two countries are also more closely aligned on Pakistan as a result of the degeneration of the U.S.-Pakistan alliance over the previous three years. Perhaps most importantly, India and post-pivot America see eye-to-eye on the immense strategic challenge posed by China's ascendance; the Indo-American dialogue on East Asian security has been richly rewarding for both sides.
The hard truth is that Indo-U.S. relations would be better were India and the United States each doing better. India was a most attractive partner when it was growing at near-double digit rates annually, putting it on track to emerge as the world's largest economy before 2050. For many Americans today, India is a less attractive partner as economic growth slumps, the government stalls on key reforms necessary to unlock the economy's vast potential, populism trumps effective policymaking, and politicians seem unable to break partisan gridlock to govern effectively. Funnily enough, Indians could say exactly the same thing about America under President Obama.
More than any other economic danger looming on America's immediate horizon, including a possible break-up of the eurozone, sequestration poses the greatest single threat to American recovery in the near term. This arcane process came into force when the congressionally-mandated "super-committee, "officially known as the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, failed in its mission. As a result, the sequester calls for reductions in government spending totaling $1.2 trillion over the next nine years, of which $984 billion, or $109 billion annually, will be realized from across-the-board budget reductions.
Although defense accounts for only 14 percent of the budget deficit, when entitlements are taken into account, the annual $109 billion dollar cut will be evenly divided between defense and non-defense reductions, with some small reductions in entitlements contributing to the non-defense side of the ledger. Put another way, once the sequester comes into effect, defense-related appropriations will have to be reduced by $55 billion annually. And these reductions will be of the sledgehammer variety: Every "program, project and activity" will be reduced by the same percentage, regardless of its relative importance to the overall enhancement of national security.
It gets worse. The sequester does not begin to bite until January 2, 2013 -- that is, until the beginning of the second quarter of the upcoming fiscal year. That means that the entire $55 billion must be found from programs that had not yet been obligated during the first quarter of the fiscal year. To the extent that such commitments will have been made, the amount of funding susceptible to reductions will itself be reduced, and the percentage of reductions will accordingly increase. Finally, because President Obama is expected to exempt the military personnel accounts, which total some $141 billion, and Congress is expected to exempt the contingency-related accounts (which are the major source of funding for the war in Afghanistan), there will remain some $375 billion, from which $55 billion will have to be found, resulting in a 15 percent reduction in all other defense programs.
The impact of that reduction will be highly disruptive to both the current and longer term defense program. It will result in massive reductions in weapons systems, though not in personnel. It will render the pivot to Asia meaningless; any plans for increasing our military muscle in that region will be completely undermined by the reduction in shipbuilding, aircraft, missile, drones, and a host of other acquisition programs. Our presence in the rest of the world will at best fare no better, and, in light of the so-called pivot, will probably suffer even more.
All the foregoing has long been well-known to Washington's defense cognoscenti and especially its bean counters. What is less well-known, and at least equally alarming, is the impact of the sequester on the economy as a whole. As the recently released study by the Bipartisan Policy Center points out (full disclosure: I am a member of the Center's Task Force on Defense Budget and Strategy), the sequester will result in the loss of about a million jobs in 2013 and 2014 and America's GDP will decline by half a percent. Moreover, of these million lost jobs, it can safely be asserted that at least half will come from the non-defense sector. In other words, the sequester is not just a defense problem that should agitate only hawks. It is a national problem, and it demands immediate relief.
Despite the urgency of the sequester's challenge, the administration continues to sit on its hands. No draft legislation has emerged from the White House that would at least postpone the sequester for a reasonable period to enable Congress to try its hand at another effort to reduce the deficit. The administration's allies on the hill, particularly in the Senate, have been equally nonchalant about the coming programmatic and economic disaster.
Such nonchalance carries with it a very high risk, however, and not only for the economy. In addition to its impact on the government's budget, the sequester will also trigger the WARN Act, which requires employers to give a minimum of sixty days notice to private and public sector employees whose jobs are being targeted for possible termination. Those politicians seeking re-election to national office should take note that Nov. 2, 60 days before Jan. 2, when the sequester comes into force, is just four days before election day. They may find it very uncomfortable having to explain to potentially hundreds of thousands of people who have been given WARN Act pink slips why they deserve to be returned to office after they did nothing about the sequester. America's economic house is burning; the Neros of Washington had better act soon, or they may find that their political fate will echo that of their ancient Roman namesake.
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Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has made no secret of his support for Iran's controversial nuclear program. In fact, the fiery leftist revels in flaunting that support before the international community. But the relationship goes even deeper than that. Correa's foreign minister just returned from Tehran, where he blasted the United States and sealed a $400 million deal to purchase Iranian fuel products, a deal that might not be illegal under United Nations sanctions, but certainly violates the spirit of international efforts to isolate the Islamist regime over its rogue nuclear program.
At the same time, Iran's Vice President for International Affairs Ali Saeedlou was visiting President Correa in Quito, saying, "The Islamic Republic of Iran places no limits on the expansion of cooperation with Ecuador." (Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a visit to Ecuador just this past January.)
What makes this all worth noting is that the Ecuadorean embassy in Washington has just announced a public campaign to convince the U.S. Congress that Ecuador is deserving of continued trade preferences under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA).
Where to begin?
ATPA was first passed by Congress in 1991 to provide certain Andean countries market access for key exports to boost alternative industries to the drug trade. Of the four original beneficiaries, only Ecuador remains. Colombia and Peru both now have free trade agreements with the U.S., while Bolivia lost privileges for its expulsion of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008.
Obviously, a fundamental prerequisite for ATPA eligibility is that a country shares a commonality of purpose with the U.S. in eradicating illicit narcotics, but such a commitment under President Correa has been nonexistent. In fact, he made a central component of his rise to power to expel a U.S. counter-narcotics unit from the coastal city of Manta, which monitored drug shipments heading north to the United States and beyond.
According to the State Department's 2012 international narcotics report, since the U.S. expulsion from Manta in 2009, drug seizures have gone down and trafficking has gone up. Moreover, last year the U.S. and Ecuador did not carry out a single joint counter-narcotics exercise, even as Mexican, Colombian, Russian, and Chinese transnational criminal organizations have increased their presence and activities in Ecuador.
Beyond counter-narcotics cooperation, ATPA also requires that the beneficiary respect the rights of U.S. companies operating within their borders. On that front, Ecuador has been involved in a high-stakes, multi-billion-dollar shakedown of the U.S. oil company Chevron, which it claims is responsible for the despoilment of a patch of the Ecuadorean rain forest years ago. The case has been replete with rigged judicial proceedings and political interference from the get-go.
Finally, Iran. One would think that extending trade benefits to another country would entitle the U.S. to some expressions of broader good will in return. Instead, the Correa government has responded with a reckless embrace of an international rogue that is pushing the world to a crisis point, for no other reason than to burnish its anti-American credentials.
ATPA does not expire until next year, but the U.S. Trade Representative has already asked for public comments on whether it should be renewed for Ecuador. The case for extension is not even close and the Obama administration ought to convey their opposition to any roll-over. Whether it is a joint commitment to fighting drugs, respecting U.S. investors, or hostility to fundamental U.S. foreign policy goals, Ecuador under the Correa government fails on all counts.
If Ecuadorean exporters are going to be hurt by the end of ATPA benefits, they need to make their case to their own government, not the U.S. Congress. And they need to hold President Correa accountable -- and him alone -- if those benefits are lost.
When it comes to partisan differences on foreign policy, one area that the conventional wisdom regards as a deep chasm is multilateralism. A crude set of stereotypes have taken hold: Republicans as reckless unilateralists, and Democrats as feckless multilateralists. But in actual practice the differences over multilateralism are often not as acute, as most policymakers from both parties would admit. On this note, our readers might be interested in the results of a recent survey that my colleagues Josh Busby (also of the University of Texas-Austin) and Jon Monten (of the University of Oklahoma) and I put together. Assessing the views of experienced policy-makers in both parties, we found that while there are genuine partisan differences on multilateralism, there is also a surprising degree of agreement and bipartisan consensus. We wrote-up an analysis of our findings at the Foreign Affairs website, and a summary of the survey results can be found here. [In the spirit of bipartisanship, alert readers will also appreciate this collegial cross-linking between Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs. If this bonhomie keeps up, by week's end Peter Feaver will be writing nice things about the North Carolina basketball team].
In brief, our survey found that both parties see the value and the limitations in multilateralism. Furthermore, while both parties might often arrive at similar policy outcomes, they do so from different orientations. For example both parties believe multilateralism in practice generally increases the effectiveness of American foreign policy. Yet as we describe in the article, Republicans and Democrats use different balancing tests when considering a multilateral initiative and evaluating just how effective it might be. Republicans tend to emphasize the importance of sovereignty and freedom of action, while Democrats tend to emphasize the importance of legitimacy and interdependence. Thus Republicans weigh whether the multilateral opportunity protects American sovereignty and produces the desired policy results. They usually will agree to relinquishing a measure of sovereignty if a multilateral policy otherwise appears to be effective, but are likely to oppose a multilateral initiative that they perceive to erode sovereignty without delivering adequate policy benefits. In contrast, Democrats weigh whether the multilateral opportunity appears to address the vulnerabilities created by interdependence and is perceived as legitimate by other countries. These principles, Democrats believe, contribute to more desirable policy outcomes.
In trying to make sense of these findings, we considered various labels to summarize the dispositions of the parties (e.g. Republicans as "pragmatic multilateralists" and Democrats as "principled multilateralists," or the GOP as "a la carte multilateralists" and Dems as "prix fixe multilateralists"). Ultimately we settled on the categories "sovereignty-minded multilateralists" and "interdependence-oriented multilateralists," which hopefully make up in accuracy what they lack in pith and punch.
The survey is admittedly constrained in how much it captures party attitudes because we limited it to people who have served in meaningful policy-making positions (rather than pundits and party activists), and because the surveys depended on people believing it worthwhile to take the time to respond. So while our political scientist friends out there might find areas to quibble on methodology and selection effects, we still think that the surveys capture something meaningful. Especially because the responses reflect the beliefs of those who have actually made policy, and who may well occupy policy-making roles in the future.
The survey also helps illuminate not just where Republicans and Democrats might diverge on certain foreign policy questions, but why they do so. Understanding these reasons can be constructive on a number of fronts. It can lay a basis for bipartisan cooperation by helping each side understand the other's core concerns and priorities, and also help illuminate potential sticking points on particular issues. Understanding how Democrats and Republicans think about foreign policy can also help clarify the differences between the parties for other stakeholders, ranging from foreign governments trying to understand American foreign policy, to American voters weighing their choices this November.
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How should the next president refine American Grand Strategy? That is the subject of a report released today by the Center for New American Security (CNAS). CNAS herded a bunch of us cats (including yours truly) in the hopes of starting a cat fight. You can judge for yourself, or come see the fur fly in person at the CNAS Annual Conference on June 13.
As I read the report, there is greater overlap among the competing perspectives than one might expect (perhaps even more than the CNAS cat-herders expected). Dick Betts calls for the greatest amount of change from the status quo grand strategy, but I wonder if that isn't because he pegs the status quo to somewhere around January 2003, at the high-water mark of what he would consider to be wrong-headed American military interventionist impulses. I call for the least amount of change to the status quo strategy, but that is because I consider the second-term Bush grand strategy, which Obama has largely tried to implement (whilst rhetorically repudiating), to be a reasonable exemplar of a post-Cold War approach that has been more successful than not. Bob Art has his own take, which I consider to be fairly compatible with what I call the "legacy grand strategy." And Anne-Marie Slaughter emphasizes the prevalence of networks, which, she argues, requires a fundamental rethink of grand strategy. I think she is right about the importance of networks, and I am all for a rethink of grand strategy. After doing that rethink, I end up more comfortable with the strategy that has hitherto guided us than she is, but I think the differences are a matter of nuance.
I am willing to bet that my FP colleagues who also blog on grand strategy from time to time will agree with me on this narrow point -- that the CNAS group has a lot more in common than in dispute -- even if they disagree profoundly with my own preferred strategy. Since the CNAS group does not include a true-believer in "off-shore balancing," or other such more-radical alternative retreats from American global leadership, it will be interesting to read a substantive critique-and-proposal along those lines.
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The Senate version of the foreign assistance bill is taking shape, and it is commendable for being both sound and a broadly bipartisan approach, even though it signals the death knell of the Obama administration's commitment to "smart power." The Subcommittee on Foreign Operations yesterday approved $52 billion in foreign assistance, only 2 percent less than this year's spending. That is an amazing commitment to help other countries and shape the international order, given that the United States will have to borrow $20.8 billion of that money.
Predictably, the Senate is reducing aid to Pakistan. While still providing $1 billion in aid to Pakistan, the bill would reduce that aid by 58 percent. Pakistan itself provoked the hardening opposition: Its extortionate demand for upwards of $3,000 customs charge on every truck carrying NATO supplies into Afghanistan was the driving factor in shaping Congressional attitudes. Previous to the suspension that has been in place the past six months, the cost to us was $200. The U.S. may very well end up paying in customs fees what it previously gave in foreign assistance, but perhaps not: Supply routes have been substantially diversified. We may simply end up paying Pakistan's neighbors.
The Obama administration also bears not inconsiderable responsibility for the cuts to Pakistan. Soldiers joke that we haven't fought a ten year war in Afghanistan, but ten one year wars because the approach kept shifting. The same is true with Obama administration "strategy" toward Pakistan. President Obama came into office having campaigned on conducting unilateral military attacks inside Pakistan, setting a confrontational tone; then adopted a "strategic dialogue" approach of $5 billion in annual assistance to Pakistan in order to reassure them; suspended in 2011 military aid to Pakistan; then made the aid conditional on Pakistan's full support in our war effort. Now the Obama administration cannot even get the Pakistani suspension of transit rights lifted by including Pakistani President Zardari in the NATO summit festivities. Relations with Pakistan have never been worse. Given that Pakistan is essential to achieving our war aims, this would seem to refute National Security Advisor Tom Donilon's claim that the Obama administration repaired America's relations with America's allies.
Iraq also came in for reductions in aid, a whopping 77 percent, the largest cut enacted in the bill. The Senate understandably eliminated funding for the ill-conceived and clownishly executed State Department police training program. So much for what Secretary Clinton termed "the largest civilian program since the Marshall Plan." For those who wonder why enormous swathes of civilian activity have migrated into the Pentagon, State's incapacity to develop an executable program for capitalizing on the military's gains in Iraq should explain it.
And for all the administration's grandstanding at the NATO summit about our long-term commitment to Afghanistan, the Senate would reduce assistance there by 28 percent, equating the administration's draw-down in military forces with a draw-down in civilian activity. Needless to say, civilian spending should increase to cushion the transition as military forces withdraw. But having bungled both the largest civilian program since the Marshall Plan and the "civilian surge" in Afghanistan, the Department of State and USAID are in no position to persuade the Congress. Not that they have tried, incidentally. It is incredibly disheartening to compare the silence of State/AID in defending their budget to the roar of DOD claxons the past six months in conditioning Congressional attitudes about cuts to defense spending.
In one final grace note, the Senate bill would reduce aid to Egypt by the $5 million required to buy the freedom of U.S. citizens that were to have been put on trial in Egypt for promoting democratic change. As Senator Graham put it, "we got our money back."
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The usually sober editorial board of the Washington Post misfired badly in a recent editorial, "The refuseniks of Cuba," in which it lambasted the Obama administration for denying visas to a few Cuban academic apparatchiks who wanted to attend an upcoming conference of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) in San Francisco.
Now, there are good reasons to criticize the administration's decision on the matter -- but on the grounds of its apparent incoherence, rather than as a statement directed against the Castros' totalitarian regime. It turns out that only 11 visas were denied, some 60 were approved, and a few more are under review. Given the non-transparent visa issuance process, there is little to explain why any of the decisions were made, including granting a visa to Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, a noted "sexologist."
Predictably, the result of the administration's apparent split-the-difference approach wound up pleasing no one. Pro-freedom Cuban American members of Congress were irate that the State Department granted travel permission to Mariela Castro, who Senator Robert Menendez called a "vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy, who has defended the regime's brutal repression of democracy activists."
Yet, in attempting to make the case for the 11 Cubans who were denied visas, the Post went over-the-top, completely distorting the issue at hand. For example, calling the denied Cubans "refuseniks" eviscerates all known meanings of the term, which originated behind the Iron Curtain and referred to those who requested exit visas to leave the Soviet Union, an act of betrayal in the eyes of authorities from which they suffered greatly.
The fact is that not a single member of the Cuban LASA delegation has ever said or written anything that deviated so far from the party line that they had to pay any professional or personal price. They all live lives of relative comfort and ease under the benign care (and watchful eye) of the regime.
Contrast this to the thousands of Cuban men and women who have dared to think freely and independently and continue to do so. Not only are they harassed daily, jailed, or forced into exile, but many have paid the ultimate price for refusing to relinquish their fundamental human rights. To equate in any way their sacrifices to the experiences of pampered regime elites is simply obscene.
Unable to comprehend this point, the Post can only attribute opposition to the granting of visas to "fear," as if people are afraid the Cubans' sanctioned talking points couldn't be rebutted or would change anyone's opinion about their murderous regime. The assertion is risible on its face.
Rather, the point is that a regime that has denied a truly free and independent thinker such as the blogger Yoani Sanchez permission to leave Cuba some twenty times simply does not deserve to enjoy the same rights as a reward to its academic collaborators, whose all-expenses-paid visit to the United States is designed only to whip up public sentiment against the U.S. embargo anyway.
Then there is the matter of the jailed American Alan Gross, who has been incarcerated in Cuba for more than two years for trying to help Cubans link to the internet without going through regime censors, as is their human right. Once again, in granting any visas to the Cubans, the administration has sent the signal that the abduction of Mr. Gross continues to be cost-free.
The principled decision would have been to deny all the visas in solidarity with the thousands of Cubans who cannot speak their minds in Cuba or travel freely or had to flee Cuba to enjoy those rights; moreover, to reaffirm that there will not be business-as-usual as long as Alan Gross remains unjustly imprisoned. But all this has been muddled by half-measures: Deny some, allow others. It may be that the administration doesn't mind drawing both the ire of the right and the left, but political expedience is never a good choice over principle.
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Few pieces could be more damaging to President Obama's claim to the mantle of a skilled war-time commander-in-chief than the New York Times' exposé on how his views on Afghanistan shifted from his hawkish campaign to his eager-to-withdraw presidency.
Obama reportedly did not consult with the military before announcing in July 2011 his plans to withdraw U.S. troops and end the combat mission in Afghanistan. "The generals were cut out entirely," according to the Times, confirming that the withdrawal is not dictated by military necessities.
Instead of taking military advice, Obama's policy was predicated on a false reading of history. "Mr. Obama concluded in his first year that the Bush-era dream of remaking Afghanistan was a fantasy." But Bush never had that dream. Bush invoked lofty rhetoric, but never seriously undertook the reconstruction of Afghanistan. A serious effort would have involved massively more money and personnel. Bush's administration was famous for doing nation-building on the cheap with a light-footprint. Nonetheless, Obama got sticker-shock by the price tag of the Afghan war and decided to lower the bar from the already-low starting point.
Funny thing: Afghanistan is the second-cheapest major war in U.S. history as a percentage of GDP, according to the Congressional Research Service. It seems odd to get sticker shock for a war that has accounted for about 1 percent of U.S. federal expenditures over the last decade. About 65 percent of federal expenditures over the last ten years have gone towards entitlements. By comparison, about 15 percent has gone towards national defense, excluding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq has cost three percent, and only about one percent has gone towards the war in Afghanistan (including the cost of ongoing military operations and all reconstruction and stabilization assistance combined), according to my analysis of figures from OMB (see table, below).
But Obama let neither fiscal nor military realities drive his policy. Instead, he began to doubt the importance and feasibility of the war. In probably the most damning passage, the Times writes:
[Obama] also began to reassess whether emerging victorious in Afghanistan was as necessary as he had once proclaimed. Ultimately, Obama agreed to double the size of the American force while training the Afghan armed forces, but famously insisted that, whether America was winning or losing, the drawdown would begin in just 18 months.
The president escalated the war while simultaneously doubting whether it was very important or even winnable. He came to believe that "progress was possible -- but not on the kind of timeline that [he] thought economically or politically affordable." I suspect Obama was going to get sticker shock no matter what the price tag, simply because he didn't want to pay for a war he no longer believed in.
If Obama sincerely believed the war was either unimportant or already lost, he had a moral responsibility to the soldiers under his command to order their immediate withdrawal; or, contrarily, if he believed the war was still important and winnable (which it is), he had a responsibility to go "all in" and give the troops everything they needed for victory. He did neither, seeking to do just enough to get credit for trying while avoiding an even larger commitment that would have dominated his presidency. Analogizing Vietnam is almost never appropriate, but here it seems irresistible.
"Mr. Obama concluded that the Pentagon had not internalized that the goal was not to defeat the Taliban," according to the Times. The easiest way for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to differentiate himself from Obama on Afghanistan would be to reverse Obama's temporizing and make the Taliban's defeat the goal of U.S. policy in South Asia. Such a policy makes sense because, as the Times concludes, under Obama's policy, "Left unclear is how America will respond if a Taliban resurgence takes over wide swathes of the country." Obama himself said in his speech in Kabul that stability in Afghanistan is a prerequisite to denying safe haven to al Qaeda. "Otherwise, our gains could be lost and al Qaeda could establish itself once more," he said. That's true: So why has he refused to take the steps necessary to ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan? His failure to do so is his legacy.
President Obama's surprise speech in Kabul was a political stunt filled with the kind of mischaracterizations typical of a campaign, but the actual U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement that he signed while there was something of greater substance.
The crux of the long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan in the new agreement is the American promise to designate Afghanistan a Major Non-NATO Ally. The designation communicates a relatively strong U.S. commitment to Afghan security and begin to undo the damage done by the Obama administration's various and shifting deadlines for the Afghan mission.
The agreement, however, has weaknesses. Click for my full analysis over at the AfPak Channel.
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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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Washington is abuzz with speculation about a possible interim deal that might help defuse the brewing crisis over Iran's nuclear program. Color me skeptical.
That said, one thing seems clear. Iran's increased interest in negotiations has been driven almost entirely by its search for relief from harsh Western sanctions imposed in the last six months.
A top official from the Obama administration recently told me that "from what we are seeing, the threat of an Israeli strike hardly figures right now in Iranian calculations. On the contrary, everything indicates that what really worries Iran's leaders is the impact of sanctions and the danger that they could spark domestic unrest." Senior Israeli intelligence analysts have reached a similar conclusion, noting in conversations that, "at the moment, Iran doesn't think Israel will attack [without endorsement from the U.S.] . . . . The need for sanctions relief is the reason they're back at the table."
Of course, the centerpiece of the sanctions campaign has been the U.S. decision at long last to target the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). Foreign financial institutions that continue dealing with the CBI to make payments for Iranian oil now risk being cut off from the U.S. banking system. Only countries that show significant reductions in purchases by late June will qualify for exemptions.
In response, the European Union has agreed to end all imports of Iranian oil as of July 1. Japan -- Iran's second largest customer -- has already secured a U.S. waiver for its efforts to slash imports. Other major purchasers of Iranian crude, including South Korea, India, South Africa, and Turkey, are scrambling to follow suit. There are even signs that China, Iran's biggest buyer, may be reluctantly cutting back, or at least taking advantage of the shrinking demand for Iranian product to negotiate significant price reductions.
At the moment, the impact on Iranian revenues is shaping up to be truly major. Oil sales account for more than half of Iran's national budget. Some estimates now suggest that Iranian exports could drop by as much as 30-40 percent in the next several months. To find buyers for the rest, Iran may well be forced to offer steep discounts, further cutting into its revenue stream.
As a result, Iran now stands at the precipice of its most severe economic crisis since the devastation of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. With memories of 2009's popular uprising still fresh in their minds, Iran's ruling mullahs are no doubt concerned over the risks they run by continuing down a path of unbridled confrontation, one that promises to double down on the substantial misery they've already inflicted on the Iranian people. Thus -- surprise, surprise -- we get the regime's recent negotiations gambit and the prospect, however slim, of meaningful compromise.
Given the obvious success that CBI sanctions have had in escalating pressure on Iran, an interesting question is why it took so dreadfully long for Washington to pull the trigger. After all, the basic idea of attacking Iran's oil sales by targeting the CBI has been around for years. I can recall discussions on the topic within the U.S. government as far back as 2006. Indeed, I vividly recall President Bush at numerous meetings beseeching his advisors to provide him new sources of leverage for pressuring Iran, and explicitly raising the idea of going after the CBI. Equally vividly, I recall Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson shooting the idea down, labeling it the "nuclear option" and direly predicting that it would wreak havoc on global markets and the U.S. economy. And that was largely that. The supposed Master of the Wall Street Universe had spoken and further discussion, for all intents and purposes, was closed off.
Distressingly, what I don't remember is anyone stepping forward to back up Paulson's reflexive conclusion about the unworkability of CBI sanctions with any hard analysis or data. Despite President Bush's obvious interest in the issue, and its potential import on a matter of vital national interest, I don't think any of the relevant agencies -- Treasury, State, the CIA -- ever took it upon themselves to produce a serious study of what the actual impact of CBI sanctions would be on international markets, much less what steps the U.S. might take to mitigate any adverse consequences. Regrettably, I also don't recall any of the president's advisors -- myself included -- ever taking action to challenge Paulson's thesis by tasking the intelligence community to model it systematically. In retrospect, I think it's an instance where the "process," the bureaucracy, clearly failed to serve the president well.
As far as I can tell, a similar failure also beset the Obama administration -- at least until Congress presented it with the fait accompli of CBI legislation late last year. It's widely understood that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, like Paulson before him, opposed CBI sanctions, fearing that they would panic the oil markets, send already-high gasoline prices skyrocketing, and tip the U.S. economy back into recession. Once again, the Treasury Secretary's edict was more or less taken on faith, unsupported by serious study and unchallenged by the bureaucracy.
Thankfully, not everyone was quite so complacent. Here, I'm thinking in particular of my colleague at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), Mark Dubowitz. Refusing to accept the conventional wisdom that CBI sanctions had to be off the table, Dubowitz led an expert team in systematically analyzing the potential oil market impact. The result was a detailed assessment -- the first, at least as far as I'm aware -- that modeled what would happen to petroleum prices and Iranian revenues under different supply restriction scenarios. FDD's confidential report demonstrated that it would indeed be possible to fashion a sanctions regime against the CBI that could dramatically affect Iranian revenues without triggering a devastating disruption in global energy markets.
Dubowitz's study provided members of Congress with the analytical tools they needed to push back effectively against the doomsday scenarios, and heavily informed the CBI legislation crafted in late 2011 by Senators Kirk and Menendez that was overwhelmingly adopted. And when the Obama administration finally relented in the face of this Congressional tidal wave, FDD's assessment assisted administration experts in developing a nuanced implementation strategy to maximize pressure on Iranian revenues without triggering a massive oil shock.
So far, the measure looks remarkably successful. Iran's customer base is dwindling. Those that remain are now in position to demand discounts of as much as 20 percent as Iranian oil increasingly takes on the qualities of a distressed asset. Reductions in the amount of Iranian crude on the market have been adequately covered by corresponding increases in production by countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq. While the sanctions did coincide with a temporary spike in global prices earlier this year, that seems to have had more to do with a crescendo of speculation about an imminent Israeli military strike than with U.S. action against the CBI. Accordingly, as that speculation has receded, oil prices have gone down. While the market no doubt remains tight, it has clearly stabilized -- and all the while Iran faces the likelihood of tens of billions of dollars in lost revenues, driving it back to the negotiating table in search of relief.
That a weapon this effective was not deployed several years ago, at a time when Iran's nuclear program was far less advanced, is indeed a great pity. It's also a potent reminder of the kinds of shortcomings that the U.S. government is perfectly capable of -- even when it comes to the most pressing national security issues. And it's as important an example as I can recall of the potentially vital contribution that private think tanks are capable of making to the policy-making process, when they challenge conventional wisdom and bring their intellectual capital and resources to bear decisively on those critical questions that the government, for whatever reason, has neglected, overlooked, or -- quite mistakenly -- already decided that it has all the answers to.
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David Sanger's provocative recent piece on Romney's foreign policy is a useful reminder of something I have beaten the drums on for a while: In this campaign cycle, Republicans are more vulnerable to simplistic critiques on foreign policy than are Democrats.
Traditionally, Republicans have issue ownership on foreign policy and national security. Voters reflexively trust Republicans more than Democrats to do the right thing in that arena. While Democrats might have more popular positions on an issue or two, in general Republicans have the rhetorical advantage.
This time around, the Democratic candidate has done a comparatively good job positioning himself for maximum political advantage on foreign policy and national security. Obama is not immune to critique -- indeed, his record is decidedly mixed -- but compared to domestic/economic policy, where the administration's unpopular record is hard to spin away, foreign policy is somewhat more favorable terrain.
Part of the reason, I believe, is that while it is easy to point out foreign policy mistakes, setbacks, and questionable decisions, collectively they have yet to be summarized into a simple pattern.
Earlier, I suggested one such pattern: Obama's successes have largely come by following in Republican footsteps, whereas his failures have largely come by following his own instincts, at least the instincts he touted on the 2008 campaign trail. If it was Obama's idea, it tended not to work; if it worked, it tended not to be Obama's idea.
Yet I think there is a still more general pattern: President Obama may have made himself better off, but not made American foreign policy better off. In a few instances (as with the Bin Laden strikes) the pursuit of the former has also happened to help with the latter. But in general, it is hard to look across the globe and say American interests are better secured today than they were a few years ago. His backers tout "ending" wars, but if we are ending (or perhaps only suspending) our involvement without achieving lasting success, what have we really gained?
The "are you better off today than you were four years ago" test is easy to grade in terms of the domestic economy. One can imagine more grade-grubbing in terms of foreign policy because of some tactical successes and short-run popular steps that may obscure longer-term erosion of our global position. But in the end it is a test that Romney could, and should, impose on Obama.
It is worth asking the question and looking at the issue with the long-run in view: Obama has made his global position better, but has he made America's better?
Drudge is pushing poll results that show a surprising tilt in favor of Romney: a 46-44 advantage among women registered voters.
I am puzzled, however, by a different poll that shows something different but equally surprising: a tilt in favor of Obama, but this time among the "veteran vote." According to Reuters, "If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney, higher than his margin in the general population."
Part of the explanation is the way Reuters defines "veteran vote" to include not only the veteran but also "families." Adding in the families dilutes a demographic (male) that traditionally trends Republican with demographics (youth and women) that traditionally trend Democratic.
If adding in the family explains the gap, then there is not much of a story here. But if the Obama advantage extends to veterans and the military, that would really be something.
In previous elections, military and veteran (narrowly defined) voters have tended to vote Republican by margins bigger than what is seen in the civilian population. Of course, Democrats have worked very hard to overcome that gap. In 2002, they hugged the more popular Republican commander-in-chief. In 2004, they nominated a Silver Star winner as their standard-bearer who traveled the country with some of his fellow Vietnam vets and made a "reporting for duty" salute as his grand entrance at the national convention. In 2006, they ran on a "support the troops, bring them home from the front" platform. And in 2008, facing a war-hero and POW survivor, they tried to out-bid Republicans on pay and benefits for the troops and their families.
President Obama has assiduously courted the military along these same lines, and so I would not be surprised to see him outpoll his Democratic predecessors. But given other structural considerations between the two parties, I would be surprised to see him outpoll his Republican counterpart.
For one thing, in the same Reuters poll, Republicans have a 10 point advantage over Democrats among "veterans and their families" on the question: "In your opinion, which political party better serves the needs of veterans and their families." Republicans have a 5 point advantage over Democrats among the same group on "...which political party has a better plan, policy, or approach to the war on terror," a 6 point advantage on "...a better plan, policy or approach to Iran," and, for that matter, a 6 point advantage on "...the U.S. economy." Moreover, the veterans and their families are quite hawkish -- strongly opposing cuts to defense spending, tilting slightly in favor of something approximating unilateralism, and remarkably supportive of the use of force option to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons (57 percent agree strongly or somewhat and only 17 percent disagree strongly or somewhat). If Obama has the advantage, it seems to derive more from a personal appeal than any across-the-board support for his platform.
For another thing, previous surveys of active duty and former military consistently show that military personnel tend to be conservative and tend to be more Republican than comparable demographic cohorts in the civilian world. Likewise, the regular survey of the Military Times readership -- which is not a representative sample of all veterans or all military, but is a useful sample of career military -- consistently has shown deep skepticism about President Obama as a leader.
For all those reasons and more, I still expect that Romney will "win" the military and veteran vote this time around.
Having said all that, however, I am not sure it is a good thing for civil-military relations that the campaigns vie for the military and veteran vote in this fashion. I understand why they do so -- it is a way of signaling that the party/candidate can be trusted on national security, and that is a legitimate thing to want to signal. But wooing the military/veteran vote can be corrosive of healthy civil-military relations. The military have a distinctive position in American society. They are trusted with exceptional coercive power and a privileged access to our country's resources, but in exchange they are expected to be entirely subordinate to civilian authority.
We expect the military to salute and obey, even if they are not successfully wooed. President Obama is their legitimate commander-in-chief and has earned their respect and obedience by virtue of his success in persuading the entire electorate to support him, regardless of how he fared with the military themselves. Undue effort at wooing can contribute to a politicization of the military, making it that much more difficult for any commander-in-chief to exercise the constitutional role.
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Yesterday's column by David Ignatius ostensibly detailing the Obama administration's reelection campaign's strengths on foreign policy is revealing, but probably not in the way the White House hopes. While some more critical analysis from Ignatius (usually one of the most perceptive of foreign policy columnists) would have been preferred, in this case he seems to be channeling what he's hearing from the White House, so the column serves the useful purpose of explaining the administration's mindset. No doubt Obama's experience and understanding of foreign policy has, um, evolved during his time in office. But given the administration's message in the article's closing line that Obama will be making the campaign case that he has "learned on the job," the specific examples of the administration's current thinking and future priorities cited in the article are puzzling and don't help their case.
For example, on Syria Ignatius says that Obama "worries that the protracted struggle" risks empowering extremists who would be worse than Assad. This is a serious concern, but it also risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy because it completely disregards the White House's own role in failing to support the non-extremist opposition elements in Syria who have for a year been crying out for American help.
On Russia, the hope is expressed that Obama can "do business" with the "transactional" Putin. One wonders if that is the most sophisticated assessment the White House can offer after investing so much diplomatic capital in Medvedev and the failed "re-set" policy, and after seeing Putin's conspiratorial and belligerent campaign directed at the U.S.?
On Iran, I hope the administration's optimism is warranted about the possibility of Tehran accepting a grand bargain on its nuclear program. But the real challenge comes if, as is more likely, Iran rejects the offer -- what is the administration's contingency plan? Especially since as Will Tobey lays out here, Vice President Biden's boasts and distortions notwithstanding, the Iranian regime has made substantial progress on its nuclear program during Obama's time in office.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Again, may the administration's optimism be warranted, but making that a second-term focus needs to first account for the significant setbacks caused by the administration's own previous miscalculations, especially by alienating the Israeli leadership and adopting a position on settlements even firmer than the Palestinian position itself. "Managing" the Arab Spring? This seems to have disquieting echoes of "leading from behind," especially given the administration's current paralysis on Syria and apathy and missed opportunities, as Jackson Diehl has argued, towards democracy promotion in general.
Also curiously absent from the list of second-term priorities is Afghanistan or Asia -- the latter omission is especially puzzling given the administration's previous hype about its strategic pivot. The bottom line is that, as Peter Feaver and I among others have described, the administration's foreign policy successes have generally come when they have followed Bush administration strategic frameworks, and their greatest missteps have come when they tried to go in different directions. Such a pattern does not necessarily bode well for the administration's hoped-for second term policy priorities. Now the skeptics out there might respond that of course Shadow Government writers would say something like that. But I hope those skeptics remember one of Shadow Government's modest maxims: Just because a Republican says it, doesn't mean that it isn't true.
A recent Cable item from the intrepid Josh Rogin tells me that one of the consequences of the era of declining defense budgets may well be a further shifting of civilian roles back on to defense shoulders.
That is not a typo.
For years pundits have complained about the "militarization" of foreign policy, referring to the way that foreign policy tasks get assigned to the military even if the tasks do not involve military expertise per se (i.e. blowing things up). For decades, the military has been deployed to do everything from disaster relief to rural development to local banking reform to post-conflict venture capital, and so on. High defense spending has bought remarkable capacity in our uniformed ranks, and that capacity has been utilized in the service of a broad range of foreign policy goals.
Critics have complained that these tasks are not inherently military and they could be, perhaps should be, done by civilians in the State Department and elsewhere. Letting civilians do civilian tasks would, the critics maintain, "demilitarize" American foreign policy. Hence, a big push to boost capacity outside of DoD.
That push enjoyed substantial rhetorical support from Secretary Rumsfeld, who despaired of the military being the bill-payer for tasks better assigned to State and elsewhere. It enjoyed even more substantial material and political support from Secretary Gates, who joined first with Secretary Rice and then with Secretary Clinton to beg Congress to boost the budget of the State Department so as to build civilian capacity.
I suspect that effort may have reached a turning point, however. The very same fiscal pressures that are forcing deep cuts in the defense budget will be operating on the budgets of the State Department and other departments and agencies that might otherwise be expected to prop up the civilian side of the civil-military balance. And in such a hostile fiscal environment, it is likely that the military will lose less than civilian agencies will. Or rather: Even if the military loses more in absolute terms (because their budget baseline is so high), in relative terms they can weather those losses better without losing minimum functioning capacity.
In short, the civil-military balance is likely to tip even further in the direction of the military.
This was the gist of a talk I gave last month to the Army War College's Annual Strategy Conference. I made several points, which the latest congressional action on the foreign operations and defense budgets have only reinforced:
Therefore, while it is fine to remain rhetorically committed to Plan A (improving State capacity), the military should train and equip for Plan B (State and other civilian agencies are no more and probably less capable than they were in 2008).
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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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Obama got a few things right in his speech on Afghanistan. First, he actually gave a speech, a change from most of his presidency. Second, he reminded everyone of the war's purpose and (implicitly, at least) the reason why the United States is fighting the Taliban. He quite strongly defended the idea that stabilizing Afghanistan is necessary to denying safe haven to al Qaeda, an idea that some liberal critics have begun to question. He also suggested that the United States will continue its training and counterterrorism missions after 2014, which will require the continued presence of U.S. troops. His hesitancy to say so openly until this point has been a major source of confusion and misreporting about the U.S. withdrawal.
He got a few things wrong.
1. He said "Over the last three years, the tide has turned." The tide did not turn in May 2009. There was an inflection point in early 2007, when President Bush first ordered an increase in U.S. troops and quintupled assistance to the Afghan army and police, which was accelerated by Obama's surge that he announced in December 2009 and implemented in 2010, and followed by a military turning point in 2011, when violence actually decreased for the first time in the war. "Three years" is a political claim that the tide turned when Obama took office, a blatant mischaracterization and a politicization of the efforts of the troops who have served for a decade.
2. Obama also said that the defeat of al Qaeda "is now within our reach." This is also false, but this claim is more dangerous because of the complacency it will breed among the public. Better analysts than I, like Seth Jones and Mary Habeck, have persuasively highlighted al Qaeda's resilience.
3. Obama repeated the error of announcing a withdrawal timetable, the original sin of his Afghanistan policy from which we have not, and may not ever, recover.
4. He said, "Our goal is not to build a country in America's image." There are several problems with this. First, Obama refutes an argument no one is advancing. Second, he is trying to reassure us that we are keeping our sights pitched at a realistically low level and that we are not undertaking an impossible mission, but the real danger has always been the opposite: that we haven't tried hard enough and we've continually crippled ourselves by thinking too small. The idea that reconstruction and stabilization in Afghanistan is a mythically impossible mission that goes against the laws of history and culture is one of the most enduring, pernicious, and groundless myths of the last decade.
5. He said that our goal is not to "eradicate every vestige of the Taliban." I sympathize slightly here, because I think the administration is right to undertake limited talks with the Taliban. But even if we undertake talks with the Taliban in private, it is still important to stigmatize them in public because of their ongoing insurgency, support to terrorism, and violation of human rights. So long as "Taliban" means theocracy backed by violence, we absolutely should eradicate them. The talks are designed to prompt defections for whom the label "Taliban" means something else.
6. Obama completely omitted any mention of the Afghan government, our civilian capacity development efforts, or the need to invest more time and more civilian personnel in reconstruction and development. I understand why: his "civilian surge" has completely failed to have any appreciable effect. Obama (rightly) sent hundreds more U.S. civilians to Afghanistan, but they largely stayed behind the wire and Obama actually cut aid for governance program by $1.5 billion -- a third of the total -- from 2011 to 2012. None of the indicators of governance have shown significant improvement since 2009. This is a major failing because, as Obama himself pointed out, stability is necessary for U.S. interests.
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The Obama administration's deal with the Chinese government over the blind lawyer-activist Chen Guangcheng initially appeared to be a diplomatic triumph, but now has turned into a serious test. The question is why.
Based on the information available at the time, I initially thought the deal was a success, as I wrote here. This was because it appeared to honor Chen's desire to stay in China, and it appeared to represent a dual set of commitments: by the Chinese Government to respect China's rights, and by the Obama administration to hold Beijing to the agreement. Unfortunately neither of those commitments has been fulfilled. The Chinese government is most to blame. It has brazenly targeted Chen and his family members, supporters, and fellow activists, to the point that he has now reversed course, and as he told a Congressional hearing yesterday, he is now seekign to leave China for the U.S. However, the Obama administration appears to have made some significant missteps as well.
In breaking this agreement with the U.S. in such a public, defiant manner, China is also questioning the credibility of the Obama administration. This was of course not a confrontation that the administration sought, focused as it was on the now-dashed hopes for a smooth Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Yet this is the test that China has presented. Signature moments in foreign policy are often not the carefully-crafted pageantry of summit meetings but the unexpected crises that test presidential leadership.
Here is where the Obama administration seems to be wanting. For all of the diplomatic skill initially shown by the U.S. negotiators, at the end of the day China's commitment to the agreement depended on their perception of how much it mattered to the top American leadership, especially Secretary Clinton and President Obama. Secretary Clinton erred in not demanding a personal meeting with Chen as soon as she landed in Beijing, as a way to show her investment in his welfare. Embassy Beijing erred by not keeping embassy officers with Chen at the hospital, at least for the duration of the SED.
While I am not privy to any personal communications that President Obama may have had with Chinese president Hu Jintao on the case, the White House's apparent silence has been telling and perhaps constitutes the biggest error. The Chinese government seems to have read this as a sign of lack of U.S. resolve, and made the calculation that it could break the agreement and resume tormenting Chen and his family without incurring any costs from the U.S.
What could President Obama have done? He should have communicated to Beijing his personal interest in Chen's welfare and made clear that any violation of the agreement would have severe repercussions for the U.S.-China relationship. The specifics of such repercussions would not need to be specified, but options could include delaying or denying a state visit for Xi Jinping once he takes power after the leadership transition this fall.
There is some precedent for this approach. As I shared in a radio interview yesterday, in 2007 President Bush arranged to meet at the White House with three prominent Chinese human rights and religious freedom advocates who were visiting the U.S. for a short time and then planned on returning to China. (As a sidenote, the Chinese activists were in the U.S. for a series of legal advocacy seminars organized by the irrepressible Bob Fu, whose own life shows that Chinese dissidents who find asylum in the U.S. can still have a substantial influence).
The morning of the meeting, the Chinese government sent an ominous threat to the White House saying that if these activists returned to China their safety could not be guaranteed. In other words, they faced the prospect of imprisonment or worse. We informed the dissidents of the threat against them and told them that the decision on whether or not to have the meeting was up to them; after saying a prayer, each one remained resolved to do so. Then President Bush had a senior NSC official send a back channel message to the Chinese government saying in no uncertain terms that President Bush took personal interest in the welfare of these three dissidents and that any harm befalling them would cause a severe disruption in U.S.-China relations. After Bush met with them, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing sent staff to meet the dissidents at the airport in Beijing when they returned, made sure they returned safely to their homes, and kept in regular contact with them. And for the duration of the Bush administration they were left alone (for more on this meeting, see Mike Gerson's book Heroic Conservatism).
Thus far President Obama has not even commented publicly on Chen's case, despite Chen's own pleas that Obama do so, and despite the Chinese government's brazen challenge to Obama's credibility. As of this writing, a way forward seems to be emerging for Chen and his family to come to the U.S. and pursue legal studies. For this deal to work, the Obama administration needs to recapture the initiative and craft the agreement in terms that make clear its commitment to the many other Chinese human rights activists who have been targeted for their support of Chen. And when Chen arrives in the U.S., President Obama should invite him to the White House for a personal meeting.
The plight of a fugitive blind Chinese legal activist was no doubt not where President Obama expected to face a serious foreign policy test, especially during a week that his campaign tried to devote to chest-thumping on the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden operation. How Obama responds now will determine much about the near-term future of U.S.-China relations. And while investing a president's reputational capital is always a risky move, it is not as risky as trusting the assurances of the Chinese Communist Party.
Islamabad is unhappy with the United States. As the anniversary of the killing of Bin Laden approaches, Pakistani officials, and especially parliamentarians, are spewing even more venom against the United States than they usually do -- which is saying a lot. Pakistan is full of grievances. It is furious that the United States is launching drone attacks against al Qaeda terrorists on its territory. Pakistan has not yet reopened the logistics support line to Afghanistan through its territory, which it closed in retaliation against the previous spate of American drone attacks. The future of that line now appears to be in real jeopardy.
Pakistan wants $3 billion from the Coalition Support Fund as compensation for its operations in support of the American effort against terrorists operating from the Tribal Areas. Washington is prepared to reimburse about a third of that amount, and is not yet ready to pay even that.
Finally, Islamabad is uneasy with the Afghan-American agreement that commits Washington to a decade of support for Afghanistan once American and coalition troops withdraw in 2014. No one really knows how much American assistance will really be available. Ten years is a very long time, and American interests could lie elsewhere. But Pakistanis, ever seeking to render Afghanistan firmly within their sphere of influence -- and to prevent it from becoming part of India's sphere -- are uneasy about the thought of close American ties to Kabul for the foreseeable future.
There are those in Washington who persist in calling Pakistan an American ally. It is no such thing. The American-Pakistani relationship is a forced marriage of inconvenience. American-Pakistani relations are a shadow of the cooperation that had reached its zenith when Pervez Mussharraf committed himself to the fight against al Qaeda. Early in the past decade, Pakistan redirected its forces from the Indian border, and undertook serious operations against al Qaeda. Pakistan lost many troops in the effort, and the United States, recognizing Islamabad's contribution, established the Coalition Support Fund, which, at least when I was in charge of payments, covered over 80 percent of all Pakistani claims.
But times have changed. Pakistan's military has become increasingly radicalized, even as the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal continues to grow apace. The country's president, Asif Ali Zardari, has struggled with the military virtually since the day he took office. The Pakistani "street," whose history of hostility to the United States dates back at least to the 1979 burning of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, is even more violently anti-American today. The power and influence of the Imams, and of the students who graduate their madrasas, continues to grow unabated. And the possibility that the country will break apart, with Pashtu, Baluch, Sindhis, and Punjabis, each going their own way, is considered more real than ever before.
The United States cannot abandon Pakistan. To do so is to invite open Pakistani support for the likes of the Haqqanis, who probably are now America's most dangerous adversaries in Afghanistan. However bad the relationship with Pakistan's military might be, having no relationship would be even worse. After all, not all of Pakistan's generals are radical Muslims; many still retain a Western-oriented outlook.
Moreover, the only way to combat the influence of radical Islam in Pakistan is to fund schools that can compete with the madrasas, by offering both religious and secular studies, as well as the hot meals that impoverished students can obtain nowhere else. While reeling economically, only the United States, despite its own economic headaches, is still in a position to finance directly the creation and sustenance of such an educational system.
Finally, however uncomfortable the relationship with Pakistan may be today, a Pakistan that becomes even more radicalized, or worse still, breaks apart, will represent a true danger to American security. Washington is right to ignore Pakistani protests and once again to employ drones against those who seek to harm America. It is also right to withhold payments of Coalition Support Funding until the road to Afghanistan is once again re-opened. But America must do more, in other ways, particularly in developing a much more ambitious plan to support modern education in Pakistan's poorest areas -that would also encompass traditional Koranic studies. Perhaps direct American assistance will not be feasible -- Islamabad may prohibit such aid. In that case, indirect means will have to be found -- perhaps via international organizations. If the United States truly hopes for a cooperative relationship with Pakistan, it must do all it can to shed the light of modern education on the darker corners of that country's psyche. Nothing less will do, and no action at all would constitute a tragedy, for Pakistan, for the entire region, and for the United States as well.
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The day after Biden's "big stick" speech, arguing the case for Obama's toughness, the administration caved under the pressure of Senator Cornyn and, as Josh Rogin writes, committed to the sale of new (not refurbished and old, but new) aircraft for Taiwan. In this case, Obama's lack of resolve under congressional pressure could actually advance U.S. national security interests.
According to Rogin, Cornyn received a letter from White House in return for lifting a hold he had put on Mark Lippert's nomination to become the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian Pacific Affairs. Here are some critical points from the letter:
We recognize that China has 2,300 operational combat aircraft, while our democratic partner Taiwan has only 490. We are committed to assisting Taiwan in addressing the disparity in numbers of aircraft through our work with Taiwan's defense ministry on its development of a comprehensive defense strategy vis-a-vis China.
This work will be a high priority for a new Assistant Secretary of Defense in his dialogue on force transformation with his Taiwan counterparts. The Assistant Secretary, in consultation with the inter-agency and the Congress, will play a lead role as the Administration decides on a near-term course of action on how to address Taiwan's fighter gap, including through the sale to Taiwan of an undetermined number of new U.S.-made fighter aircraft.
Rogin goes on:
The White House does not explicitly promise to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter jets, as Cornyn wants, promising only to give the matter "serious consideration." But it does pledge an "underdetermined number" of new aircraft."
So the administration recognizes that Taiwan has 490 operational combat aircraft while its rival China has 2,300. Presumably, because of the Congressionally-mandated review of Taiwan's air defense, the administration has known about this "fighter gap" for some time. It could have acted on it at any time. Indeed, Obama decided not to sell new fighter aircraft last fall after a policy review. Has it just now decided that the "fighter gap" is important? What changed?
What changed is a hold by a senator -- pure and simple. Taiwan asked for new fighters long ago (the Bush administration ignored the request). Last fall, the administration informed Congress of an upgrade to old aircraft ignoring the "fighter gap" of which it was well aware.
Obama should be held to his now public commitment. Already allies and others are asking whether the much vaunted "pivot" to Asia is all hat and no cattle. Here is the nonpartisan (and non-American) IISS: "For all the talk of the military rebalancing to Asia, the steps taken towards this in the FY2013 budget are quite modest. The number of troops in Europe is to be cut by 10,000 to about 70,000, while Marines are to be deployed to Australia and LCS to Singapore...the overall amount to be spent on defence is set to fall from $645.7bn in FY2012 to $613.9bn in FY2013." The assessment points to specific "pivot" relevant programs that are taking hits such as F-35s, missile defenses, and attack submarines.
Moreover, most allies haven't a clue how the pivot will manifest itself and what role they should be playing. If a "pivot" means anything, it is at the least keeping security commitments. Now Obama has made one -- helping Taiwan close the "fighter gap." Biden tried to channel TR's "speak softly and carry a big stick" mantra. Just how big a stick Obama wields can be determined after he just spoke loudly about his commitment to Taiwan.
A growing chorus in Washington seems convinced that those of us who served in the George W. Bush administration oversold the benefits of the U.S.-India strategic partnership forged from 2005 to 2008. The centerpiece of that partnership was the bilateral defense agreement of 2005 and a civilian-nuclear agreement ratified by both countries' parliaments and blessed by the international community in 2008. Many critics are drawn from the non-proliferation community that largely opposed the civ-nuke deal because of India's original sin of developing nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- to which India is not a signatory -- and even though it has a clean proliferation record. Their case has legs today less because they were right about the civ-nuke deal -- they were not -- than because the Obama administration has presided over a period of drift in Indo-U.S. relations that has been matched by drift in Delhi on India's reform agenda. The result has been a benign sense of disappointment in each country, despite the compelling structural and ideational logic that continues to push the relationship forward.
Several of us recently debated the question of whether U.S.-India relations were "oversold" at the American Enterprise Institute. Today's Financial Times charges that U.S.-India relations are "wilting" in light of various policy spats between the two countries that belie the mutual optimism of 2008. These claims need to be put in perspective. This is the first of several posts that will try to take the long view by highlighting how extraordinary the transformation of U.S.-India relations actually has been in light of their complicated history -- and why the U.S. strategic bet on India, and India's on America, remains smart policy for the long term, despite short-term disappointments.
Recall the context in which U.S. and Indian officials, nearly 15 years ago, sought to forge a new relationship. For half a century, the American and Indian governments were alienated by India's refusal to sign on as one of Washington's Cold War allies; by the U.S. military alliance with Indian rival Pakistan, forged in 1954; and later by America's tacit alliance with Indian rival China, countered by India's tacit alliance with Moscow. Following wars with both Pakistan and China, India launched a covert nuclear weapons program, leading the United States to muster its allies to impose sweeping sanctions on technology trade with India -- further stifling its development after state socialism had already undercut India's growth potential. Even after the Cold War, Washington and New Delhi spent the 1990s feuding over proliferation, culminating in the imposition of even more U.S. sanctions following India's1998 nuclear weapons test.
It was Indian, not American, leaders who then suggested that India and the United States should break from a half-century of discord to transform their relations for a new era. According to its leaders, India had tested nuclear weapons in response to existential threats from China and the ally it had helped to develop nuclear weapons, Pakistan. India was the world's largest democracy, and its people had friendly views towards the United States. Converging threat perceptions and common values meant that India and the United States were in fact "natural allies," according to then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They should forge a partnership to manage the dangers of the 21st century and to amplify the strengths of the world's biggest open and pluralistic societies. President Clinton's unprecedented support for India over Pakistan in their near-war of 1999, followed by his 2000 trip to India in which he echoed Vajpayee's call for an alliance of interests and values, made possible the breakthroughs that came later.
India's change of administrations in 2004 did not change New Delhi's support for developing a new partnership with the United States. Nonetheless, Bush administration officials who worked with both Indian governments faced a stark challenge. Not only did the Indian and U.S. bureaucracies have no tradition of working together, but the international sanctions regime the United States had put in place following India's 1974 "peaceful" nuclear explosion remained in place. Then-State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow called this legacy the "Gordian knot" which statesmen in Washington and New Delhi somehow had to untie in order to forge an enduring foundation for a transformed partnership.
The answer was the 2005 U.S.-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. Under its terms, India would separate its civilian and its military nuclear reactors, submit the former to international monitoring, make a series of binding commitments not to proliferate nuclear materials or technologies, and in return secure the support of the U.S.-led international cartel governing trade in civilian nuclear components for India's access to these materials on the international market. The judgment of not just the Bush administration but of the United States Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Suppliers' Group was that the nuclear non-proliferation regime would be stronger if India were a part of it on these terms -- rather than remaining excluded and untethered as a nuclear weapons state not bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
For all the attention garnered by the civilian-nuclear agreement, the first long-term partnership agreement between Washington and New Delhi was actually a 10-year defense cooperation agreement signed in June 2005. Most countries without a long history of partnership begin their engagement with trade and diplomatic agreements and only after building trust move on to military cooperation. The opposite held true between the United States and India, in part because of the compelling security threats -- from China, Pakistan, and terrorism -- that drew them together. The defense agreement was a particularly radical step for India to take -- having allied with the United States' primary competitor during the Cold War and condemned America's military primacy in the international system throughout the 1990s, Indian leaders decided by the mid-2000s that the United States was the partner of choice in helping to modernize the Indian military and supply the needs of the world' biggest arms importer.
The success of U.S. and Indian policy from 1998-2008 lay in creating a transformed basis for relations between the world's largest democracies for the new century. The United States would secure not an ally but an independent partner that could help anchor an Asian balance of power otherwise at risk from growing Chinese strength. Washington would be able to point to India's model of democratic development as an alternative to the "Beijing consensus" of authoritarian development that otherwise might appeal to swathes of the developing world. The complementarities between America's hi-tech economy and India's rich human capital would spur growth in both countries. India would secure as a sponsor for its rise and development the international system's predominant power. This seemed like a good bargain from the vantage point of 2008. It remains one today, despite the fact that both India and America have disappointed each other on several key issues over the past three years. These will be the subject of my next post.
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After Republican leaders rightly criticized Senator Obama, a former state legislator with merely two years in the U.S. Senate, for being unqualified to be commander-in-chief and leader of the free world during the 2008 campaign, it would be an irony if they selected Marco Rubio, a former state legislator with merely two years in the U.S. Senate, as vice president in the 2012 election.
Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie will almost certainly not be the vice presidential nominee for the simple reason that they don't want to be president. Both declined to run for the top job because, if rumors are to be believed, they were unwilling to undergo the rigors and personal scrutiny that a presidential campaign brings. If they were unwilling to do so for the presidency, why would they do so for the much lesser prize of the vice presidency?
Paul Ryan, meanwhile, is too valuable to the GOP in the House. As one of the more serious-minded legislators in the party, he would be wasted on the vice presidency.
Besides which, the vice presidential nominee almost never makes an actual difference in the election. The great myth is that the presidential nominee should pick a VP from a swing state in order to win more votes there. The problem is, that never happens. Perhaps once in American history has the VP delivered his state and swung an election: LBJ bringing Texas to give JFK the prize in 1960. That's it, just once.
So it comes down to this: Who is actually qualified to be president? That's the question Mitt Romney should be asking in selecting his running mate. That's the only criterion that should really matter. There are very few people in the country with a plausible claim to being qualified for the presidency. Unfortunately, Bob Gates has definitively retired, reducing the number of candidates by one.
That leaves David Petraeus. Petraeus served as commanding general of both wars the U.S. fought over the last decade, headed up central command, and is now director of the CIA. And, of course, he had the courage and professionalism to serve in a deeply unpopular war and, remarkably, come out with his reputation enhanced. Probably no person alive has a better grasp of the international situation, America's role in the world, and the limitations and capabilities of American power.
Petraeus has nearly universal name recognition and is one of the most well-respected figures in the country. A year ago only 11 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of him, according to Gallup, half that of Christie. And as a non-partisan figure he has not been tarnished by the partisanship and mud-slinging of recent years. Additionally, Petraeus would bring foreign policy expertise to the ticket, balancing Romney's focus on economic issues. If Obama really intends to claim that his foreign policy accomplishments should earn voters' respect, there is no one in the country with more credibility than Petraeus to take Obama's argument apart.
He would bring gravitas and seriousness to a campaign season that, so far, has been more memorable for the parade of not serious GOP challengers who, thankfully, had the decency to drop out. His intelligence and ethic of public service would be a good match for Romney's own. I admit "Romney-Rubio" has a nice, almost poetic ring to it; it rolls off the tongue beautifully. "Romney-Petraeus" has too many syllables. It sounds like something out of a technical manual, or a nickname for a loophole in the tax code. On the other hand, they might actually govern competently, which counts for something.
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The death of Chuck Colson over the weekend marked the loss of an American original. As many news stories attest, Colson embodied a quintessentially American life, from his rise to prominence in the Nixon White House, to his disgrace and imprisonment for Watergate-related crimes, to his conversion to Christianity and rebirth as the head of a worldwide prison reform ministry and leading evangelical social thinker. Colson's experience was also deeply human, a moving account of grace and redemption that resonated with millions of those across the globe influenced by his work and thought.
Yet most of the obituaries neglect Colson's notable influence on American foreign policy. Colson emerged in the 1980s as a leading thinker on Christian participation in politics and policy. His 1989 book Kingdoms in Conflict sought to recover the Augustinian tradition and make it accessible to American evangelicals, who continued to be susceptible to erratic swings between pietistic withdrawal from the world and triumphalist political crusades. Instead Colson argued for a thoughtful participation in politics that sought to achieve proximate goods, while respecting pluralism and not conflating the earthly realm with the eternal realm.
Based on this theological foundation, in the 1990s Colson helped lead a broad movement of American evangelicals into activism on an array of foreign-policy issues, including religious persecution, human trafficking, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, genocide in Sudan, and human rights atrocities in North Korea. Colson also equipped evangelical Protestants to engage in co-belligerency on specific issues with people of different faiths but similar goals, including Catholics, Jews, mainline Protestants, Tibetan Buddhists, Bahais, and secular human rights activists.
I inadvertently experienced a sense of Colson's power to mobilize in 1996 when I worked as a staff member for Sen. Sam Nunn. One day Colson dedicated his daily radio broadcast to a human rights issue in Kuwait and urged his many listeners to phone the State Department switchboard and ask the secretary of state to take action on this case. Unfortunately, Colson erroneously read out to his listeners my direct office line rather than the State Department phone number, and I spent the rest of the day explaining to befuddled callers that I was not Warren Christopher.
Mixed-up phone numbers notwithstanding, Colson and like-minded leaders formed a coalition that achieved some notable policy and legislative successes. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the State Department offices of International Religious Freedom, Trafficking in Persons, Global Aids Coordinator, Special Envoy for Sudan, and North Korea Human Rights would not exist today without Colson's work in generating support for their creation. In the process, Colson and his cohort helped raise the awareness of American evangelicals about a broader set of global issues beyond their traditional domestic social concerns.
In his political thought and engagement, Colson took as his role model the early 19th-century British parliamentarian, abolitionist, and social reformer William Wilberforce. Wilberforce, as Colson often noted, spent as much time thinking carefully about how he participated in the political process as worrying about the outcomes. In Wilberforce's case -- which Colson attempted to emulate -- this meant principled disagreement with his opponents while holding them in charitable regard, and marshaling persuasive evidence and appeals to conscience rather than indulging in deceptions and demagoguery. The challenge now for the next generation of American evangelicals, who first developed their foreign-policy awareness under Colson's influence, is to deepen their political and theological reflection and engagement on complex global issues that do not lend themselves to simple humanitarian appeals, such as great-power relations, international economics, and war and peace.
For all his decades of post-prison work to make a better world, Colson never lost sight of his faith in the world to come. With his passing he has crossed the proverbial river, and I pray he now knows the peace of eternal rest.
STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images
Who is winning the public debate on Iran, the hawks or the doves? The polling is pretty ambiguous, as it usually is at this point in any foreign policy crisis/issue. The public is not committed to using military force, but the narrow majorities expressing support for military strikes actually represent a fairly permissive public option. Should President Obama choose, he probably could rally strong support among the public, at least initially.
To be sure, the public seems to want exactly what President Obama wants, which is to resolve this stand-off diplomatically. Yet it is striking how, in the absence of strong war-talk from the White House -- indeed, given all the poor-mouthing of the military option from administration officials -- there is still a reservoir of public support for the hawkish policy.
This is all the more remarkable, given that we live in a post-Iraq era. The echoes from Iraq are almost deafening in the Iran debate, and yet the public has not closed off its ears to the hawkish view.
My dovish friends think this is because the intellectual playing field is biased in favor of military action. They claim that it is easier to hype threats than to downplay them, and they speak about a dysfunctional marketplace of ideas that crowds out dovish approaches.
Such claims are not very persuasive. This might have been true in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But in the wake of the Iraq war, surely the opposite is the case. It is easier to persuade people that perhaps Iran is bluffing (or we have misunderstood their nuclear ambitions) because that is what seemed to happen in Iraq. It is easier to convince people that any war will drag on and be more costly than advertised because that is what happened in Iraq.
As a hawkish friend of mine pointed out to me recently, to argue the hawkish side feels like arguing in favor of the human costs of war. Emotionally and psychologically, it is easier simply to dismiss the threat and thus avoid the costs.
Public support for the hawkish position is not so strong or resolute as to force President Obama's hand. But it might be strong enough to allow a president who has repeatedly said that letting Iran develop a nuclear arsenal is unacceptable to take decisive action to launch military strikes to prevent that, if he believes it necessary.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
BRUSSELS – For supporters of the war in Afghanistan, recent news has been depressing. Here in Brussels at NATO headquarters, where I've been observing the so-called "jumbo" ministerial of NATO defense and foreign ministers, officials were forced to address the Haqqani network's brazen attacks in several Afghan cities, including Kabul, over the weekend, as well as photographs published by the Los Angeles Times of U.S. Army soldiers posing with the body parts of suicide bombers in 2010.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
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.