Will and Peter have raised important points about the Obama administration's policy failings with regard to Syria. The President's approach combines the worst of moral negligence ("If he drops sarin on his own people, what's that got to do with us?") with casually adopted "red lines" whose terms and intelligence they litigate when the bluffs are called. All this while Hezbollah is openly participating, Assad's forces begin to regain ground, Turkey and Israel are being drawn in to the fight, and countries in the region plead for American leadership.
Peter may be right that the President is committed to stay out of the fight -- that Rwanda is the right historical parallel. It's entirely likely they will subject any and every possible policy to evidentiary standards intelligence work in the real world cannot attain or delays that string along journalists with the “Administration considering...” storyline. But those of us who believe for reasons of both interests and values the United States should have a much more active involvement in preventing the Assad government from remaining in power ought to be turning policy keys in the administration's locks to see if we can devise interventions consistent with the commander in chief's limitations and incentivized by engaging their ideological proclivities.
An intervention focusing on the plight of refugees might provide that key, allowing a humanitarian motivation, supported by the United Nations and the Arab League, with narrow involvement by U.S. military forces operating as one small part of a broad coalition, and heavy emphasis on "smart power" diplomacy to bring Russia into participation and growing governance capacity among the Syrian opposition.
Syria's civil war has displaced 4,250,000 Syrians from their homes to other parts of the country, and another 1,400,000 have fled outside the country to reside in neighboring states. Jordan alone is giving shelter to 524,000. One of the refugee camps constitutes Jordan's fifth largest city; this in a country without the largesse to provide much assistance and whose political structure has never come to terms with the long-term residence of Palestinians who left Israel in 1948. Jordan is tottering under the weight of providing for refugees and fear they may become permanent. President Obama acknowledged the burden on Jordan during his recent visit, pledging additional U.S. aid.
Turkey is in an even more parlous situation, with refugees fanning tensions between Turkish Sunni and Kurds and threatening to derail the Erdogan government's important progress in reconciliation on the Kurdish issue. The Erdogan government has so far held sectarian unity, but just barely, and violence is escalating. Turkey's turn from "zero problems with neighbors" to a foreign policy much more closely aligned with ours has been a real boon to the Obama administration. Moreover, constraining Turkey from shaming NATO into a much more activist military role -- invoking the mutual defense clause of the NATO treaty, for example -- is a significant component of the Obama administration being able to limit U.S. involvement.
An intervention that seeks to create refugee camps within Syrian territory would take the pressure off neighboring countries. The United Nations estimates that six million Syrians are in need of urgent assistance, a full third of the population. Establishing camps in Syria at which civilians can safely receive that assistance would be the objective of the intervention.
Focusing on refugees would be the path of least international resistance, something important to this administration, and could even conceivably produce an international "legal" basis. Whether the UN will actually support invoking the Responsibility to Protect is worth testing, but it needn't be the only means by which the UN could be brought in. The Obama administration could lead from behind by orchestrating an appeal to the Security Council led by Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia -- perhaps even Israel could be included to show the breadth of regional support, and Iraq lured by Sunni emboldenment and the status of inclusion to abandon Iranian objectives. The Arab League would need to be jostled into unity, given its division over "awakening," but that's an ideal role for John Kerry's State Department. Isolating Iran and exposing its involvement in Syria would provide a unifying element. The Gulf countries could be prompted to advise China of its long-term oil needs, as produced some effect in Iran negotiations.
Secretary Kerry could be tasked with bringing Russia into the fold. The Russians have a genuine fear of stoking Islamist violence in the Caucasus; Kerry should persuade them their current policy in Syria will foster precisely what they're seeking to avoid and encourage their participation in the UN mission as a way of resetting how they are perceived by protecting Muslims in Syria. Giving Russia responsibility for refugee assistance in the area of their Tartus base would perhaps tempt them to support a UN role.
The "realist" pretensions of the Obama administration could be engaged in crafting an exit strategy for Assad -- promising he will not be remanded to the International Criminal Court if he chooses a coddled retirement in the UAE or London.
A UN mission could provide aid directly in the camps, rather than through the government, as it is now doing, taking that lever from Assad -- or perhaps leaving it with Assad to incentivize his agreement to establish the camps -- but giving NGOs latitude to work directly in the camps in addition to UN efforts.
The primary responsibility for protecting refugee camps inside Syria would in theory rest with the Assad government and in practice migrate to the rebels. A UN mission would hold the Syrian government responsible for any government attacks because it is the sovereign. The rebels have demonstrated the ability to take and hold territory from the government, even with the government's military advantages. If refugee camps were set up in the border areas north and east of the country, where the refugees currently are, they would be in rebel-controlled areas. Facilitating refugee return and providing governance in the camps would provide a governance training ground for Syrian opposition leaders. Working with them will increase our understanding and help us help the opposition gain control over militia that will eventually need to be demobilized.
Whatever one thinks of the efficacy of our intelligence work in Syria -- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey testified that we know less now than we did a year ago about Syrian rebels -- that our intelligence and military communities are so concerned about the prospect of providing them the kinds of weapons that would neutralize Assad's advantages ought to give us pause. General Salim Idris, our preferred leader of the opposition, has acknowledged he has little influence over what the rebels do and no direct authority over the largest factions. So caution is in order where arming the rebels is concerned.
It is still the case that the Assad government's advantage in the fight is air superiority and heavy weaponry. That is changing as Hezbollah and Iran both train and participate with the Assad forces, but preventing the Assad government from using airpower, artillery and missiles would shift the balance significantly in favor of the rebels. If we will not entrust rebels with the weapons to undertake that work, it falls to us. This need not entail a Northern Watch-style no fly zone, or even a preemptive destruction of Syrian air forces: coalition military operations could be restricted to preventing the use of aircraft, and retaliating against the use of artillery or missiles by the government. For all the talk of Syrian air defenses being five times as good as Libya's, the Israeli air force seems to slice through them pretty easily. Missiles fired from outside Syrian airspace, either from seaborne platforms or NATO batteries already based in Turkey could take much of the responsibility. Countering Syrian missiles may be too demanding in real time, but retaliating against units that fire them would diminish the government's advantage with time.
Such an approach would not prevent all Syrian attacks. But it would protect more Syrians and it would diminish the Assad government's military advantage over time. And it just might be limited enough, and contain enough elements of the kind of policies the Obama administration favors, for the commander in chief to consider it.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
For months, the Obama administration has been avoiding the conclusion that the Assad government used chemical weapons in its armed struggle to suppress its citizens. As recently as yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel rebuffed the notion, saying "suspicions are one thing; evidence is another."
Today the White House finally conceded the point. "Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent Sarin," the administration wrote in a letter to Congress.
But even now, the White House is insisting it needs to gather the facts and called for a U.N. investigation, a convenient method of continuing to stall on Syria.
The letter goes on to say that "given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient -- only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making and strengthen our leadership of the international community." It endorses a "comprehensive United Nations investigation that can credibly evaluate the evidence and establish what took place." (The U.N. has already deployed a team to Cyprus to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, but so far they have been denied entry into the country, and a full-throated investigation remains unlikely.)
The world's best intelligence services are generally acknowledged to include those of Israel, Britain, France, and the United States, yet for months we alone are unable to establish whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria. As technical assessments have traditionally been the strong suit of American intelligence, it is curious that we alone among the major intelligence assessors were unable to determine whether chemical weapons had been employed.
The governments of Britain and France informed the United Nations they have credible evidence that Syria has more than once used chemical weapons. They took soil samples from the suspect sites and subjected them to rigorous testing, interviewed witnesses of the attacks in Homs, Aleppo and Damascus, and became convinced nerve agents were used by the government of Syria.
"To the best of our professional understanding, the [Syrian] regime used lethal chemical weapons against gunmen in a series of incidents in recent months," General Itai Brun, chief of the research division of Israel's army intelligence branch, said Tuesday.
Even the government of Syria acknowledged that chemical weapons were used, though they unconvincingly claimed the chemical weapons were used by the rebels and refused entry to U.N. investigators.
Our European allies have said they believe the Syrian government "was testing the response of the United States." Until today, the response of the United States has been to avoid coming to a conclusion.
General Brun made that public statement while Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was in Israel. Hagel's reaction? He claimed the Israeli government didn't share that information with him. But the Obama administration's secretary of defense didn't double back to get the information. He didn't strengthen deterrence by reiterating the president's "red line" that any chemical weapons use by the Assad government would bring U.S. retaliation. He expressed a complete lack of curiosity on the subject, saying "suspicions are one thing; evidence is another."
Hagel has now been forced to backtrack. "As I have said, the intelligence community has been assessing information for some time on this issue, and the decision to reach this conclusion was made in the past 24 hours," Hagel said, "and I have been in contact with senior officials in Washington today and most recently the last couple of hours on this issue." Hagel added that "we cannot confirm the origin of these weapons, but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime." Hagel's statement taken together with the "varying levels of confidence" modifier included in the White House's letter to Congress means that the Administration is still avoiding a conclusion; they will surely want an intelligence community consensus with a very high level of confidence (something rarely achieved).
Because if it should be "proven" that the Assad government has used chemical weapons, it will either force the president's hand to intervene in Syria, or the president will be revealed to have made threats he declines to back up. Instead, the administration has chosen to conclude that the intelligence is inconclusive.
It would be deeply inconvenient for the president of the United States to have to go to war in Syria when he placidly assures the American public that the tide of war is receding. U.S. intervention grows even more inconvenient since our unwillingness to help the rebels has led them to take help from quarters we disapprove of -- are we to fight alongside the al Nusra front, which we (rightly) characterize as a terrorist organization with al Qaeda links?
It is a problem of the president's own making, of course: He took a strident stand that any chemical weapons use would be a "game changer" precipitating American military involvement. This president likes to look tough on the international scene -- even when he's leading from behind he's taking all the credit. So we have policies designed to showcase Obama as a commanding commander in chief. In order to keep him from having to make good on his threats, the administration has taken to relying on intelligence assessments as his opt-out.
The Syria evasion is of a piece with Obama administration deflections of other intelligence conclusions that would force a change to their policies: Iran and North Korea.
With regard to the Iranian nuclear program, President Obama gave a speech (at AIPAC, no less) insisting that he would not settle for containment of a nuclear-armed Iran; he would prevent it. Since then, the secretary of defense and the director for national intelligence have both testified to Congress their strong belief that Iran "has not decided to make a nuclear weapon." In so carefully parsing their language, they are attempting to remove from consideration the evidence of Iran's capability to build a nuclear weapon in order to assert as more important Iran's intent.
What neither the secdef (then Leon Panetta) nor the DNI acknowledged is that assessing intentions is the most difficult part of intelligence work and requires a supple and deep understanding of the politics of other governments -- something we are unlikely to have about a country with complex political dynamics unhindered by institutional constraints and in which we have not had a diplomatic or economic presence for 34 years.
The Obama administration is unconcerned that other countries who have at least as good an intelligence operation directed at Iran as we do don't share our confidence that Iran hasn't made the decision to proceed. When challenged on the divergent assessments, now Secretary of Defense Hagel explained there might be "minor" differences between the U.S. and Israel on the timeline for Iran developing nuclear capacity. The Obama administration's generous timeline is a function of them "knowing" that Iran hasn't decided to proceed.
With regard to the North Korean nuclear test and military provocations, President Obama insisted he would not reward bad behavior (even as Secretary Kerry visiting Seoul offered negotiations). Lieutenant General Flynn, director of the defense intelligence agency, which is the arm of U.S. intelligence most focused on assessing military capabilities, testified before Congress that in DIA's judgment, North Korea already has the ability to mate nuclear warheads to long-range missiles. The administration's response? The President denied the conclusion in a nationally-televised interview. The director of national intelligence, Jim Clapper, also gave interviews explaining that DIA's conclusions are "not the consensus view of the intelligence community."
This is what the politicization of intelligence looks like: politicians turning their eyes away from information that is inconvenient to their agenda. It's always a bad idea.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday the IMF chided the United States and the United Kingdom for their recent pursuit of austerity. The organization released its latest World Economic Outlook in anticipation of the annual World Bank-IMF spring meetings in Washington, when global financial dignitaries gather.
The IMF put forth top officials to discuss the organization's forecast -- which I'll take up in another post -- and also to critique the state of fiscal affairs in major countries. Carlo Cottarelli, the director of the IMF's fiscal affairs division, described 10 economies with serious fiscal problems -- debt in excess of 90 percent of GDP and rising. These 10 -- the United States, Japan, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Greece, Ireland, and Portugal -- account for 40 percent of world GDP (for all the headlines they draw, Greece, Ireland, and Portugal account for very little of that global GDP).
Cottarelli warned that there were numerous studies indicating that when debt hit 80 to 90 percent of GDP, growth would suffer. This seemed an oblique reference to the bubbling controversy over the work of Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. Count the IMF in the camp that think Rogoff and Reinhart are basically right. Cottarelli's conclusion, given his reading of the broader evidence, was that a country should not seek to stabilize debt/GDP at the 90 percent level, but rather should aim for significantly lower levels of debt.
While that might seem to support a call for austerity, the IMF's short-term policy conclusions were just the opposite. As the Wall Street Journal reported it:
"...the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday called on countries that can afford it -- including the U.S. and Britain -- to slow the pace of their austerity measures ... it warned euro-area policy makers against focusing too much on hitting tough deficit targets, saying they risked further deepening their downturn. ‘Fiscal adjustment needs to proceed gradually, building on measures that limit damage to demand in the short term,' the IMF said."
There were two interesting caveats to this call, however:
1. This recommendation to back off austerity only applied to countries that are not currently subject to market pressures.
2. Short-term easing needs to be paired with credible medium-term restraint. (Borrow more today; pay it back tomorrow).
Those caveats are critical and raise all sorts of questions. Fortunately, I was at Cottarelli's press conference and got to ask.
Take the "market pressures" exception. You know a country is experiencing "market pressures" when that country's bondholders are panicking, a debt sell-off is underway, and interest rates on sovereign debt are soaring. When no one wants to buy or hold your debt, it is an awkward time to try issuing more. On this, there is broad agreement.
But how do you know when investors are about to lose faith in your debt? Is there any reason to expect advance warning? When should preparations begin?
Cottarelli's response was that we do not really know in advance. We have to guess. There are some indications of vulnerabilities -- a country whose debt is held more by international investors is more vulnerable -- but it's an art, not a science.
An honest but unsatisfactory reply. It does little good to say that we know market pressures when we see them. Once the market has turned on your debt, it's too late. Budget processes are slow, with long lags from initial discussion to actual spending. If interest rates were to spike on U.S. debt in September 2014, borrowing for that time period is covered by the budgets currently under discussion in Congress. And, for the record, Federal Reserve data show that in 2011 roughly 46 percent of U.S. debt was held by international investors.
On the question of repaying additional short-term borrowing with medium-term frugality, I asked about judging the credibility of fiscal plans. The U.S. fiscal stimulus of 2009 was supposed to be a temporary measure, but worked itself into spending baselines. Congress regularly adopts measures that ‘balance' 10-year budgets, only to repeal those measures when the time comes. A classic example is the attempt to cut payments to Medicare providers, requiring a regular "doc fix" when it turns out there is a limit to the pro bono services doctors will provide. So how do we know that medium-term promises are credible?
Cottarelli suggested that a first step was to look at whether a plan contained sufficient detail. Beyond that, though, he acknowledged it was a much more difficult issue. His recommendation was to look at a country's past record of implementing fiscal adjustment.
Other than the recent austerity, to which they object, it was unclear which episodes in recent British or U.S. fiscal history offer reassurance on this count.
The rationale for the IMF's call to set aside austerity is pretty clear -- large parts of the world are slumping, central banks are doing all they can on the monetary side, so the IMF would like to see a boost to demand through looser fiscal policy (lower taxes or higher spending). The Reinhart-Rogoff controversy is a sideshow here. The IMF is not embracing ever-rising debt levels; it is pushing select countries to adopt a temporary slump-busting burst.
Yet if one runs through the IMF's own check-list of pre-requisites for short-term relaxation -- current debt at sustainable levels; freedom from worry about a market panic; credible medium-run plans for cuts -- none of them seem to apply. The IMF prescription appears less a careful calculation than a double gamble. It is a bet that further short-term measures are appropriate to address a slow-down that has now dragged on for five years, and also a bet that those who adopt the prescription will not have to pay a hefty price down the line.
Stephen Jaffe/IMF via Getty Images
The World Bank's most successful program -- "Doing Business," which ranks countries on the ease of starting and running a formal business -- has helped spark major free market reforms in over 100 countries during its 10 years of existence. It serves as a major "strategic conversation starter" for American diplomats, makes it easier for entrepreneurs to get access to bank loans, increases the number of business start ups in developing countries, and helps governments bring companies out of the gray economy into the formal economy. But it now is in danger of being weakened, outsourced, or done away with.
So why would anyone dislike Doing Business? Countries that rank poorly compared to their geostrategic rivals (such as China, India, or Argentina) or don't believe in free markets and the private sector as the primary driver of prosperity tend to dislike the index. This has resulted in an unfortunate effort inside the World Bank to do away with the index.
Doing Business reflects a broadly American and widely accepted view about development -- that the private sector is its main driver. A small number of influential, vocal countries on the board of the World Bank such as China, Brazil and India dislike where they end up on the DB rankings. As a result, they have called on bank management to change the methodology of the report to reflect aspects that they can perform more highly on and to stop ranking countries according to the ease of doing business. In addition, several quarters are calling for the World Bank Group to give the Doing Business project to another institution.
Jim Kim became the new president in July 2012, and with his ascent, anti-reform forces within the bank's bureaucracy and on its board sensed their chance to kill, cripple, or "outsource" the index. After a messy board meeting last summer where no consensus was reached, Jim Kim punted and convened a panel to review Doing Business. That panel is expected to release a recommendation about the fate of Doing Business in May or June. This weekend the World Bank hosts its spring meetings, and Doing Business will be one of the hot topics of conversation t. For my day job, I am hosting an event on Friday morning to recognize the 10th anniversary of the report. The World Bank cancelled a large research conference last December following the 10th release of the report because of the review and the "controversy" around the index.
Doing Business ranks countries by how hard or easy it is to start a "formal' (tax-paying, bank loan-taking) business. In many countries, setting up a business "by the book" can cost tens of thousands of dollars and conceivably years of fighting red tape. But operating in an informal economy is bad for prosperity: no access to bank loans, many opportunities for bribes, and less folks paying any taxes at all. Doing Business was incubated with strong support from the Bush administration through contributions to the methodology from USAID, funding from USAID, and political support from State and Treasury. The last three World Bank presidents, especially Bob Zoellick, were strong supporters of Doing Business.
The fact that the World Bank releases an annual ranking gives Doing Business power and influence in unique ways because of the bank's pull in developing countries. Attempts to "outsource" Doing Business to an academic institution will greatly reduce the power of the index.
At a time when the Obama administration and development thought leaders speak about the importance of funding activities that are "evidence based" and "data driven," the data and facts generated by the Doing Business indicators are undeniable and powerful. The data creates the ability to compare countries and local governments across jurisdictions and have made it possible to systematically study the effects of regulations and red tape on private enterprise. Reforms empower entrepreneurs and takes power from crony capitalists.
To the administration's credit, they have supported Doing Business but could use some help from Republicans. Through Congressional action, Republicans need to weigh in with the administration (especially the Treasury Department) and with the World Bank's leadership.
This is a great bipartisan opportunity for the chairman and ranking members of the Senate and House Appropriations, Foreign Relations, and Financial Services Committees to take action to support a pro-business development agenda. Because the World Bank should be a force multiplier of American influence in the world, Republicans supported (and rightly so) the renewal of the general capital increase of the World Bank. In return for supporting the GCI, the U.S. should be expected to retain its "big seat" at the table and exercise that influence with Jim Kim and bring in allied shareholders in favor of strengthening Doing Business. Killing, crippling, or outsourcing the index to another institution is one of the worst things the World Bank could do and would be a direct rebuke to the bipartisan support that the World Bank receives.
The U.S. renewed its commitment to the World Bank through the GCI, and it is time for the World Bank to renew its commitment to a proven program that supports free markets, cuts corruption, and empowers entrepreneurs.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Another BRICS summit brings another round of angst in the West over the new world the rising powers seek to build without us. The combined weight of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is indeed breathtaking. Each is subcontinental in scope; together they represent nearly every region; their combined GDPs may surpass those of the G7 within two decades; as a group they have contributed more to global growth over the past five years than the West; and between them they boast nearly half the world's population.
Moreover, the BRICS possess complementary advantages: China is a manufacturing superpower; India is the world's largest democracy, with a deeper well of human capital than any other; Russia is a potential "energy superpower," according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council; Brazil dominates a region lacking any great power competitor; and South Africa represents a continent that has grown faster than Asia over the past decade. An alliance among these behemoths could indeed change history in ways that diminish the West.
Except that nearly all of the BRICS covet a special relationship with the United States, have development aspirations that can only be achieved with Western technology and investment, have security concerns they do not want to put at risk through confrontation with Washington, and quietly understand that strategic and economic rivalries within their grouping may be more salient than the ties that bind them together.
There will be several ghosts in the room at the BRICS summit: America, which India, China, and Russia have identified as more important to their interests than other rising powers; Indonesia, whose demographic and economic weight gives it a stronger claim to membership than South Africa; and Mexico, whose dynamic economy is more integrated with the world than Brazil's and wonders who appointed a Portuguese-speaking nation to represent Latin America.
Ironically, it may be the cleavages within the BRICS club that more accurately hint at the future of the global order: tensions between China and Brazil on trade, between China and India on security, and between China and Russia on status. These issues highlight the continuing difficulty Beijing will have in staking its claim to global leadership. Such leadership requires followers, and every BRIC country is reluctant to become one.
As my GMF colleague Dan Kliman puts it: "Talk of a new international order anchored by the BRICS is just that - talk. The two largest emerging powers in BRICS - Brazil and India - desire modifications to the current order; they do not seek to scrap it. Without geopolitical or ideological mortar, the BRICS summit remains less than the sum of its parts."
The BRICS countries may posture, but their strategic interests by and large lie in working more closely with the West rather than forming an alternative block that seeks to overthrow the existing world order. Indeed, the largest of the BRICS tried just such a strategy in another era -- and failed. India's experiment with non-alignment during the Cold War was a recipe for keeping Indians poor and shutting their country out of premier global clubs like the U.N. Security Council. We know how Moscow's quest to mount a Soviet ideological and material challenge to the West ended. And China long ago abandoned its Maoist zeal for world revolution. The country's biggest trading partners today are the European Union and the United States, and its leaders understand that the nature of China's relationship with the United States will be the main external determinant of China's ability to become a truly global power.
Power is diffusing across the international system, and the BRICS grouping is a reflection of that. But we should not let the occasional rising-powers summit lead us to lose sight of the main reality of a more multipolar world -- that in the race for influence in the 21st century, the United States remains in pole position.
ROBERTO STUCKERT FILHO/AFP/GettyImages
Obama supporters are becoming some of the most interesting critics of Obama foreign policy. There has always been a vibrant Republican critique of the President, and for years there has been a far-left fringe-Democrat bill of particulars as well. But in recent months some of the most trenchant of the critiques have come from center-left Democrats, echoing (usually without acknowledging it) the long-standing arguments made by Republicans.
I have noted this phenomenon before, calling attention to the complaints of otherwise ardent Obama supporters: see David Rothkopf, David Ignatius, Rosa Brooks, or Tom Ricks. Since then there have been more: Rachel Kleinfeld's blunt deconstruction of the President's policies on Syria; Bob Woodward's correction of the record on Obama's attempt to disassociate himself from the sequester; and David Brooks' uncharacteristic lament about Obama's irresponsibility alongside his customary critique of Republican irresponsibility.
To be sure, other loyal Obama supporters have pushed back. Ezra Klein tried and so far failed to beat Woodward back on the sequester issue. Klein had more success in getting David Brooks to recant. (The Klein-Brooks exchange is doubly revealing, since Brooks acknowledged up front that his original column was hyperbolic, but neither he nor Klein expressed any interest in exploring the ways the hyperbole distorted the role of Republicans. They only focused on correcting alleged distortions regarding Obama.)
Yet there does seem to be a turning of the tide, a return to something closer to the even-handed and candid assessment of Obama's strengths and weaknesses that has been missing in the mainstream media. The moment is ripe for a Big Think attempt to stitch the critiques together and, if sneak-previews are a reliable indication of what is to come, Vali Nasr's The Dispensable Nation may win the intellectual sweepstakes. Like the other recent critics, Nasr has been a supporter of President Obama -- he held an advisory position at the State Department in the first term, working for the late Richard Holbrooke. According to early reviews by Richard Cohen and by Roger Cohen, much of the book appears to be score-settling, defending Holbrooke's uneven performance as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and blaming policy failures on backstabbing by White House officials.
However, Nasr goes beyond that to make an overarching claim that President Obama has subordinated foreign policy and national security to domestic partisan politics. Thus, regardless of the issue -- how to win in Afghanistan, how to stop the Syrian civil war, how to manage the post-Qaddafi mess in Libya -- Nasr claims that Obama interprets the American national interest through the parochial lens of Obama's own partisan political interests. The line between foreign policy and domestic politics has been erased.
This is not a new critique. Republicans have leveled it at Obama before. It was a staple of Democratic criticism of President George W. Bush -- including, ironically, then-State Senator Barack Obama in his famous speech against the Iraq war. And it was a staple of criticism of President Bill Clinton.
Indeed, the reported thesis of Nasr's book prompted me to dig through my archives to find one of the more obscure publications of my professional career: "The Domestication of Foreign Policy," published in the American Foreign Policy Interests back in 1998. In that long-forgotten piece, I took as my point of departure Aaron Wildavsky's "two president's thesis" -- the idea that presidents could conduct foreign policy in a way very different from how they conduct domestic policy because of the greater role of domestic political considerations in the latter area -- and argued that President Clinton had presided over the death of the thesis. All the constraints of domestic politics, and thus all of the domestic political approaches and orientations, applied with equal force under Clinton whether the issue was domestic or foreign policy. What foreign policy pundits considered contradictory in Clinton's foreign policy was merely the side-effect of this domestication process.
I attributed this to deep causes -- the absence of an urgent existential threat and the rise of media and public opinion influences -- and also to proximate causes. The deep causes still apply, but what is striking is how much the proximate causes echo between Clinton's first term and Obama's current situation:
Clinton evolved in the second term, with a more forceful and, in some ways, more successful foreign policy in the second term than he was credited with in the first. But it is the first term mark that provides the apples-to-apples comparison with Obama. All of these apply with equal if not greater force to the Obama Administration. Only on one proximate cause of the domestication of foreign policy does Obama differ markedly from Clinton's first term: Clinton engaged promiscuously (compared with Bush 41's caution) but Obama has been even more cautious about global engagement than Bush 41, far more than Bush 43 or Clinton. This is because Obama learned a lesson that eluded Clinton in his first term: Public opinion frowns on engagements that are well-intentioned but fail.
What remains to be seen is whether the public also frowns on non-engagements that are well-meant but fail. Rwanda was that for Clinton, and it looms much larger today in the reckoning than it did as it was unfolding. Syria may prove to be Obama's Rwanda. The growing voices of once-friendly critics indicate that at least some influential members of his own team think so.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
The international community's cynical and feckless response to North Korean nuclear testing evokes nothing more than Claude Rein's character in "Casablanca," who puts on an act for his Nazi overlords after the murder of their commander by ordering the Vichy police officers to "round up the usual suspects." With Pyongyang's most recent and dangerous test on Feb. 12, can we afford to just pretend we are serious yet again?
On the one hand, there is an obvious recognition that this time the response must be tougher. It will take time to conduct the forensics, but seismic readings suggest that the test may approach the 12 kiloton yield of the blast that destroyed Hiroshima (the last two tests were only a fraction of that size). More troubling, the North Koreans can claim -- with some honesty -- that they have been perfecting weaponization and miniaturization. And more troubling still, this test may have been conducted using uranium-based weapons. If so, then North Korea is poised to crank out multiple warheads underground (since uranium enrichment does not require the same cooling methods) where they cannot be detected. Those who say North Korea cannot actually use nuclear weapons without committing suicide forget that a large arsenal gives Pyongyang greater latitude for coercion over Japan and South Korea by just threatening to use or transfer those weapons. This is a dangerous threshold. So maybe the Security Council's immediate statement that it will take action against North Korea and the Chinese Foreign Ministry's "resolute" condemnation of the test mean there will be real sanctions this time.
On the other hand, the Chinese MFA statement is essentially the same one they issued last time North Korea conducted a nuclear test and Chinese officials have been explaining to journalists that they will only "fine tune" sanctions to show displeasure without upsetting the "balance" in their relationship with Pyongyang and Washington. Susan Rice is also reported to have said that the Security Council will "go through the usual drill," hopefully a misquotation because it is so obviously evocative of Claude Reins in "Casablanca."
Fortunately, Congress is preparing legislation to put pressure on the administration to do more this time. The North Korea Nonproliferation and Accountability Act of 2013 would not force the administration to do anything other than report back to Congress, but it will help those in the administration who argue that an entirely new level of sanctions are now needed. That package should include Chapter 7 (binding) Security Council sanctions, but also unilateral and coalition steps by the United States and partners to inspect all North Korean shipping and air traffic that enters their territory and to freeze all international banking transactions with North Korean entities through Section 311 of the Patriot Act. Those arguing against such measures have points they would rather not say in public: that enforcement of deeper sanctions creates tension with China we cannot afford now; that we would only have to lift new sanctions in order to get back to the table with Pyongyang (the way we returned North Korean funds frozen under the Patriot Act in 2005 in order to get the North Koreans back to the table in 2007); and, finally, that we have too many problems in foreign policy now with Syria and Iran to put pesky misbehaving North Korea on the front burner. All three points are shamefully wrong, which is why they will not hold up under the light of Congressional scrutiny: First, we will simply not get action from China without raising Beijing's level of discomfort by proving our readiness to take steps with our allies; second, we should never trade defensive measures against North Korean threats for the right to talk to North Korean diplomats (dialogue is fine, as long as it is not paid for); and, finally, the North Korean nuclear problem will be much harder later than it is now. Let's hope that Congress keeps the spotlight on this problem, because real pressure on North Korea has to start somewhere.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Over the last four years, many commenters have labeled President Obama a foreign policy realist (see also here and here). At first, I scratched my head at this appellation being applied to him because 1) I heard him speak and watched him act; and 2) I know by reputation and in some cases professionally and personally his foreign policy and national security staff and few of them strike me as realists. While most analysts and pundits continue to call him a realist (methinks they do protest, more on that below), some are lamenting that he appears to be "slipping" into a more Wilsonian mode, and heaven forefend, a Bush 43 mode. I'm not quite sure what is going on here, but I can speculate: 1) these commenters are trying hard to give a president who is criticized for not caring much about foreign policy something to hang his commander-in-chief role on; 2) they are trying hard to be sure that their man in the White House-oft-criticized for apologizing for the United States and relying too much on the United Nations-is not called an idealist, a term that is held in derision by some; or 3) they are simply still attacking President George W. Bush over Iraq because they cannot get over it and see "his" war as the ultimate violation of realist doctrine; that is, Bush invaded Iraq to change the nature of its government, Obama has invaded nowhere to do such a thing. This latter argument would fall into the category of the ongoing claim that "our guy is not your horrible guy."
Let's look at the tenets of realism and see if President Obama lives up to them. Now of course there are many understandings of and nuances to a theory that has been around for millennia (Thucydides was the first exponent, Machiavelli and Hobbes are its best known exponents in the early modern era, and probably Hans Morgenthau and Henry Kissinger are that today). But a few points have been commonly accepted for decades, in part because statesmen like Richelieu, Bismarck and T. Roosevelt acted on them and changed the world with them. They are: the international system is anarchic where distrust and anxiety are the norm and force is the final arbiter; states, as the most important actors, are rational and unitary and they must work out the problems of coexistence themselves; and finally, states seek above all their own interests defined ultimately as survival and they do so by maximizing their power, ultimately military power. It is really difficult in my view to label a policymaker or a policy realist if they don't comport with most if not all of these elements.
Let me stipulate at the outset that the Obama administration uses force sometimes even if that means mostly using drones. Moreover, the administration has at times, as in the case of Libya, at least partially gone it alone. But the entire tenor and work of the administration is best described as idealist or liberal, the latter being the current term of art (no one likes to be called an idealist it seems). Following are a few examples:
1) The administration's view on the role of the United Nations is quite clear: all actions taken by states to secure the peace must have the imprimatur of this supreme intergovernmental organization and it can and will solve problems if states will submit to it. This is what the administration says, even if it doesn't abide by that principle 100% of the time. The statements of the president and vice president, the UN ambassador and the secretary of state attest to this. That's par for the course for post-McGovern Democratic administrations and this one is no different. The personnel who populate the Obama administration have been policymakers of that view their entire careers; if Senator Kerry becomes Secretary of State, all the more so. It is no surprise that this is the case, but it is a surprise to hear them called realists since realist philosophy, as noted above, holds that unitary, rational actor states are the sole judges of their actions in pursuit of their interests.
2) Realist thought, especially as put into practice by the statesmen noted above, includes the idea that states should attempt to shape the anarchic world to conform to their state's interests. This can be done by moral suasion, of course, but often it requires threats that run the gamut from noncooperation in the fulfillment of the opposing state's interests to the outright use of military force, either in an alliance or alone. An administration that says the United Nations is supposed to determine matters of war and peace and avows that only alliances are the appropriate context for the use of force is not sending the message that it will insist on securing its interests. There is plenty of evidence in terms of diplomatic statements and actions to suggest that this attitude characterizes the Obama administration.
3) Realist thinking contemplates that states must seek to maximize their power via a strong economy and a military capable of deterring aggression against the state's interests. The rational actor that is the state is represented by a government that sees as its first job the building and maintaining of sufficient force to defend its interests and deter those who would try to reshape the international system in ways that harm the state's interests. The financial health of the state is fundamental to it being perceived as militarily credible in the face of threats. The Obama administration, in running up record deficits and showing no sign of dealing with an entitlement crisis except to bluff its way through a sequestration time-bomb-that it proposed-does not comport with realist thinking. Even the administration's own secretary of defense called this approach to reform "devastating" for military preparedness, though he did not acknowledge it was hatched within the administration but rather blamed Congress. To be sure, opponents of the United States knew better.
4) Finally, a brief review of some examples drawn from the US's dealings with specific countries. In the case of Iraq, realist thought would have moved the president to do everything in his power-and he had plenty-to get a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government so that the United States could better safeguard its interests in the region. It is not in line with realism to have spent so much in lives and treasure only to walk away without using our ample leverage to continue to have forces in this country which is situated right next to one of our greatest enemies. And speaking of Iran, from failing to encourage the enemy of our enemies (the people v. the regime), to bringing the regime to its knees through sanctions and other pressure years ago if it didn't disavow its nuclear program, the administration has failed to live up to the realist moniker. Rather, the Obama administration has relied on the United Nations and pleading for talks with an implacable theocratic regime. On Syria, a realist president would have seized the opportunity early on to conclusively aid those who would topple the last state ally of Iran. And, finally, on the Palestine question, the Obama administration's handling of our relationship with Israel has alienated our strongest ally in a dangerous region while encouraging our enemies to see us as weak and fickle. Realists don't take risks with important allies. Neither Richelieu, Bismarck nor TR would counsel such a policy.
So why are some so adamant that President Obama is a realist? I am left still with my speculations: they know he doesn't have a coherent policy, that often he appears to wing it on an area of governance he has little interest in, so they want to characterize him with the perceived strongest and wisest of the approaches possible. Or they are simply still waging the "he's not Bush" campaign-it is telling when one of these pundits describes Obama as following Hans Morgenthau's and Eisenhower's thinking regarding Vietnam. But that is a very selective reading and use of Morgenthau. Whatever the reason, I don't see the evidence to make such clear-cut calls. It would be better to admit, of course, that there are no pure realists or idealists once in office, and then fashion a hybrid approach to describe Obama, much as Kissinger did so eloquently and convincingly for Reagan in his great work Diplomacy.
By Amir Abbas Fakhravar and G. William Heiser.
As the Non-Aligned Movement holds its summit this week, we can expect more than the usual finger-pointing at the United States and its allies. This time, the summit is in Tehran. Iran's ruling mullahs plan on using the summit -- and the expected presence of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon -- as cover to snuff out the life of one of their most principled political opponents.
On August 31, unless the U.N. leader and others intervene, the Islamic Republic will impose a death sentence on the sickly but courageous dissident writer Arzhang Davoodi. If all goes according to standard practice, an executioner will place a cable around Arzhang's neck, haul him off his feet by a crane, and slowly strangle him.
Arzhang and Amir Fakhravar became the closest of friends as political prisoners in the regime's notorious Evin Prison. His crime, for which he was arrested in October 2003, was his participation in the PBS Frontline documentary, "Forbidden Iran," about how the regime executes its political opponents. Arzhang spoke to journalist Jane Kokan about human rights violations and in support of the Iranian student movement against the mullahs. I was one of the imprisoned student leaders at the time, heading the organization Arzhang had founded. Arzhang spoke out on my behalf, only to end up joining me in prison.
Following a trial in 2005, a Revolutionary Court imposed on Arzhang a sharia sentence of 15 years' imprisonment and 75 lashes for "spreading propaganda against the system," "establishing and directing a student organization called the Confederation of Iranian Students opposed to the government," advocacy in his writings of a secular and democratic government for his country, and participating in the PBS documentary.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei needs the U.N. Secretary General and the Non-Aligned leaders to remain unaware of -- or at least quiet about -- Arzhang's execution during their visit. The regime has spared no expense to showcase the Iranian capital as a seemingly prosperous and calm city devoid of population and discontent.
Despite a collapsed economy, the regime has spent a fortune in preparation. It constructed a lavish conference hall in the affluent Velenjak area of northern Tehran, along with a new hotel expressly for the foreign dignitaries. Authorities "beautified" the shabby routes from Tehran's two airports to the summit site, as well as other thoroughfares the foreigners are likely to use, and purchased two hundred C Class Mercedes Benz sedans to whisk the Non-Aligned and U.N. leaders to their destinations.
On Aug.5, the regime imposed a mandatory "holiday" during the summit to limit the prospect of protests by keeping people off the streets, matched with a gasoline giveaway program of to all who would leave town during the summit. Regime agents forced 1,400 homeless people out of the area. Most tellingly, the mullahs flooded Tehran with 110,000 police and security forces, as well as Basiji militia -- the force that murdered young violinist Neda Agha Soltan three years ago.
Ahmad Khatami (the cleric who maintained the late Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence on writer Salman Rushdie) ghoulishly told followers of the reformist Green Movement that he expected no summit-related "occurrences." In the days leading up to the big event, helicopters hovered ‘round the clock over the city as snipers and plainclothes agents deployed on rooftops and in buildings surrounding the conference hall. The government closed local schools for use of security forces.
Eighty of the 120 presidents, prime ministers and dictators invited to the Non-Aligned summit will not attend. Only 51 countries will send high-level delegations.
The mullahs now risk embarrassing the U.N. leader and other dignitaries thanks to Amnesty International, which exposed the plan to kill Arzhang Davoodi. In an urgent action notice released on Aug. 23, Amnesty reported that Arzhang had been transferred in June to Section 209 of Evin Prison, where he was likely tortured. At an Aug. 28 court hearing, the regime imposed a new charge against Arzhang: "enemy against God" (moharebeh), a crime that can be punishable by death.
Few Americans have ever heard of Arzhang Davoodi, but he has sent messages of gratitude to the people of America. Early last year, at great personal risk, he secretly recorded a video from a smuggled mobile phone in Iran's Rajee-Shahr prison. In the video, he addressed the participants of the first Iran Democratic Transition Conference organized and conducted by the Confederation of Iranian Students at the George Washington University, just blocks from the White House and State Department. With Arzhang's approval, attendees were able to view the video as he delivered his illicit message from captivity.
Days later, Arzhang's jailers savagely beat him and banished him to solitary confinement.
This is what Arzhang was beaten and banished for telling the conference: "In the name of God, the Almighty, happy New Year to all.
"From Rajee Shahr prison, I salute all freedom lovers of the world and cordially send my special regard to the great American nation, particularly all those who in the last three decades have never doubted in this principle that, at any rate, does not allow any sort of compromise with the reactionary sword-minded regime that holds no respect for the international community and has taken us Iranians as hostages.
"Hereby I thank all good hearted people who care about others and do their best to let freedom and democracy flourish all over our small planet. I thank all those who strongly believe that freedom is an indispensable right for us. For each and every human being living upon the good earth. I have a dream, I am sure that in the near future we Iranians share our everlasting freedom celebration with Americans. Yes, I have this dream. God bless you all and all those who truly sacrifice for a free Iran.
"God bless our small planet, God bless you all."
That statement was the entirety of Arzhang Davoodi's crime as an "enemy of God," for which he will pay with his life. Unless Secretary General Ban and the 51 national leaders personally intervene.
Amir Fakhravar is Secretary General of the Confederation of Iranian Students and a former political prisoner of the Iranian regime. He is presently a Research Fellow and Visiting Lecturer at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of international affairs in Washington, DC.
G. William Heiser is a former official in the Reagan National Security Council Staff and currently is an advisor to the Confederation of Iranian Students.
The Organization of American States (OAS) just held its 42nd general assembly in Cochabamba, Bolivia. During the general assembly, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, in a renewed attack against freedom of the press, sought to block the release the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' (IACHR) report of press freedom in the Americas.
Freedom of speech is not the only right under fire from Ecuador's leader. For years, Rafael Correa has used all available government resources to concentrate governmental power in his hands. The result has been to hide crimes committed by him or his inner circle. Every time he attacks a journalist, nationalizes a TV station, or leaves unpunished people engaged in drug trafficking, Correa does so knowing that he manipulates the judicial system and intimidates his country's media.
Astoundingly, not long ago Correa said this on television: "The president of therRepublic is not only the head of the executive, but the head of all the Ecuadorian state, and the Ecuadorian state is the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judicial branch, the electoral system, the state comptroller... [and every other major function of the government]." Correa's strategy has been described by Ecuadorian constitutional lawyers as a "de facto coup d'état."
As an example, in May 2011, President Correa called for a referendum to restructure the Supreme Court. Correa's purpose was to dominate the court and the result of the referendum was the replacement of the system through which judges were appointed with a new system controlled by the president through the following mechanism: a new "judicial council" was established, composed of three members, one from the executive, one from congress (where Correa has a majority), and a third from the comptroller's branch -- which also reports to the president.
Correa wasted no time: The new Council has already appointed all twenty-one new judges to the Supreme Court. To no one's surprise, fourteen of the new judges have been former Correa officials, relatives of current cabinet ministers, or peopble involved in controversial, pro-Correa judicial decisions. One of the latter, for example, is Wilson Merino, who as a lower court judge sided with President Correa in a sham defamation lawsuit launched by Correa against the newspaper El Universo. Merino not only ruled for Correa but awarded the president $40 million dollars in "damages." This sentence was later "forgiven" by Correa due to international criticism by international press organizations and the very Inter-American Human Rights Commission that Correa now wants to silence.
As a result of his sycophantic ruling, Merino was appointed to the Supreme Court. This was only possible because Correa shamelessly manipulates the judicial appointments process. This process establishes a series of requirements, qualifications, and tests that the candidates are required to pass in order to be selected. Wilson Merino did not meet the minimum qualifications, but since the three members of the judicial appointments council respond to Correa, Merino's final score was artificially increased, giving him the necessary points for appointment to the Supreme Court, as the president wished.
Freedom-loving Ecuadoreans, however, have not remained silent. Opposition congressmen such as Andres Paez have denounced the executive's manipulation of the judicial appointments system. Congressman Paez has identified at least seven additional judges that have been appointed by similar deceit. President Correa is now openly harassing Congressman Paez due to his public accusations.
An international committee led by former Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon oversaw the appointment process. Judge Garzon is expected to release a final report shortly concerning the process' transparency and legitimacy. Several members of Ecuador's national assembly have officially advised Mr. Garzon of additional cases of fraud and manipulation.
Correa is attempting to destroy the Ecuadorian judiciary system in three steps. First, he restructured the judicial appointment system in order to control it. Second, by using his control to designate his subordinates, such as Wilson Merino, to the Supreme Court. The third step is under way, and consists of legitimizing the process internationally. The success or failure of Correa's plan depends on Mr. Garzon's forthcoming oversight report and on the international reaction to this scheme. For the sake of Ecuador's liberties, it is necessary that defenders of democracy around the world raise their voices for freedom in Ecuador and that Mr. Garzon teach Correa the difference between representative democracy and autocracy.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Follow him on Twitter: @ezequielvazquez
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Bush alum Bob Zoellick announced today he was stepping down as president of the World Bank. Another American will get the job, likely Hillary Clinton. The IMF and World Bank are seen as twinned institutions by their shareholders. When Dominique Strauss-Kahn left the IMF in 2011 and was replaced by Christine Lagarde, another French citizen, it was clear that a deal had been struck between the U.S. and Europe, and as part of that deal, the Europeans (read the French) got to "keep" the IMF and we got to "keep" the World Bank presidency.
The Euro currency is a political project as much or more so than an economic one, and the IMF is the last firewall for bailing out the Euro. There was no way the Europeans were going to give up their last line of defense during their current crisis.
The "competitive process" for determining the IMF chief last spring, for the most part, was a farce. While the U.S. will face complaints when we name an American to the World Bank, these will ultimately be muted because the U.S. will have the necessary votes; the Europeans and the Japanese will vote with us. If Obama names Hillary Clinton, the complaints will be muted at best.
Regardless of who the next World Bank president is, a new World Bank president would win bipartisan support if she (or he) built on Bob Zoellick's accomplishments on the following issues: 1) Further strengthening the World Bank's capabilities to work in conflict and post conflict zones (there are any number of places where the Bank Group may be called on to help where they are not equipped to do so today, such as Iran, Syria, North Korea or Cuba), 2) Fighting corruption, not just through Bank loans, but through loan conditionality and policy advice, and 3) Aggressively ramping up World Bank work to support trade and the private sector. Also, 4) Don't call it the "Freedom Agenda," but through its policy dialogue, loan conditionality, and its high standards and expertise, the Bank Group can be an exporter of greater human liberty. The Bank's Doing Business program and its Investment Climate advisory work, a USAID creation exported to the Bank, are arguably the most important catalysts for openness and economic freedom in international development.
Finally, 5) the Bank Group does and should play a big role in the Middle East and North Africa. As a "neutral" actor, the Bank can help further an American supported agenda, and as it tends to take the very long view, the Bank can deliver messages that the U.S. wants to deliver but cannot. Certainly conditionality about governance is something that has been attached to loans to Tunisia and will likely be attached to loans in Egypt. As we look more ambivalently at what is going on in the region, let's make sure we engage through the Bank Group and the IMF.
The U.S. owes Bob Zoellick a big debt of gratitude for his leadership at the Bank. Behind the scenes, he worked with the Congress to maintain U.S. leadership of the Bank through ensuring US participation in the General Capital Increase last year. Hopefully his time in public service is not over.
Some weeks ago, Tom Ricks called me out for questioning NATO's Libya operation. I still have my doubts.
To begin with, the interim government is showing few signs of being "interim." In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just told the Libyan leadership that they must set a date for elections. She has also told them to honor the rule of law and not seek retribution against Muammar al-Qaddafi supporters. The regime appears to be doing just the opposite in both cases.
Many observers continue to question just who the Libyan leaders really are, and whether they are affiliated with Islamists. Whether those in power in Libya are Islamists, or whether Islamists will seize power, is simply unknowable at this time. Nevertheless, the new or emerging leaders of that country need not be Islamists to pursue policies antithetical to those of the United States. The policies of Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki, particularly vis-à-vis Iran and Syria, have been demonstrating that reality on a near-daily basis.
In the meantime, in the face of a massive defense budget crisis, about which my Shadow Government colleagues rightly are debating, Washington continues to pour money into its Libyan adventure. DoD's latest estimate of expenditures, which runs through Sept. 30, already exceeds $1.1 billion. But this estimate does not include the cost of the F-15E that was downed in March, some $45 million, with a replacement cost that will be much higher. With operations still ongoing, the total cost of this exercise could well approach $1.5 billion. Some $375 million of this sum has already been "reprogrammed," meaning that the funds were taken from other, presumably important, DoD budget lines. The remainder is to be "reprioritized" within the baseline appropriation request, meaning, yet again, that other programs, previously considered sufficiently important to merit being included in the budget, no longer are all that important.
These sums do not, of course, include monies that will be spent to assist the reconstruction of Libya. It appears that Libyan bank accounts will not cover all reconstruction expenses such as programs to help Libya develop an appreciation for the rule of law, which, as noted above, its leaders still appear to lack.
The truth is that we have no idea what kind of country Libya will be in a year's time, nor who its leaders will be, nor what its posture towards the United States and its interests will be. What we do know is that the operation continues, the costs continue to mount up, and other defense programs are being sacrificed to meet those costs, and new expenditures can be expected down the road. All in all, it is hardly a pretty picture, and certainly not something about which one should call out others.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
Congressman Gary Miller held hearings earlier today on the impact of the World Bank and
other Multilateral Development Banks on U.S. National Security.
I was asked to submit testimony. If you sort through the details, the stakes could not be higher for the United States and our continued leadership in the world.
The context for the hearing is that the Obama Administration is asking for five $400 million installments for what is called the "General Capital Increase" for the World Bank and several of the regional multi-lateral development banks including the African Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. This money is not the typical hat passing exercise that the Hill sees every few years for the lowest income countries (the so-called "IDA replenishments"), the General Capital Increase is about the United States maintaining its de facto control over these institutions and ensuring that they remain instruments of an American Style Globalization.
Asking for additional money for the World Bank and other multilaterals at this time has got to be one of the hardest things I can think of. There are many reasons that Republicans criticize the multilateral banks including the World Bank. Having worked at the World Bank Group for four years, I am keenly aware of the many shortcomings of these institutions but I also understand how useful these institutions are to the United States and our economic and national security interests.
During the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, we, along with the other owners of the Banks told them to "send everything that can fly." These institutions provided critical financing including trade financing to keep the global trade system open and they supported our friends and allies at a time of great challenge for the global system. As a result, the financial crisis in many parts of the world was less dramatic and they covered for us while we were tending to our problems here at home. The problem is that these banks lend against shareholder capital and all of the existing capital is now "spoken for" because of this massive lending as part of our response to the crisis. If we want these exporters of a U.S. version of globalization to continue we are going to have to put more money into these institutions.
For those of us who live in DC, it is common to think of the World Bank as an exotic institution. If you peel back the accents and the hauteur, you find an American DNA: all the experts studied in the States, they all work in English, they export policy ideas that were made in America, they use U.S. or British law for much of their work and they export American invented standards. U.S. policymakers worry about developing countries taking money from Venezuela, Russia, Iran, or China. The World Bank and the regional development banks (plus the IMF) are our set of alternatives to these funders and models of development. Oftentimes developing countries would prefer to take World Bank money and the expertise that comes with it because these institutions for all their problems have some of the best experts in the world.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
The Obama Administration is working feverishly to prevent the government of Palestine from asking the United Nations for recognition as a state. The United States cannot prevent the asking, but has said it would prevent the success by vetoing the measure when it comes before the Security Council. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has declared he will then appeal to the General Assembly for recognition, which he will certainly get. But the Palestinian Liberation Organization has had observer status at the United Nations since 1974, received formal recognition as a state by numerous countries since 1988. What, then, is the big deal of such recognition?
President Abbas described the purpose as "negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, and not as a vanquished people." Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said the appeal to the United Nations was the best of their options, which consisted of surrender, return to violence, or appeal to the international community. That is, they consider negotiations with Israel at a dead end. He dismissed Quartet envoy Tony Blair's efforts with "sounds like an Israeli diplomat," and called for "international responsibility toward the Palestinians."
For the last several years, Prime Minister Fayyad has been taking an alternative approach: creating competent government so that Palestine actually has a functional state. It's a significant difference. Our own country endorsed that approach, bilaterally contributing $600 million a year, including direct budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority and significant effort to training Palestinian security forces.
That aid to the government of Palestine was a very difficult sell to Congress, who feared we were building the military and paramilitary forces that would threaten Israel. The fear has so far not materialized -- well-trained and disciplined security forces in Palestine have been a stabilizing presence in the occupied territories, often working in conjunction with Israeli security forces. Fayyad's fait accompli strategy has worked well enough that Nabil Shaath now confidently asserts "a new culture of nonviolence." If only.
Using international institutions to threaten Israel is unlikely to make Palestine independent. For all the international sanctimony, who is going to force Israel to cede its territory, and commit to ensuring that territory's independence once arrived at?
What Abbas' gambit is likely to produce is an end to American funding and participation in professionalization of Palestinian security forces (already tenuous because of the April 2011 Fatah-Hamas power sharing agreement), and greater hostility to political engagement with the government of Palestine by the two governments it needs to make a Palestinian state a reality: the United States and Israel. It may also undercut the Palestinian case for a right of refugee return to lands in Israel.
The Obama Administration's veto in the Security Council will incur a high political cost to the United States. It is difficult to argue, as we have, for the independence of South Sudan, the dawn of representative governments throughout the Middle East, and the right of ethnic and religious enclaves to their autonomy while opposing the partition of Israel's territory along those lines. Moreover, as the last two administrations have supported a two-state solution, it leaves the United States in the awkward position of vetoing something we have said we want as the outcome. And then there's the man on the street question: if the Palestinians have a President and Prime Minister, don't they already have a state?
Arab countries will cry foul at our hypocrisy, making more difficult our partnerships in that important region. The Abbas government is surely banking on Gulf states filling in the financial assistance that the Congress will cut off; that may happen, although the record is patchy of fellow Arab states supporting Palestinians beyond rhetoric and Palestinians are already among the world's largest recipients of foreign assistance. There will also be the economic effect of tighter restrictions by Israel.
Skillful working of the U.N. rules could delay the vote until well into October, which would deny Abbas the grandstanding opportunities of the General Assembly convocation in September. That is probably the best the Obama Administration can hope for at this point.
It is difficult to see Abbas' move bringing Israel to the bargaining table. Israeli fears of international persecution will be stoked at the prospect of their security being adjudicated in the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. An overtly confrontational move like going to the United Nations will not soften Israeli hearts or government policies. Peace in Palestine depends fundamentally on Israel feeling secure enough to trade land for peace -- something it tried before and got burned on -- and reining in the settler movement.
At the end of the day, Palestinian aspirations would be advanced more by appealing for international support on the basis of the dignity of Palestinians creating their own state rather than having a U.N. coronation for one that may not be strong enough to support itself.
JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary Gates continued his remarkable straight-talk farewell tour when he dared tell Europe that the emperor has no clothes. That was his basic message on Friday when he said that NATO risks irrelevance and a "dismal" future unless Europe begins paying more for its defense.
My initial reaction to NATO when I served alongside our partners in Afghanistan in 2002 was to be impressed with the individual soldiers but underwhelmed by the aggregate contribution of the alliance partners. Despite having invoked Article V for the first time in its history, most NATO allies did not deploy significant material or manpower to the fight: it was clearly the United States' war in the first year. That impression has only deepened since NATO assumed lead responsibility for Afghan security in 2006, nearly losing the war in the process, and undertook a war of choice against Libya in 2011. It has not distinguished itself in either conflict.
What is NATO for? Not for fighting wars. It proved in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya that NATO is not an effective fighting alliance. The wars it fights are fought by committee: or, worse, by bureaucracy. They are clumsy, inefficient, and violate the unity of command, one of the basic principles of war-fighting. Kosovo ended when the Kosovo Liberation Army began to make progress in ground combat and President Clinton appeared to be rethinking his no-ground-forces rule. Afghanistan has only turned around (barely) since the United States effectively re-Americanized the war starting in 2009 (Americans did not make up a majority of international military forces in Afghanistan until then). And Libya is likely to remain stalemated until NATO changes its approach or the United States takes over.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
Little noticed amidst the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) support for a U.N. no-fly zone in Libya on March 13th was another endorsement for the use of military force: deployment of GCC military and police forces to Bahrain. The choice of Gulf governments to have as their first military operation the repression of peaceful advocacy for political change is ominous.
For the past two decades, American governments have encouraged the countries of the GCC to make good on the "cooperation" part of their organization. The overwhelming tendency of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar has instead been to criticize American policies in public while supporting them in private. Only with the alarming progress of Iran's nuclear programs has cooperation between GCC states advanced to include any significant military cooperation.
The GCC's Peninsula Shield Force was created to "deter, and respond to, military aggression against any of the GCC member countries." But the Bahraini government is not subject to military aggression -- it is under "attack" by its own citizens, peacefully protesting for political rights.
In fairness, the government of Bahrain has offered an expansion of political rights in response to the protests. But as autocrats from the Shah of Iran to Hosni Mubarak could attest, offers that would earlier have mollified reformers can embolden resistance once the invisible line from reform to revolution has been crossed.
The monarchies of the GCC states claim agitation for political change is the product of Iranian influence, an effort by to radicalize and destabilize their countries. And they may not be wrong about Iranian efforts: Shi'ia Iran has long sought to delegitimize those Sunni regimes, supported seizure of the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia in 1979, infiltrated Iraq to foment anti-government violence, and openly supported destruction by Hamas and Hezbollah. But the GCC governments deceive themselves about the depth of popular support for political change in their countries.
It is not clear if Bahraini government initiatives have come too late for political change to be successful in defanging the revolution. But it is clear that even as they support international action to assist rebels in Libya, the autocrats of the Gulf Cooperation Council will cooperate to repress peaceful dissent in their own countries, and that will make their governments more brittle and unreliable as partners for the United States. It matters that GCC governments acted in concert, because it now aligns them all against peaceful political change. And they will be utilizing American and European military equipment and training to repress their own citizens. That really is a victory for Iran.
MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images
Calls are now ranging far and wide for the United States to establish a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the government from continuing to use air power to attack rebel forces fighting to unseat Muammar Qaddafi. In addition to our domestic debate, Libyan ministers until recently part of the Qaddafi government (including their former interior minister and deputy U.N. ambassador) are urgently calling for it, the Gulf Cooperation Council supported it, the British and French have drafted and are pushing a U.N. Security Council resolution, and the Arab League ambassador in Washington has even suggested that organization will endorse a no-fly zone within a week.
If the Obama administration decides a no-fly zone needs doing, it ought not to jump from there to the United States establishing and enforcing it. Instead of taking up the call to provide the military force, the United States should instead pull together a coalition to undertake the work, one in which we play a minor operational role but undertake to recruit, organize, and manage the force necessary to do the job successfully. Such a role is consistent with our interests and has the potential to share broadly the burden such operations entail.
The coalition build will be complicated by the unlikelihood of getting a U.N. Security Council mandate -- and there will be a certain irony in the Obama administration orchestrating a coalition of the willing after their condemnation of the practice in the George W. Bush administration. But it appears there will be plenty of countries willing to advocate the undertaking.
The administration should do more than have their support, it should have their participation. It ought to seek a formal mandate from the Arab League sanctioning the operation, which would be a first for that organization working with the U.S. and support the administration's National Security Strategy vision for strengthening multilateral institutions.
John Moore/Getty Images
The calls by liberals like John Kerry, and some not-so-liberal types like John McCain, have prompted a reaction from both the administration, which prefers meaningless pronouncements over concrete action to influence events on the ground, as well as from solid conservatives like my colleague and friend Kori Schake, who worry about the true nature and intentions of the Libyan opposition. In the meantime, however, Muammar al-Qaddafi continues both to profit from oil revenues -- Libya is still exporting oil -- and to kill his own people. His aircraft continue flying with impunity, and bombing targets on the ground. Just as the Obama administration's bluster has had no effect whatsoever on the course of the civil war, so too have the much vaunted sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council done little to unseat the Libyan madman.
Some of Libya's rebels are saying they do not want U.S. intervention; others are pleading for it. And it is true that no one knows who these rebels really are. So there is much to the argument that arming these people -- who in any event have managed to obtain arms on their own -- may not be a terribly good idea. In addition, since at least some of the rebels themselves have stated that they oppose American air strikes, much less any sort of intervention on the ground, there is no reason for the United States, or any of its reluctant allies, to contemplate such actions.
At the same time, however, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Pentagon have gone much further: they insist that any kind of military action -- even a no-fly zone -- simply places excessive demands on U.S. resources. Libya's air defenses would first have to be demolished, they posit, and even then, the country is just too big. And, they argue, any action by the United States must be taken in conjunction with its allies -- meaning NATO. Since several NATO states, notably Turkey, are averse to interfering with Mr. Qaddafi's bloodletting, nothing will happen. How convenient.
The Obama administration appears unclear about why a no-fly zone is called for. It is not just a matter of the rebels' interests; it is, first and foremost, in U.S. interests. After all, what if Qaddafi were to defeat the rebels because there was no interference with his air strikes against them, which are increasing with every passing day. Would his victory serve U.S. interests?
DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images
The sanctions which have been placed on Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, his family members, and his senior officials are strong. They include asset freezes, travel bans, and threats of criminal prosecution. All of which add up to a powerful signal to the Libyan regime that the war it is waging on its own people is illegitimate and unacceptable, and to the Libyan people that our sympathy is with them and we will act to prevent their national assets from being pillaged. The world is now a considerably less inviting place for Libyan officials, who have been known to carouse in the capitals of Europe, the Caribbean, and elsewhere.
But therein a problem lies. The strategy followed thus far by the United States and its allies may persuade many Libyan officials that there is no future in following Qaddafi and therefore, defection to the opposition or negotiating an exit from Libya altogether is the most sensible course of action. But for others, especially those closest to Qaddafi, the sanctions and threats of international prosecution, combined with the advance of opposition forces, may convince them that they have little choice but to hunker down in Tripoli and Sirte and fight.
To deal with this possibility that Qaddafi and his loyalists will use all of the force at their disposal before giving in, and that the violence in Libya may therefore get considerably worse, further international action is needed. The United States and EU should seek U.N. Security Council authorization for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya.
We have heard much from U.S. officials in recent days about the risks of imposing a no-fly zone, but inaction also has its consequences.
BEN BORG CARDONA/AFP/Getty Images
There are reports coming out of North Korea again that they are suffering from a severe shortfall in food supplies. North Korean emissaries have gone on a multi-national tour asking foreign governments to resume food assistance programs to feed their malnourished population.
This is not a new scenario for North Korea. The regime has continually struggled to feed its people since the famine of the mid 1990s when over one million lost their lives.
What is more shocking is the effect the many years of living on less than 1,700 calories a day have had on the general population. I saw this first hand in a Pyongyang park in 2008 where some elderly people were quietly harvesting grass so they could supplement a meal. Those in the NGO community with access to remote areas of the country have confirmed many in North Korea suffer from malnutrition and infection. In many cases, people outside of the capital are on the brink of starvation.
Today, a North Korean child can expect to be up to 7 inches shorter than his/her South Korean counterpart and 20 pounds lighter by adulthood.
A recent Washington Post article stated that the North Korean request has "put the United States and other Western countries in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to ignore the pleas of a starving country or pump food into a corrupt distribution system that often gives food to those who need it least."
Not if the policy makers in Washington use the agreement reached in 2008, which remedied past problems of the regime diverting humanitarian food shipments to the military or for black market revenues.
IAN TIMBERLAKE/AFP/Getty Images
It is not fair to criticize the Obama administration too harshly for its failure to come up with a single, robust policy regarding the spreading street unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. The administration has been playing catch-up and has often been a step or two behind, but I think that is inevitable when one is confronting revolutionary cascades. Moreover, the region is dotted with very different governments, ranging from friendly autocrats who have been liberalizing (albeit too slowly) to thuggish despots who used almost every tool at their disposal to oppress their people and frustrate U.S. interests in the region. The popular movements rising in the region may share some features in common, but the regimes they are threatening are very different. It would be very hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all policy that would endure given these conditions.
So I have some sympathy for the way the Obama administration has handled, for instance, the situation in Bahrain. The regime there has supported key U.S. policies over the years, and securing long-term access to the home port of the 5th Fleet is an important U.S. national interest. The ethnic mix in Bahrain is volatile, and the Sunni rulers have good reason to fear Iranian adventurism -- long a staple in the region. For precisely those reasons, however, the administration is right to use its influence to pressure the regime into avoiding bloodshed and accommodating legitimate political grievances of the protesters. Calibrating the pressure and the message is hard, but the core U.S. interests involved are fairly straightforward.
I have less sympathy for the same equivocation with regard to Libya. The Qaddafi regime is no friend of the United States. While Qaddafi did make a major concession on WMD in 2003 on the heels of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is likely that that deal would be honored (or an even better one secured) by any regime installed after its ouster. Moreover, the level of atrocities the regime has inflicted upon the street protesters goes well beyond what the other regional autocrats have done. Full-throated condemnation would seem an easy call for the administration. As former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz notes in a tough column today, the U.S. message has not been all that full-throated, not yet anyway.
The Obama administration needs to do more, but I would not go as far as some who advocate having U.S. forces impose a no-fly zone. I share their outrage at the way Qaddafi had his Air Force strafe defenseless citizens, but involving the U.S. military in this way would constitute a major escalation and it would be hard to walk back if the situation further unraveled. What if Qaddafi shifted to tanks? Would we then be obligated to have our planes destroy the tanks? And without U.N. authorization, the United States would be entirely on its own. Not even our European allies, who otherwise would join in condemning the Qaddafi regime, would approve of U.S. military action without U.N. authorization.
The United States has acted without U.N. authorization before and rightly so, most famously in the Kosovo war of 1999, although there we were joined by all of our NATO allies. (Academics also debate whether the 16 prior UNSC resolutions on Iraq provided adequate legal cover for the 2003 invasion of Iraq or whether the Bush administration needed a 17th.) But in these cases, the action came after considerable diplomatic efforts at the United Nations and elsewhere. Other avenues of pressure were tried and found wanting, and only then was a resort to extraordinary force taken.
As Wolfowitz and others note, there is much the United States can do and pressure other states into doing short of unilateral military actions. The Obama administration should take those steps, and quickly.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
In an alternate universe, today's Washington Post would have a screaming, 4-column front-page headline:
U.S. must reduce deficit, IMF warns
Responding to the imaginary lead story, a contrite President Obama, fresh from ignoring his own deficit-cutting panel's recommendations in this week's State of the Union address, would appear before the media with International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn at his side, looking on sternly. The president, with a glance back at Strauss-Kahn, would step up to the podium and sheepishly retract his newly-announced grab bag of spending plans. "Never mind. Back to the drawing board."
When pressed by reporters ("Really?"), the president would reply, "The IMF has spoken. What can we do?"
It is in this alternate universe that the hopes of G-20 enthusiasts reside. Despite the best efforts of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in Seoul last fall, the G-20 rejected plans for automatic criteria that might have pushed unbalanced economies into rehab. Instead, the countries settled for a world in which the IMF would play the leading role, naming and shaming countries with excessive borrowing or lending.
Back in our universe, the president continues with his plans for green energy 'investments' and promises to get serious about the deficit at some unspecified future date. The IMF did, in fact, issue its name-and-shame warning and the Washington Post did, in fact, run the story -- on p. A16, just 15 pages after its lead story about how the Office of Personnel Management released federal workers too late for Wednesday's snow storm.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
Foreign aid is once again under fire. Every so often a few politicians -- usually Republicans -- get up in arms about our government's gift of large amounts of money to other countries. Equally often, media stories appear detailing how ineffective aid supposedly is. The picture emerges that foreign aid is unnecessary, ineffective, and wasteful.
For example, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) released a proposal last week to cut the budget for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by $1.39 billion as part of a broader package of deficit-reduction proposals. (Hat tip to our friends at The Cable for their post on the subject.) There were similar rumblings after the Republican takeover in 1994. Republicans seem to have an inborn suspicion -- usually dormant, but one that fitfully flares up once per decade -- that aid is just a handout from rich countries to poor ones to help the former ease their consciences.
Or take the lengthy Wall Street Journal story last week that declares, "A massive U.S. aid program that has made Pakistan the world's second-largest recipient of American economic and development assistance is facing serious challenges, people involved in the effort say. The ambitious civilian-aid program is intended in part to bolster support for the U.S. in the volatile and strategically vital nation. But a host of problems on the ground are hampering the initiative." Despite billions of aid, the United States remains unpopular in Pakistan; thus, the article implies, aid is ineffective.
These criticisms of foreign aid rest on faulty notions of what aid is and what it is supposed to accomplish. There are two views of aid reflected here, neither of which are helpful.
I propose a third view of foreign aid.
The advantage of this view is that it is realistic. The United States can actually do this. The U.S. is not trying to change people's heart or minds, contrary to the bribery view. It is only trying to change their capacity. Additionally, this view helps the U.S. prioritize which countries should get aid, and what kind, contrary to the charity view. Giving billions to Tuvalu would be a commendable act of charity for the Salvation Army, but it would be folly for USAID because Tuvalu is not a strategic priority for the United States.
(I am not arguing that we should never be charitable. Rather, every possible foreign aid program is an act of charity. Charity by itself cannot help us decide which charitable programs to undertake. The United States either has to flip a coin to allocate our charity randomly, or consult our own interests to allocate it strategically.)
The Marshall Plan is a good model. The United States gave something like $25 billion (in today's dollars) per year to Western Europe after World War II. It was undoubtedly an act of charity. The money helped the Europeans rebuild their economies and saved tens of millions of people from poverty or even starvation. But it was also a strategic investment. Policymakers at the time worried about a return of the Great Depression following demobilization and the Marshall Plan helped Europe become a strong trading partner for the United States. Most importantly, U.S. officials feared the rise of Soviet power and hoped the Plan would bolster European governments' stability and prevent the spread of communism.
This view of foreign aid would help protect it from the kind of cuts the congressional Republicans are proposing. Aid is hard power. It is a weapon the United States uses to strengthen allies and, thus, ourselves. But this view would also help save it from the kind of limitless, grandiose visions Democrats sometimes seem to have for it. This is the sort of view that I hoped Secretary of State Clinton would incorporate in the recent Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. But despite the document's many strengths it did not seem to offer a framework for prioritizing among the Unites States' many foreign aid opportunities.
YASUYOSHI CHIBA/Stringer, AFP/Getty Images
As NATO leaders prepare for their summit in Lisbon this week, attention has focused on the war in Afghanistan, approval of a new Strategic Concept (NATO's roadmap for the future), and the challenge of sustaining the alliance's military capabilities in an era of fiscal crisis. Missing from the agenda is the future of the U.S. military presence in Europe, the cornerstone of the transatlantic security relationship.
On Feb. 1, the Obama administration rolled out its Quadrennial Defense Review, a planning document that articulated the principles that would guide the administration's decision-making regarding the stationing of U.S. forces beyond its borders. It stated that "pending the review of NATO's Strategic Concept and an accompanying U.S. assessment of our European defense posture network," new plans regarding Europe would be approved. For an administration that prides itself on consultation, it has been surprising how little discussion there has been of this strategically important issue of growing concern among NATO Allies.
These pending decisions follow the Bush administration's 2004 Global Defense Posture Review. The latter initiated a reduction of U.S. forces stationed in Europe from about 100,000 personnel down to approximately 60,000. The decision was interpreted by many in Europe as a disturbing sign of declining U.S. commitment to Europe.
Moreover, the Commander of U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and the U.S. Joint Staff later concluded that the plan would leave EUCOM unable to fully execute its missions, including those supporting NATO's crucial Article 5 security commitment. On November 21, 2007, in response to these concerns Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suspended implementation of the posture review decisions regarding Europe pending the 2010 QDR. This decision essentially froze U.S. forces dedicated to the continent at some 80,000 personnel.
In March of this year, Admiral James Stavridis, the current EUCOM Commander, testified in Congress that should the United States withdraw additional brigade combat teams, his command would have to "[assume] risk in its capability to conduct steady-state security cooperation, shaping, and contingency missions. Deterrence and reassurance are at increased risk."
With the summit now imminent, a number of allies are expressing unease, even though some are unwilling to press Obama as they cut their own defense budgets and lest their concerns undercut the meeting's precooked message of alliance unity and revitalization. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, naturally concerned about the viability of NATO's security guarantee, stated that it is important for U.S. forces stationed in Europe to remain at their current levels. German delegations from the communities that host U.S. bases have travelled to Washington urging that they not be subject to further reductions or, even worse, closure.
Obama's impending decisions on this matter come in an increasingly challenging domestic fiscal context, one that has led many in his party to press aggressively for significant defense cuts. On October 13th, 57 members of the House of Representatives wrote the President urging a hard look at the basing of U.S. forces overseas. The 2010 Congressional election yielded a Congress whose clear focus on job creation and deficit elimination could well reinforce skepticism on both sides of the aisle toward permanent deployments in Europe. The roll out of the deficit commission report and its recommendations, including reduced spending, will surely further catalyze calls for cut backs in forward presence.
Heeding those calls would be a mistake. Moving military forces based overseas to facilities at home involves high near term costs, including building of new infrastructure. The long term savings are marginal at best. Second, once basing privileges in another country have been terminated, it is never easy to regain them.
Most importantly, the United States would deny itself a critical force multiplier. U.S. troops based in Europe provide the most effective way to develop and sustain allied forces that are truly interoperable and ready to fight side by side with us. This is a critical and challenging necessity. U.S. military units that visit Europe once or twice year can in no way match the levels of joint training and exercises currently available to those stationed in Europe.
Accordingly, at Lisbon, Obama should announce a decision to keep U.S. forces stationed in Europe at their current levels. That would be a strategically serious and politically needed demonstration of U.S. commitment to the transatlantic alliance.
Evasion regarding this matter, so vital to the future of the NATO alliance would contradict both Obama's repeated rejection of unilateralism and his commitment to genuine consultations. Europeans, too, would be remiss if they fail to speak up. Collective silence at Lisbon regarding a matter so central to American-European security interdependence will only give further validation to those who assert that US military presence in Europe is an anachronism.
Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images
I'd like to take a short break from my running critique of President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy to laud him for supporting India's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. I don't know what the administration's rationale was for the shift in U.S. policy, but I think there is a strong realist case for expanding the Security Council to include not just India, but also Japan, Germany, and Brazil.
International institutions like the United Nations are mostly useless. At their best, they oversell their relevance. They do not exert much independent influence on world events distinct from the states that comprise their membership. What needs doing gets done by states, not by institutions. At their worst, institutions waste time and money on ill-advised causes. But institutions do serve a purpose. They provide regularity to the interaction between states. They enshrine norms and patterns of behavior. They provide a reliable talk-shop. They make it easier to conduct multilateral talks and negotiations. They (sometimes) provide a credible, neutral, third-party voice. They can become useful stores of expertise and data on highly specialized issues.
Michael Nagle/Getty Images
We're in the analytical interlude between bursts of G-20 news stories. Late last month, G-20 finance ministers met to seek agreement in advance of their bosses' gathering. On Nov. 11-12, G-20 leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, will gather in Seoul for their second meeting of the year. In between, there is a nice opportunity to reflect on the question of whether the G-20 matters at all. Recent events suggest it may not.
Not so long ago, the Obama administration was prone to trumpet the elevation of the Group of 20 as one of its signal foreign policy achievements. Although the G-20 heads of state had met in Washington in Nov. 2008, with George W. Bush presiding, the leaders' summit was warmly embraced by the Obama team. The G-20 was lauded both for its style and its substance. In style, it was more inclusive than the G-8 that had previously held center stage. Perhaps the most significant newcomer to the global confabs on economic matters was China. In substance, the G-20 was praised for coordinating action to save the world from economic disaster and a descent into protectionism.
It is not clear that such enthusiasm was merited. On style, it was certainly a good idea to include China in global economic talks, but gathering 11 more countries around the table may not have been the most efficient way to do that. Although it would have strained diplomatic politesse, it might have made more sense just to substitute the PRC for Italy or Russia in the G-8 (or for both). A broader group has more legitimacy when it can reach an agreement, but that potential enhanced legitimacy is worthless if the breadth of the membership makes agreement impossible.
The question of the G-20's substantive achievements is murkier. It is certainly true that the leaders gathered in London agreed to go forth and save their economies. But the question is what the leaders would have done in the absence of such summitry. In some cases, like that of the United States, the stimulus package on which the Obama administration based its recovery hopes was passed months before the London summit. In other cases, such as that of China, it's hard to discern how the London agreement did anything to shape its approach to stimulus, which was quite distinct from that of its G-20 brethren. It was nice that the leaders gathered as a mutual support group, but how much encouragement did they need to each do what they each thought best for themselves?
KIM JAE-HWAN/Getty Images
Well, that was awkward. The world's leading economic authorities just gathered in Washington for a weekend session of policy glowering. Heading into the regular fall meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, there was some hope that some constructive, multilateral dialogue could defuse tensions and calm talk of currency wars. It was not to be.
What happened? The United States went into the meetings pushing for multilateral solutions, in particular an enhanced role for the IMF. In a speech at the Brookings Institution last week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner addressed the issue of global misalignments:
This problem exposes once again the need for an effective multilateral mechanism to encourage economies running current account surpluses to abandon export-oriented policies, let their currencies appreciate, and strengthen domestic demand.
He noted that this was part of the long-standing mission of the IMF, then went on to argue that the world's powers had already agreed to address these issues:
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier this month, U.S. manufacturer Boeing, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), and a consortium of Russia's Antonov and its partner U.S. Aerospace submitted bids to build the Pentagon's new air refueling tanker to replace the venerable Boeing KC-135, in service now for five decades. The contract would be for 179 airplanes, worth about $35 billion initially.
Replacement was slated to begin almost a decade ago when a procurement scandal got in the way, reportedly involving senior Air Force officials and Boeing. Then, an on-again, off-again bidding process and changes in specifications blocked the selection of competing designs.
Despite its poor record in managing the process, the Air Force still needs to be in the pilot's seat and make a decision based on forecast needs. However, it should not wait too long.
So-called "flying gas stations" make it possible for a variety of military aircraft to make long oceanic flights without hop scotching from island to island. When some countries deny landing privileges, they enable overflights. And, they help fighters to stay up longer with heavier weapon loads instead of having to carry extra fuel.
With unmanned drones doing some of the close air support work of traditional fighter planes, it now makes sense to evaluate how many tankers the Air Force will need to refuel manned combat as well as peacetime cargo and training flights. This may be a good reason to stretch the buy over a number of years and reassess usefulness as missions change.
Yet dragging out the initial decision risks not having enough tankers to meet wartime requirements and it delays acquisition of modern capabilities such as being able to refuel two receiver aircrafts at once or evade certain kinds of threats. Moreover, operating 50-year-old planes -- or older -- is really flying without a map, because you don't know what will break.
At the moment, the two most competitive options are the American-made Boeing 767 and the EADS/Airbus 330, both off-the shelf designs. The Airbus is bigger and carries about 23 percent more fuel. The 767 uses less space on the ground and takes off in a shorter distance, a critical factor at some of the airfields from which tankers must operate. Other considerations include how easily these planes can be serviced by aircrews alone if they land where there is little more than an airstrip and a fuel pit, or how well they can operate in some combat environments like nuclear war.
A bone of contention and potential delay is a World Trade Organization ruling that European subsidies gave EADS an unfair advantage in developing the 330, making it less expensive than it otherwise might be. Some in Congress want the Pentagon to take that into account. The WTO ruling is subject to appeal and may be countered by charges that Boeing may have received subsidies as well. Assembly of either design would take place in the United States and lawmakers from districts in play are now part of a public debate.
When I was a tanker pilot back in the late 1970s, the Boeing Company brought a demonstrator plane to our base. It was the commercial version of our KC-135 (Boeing 707-720) fitted with huge new turbofan engines, double the power of the old ones. Whereas our lumbering, underpowered jets used most of the runway on takeoff, the fully loaded demonstrator was barely halfway down when it seemed to leap into the sky. The Boeing reps bragged that similarly refurbished KC-135s could fly into the 21st century -- perhaps even to 2010.
In a timely fashion, the Air Force modified the fleet, thus buying extra time and capability. But in case you haven't looked at the calendar, we're halfway through 2010. And despite some claims that the 135 could fly until 2040, the fleet will soon be needing lots of specially manufactured parts to remain airworthy.
To be sure, the number one priority here is for the Air Force to carefully evaluate its future aerial refueling needs and see which offering more closely matches its criteria. Number two, Congress and the Obama administration should decide fairly quickly whether subsidies should be a factor in awarding contracts to defense firms. If the process is tied up another decade in bungled bids and trade squabbles, options for maintaining combat readiness in this crucial area may be unaffordable or unpalatable.
JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Pundits have had a feeding frenzy over the fact that President Obama chose to replace Admiral Dennis Blair with another soldier, General James Clapper, as director of national intelligence (DNI). But that's a minor point compared to the unfinished business of intelligence reform and the question of presidential interest.
Blair was reportedly sacked for a blunt "take charge" attitude didn't fit the coordinating role envisioned for the DNI when it was created in 2004. He clashed with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta over authority to name station chiefs overseas, deliver the president's daily intelligence brief, and other matters such as training.
Such conflicts are likely when a new bureaucracy is created to assume some of the functions of an existing one without broad systemic adjustments. Funny it didn't happen sooner, except Blair's two predecessors, John Negroponte and Admiral John "Mike" McConnell worked fairly diplomatically with the leaders of the16 civilian and military agencies that make up the intelligence community. And, they had the backing of the president who appointed them. Still, Gen. Clapper will be the fourth DNI in 5 years.
So, it's fair to ask whether creating the DNI post was the right move. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, policymakers and security experts wanted to know what caused America's intelligence failures. The 9/11 Commission concluded the CIA Director had too much on his plate. He had to run his own shop, brief the president, and coordinate programs among all the other agencies across government.
The Commission proposed splitting off the briefing and coordinating roles. Congress agreed. The DNI became the president's chief intelligence advisor, retaining authority over policies and budgets, and monitoring intelligence community performance, particularly on issues that involve sharing across agencies. The DNI also began supervising counterterrorism programs in the subordinate National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), another function once performed by the CIA.
All this took place against the backdrop of 1990s-era CIA budget cutbacks and operational restraints that drove away talent and prevented information sharing between foreign affairs agencies and domestic law enforcement. Over the last decade, Congress has restored some of the resources needed for the CIA to recover lost capabilities. However, one wonders if more timely CIA reforms and stronger leadership could have avoided the need to create another layer in the national security bureaucracy.
Like the old Director of Central Intelligence, the DNI has an internal shop to protect. With some 1,500 employees, it is nowhere near the size of the CIA (about 20,000), or Pentagon agencies that consume 70 percent of the intelligence budget. Yet, if the CIA director couldn't wear three hats and see the big picture, how can the Director of National Intelligence with similar responsibilities do much better?
Other reforms have slipped by the wayside. Both the 9/11 Commission and Congressional Research Service reports have highlighted the erratic nature of Congressional oversight. Fragmented jurisdictions in House and Senate committees still foil efforts to strategically balance resources and hamper cooperative working relations among agencies. Temporary committee assignments that contribute to member turnover limit the development of committee subject matter expertise. So far, Congress has made minimal efforts to address these concerns.
If General Clapper is the capable, knowledgeable public servant and facilitator that his resume suggests, the fact that he will be another soldier in a supposedly civilian position should not cloud his confirmation prospects. Yet for him to succeed, the president must make him a trusted member of his national security team and take an interest in the unfinished business of intelligence reform. It's hard to know how much faith President Obama ever placed in Admiral Blair, or whether he cared much about how the intelligence system worked.
But he should care now. The DNI and staff could benefit from some structural streamlining to ensure impartiality in overseeing intelligence community programs -- which probably means shedding some operational aspects of the Office of the DNI and the NCTC to other agencies.Without needlessly duplicating existing capabilities, the DNI should be able to advise the president to ensure that our nation's varied intelligence services are properly chartered, resourced, and mutually supportive. Congress can help by modernizing its oversight as well.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
The roll-out of President Obama's National Security Strategy tries to frame the strategy as a repudiation of his predecessor's. But the reality is that the new strategy is best characterized as "Bush Lite", a slightly watered down but basically plausible remake of President Bush's National Security Strategy. If you only read the Obama Team's talking points, or only read the mainstream media coverage, which amounts to the same thing, this assessment may come as a big surprise. But if you actually read the Obama's NSS released today, and President Bush's most recent NSS released in 2006, the conclusion is pretty obvious.
Perhaps the most striking continuity is in the recognition that America must lead. This was an important theme of Bush's NSS. Effective action depended on American leadership - "the international community is most engaged in such action when the United States leads." The conclusion of the 2006 NSS hammered home the point:
The challenges America faces are great, yet we have enormous power and influence to address those challenges. The times require an ambitious national security strategy, yet one recognizing the limits to what even a nation as powerful as the United States can achieve by itself. Our national security strategy is idealistic about goals, and realistic about means. There was a time when two oceans seemed to provide protection from problems in other lands, leaving America to lead by example alone. That time has long since passed. America cannot know peace, security, and prosperity by retreating from the world. America must lead by deed as well as by example."
Obama's NSS similarly emphasizes America's "global leadership" and "steering those currents [of international cooperation] in the direction of liberty and justice" and "shap[ing] and international order" because " global security depends upon strong and responsible American leadership." Leadership goes beyond seeing the world as it is and includes transforming the world according to America's interests and values or, as Obama puts it: "In the past, the United States has thrived when both our nation and our national security policy have adapted to shape change instead of being shaped by it." Even the extra focus on rebuilding America at home (what the NSS deems "renewal") is justified not merely as an end in itself (which it surely is) but also as a means to another end of expanding America's global influence. To those who hoped Obama would embrace American decline, this NSS should come as something of a shock.
MANDEL NGAN/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.