Douglas Bandow — a Senior fellow at the Cato Institute — writes in the Nixon Center’s National Interest that “we are no longer sure” that the possibility of a peninsular war is low:
The Republic of Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, has attempted to dampen speculation by announcing his intention to “look into the case in a calm manner.” But the possibility that Pyongyang committed a flagrant and bloody act of war has sent tremors through the ROK. Seoul could ill afford not to react strongly, both to protect its international reputation and prevent a domestic political upheaval.
All economic aid to and investment in the North would end. Diplomatic talks would be halted. Prospects for reconvening the Six-Party Talks would disappear.
Moreover, Seoul might feel the need to respond with force. Even if justified, such action would risk a retaliatory spiral. Where it would end no one could say. No one wants to play out that scenario to its ugly conclusion.
The Yellow Sea incident reemphasizes the fact that North Korean irresponsibility could lead to war. Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen after President Lee ended the ROK’s “Sunshine Policy”—which essentially provided bountiful subsidies irrespective of Pyongyang’s behavior.
Nevertheless, the threat of war seemingly remained low. Thankfully, the prospect of conflict had dramatically diminished over the last couple of decades. After intermittently engaging in bloody terrorist and military provocations, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea seemed to have largely abandoned direct attacks on South Korea and the United States.
Now we are no longer sure.
Even if the DPRK was not involved in the sinking, only prudence, not principle, prevents the North from engaging in armed instances of brinkmanship. And with Pyongyang in the midst of a leadership transition of undetermined length, where the factions are unclear, different family members could reach for power, and the military might become the final arbiter, the possibility of violence occurring in the North and spilling outward seems real.
Such an outcome would be in no one’s interest, including that of China. So far the People’s Republic of China has taken a largely hands-off attitude towards the North. Beijing has pushed the DPRK to negotiate and backed limited United Nations sanctions. But the PRC has refused to support a potentially economy-wrecking embargo or end its own food and energy subsidies to North Korea.
There are several reasons for China’s stance. At base, Beijing is happier with the status quo than with risking North Korea’s economic stability or the two nations’ political relationship. Washington doesn’t like that judgment. However, changing the PRC’s policy requires convincing Beijing to assess its interest differently. The Yellow Sea incident could help.
Apparently North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is planning to visit China. Speculation is rife about the reason: to request more food aid, promote investment in the North, respond to Beijing’s insistence that the DPRK rejoin the Six-Party Talks or something else?
Joost Hiltermann — a Middle Expert at the International Crisis Group — reports for the Nixon Center’s National Interest on developments in the Kurdish north of Iraq, where voters just participated in national elections:
Iraq’s elections are still too early, and too close, to call, but here in Kurdistan enough is clear that one party is exultant and another distressed. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani appears to have bounced back from the brink of political extinction following the rough beating it received from a group of former party cadres in Kurdistan’s regional parliamentary elections last July. Calling in particular for an end to corruption, these former party officials coalesced into a reform movement called Goran, or “change,” which walked away with 25 percent of the vote in those polls.
For now, however, the PUK can heave a sigh of relief as early returns show that the party held its own against Goran. The PUK ran in alliance with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of regional President Masoud Barzani, while Goran ran alone. In Sulaimaniya governorate, the heartland of both the PUK and Goran (and where Goran trounced the PUK in July) the PUK appears to have won everywhere except in the city of Sulaimaniya itself. In the town of Koya, where Talabani was born, the PUK squeaked out a victory after its humiliating defeat there seven months ago. And Goran activists acknowledge that the PUK far outpaced them in the important governorate of Kirkuk.
Observers attributed Goran’s relatively poor showing to a number of factors. The main one may be that Kurdish voters like the idea of reform, and trust Goran deputies, who have stood up in the regional parliament and challenged the ruling parties with a zeal previously unknown in Kurdistan, to produce it. But that’s inside the Kurdistan region. In the federal parliament in Baghdad, they prefer their representatives to present a unified nationalist Kurdish front unspoiled by unruly Goran politicians seeking to distinguish themselves from their rivals and possibly even—gasp!—making separate deals with Arab parties on issues of Kurdish national interest.
Goran will therefore have to go back to the drawing board and start building a popular movement that reaches beyond its narrow base in the Suleimaniya urban professional class. Its next challenge will be provincial elections in the Kurdistan region at the end of October.
As for the PUK, it dodged a bullet. Long an equal to the KDP, the PUK has seen its influence wane over the past couple of years owing to internal dissension and a looming crisis over who will eventually succeed Talabani. Ever since an internecine conflict in the 1990s, its relationship with the KDP has been defined by a secret strategic agreement that provides for an equitable sharing of power and wealth. As the PUK began to falter, however, some in the KDP began to question this agreement’s utility and had spoken of cutting their partner loose. Such a move could have serious consequences for the region’s stability, which is far from assured. For now, the strategic agreement holds, but the succession crisis remains and Goran is waiting for the next opportunity to strike again.
At The Nixon Center’s National Interest magazine, Ted Galen Carpenter writes that President Obama’s decision to send arms to Taipei indicates that he wants to strengthen a beleaguered leader cooperative with Washington, and signal to China that their recent deployment of missiles across the straight is unacceptable:
There appear to be multiple motives for announcing an arms package now, including the mundane desire to give portions of the U.S. defense and aerospace industries a boost during tough economic times. But the primary motives seem to be diplomatic. An arms sale would be a reward to Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou for pursuing policies designed to reduce tensions in the Taiwan Strait and, equally important, for keeping Washington in the loop regarding any initiatives Taipei might take. That behavior comes as a great relief to U.S. officials, since it is in marked contrast to the conduct of Ma’s predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, who seemed to delight in provoking Beijing and blind-siding Washington in the process.
But Ma is now under fire at home for being too soft toward China, and his political popularity has sagged badly over the past year for numerous reasons. Responding favorably to Taipei’s long-standing request for additional weapon systems would help de-fuse the domestic opposition to Ma and strengthen the political standing of a cooperative leader Washington would like to see remain in power after Taiwan’s next presidential election.
Even more important, the arms sale would convey a message to Beijing of Washington’s growing annoyance regarding various issues. One grievance is China’s failure to halt the deployment of missiles across the strait from Taiwan, despite Ma Ying-jeou’s more conciliatory posture. Beijing’s conduct could be seen as a deliberate challenge to Washington, since the missile deployments have long been the primary justification for previous U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. The Obama administration might well conclude that Chinese leaders would view Washington’s continued inaction on Taipei’s request as a sign of weakness.
Nixon Center Executive Director Paul Saunders argues that Vice President Biden has ably taken on some tough issues:
Analysts and commentators (but mostly commentators-who needs analysis anyway, facts are too complicated) have a variety of explanations for this, generally cut to fit their political preferences. Those sympathetic to Mr. Biden argue that he was not a national figure before the election, that President Obama has given him some of the toughest issues, and that it is not really fair to make any comparisons to Cheney, who at the same point in his first term had benefited from a post-9/11 lift in the polls. Those with an axe to grind point to the wider unpopularity of much of the administration’s agenda, including concern over Iraq and Afghanistan, where Biden has had a high-profile role.
Nixon Center President Dmitri Simes has a new op-ed in Time Magazine, in which he argues that the Obama administration needs to make talking with Russia a priority in order to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions:
The U.S. needs to start taking Russia seriously if it wants Moscow’s help on Iran. The Administration insists that its “reset” of relations with Russia is a major priority. Unfortunately, as in many other policy areas, the President and his team try so hard to satisfy their critics that they appear unwilling to make critical choices, doing just enough to raise hopes but not enough to realize them. The Administration, for example, announced in mid-September that it was unilaterally dropping plans to base advanced missile-defense interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic. Critics said Obama had given away the East European store to Russia in the vague hope of getting assistance on Iran. But a month later, literally on the same day that the U.S., Russia and others were negotiating with Iran in Vienna, Vice President Joe Biden was in Warsaw confirming plans to deploy Patriot ground-to-air missiles in Poland, and a U.S. official said in Tbilisi that “the process of Georgia’s deeper integration into NATO is very important.” No statement was likely to trouble Russia more.
The following weekend, when Obama called Medvedev to look for support on Iran, he received a polite but noncommittal reply. After the call, Russia’s top negotiator, Sergei Ryabkov, publicly urged “maximum patience” and “additional incentives” for Iran, neither of which is attractive to Washington. A senior official in Moscow told me that if the U.S. permanently stations Patriot batteries in Poland, Russia may proceed with deliveries — which had been suspended — of S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Iran. Such systems could significantly increase the cost of any air strikes. “Obama is beginning to repeat the Bush pattern,” the official said, “where deeds do not match words.”
Working with Russia to block Iran’s nuclear program will not be easy. Obama will have to do much better than he did when trying to win Russian support for Chicago’s Olympic bid: he called Putin two days before the crucial vote, when Moscow was already committed to Rio, and offered nothing in return to the rather unsentimental Russian Prime Minister. Sadly, this too little, too late approach to Moscow on Iran’s nuclear program may force the Administration to make precisely the decision it hopes to avoid: between a nuclear Iran and a new and dangerous war in a critical region.
October 31, 2009 by David R. Stokes | Filed Under Advertising, Foundation News, Interviews, Media, New Media, Nixon Administration, Nixon Center, Nixon Foundation, Nixon Library, Nixon Library events, Podcast, Popular Culture, Richard Nixon, Social Networking, Technology, The National Interest, The New Nixon | Leave a Comment
During a recent visit to the Nixon Library, I had a discussion with several people about the potential for a podcast, something designed to highlight the events at the library, as well as the larger work of the Nixon Foundation.
We determined to use the recent visit of Sonny West and his talk about the day Elvis came to see President Nixon in the Oval Office for the premier production of the podcast.
This podcast is being registered with I-Tunes and will be available through them by the end of today. This, of course, makes the podcast portable. It can be downloaded to I-Pods and other such devices. In the meantime, here is a link to the first episode of what we hope will be a regular feature.
A couple of provisos: First, the theme music is from “VICTORY AT SEA” at the recommendation of Sandy Quinn. He told me how much Mr. Nixon enjoyed it – so it was an obvious choice. Second, some of the audio during Sonny’s remarks is a little difficult to hear and I suspect he pulled a Fran Tarkenton and scrambled out of the pocket, straying from the microphone, at times. These technical difficulties will be addressed and corrected for future events and podcasts.
But even with a few “glitches” – this podcast will be, I think, a welcome edition to the wonderful media expressions of the Nixon Foundation.
It is my privilege to host and produce this and I look forward to working on new editions about once a month – so, stay tuned! My special thanks to Philip Bassham, on my staff in Fairfax, for his vital help with this project.
Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes and Executive Director Paul Saunders argue that Russia’s fragility is predicated on its corruption, which starts at the top:
Corruption and insider dealing can have tragic consequences in Russia, as they did in an August explosion at the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam in Siberia, when over seventy people were killed due to inadequate maintenance. Putin himself described as “irresponsible and criminal” an apparent maintenance contract with a fraudulent firm set up by top managers. Beyond limiting investments in safety and maintenance, however, irresponsibility and corruption have also strongly discouraged investment in other key areas. Russian firms happily squeeze out foreign investors but don’t themselves put money into new equipment, training, or research and development. Despite recent increases, state investments in education, health, and science and technology are also inadequate for sustainable economic growth and to diversify beyond energy exports.
Here it is useful to compare Russia to China. China is less free than Russia according to Freedom House, and has a number of similar problems, but is considerably more attractive to foreign investors. The huge scale of China’s market is a major inducement, but Beijing’s greater willingness to accept international rules and its much more strategic approach to cultivating foreign investors—whose presence China’s leaders view as essential to meeting their development goals but energy-rich Moscow has seen as easily replaceable—also make a big difference.
At the Nixon Center’s National Interest, Naval War College Professor Nicholas Gvosdev explains:
Given the ambitious foreign-policy agenda facing the Obama administration—the two wars in the Middle East, coping with the rise of India and China, dealing with contentious trade and climate-change issues—the value of central Europe is less its “strategic real estate” (although still important for protecting Europe from the threat of rogue missile launches from the Middle East) and more in terms of what capabilities can be provided to augment U.S. efforts globally. The vice president paid tribute to Polish and Romanian soldiers already serving in Afghanistan—but it is no secret that Europe as a whole could be doing far more to aid U.S. efforts.
And given the increased strains on the U.S. economy, Washington is in no position to unilaterally do the “heavy lifting” of transforming eastern Europe. When one examines trade and investment flows in the former Soviet states, particularly those in the west and south, the lofty rhetoric about “eastern partnerships” doesn’t quite meet the reality of dollars or euros on the ground flowing in from western and central Europe. Nor can the United States be expected to single-handedly solve the region’s problematic dependence on Russia for energy. Diversification of supply and alternate routes will cost money and may result in higher energy prices for regional consumers. But if this is truly a national security issue for these countries, then the burden has to be accepted—it cannot be borne by the United States.
So the vice president is sounding all the right notes on this trip—reassurance, partnership, engagement. But he’s also signaling that the relationship of the United States to central Europe is changing, one might even say maturing. And as a result, America feels it can begin to turn its attention to other parts of the world without neglecting friends and allies who, two decades after the end of the Cold War, have “made it.”
Over at The Nixon Center’s National Interest, editors note — in their daily editorial roundup — that some pundits see positive gains in the Afpak theater, but others argue that the White House has no strategy:
On Tuesday afternoon, Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed to hold a runoff presidential election after a UN commission revealed massive fraud in the initial August poll. The Wall Street Journal praises Afghanistan in an editorial, noting that the country “demonstrated political maturity” by opting to resolve the disputed election in a democratic, peaceful fashion. There is more good news across the Durand Line, where our fair-weather allies in Pakistan have just launched an offensive against Islamist militants in the wild frontier regions straddling the border with Afghanistan. The Journal rightly points out that these are both sunny developments in an otherwise dismal part of the world. The new Afghan elections offer a fresh chance for Karzai (or his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah) to gain legitimacy, “as much in the U.S. as in Afghanistan.” And the new offensive in Pakistan is “an early litmus test” for Islamabad’s reliability as an ally in the war on terror.
All of these positive developments have come without major U.S. backing, and in spite of “President Obama’s all too public second thoughts over the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.” Although Obama’s “advisers and generals deserve credit for helping to turn events around in the Afpak theater,” we’re leaving our friends in the region in the lurch by waffling in our commitments. They deserve better.
The New York Times thinks the Journal’s view paints an overly rosy picture of our Afghan friends. In an editorial, the Grey Lady notes that “Before Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, acceded to a runoff election on Tuesday, you could almost hear his arm being twisted. And it took a lot of top-level talent to do it.” Secretary Clinton, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner all pressured Karzai to agree to the new poll. And even then, “it took a five day marathon of negotiations with Senator John Kerry . . . to get Mr. Karzai to do what was necessary.” So the idea of the Afghan president as a willing and helpful partner is rather dubious.
The election itself will take even more effort to pull off, as it is only three weeks away. Remember what a security disaster the first one was? A repeat may be in the works. And if Karzai wins (which is likely), he won’t suddenly turn into the legitimate savior of Afghanistan. He’ll still be viewed as a warlord enabler who stays in power through American protection, unless he roots out corruption and delivers “basic services and security” to his people.
In short, the Times believes the White House has bungled its response to the political side of the Afghan crisis. Blaming the Bush administration can only work for so long, especially when the initial August election took place eight months into Obama’s tenure. The president “and his aides should have taken a lot more care to ensure that Mr. Karzai and his challengers understood that . . . wholesale fraud would be a disaster—in Afghanistan and the United States, where support for the war is evaporating.” Washington has been abuzz with high-profile debate about military policy. Now it needs to “devote at least as much attention to coming up with an effective political strategy” for Afghanistan.
Nicholas Gvosdev, the senior editor at The Nixon Center’s magazine The National Interest and a professor at U.S. Naval War College, argues that the West should rethink its energy policy with Russia:
1) Russia’s dependence on central and Eastern European transit countries limited Russia’s ability to wield the “energy weapon” against its former satellites, because Russia could not afford to alienate its Western European customers. (A related assumption was that Russia would be forced to subsidize the energy purchases of its immediate neighbors, such as Ukraine, in order to keep the transit lines open, meaning that the United States and its European partners could count on a major Russian subsidy to these economies.)
2) Russia’s overall dependence on Europe as its main customer locked Russia into a dependence on the West for the export income needed to power its economy. Where else did Moscow have to go? (Of course, some of the logical alternatives for Europe for energy supply—not fantastic schemes of central Asians directly connecting to Europe, but more practical exploitation of existing yet underdeveloped projects in the Mediterranean, north and west Africa—never reached any level of urgency in Washington.)
Russian strategists recognized these vulnerabilities—so why, then, should we be surprised that they are taking concrete steps to change their position? Pushing forward with the Nord Stream line to link northern Russian gas sources directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea, so as to reduce Russia’s vulnerabilities via the existing transit countries is a logical and entirely predictable development. So too making the argument to the Germans (and the French, and the Italians, and others) that it benefits them to have a new direct link to Russian sources of supply, free of the possibility of disruptions caused by friction in Russian bilateral relations with countries like Ukraine or Poland. (And Germany is happy to resell Russian gas via the pipeline links eastward to countries like Poland or Ukraine—but the Germans will demand a higher price and be less willing to accept IOUs.)
And the ongoing plans for shipping more natural gas eastward—to hungry markets, especially in China—changes Russia’s gameplan even further. If Westerners become reluctant to invest in Russia, China is more than eager to make up the difference. And soon Russia will have the ability to shift gas and oil from one vector to another. The West wants to reduce its dependence on Russia? No problem. Redirect the energy eastward. But this also gives Russia the ability to decide that it might want to reduce the energy it sends westward. Perhaps not to well-paying customers in parts of the EU, the ones which have good economic ties to Moscow and prize good relations with Russia—but we can easily think of other countries that can’t pay higher prices, and those who can’t pay the ticket don’t get admitted to the dance.
Perhaps the possibility of a normalization of relations between the United States and Iran—or at least something along the lines of the Libya approach—might change the game by allowing the West to fully access Iran’s immense energy reserves (and finally opening the closed back door to effective and efficient transit of resources from central Asia to global markets). But is such a rapprochement likely? And why would Russia agree to support renewed U.S. efforts to pressure Iran to try and quickly resolve the nuclear standoff?
The strategic assumptions made during the 1990s about Russian energy are becoming increasingly invalid as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century. Some uncomfortable readjustments in our strategy might be the consequence.
Some say that the prize is predominantly a repudiation of former President George W. Bush and his foreign-policy approach, which was widely resented outside the United States. Fine. The Nobel Committee has always been political and is entitled to use the Peace Prize, or any of its other prizes, to send messages. But is implicit criticism of Bush—who is not only out of office, but laying low—really the best they can do? Aren’t there at least a few people who have actually done something tangible to build peace whose selection could send the same message, if that’s really what the Nobel people want to say?
Others have argued that Mr. Obama’s selection is meant to encourage him and even to challenge him to do more to live up to his rhetoric. That may also be a legitimate reason for making the award—but if so, those making the selection may have made a major miscalculation. Giving the Prize to the president is not likely to make it any easier for him in American domestic politics, upon which his ultimate success will depend very heavily. Instead, it will be a distraction both now—while the Afghanistan debate is raging, and the administration needs to make key decisions—and later in the year, when the president will presumably be expected to collect the prize in Stockholm. It seems likely to come up again when Mr. Obama runs for reelection, which he will presumably do. The bottom line is that in the current U.S. political environment, the award seems likely to polarize rather than unite Americans and will likely produce unpleasant unintended consequences.
This leads to a final question. If European liberals like the Nobel Committee really want to help Obama, couldn’t they find a way to do something substantive rather than symbolic? Pressing their governments to offer more help the United States in Afghanistan would be a good start. Who knows what might happen then? If they manage to provide real assistance to America in addressing some of the world’s major problems, they might get some kind of prize. Maybe best supporting actor.
In The National Interest, The Nixon Center’s Executive Director Paul Saunders writes that the Obama administration’s failure to convince the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to bring the games to Chicago in 2016 was the result of a systematic miscalculation in their diplomatic homework:
The International Olympic Committee’s stunning elimination of Chicago in voting for the 2016 games—as the first city dropped, with the least votes among four contenders—is of limited importance to the United States, but should be ringing alarm bells about the Obama administration and its foreign policy.
Having the 2016 games in Chicago would have been nice, but certainly should not be a major foreign policy goal for the United States. America has hosted the Olympic Games many times and does not particularly need the visibility or the expense.
Still, given President Obama’s roots as a Chicago politician, it was not inappropriate for him to lobby a little for his home city. He could have done this fairly easily by making a short statement in front of the cameras during any of a number of appearances in the United States in advance of the IOC ballot. “Chicago is one of America’s and the world’s great cities,” he could have said, “and Michelle and I are rooting for Chicago as the IOC meets this week. If selected, I know that Chicago will come together and organize a truly spectacular event that embodies the spirit of the Olympics and the spirit of America.” Then he would have been done and could check the box and move on.
When this could have been done so easily, why do more?
The answer seems to be a combination of several troubling factors. First is a worrying failure to set priorities. Candidate Obama was critical of the Bush administration—at times correctly—for misplaced priorities, but does not seem to have taken the lesson to heart. His administration has spent the last eight months trying to do too much too fast, both domestically and in foreign policy, and is now starting to pay the price.
Second is a profound over-estimation of President Obama’s personal persuasive power (again, both domestically and internationally). This has been clear at home in the health care debate, on climate change, and in other areas, where the administration seems mistakenly to have interpreted Obama’s election as a mandate to pursue his policy goals rather than as a rejection of the Bush administration. A similar dynamic is at play in foreign policy, where some in the administration seem to think that the President’s personal story and charm are sufficient to persuade others to sacrifice their own interests, abandon long-held perspectives, or change their minds even when they may have different preferences or evaluations. This can lead to dangerous and damaging miscalculations and will almost certainly lead to disappointment both inside the administration and abroad.
The root of this lies in a third factor, namely that other governments and peoples make their decisions about the United States based on what we do or persuasively promise to do. Former Russian President Vladimir Putin successfully personally lobbied the IOC to bring the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi by promising that the full power and resources of the then-oil-rich Russian state would stand behind the games. Failing to recognize this in the IOC’s new balloting, by focusing his remarks and the First Lady’s on uplifting rhetoric rather than the specifics of Chicago’s bid, is a relatively minor matter—although the impact of the loss will now be vastly inflated by the President’s ill-advised decision to become so deeply involved. But failing to see the difference on real issues—like the Middle East, where President Obama has done nothing to follow up his much-touted Cairo speech—has real consequences.
America doesn’t need a gold medal in a global popularity contest and neither does our president. What we do need is others to take us seriously. If the Obama administration doesn’t start to focus on what is important and to deliver some results, precious few will.
Via the National Interest:
President Obama’s decision to scrap the missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic has attracted a lot of criticism and claims that he is caving in to Russian pressure. Mikhail Gorbachev, writing in the New York Times, argues that nothing could be further from the truth. In actuality, Obama’s “concession” was greeted with a reciprocal move by Russia, in agreeing to a UN Security Council resolution “seeking to strengthen the international commitment to limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.” So give-and-take in international relations really does work, at least when it comes to Russia.
As such, Gorbachev thinks Washington and Moscow should continue to work together to curb nuclear proliferation in states like North Korea and Iran. For the United States to convince the world community that Pyongyang and Tehran shouldn’t have nukes, it needs to demonstrate that it too is committed to destroying nuclear weapons: “if it is acceptable for 5 or 10 countries to have nuclear weapons as their ‘ultimate security guarantee,’ why should it not be the case for 20 or 30 others?” Obama can start this charm offensive by negotiating an update to the START treaty, which expires in December. If America and Russia show they want to rid the world of nuclear weapons by dismantling their own stockpiles, other nations won’t be far behind in joining us.
Nonetheless, there’s nothing wrong with having an insurance policy against nuclear weapons. But we should manage missile defense in conjunction with Russia. Moscow faces many of the same threats we do. “Let the experts from both countries have a frank discussion that would reveal which threats are real and which are imaginary,” says Gorbachev. This would help us “avoid misguided projects like the Polish-Czech missile shield, and could help move us from a state of mutual deterrence to a goal of minimum nuclear sufficiency for self-defense.” Although this is a “big agenda,” Gorbachev thinks America and Russia need a big agenda to initiate a “change in the strategic relationship between the two major nuclear powers—in their own interests and in the cause of world peace.”
The National Interest’s Nicholas Gvosdev argues that President Obama doesn’t have a coherent diplomatic strategy with Russia vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program. In other words, he made a big concession and is now hoping for the best:
What we’ve gotten so far from the Kremlin is not substantive help over Iran in return, but a Russian commitment that Iskander short-range missiles will now not be deployed in Kaliningrad as a response. So Moscow can argue two things: 1) the Iranian threat isn’t that bad after all, if the United States is canceling a program that before was seen as so urgent for the defense of Europe and the West, and 2) Russia has already responded, trading one missile deployment for another.
And if Russia does not intensify pressure on Iran, then what? The Obama team re-activates the BMD program in eastern Europe—after admitting that it doesn’t think that the technology in hand can meet the threat?
This could have all been avoided—and handled much better—if there were clear organizing principles in terms of how to prioritize the threat posed by Iran, and consistent, reliable threat assessments that would enable Washington to firmly and decisively put the matter to its friends and partners. But there are not. Thus, when the president says at the United Nations that there should be “new coalitions that bridge old divides” in tackling issues like the proliferation of nuclear weapons to states like Iran, there is no mechanism in place to build them. Neither is there a better understanding of what trade-offs Washington would be prepared to make with Russia to ensure full Russian participation in and compliance with the needs of such a coalition. The BMD system was cancelled on the lack of its own merits—and Moscow knows this. To try and then get concessions from Russia on Iran in the absence of both a clear negotiating framework and without a sense of the costs and benefits involved seems another example of “U.S. officials hoping for the best.”
Nixon Center Executive Director Paul Saunders argues that the administration isn’t likely to receive anything in return from Russia for canceling defensive weapons systems in Eastern Europe.
Why? Russian President Dimitry Medvedev is willing to accept that it was just a mistake, after resisting the assertion that the systems were meant to deter Iran:
What the United States wants, of course, is Moscow’s support in dealing with Iran. And Mr. Obama specifically mentioned “our shared efforts to end Iran’s illicit nuclear program” in his public remarks. Whether Washington will ultimately get Russia’s help, however, is far from certain: Moscow has a pragmatic but not warm relationship with Tehran, it fears the destabilizing effects of an Iranian nuclear weapon but does not see itself as a likely target, and it benefits from Iran’s continuing isolation, especially from international energy markets.
More to the point, just as neither the Obama nor the Bush administrations accepted that U.S. missile-defense plans were aimed at Russia, Russia never accepted that missile defense was linked to Iran. From this perspective, the administration’s unwillingness to admit that it is giving something away makes it easier for Moscow to pretend that it is not getting anything. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said as much last week, when he argued that if the United States were to drop the plans, it would be correcting a mistake and not making a concession. Taking that position after the Obama announcement would be a mistake for Russia, but it would be far from the first.
Afghan incumbent Hamid Karzai and his challenger Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah are each claiming victory in Thursday’s presidential elections. Turnout in the unstable country was disappointingly low, prompting The National Interest’s Nikolas Gvosdev to question the rationale of the current strategy of democracy promotion:
Another part of the “sequencing” debate when it comes to democratization: get leaders in place with electoral legitimacy first (and then with that legitimacy they gain control of the monopoly of force within the state)—or establish a clear command and control network and then concern yourself with how the commander in chief comes to power?
Over at The National Interest, Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes argues that President Obama’s disproportionate focus on healthcare is costing his foreign policy:
Indeed, the administration is not responsible for the difficulty it has encountered in engaging Iran, where the clerical regime is torn apart by post-election infighting. Still, Iran continues to march toward nuclear-weapons capability and, as Obama has said himself, the clock is ticking. If engagement with Tehran does not deliver by early fall, Washington will have to change course and proceed with highly punitive sanctions. And if sanctions do not bring results, no option is off the table, including a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. But with growing skepticism in Moscow about the seriousness of Obama’s “reset” policy, meaningful Russian cooperation on Iran is increasingly unlikely, and the lack of progress on the Arab-Israeli dispute would assure that a military strike against Iran would create massive indignation in the Muslim world. With the Maliki government in Iraq already demonstrating pro-Iranian sympathies and, according the latest Gallup poll, 59 percent of Pakistanis believing that the greatest threat to their country comes from the United States, it doesn’t require excessive imagination to contemplate how an American attack on Iran could explode the whole region, greatly complicating U.S. tasks in both Iraq and Afghanistan and potentially bringing the price of oil to several hundred dollars a barrel. If that happens, Mr. Obama will have to forget about his costly health-care plans and, probably, accept that he would be a one-term president.
Neglecting necessary foreign-policy decisions in the name of optional domestic priorities would make these very goals totally unattainable.
Writing at The National Interest, Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes argues against supporting Mikheil Saakashvili in his conflict with Russia, contending that the Georgian President is a “tin-pot autocrat” out of step with American interests and values:
Reports from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe’s (OSCE) observers on the ground, independent journalists and, most importantly, a number of senior Georgian officials who later broke with the Saakashvili regime, all confirm that it was the Georgian president who personally ordered a tank assault on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and, specifically, on the Russian peacekeeping unit located there. This conclusion is widely shared by CIA and Pentagon intelligence analysts. It is difficult to explain why Mr. Biden sounded unaware of this while accompanied to Georgia by officials from the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Pentagon.
Nor was Saakashvili caught in some kind of a trap. On the contrary, for many months the Russian government warned that independence for Kosovo—changing the borders of Serbia, a sovereign democratic state, against its will—would be a precedent for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Senior Russian officials stated both publicly and privately, in discussions with their U.S. counterparts, that Moscow would not immediately recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states in response to Kosovo’s independence, but that it would be receptive to “requests” from both enclaves for greater integration with Russia. A larger Russian economic and military presence quickly followed.
Saakashvili responded to this with high-profile and high-risk harassment of Russian peacekeepers, arresting them, seizing their equipment, and humiliating them in public. Both Georgian- and Russian-controlled South Ossetian forces stepped up artillery attacks. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and later President Dmitry Medvedev, sent a clear message that Tbilisi would not be allowed to re-establish control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force. Russia ceased compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, enabling it to move more armored units into southern Russia and conducted major military maneuvers not far from the border. During one incident between Georgian and South Ossetian forces, two Russian combat aircraft flew over a Georgian position to demonstrate to Tbilisi that Moscow was not a paper tiger.
Despite this, Saakashvili was apparently convinced that he could press Moscow harder and harder with impunity. As both Georgian and Russian officials later told me, Saakashvili was not only openly dismissive in his conversations with Vladimir Putin, but went so far as to tell a senior Russian official visiting Tbilisi that he should convey to Russia’s president that if Moscow stood in the way of Saakashvili’s plans in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian army would teach Russia a lesson, driving Russian troops to back to Rostov, hundreds of miles from South Ossetia.
The Georgian president demonstrated his contempt for Russian power and resolve in the strategy that he chose in trying to occupy South Ossetia. Rather than sending tank columns around Russian forces in Tskhinvali to block the Roki Tunnel, the only highway between Russia and the enclave, and to present Moscow with a fait accompli, Saakashvili overrode this recommendation of some of his advisors and recklessly ordered a frontal assault on the Russian peacekeeping detachment. At that point, Moscow had a choice between accepting humiliation and responding with force. How could Saakashvili have been surprised at Moscow’s decision to fight—and fight hard?
Contrary to some allegations in the West and particularly the United States, the Russian military operation was measured and, with some exceptions, proportionate. Russian aircraft attacked Georgian military targets. To the extent there was collateral damage, it appeared limited, unintentional, and usually close to Georgian military targets. Despite the virtual collapse of Georgian forces, Russian troops did not attempt to occupy Tbilisi or remove the Georgian president from power by force. Not so long ago, the United States invaded Panama and removed President Manuel Noriega from office with a case against him no stronger than Russia’s grievances vis-à-vis Saakashvili.
Writing at The National Interest, former CIA officer Bruce Riedel discusses the perilous political dynamic in Pakistan and the specter of a Taliban takeover:
The growing strength of the Taliban in Pakistan has raised the serious possibility of a jihadist takeover of the country. Even with the army’s reluctant efforts in areas like the Swat Valley and sporadic popular revulsion with Taliban violence, at heart the country is unstable. A jihadist victory is neither imminent nor inevitable, but it is now a real possibility in the foreseeable future. This essay presumes (though does not predict) an Islamic-militant victory in Pakistan, examining how the country’s creation of and collusion with extremist groups has left Islamabad vulnerable to an Islamist coup.
THE ORIGINS of today’s crisis of course lie in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The modern global jihad began in the Afghan refugee camps of Pakistan’s frontier lands along the one-thousand-five-hundred-mile border between the two countries. Volunteers from across the Islamic world came to fight with the Afghans. According to a senior Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) commander at the time, the ISI trained eighty thousand fighters from forty-three countries
Reidel discussed his column with TNI editor Justine Rosenthal:
The National Interest doesn’t like the OAS’s (Organization of American States) and President Obama’s double standard of condemning Honduras but turning a blind eye to Venezuela:
Throughout the Honduran “coup” fiasco, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has claimed to be the champion of democracy in Latin America. This may come as a surprise to Venezuelans. All throughout his too-long tenure, Chávez has cracked down on opposition politicians and journalists who dared criticize his regime and its numerous stooges. Jackson Diehl, writing in the Washington Post, notes that while the international community is in a tizzy over the undemocratic deposition of the anti-American Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, it’s paid no attention to Chávez’s gross human-rights abuses and trampling of democracy in Venezuela. Last week, Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas and one of Venezuela’s opposition leaders, went on a hunger strike to force Chávez to pay the salaries of Caracas’s municipal workers and direct OAS attention to the caudillo’s destruction of democracy. The OAS, of course, has largely ignored Ledezma. But it’s heaped attention on Zelaya. Why? Diehl notes that Ledezma received “almost as many votes in last November’s election (700,000) as Manuel Zelaya (915,000) did when he won the presidency of Honduras in 2005.” Since then, Ledezma has tried to govern his city fairly and ensure the freedom of opposition parties and the press. For his trouble, he’s been “illegally driven from his office by a mob, stripped of most of his powers and budget, and subjected to criminal investigation by the regime of Hugo Chávez.” Zelaya, by contrast, has jettisoned his centrist 2005 platform, become a full-fledged Chavista and tried to engineer an unconstitutional referendum allowing him to maintain his grip on the presidency. Why is Zelaya, who hates the United States and seeks to undermine democratic institutions in his own country, the darling of the OAS? In its denunciations of the Honduran coup, the OAS has stressed the need for democracy throughout the Americas. Why, then, is Venezuela attracting no criticism or scrutiny from the organization?
Diehl writes that the Obama administration has unfortunately succumbed to this double standard. While it has blasted the interim Honduran government of Roberto Micheletti, the White House has made every effort to make nice with Chávez, agreeing on “a new exchange on ambassadors with Venezuela” and repeatedly announcing “its hope to ‘work with’ the caudillo.” The real shame of all this is that the Honduran crisis has given us a rare chance to expose Chávez and his ilk for the tyrannical socialist buffoons they really are. Obama could argue that Honduras should certainly be democratic. And dear old Hugo is perfectly right in calling for democracy in that country. But if Honduras is to be democratic, and the will of its people respected, why shouldn’t Venezuela be equally democratic? Why shouldn’t the will of its people be respected? The administration hasn’t done this as of yet.