Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chirac's Speech

Jacques Chirac delivered his annual speech to the ambassador's conference in France earlier this week (on August 28). The full English text is available on the presidential website.

And why are we optimistic in Washington about convergence?

Several points:

On Iran: "Iran will not achieve security by developing secret programmes, but rather by fully becoming part of the international community. I once again urge Tehran to take the necessary steps to create a climate of trust. There is still scope for dialogue. Iran is a great country. But recognition of its role also places it under an obligation - an obligation to allay apprehensions and to work for regional stability, as befits a responsible great country."

Doesn't sound like he's thinking about use of force or punitive sanctions to me.

On NATO: "In a few weeks' time, the NATO Summit will be taking place in Riga. We want this meeting to be a success and to mark a further milestone in the adaptation of the Alliance.

We will achieve this by upholding NATO's legitimacy as a military organisation guaranteeing the collective security of the European and North American allies. To seek to involve the Alliance in non-military missions, ad hoc partnerships, technological ventures or an insufficiently prepared enlargement could only distort its purpose."

Not a ringing endorsement of "coalitions of the willing" or of accelerated entry for the Georgians (I assume that as long as Viktor Yanukovych sits in the prime ministerial chair in Kyiv Ukraine's fast track to NATO is on hold).

The Times of London ran an interesting piece back in November 2004 with the headline Backing Bush has won you nothing, Chirac tells Britain. There's a more receptive audience for that message today, not only in Britain but elsewhere, including in parts of "new Europe."

Charles Kupchan, writing in the September/October issue of The National Interest, argues that we have passed into a "fourth age" of transatlantic relations, that the Cold War era has moved beyond recall. Seems like the Riga NATO summit may be a further harbinger of this, if Chirac's remarks are any indication. It also suggests that assumptions about a united Western bloc facing off against Russia and China on Iran may not be as resilient as previously assumed.

Of course, Chirac's speech got little coverage here, so no need to threaten anyone's illusions.

American Gurkhas or Legionnaires

One point made at yesterday's roundtable on whether America is a crippled superpower or not was the question of the military instrument and its effectives (and/or degradation) in recent years. There was some discussion about Larry Johnson's comments about the rapid change in special forces, from being able to have soldiers who have served for several years being able to mentor newer recruits, now shortened. [It reminded me of comments about the problems faced by the Imperial Russian military in World War I, the utter decimation of the officer corps in 1914-16 leading to much more poorly trained and capable officers unable to handle command.]

Is it time for the United States to consider the development of a professional military arm that is divorced and separate from citizen volunteers? Our British and French allies continue to call upon the services of highly trained professional forces even as post-imperial powers.

Do we want to reach an agreement with the Kingdom of Nepal--we can certainly outbid the British, given that it appears they have shortchanged the Nepalese on pensions--(or with perhaps a pro-American former Soviet state, for example--to provide a set number of recruits who will be trained and can be sent anywhere in the world--Darfur, Lebanon, etc. What about an American Foreign Legion that offers training and eventual citizenship in return for service? Could this be one way to solve the Gordian knot of illegal migrants in the United States from Latin America--offer "no questions asked" enlistments in the American Legion?

Might this become more politically attractive if there is a rising cost to be paid from stop-loss orders, increased National Guard deployments and so on?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

America: A Crippled Superpower?

This fascinating roundtable will be rebroadcast by C-SPAN tonight at 9:38 PM EST and 1:18 AM EST Thursday morning, for those who missed it this afternoon.

Some points made during the course of the discussion:

Dimitri Simes opened by answering the question posed, the United States is not a crippled superpower, but has a crippled foreign policy leadership in both parties.

Graham Fuller, vice-chairman of the National Intelligence Council during the second term of the Reagan Administration, whose "Superpower Fatigue" essay in the summer issue of TNI served as the background for our discussion, contrasted the reality of U.S. supremacy around the world with the fact that there is currently a low ebb of U.S. real power (military force plus soft power) and worried that too many policymakers are living in a "fantasy world" that does not correspond to actual conditions on the ground. He noted Americans must ask a basic question: why do we want to be powerful? The point is not to tweak policy but go back to square one and rethink the purpose of our position in the world. In particular, we need to avoid taking on what he termed are "false burdens" such as assuming that the United States must take the lead in ensuring a free flow of oil and thus take on a number of commitments.

Charles Pena of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy said we need to rethink what we mean by power; we usually conflate this with military power but military force cannot change the Middle East. Instead, we have to think about how we can contain the negative forces in the region from spilling out and define the limits of where and how we will use power.

Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group (and a TNI contributing editor) said the metaphor is not one of a crippled power (which implies loss of function) but of Gulliver tied down by Lilliputians, capable of limiting our freedom of action. We live in a world where commodities most critical to the global economy are located in undesirable areas (e.g. energy in West Africa). He also pointed out a problem in U.S. strategic thinking. We equate stability and prosperity with open societies; but a certain degree of stability can also be achieved from a closed system and there can be strong incentives for a regime to stay closed. (As I've noted in previous TWR posts, this is documented in his forthcoming work The J-Curve.) Bremmer also wanted to point to some positives over the last several years--a stronger relationship with Japan, new movement on the U.S.-India relationship, even the beginnings of a strategic dialogue with China.

Anatol Lieven, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, also a TNI contributing editor, pointed out that theoretical power is not useful if it cannot be brought to bear on a specific problem (e.g. carrier battle groups are quite powerful but useless on the streets of Fallujah). To govern, in the end, is to be prepared to choose between different alternatives, all of which may be unpleasant to some degree--but to have the ability to make rational and moral choices that safeguard your power, contrasting the successful efforts of the British Empire versus the disastrous lack of choices made by the German Empire in the immediate pre-World War I environment.

Some other points--Harlan Ullman called attention to our "broken government" as exemplified by the Katrina disaster, and the emergence of a new governing credo that says "I pontificate" therefore it is, combined with an overall lack of accountability in government--something, by the way, as a side note, I hear often in New York, that a fund manager with the track record of a government official would be fired. Larry Johnson called attention to a crippling going on in the military, a lowering of standards to keep forces up and running (since we are losing the equivalent, he said, of a battalion a month in killed and wounded). Paul Starobin wondered about an "image of impotence" if the U.S. is seen to be unable to get things done.

I reiterated points that readers of TWR are familiar with--the Napoleonic conundrum and the distinction Chris Layne is drawing between "deterrence" and "compellence".

A very stimulating and provocative discussion, and I urge you to watch it in full.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More on the Foreign Policy Debate

First, a program note: C-SPAN will broadcast live a National Interest roundtable tomorrow at 3 PM on the theme of America as a crippled superpower.

It is indeed quite revealing that in response to yesterday's post I received a number of private communications about the prevalence of groupthink in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, or at least debate only within "acceptable limits." One person contrasted what you read on the editorial pages of major U.S. newspapers versus a much more lively debate--usually conducted by Americans!--on the pages of papers like the Financial Times (or the International Herald Tribune).

An interesting side note is whether British and Australian publications are poised to become what James Bennett might term "all-Anglosphere" publications, being able to act as conduits for debate and discussion from across the English-speaking world as well as the Anglophone elites in other states. And as I mentioned yesterday, if IPOs are moving to London, might not the intellectual capital be that far behind?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Lieven's Bipartisan Disaster

In the British journal Prospect, Anatol Lieven argues that even though there is enormous dissatisfaction with how foreign policy is being conducted, "most strangely in what is supposed to be a democracy, there is no formal foreign policy opposition in politics. Whatever they may claim, on the great majority of issues, the Democratic establishment stands squarely behind the official line of the Bush administration. A partial exception is the environment, where the Democrats (together with some Republican state governments) are pressing for much more substantial energy-saving measures than those adopted by the administration – though well short of those adopted in most of Europe.

There are two separate public oppositions to the present course of the Bush administration (apart from the neo-cons and the Cheney-Rumsfeld camp, who form a kind of internal opposition within the administration), but they are in opposition to their own party leaderships. The opposition among the Democrats consists of the old Left-liberals, who previously opposed the Vietnam War, and their descendants. They are the forces which last month combined to oust the liberal hawk Senator Joe Lieberman from his position as Democratic Senator for Connecticut, forcing him to run as a pro-Bush independent. The opposition within the Republican Party consists of the old-style moderate conservative realists, whose leading elder statesman is former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and whose leading younger star is Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska."

This point has been made again and again to me by a number of foreign visitors to Washington and to the U.S. in general--the apparent lack of real debate over policy, the prevalence of "groupthink" in so many issues, and a tendency to confuse what one believes and/or hopes for with what actually exists.

Lieven's piece ends on a very pessimistic note even if he sees light at the end of the tunnel; I reproduce verbatim here:

"A much more hopeful prospect in the long run lies in a combination between the moderate realists and a populist revolt in the heartland against the costs of empire. Indeed, this would seem to me virtually inevitable sooner or later. As soon as it becomes clearly apparent to the White middle classes that a continuation of present levels of military spending and foreign policy activism requires the abolition of key middle class entitlements – social security, Medicare, mortgage relief and so on – mass pressure for a withdrawal from present levels of engagement will become overwhelming. This will happen all the sooner in the context of an economic recession, or if another war makes the reintroduction of conscription a real possibility.

"In the long run, therefore, I have great faith in the ability of a majority of the American people to return to rational and enlightened self-interest. My fear is that for this to happen, the US and the world will have to plunge into even greater disasters, largely caused by the United States itself; and that before America returns to sanity, America’s hopelessly obedient and much more vulnerable British vassals will have been attacked a dozen times, and with increasing degrees of savagery. "

 It is quite interesting that it seems that just as companies increasingly go to London to launch their IPOs rather than New York--a point Hank Greenberg made in the Wall Street Journal last week--it seems commentators find a need to publish in Britain rather than the leading opinion journals in the U.S. to get provocative thoughts across. (My thanks also to the Financial Times for its willingness to publish excerpts developed from some of the more interesting TNI essays).

So some food for thought for this week.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Confused by Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer's column in today's Washington Post left me confused. Honestly.

Is the message, let the French and Italians fall on their face in southern Lebanon and let the UN mission grind to a halt under the weight of its own contradictions, so that the Europeans will decide to join us in an inevitable strike on Iran when the diplomatic process fails?

What confuses me about the column is that a very key option has not been considered: that most countries in the world are prepared to live with nuclear proliferation. So I don't see that failure in southern Lebanon leads to a reassessment of what to do on Iran.

What also surprised me is the approach. Krauthammer is among those who see Iran as a gathering storm and that military action is likely because the UN Security Council won't take effective action. Why does he believe that delays now will produce Euro-Atlantic resolve to take action down the line? He does qualify this as only a possibility, not a certainty, of course.

But what I sense is the real underlying thread is the realization that many Americans might be prepared to also accept an Iranian nuclear program if the alternative is unilateral U.S. action, while it might be possible to recreate the old "Kosovo" coalition if it can be presented as a joint U.S.-European enterprise.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

American Power and Chinese Influence in The National Interest

Two further previews of what will be appearing in the September/October issue of The National Interest.

The Financial Times printed Christopher Layne's America cannot rely on power alone" while in the International Herald Tribune one can read Michael Fullilove's China starts to pull its weight at the UN.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Reagan Republicans and Foreign Policy

John Hulsman, TNI contributing editor, once noted that there is a real gap between what I might call "professional conservatives" (in other words, the Washington, DC-based pundits and commentators) think about foreign policy and what many rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives espouse.

We've certainly had some straight talk recently from Senator Chuck Hagel, but some have dismissed his sentiments as not authentic Midwestern sentiments but some sort of insidious beltway corruption.

But there are more signs that ferment is taking place out there that avoids the shouting match categories of "crossfire" style programs.

Consider Eugenia Ordynsky, running for Congress in Maryland's 3rd district, who describes herself as a "Reagan Republican":

Whether or not the US involvement in Iraq was a wise decision will be debated among historians for years to come. However, now that we have opened Pandora’s Box we cannot walk away. ...

As long as there are groups around the world that have, as their main goal, the destruction of America we have a duty to our children to keep them off our soil. Since we are in such close proximity to the nation’s capital, national security is even more of a concern for our district. We must do everything possible to ensure against nuclear or terrorist attacks. This, unfortunately, means having our soldiers stationed abroad and at times mounting offensive attacks. New offensive attacks require Congressional approval. Rest assured that I would not give such approval lightly. I would not approve any attack meant to topple a government. Even though America believes it is her Manifest Destiny to spread democracy to the world and that the Monroe Doctrine gives her the authority to do so directly rather than by example, it should never be done by force. We have meddled in the affairs of Cuba, the Philippines, Vietnam, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Iran, Afghanistan and others. Often these interventions were for the benefit of a select few. The final results are rarely those that are in the best interests of the American people as a whole. America needs Representatives in Congress who will represent the interests of the people and prevent the needless interference in the sovereignty of foreign governments.

Some of these are similar to points that have been raised in past issues of TNI by various authors--so it does seem that there is a place for ethical, pragmatic realism after all.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

More on the Aland Islands paradigm

I've gotten some queries about the Aland Islands precedents that I cited in the previous post on Kosovo.

Some interesting and relevant points:

--the Aland Island settlement was imposed and did not initially accord with the "will of the people";
--the settlement kept Finland's territorial integrity intact but gave the islanders effective self-determination, including the creation of a mono-lingual Swedish entity--but the Alanders are also represented in the Finnish parliament;
--while Swedish, the Alanders make no claim to represent, speak for or incorporate ethnic Swedes living elsewhere in Finland;
--the islands are demilitarized and "neutral" with no forces beyond the island's police force;
--regulations prohibit outsiders from Finland (and since Finland's accession to the EU, other EU nationals) from automatically being able to buy property or reside there; to become a permanent Alander you must be a Finnish national fluent in Swedish who has had 5 years temporary residence--this has prevented a demographic influx that could dilute the islanders.

Is there relevance also for the frozen conflicts of the greater Black Sea region in this model? On paper, it would appear so.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Kosovo is lost"

Alexander Hamilton once advised a colleague in 1782 that he sought to describe the world as it is, not as it ought to be.

From this perspective of Hamiltonian realism, let me address the question of Kosovo.

But first, allow me--an Orthodox Slav--to indulge in a mourning period. The monasteries and churches of Kosovo are a priceless patrimony not only to Serbs but to the larger Orthodox and Slav communities, centers of spirituality, a place where the Byzantine humanism of the earlier second millenium found its greatest expression (and in turn bequeathed this to the West to help start the Renaissance). The demographic shifts that have taken place in Kosovo are also reminders that borders and even states themselves are not static and frozen in time but subject to change--and that no border is eternal.

But realistically, the fiction of UN resolutions that the end goal in Kosovo is some sort of substantial autonomy should be exposed. The destiny of the province is going to be independence. Russia may play games but is not going to go to the mat to prevent this from happening; the Chinese, as Chris Marsh and I wrote in the summer 2006 issue of The National Interest, are deeply concerned about precedents and about any perceived American diktat in imposing a settlement--but are not likely to a stand on Kosovo.

There is no more such thing as "conditional independence" as there is "conditional pregnancy"--conditional independence is the sop to the consciences of the Tony Blairs and Bill Clintons who said the 1999 air campaign was about preserving tolerance and multiethnicity and who don't want to admit that Kosovo will follow the same logic as the emergence of other modern states in the Balkans, beginning with the massive exchanges of populations between Greece and Turkey (in the aftermath of ethnic cleansing and wars)--that states (or sub-state units as in Bosnia) are based on the principle of one government, one ethnicity. A bi-communal federation on the old Cyprus model won't work--if it couldn't provide a functioning government in an 80:20 split (Greeks and Turks), it is even less likely to work in a 90:10 arrangement (Albanians/Serbs).

Perhaps something can be done for the Serbs of Kosovo as was done for the Aland Islands in Finland--the creation of an autonomous, demilitarized, monolingually Serbian-speaking administrative province in the northern areas combined with some sort of extra-territoriality of the holy sites along the model of some of the properties in the Holy Land. (Perhaps the Aland precedent could have worked for Kosovo as a whole before, but we may be too late for that now).

Can we end up creating in the Balkans for Serbia and for Serbs a situation analagous to that of Hungary? The expansion of the EU--and the way in which Slovakia's and then Romania's feet were held to the fire on questions of minority rights and reforms created a situation where the EU has, in essence, solved the Gordian knot of "Greater Hungary" versus "national self-determination". Ethnic Hungarians can move back and forth across borders; Hungarians from Hungary can, in theory, buy property in countries where their ancestors may have been "ethnically cleansed". Could not the principle of "euroregions" be set up across state lines for Serbs, for Albanians, and others in the region?

I'm optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. Optimistic because the EU solution could provide, in theory, a workable solution; pessimistic because of the time it will take, whether Europe and the U.S. have the willpower to see this solution through and whether the short-term human costs will poison the well for a long-term solution. The Hungarian question is by no means "closed"; it has taken several generations for true Franco-German (or German-Danish) reconciliation to take hold.

All of this also requires constant engagement and involvement. I think that the preference is to "cut and run" which doesn't bode well for the kind of involved, creative diplomacy needed to take short-term divisions of a state to produce some sort of longer-term regional unity.

Bolton, Peretz and Legitimacy

In reading the August 28, 2006 issue of The New Republic, I came across Martin Peretz's essay regarding John Bolton. I would love to hear Steve Clemon's reaction to this and whether this is yet another "Lieberman" moment defining the splits among Democrats on foreign policy.

But what I wanted to focus on was a point raised in the essay about legitimacy. Peretz indicates that Bolton (and, it seems, himself by extension) believes that only democracies are legitimate governments, and therefore non-democratic governments have no legitimacy nor can they be assumed to be acting with the consent of the governed.

I think this is a very dangerous conflation to make. Certainly there are non-democratic, tyrannical regimes that exist because they suppress the will of the people. But there are also plenty of non-democratic regimes that enjoy popular sanction and support.

Two examples. Let's first take the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope is not a democratically-elected figure, yet a billion Roman Catholics see him as a legitimate figure, even, I might add, prominent dissidents in the U.S. who while they might want him to ordain women or accept homosexual marriage are not going to argue that because they "didn't vote for him" he is not the legitimate leader of the Roman communion. This stands in marked contrast to what is supposed to be the practice in the Orthodox Churches, and is still carried out in Cyprus, where the primate is indeed indirectly elected by the vote of the entire Church, clergy and laity.

Or Iraq. We have democratically-elected politicians who supposedly have mandates yet can't venture out of the Green Zone yet have local leaders--sheikhs, tribal figures, clerics--who have no democratic mandate but have legitimacy as leaders. This follows up on the arguments made earlier this summer by Alexis Debat and John Hulsman in their infamous "In Praise of Warlords" piece.

The focus on the democratic process as the only conveyer of legitimacy leaves out history, culture, traditions that also serve as legitimizing factors; factors we have tended to ignore at our peril.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Oil Disruptions

J. Peter Pham writes today:
Last week's announcement by British Petroleum (BP) that it might have to shut down its 400,000 barrels-per-day Prudhoe Bay oil field – after an inspection turned up severe corrosion and a small leak on an oil transit pipeline – sent waves through the world financial markets as well as unleashing a barrage of political fire in Washington. As problematic as the challenge, BP's difficulties in Alaska are easily remediable, even if the company's announced plans to replace all of its transit lines around the Prudhoe Bay will cost an estimated $170 million.

In contrast, little attention has been paid to the far more daunting challenge that BP and other oil "majors" – and the world as a whole – face in its Niger Delta oilfields where, since the beginning of this year, attacks by a new group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have cut production by an estimated 500,000 barrels of oil per day, or approximately 25 percent of Nigeria's output. (According to a July 28, 2006, report by the United States Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, during the same period, Nigeria is the America's fifth-largest supplier of petroleum products, shipping approximately 1,207,000 barrels per day, just a little behind third-ranked Saudi Arabia's 1,453,000 barrels.)

This follows predictions made in the spring 2006 issue of The National Interest by Harlan Ullman, about the threat posed by instability in Nigeria. Both Ullman and Pham also call attention to the fact that groups like Al-Qaeda cannot be unaware of the potential for creating economic instability by being able to exploit Nigerian difficulties to curtail oil supplies.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Pharaonic Despotism" and all that

Back in 2002 and early 2003, I used the term "pharaonic despotism" to describe Saddam Hussein's Iraq. This type of regime legitimized itself by elevating the leader beyond the plane of ordinary mortals and also secured its position by arguing that the alternatives would be worse.

I think more work needs to be done on how one makes a successful transition from such types of regimes (beyond the bumper sticker cliches about freedom), to ensure that the ancien regime never takes on a golden glow.

But a more salient point: based on yesterday's post about the Iraq Syndrome, I wanted to revisit a point I made three and one-half years ago, about the use of the "Mongols" in Arab discourse as a reference to the United States:

The Mongols, of course, succeeded in sacking Baghdad in 1258. Two years later, however, they were decisively beaten in the battle of Ain Jalud in Galilee, in an encounter that shattered forever the myth of Mongol invincibility.

Has the U.S. reached an Ain Jalud moment? In battlefield terms, no. But politically?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Is there an Iraq Syndrome?

Ray Takeyh and Stephen Biddle argue that there has been a clear decline in U.S. power and ability to get things done. In today's International Herald Tribune:

Before the Iraq Syndrome, American power exerted a major restraining influence on actors such as Hezbollah, Iran and Syria. Rather than encouraging Hezbollah adventurism, Iran restrained it; after 9/11, for example, it is widely believed that Iranian emissaries confronted Hezbollah, demanding, effectively "We hope that wasn't you."

Iran acquiesced in the American takedown of the Afghan regime on its eastern border. Syria cooperated with America's war on terrorism and seemed willing to arrive at an accommodation with Washington. Even major powers such as Russia were more compliant, as Moscow accepted American military bases in neighboring former Soviet countries.

In 2006, by contrast, Hezbollah adventurism now gets the go-ahead from Tehran. An Iranian nuclear program that had crept forward at a rate designed to keep it under Western radar screens and safe from American retaliation now accelerates with apparent unconcern for the prospect of U.S. opposition, while Iran's firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, concludes his speeches with the cry, "America cannot do a damn thing."

At the same time, a North Korean nuclear program that accepted a modest buy-out in the 1990s now holds out for bigger payoffs while reprocessing nuclear fuel into bombs with impunity.

The Iraq Syndrome is likely to get worse before it gets better - and as it does, challenges such as Hezbollah, Iran and North Korea are likely to become more common. We are in for a season of trials that could create vexing challenges for U.S. foreign policy for a very long time to come.

Americans may yearn for a breathing space, but the Iraq Syndrome is more likely to yield a full-court press as maladies that could have been halted before Iraq now multiply instead.

The perception that the U.S. is weaker in 2006 than it was prior to the Iraq war in 2002 is an interesting proposition--or one could argue that the high-water mark was late spring 2003, with the easy decapitation of two enemy regimes--the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's Iraq--but in any event the decline follows American efforts to focus on transformation rather than deterrence.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Thoughts On Developments in the Middle East

Kathryn Jean Lopez over at National Review Online was very gracious in soliciting my participation in NRO's symposium on the "winners and losers" from the UN Security Council resolution. Since I assumed most people would focus on short-term consequences, I wanted to point out some long-term trends. An excerpt below:

I see two long-term losers beyond Israel and Lebanon.

The first is the “onward march of democracy.” Given the central role of semi-authoritarian states like Jordan and Pakistan in the war on terror — particularly after the foiling of the liquid-explosives-on-airliners plot — does anyone in Washington still want to pressure Amman, Islamabad, or any other friendly capital to continue pell-mell with democratization if the end result is to bring into government forces profoundly hostile to U.S. interests? Fuad Siniora’s heart may be in the right place, but with Hezbollah in his coalition his freedom of action is highly constrained. Does anyone want Pervez Musharraf similarly handicapped?

Iraq is the second loser. Like Lebanon, it too has a weak central government ruled by an unstable coalition cobbled together from ethnic and sectarian parties. Hezbollah has just demonstrated not only to like-minded elements like Sadr’s Mahdi army but to others like the Kurds that a well-organized, determined subnational actor can bypass the central government and unilaterally decide questions of the utmost importance for the entire state, not a particularly useful lesson for a country already on the eve of civil war. (On a side note, pro-Hezbollah demonstrations in Baghdad have not helped Iraq’s cause among the American public either.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Terrorism Symposium

The September/October 2006 issue of The National Interest will feature a special symposium for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In light of the plot to use liquid explosives to destroy American airliners, some of the comments are quite relevant to this developing story.

Michael Scheuer opened his remarks quite simply: “America will be attacked by Al-Qaeda again, and more destructively than on 9/11. Why? Simple. Our bipartisan governing elites willfully refuse to recognize the severity of the Islamist threat. They are waging a feckless war that misrepresents the enemies' motivation, keeps borders open, applies insufficient force, and pursues status quo foreign polices, ensuring the next Islamist generation is more anti-American and numerous—and still has the opportunity to strike the American homeland.”

Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation reminds us that, despite “the scale of the damage caused to the United States, the 9/11 attacks neither required much money to execute, nor did they take a large number of plotters. Terrorism is a cheap form of warfare—the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, for instance, only cost a few thousand dollars. This is particularly the case when you have a cadre of young men willing to engage in suicidal terrorism. According to court documents entered in the trial of Al-Qaeda’s Zacarias Moussaoui, the entire 9/11 operation cost a little over $200,000, a trivial sum considering the damage it inflicted on the United States. Furthermore, no amount of money will buy you 19 young men willing to commit suicide in a terrorist operation. The pilots who flew the hijacked planes into two of the world’s most famous buildings saw what they were doing as an act of worship.”

Anthony Sullivan points out that “it is often assumed that any Al-Qaeda operation would necessarily be designed to achieve a greater body count than 9/11. This may not be true. Whatever else it is, terrorism is psychological warfare. Recall the enormous psychological impact of the anthrax attacks, and their ability to cause mass hysteria and paralyze the federal government, despite the fact that only a handful of victims died. The fact is that Al-Qaeda may now not consider an enormous body count to be necessary, when nearly the same societal impact might be obtained by using a stinger missile (for example) to knock down one civilian aircraft landing or taking off, or placing a few bombs in different malls around the country, or (as was planned in 2000 for the Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan) by placing poison in a luxury hotel’s circulation system. In any such case, public hysteria would explode, and a significant part of the U.S. infrastructure would grind to a standstill.”

Alexis Debat of the Nixon Center joins with TNI’s editor Nikolas Gvosdev to warn, “The ability to inflict mass destruction is no longer expensive or does it require particularly advanced technology. Richard Reids shoebomb explosive in December 2001 was a crude and deadly home-made nitrocellulose mix made of melted ping pong balls and nail polish remover it was not a clever James Bond-style device that could only have been provided by the intelligence service of a major power. A BBC investigation estimated that the 7/7 London bombings, which killed 52 people and injured hundreds and paralyzed the British capital, cost only slightly more than $1,000 to carry out. While it has not disappeared as evidenced by the events in Lebanon this summer state-sponsored terrorism is gradually receding in the face of ego-terrorism, or political violence waged by a single individual or non-state group but with the means of a state. Whatever happens next in the „war on terror, mass destruction will remain only a mouse click, a credit card and a rental truck away. During the Cold War, we could not all be potential superpowers, but today, we are all potential terrorists.

“Being the most open society in the world, America is not well organized for this type of conflict. Its federal structure and philosophy of competition between centers of power are considerable, if not insurmountable roadblocks to the centralization of intelligence or homeland security responsibilities, and its archipelago of law enforcement entities from the local to the federal level makes homeland security a Herculean task. The biggest strength of Al-Qaeda is its capacity to hide its operatives, finances, and bomb-making material within the global flows on which the United States draws its economic and political power to turn the free flow of goods, people and information as weapons against us. We cannot pay the price of isolationism; we have to develop better tools for trying to filter the global pathways and determine what level of risk we are prepared to accept in exchange for the benefits of an open global system.”

Opposition versus Strategy: The Lamont Challenge

As the dust settles from the Ned Lamont victory, it is time for Democrats to begin to realize that opposition only gets you so far. It is very true that most Americans now oppose the war in Iraq--but there needs to be some sort of strategy that is offered.

In the forthcoming issue of TNI, Senator Joe Biden will be offering his plan for dealing with Iraq and discussing how this fits in his overall vision for foreign policy. It has a realistic edge to it, about dealing with actual conditions on the ground rather than starting with your overall preferences, and advocates something I've also been promoting for years--a "division within unity" approach for reconciling demands for autonomy with keeping Iraq's territorial integrity intact.

But I don't know to what extent Biden's approach--a phased withdrawal based on yardsticks rather than strict adherence to a timetable--something Paul Saunders and I argued was the best approach last year--can capture the imagination of the Democrats and serve as the basis for a unified approach to foreign policy.

The other factor that worries me is our increasing inability and unwillingness to accept the need for trade-offs and choices. It seems that if we can't have the optimal solution, then we go home. Or we simply say that we "can do both"--a favorite Clintonism of the 1990s. We can have Taiwan declare independence and keep a good relationship with Beijing. We can pressure a government with sanctions and still get top line intelligence sharing cooperation. We can have a democracy in Lebanon that will expel Hezbollah (how this happens in a country that is 60 percent Shi'ite is not explained).

Some Democrats seem to be stumbling on realism as the preferred approach. Will Lamont be one of the converts to the "American ethical realism" of Morgenthau, Niebuhr and Truman?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ambassador Imad Moustapha

The Ambassador of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United States, Imad Moutsapha, spoke this evening at a dinner at The Nixon Center. To encourage a free and frank converstation, the discussion was conducted on Chatham House rules, so I am not at liberty to provide any sort of transcription of what was said.

I was again struck by the distinction that Layne discusses between deterrence and compellence, and the extent to which the distinction between diplomacy and command is being blurred. How do we get a state to change its policies, and what are we willing to put on the table, and what bargains are we willing to strike, and what power are we prepared to use (along with paying the attendant costs). I fear that an approach of asserting our moral superiority, laying out "what needs to be done" and then assuming it all goes according to plan is not going to pay dividends.

The ambassador did put one anecdote on the record, which might substantiate a point I raised on Monday. He said that he was told by a senior Congressional figure that if Syria would do the heavy lifting in disarming Hezbollah, then the U.S. would recognize Syrian primacy in Lebanon, a quid pro quo arrangement. I don't know whether that Congressional personage was serious or not, but it does raise the qeustion as to whether some sort of grand bargain built upon a series of overlapping compromises might have been in the cards.

From the Memory Hole: Truthiness

Stephen Colbert's concept of "truthiness" increasingly applies to pundits and commentators in many aspects of the foreign policy debate. Colbert's explanation of "truthiness" from last year I think bears to be re-examined. I especially think it important because those of you familiar with the writings and speeches of Nixon Center president Dimitri K. Simes know that he is a believer in the maxim that you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts--but increasingly that is no longer the operating rule.

It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the president because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?

Truthiness is "What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true." It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.

Lieberman--Champion of "Democracy"

"For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."

So declared Senator Joseph Lieberman.

I have no objection to the senator standing as an independent. But I would have much greater respect for his position if he had acknowledged that in running as an independent, he recognize that a majority of CT Democrats did not want him as the nominee of their party. It may be that many of them might be happy to have him continue as a member of the senate--but not as a Democrat. And that judgment must be respected, not belittled.

I find Lieberman's attitude consistent with the attitude of many of of the so-called democratizers here in Washington and some in Brussels too--whose attitude is that democracy is great so long as it produces the right result, and if it doesn't, then keep trying.

Lieberman doesn't want to "let that result stand." EU elites have argued that negative votes against the Constitution don't matter, simply keep holding new referenda until they pass. We have no problem annointing a Russian or other Eurasian political figure who can't win more than 5 percent of the vote as the "true voice of the people" yet dismiss as irrelevant political figures who can win pluralities and majorities. Democracy is great for the Middle East but Islamist victories don't reflect what the people really want.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hezbollah, Syria and Iran

My colleague at The Nixon Center Geoff Kemp has organized a roundtable discussion today on the topic, "Hezbollah: The Syrian and Iranian Connection", which C-SPAN is covering, so I won't provide a detailed summary here. Instead, let me draw on the some of the points made by the speakers.

Brigadier General Michael Herzog of the Israeli Defense Forces made some key points--how, in the Iranian strategic view, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is considered to be a front-line fortified position to counterbalance Israel which is viewed as the front-line of the Western world in the Middle East. Hezbollah has received sophistical weapons that many states do not even posses, and has been the recipient of more than $100 million a year in assistance. He felt, however, that the deterrent capability of Hezbollah to prevent military action from being taken against Iran over its nuclear program had been wasted.

After a cease fire, UN Resolution 1559 should be implemented in full, which means that all remaining Syrian intelligence and Iranian military advisors--plus the sophisticated rocket weaponry they brought with them--should be withdrawn. He also noted that in the future all reconstruction aid, including aid from Iran, should have to be channeled through the central Lebanese government, to prevent Iran from being able to develop an Iranian state presence in Lebanon. Ultimately, Hezbollah should also have to choose between serving as Iran's proxy in Lebanon versus Israel or becoming a completely Lebanese political party.

My thoughts: this would require a much greater degree of involvement on the part of the U.S. in Lebanese affairs, a commitment I cannot see this administration giving, or the U.S. public supporting.

Karim Sadjadpour, of the International Crisis Group, pointed out that this crisis has emboldened the right wing in Iran, which sees militant Islamism on the march, as the wave of the future, and the U.S. vision of secular democracy in retreat--in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, and elsewhere. There is also short-term confidence that the temperature can be raised to make things quite uncomfortable for Israel. And that there is no incentive at this point for Iran to be more accommodating to U.S. concerns. I did find it interesting, however, his assessment of the Hezbollah-Iran tie. Certainly there is still some ideological sympathy, but he felt that the relationship was now characterized by much more strategic calculations--for Iran, Hezbollah offers strategic real estate to pressure Israel (and through that the U.S.); for Hezbollah, Iran is loved because it provides material support, not because Lebanese Shi'a want to recreate the Iranian Islamic Republic in Lebanon.

A point raised by former U.S. Ambassador Theodore Kattouf mirrors ongoing discussions that have been taking place on TWR. The first is whether U.S. policy is to change regimes or change behavior (or whether you believe that changing regimes is the only way to affect state behavior), as this colors whether one feels some sort of pragmatic compromise can be found with Damascus. (He opined that, at least with Asad pere, that was possible). The second is whether the very act of talking to an opposing government is such a reward that it cannot be undertaken without undermining the U.S. position. I was also struck by his commentary on what Syria and the U.S. want and what they are prepared to deliver. We want Syria to cut all support for terrorism, make peace with Israel and undergo domestic liberalization, but are prepared only to offer the prospect of a vague "better relationship"; the Syrians want to recover the Golan Heights and to have firm security guarantees for their regime, something the U.S. is not in a position to extend. It calls to mind the discussion around Christopher Layne's distinction between what he terms 'compellence' and deterrence; that the U.S. ability to get regimes to act and undertaken policies is not as strong as its ability to deter overt attacks. And, I would add, even here, a calculation that the U.S. ability to respond to deter attacks on Israel is also limited.

Two other points. Geoff Kemp reminded the audience that Israel's two successful peace treaties in the neighborhood were negotiated with and upheld by two pro-Western but authoritarian governments, and a theme, carried over from the first Nixon Center discussion on the crisis in July, notes that popular sentiment did not support initial statements from some Arab governments that blamed Hezbollah for provoking the crisis. The second is whether or not what is occurring in Lebanon is in fact a proxy war between Iran and Israel and the U.S., or even a prelude to a larger conflict. This is the barometer to watch--whether this crisis can be localized and dealt with or whether the violence will spread further afield, and even begin to spill over and merge with the ongoing violence in Iraq and the territories.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Debate over Realism

Please allow me to call attention to two recent pieces.

Spencer Ackerman's "Critical Mass" in The New Republic discusses the departure of TNI Contributing Editor John Hulsman from the Heritage Foundation, noting that:
But years of insurgency, civil war, and general chaos emanating from Iraq emboldened Hulsman to finally vocalize his dissent. Last summer, he and Lieven penned a National Interest essay contending that the neconservatives--and, implicitly, Bush--were "expending blood and treasure for problematic gains such as Iraq" and "significantly retarding America's ability to act against the true barbarians at the gate." In March, Hulsman vociferously argued against the arch-neocon Michael Ledeen during a House International Relations Committee hearing on Iran policy. He was subsequently informed that he was not to write anything on Iran for Heritage.

Soon after publishing their National Interest essay, Hulsman and Lieven signed a deal with Pantheon to expand their argument into a book, which will be released next month. "I worried about getting fired, but we keep encouraging people to believe in moral courage, so we had to show some," Hulsman says. As the book's publication date loomed, however, Heritage began worrying about his doctrinal deviations and the attention they would receive. "They had a desire to see what the book said ahead of time," he says. "I had a desire to say it was none of their business." And although Hulsman won't say what exactly happened next, that was the end of his seven-year affiliation with the Heritage Foundation.

Meanwhile, Eyal Press over at The Nation examines whether there is a growing convergence between realists and leftists over foreign policy.

And yet, since the attacks of September 11, the gulf that once separated them from liberal and radical critics of US foreign policy appears to have narrowed, if not altogether disappeared. The views of realist thinkers like Anatol Lieven, Andrew Bacevich and Chalmers Johnson now appear frequently in the left-liberal press. This fall The Nation, whose pages have regularly featured their voices, will be co-hosting a discussion with The National Interest, a realist journal that has Daniel Pipes and Zbigniew Brzezinski on its masthead, about views of realism from the left and the right. Groups like have sprinkled their press releases with collegial references to Kissinger and Scowcroft. The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, an alliance of experts that formed not long ago to oppose the Bush Administration's overseas agenda, has issued statements bearing the signatures of former Reagan Administration officials as well as left-leaning academics like Bruce Cumings, Joel Beinin and Marilyn Young.

As progressives attempt to thrash out a compelling alternative to the Bush Administration's foreign policy vision, it's worth asking whether these are mere tactical alliances or if there is something deeper under way--a warming to realism among disillusioned critics of the Iraq War, born of growing unease with the idea of a US foreign policy that even aspires to promote positive ideals.

For your persual and discussion.

Was Syrian Disengagement a Good Thing?

Let me preface my remarks by saying they are speculative, and commentary from TWR readers--especially anyone on the ground in Lebanon--would be greatly appreciated.

My guess is that as long as Syria was actively engaged "on the ground" in Lebanon, this acted as a restraint on Hezbollah; while they might engage in pinprick attacks and harassment, they were never going to launch a major assault on Israel because Israel would hold Syria responsible. The departure of Syria and the Cedar Revolution which put Hezbollah into the government changed the calculus; Hezbollah wasn't going to take direction from a weak government in Beirut and now had much more freedom of action.

Would Hezbollah have launched its attacks if the pre-2005 status quo in Lebanon was still operative? I don't know.

The U.S. assumption was that getting Syria out of Lebanon would strengthen Lebanon. Was that assumption based on factual analysis or was it just "hope"? It seems to me to be more of the latter, the same assumptions that assumed elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories would bring the "right element" to power.

Is Lebanon better off? I have a feeling that many Lebanese will look back and compare 2004 with 2006 in the same way that many Ukrainians also have made comparisons and concluded that sometimes the bad road you are on can be replaced by a much worse road. One "Orange protestor" summed up her experiences by saying, What did I spend all those nights on the square to achieve? Will similar comments be forthcoming from Cedar Revolution participants?

And no matter what it seems highly unlikely that any future Lebanese government is going to be pro-American.

Final Thoughts: Iraq, Cuba, Ukraine

My deepest gratitude to all those who offered comments on two recent posts in TWR, Thursday's Cuba and Ukraine and Friday's From the Memory Hole. I've offered some closing thoughts in the comments section of both.

Friday, August 04, 2006

From the Memory Hole: Warnings About Iraq

For all of those pundits writing in 2006 about what is happening in Iraq, yet another reminder of what analysts and observers were saying three years ago. I bring this up now to ask, what happened? People saw the problems, diagnosed the disease, provided a remedy. Is it because these approaches were seen as too comfortable with ambiguity, not maximalist enough, not keeping with what we thought we could achieve? Moreover, what are we learning for the future?

From commentary by Professor Andrew A. Michta, from the version that appeared in in the August 8, 2003 Commercial Appeal:

The situation we face in Iraq is radically different. We are operating in an environment that has little connection to our cultural and political heritage. Although Iraqis support the notion of democracy in the abstract, the cultural norms and values the West brings are different.

More important, religion forms a potent barrier to cooperation and acceptance. The West has been historically viewed as an intruder and a colonizer, while its technological and military supremacy has been a searing humiliation across the Arab world. We may think of ourselves as liberators, but to the Iraqis we are just as likely to appear as occupiers.

Iraq has no nationally recognized leadership that can unify various clans and religious groups. The pro-American Iraqi governing council, now in the making, has a long way to go to gain even a modicum of national acceptance.

We should reconsider our insistence on making Iraq a democracy and focus instead on improving its internal security and economic conditions. It is imperative that we contain the centrifugal religious and ethnic pressures that threaten Iraq's integrity as a state, and time is short. By some estimates, we have perhaps two months to get it right on the ground or confront a rapidly deteriorating situation.

That means focusing on working with indigenous Iraqi clan leaders, improving internal security, training the new Iraqi police and military forces, and internationalizing occupation troops as quickly as possible to assist the U.S. and British forces who are fighting the guerrilla war.

In the end, an authoritarian but pro-Western and consolidated Iraq may be all that we can hope to achieve during the next five years. Such an outcome would fall short of the declared goal of bringing about democracy, but it would ensure that Iraq does not disintegrate and become a breeding ground for terrorism.

With continued Western assistance and American guidance, in perhaps 10 years the country may be in a position to move toward democracy. But if we continue to insist that democracy is the only immediately acceptable solution to Iraq's problems, a volatile mix of religious politics, ethnic violence and irredentism will likely engulf the country once the U.S. and coalition troops have pulled out.

Predictions for Lebanon

From the forthcoming September/October 2006 issue of The National Interest, from the 9/11 + 5 symposium contribution of Anthony Sullivan (founder and director of Near East Support Services, a consulting firm focusing on the Arab and Islamic world, a senior fellow for Mediterranean and Near East Programs at The Fund for American Studies, and vice chair of the Board of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy)

The Iranian shadow across the Middle East is long. Iran is already a major power broker in Lebanon, through its control of the Lebanese Hizballah movement. Recently, Hizballah reportedly received a large infusion of military equipment from Iran through Syria including drones, anti-tank and surface-to-surface missiles. These weapons have clearly been used in the long-prepared Hizballah war against Israel. The 12,000 to 20,000 Hizballah missiles pointed southward toward Israel that are capable of reaching at least as far as Haifa confront Israel with a perhaps unprecedented geostrategic problem.

For its part, the Lebanese army is said to have facilitated the delivery of these arms, arguing that Hizballah remains an indigenous resistance movement against Israel. Hizballah apparently has further reinforced its military position in south Lebanon, facing Israel. For example, Hizballah is said to have recently paid handsome compensation to hundreds of homeowners in southern Lebanon, transforming the former homes into “closed bases for Iranian-supplied missiles.” Reports indicate that Hizballah may now have become a “front-line division of the Iranian army.” All of this accounts for the heavy price Israel has paid as a result of its thrust into Lebanon.

As if all this were not enough, a variety of groups are reported now to be arming in Lebanon and creating or recreating their own militias or alternative sources of support. Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze community and a strongly anti-Syrian Lebanese politician, is creating a militia in the Shouf Mountains. Samir Geagea, a veteran Maronite commander in the Lebanese Civil War, is doing the same in north Lebanon. For their part, Saad Hariri, the son of the late Rafik Hariri and a leading Sunni power broker in Beirut, as well as the Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, are said to be now pushing to naturalize and enfranchise all of the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon in order to ensure that they are political allies. Specifically, and with the support of Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese Sunni leadership is reported to be considering the creation of its own Sunni Palestinian Islamic army to counter the Shi‘i and Iranian challenge in the country. Does a reprise of the Lebanese Civil War loom?

Meanwhile, Syria has now entirely rebuilt its intelligence network in Lebanon so that it will be able to negotiate with America over its future relationship with Lebanon from a position of greater strength than it has now. Simultaneously, Syria is maintaining a steady flow of arms to the Palestinian movements under its influence in Lebanon. It is reported that Syria is counting on its Palestinian allies in Lebanon to instigate strife in the country, should Damascus come under increasing pressure as a result of the investigation of the slaying of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cuba and Ukraine

Two disparate themes for today.

The first is Cuba. I think Miami exiles are celebrating prematurely about Castro's demise. Just as Mao's death did not lead to the return of the KMT to power, I think the Cuban regime will be able to consolidate itself and try to hold out the prospect of a China-like transformation. I think Cubans have many complaints against the current regime--poor living standards and lack of civil and political freedoms--but I also think they are leery about restoration of what was in Cuba prior to 1959--and that the regime can capitalize on this.

In Ukraine, what a political resurrection. Yanukovych returns as prime minister--the villain of the Orange Revolution.

Let's relax in Washington and not overreact. In the run-up to the 2004 elections, Yanukovych tried to send emissaries to DC to stress that he would try to pursue a balanced policy. He will continue to pursue cooperation with the EU, recognizing that the EU is not going to be offering membership anytime soon. He may be in a better position to negotiate with Russia in terms of making Ukraine more of a real partner. And I think it is perfectly reasonable to have the condition that any Ukrainian overtures to NATO need to be ratified by a referendum; I never understand the logic of trying to integrate Ukraine into NATO against the will of a majority of its citizens.

Of course, the temptation here is not going to be to work with Yanukovych but to portray this as a "defeat for democracy" and tie U.S. policy to the success of the Tymoshenko bloc.

Cuba and Ukraine both represent cases where we DC based policymakers and pundits should carefully assess realities on the ground rather than substituting our hopes and wishes as the basis for our approach.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Virtual Representation and Connecticut

One of the "heresies" our Founding Fathers explicitly rejected at the time of the Revolution was the theory propounded by some in the British Parliament of "virtual representation"--that members of the House of Commons, even though elected to represent specific constituencies, somehow exercised a virtual representation for other parts of the Empire--from Boston to Calcutta. As good Lockeans, the Americans argued against this and maintained that representatives represent only those who have elected them (the basis of the no taxation without representation argument).

In Washington, of course, there has been a growing temptation to succumb to the lures of virtual representation, that somehow members of Congress "speak" on behalf of constituencies around the world. But even more disturbing, from my perch, is to watch how some of those who are leading proponents of "spreading democracy" don't want to let democracy play itself out in the Connecticut Senate primary and general election.

In the end, the decision as to whether or not the incumbent Senator or his challenger should receive the nomination of the CT Democratic Party is not in the hands of DC pundits, commentators or bloggers. Connecticut voters are under no obligation either to "send a message to George Bush" or to convey a message about the relative size of the tent that encompasses the Democratic Party; they are under an obligation only to select someone to represent them (the voters of CT) and, since we are a republican system of governance, to select someone whose judgment they trust to act on their behalf.

Lieberman can and should be held accountable for his actions just as Lamont's inexperience and ability to actually function as an effective member of the U.S. Senate are perfectly acceptable and legitimate campaign issues. If CT voters don't want a liberal hawk to represent them, no matter what the national DLC may want, that is their choice; if they decide that Lamont is a one-issue protest candidate who can't be effective, that is their choice too.

Too many in DC pay lip service to democratic elections here and abroad--but don't want to accept the consequences and results.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Russian opinion polls

Not to distract from the ongoing conversation about American power below, but I just wanted to post these opinion poll figures from RIA Novosti. I continue to be criticized for suggesting that Russian divergence from the U.S. in foreign policy matters has little to do with the character of the government and more with what people think. So those who argue that a more democratic Russia would be more aligned with the U.S. need to explain the following results, especially when as far as I can tell there hasn't been a major spin done on state media.

Half of Russians blame Israel, U.S. for Mideast conflict - survey

Moscow - Almost half of Russians questioned in a nationwide survey blame Israel and the United States for the ongoing violence in the Middle East, a pollster said Tuesday.

The conflict between Israel and Lebanese militant group Hizbollah, raging for almost three weeks, has left more than 700 Lebanese civilians dead, and taken the lives of over 50 Israelis. More than 100 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes and military incursions in the Gaza Strip over the past month.

The All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Study said that 23% of respondents blamed Israel for the beginning of the violence, while other 21% blamed the United States and Israel's other allies.

The poll showed that 14% and 13% blamed Islamic militant groups Hizbollah and Hamas respectively for the conflict, 5% blamed "Iran, Syria and other sponsors of terrorist organizations in the Middle East," and 4% said the government of Lebanon was responsible for the conflict.

Twenty-eight percent of respondents said both sides in the conflict were equally responsible for the current situation.

The pollster also said 43% of respondents believed Russia should not interfere in the Middle East conflict, and the majority, 70%, said Russian peacekeepers should not enter the conflict zone.

Thirty-eight percent of respondents said Russia should continue acting as an independent mediator in the conflict, while 11% said Russia should support one of the conflicting sides.

The poll was carried out on July 22-23 in 153 cities and towns in 46 regions across Russia. Pollsters questioned 1,600 respondents, and the survey has an error margin of 3.4%.

Crisis of American Power: Layne, Tucker, Hendrickson

“During the last several years it seems as if every major book or article on American grand strategy contains the observation that the United States is more powerful than any international actor since the Roman Empire was at its zenith. At the same time, however, the U.S. failure to suppress the insurgency in Iraq and to stabilize Afghanistan have caused many foreign policy analysts to ask, ‘Why is it that the United States with all its hegemonic power cannot seem to get its way and attain its objectives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and in its disputes with powers like Iran and North Korea?’”

So asks Christopher Layne in the forthcoming September/October issue of The National Interest. Layne, Associate Professor of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A & M University, provides a reason:

“Deterrence involves the use of power to persuade another state to refrain from taking an action that the United States does not want it to take. Compellence, on the other hand, involves the coercive use of American power to compel another state (or substate actors) to undertake to act, against its own preferences, in ways that Washington wants it to act.

“The United States has had a high degree of success using its military power to deter other states from attacking the American homeland, or U.S. allies abroad, even though deterring terrorists is much harder than deterring states. It has been far less successful at compellence. This helps to explain, for example, why American military power stops North Korea and Iran from attacking their neighbors but is seemingly ineffective in persuading them to give up their nuclear weapons programs.”

The fear that America has succumbed to what Layne calls the the “hegemon’s temptation”—the temptation to use its military power promiscuously—without evaluating chances for success—is reflected in a second essay in the September/October 2006 issue co-authored by TNI’s editor emeritus Robert W. Tucker and David Hendrickson of Colorado College. They write:

“A more reasonable understanding of America’s true power is that it maintains in abundance the elements whereby to contain and deter threatening actions by hostile regimes. For defensive purposes, it can still marshal an impressive international consensus; it is only when it finds aggressive war necessary to ensure its security that it becomes isolated and friendless in the international community. For defensive purposes, its military power, both conventional and nuclear, is prodigious; it is only when the United States seeks to assign to military power tasks that press against its inherent limitations—e.g. using force to promote liberal democracy, or threatening force to compel change within the national territory of hostile regimes—that it appears insufficient for the tasks it is called upon to perform.”

Should we be surprised at the difficulties the U.S. is facing in trying to tap down the ongoing crisis in the Middle East or in stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? These essays help to explain the real challenges facing Washington—and how burying our heads in the sand won’t make things better.

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