Monday, April 30, 2007

Kosovo's Western Front

Some thoughts about the Western Sahara vote in the Security Council today (at National Interest online) and whether this has any tie-in with Kosovo.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Operation Successor

My thoughts on the question posed this week on Russia Profile's experts group, on who is likely to be Putin's successor as president:

A "cohabitation" between Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister, handling domestic affairs and economic policy, and Sergei Ivanov as president, in charge of Russia’s foreign and defense policies – and also providing a balance among Kremlin factions – is certainly a logical scenario for solving the succession question. Whether it would work – since Ukraine´s attempt at cohabitation between the "two Viktors" has now failed – is another question.

But in one respect – and I would limit my response to this particular question – who the next president of Russia turns out to be will not have much impact on Russia´s key foreign relationships. Whether Hillary Clinton, John McCain or another U.S. presidential hopeful will end up being introduced to a president Medvedev, Ivanov, Yakunin or Sobyanin won’t have much impact on reversing recent negative developments in the relationship between Moscow and Washington. In the absence of a color revolution in Russia itself, official Washington and some of the states of Eastern Europe will consider the next leader of Russia to be no more than the continuation and clone of the current undesirable incumbent. At the same time, the Western Europeans, led by Germany, will continue to invest in Russia and to work for more symbiotic economic relations no matter who sits in the main Kremlin office – although they might be somewhat more reassured to see Medvedev as one of the top leaders. And Italians, Germans, Indians and Chinese, used to having the state play a leading role in a country’s economic life, will adjust to the limitations on foreign investment. And the Anglo-Americans will continue to complain.

I thought that one purpose of Putin´s speech at Munich was designed to "lock in" Russia´s overall foreign policy direction for his successor, just as current economic arrangements are being forged with an eye to enduring beyond the 2008 elections. Who the next president is is less important than the fact that it will continue to be "Putin apres Putin."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

First reaction on the Putin speech

Seems to me the signal is clear: Putin and Russia are going to raise the costs for the United States to do business. No more can Washington hope to use the argument that "we expect your help on these sets of issues because it is in both our interests" but at the same time "these other matters which concern you are not our concern."

Word on the street is the next treaty to be put back under the microscope is the INF treaty; that if the U.S. is making the claim that rogue states are such a danger then Russia needs to reintroduce medium range missiles (because ICBMs don't help against Iran or North Korea).

It also seems that the U.S.-Russia relationship is now headed for the freezer until we have new presidents in both the Kremlin and the White House.

Win Lose or Draw

So we're back to the tired old arguments about "winning" or "losing" in Iraq.

Can we win the war in Iraq? Certainly we can. We can win by pursuing the strategy General Sheridan did for the Shenandoah valley--devastate the country so thoroughly that crows flying over will have to carry their own rations. We can turn the country into glass. We could if we wanted so flood the place with troops and keep every square inch of the country under constant watch that the various insurgenices, militias and terrorist groups would find it very difficult to move about.

This is not the question, though. The question is which of our objectives can we achieve given our self-imposed limitations in terms of the amounts of blood and treasure we are willing to commit. And if we can't, then there are only two directions--change the limitations or stop the enterprise.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The German-Polish-Russian Triangle

Coming back from Berlin, one of the thoughts I am left with is the need for a trilateral Polish-German-Russian commission to meet and see what can be done to improve relationships.

At what point do you move beyond history? One of the German presenters made the case that one of the drivers of the German approach toward Russia is the recognition of the enormous damage caused by World War II and the realization that the best way to achieve German (and by their extension, European) interests is for a Russia that ends up being fully integrated into the European system. A strong Polish sentiment is for Poland (by extension, the rest of Central Europe) to never again be dominated from an imperial center, whether Moscow (or, left unsaid, Berlin).

Most Germans seem to think that Russia's eventual place is in Europe and that, despite fits and starts, Russia is moving along a European path, perhaps 15-20 years behind Central Europe, but still coming along. The Poles seem to think that now is the time to be fortifying Europe's eastern borders so that when Russia resurges again it will not be able to sweep westward.

The discussions on the Northern Stream pipeline that runs under the Baltic were particularly illuminating. The Polish view is that Germany still doesn't see Poland as a reliable ally and is willing to sell them out to get gas directly from Russia; the German view is that gas for Europe will still have to flow through Poland since the Baltic line can't supply all needs and resents the implication that Germany's policies have to be held "hostage" to Poland's inability to improve its relations with Moscow.

There doesn't seem to be much optimism for assuming that a common European approach can be developed if Berlin and Warsaw have substantive disagreements. Poland does not seem yet to trust its major European partners (esp. Germany, France and Italy) to look out for its interests and still prefers to have the United States present as an "unofficial European"--a view that doesn't go over well in other parts of Europe.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Yeltsin as U.S. Grant

CBS News has picked up my National Review column on Boris Yeltsin comparing him with Ulysses Grant, a hero whose reputation was tarnished by a less than successful presidency. Dimitri Simes also shares some of his recollections of his encounters with Yeltsin.

First Thoughts from Europe

I have been attending a conference in Berlin hosted at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), co-sponsored by The Nixon Center and the German Marshall Fund, on Russia, energy security and trans-Atlantic relations, with German, Polish and U.S. participants from the think tank world, government and the private sector.

The definition of energy security is itself elusive and then trying to formulate a common European or even trans-Atlantic approach seems near impossible. As a result, one falls back upon "national interest". There are also significant differences between defining security as "security of supply" or "security of amounts" versus security defined in terms of diversification.

One point--Gazprom is apparently considering developing energy supply "depots" in countries like Hungary, Serbia, Belgium, Germany and Italy--places where significant amounts of natural gas can be held in reserve and which would reduce the impact of any pipeline disruptions. (Hungary is also considering working with GAZPROM to develop the southern Blue Stream route (gas from Russia to Turkey and then into Europe, which would completely bypass Ukraine). One result is that Gazprom might end up splitting Europe into favored customers and regular customers; so is a European energy policy about making sure all Europeans get energy, or that all Europeans are treated equally (and pay the same price)?

Energy policy also can't be divorced from environment and climate change issues (should central and eastern Europe go back to using more coal or developing new nuclear plants); and from other aspects of foreign policy. I was struck by reporting at the conference that by the 2020s, unless significant new gas deposits come on line, Europe would be hit by a 25 percent gap between projected demand and projected supply. So sooner or later Iran's gas reserves are going to come up. The Austrians are already breaking ranks and thinking about new investments in Iran for this reason.

I'll spend more time in the coming days detailing the German-Polish debate on energy and growing concerns about whether problems with the U.S. are the result of the Bush Administration or are more structural in nature.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Thoughts on Energy Security

I'll be attending a conference in Europe on energy security and the trans-Atlantic relationship, and I thought I would prepare by brainstorming here on the blog--comments welcome.

The first thought is that we have no agreed definition of energy security. Is it obtaining the minimal amounts of energy so as to keep our major industries functioning? Or is it the maximalist view, a nearly unlimited supply at low cost? Is there a threshhold from which we should work--e.g. energy security means having firm guarantees as to 60 percent of our daily consumption? 75 percent? 90 percent?

The second is in terms of what constitutes price. Is price only to be understood in monetary terms (hard cash for energy)? Do energy sellers have the right to ask for non-monetary forms of payment (e.g. influence, support, quid pro quos in policy)? Again, where are lines to be drawn?

Does symbiosis between seller and buyer produce the greatest degree of security? Closer integration between buyer and seller? How much should we be willing to pay for redunancy in supply and capacity?

Finally, what about this scenario: Let's assume it is 2015. Let's assume Ukraine is now in NATO. Let's also postulate that as a result of military action some of the Caspian energy infrastructure has been damaged and is still non-functional. Let's also assume that the Baltic system and the Blue Stream lines are at full capacity and Russia has stopped shipping gas across Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, etc.

What happens if Russia stopped selling gas to east European countries and instead they had to get it from a German consortium (Russia shipping directly to Germany) or from a Turkish-Greek-Bulgarian-Romanian consortium (which might also be able to sell gas via Italy from Algeria)--and these middleman marked up the gas 20-30 percent? Would that constitute an energy security crisis (they are still getting gas, but paying a higher price for it)? Would the U.S. want to use NATO pressure to try and get Russia to sell gas directly? I ask because if you take seriously the comments a number of high profile U.S. senators have made over the past year, a Russian refusal to sell gas directly would constitute an aggressive act.

What are U.S. obligations to NATO allies in terms of their energy security? Basic access? Full access?

Comments welcome.

The Grand Illusion

Leon Hadar's latest column has an important reminder of how some of our current difficulties in foreign policy began under the last administration--and how a change of party after 2008 is no guarantee of improvement.
Before going to the extended citation, let me just further say: there is a choice. The United States can be the indispensable nation, or it can promote a community of power system. Either approach carries costs (loss of independence versus burden-sharing). Either choice can be defended. What I am against is the continued illusion that there is no need to choose and there are no costs to pay.
Now, on to Leon's points:

Indeed, one of the major failures of the Clintonites was the unwillingness or inability to put in place political or geostrategic foundations so as to ensure the long-term endurance of the globalization process. Instead, much of what Clinton and his aides pursued in the arena of foreign policy was reactive and "ad-hocish" in nature and based on the assumption that Pax Americana could be maintained with relatively low diplomatic and military costs: sending diplomatic fire brigades to the Middle East to quell fighting between Israelis and Palestinians and pretending to "do something" to revive the "peace process" in the Holy Land; applying a dubious strategy called "dual containment" in order to isolate Iraq and Iran through economic and diplomatic sanctions (and the occasional launching of missiles against Baghdad) while continuing to maintain a US "over-the horizon" military presence in the Persian Gulf; antagonizing Russia by expanding NATO to Russia's borders and insisting that America has the right and the obligation to "export" democracy worldwide.
Instead, Washington could have attempted to work together with the existing powers (EU and Russia) and emerging players (China and India) of the world to create the institutional mechanisms and the policy structure for a multipolar strategy aimed at establishing stability and containing threats like terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the arc of instability stretching from the Balkans through the Middle East and Central Asia to the borders of China, including a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
But that would have necessitated granting more diplomatic influence to the Europeans, making more concessions to the Russians, reaching compromises with the Chinese, irritating the Taiwanese, provoking the Israelis. At the end of the day, the political elites in the capital of the world's only remaining superpower were not willing to take such steps that would have involved high domestic political costs in terms of opposition from powerful constituencies in Washington and would have also diminished their status as the Masters of the Post Cold-War Universe.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

More on the poll ...

58 percent of Chinese believe that the United States does not take their interests into account at all or very much when formulating its foreign policy; 66 percent of Russians concur with that stance. Interestingly enough the figures in India also show that the U.S.-India rapprochement has not yet begun to pay dividends in public opinion, as 46 percent of Indians also hold this view.

The democracy thesis doesn’t quite hold up either. In the past issue of The National Interest, Paul Saunder’s provocative essay “Learning to Love France” made the point that democratic states do not automatically align themselves with U.S. interests simply because of shared forms of government. In response to the question, “Can you trust the United States to act responsibly in the world”, democratic ally Argentina’s population gave a resounding no (84 percent saying not at all or not very much); non-democratic China at 59 percent; democratic France and fellow NATO ally 72 percent; democratic India 52 percent; democratic Korea 53 percent; Thailand (perhaps a faltering democracy?) 56 percent; democratic Peru 80 percent; and Russia 73 percent. In contrast, states that have strong alignment of interests with the United States—the Philippines, Israel, and Poland, gave generally positive responses to that query.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

U.S. Role in the World--Poll Data

A new international poll backs up points Dimitri Simes is making in the forthcoming issue of The National Interest. In “Priorities, Not Delusions”:

It is beyond doubt that the United States is the most powerful nation of our time and that it enjoys an unparalleled combination of military power, economic might, cultural appeal and strong alliances. This gives America the opportunity to have a huge impact in shaping the international system. But huge is not the same as unlimited or even unchallenged. And there is a profound difference between seeking global hegemony and acting as a global leader. … Just look at the language in media reports about U.S. diplomacy today. The United states frequently “presses” and “pushes” and only rarely “persuades”, much less “accommodates.” Washington is almost never described as a leader that represents the perspectives of its followers (though the United States often takes upon itself the right to speak on behalf of “the international community”).

Now, the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs and have released their fourth poll on global attitudes toward the United States.

Some of the conclusions, as laid out in their press release:

Majorities in all 15 of the publics polled reject the idea that “the US should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.” [TWR editorial note: this includes the respondents from the United States, too—showing that a majority of Americans also reject the “sole superpower” approach.] However in only two of them (Argentina and the Palestinian territories), do majorities say that the United States “should withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems.”

Publics in all of the countries surveyed tend to prefer that the United States pursue a cooperative, multilateral approach by doing “its share in efforts to solve international problems together with other countries.” This is true in South Korea (79%), the United States (75%), France (75%), China (68%), Israel (62%), Peru (61%), Mexico (59%), Armenia (58%), Philippines (55%), Ukraine (52%), Thailand (47%), India (42%) and Russia (42%).

This desire for a reduced American role may flow in part from a lack of confidence that the United States can be trusted to “act responsibly in the world.” This lack of confidence was the most common view in 10 out of 15 countries. Two Latin American countries show the highest numbers expressing this mistrust—Argentina (84%) and Peru (80%)—followed by Russians (73%), the French (72%), and Indonesians (64%). But in four countries, majorities or pluralities say the United States can be at least “somewhat” trusted to act responsibly, led by the Filipinos (85%), Israelis (81%), Poles (51%) and Ukrainians (49%).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sarkozy: Turkey and the EU

Some frank commentary from French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy on Turkish chances for membership in the EU (and his counterproposals)--in today's National Interest online:

TNI: Do you think that Turkey, if it meets the conditions set by the EU, has a place in Europe?

NS: Whether Turkey meets the conditions for entry or not does not solve the problem. On this matter, I have always been clear: I do not think Turkey has a right to join the European Union because it is not European. But just because Turkey should not become a member of Europe does not mean that it should be shunned by Europe. Who could seriously argue that the closeness of links between Turkey and Europe, that are the fruit of a long common history and a sincere friendship, should be destroyed if Turkey did not enter the EU? Turkey is a great country that shares a number of our interests and our values. Therefore we must strengthen our ties with the country through a "privileged partnership".

But we should go further and offer to the countries in the Mediterranean the establishment of a "Mediterranean Union", in which Turkey would be a natural pivot. This Union would work closely with the EU. It could organize periodic meetings between its chiefs of states similar to the model of the G8. There could be a Mediterranean Council, like the European Council. The foundations of this area of solidarity and cooperation would be a common immigration policy, commercial and economic development, the promotion of the rule of law, the protection of the environment and the promotion of co-development, with, for example, the creation of a Mediterranean investment bank based on the model of the European version.

Russia-India Naval Exercises, Further on Operation Bite

In the forthcoming issue of The National Interest, former deputy National Security Advisor and ambassador to India Robert Blackwill cautions American policymakers not to expect that just because the U.S.-India relationship is taking off that India is always going to align with the United States. It's a useful point to keep in mind because I am sure that when Operation INDRA-2007 starts we are going to hear some "surprised" reactions from Washington. (Also because Russia seems to be moving into first position in terms of being able to sell 126 MiG-35s to India).

If Operation Bite--the story I have been following--was a "smoke them out" operation--then there have been some benefits. The rumor of an impending U.S. attack on Iran drove oil prices over $70 a barrel and it also forced key U.S. allies in the Gulf to publicly declare that they would not support any such attack and that diplomacy was the only way out. Last week the Qatarese
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmad Abdullah Al-Mahmud stated pretty clearly, "Qatar will not participate in any military actions against Iran." To some extent, this undercuts U.S. efforts to try and build regional support.

Monday, April 16, 2007

No Debate Continued ...

Last week, the president signed legislation that calls for the “timely admission” of Georgia, Ukraine, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007 allocates funds to assist these countries in their bids to join the alliance. This legislation passed by broad bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, and brought together members of the legislature who otherwise never stand shoulder to shoulder on other foreign policy issues—including Iraq.

Once again, the United States has committed itself to expanding NATO with almost no debate about costs or consequences. Whereas the creation of the alliance itself back in the 1940s was hotly and vigorously discussed, the extension of NATO’s geographic reach as well as its commitments to new states is now apparently not a matter for serious dialogue. Why?

I made some inquiries, and received back a number of different answers.

Many seemed to support this legislation for “symbolic” reasons—wanting to demonstrate that any state that meets the criteria should be free to apply, sending a signal that no other country—especially Russia—should have a veto power on who joins the alliance, other conveying concern that these states are in a dangerous region of the world and need protection (again especially from a resurgent Russia). Some of those who supported this bill point to the “trap doors” it contains which do not automatically bind Washington to seeing that these countries become part of NATO—such as provisions about countries fulfilling democratic criteria, continuing with reforms, or actually wanting to join the alliance.

As we have seen, however, symbolic legislation—such as bills passed on Iraq in 1998—can often lay the foundation for actual policy. The message that is being sent is that, barring their own failure, these countries will be brought into NATO.

Another point is that many of those who supported the legislation have very ambivalent views on the reality of the “Russian threat.” On the one hand, Russia is said to be a major problem and that these countries must be given the opportunity to join NATO in order to check Moscow’s regional ambitions. At the same time, many did not feel that there would ever actually be a major confrontation between Russia and NATO. There seemed to be a sense that this was a “no-cost” process—that extending security guarantees would not generate burdensome new obligations for the United States.

Others fall into what I call the “Bosnia delusion”—that outside security guarantees solve a country’s internal divisions. This is especially clear in the case of Georgia—where progress toward NATO membership is taken as the pre-requisite for restoring the country’s territorial integrity (rather than vice-versa). Again, there is little or no discussion of the costs and risks of such an approach.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Questions for our Debate

I spoke last night at George Washington's Elliott School along with Michael Lind of the New America Foundation and GW's own Amitai Etzioni, on "Foreign Policy After Bush."

Despite all the talk about debate and change mouthed by our politicians, I still haven't heard several critical questions being addressed.

The first is the purpose of American power. We have the capabilities to deploy force anywhere in the world and we can make ourselves a power in any region of the world. To what purpose? And more importantly, who should pay for these capabilities? Will the American taxpayer continue to provide a blank check?

The second deals with trade-offs. We don't want nuclear technology to spread, we want to cut down on emissions, we don't want to pay high prices for energy. Unless we accept the unrealistic fantasy that India and China and the rest of the developing world are happy to forego a middle-class lifestyle for their citizens and will continue to accept brown-outs and lack of infrastructure, either we have to share hydrocarbons (and the market does this by raises prices), or burn a lot more coal, or accept that more countries will obtain nuclear power (and possible platforms from which to develop weapons). Something will have to give.

Finally, what steps are we going to take to ensure our position as our relative power declines in the next several decades? Assuming U.S. supremacy will last indefinitely doesn't seem to be an effective strategy.

Food for thought.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Reactions to the Iraq Parliament Bombing

It is going to be interesting to chart reactions to today's bombing at Iraq's parliament and how proponents of different policy options will try to incorporate it into their arguments.

Surge proponents will argue that this shows the "desperation" of the insurgency and the fact that parliament was attacked is not necessarily a sign of instability--haven't there been attacks on India's parliament, shootings at the U.S. Capitol, and so on?

Surge opponents will take this as further proof that the Iraq enterprise is doomed.

What few will discuss is how this attack on parliament today and earlier attacks in the Green Zone (including the attempted assassination of deputy prime minister Al-Zubai) show an increasing relationship and interconnection between those "inside" and "outside."

Listen for a Change

I hope that both the State Department and Marti Ahtasaari listen to the concerns of other governments as they try to sell the plan for phased independence for Kosovo.

I realize that people here believe if you say "no precedent" enough times it come true.

But other countries on the Security Council are still concerned.

Ahtasaari helped to broker an end to the war in Aceh in Indonesia, in part because he crafted a plan based on the devolution of power to the region under the rubric of "substantial autonomy." Now, Jakarta is concerned whether or not this creates the first step in a process that would lead to Aceh's complete separation. After all, the initial goal for Kosovo was also substantial autonomy.

South Africa and Ghana are both concerned about Kosovo precedents in an Africa where many borders are seen as illegitimate and where in many countries there are strong separatist tendencies. Congo which itself has been wracked by wars and insurgencies is particularly worried.

Independence for Kosovo is likely to move forward--but there are reasonable and rational reasons to revisit plans on the table as well as not to adhere to artificial deadlines.

A final note--there are reports that if the UN fails to act in a manner we see appropriate (e.g. immediate endorsement of the Ahtasaari plan) then we would be prepared to encourage a unilateral declaration of independence and to act outside of the UN framework. It is particularly galling to hear that there are a number of Democrats who support this approach--allegedly, I would again stress.

Here, you can't have it both ways. Either the UN framework matters and you work through it--creaks and all, or you don't. And if you don't, then perhaps tap down a bit of the rhetoric against the Bush Administration on this score.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Enemy of the Enemy ...

I have been attending a series of meetings and discussions in the last few weeks that have led me to ponder whether or not the old and often-abused adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is really any guide to policy in the Greater Middle East and Western Asia.

We have reports that the U.S. has been interested in using Sunni-Taliban radicals to infiltrate Iran; that North Korea sold weapons to Ethiopia with U.S. connivance so as to allow the Ethiopians to have an advantage against the Somali Islamists; we have consistent reports that Iran allows Al-Qaeda and Sunni Iraqi resistance fighters passage into the safe havens in Waziristan; there are also reports that Iran has been aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan in its fight against the U.S. (and has contacts with the Sunni fighters in Iraq as well for the same purpose).

Reports often blend into rumor, so I am not vouching for the accuracy of any of these allegations--but it does raise some questions.

Let's take Iran and the Taliban. In the 1990s, the Taliban was a major threat to Iran as long as it controlled more than 90 percent of Afghanistan and was violently anti-Shiite. But now would Iran's calculations change because of the deployment of U.S. forces--and the fact that the Taliban is a guerilla movement preoccupied with fighting the Americans rather than a regime?

The question is about ultimate loyalties and alliances. Would a Sunni militant group that kills Shiites "at home" take aid from Shiites abroad to help them kill Americans? Would a violently anti-American/anti-Western group that wants to engage in hihad but also hates Shiites take aid from the United States to kill Iranians? How far can alliances of convenience go, and at what point do we need to worry about "unintended consequences" as well as loss of control--e.g. weapons provided with one purpose in mind (killing your enemies) could just as easily be turned against your friends.

Just some thoughts.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Further Thoughts on Ukraine

Thanks to those who have offered their own comments either via the blog or directly.

Some further comments:

1) I am a bit leery of using crowd comparisons in Kyiv as a basis for making assessments about democratic legitimacy. How many people gather in a tent city or show up at a rally--while significant for indicating popular sentiment--is still not a proper substitute for the ballot box and formal procedures. Similary, polling data is useful but only to a point.

I bring this up because one can cite the relatively small pro-Rada/pro-Yanukovych crowds and the enthusiasm of the Orange backers and/or the latest polls released showing some 59 percent of Ukrainians don't support Yushchenko's decision to dissolve the Rada. Crowds and polls are not necessarily representative (if they were, the United States would never have invaded Iraq and John Kerry should be president).

2) There is no workable 51 percent solution for Ukraine. Both sides are operating from the principle that getting a bare majority means you have a mandate for sweeping change. As I argued in the International Herald Tribune last week, Ukraine remains a deeply divided society and the best way forward is for politicians to make a government of national unity truly function.

3) Yuliya Tymoshenko cannot be given a pass for her role in creating strife--and a distinction has to be drawn between her political ambitions and Ukraine's westward course. Had she been willing to temper her desire for the premiership then a workable coalition could have been created last summer that would have first prevented Viktor Yanukovych from coming to power and then the current crisis from ever have occuring. Her bloc was more than willing to support the proposals for weakening the position of the presidency--she has not objected to what Yanukovych was trying to do out of principle but because she and her supporters have been unable to wield this power. (Similar to members of Congress who argue that the president of the opposing side can't do something but a president from their own party has free rein).

4) Finally, for those of us observing the events. There is a difference between analysis and advocacy. There is nothing wrong with advocacy (support for a particular party or politician) but the analyst has to be able to dispassionately report the facts and give his or her impressions that are supported by the evidence. We all have preferences--but if one claims to be an analyst those preferences must not override or ignore inconvenient facts.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Aftermath of the Release

It seems that some political circles in the United States are sorely disappointed that the British sailors and marines were released from captivity in Iran and returned home safely. For the second time, it seems, London has let us down by failing to provide the incident that could justify a military strike on Iran without needed to turn to Congress or the recalcitrant UN Security Council (the first was the fact that the British naval vessels held their fire as the sailors were apprehended by the Revolutionary Guard). Prolonged captivity (or perhaps even a few flag-draped coffins) would have done nicely.

Perhaps the Iranians released their captives for the propaganda war in the Middle East. Iranian consular officials have yet to meet with the five detained Iranian citizens taken back in January (the Red Cross has now only had their first visit). Yes, it seems that documents were being destroyed when the five were taken into custody sans passports—but they continue to be held even though our Iraqi ally said the Iranians were in fact diplomats (no matter what other activities they may have been conducting) and should be released. We have the still very murky and mysterious case of another Iranian diplomat who was seized on the streets of Baghdad by unidentified gunmen (who were wearing Iraqi uniforms) two months ago and who was set free as the British personnel were themselves being released. But now the pressure will grow on Washington to “do something” about the “Irbil Five”--especially since Iran's seizure and then release of the British was done with no official linkage between the two cases.

I always thought that the real audience for the unfolding drama of the Brits in captivity was not London or even Washington but the rest of the region—that it demonstrated Iran’s ability to shape the agenda and to show the vulnerabilities of the Western presence. Calling attention to perceived double standards never hurts either—see, we didn’t let the British languish!

The more the crisis in the region is perceived as "Tehran versus the U.S." and not "a defiant rogue spitting in the face of the global community" the U.S. loses. And Iran is well aware that to the extent the neighbors don’t sign on to offensive action against Tehran, the weaker the U.S. platform from which to launch strikes. Iran’s successes at the recent Arab summit help. Also, the appearance of reasonableness—“we are always ready to talk”—helps. Defusing a potential causus belli was critical. Ignoring what increasingly is going to be viewed as provocative behavior from the other side (U.S. attempts to seize Iranians in Iraq, even those who have the cloak of official business around them) makes you seem to be "going the extra mile" for peace. And being able to point to gestures you’ve made and how the other side hasn’t reciprocated also wins points.

And suspicion is growing, at least in some Gulf circles, that the U.S. may want to start a conflict with Iran but not be prepared to shoulder the consequences—and may be looking for an “incident.” The Russian-originated story about the so-called “Operation Bite” is continuing to circulate. But I don’t know if the U.S. appearance of “standing tough” is having the expected effect among our allies of convincing them of our resolve to act.

The high point for the U.S. was the recent Security Council decision. It's going downhill from there.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Rumors of War, Continued

Earlier this week, I quoted Ian Bremmer who observed:

Perceptions in Iran of hostile intent are far greater than generally understood in the West. A Russian journalist wrote several weeks ago about something called "Operation Bite," a well-detailed (and completely imaginary) planned U.S. attack against Iranian nuclear and military facilities, to take place during the low news cycle of Easter weekend.

This is a story that refuses to die. Yesterday, the Kuwaiti newspaper As-Siyasa, citing “unnamed” Washington-based sources, ran a report that the United States is contemplating missile strikes against Iran later this month.

Wishful thinking? Saber-rattling? A reminder to Iran that the U.S. can choose to strike on its own without waiting for an international coalition to develop? Or is this an effort by foreign sources to try and warn Washington off from attempting an attack?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What's Going on in Ukraine

I've already made my case earlier today for the United States to back process over pesonality in the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine.

Ukraine needs to have stable procedures for resolving political issues and this I think is a more overriding interest than whether "pro-Western" politicians gain temporary advantage. I've always been concerned about a trend in Eastern Europe and Eurasia toward having political matters resolved outside of constitutional frameworks. Georgia, for instance, has not had a single instance of stable transition of executive power since becoming an independent state in 1991. Now we have a situation where some in Ukraine seem to want to have constant "repeats" of elections to produce a desired outcome.

I just don't see the evidence that if new elections are held that somehow the Orange Coalition is poised to make great electoral breakthroughs in eastern Ukraine. We'll come back to the same deadlock that we have now. And institutions will be weakened further.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Rumors of War

Also cross-posted on National Interest online.

“Rumors of war” are not helping alleviate tensions in the Middle East.

Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and a contributing editor to The National Interest, made the following observation this morning:

“Perceptions in Iran of hostile intent are far greater than generally understood in the West. A Russian journalist wrote several weeks ago about something called “Operation Bite,” a well-detailed (and completely imaginary) planned us attack against Iranian nuclear and military facilities, to take place during the low news cycle of Easter weekend (this Friday at 4am). The piece wasn’t translated into English and was largely consigned to a few low-circulation blogs in the United States and Britain. But it got wall-to-wall coverage in the Farsi-language Iranian press. This, combined with recent U.S. statements about targeting Iranian agents in Iraq, the capture of Iranian diplomats in Irbil, and significantly increased us military presence in the Persian Gulf has created an aggressive, hostile mentality among Iranian elites, many of whom increasingly feel that the United States is looking for an excuse to attack.”

The Russian news agency RIA-Novosti reported “"Russian intelligence has information that the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in the Persian Gulf have nearly completed preparations for a missile strike against Iranian territory," but qualified this by adding: “American commanders will be ready to carry out the attack in early April, but it will be up to the country's political leadership to decide if and when to attack.” The initial reports gained credence when Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences, voiced his opinion that the story was valid and that the Pentagon was planning to deliver a massive air strike on Iran's military infrastructure in the near future.

So, take these reports, take the withdrawal of large numbers of Russian technicians from Iran (leaving because of payment disputes or because, as suspicious minds might wonder, to avoid being killed in U.S. airstrikes), and then the spectacle of Congressional leaders stripping out of legislation provisions that would require the president to gain prior approval before launching any sort of military strike on Iran—and the stage is set for all sorts of misinterpreted signals.

My prediction is that the British military personnel will not be released until after the reported “start date” for this “Operation Bite.”

Meanwhile, Ha’aretz’s Aluf Benn (also a contributing editor to The National Interest), is reporting : “Israel's political and military leadership has been preparing in recent weeks for the possibility of a Syrian attack on the Golan Heights that will start as a result of a "miscalculation" on the part of the Syrians, who may assume that Israel intends to attack them.” Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin presented information that “Iran and Syria believe that a war this summer will be initiated by the U.S. and that Israel will be involved. He said that the preparations were defensive, adding that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah were not expected to initiate the war.”

When tensions are high, intentions are unclear, and forces mobilized for battle, the possibility of an accidental incident are high. Let’s not be brandishing any guns about if we aren’t prepared to pull the trigger.

Indian National Interest; Folly of Humanitarians

Two items of interest for this Monday:

First, the inaugural issue of Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review is now available. This new journal, as the editors note, will revolve around "themes that we care about dearly: economic freedom, realism in international relations, open society, a culture of tolerance and an emphasis on good governance. The environment, poverty eradication and rural development have long been appropriated by vested ideological and political interests, over which they have come to assert an exclusivity of sorts. We challenge these claims of intellectual monopoly: Pragati will deal with these issues with the seriousness they demand."

Second, something from our colleague and friend J. Peter Pham, which I think follows on nicely from Friday's discussion on Afghanistan.

In an essay, "The Limits of No-Limts", he calls into question the assumptions held by some on the Left for achieving grand transformations that are as utopian and over-ambitious as those held by some on the Right.

“I diverge from ... [the] faith that somehow ... ‘international humanitarians’ can bring about radical transformation that is both legitimate and self-sustaining. ...

"First, they presume there are no limits to our understanding of other peoples, cultures, and polities: we comprehend the obstacles and injustices which need to be removed, and the remedies which need to be prescribed… Second, they presume there are no limits to our discourse… Third, they presume there are no limits to our capabilities to affect transformation through interventions, military or otherwise, or the willingness of the objects of concern to absorb the changes brought to them.

"The United States and other countries with a liberal democratic tradition can and should support the efforts of men and women everywhere to secure for themselves the rights and freedoms we often take for granted. But we should also not be surprised that some societies will push back, sometimes even aggressively. Further, outside advocacy—to say nothing of external intervention—may lead to worsening conditions for those on whose behalf action was undertaken. In the end, the reality which must be recognized is that progress in human rights will be made not so much because outsiders, whether governmental or civil society actors, push it, but because individuals, cultures, and nations appropriate it for themselves. "

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