Monday, December 31, 2007

What's Next for Pakistan, Part II

Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and a contributing editor to The National Interest, makes another critical point: don't forget the impact on Afghanistan.

He writes, "The bigger related problem is actually in Afghanistan, where existing international forces will prove incapable of doing much more than maintaining the security of president Hamid Karzai and a select number of additional government forces. Tribal leaders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan will quickly learn that the calculus for their political advantage is solidly on the side of Islamic radicals. Short of significant additional NATO funding and troop commitments on the ground by spring--when the snow clears and mountain passes are again traversable--that will lead to a significant spike in terrorist violence both in Afghani and Pakistani urban centers and, longer term, internationally."

But I don't think additional NATO funding--and certainly new troops--is in the cards.

What's Next for Pakistan

Nitin Pai, the editor of Pragati - The Indian National Interest Review, has this to say:


So who'll replace Benazir Bhutto as the candidate that is on the right side of Musharraf, the United States and popular opinion?

No, not Nawaz Sharif. At least, not in time for the January 2008 elections. It would take an enormous amount of reconciliation to bridge the Sharif's distance from Musharraf and the United States. Such a reconciliation is possible but unlikely in the given timeframe. For now, Nawaz Sharif will have to remain content with being the biggest political leader…in the opposition.

There are two front-runners, as of now, and one wild-card. The PML (Q)'s Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, former chief minister of Punjab province and Makhdoom Ameen Fahim, Benazir Bhutto's deputy and caretaker leader of the PPP all these years, have the best shot at the post of prime minister. The wild-card, of course, is Aitzaz Ahsan, a member of the PPP, but too closely identified with the lawyer's struggle for the restoration of the sacked chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

Why Pervez Elahi and Ameen Fahim? Well, because they meet the three criteria better than anyone else. Pervez Elahi will perhaps be acceptable to the United States which needs a Plan B, but his close association with the Musharraf regime won't endear him to Pakistanis outside the Punjab province. But since the election is about political engineering and not really about securing a popular mandate, Pervez Elahi comes out as a strong contender for the prime ministership. His stewardship of Punjab over the last few years will not harm his chances with the powerful commercial interests of Pakistan's industrial heartland.

Ameen Fahim has two question marks between him and the prime ministership. Will the PPP survive and hand him the mantle of leadership? How much of the military establishment's political engineering weaken the PPP's seat tally? It is conceivable that the PPP under Ameen Fahim can ride to power on the back of a sympathy wave, like the Congress Party under P V Narasimha Rao in 1991 after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. But unlike in Narasimha Rao's case, Pakistan's election is unlikely to be free and fair.

Indeed, it is possible that the military establishment will rig the vote to ensure that the parliament is divided between these two formations—the PML(Q) having decided to stay out—so that the Islamist parties, or the MQM can play kingmaker. Not unlike what was in place for the last few years.

Aitzaz Ahsan is the wild card. Technically he is a PPP leader, but his identification with former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry makes him unpalatable to Musharraf, and at least so far, to the United States. But he has his supporters, has acquired a lot of popularity and shares the kind of outlook that made Benazir Bhutto popular with the United States. Ironically, to rise to power he will have to compromise with Musharraf—that means jettisoning the cause of the judiciary and the reason for his rise in public esteem.

Resource Wars Trump League of Democracies Every Time

One of the things I liked about the forthcoming The Next American Century by Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen--one of the books I review under the rubric of "FDR's Children" in the January/February issue of TNI--was their bluntness and honesty. They pointed out that, as much as we may want to ignore or downplay it, that democratic states as much as the non-democracies play a role in sustaining regimes like the ones in Sudan and Burma.

Whether or not "resource wars" are real or imagined--the subject of a pretty lively debate building on David Victor's essay in the last issue--the concept does exercise a hold over the imagination of policymakers. So I wasn't shocked when I read this Indian op-ed, entitled, "India in the Race for Resources". And the recommendation:

Like the US, Russia, France and China, we need to put our national interest first and not be swayed by external pressure, as we appear to be doing in Myanmar.

Foreign Policy Advisors Update

Last week, I contributed to NI online's foreign policy advisor index a piece, "From Your Blog to God's Ear," a commentary on how bloggers have begun to dissect the foreign policy records of the key campaign advisors and how, over time, this discussion finds its way into the mainstream print media.

I noted that, by the time Frank Rich wrote about this in his New York Times column on December 23, he had created the impression that voters are not only selecting candidates--but should also take into account who their advisors are in making their choice.

A TWR reader sent me a private note, with a complaint--why so much attention being paid to a Foreign Affairs article that Lee Feinstein wrote, and less attention to Susan Rice's actual record while in the Clinton administration? "I've just finished reading Howard French's A Continent for the Taking and don't find her role in shaping U.S. policy toward Africa, starting with the non-action during the Rwanda genocide, to be all that enlightening. Don't Iowa voters need to know that too?" [That last point is in reference to my observation that Rich's column about foreign policy advisors was now circulating on blogs in Iowa]

It's a good point, but more importantly it continues to prove what I have been saying--that it is unprecedented that at this point in the election cycle--the primary season--that so much attention is being paid to advisors.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Kenya, Russia, Pakistan

TWR readers may be interested in tracking down Andrei Tsygankov's "From Russia With No Love Left" (Johnson's Russia List 2007-#264), where he notes in his conclusion, "If Russia is not heard this time, its desperation may turn into a conscientious effort to sabotage the United States’ policies as a way to preserve a room to maneuver."

Anatol Lieven offers his recommendations on Pakistan, advising, "As far as Washington is concerned, the best course of action for the moment is once again to do nothing, since nothing the U.S. can do in the short term will do any good."

The Kenyan elections are interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, not a lot of Western focus or attention--after all, Kenya is not one of the countries in the front row of the March of Freedom. But what you have is interesting: the opposition that took down the government of arap Moi in 2002 is in turn being replaced by its own opposition that named itself in honor of Ukraine's "Orange revolution." And Nobel Prize winners and people the West like are losing elections to the coalition put together by Raila Odinga.

I find Odinga interesting because of his "mixed messages"--a big businessman who retains a good deal of his socialist education; an elected leader who is also effectively the head of the Luo in Kenya. He combines multiple styles of authority--elected leader, chieftain, business figure--and his voters voted for him and his people because they expect delivery of social goods and services. It is a reminder that in most democracies people don't vote for abstracts--they vote for concrete bread and butter issues.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Saudis and Pakistan

A TWR reader who noted both my "Update" earlier today on the Saudi interest in Pakistan and my citation of a M.K. Bhadrakumar column in yesterday's post alerted me to a Christmas day column by the same individual that appeared in an Indian website, "The Mainstream", on Saudi Arabia's role in determining Pakistan's future.

This was written, of course, prior to Bhutto's death on Thursday, but there are some interesting points, which I submit for the consideration of TWR readers:

"Saudi Arabia’s insistence on Sharif’s return was at least partly motivated by its skepticism over the efficacy of the democracy project choreographed by the George W. Bush administration for Pakistan. ... Besides, Saudi Arabia feels disillusioned by the bloody mess that the Bush Administration’s “war on terror” has created in the region. The criticality of the Afghan situation is worrisome as Saudi national-security concerns are directly affected. Riyadh estimates that the time may have come to seek an Islamic solution to the crisis. (Emphasis added by TWR)

"... The Saudi calculation would be to work toward a political accommodation of the Taliban as a step in the direction of isolating the radical elements, which have gained ascendancy in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions.

"In sum, the Bush Administration’s ill-conceived scheme to bring about a transitional partnership between the Pakistani military and the “political centre” has floundered. The US pursued its partnership project even when it became apparent that the military wouldn’t cohabit with Bhutto. The result was a near impasse.

"The Saudis stepped in at that point and a new transition strategy attuned to Pakistani realities has begun to unfold. Much as the Pakistani military understands the strategic imperative of keeping a working relationship with the US and realises that anything else would be catastrophic for Pakistan’s interests, it is also incumbent on Washington to reconcile that there are limits beyond which it cannot push the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

"Equally, Washington must accept that Islamic nationalism is a permanent feature of Pakistani national life. The West cannot impose its clones on Pakistan’s democratic life. There is a high probability that Nawaz Sharif may turn out to be the future of Pakistan."

Pakistan After Bhutto

Some initial thoughts on the death of Benazir Bhutto. One correspondent wrote to me that there is another issue to consider--the future of the PPP and its connection to the Bhutto family. Can the party transform itself beyond the Bhuttos, will it have the cohesiveness to remain a major political force upholding and promoting its vision for Pakistan? An interesting question, again considering the South Asian political pattern of powerful families being intertwined with specific political movements.

UPDATE: A possible Saudi role for a Pakistani political transition? Helping to mediate a transitional unity government? A focus on returning to the Waziristan cease-fire model--no interference with Islamists at "home" if they cease their links with groups operating outside of Pakistan?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Confident about a "League of Democracies?"

If you are, please read M. K. Bhadrakumar's essay in the Asia Times. It sounds like a number of democracies are cementing key business deals with Russia--and perhaps by extension Iran--that makes the breezy scenarios about democracies coming together to oppose the non-democracies a bit harder to accept.

Of course, the deals Bhadrakumar cites could fall through. Perhaps he is too pessimistic. But the trends he discusses are real--and U.S. strategic thinkers need to do more than just complain about them.

WWWD: Washington and Talleyrand

I came across an interesting account of why a meeting between Washington and Talleyrand never happened when Talleyrand spent a time in exile in Philadelphia in the 1790s--and the relevance and implications for today are interesting to ponder.

When Talleyrand left France, and after he was expelled from Britain, he arrived in the United States and there was pressure on Washington to meet with him, as a leading French "moderate" and supporter of ordered liberty.

Washington said he could not meet with an opposition figure of a country with whom the United States had good and friendly relations in his capacity as president of the United States. Some tried to propose a version of the "drop-in"--have Talleyrand "accidently" meet Washington while perhaps meeting with someone else in the government. Talleyrand himself refused, saying that if he could not go in by the front door he would not climb in via the back--in other words, either he and the president should be able to meet openly, or not at all.

What I found most interesting was Washington's request that American "civil society" take up the cause of receiving exiles from the Terror and that in so doing they could convey the sentiments of the American people. In other words, a separation of powers and responsibility between the executive branch having to carry on diplomacy and civil society defending and promoting American ideals.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Future of the Trans-Atlantic Relationship

My take at the Atlantic Community.

Does a strong transatlantic partnership make sense from a realist perspective? What are the limits of such a partnership?
Certainly, a strong partnership makes perfect sense from a realist perspective, given that there are very strong shared interests on both sides of the Atlantic. Both Europe and the United States benefit from an international system that is based on promoting integration and trade, extending a zone of peace and prosperity, and keeping lines of communication open all around the world. Moreover, when the United States and Europe act in tandem, it is much easier to form true global coalitions. Finally, there are enormous savings that result from “burden sharing” among the members of the alliance.

I do believe it is important, however, to recognize the limits. And the first is that shared values are an insufficient basis for partnership without compelling shared interests. European states do not have a strong and enduring relationship with like-minded democracies in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Japan or Australia, in the same way that they do with the United States, because Australia and Germany do not have overriding common economic or security interests.

Moreover, even when Americans and Europeans agree on the issues, it does not mean that everyone reaches the same conclusions as to what policy is most effective. Other factors beyond shared values, including geographic proximity, can change a country’s assessment. Germany’s decision to continue to engage Russia and deepen economic ties, or France’s outreach to Libya—including new weapons sales—fly in the face of American preferences for using isolation and pressure as the main tools to try and effect change. But then again, the United States does not share a “neighborhood” with these states. ...

Coping with the implications of the rise of China could prove to be problematic for the transatlantic relationship. Beijing has announced its desire to create a strategic partnership with the EU. Could not, in the future, Europeans decide that they could live with a world with defined European and Chinese spheres in a way that the United States, interested in keeping Asia an “open door” with no dominant hegemon, would find it necessary to oppose? A transatlantic community that came together in the face of a shared Soviet threat might not do so in the face of different assessments about China.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Unpredictable Relations

On Monday, in stating my objections to Kagan's concept of the league of democracies, I noted Richard Haass' point about the world entering the "Palmerstonian moment." In today's Financial Times, he previews his NI essay and makes some crucial observations, among them:

"But there is another reason for the likelihood that the transatlantic alliance will count for less, one that reflects not so much what is going on in either Europe or the US as changes in the world as a whole. Alliances require predictability: of threat, outlook and obligations. But it is precisely this characteristic that is likely to be in short supply in a world defined by shifting threats, differing perceptions and societies with widely divergent readiness to maintain and use military force. The 21st-century world is far more dynamic and fluid than the relatively stable and predictable period of the cold war.


"This assessment is not limited to transatlantic ties. The same will hold for US ties with, say, Japan, South Korea or Australia. In the case of Japan, what will limit the depth of the relationship will be the lack of political consensus in Japan favouring a robust role for that country in the region and the world. South Korea will be preoccupied by events on its peninsula. Australia will be selective in its willingness to partner the US, as the recent decision by the new prime minister to reduce its role in Iraq underscores."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

ANC Leadership Vote and "League of Democracies"

Jacob Zuma won his bid to become president of the African National Congress, meaning that he is the likely 2009 ANC nominee for the South African presidency--and, given the ANC's dominance of the political landscape, the next president of South Africa. It is hard, looking at his background that he would align South Africa with any Washington-led "League of Democracies."

Instead, following the analysis of Christian E. Rieck from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, what might end up happening would be the formation not of a U.S.-led league but some sort of community of "southern" democracies--which might include India and South Africa and others--a new non-aligned movement.

South Korean elections tomorrow

How will the election of Lee Myung-bak as president of South Korea affect ties with the United States? (Assuming, a separate question altogether, that a special prosecutor does not end up bringing an indictment that would prevent him from being inaugurated.)

A conservative, yes. But one with a focus on the economy--on boosting economic growth and the standard of living. To the extent that the U.S. economy is slowing down, and China's is booming, this means we should expect continued evolution of Seoul's ties to Washington--continuing to see the United States as an important provider of security--especially in keeping vital shipping lanes open--but more inclined to accommodate China's continued rise in the region. I wouldn't expect a President Lee to embrace openly the notion of some sort of alliance of Asian democracies--given Korea's perception of Japan as a rival--to balance Beijing.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Responding to Kagan

Over at the Atlantic Community, Robert Kagan again makes the case for seeing the world redivided between "the democrats" and "the autocrats." I've posted this response:

If only it were so easy ... a world divided between democracies and autocracies. Facts, of course, are stubborn things.

Autocratic governments in Sudan and Burma are kept functioning not simply because of Chinese investment but the continued need of other Asian democracies--India and Japan among them--for resources.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to see the split over Kosovo as one between good democracies and bad autocracies? But how does one explain the ongoing debate within the European Union--and the concerns of states like Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Slovakia, among others, for a solution to Kosovo that both bypasses the United Nations and is imposed in the absence of agreement from both Pristina and Belgrade? Last time I checked, these states were all democracies. And I don't know to whom Mr. Kagan has been speaking with in New Delhi--but there are certainly concerns about a Kosovo precedent that could then be applied to Kashmir. On the other hand, both democratic India and autocratic China have signaled that if Kosovo is considered to be purely a European problem and that neither the United States nor the EU will ever seek to use Kosovo as a precedent anywhere else in the world, they might be prepared to let "this one slide."

Another objection one could raise is that the line dividing democracies from autocracies is so often blurred. As we've seen over the last decade it is quite easy for a democratically -elected leader to begin to dismantle checks and balances to create a more authoritarian government. Is this league of democracies going to be constantly shifting its membership: is Ukraine a democracy when it is led by Prime Minister Tymoshenko but not one when it is led by Prime Minister Yanukovych?

Finally, nothing has stopped or prevented such a league from taking shape. But the Community of Democracies is stillborn, the Democracy Caucus at the UN doesn't seem to be moving, and democracies don't agree on how they should frame policies toward the so-called rogues. There wasn't a great deal of approval for Nicolas Sarkozy's efforts to reintegrate Colonel Muammar Qaddafi into the club of world leaders.

There are time when democracies can form ad hoc groupings to address specific issues--such as the joint response of India, Japan, Australia and the United States to the tsunami. But to continue to extrapolate from such examples that some sort of permanent alliance can be formed is wishful thinking. I believe Richard Haass has it right when he describes the era we find ourselves in as the "Palmerstonian moment"--where states will cooperate with each other on some issues but not on others, and as a result the value of formal alliances will continue to decline.

Seductive idea, this league of democracies--but not grounded in reality.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Nothing Like Winning Friends and Influencing People

Don't think this approach is going over too well at the climate change conference in Bali.

From James L. Connaughton, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality:

"And so, we will lead, the U.S. will lead, and we will continue to lead, but leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow."

An approach that is working so well so far in so many different areas.

Certainly not the sentiments that James Baker expressed a few months back!

My Last Post on Kosovo

The Secretary of State has spoken. " ... the fact of the matter is Kosovo and Serbia are never going to be one again, and that's the reality ... there isn't any more point to further negotiation."

Fine. So now let's be ready for all of the" day after" consequences. Change of status does not turn Kosovo into a peaceful multiethnic harmonious democracy. As East Timor has discovered, independence does not bring automatic prosperity.

Things may go well--or they may go poorly. But this time there are no excuses about "we couldn't have known" or "we never foresaw" the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead.

Annapolis/India: Hope I am Wrong

To close out the week--

Have we lost all momentum from the Annapolis meeting last month? Are we back to "business as usual" in the Middle East? Lebanese General François al-Hajj was buried today. Is Lebanon returning to some degree of de facto Syrian suzerainty?

Perhaps there are frantic and feverish negotiations taking place in private that I don't know about--and that would be wonderful--that would lay out an agenda for the follow-up meeting in Moscow and keep the Middle East process moving forward.

The Indian newspapers carry the U.S. "spin" on the nuclear deal; that all we are seeing is politics as usual and everything is on track. I hope they are right. The Indian Right and the Indian Left have both invoked sovereignty as their watchword for opposing the deal--the Right not wanting to lose the ability for India to develop its nuclear deterrent, the Left wanting India to have an "independent" foreign policy. Will this dynamic change in 2008?

I'm happy to be wrong--but I don't see dramatic breakthroughs coming in either case.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Georgia: Doing Things the Putin Way?

Transparency International's Georgia branch had this to report about the way the pre-election campaign is being conducted in Georgia:

"Since the announcement of early elections, the ruling party has introduced a number of social initiatives, including increased pensions, increased salaries for teachers, and one-time vouchers for socially vulnerable groups.  These new initiatives were not foreseen in either 2007 budget or 2008 draft budget. ...

"Intimidation has been a significant problem in the regions.  Citizens have reported that public officials are announcing that voting will not be confidential and that there will be cameras placed inside voting booths.  Citizens have also said that ruling party officials are collecting copies of IDs without offering any explanation for their use.  Opposition parties have reported difficulties in opening regional headquarters and public servants that support opposition parties have been threatened with dismissal if they publicly support the opposition."

Sounds pretty similar to the United Russia playbook. And as we can see from the Duma results, it works! 

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Medvedev, Putin, the Prime Minister and the Napoleonic Precedent

I told the Voice of America yesterday, in response to a query about whether I thought Vladimir Putin would become Dimitry Medvedev's prime minister: "I have difficulty seeing Putin as a prime ministerial figure. The prime minister is still subordinate to the president, because of the way the Russian constitution is configured. I think this was a symbolic statement, simply saying he accepts the leadership of Putin. But, I also think they will still find another way for Putin to exercise a preeminent leadership."

I accept the point that the constitution could be changed.

Why not, however, just adopt the Napoleonic model? Napoleon was granted by virtue of a referendum (which many believe was fixed) the title, "First Consul for life."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sarkozy Implementing Etzioni's Advice?

Despite a firestorm of criticism both at home and from abroad, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has welcomed Libya's Muammar Qaddafi in an official visit to France.

Certainly the lucrative contracts being signed between France and Libya provide a reason for the red carpet--but there is another motive as well. Sarkozy believes that linking clear rewards to changes in the behavior of "rogue states" is a necessary tool of statecraft--a theme echoed in Amitai Etzioni's Security First. As Sarkozy puts it, "If we don't embrace nations who take the road towards respectability, what do we say to those who take that road in the opposite direction?"

Some Thoughts on Medvedev ...

I've made some initial comments at NI online by referring back to some initial predictions made in October 2005, the analysis of which I think still holds up today.

Where Now for Kosovo?

The deadline expired today. Are we now counting down to a unilateral declaration of independence, or a fresh round of talks?

Ever the optimist, Greece's Ambassador to the United States Alexandros Mallias argues that the Thessaloniki Processprovides the best way forward for preserving regional stability.

My thoughts, written for the journal "New Serbian Political Thought", on why the U.S. stance towards Kosovo contradicts established American policy on dealing with new democracies as well as on the preference for maintaining territorial integrity.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Closing out the Russian Elections Theme

The unofficial transcript from yesterday's briefing held at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, in which I took part, should be up at some point today. An interesting discussion, substantive and trying to get beyond sound bytes in favor of analyzing long term trends.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Power of the Decree

Finishing up on the Venezuela/Russia theme for the week, keep a careful eye on decrees that will be issued by the presidents in both countries. Chavez may have lost the referendum, but let's see how many of the proposals that were on the ballot will be enacted as executive orders. In Russia, let's see what decrees (as well as Duma legislation) may be passed that would transfer power or authority to bodies that stand outside the constitutional order (United Russia, the security council, etc.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More of a Bad Feeling on India ...

I always said that the ill-advised letter sent by members of Congress earlier this year to Indian prime minister Singh would backfire. The U.S.-India nuclear deal came up for discussion again in the Rajya Sabha and former Minister for External Affairs and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha unleashed another withering attack against the Singh government for essentially selling out India's national interests. He asked whether the government had been unable to secure acquiring nuclear reactors from Russia under U.S. pressure. The Indian Communist leader joined the chorus, arguing that Singh's government had scuppered a proposed gas pipeline from Iran also under U.S. pressure.

A number of observers have questioned whether Singh can get the deal through if there are more than 300 deputies in the lower house opposed and a majority in the upper house as well.

The Indo-Asian News Service reports:

"With the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which leads the four-party Left Front, making it clear in again that it will not allow the deal to be completed as it will make India a 'subordinate ally' of the US, the Indian government's bid to make the nuclear deal operational appeared doomed to failure.

"At the end of nearly eight-hour long debate that went on till 11.30 p.m., it appeared that a majority of the MPs were opposed to the nuclear deal either because they suspected it will affect India's strategic programme or they had misgivings about the handle it will allegedly give to Washington in manipulating New Delhi's foreign policy."

Not looking good at all--and the posturing of U.S. members of Congress helped to play right into this.

SCO versus OSCE

So not only do different international organizations have their own opinions, they increasingly have their own facts. An interesting item from Regnum:

"Observers from CIS and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) have disagreed with observers from OSCE and PACE on the nature of parliament vote for the State Duma of the 5th convocation held in Russia Dec 2 2007. The former two groups find the vote democratic, free, and transparent, while the latter ones call it unfair and failing to meet many standards of OSCE and the Council of Europe."

So if the OSCE won't give you a clean bill of health, the SCO will. Interesting to see whether this marks yet another trend in the evolution of the World Without the West, with the traditional "certifiers" of elections now facing some competition--and with alternatives now in place to dliute the ratings given by the OSCE.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Comparing Venezuela and Russia

My colleague Justine Rosenthal has raised an interesting point--what does the victory of United Russia in the Russian elections and the defeat of the constitutional amendments in Venezuela say about the limits of voters to give more and more executive power to their respective national leaders?

In Russia, I think that what people have endorsed is a general course of leadership without being too concerned about questions of structure. It is a vote for a continuation of Putinism--but don't bother us with details.

In Venezuela, in contrast, it is clear that a segment of the "Chavista" electorate did not follow his recommendations to vote for the constitutional package. As in Russia, there does appear to be a gap between the personal popularity of the president and his electoral coattails. I think a number of people who sympathize with the "Bolivarian agenda" of Hugo Chavez nonetheless still want some checks and balances on executive power to stay in place.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Russian Elections--Inside Story

Just completed an appearance for Al-Jazeera's Inside Story on the Russian elections. A good discussion and several points of contention that are sure to be debated in the following days and weeks:

--How popular is President Putin? 70 percent and higher, or is the figure lower, in the mid-40s?
--How well has the Russian economy been doing? Still largely driven by oil and gas exports or is it diversifying? Is prosperity really trickling down or not--and is there a real emerging middle class?
--Does the West have any real leverage on Russia's domestic affairs?

How these questions are answered in turn determines one's recommendations.

I tend to think Putin's popularity is genuine, even if a bit overblown, and that most Russians do give him the credit for the changes that have taken place. I think that the economy has shown clear signs of improvement and that this is more than just oil and gas--although Russia remains overly dependent on these revenues at present. I think that the West has increasingly limited leverage not only because of my answers to questions 1 and 2 but also because the West itself has needs--for energy, for Russia's cooperation in a variety of areas, etc. that limits the extent to which we can exercise pressure on Moscow because we don't like its domestic policies. So we are going to have to learn to live with these results.

The U.S. Dilemma post-Russian elections

We generally have a binary approach to elections: elections are fair and reflect the view of the majority, or elections are unfair and the results are imposed on the unwilling majority.

What's happening today in Russia seems to be something different: an unfair/unfree election where the majority of the country has no real objections to the result. Legitimacy without the legitimation of the process?

Venezuela and Russia Votes

What is interesting is that both Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez are seeking to institutionalize and perpetuate the "courses" they have set for Russia and Venezuela, respectively, and to create conditions which would prevent future elections from being able to significantly reverse their decisions.

Napoleon used to refer to what he was as putting in place the granite blocks of the state edifice so that it would be more difficult to remove or restore the old regime.

In Russia, the pitch to voters is to support a "Putin course" but not specific changes to the constitution or legal structure; but in Venezuela today's vote is meant to clearly change the country's legal framework. What is interesting is that while many Russian voters seem comfortable with the Putin direction, Venezuelans--even those that support the direction Chavez is taking the country--seem more hesitant to overhaul the constitution. So while most Putin supporters will give their vote to United Russia--but not all--what happens in Venezuela if the referendum fails--so that you have a country where the president still enjoys majority support but most of the country doesn't want to build the "granite blocks" of his Bolivarian revolution?

First Reactions to Russian Elections

Some preliminary thoughts:

Turnout appears to be normal--at least no signs, from what I've been reading, that there were massive boycotts of the polls, at least in the major cities, where one would expect opposition groups to have some influence.

Is the "60 percent threshhold" for United Russia really a definitive marker--that is, that anything less than that represents a tacit defeat for Putin? What I find more interesting--and perhaps a sign that polling data does remain somewhat accurate--is that Putin's personal popularity ratings do not transfer automatically to support for United Russia, meaning that there are at least 15-20 percent of voters who express support for the president but aren't necessarily casting votes for United Russia. I would assume that some of them will cast votes for the Communists or other parties--but certainly I think by now, in contrast to 2003, there is much more alignment between active support (or at least passive acceptance) of Putin and support for United Russia.

How the Kremlin's attempt to create a managed two party system around United and Fair Russia didn't work, but there is a silver lining: if the Communists become the main opposition party this guarantees that most people with property--even if they aren't thriled with UR--won't line up behind a Communist party that is still largely unreformed in its ideology, unlike the ex-communists of central and eastern Europe.

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