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Entries in Obama Administration (112)

11:02AM

Kerry not a fan of Asian "pivot"? I smell a plot!

WAPO story:  China is happy with John Kerry because it thinks he'll drop the 'pivot to Asia'

Obviously, you can be a strategic thinker and disagree with the transparency of the Obama administration's containment strategy on China.  You can also believe there's just as much - or more - work to be done right now in the Middle East (Spring, Iran's nukes, Palestine, Syria).

But this is a weird piece, because I don't think the Chinese are dumb enough to believe that Kerry can "drop" the pivot if he so chooses.

But the positive Chinese press pours in, apparently.

From the piece:

Kerry himself sort of predicted this when he said of the pivot during his confirmation hearings, “You know, the Chinese take a look at that and say, what’s the United States doing? They trying to circle us? What’s going on?”

The author Max Fisher's judgment is a bit simplistic:  if Kerry is just trying to make nice with China, then fine, but if he's serious and actually focuses on the Middle East, then China benefits!

Sounds to me like WAPO is trying to "out" Kerry on China in this sophomoric piece.  People on that paper have too much time on their hands and too little non-inside-the-Beltway stuff to cover.  WAPO is truly a small-town newspaper.  Always has been, always will.

9:57AM

Vali Nasr blasts Obama foreign policy (and team) in new book

Cohen talks about it in a recent NYT column.  Pretty brutal depiction.

Nasr, as you may know, is respected expert on Iran and he spent two years working for State.

“IT is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.”

This stern verdict comes from Vali Nasr, who spent two years working for the Obama administration before becoming dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In a book called “The Dispensable Nation,” to be published in April, Nasr delivers a devastating portrait of a first-term foreign policy that shunned the tough choices of real diplomacy, often descended into pettiness, and was controlled “by a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers.”

I have little doubt in the verdict, but frankly, this is what the American people voted for in both 2008 and 2012: focus on the economy and temporize on foreign affairs.

Cohen agrees:

Nasr was led to the reluctant conclusion that the principal aim of Obama’s policies “is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion.”

In this sense the first-term Obama foreign policy was successful: He was re-elected. Americans wanted extrication from the big wars and a smaller global footprint: Obama, with some back and forth, delivered. But the price was high and opportunities lost.

Lots of material on how Nasr's boss Holbrooke was dissed and marginalized - material sure to elicit a yawn.

Real point is not the realignment.  Again, the public wanted that and Obama delivered.

Real point is total lack of care regarding how it went down.  Doesn't really cost anything to make a decent effort but it was not made, to the point of marginalizing Clinton as SECSTATE whenever possible.

You get the feeling that Obama is big on control and having himself recognized constantly as the guy in charge and the smartest guy by far, so if foreign policy doesn't matter (after all, he got a Nobel for just being sworn in the first time), then he prefers non-action to any action that isn't attributed solely to his genius.

Cohen uses the word "petty" a lot, which is a sad commentary on Obama.

But the larger truth remains:  as long as people feel bad or weak on the economy (and most still do), there's no thought given to foreign policy and Obama knows that.

8:27AM

A heal-the-force national security team

Obama selecting Chuck Hagel as SECDEF and John Kerry as SECSTATE could not send a stronger signal: two Viet war vets with intimate knowledge of the hollowed-out force phenomenon of the later 1970s.

Look for both to do their best, now that Iraq is done for the US and Afghanistan is slated for closure next year, to avoid sending US forces anywhere if possible.

This will be portrayed as an "abandonment" of the world, but it's chickens coming home to roost.  Bush burned out the force, so Obama is tasked with "healing" it.  "Heal the force" is a Pentagon term of art.  It carries great meaning and is emotionally charged when it comes to the subject of actual servicemen and women and their families.  It is a different definition of patriotism, and, quite frankly, it fits the times.  America is on the verge of significant renewal (if the politicians could only get out of the way), and it needs to husband key resources.

8:29AM

China's future captured in perfect lead paragraph/sentence

Here it is from a WSJ piece:

China's latest evidence of sputtering growth underlnes a dilemma for its incoming leaders: They can shore up the economy by doubling down on an exhausted growth model, or take a risky political bet on reforms that could worsen the slowdown in the short term.

That not only captures where China is today (as in, this quarter), it basically captures where China is for the next decade or so.  I mean, what happens to a "communist" party when the progressive era necessarily arrives?

Well, the first instinct is to try and run it yourself, maintaining single-party rule, but that's basically impossible. The pain meted out will create blowbacks, no matter whether you direct it at the "gilded age" elite or the increasingly demanding middle class or the decidedly put-upon working class.  Worse, in the end, you'll need to disappoint them all on some level, which is where that throw-the-bums-out dynamic comes in handy:  a party wins and does what is necessary, outlives its welcome, and then gets tossed.  But in a sustainable progressive era, the opposition party that then comes in also does its bit, just tackling a different segment until its welcome is worn out.  And so on.

That's how the US did it 1890 onward.  When the Dems or GOP won, they won big and ruled big and changed big, and we got a much better country for it. 

China lacks that ability due to the stultifying nature of single-party rule, which, contrary to our green-eyed fantasies, is NOT more agile or adept or bold or visionary in its leadership.  Instead, it is self-preserving in the extreme.  It's bread-and-circuses.  It rules by fear and in fear of its own public.  

The WSJ piece is all about giving more money to consumers and the "dangers" inherent to that process.  It's a proxy description of the coming democratization of China, because giving money to consumers is giving decision-making power to the average citizen, versus hoarding it within the elite.  It's the economic prelude to the democratic denouement.

China has already reached the democratizing point.  I still believe it will muddle along with years before taking the plunge, in part because of that stultifying nature of single-party rule.  If we're lucky, Xi Jinping will be a real leader, but even if he is, we'll most likely have to wait a good 5-7 years to see that turn out.  That's how long it will take him to consolidate power as the evidence for the needed change piles up all around him.

And yes, those two dynamics are deeply intertwinned.

America's job?  Don't provide any stupid excuses for Beijing to avoid facing their own realities.

The "strategic pivot" is just such an excuse, which tells me Obama and Co. don't really understand China.

Sad to say, Romney's answers are beyond stupid and have no chance of being implemented (thank God).

9:16AM

Some common sense on S. China Sea dispute, where US China hawks are losing all perspective

I've known Doug Paal for many years now (going back to my early Naval War College days), and he's an eminently sensible fellow with a huge background in Chinese affairs.

Some key bits from a Diplomat piece just published:

The South China Sea presents complicated issues of evolving international law, historic but ill-defined claims, a rush to grab declining fish stocks, and competition to tap oil and gas reserves. Beijing’s much discussed “nine-dashed line,” that purports to give China a claim on about 80 percent of the South China Sea and its territories, used to be an eleven-dashed line. Two dashes separating Chinese and Vietnamese claims were resolved through bilateral negotiations years ago. This suggests that the remaining nine dashes are equally negotiable. But China rigidly refuses to clarify the basis for its claims, whether they are based on the accepted international law of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) or the less widely accepted historical assertions. Beijing’s refusal to choose suggests it wants to maximize its legal and political leverage, even as the growth of its military and maritime assets gains physical leverage over its weaker neighbors.

Beijing is not alone. Hanoi has leased oil exploration blocks in contested waters, and Manila is trying the same. Their colonial occupations left a discontinuous record of historic claims, inclining them to rely more on UNCLOS to manage disputed resources. They eagerly encourage American weight thrown onto their side of the competition with China for free.

This is where the United States needs to move with caution and only after thinking many steps ahead . . . 

Point being, while China is clearly strong-arming and pushing its claims even more so than others, it is not the only country rattling sabers and pushing boundaries.  

Now, by singling Beijing out for criticism, but not the others, Chinese observers believe the United States has taken sides against China. This has undermined the U.S. assertions of a principled approach based on international law by appearing not to be impartial.

U.S. direct interests in the South China Sea are not unlimited . . .

The Obama Administration has clearly decided to champion this cause as a means of "standing up" to China, thus raising the "losing of face" dynamics, which means, instead of our usual approach of trying to cool things down, we've decided to purposefully heat things up.  Why?  A lot of Washington political and budgetary interests are served by this choice - just like in Beijing.

Today, the South China Sea is not at the “Sudetenland” moment of the twenty-first century, which calls for standing up to aggression and the rejection of appeasement. China has not militarized its foreign policy and does not appear equipped to do so for a long time. Its neighbors are not supine, and they show on occasion, when needed, that they are able to coalesce against Chinese actions that they judge as going too far. At the same time, China and those neighbors have more going constructively in trade, investment, and other relations with each other than is at risk in this dispute.

This suggests the makings of a manageable situation, even if it remains impossible to resolve for years to come. Different Asian societies are quite accustomed to living with unresolved disputes, often for centuries.

No kidding.  There are numerous missing peace treaties in Asia, which is part of this problem of ill-defined territorial boundaries, but leapfrogging from that reality to a rerun of WWII is hyperbole of the worst (meaning unthinking) sort. Frankly, you know your counterparty in any argument has run out of ammo whenever they pull out Hitler.

A very sensible piece worth reading.  Might just keep you off the budgetary gravy train that is AirSea Battle Concept.

9:23AM

Fascinating achievement of US foreign policy: Iraq outcranks Iran on oil

You have to credit Bush the Elder on the northern NFZ after Desert Storm because that set in motion the KRG we know today.  You also credit Bush on the surge and Obama on the latest sanctions strategy, because it's collectively a significant restructuring of the correlation of forces in the region - a dynamic obviously driven by the ability to export oil (FT says Iran's exports = 1/2 gov revenue and 80% of total export value).  Iraq hasn't outproduced Iran since their mutual war in the late 1980s.

Iraq dreams of 12mb by 2017, but the industry pegs 4.5mb as more realistic, according to the article.

By December, analysts say, iraq will have earned more selling its oil than Iran for the first time since Saddam Huessein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

All this is to remind of Zhou Enlai's response to a question concerning his opinion of the French Revolution: "Too early to say."

11:04AM

First openly gay US flag officer - a big move for all involved

Obviously a calculated gesture that had to have been cleared with a lot of people beforehand, but a very nice move by the US Army, Defense Department and the Obama Administration.  My hat off to all of them - especially the flag officer (newly promoted to BGEN) and her spouse.

An Army officer being promoted to brigadier general openly acknowledged her homosexuality on Friday by having her wife pin her star to her uniform, thus becoming the first openly gay officer of flag rank in the United States military.

Everyone knows we've had gays and lesbians in the military forever.  The only question left hanging all these years was: would we allow them their identity - openly - in exchange for their service?  Too much to ask?  Hardly.

It's a tough job and a hard life, and everybody deserves to be able to acknowledge their fundamental sexual identity while serving their country.

I can tell you exactly when the whole subject jumped the shark for me:  There was this study done sometime (I believe) in the 1990s.  An inside job where some trusted Pentagon contractor went back over the personnel records of the entire force throughout the entire Cold War, looking for instances in which homosexuality led to somebody being successfully blackmailed by the enemy.  Their finding?  Not a single case.  

Despite all those Allen Drury novels saying otherwise, nobody gay (uniform or civilian) ever had their secret used successfully against them in a security-breach manner.

It was at that point that I knew it was just a matter of time - and the right administration.

So my thanks to Obama on that score.

I have to admit that when I saw the headline in the NYT, I thought it was a gag.  I mean, I don't think there are any publicly acknowledged enlisted personnel, so how did somebody get all the way up to being a general, I thought (rather stupidly, I realize).  But then it struck me: the DoD wanted somebody prominent as the first to step forward in this manner, and somebody going from officer to flag is the perfect tipping point in a career to hold up as an example.  

Very smart.

10:36AM

Time's Battleland: NATIONAL SECURITY AirSea Battle: The Military-Industrial Complex’s Self-Serving Fantasy

China's Great Wall: an ancient AirLand Battle plan

NOTE: My post from Saturday, expanded a bit and reposted at Time's Battleland at that blog's request.

Nice Washington Post piece (by Greg Jaffe, of course) on the great COIN counterattack that is the Pentagon’s AirSea Battle.

As scenario work goes, what the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis has done in its war-games has to rank right up there with the most egregiously implausible efforts ever made to justify arms build-ups.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

11:47AM

Syria: When US inaction accelerates a radicalizing dynamic

Nice op-ed by Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsey Graham in WAPO.

The core argument:

We are hopeful the rebels will ultimately prevail, but it remains a deeply unfair and brutal fight, and the speed and manner by which it is won matter enormously. All evidence suggests that, rather than peacefully surrendering power, Assad and his allies will fight to the bitter end, tearing apart the country in the process.

America’s disengagement from this conflict carries growing costs — for the Syrian people and for U.S. interests.

Because we have refused to provide the rebels the assistance that would tip the military balance decisively against Assad, the United States is increasingly seen across the Middle East as acquiescing to the continued slaughter of Arab and Muslim civilians. This reluctance to lead will, we fear — like our failure to stop the slaughter of the Kurds and Shiites under Saddam Hussein in Iraq or of the Tutsis in Rwanda — haunt our nation for years to come.

Our lack of active involvement on the ground in Syria also means that, when the Assad regime finally does fall, the Syrian people are likely to feel little goodwill toward the United States — in contrast to Libya, where profound gratitude for America’s help in the war against Moammar Gaddafi has laid the foundation for a bright new chapter in relations between our two countries.

We are being left behind by events.  When Al-Qaida makes this a bigger cause celebre than America does, we lose by definition - by our abscence.

We keep trying to wind ourselves up over the chem weapons depots, but we should be more concerned with registering the anti-Iranian win in a way that benefits Israel - if we're serious about wanting to avoid war with Iran.  That's the bigger fish here, not the lowest common threat inflator of chemical arms.

There are plenty of ways to ramp up our involvement without boots on the ground.  WAPO ran an editorial recently calling for the always handy no-fly-zone.

We have entered the R2P space (right to protect), and what we need to protect most here is our credibility and the region from outcomes that make it less stable over the Arab Spring's continued unfolding.

I have, in the past, noted that the Arab Spring has been kind enough to us to offer the one-damn-thing-after-another dynamic.  Well, now's the time when we seriously deal with the one damn thing called Syria.

The Syrian PM just defected.  What are we waiting for?

11:28AM

The self-serving Military Industrial Complex fantasy that is AirSea Battle

This post was removed in deference to its reposting at Time's Battleland blog on 7 August 2012.

12:02AM

(WPR Feature) Skipping Out on the Bill: Obama's Cost-Free Drone Wars

Thanks to the Obama administration’s aggressive use of classified leaks to the press, we are encouraged to believe that President Barack Obama has engineered a revolutionary shift in both America’s geopolitical priorities and our military means of pursuing those ends. As re-election sales jobs go, it presses lukewarm-button issues, but it does so ably. But since foreign policy has never been the president’s focus, we should in turn recognize these maneuvers for what they truly are: an accommodation with inescapable domestic realities, one that at best postpones and at worst sabotages America’s needed geostrategic adjustment to a world co-managed with China and India.

Read the entire article at World Politics Review.

10:17AM

Chart of the Day: the oil sanctions are working on Iran

Arguably the primary reason why Israel holds off attacking - that and its modest satisfaction with the success of the combination strategy of cyber warfare attacks and assassinations of technical personnel.

You can see that the sanctions have taken about a million barrels a day - or about 40% of daily production denied in terms of sales.

That is significant - and a genuine success for Obama.

The hottest subject in oil deals today involves anybody who has been a regular buyer of Iran.  All of these states are looking to replace - now.

And no, they don't all go running to the Saudis.

This chart is a month old.  More recent news says roughly 50% drop in May-June alone.  Not sure I buy that. Lots of desperate deals happening out there involving Iran.  But clearly, the trend is downward and steep.

I honestly do believe that the Arab Spring is helping plenty.  With Syria on the ropes, the anti-Iran long knives are out.

11:42AM

Time's Battleland: (CYBER) Cyber Warfare Treaty: DOA, Thanks to President and Pentagon

Misha Glenny making a smart case in the New York Times for a cyber arms control treaty, but it won’t happen.

Why?

For the same reason why the U.S. has refused – for many years now – to engage other great powers on a treaty banning space weaponry: our Pentagon wants to dominate that imagine conflict space like any other. This fantasy lives on despite the great private-sector forays into space transport and travel.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

11:20AM

Time's Battleland: CYBER U.S. Admits to Waging War Against Iran

Check out this New York Times story about President Obama speeding up waves of cyber attacks against Iran.  I personally have no problem with this, and prefer it to Israel’s imagined missile strikes.

But just remember this when next you hear about other countries’ “unprecedented offensive cyber attacks against the U.S.”

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


9:45AM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA When Military Intervention Makes Sense

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says that “diplomacy is still better than bombs” and that “moral outrage is just the starting point for a decision to intervene.”  He then goes through all the major powers in his piece Tuesday and cites reasons why each one is either holding back or holding things up. It’s one of those great ass-covering op-eds that’s supposed to make you look smart when the intervention does comes and it — gasp! — leads to more death and destruction.

Let me tell you why great powers intervene:  they don’t care about moral outrage and they don’t care about stopping the killing.  Moral outrage is a headline and nothing more, while the killing is either made faster or slower but never really “prevented.”

Great powers intervene when they can.  It’s as simple as that.  Good and bad don’t play into it.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

1:13PM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA Obama Cleverly Leading from Behind — Again

The quiet coalition has come together to reverse the decline of the opposition rebel forces in Syria, according to this nice front-pager in Wednesday’s Washington Post.  Much like in the case of Libya, the Obama Administration is hanging back and letting the local “market” determine his military response.  He simply refuses to take the strategic lead, which is frustrating to many and yet decidedly clever on his part.

To me, this is the Obama Doctrine: respond to local demand for U.S. crisis-response services rather than — in typical American fashion — pushing our way to the front of the line, bossing everyone, and then finding ourselves alone on the postwar backside.

 Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

9:28AM

WPR's The New Rules: Hubris Drives Mistrust in U.S.-China Relations

Writing in Foreign Affairs this month, Henry Kissinger opined that, when it comes to the future of Sino-American relations, “conflict is a choice, not a necessity.” Those are some serious words from one of history’s all-time realists, but more important than his analysis is the fact that he even felt the need to issue that public statement regarding these two ultimately codependent superpowers. A trusted part-time adviser to President Barack Obama, Kissinger knows he has the president’s ear on China, the target of this administration’s recently announced strategic military “pivot” toward East Asia.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


10:59AM

Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: Millennials shaping foreign policy with Kony 2012?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.


The Kony2012 Youtube sensation has triggered a secondary op-ed explosion, as “real experts” sound off - mostly negatively - about having their sacred analytic turf encroached upon by celebrity endorsers and ADHD-addled “slackivists” who’ve merely clicked a couple of buttons (Like! Donate!) before moving on to the next viral sensation.

There’s nothing more disturbing to the national security intelligentsia than having American foreign policy crowd-sourced, especially when those allegedly apathetic Millennials are preemptively arguing for aU.S.military intervention.

Doesn’t America’s biggest-ever generational cohort realize that the country is tired of performing global police work?

This week’s Wikistrat crowd-sourced drill looks at the Kony2012 video phenomenon, offering several reasons why it signals something new and important in U.S. foreign policy debates – and not.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

8:55AM

WPR's The New Rules: Assad's Ouster Best Chance to Stave off Israel-Iran Conflict

The debate among U.S. foreign policy analysts over the wisdom of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities -- and whether or not America should allow itself to be drawn into an ensuing conflict with Iran should Israel strike -- has largely taken place parallel to the debate over whether to pursue an R2P, or responsibility to protect, intervention in Syria. It bears noting, however, that forcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure may be the best near-term policy for the U.S. to avoid being sucked into an Israeli-Iranian war.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

10:22AM

WPR's The New Rules: A Positive Narrative for U.S. Foreign Policy

Where is the positive vision for U.S. foreign policy in this election? President Barack Obama and on-again, off-again “presumptive” GOP nominee Mitt Romney now duel over who is more anti-declinist when it comes to America’s power trajectory, with both slyly attaching their candidacies to the notion that “the worst” is now behind us. On that score, Obama implicitly tags predecessor George W. Bush, while Romney promises a swift end to all things Obama. 

Halftime in America? Indeed.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.