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Entries in Obama Administration (114)


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.


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.


Follow-on comment to my WPR piece on war with Iran



Per Maduka's comment that he was shocked to see this analysis from me (presumably he knows something of my years [roughly 8] of writing to different effect on this subject), I penned the following comment that I felt was important enough of a statement to post in full:

I was somewhat shocked to write the piece myself, but I found myself talking to people on the phone regarding this and I kept coming back to this sense of determinism, when all the dynamics are considered.

In the end, I do think the logic is very compelling for Israel - given the Arab Spring. Then we turn next to Obama, and given his drone use and desire to appear strong (hell, after all these years, let's just say the guy is strong on defense and leave it at that). Then we turn to the Pentagon, and I see a group of AirSea Battle Concept advocates who would love to test it out on Iran (limited scope) and, by doing so, signal VERY STRONGLY to China.

What I don't spot on any of these lines is a countervailing pressure of great strength.

Don't be confused, and I think I made this point decidedly in the piece (and you need to read it all to know this, so if all you scan is the opening . . . then please beg off further comment): this will be an air/SOF-only strike/war. This will be a "reducing" war, or what the Israelies call "mowing the grass." There is little sense of getting the job done with one effort.  

All you can hold out hope for is triggering the conditions for regime change (least likely from below; much more likely as result of regime infighting).  But that's at best a nice-to-get. You don't do it for that, even as I argue in the piece that you might as well - given the larger logic - target to encourage that (why not if you've making the effort already?).

And I think that's the macro lesson the US seems to be learning from the "war on terror," and it's making us more like Israel over time: we simply mow the grass now, and eschew the follow-on work.


Bhagwati on Obama on trade: "shame on you . . . for pandering"

Jagdish Bhagwati is a Columbia econ prof whose writings on globalization (particularly his book, In Defense of Globalization) I consider on par with Martin Wolf.

A tour of his recent FT op-ed:

President Barack Obama infamously killed the multilateral Doha Round last December by instructing his representative at the World Trade Organisation to be a "rejectionist" negotiator.  He compounded the folly by instead floating the trans-Pacific Trade Initiative that is conceived in a spirit of confronting China rather than promoting trade, and is also a cynical surrender to self-seeking Washington lobbies that would have have made John Kenneth Galbraith blush. Not content with these body blows to the world trading system, which his predecessors had built up over decades of US leadership, Mr Obama has pulled off the remarkable feat of making things yet worse with his State of the Union address . . .

Outsourcing is a bogeyman. The deception that Mr Obama buys into goes back to the populist commentator Lou Dobbs . . .

The two wrongs Obama promotes on outsourcing, according to Bhagwati: It's incorrect to cite only the jobs sent abroad. You have to factor in the jobs saved by reducing cost in a "fiercely competitive world."  Also, there is evidence of significant insourcing occurring in parallel - the "near sourcing" on certain services and supplies that makes competitive sense.

Bhagwati then goes on to attack Obama's "fetish on manufacturing."


  • the notion that, unless you can "drop a product on one's foot" then it is not worth making;
  • the reality that as specializaton grows in manufacturing, services naturally splinter off - a process that has nothing to do with outsourcing;
  • the current dislike of the financial sector results in manufacturing lobbies arguing that manufacturing deserves support instead of the services sector, but it is in those services sector that the US will find genuine competitive advantage more often, because cheap labor there doesn't translate in the same way as it does in manufacturing; and
  • the manufacturing sector in the US is already heavily subsidized.


The close:

So the campaign for more manufacturing is a boondooggle.  Jeff Immelt of General Electric, a splendid businessman and confidant of Mr Obama, has succumbed: who would look a freebie in the eye? Clyde Prestowitz, a Republican who earned Bill Clinton's plaudits in the 1992 campaign, is now celebrating on his blog that Mr Obama is his new convert. Mr Clinton regained his sanity in a year. This time it is likely to be a long slog.

I do feel like Obama lacks a core sense of who he is as a putative policymaker and thus what he believes in as a leader.

We see him lugging around Fareed Zakaria's Post-American World as a candidate, but now he's alleged to have drunk deeply Robert Kagan's anti-declinist book, The World America Made.  Yes, I understand that a sophisticated reading of both can be had, one that allows for seeing the bridges between the two arguments.  My point is, the declinist argument was more popular in 2008, so he gloms onto it, and now the anti-declinist argument is more politically palatable, so now he gloms onto it.

Same thing seems to happen with Obama on geopolitics: I have no idea where he got this "strategic pivot" on China bit (except to say it's a cyncial retreat from dealing with the Middle East), but when it dovetails with this anti-trade mindset, I have little sense that he realizes exactly what kind of world America has spent the last seven decades creating.

In the end, I get this sick sense that there is "no there - there" with the man, other than he wants the "success" of two terms - the sort of success that the self-perceived smartest guy in the room naturally assumes he has coming.


WPR's The New Rules: Slouching Toward Great-Power War

Arguably the greatest strategic gift offered by America to the world over the past several decades has been our consistent willingness to maintain a high and hugely expensive entry barrier to the “market” that is great-power war: first by deterring outright war with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and then by maintaining a lopsided and unipolar military superiority in the post-Cold War period. However, a case can be made that in recent years, the greatest threat to this enduring component of global stability arises from within the United States itself -- namely, a national security establishment intent on pressing the boundaries of this heretofore rather sacrosanct responsibility.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Charts of the day: US debt and petroleum

From Business Insider (via Zakaria's GPS site) comes the following listing of who holds US public debt.

  • Hong Kong: $121.9 billion (0.9 percent)
  • Caribbean banking centers: $148.3 (1 percent)
  • Taiwan: $153.4 billion (1.1 percent)
  • Brazil: $211.4 billion (1.5 percent)
  • Oil exporting countries: $229.8 billion (1.6 percent)
  • Mutual funds: $300.5 billion (2 percent)
  • Commercial banks: $301.8 billion (2.1 percent)
  • State, local and federal retirement funds: $320.9 billion (2.2 percent)
  • Money market mutual funds: $337.7 billion (2.4 percent)
  • United Kingdom: $346.5 billion (2.4 percent)
  • Private pension funds: $504.7 billion (3.5 percent)
  • State and local governments: $506.1 billion (3.5 percent)
  • Japan: $912.4 billion (6.4 percent)
  • U.S. households: $959.4 billion (6.6 percent)
  • China: $1.16 trillion (8 percent)
  • The U.S. Treasury: $1.63 trillion (11.3 percent)
  • Social Security trust fund: $2.67 trillion (19 percent)

The Global Post's Tom Mucha writes the post as revelation: See! China doesn't own the U.S.

Okay, so China doesn't own the US anymore than we get all our energy from Saudi Arabia, but China is the single biggest foreign holder - more than 3 times the long-time historical champ UK and more than recent historical champ Japan.

And yes, we do get a picture sort of like our oil situation, where our biggest supplier remains ourself (here, in various forms, accounting for roughly 2/3rds) and other big suppliers remains long-time friends.

But what's also been clear when we've floated large amounts recently is that China is the one great foreign buyer out there who can soak up our surges, so it does play a bit of a Saudi Arabia-like role in things, and that's not to be dismissed.

Then also via Zakaria' site comes the following US Energy Information Agency chart:

The clear long-term trend here, per the North American energy export boom in the works (Wikistrat's next community simulation to begin shortly), is the declining role of petroleum imports, dropping from the high in 2005 (60%) to under half today (49%) and down to just over a third (36%) by 2035.

Things you note:


  • Flatness of demand curve!
  • Significant rise in production - part of the fracking revolution!


The combo yields America's resumption of its role as a net exporter of petroleum products for the first time in over six decades!

Compare that picture to China's and ask yourself if you'd switch energy challenges with them.

Of course not.

But back to the first point: China is the big saver in the system of the last two-three decades. That means it's not only our great release-valve source of money for things like our national debt. It plays that role increasingly around the globe - to wit, the recent Wikistrat sim on "China as the de facto World Bank for Africa."

My point in the pairing: excitement over our improved energy picture, yes, but realism on the future of money - especially given this fear-threat reaction embodied in Obama's strategic "pivot" to China.


Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: Nine roads to November

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.

Upsetting both conventional wisdom and the party establishment’s preferred narrative, New Gingrich’s big win in South Carolina’s Republican primary last weekend has dramatically energized the GOP race. While it suddenly feels like a two-man fight between Gingrich and the previously presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, in truth, the party’s three main wings (country-club moderates, Reaganites,  and the farthest-right social conservatives and libertarians) remain deeply divided, suggesting a lengthy and drawn-out battle across the remaining GOP primaries. Taking that as our starting-point assumption, Wikistrat polled its global network of strategists for scenarios as to how this might unfold and what it could mean for the November general election.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.


Time's Battleland: Would Assad’s Fall Limit the Nuclear Menace in the Middle East?

As Bashar Assad looks more internationally isolated by the day — and far more vulnerable to Western economic sanctions than uber-bad boy Iran — it behooves us to think through what general advantages accrue with his eventual fall. To date, most of the thinking has focused on Iran’s loss of its right-hand proxy in transmitting terror to Israel via Hamas and Hezbollah.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: 10 strategic issues with Obama's East Asia "pivot"


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 Obama Administration recently released a military strategic guidance document, which calls for a strategic “pivot” from the Middle East to East Asia. This bold move replaces President George W. Bush’s “long war” against violent Islamic extremism with a new, ongoing effort to shape China’s military rise.

What are the strategic, military trade-offs of this historic shift? Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy, recently tapped its global network of several hundred analysts to ponder this question. This online network offers a uniquely powerful and unprecedented strategic consulting service: the Internet's only central intelligence exchange for strategic analysis and forecasting, delivered - for the first time - in a real-time, interactive platform. Exclusive to GPS, here are Wikistrat’s top ten strategic, military issues to bear in mind as this “pivot” unfolds:

Read the entire post at CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS site.


The New Rules: China Must 'Pay Globalization Forward' in Africa

Globalization's historical expansion from Europe to North America to Asia has featured a familiar dynamic: The last region "in" becomes the integrator of note for the next region "up." Europe was the primary investor, customer and integrator for the U.S. economy in its rise during the 19th and 20th centuries, and America subsequently "paid it forward" with East Asia in the decades following World War II. Recently, it has been Asia's turn, primarily through China, to pay it forward once again with Africa, arguably the hottest integration zone in the global economy today.

Nonetheless, in Washington -- and especially inside the Pentagon -- China's rising influence across Africa has been viewed with genuine trepidation. Beijing's "non-interference" mantra doesn't exactly jive with President Barack Obama's stern focus on counterterrorism, while China's rapacious hunger for raw materials fosters fears of strategic minerals being "cornered." .


Read entire column at World Politics Review.


Appearance on "The Alyona Show" regarding Obama's strategic "pivot" to Asia

Driven by my WPR column.  Did it Tuesday night.

Worrisome to me in the new house: the upload speed on my cable connection was problematic here, as you'll see in the resulting video via Skype.

I would greatly welcome any ideas on how to improve.

Talking to my AV guy, he said make sure everybody in the house (2 other laptops and 2 desktops) were off the web.  That I didn't do.  He said also to shut down everything on my MacBook Pro, go wired to the modem and turn off my wifi.

Speed testing the wifi just now, I'm 24 mps down and 4 up, so there shouldn't have been a problem. But honestly, there could have been 30 web windows open among the 4 other machines, and I didn't exactly clean up my laptop prior.

NEXT TIME: I'll go wired in the living room that doubles as my video production center and I'll have a Wikistrat pattern behind me and I'll be lit from both sides (with screen forming third point). I'll also take all the steps Greg, my AV guy, outlined.

But again, any other ideas welcomed.



Sounds like China moving on DPRK diplomatic front

 Reuters reporting on Yahoo News, with my HT to World Politics Review's media roundup email.

To me, this is a very good sign:

North Korea has held secret talks with Japan in what is believed to be their first contact since the death of long-time leader Kim Jong-il, Japanese media said, as Pyongyang's closest allyChina and South Korea vowed to work closely on denuclearizing the North.

Amid a series of diplomatic contacts over North Korea in China, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing to discuss ways to preserve stability on the peninsula as the unpredictable North undergoes a delicate transition of power.

Hiroshi Nakai, a former Japanese state minister in charge of the abduction issue, met the North's delegation on Monday for talks on the abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 80s, Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted sources as saying.

The two sides are also believed to have discussed terms for restarting intergovernmental negotiations, the Mainichi Daily News reported.

Nakai's office confirmed his trip to China. A government official declined to comment on the trip.

Two logical explanations:


  1. China didn't want to push anything until Kim Jong Il passed; and
  2. Beijing now wants to capture successor Kim Jong Eun on the diplomatic front before any internal purging process pushes Pyongyang toward displays of aggression toward the West.


How does Beijing do this?  It makes a big show of supporting KJE to put him in a good place, and says these efforts are part and parcel of achieving the same internationally.

If this is not China as a "responsible stakeholder," then I don't know what is.

So, again, a very good sign.

Would be nice if Obama Administration made it own overtures amidst this diplomatic flurry. Could prove decisive and keep us suitably in the mix.  Alas, I think the White House is already too invested in its "strategic pivot" to contain Chinese power in East Asia, which, to me, is a perfect 20th century answer to a 21st century phenomenon.

But I can always hope for common sense to re-emerge post-election . . ..



WPR's The New Rules: Welcome to Obama's Cold War With China

Faced with irreversible long-term fiscal pressures to reduce the U.S. defense budget, late last week the Obama administration began unveiling its supremely focused rationale behind future cuts. The result is an elegantly slim strategic statement (.pdf) that indirectly names its deepest fear in its title: “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” According to the document, over the past decade the U.S. military force structure has been “by necessity” dangerously skewed by “today’s wars.” Now America must start “preparing for future challenges” arising from a frightening and apparently imminent “inflection point” in East Asia’s military balance of power. As such, “we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” In sum, not only are these choices being forced upon America, they are the only path we can take if we are to maintain our global leadership.

Read entire column at World Politics Review.


Time's Battleland: The "strategic pivot" to Asia now committed, Pentagon can float allegedly deep cuts

Nice piece in the NYT today previewing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's much-anticipated announcement of almost a half-trillion in defense cuts over the next decade.As Mark Thompson just noted, not a whole lot of details.  We are told that the US military will no longer plan to fight two wars simultaneously - long a preferred fantasy.  Now, it will be able to fight one big war (guess who that is), plus be able to spoil another's attempted dirty deeds (let's say Iran's counter to Israel's attack on its nuclear facilities).

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


WPR's New Rules: U.S.-China Relations Need Leadership, not Anachronisms

It is hard to think of a period in the past five decades in which this country was more painfully bereft of national leadership than it currently finds itself. On one side we have an increasingly isolated president who, as Edward Luce opined recently, “prefers to campaign than govern.” On the other is a House-controlling GOP that, in the words of Thomas Friedman, “has gone nuts.” What’s more, the highly negative campaign that 2012 is shaping up to be will secure no governing mandate for the eventual winner, meaning that things are likely to get far worse.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


WPR's The New Rules: After Iraq and Afghanistan, Time to End the War on Drugs

Americans today are enjoying the most peaceful period, on a per capita basis, in human history, with virtually all of the remaining mass violence in the system occurring not between organized militaries, but rather sub- and transnationally -- that is, within nation-states and across their borders. The frequency, length and lethality of conflicts are all down from Cold War highs, despite the growth in both numbers of countries and world population. Nonetheless, most Americans continue to have extremely misdirected fears and impressions regarding the global security landscape. We see a world of wars and believe them all to be of our creating, when in fact it is globalization's initially destabilizing advance that creates the vast bulk of the civil strife into which our military forces are drawn -- to the tune of well more than 150 crisis responses since Cold War's end.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


WPR's The New Rules: Making Syria's Assad Next Domino to Fall

Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans and Europeans don't want NATO to widen its war against embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. So long as the West's low-and-slow approach to regime change continues to weaken the dictator, there is good reason to stick with President Barack Obama's strategy of limited intervention. Yet as international cameras focus in on Libya, a prospective tipping point for the future of the Middle East becomes all the more visible in Syria, despite that country's ban on international journalists. And although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken an admirably tough line regarding the Baath regime's "continued brutality," the White House still expresses more concern over Israel's policies in the West Bank and Gaza than over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's increasingly bloody crackdown against protesters there. 

Read the entire column, co-authored with Michael S. Smith II, at World Politics Review.


Time's Battleland: "US bases in Afghanistan for decades?"

Waiting on the Obama speech explaining this one.

Guardian piece Monday predicts that current US-Afghan talks will cement a very long-term deal on presence [hat tip to World Politics Review Media Roundup].

American and Afghan officials are locked in increasingly acrimonious secret talks about a long-term security agreement which is likely to see US troops, spies and air power based in the troubled country for decades. [italics mine]

This is described officially as a "strategic partnership," but nobody in their right mind would describe it as such. It's a dependency - pure and simple. The longer we stay, the more we'll infantilize the system. Ten years in and virtually everything we've set about to create is still described as "fragile" - meaning it collapses and disappears the minute we pull out.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


WPR's The New Rules: "For U.S., the Long War Shifts Back to the Persian Gulf"

As the United States debates just how much more effort it wants to put into the Afghanistan-Pakistan sinkhole, evidence mounts of the need to pursue a strategic pivot back toward the Middle East, where the Arab Spring is increasingly threatened by a Persian winter of revolutionary discontent. For some time now, Iran has been showing signs of mounting internal divisions between competing hardline factions led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But it has also become more desperate about asserting its alleged leadership of the region's ongoing wave of uprisings, including a far more active sponsorship of al-Qaida's Persian Gulf franchise. All this suggests that, if America is truly serious about continuing the fight against the post-Osama bin Laden al-Qaida, then Washington needs to admit that the center of gravity in that "persistent struggle" has shifted out of northwest Pakistan and into the Persian Gulf.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


WPR's The New Rules: "Why the U.S. Should 'Give' Af-Pak to China"

Nuclear Pakistan, we are often told, is the Islamic-state equivalent of a Wall Street firm: In geostrategic terms, it is too big to fail. That explains why, even as the Obama administration begins preparing for modest troop withdrawals from Afghanistan this July, it dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Islamabad last week to smooth over bilateral relations with Pakistan's paranoid regime, which were strained even before the killing of Osama bin Laden. But Clinton's trip and the Obama administration's instinctive embrace of Islamabad is a fool's errand, doomed by history, geography and globalization itself.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

COMMENT:  This piece fleshes out the most provocative scenario from the "4 options" column I penned two weeks earlier.  That column lands me a taping tomorrow on NPR's All Things Considered, and I wanted to state the most logical case more fully prior to going on.

One of the key things I think a genuine grand strategist is supposed to do is to remind decision makers of the logical consequences of their strategic choices.  We have made choices on Afghanistan, most importantly our unwillingness to regionalize the solution, because we're committed to "winning" in a very particular way.  We've also made some choices on China, as the Chinese have made some about us.  India and Pakistan intersect among those choices, and I believe we make a very bad choice by picking Pakistan amidst all those intersections.

Also, while I remain certain that China and the US are slated for high levels of strategic cooperation in the future for all manner of structural reasons, I think there are all manner of routes to that cooperative space, including some that involve serious learning for us both along the way.

But my definitions of good grand strategy require plenty of flexibility and adaptability along with the core principles.  I don't believe in fixing every state - just the ones that really matter.  I continue to think that Iraq was worth it - despite our fundamentally unilateralist pursuit of the outcome.  I think Afghanistan is worth it - if you accept the logic of a regional solution set.  But I have yet to be convinced that Pakistan, given its set of unique circumstances is worth it - or even salvageable.  

I see opportunity at this moment for President Obama, but only one option being provided.