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Entries in Obama Administration (112)

11:24AM

Time's Battleland: "Pakistan: indispensable to US security?"

I am amazed at how quickly the Obama administration is going out of its way to assure everyone that we're sticking with Pakistan for the long haul no matter what. No discussion and little explanation, it's just assumed that Pakistan becomes the new indispensable partner that anchors US national security, even as every day reveals some new aspect where we clearly don't trust the government, military or secret police whatsoever.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

1:05PM

The Politics Blog: "Life After the Bin Laden Kill: What Now?"

 

You can take down the wanted posters and run through the streets all you want, but the Osama bin Laden assassination leaves many essential questions unanswered. From Pakistan to China and the Pentagon to the 2012 polls, here's where we stand.

  • So who runs Al Qaeda next?
  • Will Al Qaeda retaliate?
  • Isn't Pakistan is the real battleground — not Afghanistan?
  • Is the Great Hunt finally over?
  • Did Obama just get tough on terror for 2012?

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.

10:42AM

WPR's The New Rules: Glass Half Full on Obama's New National Security Team

President Barack Obama reshuffled his national security team last week, and the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. The White House proclaimed that this was the "strongest possible team," leaving unanswered the question, "Toward what end?" Obama's choices represent the continued reduction of the role of security as an administration priority. That fits into his determined strategy to reduce America's overseas military commitments amid the country's ongoing fiscal distress. Obama foresees a smaller, increasingly background role for U.S. security in the world, and these selections feed that pattern.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

8:55AM

WPR's The New Rules: Long-Term U.S. Presence in Afghanistan a Mistake

The Obama administration has begun talks with Afghanistan designed to quell the Karzai government's fears about being abandoned by the West come 2014. Those talks are said to involve negotiations for long-term basing of U.S. troops involved in training Afghan security forces and supporting future counterterrorism operations. This can be seen as a realistic course of action, given our continuing lack of success in nation-building there, as well as our inability -- although perhaps unwillingness is a better term -- to erect some regional security architecture that might replace our presence. But there are good reasons to question this course.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

11:22AM

Great Zakaria piece on Ryan budget proposal

This column by Zakaria expresses exactly what I was trying to get at when I tweeted earlier in the week that Dems were too reflexively dismissing the proposal as evil.

The great opening:

It was fateful that Paul Ryan released his budget plan the same week Barack Obama launched his re-election campaign — because we will now see what matters most to Obama.

The President has talked passionately and consistently about the need to tackle the country's problems, act like grownups, do the hard things and win the future. But he has also skipped every opportunity to say how he'd tackle the gigantic problem of entitlements. Ryan's plan is deeply flawed, but it is courageous. It should prompt the President to say, in effect, "You're right about the problem. You're wrong about the solution. And here's how I would accomplish the same goal by more humane and responsible means." That would be the beginning of a great national conversation.

He then goes into the problems with Ryan's proposal, which are significant, but listen up to the larger logic:

So why do I applaud the Ryan plan? Because it is a serious effort to tackle entitlement programs, even though any discussion of cuts in these programs — which are inevitable and unavoidable — could be political suicide. If Democrats don't like his budget ideas, they should propose their own — presumably without tax cuts and with stronger protections for Medicare and Medicaid and deeper reductions in defense spending. But they, too, must face up to the fiscal reality. The Government Accountability Office concludes that America faces a "fiscal gap" of $99.4 trillion over the next 75 years, which would mean we would have to increase taxes by 50% or reduce spending by 35% simply to stop accumulating more debt. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will together make up 50% of the federal budget by 2021.

Zakaria ends by saying Obama can do the obvious thing and just gin up the attack ads, or he can actually lead.

I go back and forth on the man.  I don't like the caretaker vibe he gives off at times, but then I like his rightsizing of the job at certain moments - like the way he handled Libya in the end (a negotiating process I did not enjoy, and yet, I had to admire the outcome).

But the budget thing, because of the commitments he's made, defines his presidency by far.  Iraq and Afghanistan were, quite frankly, already on a trajectory before he showed up.  You can say the financial/fiscal crises were too, but I liked the choices he made there.  It's just that those choices pushed us all down the path toward some tough decisions we had long put off and felt we could still put off.  Now those decisions seem definitive concerning our future leadership of this world.  We can continue to feed this global narrative of our decline, or we can seek to arrest it.

12:01AM

China's search for a grand strategy: look no further

Xi Jinping

Interesting piece in Foreign Affairs by Wang Jisi, Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University and a key adviser to President Hu Jintao: "China's Search for a Grand Strategy."

Summary: With China's clout growing, the international community needs to better understand China's strategic thinking. But China's core interests are to promote its sovereignty, security, and development simultaneously -- a difficult basis for devising a foreign policy.

John Milligan-Whyte posted our grand strategy "term sheet" details in the comment section of the piece on the FA site.

We had tried to meet with Wang Jisi in December, but didnt' break through.  Clearly though, he's on the same wavelength in terms of searching for a grand strategic approach for China that puts it in a better relationship with the US.

As for the summary statement that promoting sovereignty, security and development simultaneously is a difficult basis for devising a foreign policy, I consider that an odd excuse. Countries combine those desires all the time in crafting a foreign policy.  What's so unique about China's attempt? Read into the text and you'll see:  the fear that internal unrest will trigger external meddling that attempts regime change.  Sounds like Libya, yes?  

Clearly, Jisi wrote his piece long before the Facebook Revs, but China's behavior since confirms this deep fear. China's fears in this regard are its Achilles heel.  Its history says that whenever China fears for its internal stability, it becomes very conservative and timid in its foreign policy.  These fears also why a new relationship with the US must be built, one that allows China the confidence to move ahead with political reforms without fear of external meddling.  

The system simply can't withstand a China implosion now, but it definitely desires - across the board - serious movement on political reform within China.  No one wants the push to come to shove, but the truth is, it has to happen sometime.  But as long as the US-China relationship contains such profound strategic distrust, it's far less likely too.  Sadly, strategic distrust of China on the US side contributes to our own inability to make necessary internal changes.

In the long run, we all know the US and China will run this world more than any other two states. The great third will be India. Nobody else will compare.

The realist realizes this and moves forward to shape the relationship toward what it needs to be.  The paranoid types on both sides stick with the status quo, piling up strategic weaponry in a hair-trigger deterrence mode. Our grand strategy term sheet seeks to break that logjam and force a new conversation, one less constrained by "separate tracks" US logic that condemns us to marginal progress.

Here's a harsh truth: the delta between our growing network-economic connectivity and our lagging pol-mil connectivity will be erased, one way or the other, in the future. We can see it evaporate in conflicts or we can see it retroactively boosted in response to them. Or we can act preventively, but not with the combined containment/outreach package we currently pursue. That is designed, almost cynically, for failure. It suggests that we will simultaneously seek China's cooperation and its internal regime change. So long as we imply the latter - however subtly, the trust will never develop and then we won't have the relationship we truly need when those domestic reforms are finally triggered, one way or the other, by the Chinese people themselves - on their schedule.

If President Obama truly believes in the "organic" revolution, he needs to do more to lay the groundwork for the strategic trust that allows America to be part of that inevitably and hopefully incremental process, because our current stance hinders those developments - to our and the world's disadvantage.

Hu is done, as his farewell DC tour in January indicated.  This is now all about making something happen with Xi Jinping (pictured above), who is a careful enough fellow in his own right, but not the constrained thinker Hu was/is.

9:17AM

Arming the Libyan rebels

NYT coverage of the debate in Washington about whether or not to arm the rebels.

Right up to this point, everything I've ever come across or anyone I've ever spoken with has said there are only trace amounts of al-Qaeda affiliated elements in Libya.  Now, of all a sudden, people are talking like maybe it's majority AQ, which strikes me as nonsense. Piece here quotes Mr. Terror Blurb himself, Bruce Reidel, saying it could be 2% or 80% - we don't know.  Frankly, again, slapping that level of SWAG on our understanding seems silly.

We know this:  plenty of Libyans showed up as fly-in jihadists in Iraq during the civil war period there, meaning they mixed it up with AQ then.  Does that make them AQ forever?  It certainly makes them opportunists.  All it really tells me is that there's an underemployed class of young men in Libya who, in the absence of other opportunities, will go where the fight is.  Nothing unique there.  

There's also al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but that group has frankly struggled to be taken seriously as a force, as it's mostly a relabeling of an existing group that was going nowhere (bigger the territory in the title, more likely, in my mind, that it's not exactly succeeding anywhere). Up to now, no one has portrayed that group as Libyan-centric.  Yes, they will show up, but that's standard.  The reality, as noted in the piece, is that you have to train on what you provide, so we'll have people on the ground (besides the CIA already there).  If things go really sour, then we burn that bridge when we come to it.  But this is not a logical showstopper.  A Libyan long divided in two and suffering civil conflict will do the same - or far better - for AQIM than a concerted arms push to dethrone the guy.  So, again, factor them in as the cost of doing any sort of business here, but do not elevate them into the decision-tilting bogeyman, because they're not, and speculating in the press doesn't make them so.

So telling me that there are "flickers" (ADM Stavridis' term) doesn't exactly make me hesitate all that much. And raising the specter of Bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s likewise doesn't do a whole lot, because it's not like that experience changed his goals or hatreds one bit in the end (Run the counterfactual and we don't supply the mujuahideen.  Is Bin Laden now our friend and non-terrorist?).  What arms his early AQ people obtained from us were also not exactly used against us, and given all the other arms we sell in this world (half the world's total), citing this "into the hands of AQ" danger is likewise a bit much.  AQ doesn't have a hard time buying small arms.

I'm not saying that all the usual dangers do not apply, because they most certainly do.  I'm just saying that layering on this additional fear factor about "arming al-Qaeda" is a red herring and - by all accounts until suddenly this week - an uninformed one.  I'm prepared to have my mind changed, but let's see the evidence of AQ running that rebel show.  If Mr. Reidel wants to propose an 80% infiltration of the rebel ranks, he should back it up or stop throwing unsubstantiated fears out there.

12:00AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: Obama's Libya Speech, Decoded

Okay, we're familiar with the Obama drill on Libya to date: 1) Write political checks with your mouth that you have no intention of cashing with your military. 2) Keep acting like it's no big thing to your presidency, because you're a busy leader, and let the French take this bit in their mouth for once. 3) When all the ducks (UN, NATO, Arab League) are lined up, commit only the minimum of cutting-edge military assets to make this work, emphasizing no boots on the ground and absolutely no sense of responsibility for the aftermath — besides the usual superpower tithing. So yeah, a responsibility to protect, just no responsibility to pay the Bush-Cheney standard of 90-percent of blood and treasure.

Now for the official sales pitch to the American people, line-by-line:

I want to begin by paying tribute to our men and women in uniform...

Translation: Although every president starts out every war address like this, I'm a Democrat, and so I especially need to do this.

Read the entire 3,500 word post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


12:01AM

Bit o' transcript from my appearance on Hewitt Monday/quote in Politico

Found on a conservative blog:

“Well, you know, at first I was highly critical of kind of the foot dragging from the White House, but over time I think the negotiating ploy here is proving to be fairly… I mean I would say it’s brilliant. I mean I was surprised when the line was 'we won’t do anything unless the U.N. Security Council does something,' and NATO, and then NATO pointed to the Arab League and the African Union… you know, at that point you thought, 'wow, this is the lowest common denominator for strategic decision making – we’re never going to get anything on this basis.'

“But the foot dragging, I think, by Obama was purposeful. I think he really wanted an up-front approval by every relevant stakeholder to elicit and reveal a global demand for us to come in there and do what we can only… only we can do. And I think in that way he kind of launders our motives effectively through others, and the way that it should be when it is, in reality, a global demand that we come in and do something for the system that everybody wants done.

“So I’m… if there’s an Obama Doctrine I think that’s it. I think it’s sort of the polar opposite of the 'I’m going to do what I’m going to do' Bush model. And I think it’s more 'I’m not going to do anything unless I get up front approval and my responsibilities are limited and I’m going to incrementally negotiate every step along the way to make sure that I never get ahead of the global community on this one.'

“And to the extent that he can pull it off, I mean, that would be a heck of a model, if he can really do it, especially if we don’t have a big, you know, kind of, America hogs up the reconstruction process post-Gaddafi, God willing. That would be just a tremendous model, and in a way a triangulation between the Clintonian and of naïve expectations of handing-off to the U.N. and the Bush, kind of, you know too primacy oriented. It would be a nice balancing of those two and maybe the [inaudible] we’ve been looking for.”

Glenn Thrush piece in Politico called "In search of the Obama Doctrine."

Yet this is no blanket doctrine: Neither Obama nor anyone else in his administration has so much as whispered about a military response to the brutal crackdowns that are also taking place in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Iran.

“We’re going to go after dictators who are vulnerable, not countries with nuclear weapons or Iran with a population of 70 million,” says Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former Defense Department official who is now an analyst with WikiStrat, an international consulting firm.

“But,” pointing to Libya, “a country with 5, 6, 7 million people, all clustered on the coast in a few cities? Sure. Why not?”

10:23AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: Battle: The Real Obama Doctrine Emerges

In 2008, Barack Obama ran against the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive, unilateralist war. His presidency, he assured us, would be different. And once he took office, it certainly was. One "apology tour" and Nobel Peace Prize later, the Obama Doctrine, such as it was, consisted of telling everyone and anyone that America was winding up its wars, pulling down its military tents, and going home — where it was going to be "renewed," "rebuilt" and so on. His National Security Strategy said it all: "Building at home, shaping abroad." Spot the focus; spot the window dressing. "Shaping" is a military term of art referring to anything other than actual warfare.

It was awfully darn close to Barack Obama promising never to do another Iraq, another Afghanistan — another anything.

And now we're bombing Libya.

So what happened?

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.

11:20AM

CoreGap 11.08 released - Obama’s “Chinese menu” of Past Presidential Doctrines

Wikistrat has released edition 11.08 of the CoreGap Bulletin.

This CoreGap edition features, among others:

  • Obama’s “Chinese menu” of Past Presidential Doctrines
  • Disaster in Japan and instability in Gulf likely alter global energy landscape
  • China steps on growth brake, hunkers down on potential domestic unrest
  • Mexico, at wit’s end over blood-soaked drug war, pushes US for relief
  • Egypt’s political change agenda proceeds, but tougher economic reform awaits

The entire bulletin is available for subscribers. Over the upcoming week we will release analysis from the bulletin to our Geopolitical Analysis section of the Wikistrat website, first being "Terra Incognita: Obama’s “Chinese menu” of Past Presidential Doctrines"

To say that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy plate is full right now is a vast understatement, and it couldn’t come at a worse time for a leader who needs to revive his own economy before trying to resuscitate others (e.g., Tunisia, Egypt, South Sudan, Ivory Coast – eventually Libya?).  Faced with the reality that America’s huge debt overhang condemns it to sub-par growth for many years, Washington enters a lengthy period of “intervention fatigue” that – like everything else, according to the Democrats – can still be blamed on George W. Bush.

It is estimated that 30 percent of the current US federal deficit was set in motion by the Bush administration and another 30 percent by Obama trying to correct those mistakes.  But the biggest problem remains the 40 percent triggered by entitlements growth – the simple aging of America.  With China now applying the brakes, Japan suddenly and sensationally damaged by mega-disaster, Europe still processing sovereign bankruptcies, and Arab unrest pushing up the price of oil, there appears no obvious “cavalry” riding to the global economy’s rescue.  It would seem that America’s “circle the wagons” mentality has gone global, as every beleaguered leadership now looks out for itself.

Read the full piece here

More about Wikistrat's Subscription can be found here

To say that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy plate is full right now is a vast understatement, and it couldn’t come at a worse time for a leader who needs to revive his own economy before trying to resuscitate others (e.g., Tunisia, Egypt, South Sudan, Ivory Coast – eventually Libya?). Faced with the reality that America’s huge debt overhang condemns it to sub-par growth for many years, Washington enters a lengthy period of “intervention fatigue” that – like everything else, according to the Democrats – can still be blamed on George W. Bush.
12:01AM

Tossing in the towel on Libya

Asked recent by a commenter what I would imagine a decent effort in Libya would entail, I now turn to Max Boot's piece yesterday in the WSJ entitled, "It's not too late to save libya."

The guts of the military explanation:

The Pentagon, from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down, has reacted as if this would be a military operation on the order of D-Day. In reality, it would not be hard to ground Gadhafi's decrepit air force.

The job could probably be performed with just one American ship—the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, now in the Red Sea, which has 34 F/A-18F Super Hornets and 10 F/A-18C Hornets along with a full complement of electronic-warfare aircraft. The Enterprise strike group could also unleash a devastating array of Tomahawk cruise missiles.

And the Enterprise would not have to fight alone. It could easily be joined by numerous American, British and French aircraft flying out of Aviano and other NATO bases in Italy. A forward operations base could be established at the Gamal Abdul el-Nasser airfield, one of Libya's major air force bases (built by the British), which is located south of Tobruk and has already been captured by the rebels.

As the enforcement of no-fly zones over Bosnia and Iraq should have proved, the risks of such an operation are minimal—especially if we first neutralize Gadhafi's air defenses.

By itself, a no-fly zone might not be enough to topple Gadhafi. At the very least, however, it would dishearten Gadhafi's supporters and buy time for the rebels. We could further tilt the balance in their favor by bombing Gadhafi's installations and troops.

It may also be necessary to send arms and Special Forces trainers to support the rebels. Without committing any combat troops of our own, we could deliver the same kind of potent combined-arms punch that drove the Serbs out of Kosovo when NATO aircraft supported ground operations by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

That's pretty much what I was thinking of.  I just don't know enough operationally to express as well as Boot does here.

Per the WSJ editorial on the preceding page, we are seeing how much "Arabs love the pax Americana."  I remember during Abu Ghraib and everything else hearing about how America's standing in the region would take "decades" to resurrect.  You knew that was bulls@&t then.  When the right circumstances hit the right fan, the Arab League wants our no-fly-zone, even if Turkey's Erdogan is being too egotistical to admit it.

But of course, we now bow to the "international community," Obama's pet phrase decoded as, "I'm with chickens@$t!"  Just some leadership here would be nice.

Niall Ferguson, in Newsweek, quotes some senior WH aide as saying, "[The President] keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic."

Ferguson thereupon blows that idiotic reading of history out of the water.  Good God, take a peak at the American Revolution, why don't you?

It scares me to think Obama really views history that naively.  Ferguson goes on to make a truly sophisticated argument on the Helsinki Accords killing the Soviet Union (whip communism . . . eventually, Jerry!).  Great point.  Revolutions that succeed without outside help are rare.

But hey, now Washington seems to have bought into the Beijing Consensus when it comes to non-interference.  I'm sure the view on this new world order is great from Benghazi.

9:31AM

WPR's The New Rules: Obama Abdicating U.S. Leadership in Libya

If President Barack Obama's handling of the events in Libya exemplifies his own definition of a "post-American world," then we have moved past a G-Zero reality, which is how Nouriel Roubini and Ian Bremmer described a G-20 that can't agree on how to rebalance global power, and into what I would describe as the "G-Less-Than-Zero" world, where America purposefully abdicates its global leadership role.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

11:03AM

Realizing our hand in Libya

 

 

Austin Bay on Strategy Page (by way of Craig Nordin) a couple days back talking about covert action.

I don't know Bay personally, but he always impresses with his just-aggressive-enough logic that you always want him in the discussion, and I believe his thinking here is especially welcome.

Everybody keeps saying, No-Fly-Zone equals act of war, but that's a red herring.  It is a clear abrogation of sovereignty in this age, but it does not signal a classic state-on-state war dynamic, where the "act of war" logic is appropriate.  No one thought we were at war with Saddam across the 1990s when we NFZ'd both north and south, and this is an entirely feasible route for us to go here, one that's short of serious intervention (and all that entails) and beyond just sitting on our hands or taking in refugees.

But here's Bay's point that really struck me, because it's why I'm writing my WPR column for Monday on having exactly the same feeling in my own head these past few days:  We are letting a winning hand go to waste here.

Bay:

Here's a clue: 2011 finds America representing history's winners at the strategic, long-term level. The demands for freedom in the streets of Tunis and Cairo echo the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Ironically, 2011 also finds an American government that is tactically alienated from these energized democratic forces because it is convinced of America's past agency in what its left-wing academic gurus call imperialism, racism, reactionary-ism, et cetera. For these toffs, the hint of U.S. involvement in an event taints its historical purity, or some equivalent balderdash.

But the world isn't a faculty lounge. In Libya, as President Obama mulls, Gadhafi's air force mauls.

We only get so many opportunities to lead, and this is one of them.  So this is where Obama has to decide if he really is, as the Right contends, born and bred for a "post-American world" or whether his definition of renewal allows for a reversal of that perception.  I find the whole PAW concept (less Zakaria's actual book but how the notion is employed) to be the most insidious form of self-defeatism, and entirely inappropriate for the age we're in.  Even the "risers," when you examine where they're at and what they need, don't really welcome this notion in reality--just in anticipation.  Unless Obama can start articulating something post-"post-American world," I would have to argue that we'd be better off with somebody else come 2012, just like I did with Bush in 2004 (and yes, I am concluding that, in this era, we cannot afford 2-term presidents).  I just don't think the world can afford 4 more years of such non-leadership.  We need something short of Bush but above what Obama is mustering right now.

9:26AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: Battle: Libya? How the Pentagon Cured America's War Itch

Before and after President Obama decided to be "very unambiguous" about why Muammar Qaddafi should step down, a lot of people were reading way too much into his defense secretary's comments above, made at West Point as part of a legacy tour that just happened to fall in the middle of a civil war. Was this some pre-emptive kind of door-slamming on the prospect of U.S. military intervention in Libya and whatever follow-on "Facebook revolutions" are to come? Not really. As MacArthur himself — a serious headcase if there ever was one — discovered with Truman, only the commander-in-chief makes those calls. The rest of us are just advisers, onlookers, and ne'er-do-wells.

And don't read too much into Hillary Clinton's own Libya whopper on Tuesday — "this doesn't come from some Western power or some Gulf country saying this is what you should do, this is how you should live" — because there's a lot more going on here than no-fly zones. As the world awaits our next move in the Middle East's power struggle, an intense battle is unfolding within the national-security establishment back home: The "future of the force," as insiders here in Washington and around the Pentagon like to call it, hangs in the balance. And Robert Gates, having already advertised that the United States of America had reached its limits and now poised for his final power play, knows how to counter better than anyone in the president's ear.

Can we interpret the Gates comments — made on his way out the door and protecting his tenuous small-war legacy every step of the way — as a repudiation of Bush and Cheney's long-war logic? Again, not really. (And please take note that almost all of the proposals out there for "surgical" this-and-that in Libya comes closer to Rumsfeld's vilified light-and-fast mentality than anything approaching a mass land force occupation.)

Does the Defense Department suddenly want to walk away from this "era of persistent conflict," as Gates likes to call it? No. (He's fully supports Obama's our-badassess-versus-their-badasses approach to counter-terrorism, swapping out Bush's bring-'em-on bravado for remorseless killing drones).

Is the U.S. military, as Gates said in the West Point speech, an "institution transformed by war" to the point of tamping down any possible major land war in Asia? Only insofar as we're keeping counterinsurgency alive and the troops safe. (Remember the last time we ditched that plan?)

But in staring down the Obama administration's wave of withdrawal from the world — the "post-American world" vibe that has we'll-be-number-one-again pundits like Tom Friedman and Fareed Zakaria headed straight for Qadaffi's bookshelf — Bob Gates swims against it. While managing two wars, he got fed up with trading future combat casualties in imaginary wars with China against today's very real ones, so you'll have to excuse him for sounding such somber notes. And God bless him for that, because it took a while to get here.

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.

10:43AM

WPR's The New Rules: Leadership Fatigue Puts U.S., and Globalization, at Crossroads

Events in Libya are a further reminder for Americans that we stand at a crossroads in our continuing evolution as the world's sole full-service superpower. Unfortunately, we are increasingly seeking change without cost, and shirking from risk because we are tired of the responsibility. We don't know who we are anymore, and our president is a big part of that problem. Instead of leading us, he explains to us. Barack Obama would have us believe that he is practicing strategic patience. But many experts and ordinary citizens alike have concluded that he is actually beset by strategic incoherence -- in effect, a man overmatched by the job. 

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

8:30AM

WPR's The New Rules: Ten Assumptions About Egypt Worth Discarding

There's a lot of trepidation mixed in with the joy of seeing one of the Arab world's great dictators finally step down. With Americans being so down on themselves these days, many see more to fear than to celebrate. But on the whole, there's no good reason for the pessimism on display, which is based on a lot of specious assumptions that need to be discarded. Here's my Top 10 list.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

10:28AM

WPR's The New Rules: "Guiding Egypt into the Axis of Good"

While there remains a ton of things that can go wrong with the unfolding revolution in Egypt, there's a strong case to be made that America, despite its low popular standing there, has been handed a gift horse whose mouth, as the axiom puts it, is best left unexamined.  Because most of America's concerns center on security issues, I'll frame the argument for why this is the case in tactical, operational and strategic terms, and then finish on the most relevant grand strategic note -- namely, the new Axis of Good that may result. 

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:33AM

Mubarak's call: for cooler heads - and better downstream outcomes, the best possible path for Egypt (updated)

[EXTENSION OF ARGUMENT AT BOTTOM; VARIOUS UPDATES BOLDED THROUGHOUT]

Mubarak's just-announced decision not to stand for re-election in the slated September poll is obviously a good one, but so is his vow to remain in office until a successor is installed.

Why?

I just like how the paired decision allows the relevant authorities (i.e., the military) to slow things down, while demonstrating it's largely in charge without having to really step out there and harm any numbers (thus decredentializing itself).  The breather also gives all the relevant outside parties time to influence events to their - sometimes yes and sometimes no - reasonable liking.  It also gives the military time to interact with outside powers in a manner that should be reassuring.

We're talking a leaderless revolt that's driven by an underlying socio-economic revolution long in the making but weak in the developing of suitable political leadership.  Carpetbagging Mohamed ElBaradei [who must now dump on the US every chance he gets to prove he's really Egyptian and not just a lifelong UN bureaucrat, otherwise known as electioneering] actually needs time in-situ to develop a real following, for example.  And the Muslim Brotherhood's intentions and capabilities are more easily gauged/managed by the Powers That Remain in the run-up to the election than if something was slapped together, unity government-wise, in the immediate aftermath of Mubarak high-tailing it to Saudi Arabia.

As much as the romance of that image attracts ("See!  We scared the old bastard out of office!"), the subsequent dynamics are rarely so good.  This is a political system that's purposefully been retarded in its development for decades now, so giving it 8 months to find its feet will be a good thing.

Yes, much depends on how Mubarak behaves in the next few days and months (and seeing the social network sites back up is a VERY good sign), because the right moves will placate and soothe and the wrong ones will only inflame.  People on the street need to be satisfied that they've triggered something huge and permanent and that a new political era has already dawned.  Once that shock is over, then the real bottom-up networking and organizing can proceed apace, the key thing being that the police and Interior Ministry stay out of the picture.

That's not to say that I wouldn't expect the military to sanction some serious repression of the Brotherhood if they proceeded to scare people, but in general, it would be best if everybody had their chance to prove themselves under the new conditions without anybody being declared off-limits.  A truly free election where the Brotherhood does okay but somebody far more stabilizing wins the presidency would be a huge victory for democrats everywhere and a severe blow to Iran, al-Qaeda, radical Islam in general, and even the vaunted China model and its alleged transferability to places like Egypt.

Plus, given America' leadership-from-behind to date, the interregnum gives the Obama administration some time to make amends. [Now, Obama, in catch-up mode, demands Mubarak leave right now, and if the military can live with the interim choice, so can I.   But I'm against the general vibe of accelerating the pace out of fear of the mob, as I imagine the Army is - for good reason.  I think that if you fear the Iran 1979 scenario, you want this to be as calm and orderly as possible, so you exploit Mubarak's decision the best you can, in consultation with the military, and you don't just pile on now for the sake of cleaning up your johnny-come-lately mistakes.].  The lag likewise makes possible the international mediation process, if that's welcomed and usefully applied in this instance (and I think it could be).

Done well, this becomes another Big Bang-like notch in our belts, proving that regime-change doesn't have to come at the barrel of the foreign gun but can be opportunistically achieved in concert with globalization's natural advance.  Also done right, the flow of money to remake the Egyptian economy isn't in the form of official developmental aid but foreign direct investment - from all sides in a true collaboration-of-civilizations mode.  

The best outcome of the election is a new president able and willing to make the right investment climate happen (so think legal and security  and social tolerance in addition to economic and political stability) so globalization can flood in far faster and provide the jobs and opportunities and brighter future these protesters truly desire.

In short, I think this whole thing has gone amazing well.  It should be embraced by a down-in-the-mouth West and United States in particular, because this is very much our side winning. This is globalization's connectivity fomenting revolution and leading to even more connectivity and self-empowerment.  Overall, a huge positive that should be celebrated and nurtured for the profound demonstration effect.

Imagine:  just 8 short years after we go into Iraq we face the prospect of that country and Egypt presenting the world with democratically-elected governments.  I know everybody wants everything by Tuesday, but to me, looking at it strategically from a longer-term perspective, I can't believe how well things are turning out in this globalization-versus-radical-Islamic-fundamentalism struggle - or how quickly.

[per the comment on the Big Bang reference--see below, understanding that I'm taking on the notion here, not the commenter per se]

You don't argue that Iraq directly caused Tunisia and Egypt. That's silly, but so is Wilkerson's hatred of all things Bush. The guy went round the bend years ago. Saying there's a direct causality is like saying we descended from modern apes. I'm citing a larger phenomenon that begets both, one that presents us with different challenges, if we so choose to recognize them.

You argue that they're all part of the same process of opening up the Middle East to globalization. Sometimes it makes sense to force the issue, and sometimes it's better to act opportunistically.

["Really? I thought one size supposedly fit all!"]

Iraq was kinetic because Saddam was a big-time disconnector who required an enemy-world image to justify his amazingly cruel rule.  No such effort is required with either Tunisia or Egypt because there, you're not talking a totalitarian ambition (Saddam failed), nor a required world-enemy justification for militarism and constantly threatening behavior to others.  Simply put, not enough boxes were checked, and in Mubarak's defense, he did plenty to help out US interests in keeping the region stable, so even some boxes that could have been checked were left unmarked (and yes, we call that "realism," boo hoo!). 

Where we do draw parallel lines between the two is this:  by taking down Saddam, we triggered a larger tumult in the region.  We triggered all manner of accelerated connectivity, in part because we told the world we'd be responsible for regional stability by taking down its worst, most destabilizing actor and standing up to #2 in Iran (which we've done consistently, and thankfully haven't invaded given our tie-down elsewhere and the related arguments I've long made that Iran is a soft-kill option staring us in the face).  We saw the rippling tumult in 2005, when the Saudis held local elections for the first time in 70 years, Lebanon broke somewhat free of Syria in the Cedar Revolution, Mubarak felt the need to conduct a somewhat freer election, etc. Governments across the board felt some need to either firewall or prove their reform credentials, and Iraq helped fuel that by saying, Change is coming one way or the other.

[And then we got unduly obsessed with Iran's nuclear pursuit, which I have also criticized ad nauseum.  And Obama has persisted in this painfully myopic view of the world and globalization.]

Of course, and I've made these arguments ad nauseum, we could have done Iraq better, but the realist in me concerning the Pentagon and the US military says that the small-wars mindset wasn't going to emerge until we failed using the old "lesser includeds" techniques (big war force pretends to have small-wars skills).  Bush held off on that shift for way too long (until the people spoke in 2006) and now big Blue (Air Force, Navy) are dying to revive it all vis-a-vis China, which I think is nuts.  But evolutions such as these are non-stop fights, and so those of us who believe in them continue that struggle.  But that's a side issue to this argument.

And that larger argument remains:  globalization is impinging on a part of the world that is not ready for it and will experience tremendous social, economic, political and security tumult as it absorbs its impact.  That penetration process is not some elite conspiracy in the West; it's a demand-pull primarily by youth and middle class and students - and oppressed women - locally. When it's impeded enough by evil elites, and those elites constitute security threats in addition, the US calculus will always broach the question of kinetically removing them to facilitate the process ("global capitalist domination" to the neo-Marxist bullshit artists, liberation of an emerging global middle class to me).  Sometimes the threshold is met, but most times it is not.  Why?  We're too busy with other things.  We're feeling down on ourselves.  We're experiencing crisis.  Or it's just not enough of a me-versus-him feeling to justify whipping ourselves into action, which is just how democracies are (and God love them for that). 

But does that mean we don't intervene?  Of course we intervene.  Just get your head out of your butt and realize that interventions aren't all the same.  Some are kinetic and some are very subtle. We're intervening right now plenty in Egypt via our contacts with the military, a very broadband connection spanning decades and thousands of officers (and a process I know well, having been involved with it on many levels for two decades--see PNM for my description vis-a-vis India/Pakistan).  That is an unknown but huge power of the Leviathan force:  we train people all over the world.  And so, when stuff goes down, we have influence.  

Will this influence somehow get us everything we want?  When we want it?  With praise ringing in our ears?  Again, let's stay out of fairyland.  Lumps will be coming, as will brick bats.  Only question for us is, 8-10 years later, do we like the outcome?  Did our side win?

In Iraq, come 2013, we're looking at a very good situation.  A democracy with a handful of free elections by then.  Iranian influence, but not much more than Turkey's (and it's the economics where both matter, not the politics).  A rising oil power that shifts the balance in OPEC away from Iran to a country that has cooperative investment deals with basically every continent in the world--connectivity!  In the end, we still could have done it vastly better, like simply giving the Chinese the entire rebuild contract on day 1 instead of our supremely bad fumbling effort (Check out China preparing to dump $10B into Zimbabwe).  We could have gone COIN from day one instead of 3-4 years in, wasting the vast bulk of our lives and the vast bulk of the Iraqi lives.  And yes, we hold Bush-Cheney accountable for such decisions, but the mistakes were throughout the system, products of decades of assumptions and thinking that many of us still battle to this day.  But, in the end, the Iraq that stands there in 2013 is something entirely different from what the pessimists have long predicted.  It is a force that makes globalization move more broadly and deeply in the region, and that means we win.

My hopes for Egypt are that, by 2020-2022, we're looking at a Turkey-like player with a broad and relatively happy middle class.  It's got a military that's respected and still a very solid friend of the US and the US's friends in the region.  It is Islamist in flavor, because that's the people's heritage and it must be respected, just like a Christian-Judeo one is in the US.  But it's not unduly dominant or nasty to other faiths, because that's bad for globalization and business.  It becomes a conduit for the Horn and North Africa and the PG - connecting in all directions.  

And sooner than you think, it becomes the justification for similarly successful unrest elsewhere.

But yeah, we're now in the business of nation-building in Egypt, and fortunately for us, this time the US won't be in charge.  I hope we learn how much better that can be, and how many more players we can and should help tap right from the start, encouraging the Egyptians to self-empowering connectivity in all directions, so long as they create and sustain the rule sets necessary to make that work.

So to sum up:  my argument here is not to wash away Bush-Cheney's many mistakes.  I'm on record and in books and articles and columns and speeches and posts galore listing all the things they did that I disagreed with.  My point here is to remind us of the larger connections with history - a history we purposefully sought to create and continue to try and shape.  

And to remind you that our side is globalization, and globalization is winning - big time.

So wake up, Austin Powers*, and realize the world has shifted - yet again - in our favor, just when we needed a lift.

And then keep your chin up through all the name-calling to follow. Stick to the long-term perspective, because the dumbasses will be freaking out, bemoaning yet again how "America lost and THEY won!"  It's just our self-critical and Type A nature, which is good much of the time and just plain silly at various stretches of perceived and real crisis.

Simma down, nah!

Basil Exposition: Austin, the Cold War is over!


Austin Powers: Finally those capitalist pigs will pay for their crimes, eh? Eh comrades? Eh?


Exposition: Austin... we won.


Powers:
 Oh, smashing, groovy, yay capitalism! 

9:22AM

WPR's The New Rules: Why America Needs to Demonize China

President Barack Obama came into office promising a new sort of bilateral relationship with China. It was not meant to be. Washington hasn't changed any of its long list of demands regarding China, and Beijing, true to historical form, has gone out of its way to flex its muscles as a rising power. With the recent series of revelations concerning Chinese military developments, the inside-the-Beltway hyping of the Chinese threat has reached fever pitch, matching the average American's growing fears of China's economic strength.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.