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Entries in Obama Administration (114)


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


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.


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.

 Oh, smashing, groovy, yay capitalism! 


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.


WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Defense Cuts a Step in the Right Direction

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled his much-anticipated budget cuts last Thursday, signaling the beginning of the end of the decade-long splurge in military spending triggered by Sept. 11. Gates presented the package of cuts as being the biggest possible given the current international security landscape, warning that any deeper reductions could prove "potentially calamitous." Frankly, I find that statement hard to swallow.

REad the entire column at World Politics Review.


Esquire's Politics Blog: Obama's Afghanistan Review, Decoded

So the White House just released its much-anticipated review of our ongoing military efforts in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, mind you). And while President Obama, Bob Gates, and Hillary Clinton took pains to explain in a press conference on Thursday that "this continues to be a very difficult endeavor," it can also be very difficult to parse propaganda from, you know, the actual end of a modern war. But since this is a reasonably well-written document that the president's talking about here — and since it more or less outlines the past, present, and future of our troops' presence in region in a still-untidy five pages — it seems worthwhile to deconstruct the review line-by-line... and (white) lie-by-lie. Here goes.

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


Esquire's Politics Blog: How the WikiLeaks Cables Reveal Obama's False Utopia

So the Obama administration says America's relations with our allies around the world can survive the latest WikiLeaks dump of U.S. diplomatic cables, and I'm inclined to agree. Truth is, the whole thing reads like a booze-addled Thanksgiving argument spun out of control, and nothing more. So the Middle East's corrupt autocrats hate each other and constantly goad the White House into taking out their garbage — big deal! God only knows the same good ol' boys will be the first to condemn us once things get tough and we choose to act. (To say nothing of Julian Assange's impending lawsuit.) In the meantime, sell the bad guys a few anti-missile defense systems and tell 'em to shut the hell up, because President Obama has one helluva lot more on his plate right now than just Iran, or North Korea, or Pakistan, or... you get the point.

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


WPR's The New Rules: Setting the Terms for a U.S.-China Grand Bargain

History tells us that, when a rising great power approaches the standing of the dominant system-shaping great power, conflict is inevitable, either directly or in such regions where their two spheres of influence intersect. The great counterexample is the acceptance by a "rising" America of the late-19th century of Great Britain's implicit offer of a "special relationship," which allowed the latter to punch above its weight throughout the 20th century. That alliance was subsequently forged in opposition to common enemies: first the Kaiser and then Nazi Germany, followed by the Soviet Union. 

China and the United States have no such common enemy of that stature. Lacking an obvious evil to fight, we are left with only an obvious collective good to preserve: globalization. This fortunate reality nonetheless encourages zero-sum thinking: China's inevitable rise is America's inevitable decline. Instead of a world to be shared and shaped, expert voices increasingly warn of a world to be divided and destroyed by wars over resources. 

To present an alternative to such zero-sum thinking, I've spent the past several months working with the Beijing-based Center for America-China Partnership and its chairman, John Milligan-Whyte, drawing up a proposed "China-U.S. Presidential New Grand Strategy Agreement." The document -- which Whyte and his partner, Dai Min, published in People's Daily Online last week -- proposes a diplomatic and economic "grand bargain" between China and the United States, one that breaks through the rising hostility and mutual suspicions that define the world's most important bilateral relationship. 

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Esquire's Politics Blog: 5 Ways the U.S. Can Fend Off the Next Korean War

Well North Korea seems determined to stay on the front pages this month, having very proudly unveiled to a visiting American scientist a couple of weeks ago the existence of yet another uranium-enrichment facility (yes, it's apparently state-of-the-art and, yes, we already knew about it) and then launching an artillery barrage on Tuesday in self-declared retaliation for an apparently routine South Korea military exercise along the border. While it's tempting to write this off as just the latest shenanigans from Pyongyang designed to keep us on our toes, understand that virtually every all-out war scenario on the peninsula begins with a North Korean artillery barrage, so South Korea's decision to retaliate is no small matter.

Before this thing get out of hand too quickly, here's how the Obama administration can keep our already oversubscribed military away from another Axis of Evil war.

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



New China-U.S. grand strategy proposal, as published in People's Daily Online

The Center for America China Partnership, Barnett Consulting LLP and leading  Chinese policy experts have been spent the past few weeks preparing a China-US Grand Strategy Proposal that was published on People's Daily Online yesterday, 22 Nov 2010

I will be in Beijing participating in meetings with Chinese government decision-makers and business- and thought-leaders regarding the proposal and other issues from December 3-13.

My next WPR column will offer my take on the piece, a bit more backstory, and plumb the same basic trade-offs. 

My point in this exercise: I wanted to explore what a serious and ambitious rebalancing of the U.S.-China relationship would logically entail.  Where would be the compromises?  What would constitute the breakthroughs?  

The full text:

Here is the package of arrangements in a new China-U.S. grand strategy implementing essential bilateral and multilateral breakthroughs, which current policies, proposals and ad hoc arrangements cannot create. 

When agreed upon by the presidents of both nations through an "executive agreement" not subject to U.S. Senate ratification, it will promote U.S. economic recovery, increase U.S. exports to China, create 12 million US jobs, balance China-US trade as well as reduce U.S. government deficits and debt. Furthermore, it will stabilize the U.S. dollar, global currency and bond markets. It will also enable reform of international institutions, cooperative climate change remediation, international trade, global security breakthroughs as well as facilitate the economic progress of developed and developing economies, the stabilization and rebuilding of failed states and security of sea transport. 

The essence of the grand strategy is that the United States and China will balance their bilateral trade and never go to war with each other, and the US will refrain from seeking regime change and interference in China's internal affairs with regard to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, the Internet, human rights etc. and China will continue its political, legal, economic and human rights reforms.

The Taiwan situation will be demilitarized by an informal U.S. presidential moratorium on arms transfers to Taiwan, China's reduction of strike forces arrayed against it, a reduction of U.S. strike forces arrayed against China and ongoing joint peacekeeping exercises by U.S., Chinese and Taiwan militaries.

The strategic uncertainty surrounding nuclear program in Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) will be de-escalated by the U.S. eschewing DPRK regime change goals and China ensuring that DPRK adopt policies along the lines of Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms and terminate its nuclear weapons program. China, U.S., South Korean and other military forces will together ensure maritime safety in the Yellow Sea.

The U.S. and its allies will not attack, invade or seek regime change and eliminate trade restrictions and promote trade with Iran. China will ensure Iran suspends development of nuclear weapons.

China will negotiate the eventual resolution of sovereignty disputes on the basis of the ASEAN Code of Conduct and propose and substantially invest in a new South China Sea Regional Development Corporation in which its neighbors Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam are shareholders.

The United States and China will harmonize and coordinate their roles in Asian Economic and Regional Security and relations with Asian nations to ensure the peaceful coexistence and the economic stability and growth of ASEAN nations in their bilateral and multilateral relations and roles in ASEAN, APEC, etc.

The United States and China will hold regular joint naval exercises in Asian waters, with rotating invitations to other regional navies; have permanent officer-exchange programs and create a joint peacekeeping force and command; establish a joint commission collaborating constantly on U.S. and PRC technology sharing and budget expenditures; and participate in a Peacekeeping Administrative System in which the U.N. Security Council functions like a prosecutor indicting individuals and nations violating the UN Charter, the United States and other U.N. members act as sheriff, and United States, China and other U.N. members provide economic and national security-building resources.

The annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue will become a permanently sitting commission for ongoing senior-level communications and collaboration bilaterally and multilaterally on implementing principles in the Preamble, Article 1, and other articles of the U.N. Charter. It will also focus on the rehabilitation of failing and failed states as well as the coordination of U.S. and Chinese technology and financing to ensure technologies needed for rapid and effective pollution remediation are affordable and to promote the development and financing of sustainable energy and globally needed green and other technologies. 

The strategic dialogues will also center on the procurement of other resources in order to ensure global economic growth and security and will pay close attention to economic and peacekeeping issues, including reform and innovations at the United Nations, climate change negotiations, IMF, World Bank, WTO, G 20, Doha Agreement etc. and joint space exploration with other U.N. members. The Strategic and Economic Dialogue Commission will review all existing tariffs, WTO complaints and other trade and economic disputes and issues. The United States and China will collaborate in the Strategic and Economic Dialogues Commission to ensure full attainment of job creation and employment and regional development goals throughout the United States and China in areas suffering from unemployment or needing special economic growth arrangements.

China will invest up to 1 trillion U.S. dollars at the request of the U.S. President to implement the following package of new economic and business relations. The U.S. will lift export bans on high technology put in place on the assumption of possible military conflict with China. China will purchase sufficient U.S. goods and services to balance trade each year in exchange for providing U.S. American companies access to the Chinese market equal to the access that Chinese companies enjoy on the U.S. market. 

The U.S. and China will encourage global joint ventures between U.S. and Chinese companies. An initial example of this will involve General Motors, which is currently 61 percent owned by the U.S. government. On a case-by-case basis, ownership limits for new investments by Chinese companies in American-owned or controlled corporations will be no more than 45 percent of each company's shares. Another 45 percent will remain with non-Chinese shareholders, and 10 percent will be reserved for U.S., Chinese and other nations' pension funds and other long-term investors. Similarly, the ownership limit for new U.S. companies' investments in China will be 45 percent with 45 percent remaining with Chinese ownership and 10 percent reserved for U.S., Chinese and other nations' pension funds and long-term investors. 

Nothing in this grand strategy constitutes, is intended to nor permits the creation or operation of a "G2," nor creates an alliance between the United States and China, nor does it replace U.S. alliances. Everything in the grand strategy creates an improved framework for collaboration among the US, China and other United Nation members and facilitates the U.S. and China and all other nations' economic and national security being aligned pursuant to the Preamble and Article I and other Articles of the U.N. Charter. The agreement and implementation of this new grand strategy will immediately and sustainably reset the global economy and increase the economic, national security and progress of all nations, which is urgently required to prevent the global financial and resulting plethora of economic and national security crises from continuing to destabilize all nations. 

This grand strategy proposal was created in a collaboration of John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, authors of China and America's Leadership in Peaceful Coexistence: China-US Relations in the Obama Administration: Facing Shared Challenges and other seven books in the America China Partnership Book Series, and Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map, and Blueprint For Action: A Future Worth Creating and America and The World After Bush, and leading Chinese policy experts.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.


WPR's The New Rules: Globalization's Massive Demographic Bet

By calling the Chinese out explicitly on their currency manipulation in his concluding address to the G-20 summit last week, President Barack Obama may have torpedoed his relationship with Beijing for the remainder of what China's bosses most certainly now hope is his first and only term. Burdened by a Republican-controlled, Tea Party-infused House, and bathed in hypocrisy thanks to the Fed's own, just-announced currency manipulation (aka, QE2), Obama seems not to recognize either the gravity of his nation's long-term economic situation or the degree to which his own political fate now hinges on his administration's increasingly stormy ties with China. 

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Obama zigged in India when he should have zagged

Good FT op-ed by Mansoor Ijaz, who "jointly authored the blueprint for a ceasefire of hostilities between Indian security forces and Islamist militants in Kashmir in July and August 2000," so he knows from where he speaks.

In line with my bit about making India happy before Pakistan, he says you need to make India happy enough to chill Pakistan if you want any sort of real answer on Afghanistan, which I would thereupon say needs some Indian effort/presence to boot (piling on, perhaps, but if you're going to make such effort, why not get maximum response?).

Starts with story about how in 2004 the Indian intell discovered a jihadist plot to kill Musharraf and immediately decided to tell the Pakistanis about it, averting in their minds that disaster.  The logic?  The terrorists were now everyone's problem, says Ijaz, "for Pakistan is a country that can no longer manage the monsters it has created."

Ijaz's primary sale here is an "open security architecture" for the region, by which he means one helluva lot more transparency than currently exists.  

Frankly, the same should be done on the South China Sea with China, to include the subsets of NorKo and Taiwan.  There simply should be no joint exercises that don't include damn near everybody.  Why?  We are fooling around with very important countries in a fairly fragile global economy--simply put, bigger fish to fry.

Ijaz argues that if we got the Pakistani and Indian militaries/security forces cooperating openly, then:

Such co-operation would reduce stress not only along the Indo-Pakistani border, enabling those resources to be spent elsewhere in stabilising Pakistan, but also in Afghanistan, where Islamabad perceives an Indian effort to squeeze it out of a traditional power base. Defusing mistrust here is critical. As a confidence-building measure, India could for example ask Pakistan’s military to join its own in training the new Afghan army.

Same trade answer useful here as in the Korean peninsula, where the US should ratify its free trade agreement with South Korea immediately:  get an Indian-Pakistani free trade accord.

And so on and so forth.

My point:  Obama comes and makes this empty gesture of supporting India's bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat. "Empty" because it's not his to give and very unlikely anytime soon, so he offers it at zero cost/risk.

Instead, as all the media coverage notes, he references common terror threats and totally sidesteps the Kashmir issue--again an empty gesture as far as the Indians are concerned, because their terror fears start there, as do Pakistan's need to keep those networks and militias available for employment against India. Unless we eliminate that requirement, Pakistan will continue double-dealing with us, and the Afghanistan solution will not come.

Good piece, good logic.

So far Obama's done an unimaginative rerun in Afghanistan of Bush logic in Iraq:  surge + no real regional diplomatic dealmaking. We get away with it in Iraq because the dominant group was allowed to win, and its tentativeness ever since has been due to our letting the dominant group win.  We face no such neat opportunity in Afghanistan. To settle that place, we need to settle the Pashtun, and to settle the Pashtun, we need to settle Pakistan, and to settle Pakistan we need to get India in the right space with Pakistan.

The bold move would have been to get that rolling on Obama's big-time trip to India, but, unless I'm missing something here, that did not happen. The coverage I've read said Kashmir was strictly avoided.

And that, to me, sounds like a president--notwithstanding the Nobel--overmatched by the dealmaking required to make some genuine peace happen.  Obama either lacks the imagination or the will, because that was a wasted trip.

Again, cool all right, just empty in outcomes.



Whither Russia: the latest tilt to the West

Couple of stories from WSJ and Spiegel on Russia's latest mini-bout of Westernizing fever.

It used to be that these tilts, one way or the other, went on for decades--centuries!  But since Cold War's end, it seems, like everything else in this networked world, to come and go so much faster.

Yeltsin's time was an age of aping the West, then Putin led the return back to Russian-ness.  Now Medvedev and others sound the age-old alarm about "falling behind the West/world" and needing to modernize once again.  It's the same old Westernizers versus Slavophiles debate:  Russia is a failure in its isolation and backwardness and must adopt the ways of the West versus Russia is not a failure but unique and wonderful and the champion of Slavs everywhere and we must stand up to the West and protect our brothers . . . by sucking them into our empire and putting a big wall around them!

If the last bit sounds like some modern-day Islamic radical fundamentalist impulse, it's because it is very similar.  It's just an earlier version of rejecting the capitalist west.

From "Blueprint":

Last year I took my kids up to Boston, and during that trip we visited the Museum of Science. It’s a kid-oriented place, and my job was mostly to make sure my youngest son, Jerome, didn’t run off into some crowd. Near the end of the day, after the lightning show and the planetarium, we stopped by an exhibition on archaeology, where the kids got to mess around with various assembled skeletons. So while they were stacking bones in one corner, I found myself scanning the room for something to look at. I was drawn to a world map hung on a nearby wall. On it was displayed the migration of humans from our earliest origins in sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 100,000 years ago.

Now, the first thought that hit me is one that I’ve heard many times in the past: the spread of humanity around the planet was the first form of globalization. But as I stared at the timeline legend, another thought occurred to me: the spread of the current model of economic globalization is really the reverse track of that original spread of humanity. Humanity first spread from Africa to the Middle East; then to Eurasia; then to Europe, Japan, and Australia; and finally into the New World of the Western Hemisphere about 10,000 years ago. So if you were going to date civilizations, the age ranking would roughly correspond to the spread of humanity, with Africa and the Middle East being the oldest and the Western Hemisphere being the youngest.

But today’s version of globalization really began in the Western Hemisphere (the United States), then spread outward to include the West (Japan, Australia, Europe), finally conquering the Eurasian socialist bloc in the last generation, and now finding itself fundamentally stuck (no pun intended) on the oldest and least globalized parts of the world—namely, the Muslim world and Africa. In effect, modern globalization can be described as roughly a 150-year trek from the “youngest” parts of the world to the “oldest,” which is why it’s gotten harder and not easier with time, because it’s had more and more tradition and custom and history to overcome at each stage of its spread.

Admittedly, this thought didn’t come to me in a flash right then and there, because, as always, I was pretty tired from chasing my kids around that huge museum all day. What happened right there was that a different thought that had been crystallizing in my head for several days finally made sense when I saw the map. For that one, I have to take you to my nightly exercise on the treadmill, where I like to watch documentaries on my laptop.

Turns out a few days earlier I was watching Ken Burns’s masterful The Civil War, and listening to the descriptions of the conflict and what was at stake for both sides, I couldn’t help but think that the American Civil War was really the first Core-Gap war of the modern era. The North was the land of great cities, railroads, and factories, bristling with connectivity to the outside world in all forms, but especially in terms of immigrants streaming in from Europe. In contrast, the South was the bucolic, agrarian, and far more homogeneous landscape, largely disconnected from the outside world except for the narrow but voluminous trade in cotton, and distinguishable fundamentally for its heavy reliance on slave labor, which further isolated it from the rest of the world.

I know what you’re thinking: substitute oil for cotton and Asian guest workers for slaves and you’ve got some interesting parallels with a United States–led Core coalition of states seeking to transform the Middle East in another bloody war of conquest and occupation. The Union didn’t exactly invade the Confederacy to “secure” the cotton, now, did it? And the reality today is that we don’t need to invade the Persian Gulf to “secure” its oil, either. Hell, given the region’s great dependency on oil revenue, the regimes there have far fewer choices about selling their oil than the rest of the world has about buying it.

Well, it was following America’s Civil War that you really saw the second industrial revolution begin to flower in the United States, helping to speed up the westward expansion of the Union. Once the country became effectively networked with railroads, most of the movement of raw materials in our land fed the giant industrial beast rising in the northeastern quadrant of the continent. It was roughly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, then, that the United States finally began to resemble the multinational economic and political union that it is today, with its amazingly free and efficient movement of goods, services, people, and information across dozens of states all bound together under a federal government made significantly more powerful through civil war.

Meanwhile, of course, while America was rising “peacefully” in the Western Hemisphere, Europe spent the nineteenth century expanding its vast network of colonial possessions around the world in a great race among imperial powers, giving rise to the first great modern phase of globalization (Globalization I), running roughly from 1870 through 1914. This globalization, though, was largely based on the uncompetitive movement of raw materials from the periphery (colonies) to the home world (Europe), and it was enforced primarily by the occupation of foreign lands by European nationals augmented by extensive military networks (primarily defined by navies). When that system of global economy self-destructed in two great world wars (1914–18 and 1939–45), Europe was divided between the two victorious external powers: the United States and the Soviet Union.

At that point, Western Europe was connected, along with Japan and Australia, to America’s new version of globalization (Globalization II, from 1945–80), one not based on colonialism but on free markets, free trade, transparency, democracy, and collective security. On the other side of the Yalta line, Eastern Europe was disconnected from the rest of the world and fell under the isolating control of the Soviet Union for almost half a century. When China subsequently fell to the Communists and South Asia broke free from Europe’s colonial grip, basically the rest of the Eurasian landmass was lost to the socialist mind-set, remaining largely disconnected from the West’s embryonic global economy for roughly a couple of generations.

After that period of blocked expansion, the Western-defined globalization process renewed its march eastward with the collapse of the Communist bloc in 1989, with China actually predating that conversion by several years, thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s “four modernizations” push in the early 1980s, which marked the beginning of the third great age of modern globalization (Globalization III, from 1980 to 2001). At the end of the Cold War, only the former colonial regions of the Gap, which had overwhelmingly fallen victim to homegrown authoritarian regimes after the collapse of the European empires following the Second World War, remained fundamentally outside the global economy, with the two most disconnected regions being the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Not surprisingly, the Middle East now defines the battlefront in the grand historical struggle between the Core’s forces of connectedness and the Gap’s most bloodthirsty foes of that integration process (Globalization IV, from 2001), and once it likewise falls to globalization’s embrace, only deepest Africa will remain—that first cradle of humanity.

Realizing that modern globalization’s advance essentially traces backward the earlier spread of humanity is important on another level: Modern globalization’s advance has met with consistently violent resistance throughout most of its history from rejectionists armed with exclusionary ideologies. These rejectionists, starting with the slaveholding South and extending right on through to our current enemies, have always pleaded that mankind must be saved from the machine-driven logic and exploitation of the industrial world. Typically, these rejectionists not only have sought to resist integration into this industrialized world but also have proposed competing systems of government and economics that would both avoid this outcome and do it one better by leapfrogging humanity into some idealized alternative universe of near-utopian self-fulfillment.

The odd thing is that as globalization has progressively advanced in its technology and modernization, the rejectionist ideologies have been forced to retreat farther back in time to attempt to build their alternate universes. When Marxism began in the mid-nineteenth century, the assumption was that socialism would naturally be achieved at capitalism’s pinnacle of development, or at the point of the superabundance of goods. This ideology actually sought to extend the capitalist model of development beyond what were perceived as its logical limits. But since that ideology proved wrong in its diagnosis of capitalism’s weaknesses, it fell to Vladimir Lenin to turn Marx on his head at the start of the twentieth century and argue that socialist revolution was far more likely to succeed in a largely precapitalist society, meaning not industrial Germany but Russia just as it was approaching what would have been its industrial phase of development.

Later in the same century, Lenin’s great ideological successor, Mao Zedong, took his theory farther back in time, arguing that socialist revolutions made even more sense in largely agrarian societies like China, meaning a revolution led by rural peasants and not by an urban proletariat. Cambodia’s subsequent Khmer Rouge Communist movement later took Mao’s ideology to its logical extreme, not just engaging in “cultural revolution” against largely city-based “enemies of the state” but literally emptying the cities and forcing millions to endure “reeducation” (marking the revolutionary Year Zero that would reboot the system completely) and eventual genocide in the most backward rural areas of the country.

Meanwhile, with the fall of the Portuguese empire in sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-1970s, the Soviet Union’s leadership, despite the complete lack of revolutionary spirit back home, nonetheless deluded itself into thinking that successful socialist states could be constructed in some of Africa’s most backward economies, generating Moscow’s brief but ultimately failed ideological fling with the so-called Countries of Socialist Orientation (e.g., Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia). When the bankruptcy of that approach was made apparent in the failure of the Soviet puppet regime in Afghanistan at the beginning of the 1980s, the great collapse of the socialist bloc began in earnest, fueled in Asia by China’s rapid turn toward market economics under Deng.

It was at this point in history that many political theorists began speaking of the “end of history,” a phrase made famous by philosopher Francis Fukuyama, who, not accidentally, began his career as an expert on the Soviet bloc and its relations with the Third World (the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation as well). What was meant by that was the notion that no feasible alternative to democracies and capitalism seemed to exist anymore, signaling the historical supremacy of each in combination. As a great wave of democratization swept the planet in the wake of the socialist bloc’s retreat and collapse, the judgment appeared warranted.

And in many ways this historical judgment does remain valid, for what has arisen in the years since the Cold War cannot be described as a full-fledged alternative model of development, since the Salafi jihadist movement promises no economic development whatsoever, but rather a strange sort of retreat into the past, with the utopian promise of somehow not only getting it right this time (i.e., returning to the golden age of the first several centuries following Muhammad’s life), but doing so in such a way as to become far superior to the current perceived alternative (“Westoxification” at the hands of a corrupt capitalist world system). Indeed, the world witnessed this back-to-the-future outcome in the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan across the late 1990s, right down to its pointless destruction of all symbols of foreign religions, the banning of television and music, and severe restrictions on the education of females (the quintessential disconnect). In all, the Taliban’s definition of the “good life” was almost prehistorical in its quality, demonstrating the absurd lengths to which the violent resistance to globalization has traveled in the current age.

Yet, despite this retreat into the past, which corresponds to globalization’s progressive encroachment into the world’s most ancient civilizations, the Salafi jihadist movement of today is, in the words of economist Brink Lindsey, “strikingly similar to its defunct, secular cousins.” For like all the Lenins and Maos before it, al Qaeda’s antiglobalization movement, while feeding off its adherents’ sense of alienation from, and resentment of, the Western-fueled globalization process, is still nothing more than a naked grab for power over others, or what Lindsey calls “the millennial fantasy of a totalitarian state that is the fundamental feature and common thread that unites all the radical movements of the Industrial Counterrevolution.”

But, unlike previous versions of ideological resistance to this expanding model of global economic connectivity such as socialism or fascism, which offered a marriage of conservative social values with modern technology, the Salafi jihadists promise simply the rejection of modernity—which, as Lindsey points out, effectively kills any sort of global appeal beyond their most like-minded coreligionists. So how can bin Laden and al Qaeda still maintain their widespread popularity in the Islamic world? Easy. Their main competition is the rigid, unimaginative authoritarianism that grips so much of the Middle East. With history “ended,” where else can young Muslims turn in their anger over the lack of both freedom and development in their countries?

You know, one of the things I like about the Wikistrat globalization model that we're building right now, is that we're using bits and pieces from the books like this to illustrate points and aspects of the model, so we're doing exactly what this Civil Affairs officer at Monterey asked if I could someday do:  create an online space where people could come and really immerse themselves in the ideas but have them framed and accessible around an ongoing exploration of globalization.

Anyway, I give you the clip there to illustrate:  Bolshevism & Marxism-Leninism was just a time-phase variant of the anti-capitalist/anti-globalization response that's existed throughout history (the clip, if I had extended it, would have gone into Occidentalism, or hatred of the West/modernity), but it was also a natural variant of the Russian relationship with the wider world.  

Russia, not unlike big chunks of the Middle East, is a tough place to live with the harsh winters and such.  So the code and rule sets there were strict about conformity, collectivism, and so on.  And outsiders were largely shunned in the early formative days of that civilization.  

When the West begins to make itself known, it is, by comparison, an opportunity for enrichment--if Russians are willing to change themselves and integrate.  This is a huge choice, and a frightening one.  To do it means to abandon a lot of the past rules and identity and that usually only is possible when you feel those rules and traditions have been radically trumped.  So it feels like surrender to the alien outsiders:  me bad, you good, me want to be like you!

Not easy stuff to swallow.  Naturally, such perceived self-abasement triggers an opposing emotion:  me not bad, you really bad, me actually unique and better and I need to act on that and make my world that much bigger and stronger and secure to keep you and your bad influences out!

That's basically the inner dialogue of the Westernizers and Slavophiles, and it's been going on for centuries, with the first great turn West coming under Peter the Great.

Well, Russia, after its bout with "restoration of power" under Putin, now suddenly feels like it's a commodities producer with nothing else to offer the world.  Maybe not Upper Volta with nukes but not much better than Iran--soon enough.  So, when Medvedev and Putin do their little dance about who gets to be president next, the old debate resurfaces, with Medvedev as the latest Westernizing siren.  

Medvedev has said, in effect:  we are not a modern country and we need to become one in this globalized age. We need to get closer to Europe--not pull away or be nasty over natural gas.  And we need to use these contacts to learn better their ways and make ourselves more like them.  

The underlying current of the Westernizers has always been, "Because going the other route and becoming more Asian really sucks!"

Putin had his time to emulate the Chinese, but the Russians, deep down, feel more European than Asia--always have and always will.  They admire and hate Europe, but they despise the Chinese.   Chalk it up to whatever, but that undercurrent is always there, by my estimation.

So the WSJ story talks about a big privatization plan the Russians are pursuing ($59B) "as the Kremlin seeks to cut the state's role in the economy and raise money to balance the budget."

Doesn't mean their version of state-dominated big-firm capitalism goes away tomorrow; just means they know it's not the future.  Living as a commodities producer just isn't a way to grow yourself, so the effort is back on to convince Western (and Eastern) investors that Russia can be made safe--once again--for investment.  

Second story from Spiegel speaks to a subject near to my heart for almost two decades:  Russia should join NATO.  Not just have close or better relations; it should join NATO.

Putin by contrast had attacked the "almost uncontained hyper-use of military force" by NATO and the US in his famous speech to the Munich Security Conference in 2007 in which he warned that Russia had weapons systems that could get through Washington's planned missile shield, designed primarily to intercept missiles from Iran.


Under Medvedev, by contrast, the Kremlin appears ready even to contemplate Russia joining NATO one day. The Institute for Contemporary Development, whose board of trustees is headed by Medvedev, called in a strategy paper for Russia to integrate itself into NATO.

Now, everybody says that would "destroy" NATO's identity, but that's a past identity.  What NATO is today is undersubscribed (a point I made yesterday in the Global Political Trends on the Wikistrat model):  it's the closest thing we have to a Core-wide military alliance and it has too few members for its legacy sense of responsibility.  It simply needs to grow, and Russia's an obvious next target.  Not the Ukraine or Georgia BEFORE Russia, but Russia and perhaps those to soon follow.

As always, this kind of forward thinking is considered too naive, too out there, too whatever.  But compared to NATO's efforts to make Afghanistan work without Russian (and other) help, I think the idea is pretty sane.

We'll keep doing it the hard way because that's what our "wise men" know from their past--along with their trained next-generation acolytes.  But eventually, new minds come along and what is "inconceivable!" (in that Princess Bride way) suddenly becomes reasonable.

Is this the last go-around on the Westernizer-Slavophile merry-go-round?  I would never say never on that.  

But eventually, yeah, it will stick--if Europe is smart enough to make the deal.


The Politics Blog: The Problem with David Petraeus Talking to the Taliban

Much has been made of the new "talks to end the war in Afghanistan" as General David Petraeus "rewrites the playbook in Afghanistan." The King of Counterinsurgency has shelved his nation-building effort to broker a near-term peace accord with Hamid Karzai, say the journalists fed information by the very man who's given up on Karzai, ambassador Karl Eickenberry. (Or so says Bob Woodward.) And while informed observers are quick to note that U.S. armed forces are still laying it on thick — with real success, it now appears — not enough has been made of the dangerous game Petraeus is playing for the long term. It's a bet that could end up putting U.S. arms back in the hands of a new wave of terrorists.

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


Taiwan Relations Act: The Brer Rabbit defense

My friend Galrahn dutifully--and correctly--takes me to task for not specifying, in last week's post, that the Defense Department is obligated by law to both provide for Taiwan's defense against China (sell them arms) and maintain a US military capacity to resist Chinese force.  He says that my critiquing the Pentagon on this is unfair.

While Galrahn's points are technically correct, it's also certainly true that the Defense Deparment has a lot of leeway on how they can interpret meeting that requirement.  After all, what stops us from simply noting that we've got a lot of nukes and they can be enough to deter China from invading Taiwan.  Nothing in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 specifies conventional capabilities versus nuclear.  It just says "to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan." Give Taiwan enough defensive firepower, promise a nuclear back-up and call it a day.  But we choose, or rather, our Defense Department now chooses, to build an entire big-war warfighting concept around this scenario (no, no, nothing provocative there).  Nothing in the law demands that level of strategic focus or conventional effort.  So no, Galrahn, my rant wasn't misdirected. Pointing the Pentagon's finger at Congress and saying, "I'm just following orders" doesn't cut it here.

We've made a series of choices inside the Pentagon to elevate the meaning of Taiwan going back a decade and a half.  No outside power forced these choices; the military made this call on its own. The Taiwan scenario has become the calling-card scenario for the big-war force, much sturdier than the pathetic North Korean scenarios of collapse, or the bomb-heavy vignettes for Iran (unless you think we want to occupy that place too any time soon).  Simply put, until the Taiwan Strait crises in 1995-96 got the DoD turned-on to China as the near-peer competitor, you simply never heard about the Act as a baseline justification for force structure.  It merely explained arms sales to the island.  I know this, because I worked force structure issues for the Navy at the Center for Naval Analyses in the early 1990s (it was, like, bullet 4-a on slide 53, and when you saw it, you'd turn to the guy next to you, and intone knowingly, "Of course, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979," and then you'd be back to business).  The Act was a completely backburner issue until the Sov residual threat got so low in those early post-Cold War years (after it became likewise apparent that the "rising sun" wasn't going to fulfill anybody's fantasies except Michael Crichton's--yes, I actually had senior military officers tell me in great seriousness to read the book to understand the future looming Japanese threat), that the Act sort of surfaced like a bureaucratic bedrock at low tide.

The Taiwan Strait crises also birthed many of the original network-centric warfare concepts.  It really was a seminal series of events--the proverbial wake-up call.  But then 9/11 comes and we don't hear about it all that much anymore--save for those pesky arms sales and the usual huffing and puffing from Beijing on the subject. 

The difference today is that the AirSea Battle Concept--basically a navalized, mini-me version of the AirLand Battle concept vis-a-vis the Sovs in Europe during the 1980s--is clearly based on this scenario, with a paltry assist from Iran (not a great country you want to lump in, image-wise, when you seek China's help on Iranian nuke developments, but a sale is a sale).  And I gotta tell you, that's some chutzpah, basing a new high-end combat ordering principle on the same nation you're seeking all this cooperation from--like salvaging your economy right now.

Seriously, anybody has to admit that making an entire air-sea, big-war battle concept out of the Taiwan Relations Act is going above and beyond the call of duty.  In my opinion, it goes beyond defense policy to a good share of foreign policy as well, cementing in something for the long haul that may not serve our overall purposes in our evolving bilateral relationship with China.  

Is this a step we debate as Americans?  No.  Is this something our president explains to us, or our Secretary of State?  Not really. It's just an inside-the-Beltway affair led by a think tank that results in some language here and there in various planning docs and ultimately finds its expression in the budget.  Would the Navy or Air Force protest?  Above their pay grade, as they say, although plenty of retired flags from both services will tell you openly they think this is an odd path to be on, given the larger picture.  But most, if not all, will readily admit, as I do in an upcoming China Security piece, that, once you accept the deterrence logic on Taiwan, America needs to make the AirSea Battle Concept happen as merely the next-step ante to stay in this poker game.  And frankly, given the shopping list ginned up, any protest would sound very much in the Brer Rabbit mode.  After all, these are tight budgetary times, and quite frankly, Gates' logic begins with the need to find synergistic savings.  So why target the best thing going (enshrined in law!)?  I mean, the Chinese do the same, do they not?

My point is this:  is this the best we can do at this point in history?  China doesn't need any help triggering a balancing response across Asia, as I've noted here many times; they do it brilliantly on their own.  Frankly, we don't need much of a hedging strategy as a result; the containment policy writes itself--again, thanks to Chinese heavy-handedness.  

But the larger effort isn't particularly being made:  we are not building a better, bigger positive relationship with China, especially in mil-mil relations, to supersede the legacy negative one.  You can tell me that the Pentagon is just doing its job--following Congressional orders, as it were.  I just want something more imaginative at this point in history, you know, something that preps the diplomatic "battlefield" a bit--something the navy does well throughout history.  

And I just don't see it happening.  Our offers of cooperation with China typically involve asking them to join our party on our terms, whatever the situation in question.  Will you do what we want you to do in Iran/Sudan/Myanmar/North Korea/South China Sea/etc.?  You know, show us you're responsible by giving us what we want.  [Then there's the awkward but oddly workable--if entirely unfair in burden sharing--"limited liability partnership," as I call it, in Iraq and Afghanistan, where our blood pays for Chinese treasure.]  

And big surprise, rising powers don't negotiate well on those terms.  America rarely did during its decades of rising. That sort of trajectory makes you arrogant and full of yourself, and China is definitely in that mode.  

And yes, while that sort of thing needs to be subtly resisted, we need to be preparing for the leaner years--as in, our leaner years and China post-some crash or inevitable slowdown.  We need to building something--again--positive, and mil-mil relations can be spectacularly positive in that way.

I don't think we've thought through, in any comprehensive sense, what our devotion to this blue law from from the Cold War is costing us--opportunity-wise, or the signals that it sends, or what we risk with it in a strategic sense.  I think it's simply on the books, so the bureaucracy grinds its answer, and when sanctuary from a scary budgetary climate is sought, that "requirement" is not just an oldie but a very goodie.

It's just not where we're going as a power or where this system is going.  We are steering by our wake, because it feels comfortable and good, and--damn it--it's the law!

And I don't see a lot of strategy in that.  I see people, like Galrahn, patting the Obama administration on the back for simply having foolish behavior fall into their laps and doing the right thing by it--again, because it feels good and it makes us seem more important than--quite frankly--we really are.  Our "cooperative strategy," as he calls it, is pretty much what it's always been in the Pacific:  make us the most important bilateral partner with as many states there as possible.  Again, with the Chinese playing the fools (i.e., old Soviet role) on this one, that's not a hard strategy to pursue, but it's one that retards the Asian integration process to a certain extent, in the name of hedging against, and somewhat containing, China.  

And if we were set to play global policeman with budgetary ease for the next couple of decades, I would be the first to say, fine and dandy.  Wait on these guys to grow up, and democratize, and a whole bunch of other requirements.  But I don't think our finances or globalization will wait on those evolutions, so I think we need to start thinking about making do with the landscape--and players therein--as they're presented to us.  Because keeping China in this retarded state of "pol-mil" development (and I use that term of art purposefully) isn't wise, in my opinion.  I think we need to do more--faster--than just keep them in their place until they demonstrate the preferred type of global following skills (I mean, leadership).  I think that attitude retards our own, much needed pol-mil development (yes, we actually have some things still to learn about this globalization of our making).

Unless you think U.S. military power is what makes us who we are. I've always thought it enables us to display leadership, but that it's not a substitute for it.  

And that worries me--this unstated, barely articulated strategic course we seem to be on.

I got accused a lot--and rightfully--of granting Bush-Cheney better rationales for their policies than they themselves had. I think Galrahn does the same here with Obama and Clinton.  I think Hillary is the shining star simply by default, because I see no great accomplishments, just well-worn reactions to a perceived rival's foolish behavior.  Remember, these guys came in with Jim Steinburg's "strategic reassurance," when "nice" China was having a good year (2008-09) and we were grateful for their saving the global economy (and let's admit it, no China, and things get a whole lot worse).  Now China is having a bad year, as Galrahn rightfully notes, and now we're all about overstating our interest in the South China Sea so as to match China's absurd claim of sovereignty.  If that's isn't chasing events or trends, than what is?

This is Schadenfreude masquerading as grand strategy--too much of it, actually, on both sides.  Mirror-imaging in this regard ("Look how popular we are in Asia right now!  Vietnam loves us! Take that, China!") isn't all that imaginative.  China's "charm offensive" got offensive, so now we've fallen into one by default.

And you know, hoping Brett self-destructs isn't the same as getting the Packers into the Super Bowl.

There are other paths and there are other voices.  If we want to get this future right, we should invent it ourselves.


WPR's The New Rules: Defusing the Global Currency War

After having cooperated to an unprecedented degree -- on stimulus spending and new bank rules, for instance -- to avoid a global meltdown these past two years, the world's major economies now appear ready to turn on one another with truly self-destructive vengeance. Poorly informed Americans are increasingly convinced that free trade pacts -- and not our uniquely high corporate tax rates -- are responsible for sending jobs overseas, and they want to see China punished with tariffs on its imports for its undervalued currency. With China's neighbors intervening heavily to keep their own currencies from rising too high in response, global chatter about the unfolding "currency war" has reached a fever pitch. Is this any way to manage a tenuous global economic recovery?

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Woodward's latest makes the Rolling Stone piece look tame by comparison

Reading through the excerpts, about the only people who come off as calculating and restrained are Clinton, Gates and Petraeus. Obama and his civilians, to including his retired generals, all come off as rather interpersonally nasty, quick to panic, quick to point fingers, etc.

You read the Rolling Stone piece now and you can understand why there was/is so much enmity on the military side.

As always, we're stunned to hear what figures are willing to say to Woodward, but this makes Team "no-drama" Obama look awfully disunified.

My take-away: if voters don't like or don't trust Obama on the domestic/economic side, then this book does a number on any perceived salvation to be found in his foreign policy.

Heads rolled for the RS piece and frankly this seems a lot worse at first glance--like the crew as a whole is more interested in turning on each other than making something work in Afghanistan.

What I still don't get: if there is this level of in-fighting and pessimism with the current track, why aren't we speaking and dealing more plainly with regional powers, all of whom grow increasingly more concerned and seem willing (not eager) to step in and salvage something better while our troops are still on the ground? If there is this much pessimism and seeming political desperation, why aren't we seeing a more daring and aggressive foreign policy to regionalize the solution?  Where are the bold steps, the secret diplomacy, the break-through agreement?

I see a lot of energy being directed toward this book by insiders eager to be viewed positively by history (although none will on this score), but I don't see any of that anguish leading to any innovation.

Instead, we get the same tired tracks from Bush-Cheney on Israel-Palestine, NorKo, and Iran, plus relying too much on Pakistan, and the sum effect of those choices means we appear unable to generate any breakthrough diplomacy with Turkey, Iran, Russia, India and China--all of whom are naturally tapped for a suitably successful wind down of this conflict.  All of them will be forced by various circumstances to enter this arena directly or via proxies if and when we pull out under duress, so you know they'd all be interested in slipping into it while we're still making some effort because it would avail themselves of additional selfish opportunities.  But we don't see to be drawing them in on any serious level, preferring to keep everybody on their separate tracks with their separate issues and--sure--inviting them to open their wallets at donor conferences but not much else.

I just don't get this hesitancy and lack of strategic imagination and boldness if everybody is really as panicky as Woodward's book makes them sound.  These people need to get their inner Nixon on and start acting on their desperation instead of simply running to Woodward to complain.

It is a self-defeating mix to tell the world that "America can't do it all" and then act like that's the case in Afghanistan.  We get this picture of an Obama administration eager to bail on the country but not eager (can anybody point me to anything on this score?) to go to regional powers and say baldly, "Listen, I'm failing here with my small coterie of friends and this thing is going to be a disaster that we'll walk away from unless we can agree on whatever it takes to get your public help and support.  Tell me what it will take to get you inside Afghanistan, making something work for the long haul, and I will deliver it."

Because what is the alternative?  "Standing firm" on all these bilateral issues with these countries, going down the toilet in Afghanistan, and then . . . what exactly?  Somehow getting our way on these bilateral issues with these players because now we seem so much weaker and in political disarray?

Right now all we're signaling is that we want out but we're not going to compromise at all to make it happen, and for the life of me I cannot see how strategists inside this administration think that's going to work out for Team Obama politically.  The comparisons to the arrogant inflexibility of the Carter administration are apt. Listening to Obama lecture yesterday at the UN was disappointing in the extreme; he seems content to play professor while his date with history is asking the waiter for the check.

We've heard this question asked time and again, "Who is the Kissinger in this crew who's going to push the president to make the tough foreign policy calls and lead when he has to?"  And there doesn't seem to be anybody--just a lot of egos versus sycophants.  "Amateur hour" is not too harsh a phrase.  We keep receiving this image of Obama being so self-confident in his own judgment that he's not receptive to that kind of dynamic, but a book like this begins to help us understand how much that hubris limits his action and his imagination. It just seems like he keeps waiting on the world to recognize the genius of his unassailable logic--buttressed by his Nobel.

And it ain't working.  Not at all.

And frankly, at some point, Clinton needs to start thinking about what's good for her country and not just this administration, because she's big enough to force the issue.

Time to stop being satisfied with "keeping all the balls in the air," Madame Secretary.  Time to issue some ultimatums--as in, "Either we get bold on this or I get gone and make my own case to the American people."

Woman-up, Hillary.  Because you will be judged severely for not doing more.


Obama to Petraeus: I cede your win--pre-emptively--on Afghanistan

Karen DeYoung preview piece in WAPO that says Obama has already decided the Petraeus strategy in Afghanistan is solid enough that no major changes are expected in the end-of-year White House review.

This resolve arises amid a flurry of reports from outside experts and former officials who are convinced that the administration's path in Afghanistan is unsustainable and its objectives are unclear. Lawmakers from both parties are insisting that they be given a bigger say in assessing the war's trajectory.

The White House calculus is that the strategy retains enough public and political support to weather any near-term objections. Officials do not expect real pressure for progress and a more precise definition of goals to build until next year, with the approach of a July deadline President Obama has set for decisions on troop withdrawals and the beginning of the 2012 electoral season.

I would say that Petraeus won that round a bit too easily, suggesting Team Obama is keen to avoid a profile-enhancing--for the general, that is--fight.

And I must admit, I consider that a bit of an abdication of responsibility for civilian oversight, not on the level of Bush-Cheney's damn near complete outsourcing of the Iraq effort to the generals in 2007--but same zip code.

It speaks to Petraeus' enormous standing--a national asset in the Long War.  But I see a great risk in this for the US military: Obama does nothing more than Bush did to regionalize the solution set and that lack of progress, more so than defects in the COIN approach, dooms the project to an outcome just bad enough for Obama to wash his hands just before the 2012 election cycle gets serious.


Kims back in the driver's seat

NYT John Pomfret reporting that America and its allies in Asia are working to reopen talks with North Korea, afraid that the ongoing succession process could send the whole relationship down the path to war.

Score one for the Kims and so much for Team Obama's "strategic patience" (tough talk and shows of force and letting the Kims stew in their own paranoid juices).  I had thought the White House had settled on a solid path of not caving in, but Obama seems to have chickened out rather quickly:

Anxiety is rising on both sides of the Pacific that tightened sanctions and joint military exercises - what U.S. officials have called "strategic patience" - could, if continued indefinitely, embolden hard-line factions in the North to strike out against South Korea or to redouble efforts to proliferate weapons of mass destruction.

Ooh!  So NorKo sinks a South Korean military ship and we better back off, lest they strike out against South Korea!  Gotta love that logic.

So we basically say to Kim the Younger:  do as Daddy has done and you will be both respected and rewarded.


Our breakthrough demand?  NorKo doesn't have to admit it sunk the ship, just express condolences for the loss of life.

The US State Department sources describe a three-legged stool of sanctions, mil exercises and talking with NorKo.  If we only do the first two, we risk war!

And so the same old, same old is pursued with the usual vigor.  Non-change I can believe in.   Because the last thing we want to risk is a conflict that consumes this war criminal regime.  Kim's strategy of achieving firm deterrence against the US has been a complete success, telling similar regimes around the world to get themselves a nuke for similar, air-tight protection from US pressure.


Enter Boeing, and hopefully a new "space race" begins

NYT story on Boeing announcement:

Boeing said Wednesday that it was entering the space tourism business, an announcement that could bolster the Obama administration’s efforts to transform the National Aeronautics and Space Administration into an agency that focuses less on building rockets and more on nurturing a commercial space industry.

The flights, which could begin as early as 2015, would most likely launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida to the International Space Station. The Obama administration has proposed turning over to private companies the business of taking NASA astronauts to orbit, and Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas won an $18 million contract this year for preliminary development and testing of a capsule that could carry seven passengers.

Current NASA plans call for four space station crew members to go up at a time, which would leave up to three seats available for space tourists. The flights would be the first to give nonprofessional astronauts the chance to go into orbit aboard a spacecraft launched from the United States. Seven earlier space tourists have made visits to the space station, riding in Russian Soyuz capsules.

“We’re ready now to start talking to prospective customers,” said Eric C. Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures, the space tourism company based in Virginia that would market the seats for Boeing.

Boeing and Space Adventures have not set a price, although Mr. Anderson said it would be competitive with the Soyuz flights, which Space Adventures arranged with the Russian Space Agency. Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, paid about $40 million for a Soyuz ride and an eight-day stay at the space station last year. But the prospects that anyone buying a ticket will get to space on an American vehicle hinge on discussions in Congress about the future of NASA.

As the era of the space shuttle winds down — two, perhaps three shuttle flights remain — a clash of visions over what should come next has kept the space agency adrift for much of the past year. An authorization bill written by the House Science and Technology Committee to lay out the direction of NASA for the next three years would largely follow the traditional trajectory for human spaceflight. It calls on NASA to build a government-owned rocket — likely the Ares I, which NASA has been working on for five years — for taking astronauts to the space station and then a larger one for missions to the Moon, asteroids and eventually Mars.

The competing vision, embodied in President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal for NASA, focuses instead on investing in companies like Boeing that want to develop the space equivalent of airlines. NASA would then just buy seats on those rockets to send its astronauts to the International Space Station.

Competition, the thinking goes, would drive down the costs of getting to space, leading to a profitable new American industry and freeing more of NASA’s budget for deep-space missions.

 I am firmly behind the Obama administration on this one, and wish Boeing the best on this endeavor.

I am still firmly committed to dying off-Earth!


What a serious containment of nuclear Iran would demand of US

cool graphic here

Nice op-ed in The Daily Star by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

Author is Middle East expert at Jamestown Foundation, an unusually solid source of common sense.

After laying out the realism that is accepting Iran will get nukes, Ramzy Mardini addresses what a serious containment strategy would require:

Three crucial features must be included in any containment approach. First, the US must strive for a coherent foreign policy vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic, with interests pegged to regional stability, not democracy and regime-change. Secondly, the US should be prepared to play a pacifying role in the region: restricting Iran, but simultaneously working to minimize dangerous escalations involving local allies, particularly when it involves Israel.

Finally, the US must offer a degree of certainty to its allies in the region – building on, reiterating, and implementing promises of active engagement in containing Iran. The growing uncertainty about Washington’s commitment will dramatically increase the incentive for regional states to seek self-assurance, and hence, indigenous nuclear deterrents of their own. Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are among those who might seek this form of reassurance.

Without the necessary diplomatic arrangements and American leadership, the danger is that a containment strategy may be both amorphous and fragile. Tehran could easily engage uncertain actors interested in hedging their bets and, consequently, erode the cohesiveness of the coalition aligned against it.

American prudence and recognition of the limitations of power should not be confused with weak and ineffective policymaking. Given the uncertainties involved when it comes to Iran, Washington should emphasize realpolitik in addressing Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Pretty solid list, in my opinion. 

And despite all the brave talk, I think the Obama administration is actually moving down this path with a lot of care--and genuine success.


Obama's stealthy education reform?

Jonathan Alter in Newsweek making the case that "U.S. education reform has made more progress in the last year than in the previous 10" and "how the president is driving the effort."

Cheesy start (the movie "Jackass" as feeble straw man) mars the piece.

The cited "engine of reform" is Obama's Race to the Top program.  Small pot of money but successful, says Alter, in establishing national standards and lifting state caps on charter schools.

Other details covered, but political case made is that it took a "Nixon" (liberal Dem) to effectively do battle with teachers' unions.

To be watched . . ..