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Entries in Obama Administration (114)


Obama to Russia: Bring it on! . . . to Afghanistan

Putin and Karzai in 2002, so why did it take so long?

NYT story on Russians coming back to Afghanistan, economic connectivity in tow.

Twenty years after the last Russian soldier walked out ofAfghanistan, Moscow is gingerly pushing its way back into the country with business deals and diplomacy, and promises of closer ties to come.

Russia is eager to cooperate on economic matters in part by reviving Soviet-era public works, its president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said Wednesday during a summit meeting with the leaders of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, the second such four-way meeting organized by Russia in the past year.

In fact, Russia has already begun a broad push into Afghan deal-making, negotiating to refurbish more than 140 Soviet-era installations, like hydroelectric stations, bridges, wells and irrigation systems, in deals that could be worth more than $1 billion. A Russian helicopter company, Vertikal-T, has contracts with NATO and the Afghan government to fly Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopters throughout the country.

The Kremlin is also looking to blunt Islamic extremism in Central Asia, which poses a threat to Russia’s security, particularly in the Caucasus, and to exploit opportunities in the promising Afghan mining and energy industries.

The Kremlin’s return to Afghanistan comes with the support of the Obama administration, which in retooling its war strategy has asked Afghanistan’s neighbors — including Russia, whose forces the United States helped oust — to carry a greater share of the burden of stabilizing the country.

As someone who's complained about the lack of this in our foreign policy, credit must be given to Team Obama. All I can say is, we need a whole lot more of the same, to include the encouragement of efforts by India, China, Turkey and Iran.  Otherwise we get the bed (Pakistan) we made for ourselves.


What the Leviathan taketh away, the SysAdmin better provide

Great NYT piece on "shadow war" (the usual term of art when your Leviathan ops--meaning kinetic--are conducted by your special ops guys here and there).  The gist:

At first, the news from Yemen on May 25 sounded like a modest victory in the campaign against terrorists: an airstrike had hit a group suspected of being operatives for Al Qaedain the remote desert of Marib Province, birthplace of the legendary queen of Sheba.

But the strike, it turned out, had also killed the province’s deputy governor, a respected local leader who Yemeni officials said had been trying to talk Qaeda members into giving up their fight. Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, accepted responsibility for the death and paid blood money to the offended tribes.

The strike, though, was not the work of Mr. Saleh’s decrepit Soviet-era air force. It was a secret mission by the United States military, according to American officials, at least the fourth such assault on Al Qaeda in the arid mountains and deserts of Yemen since December.

The attack offered a glimpse of the Obama administration’s shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies. In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.

The White House has intensified the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan, approved raids against Qaeda operatives in Somalia and launched clandestine operations from Kenya. The administration has worked with European allies to dismantle terrorist groups in North Africa, efforts that include a recent French and Mauritanian strike near the border between Mauritania and Mali. And the Pentagon tapped a network of private contractors to gather intelligence about things like militant hide-outs in Pakistan and the location of an American soldier currently in Taliban hands.

While the stealth war began in the Bush administration, it has expanded under President Obama, who rose to prominence in part for his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged.

This is why, when I divide up the "kids" between Leviathan and SysAdmin in the brief, I put the SOF triggers pullers with the Leviathan but shove the Unconventional Warfare guys (a misleading label because they're really the hearts-and-minds/milk-mil training crowd) into the SysAdmin pile.  My excuse:  I don't care to explain publicly what the trigger-pullers do--and neither does the USG.

But the larger point:  fine to do the nasty work on the nasty types, but that needs to be publicly balanced with highly transparent SysAdmin efforts, otherwise the shadow war starts to feel like a cynically maintained shadow empire of the "escape-from-New-York" variety--as in, we put a fence around bad countries and enter them at will primarily for the kinetics/killing.  

That is a defense but not a solution.  It's also morally unsustainable.

Obama has shown an amazing toughness on the kinetic side, acting far beyond his words.  But he's also shown a strong desire to "come home" when the SysAdmin stuff--in all its magnificent difficulty and frustrations--drags on to long.  That second instinct, when coupled with the USG's continued lack of strategic imagination regarding new allies and serious regionalization strategies (like in Afghanistan) makes us look still too unilateral and too cynical in our approach.


If you make money, you can't be helping people--Michelle Obama

From a David Brooks NYT column about the malaise of self-doubt afflicting the country:

The shift away from commercial values has been expressed well by Michelle Obama in a series of speeches. “Don’t go into corporate America,” she told a group of women in Ohio. “You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. ... Make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry.” As talented people adopt those priorities, America may become more humane, but it will be less prosperous.

The First Lady has a weird way of putting her foot consistently in her mouth along these lines: making big chunks of what I consider to be America proper seem like they should be ashamed of themselves and what they do.  

I have nothing against social workers: I've got a beloved brother who's been one all his life and my mom did something similar for many years and so did my spouse Vonne.  I think it's a hugely honorable profession.

But I also think that businesspeople "work for the community" too.  I believe that the vast majority of the money-making industry is also in the helping industry--to include LAWYERS! (the personal brag that she seems to be making here--as in, thank God I left that money-grubbing profession and became noble!).

I also am the child of two lawyers (Dad, all his adult life, Mom, in her later years), and both of them were very much in the helping profession.  The moral arrogance on display here is off-putting in the extreme.

I must say, I find this demonization of American business to be bizarre, and to hear such things coming out of the mouth of the First Lady is truly distressing.  For all her alleged brains, I wonder if she has a clue about most of America outside of her relatively narrow experience base (and frankly, that of her husband to boot).


When Petraeus's push comes to Obama's shove

Ahmed Rashid piece in FT.  Naturally, he argues for a negotiated endgame that includes the Taliban.  So Petraeus is seen as a dangerous man:

For weeks there has been a spectre haunting European corridors of power.  That spectre is David Petraeus.  Since he stepped in last month as head of combined US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, many European governments have feared the US general would try and extend the time and scope of the military surge to give US forces a better chance of winning over the Pashtun population in the south and delivering a knock-out blow to the Taliban.

This is exactly what he is signalling . . .

What I hear again and again in many circles:  the realist Petraeus is prepping the political battlefield with the idealist Obama, with the hard news to be delivered after the November election. Suitably chastened by a new GOP House, Petraeus will be a hard man to turn down--without empowering him as a possible 2012 opponent.

I still consider Petraeus more of a 2016 possibility, but I would drop my support for Obama in a heartbeat if this scenario came to pass. 

Don't get me wrong:  I see Obama as the avatar of a slew of philosopher-kings we're likely to elect over the next couple of decades.  I just Petraeus being a more full-up package, with my dream ticket complete with Bloomberg as Veep.

Do I expect Petraeus would do anything to serve his own political interests before that of his command? Absolutely not.  He's not that dumb.

But the Obama White House?  

Hmmm.  It's one thing to seek such power; quite another to lose it.


Evangelicals join Obama on immigration

NYT front-pager on Obama winning help from the evangelical community on the issue of immigration reform.

God bless ’em.

The founder of Liberty Counsel, Mathew D. Staver:

I am a Christian and I am a conservative and I am a Republican, in that order.  There is very little I agree with regarding President Barack Obama.  On the other hand, I’, not going to let politicized rhetoric or party affiliation trump my values, and if he’s right on this issue, I will support him on this issue.

Why the support?

As another evangelical pastor put it:

Hispanics are religious, family-oriented, pro-life, entrepreneurial.  They are hard-wired social conservatives, unless they’re driven away.

Hispanics are estimated to be 70% Catholic and 15% evangelical.


The uncertainty principle divides Obama’s achievements from his political reality

NOTE:  No World Politics Review column today, so I offer this up as replacement.

President Obama’s sour relationship with American business is much in the news these days, with even the usually staid U.S. Chamber of Commerce publicly voicing the private sector’s growing concern that he’s “anti-business.”  Despite several significant legislative achievements in his first 18 months in office (e.g., the stimulus, healthcare, higher education, financial regulations—next up, energy), all of which demonstrated the president’s tremendous responsiveness to the political challenges of the day, Obama is losing the center of the electorate to the GOP for precisely the same reason he’s losing the business community:  he’s introduced too much uncertainty in a time already fraught with it.

In my day job I help run a technology firm that capitalizes on such sentiment by providing business solutions as a service (e.g., making supply chains more transparent, improving patient flow in major medical centers, securing critical infrastructure), so from my selfish perspective, I don’t mind additional uncertainty—especially when it’s created by more complex regulatory schemes.  But my company also needs businesses to be aggressive about tackling that complexity, trusting that today’s investments will better position their companies for tomorrow’s competitive landscape.   And here’s where too much uncertainty sabotages economic decision making and business planning:  unsure of the longer payoff, too much of the private sector—and its money—is staying on the sidelines of this “statistical recovery.”

That trillion-dollar tentativeness across the private sector helps explain the persistently high unemployment rate of almost 10 percent, with one out of six work-seeking Americans saying they’re underemployed.  But don’t forget about the other five-sixths of the workforce, who certainly are being overworked to achieve that recovery—such as it is.   That middle class (and political middle) wants nothing less from its government than protection from economic uncertainty: it has achieved a decent lifestyle and wants to pass it on to its children with slight but steady improvements—a long-term trend that disappeared this last decade.  Spook that herd and it will come thundering down on incumbents of all political stripes.  No wonder so many Democrat-leaning pundits are calling for a renewed Keynesian push. 

But more importantly, remember that, prior to the crash, we spent six long years enduring all new manner of fears on the previously stable national-security side of the ledger, so all this recent individual economic uncertainty has been piled on top of that baseline anxiety.  Obama’s “big government” answers on the economy haven’t really been all that much bigger than Bush-Cheney’s efforts were on national security (check out the Washington Post’s recent series on “Top Secret America”), but again, there’s that cumulative difference between piling up and piling on.  Obama suffers the distinct misfortune of coming late to what New York Times columnist David Brooks has dubbed the “technocracy boom” of the last decade.

Obama now needs American capitalism to rescue his depressed presidency, even as his political language remains harsh in that direction.  Like a Theodore or Franklin Roosevelt, Obama presents himself as a protector of the “little man” against the moneyed interests, but rhetorically choosing Main Street over Wall Street is pure theater.  Frankly, it’s like the surgeon asking the patient if he likes his heart better than his lungs.  Good example:  by cracking down on derivatives (originally known as “crop futures”) in its massive financial reform bill, the administration has introduced vast uncertainty into the otherwise strong agricultural industry, where your average mid-sized farmer hedges most of his annual crop through such “nefarious” financial instruments.

And unlike either Roosevelt, Obama can’t even be cast—however unflatteringly—as a “traitor to his own class.”  Having never been a businessperson, his re-regulating of core industries—after three decades of de-regulation, mind you—has invariably earned him the “socialist” label from a slight majority of Americans in one recent poll.  And in a nation that’s roughly split, 70-to-30, between those who favor retaining American-style capitalism over European-style socialism, those negative numbers can only go up—unless perceptions are dramatically changed.

Of course, the easiest way to improve presidential poll numbers is for the economy to improve in time for the 2012 elections (forget about this November, when the GOP should grab at least the House).  But, again, with smart guys like David Brooks predicting a “nasty crawl” when it comes to income growth, we should expect an even nastier, impatient and intolerant electorate.  Read Benjamin Friedman’s book, “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth,” where he explores the consistency of that political causality across America’s many decades.

So how does Obama improve his standing before 2012?  The temptation is always to turn to foreign affairs when domestic constraints abound, but even here, Obama faces a narrow menu of options, all of which demand great exertion while promising little popular credit.  Take Afghanistan:  running with Robert Blackwill’s tempting logic, Obama can “give the south to the Taliban” and hope such “reconciliation” holds through the election.  But as the Times Square bomber demonstrated, the Af-Pak’s pool of violent fundamentalists can re-capture the president’s national security agenda at will.

Indeed, plenty of people within both Washington’s national security community and New York City’s first-responder community choose—with utmost realism—to view the Times Square incident as less a legitimate attempt and more a calculated probe.  The new buzz phrase in both communities is improvised nuclear device (IND), or what most experts call the “dirty bomb” because the blast is less frightening and/or damaging than the dispersal of radioactive material.  Again, the whole point of such an attack would be to spook America’s middle ranks into an even greater sense of uncertainty by despoiling its favorite town square.  Like so many things we seek to understand today, like the new financial regulations, the full impact of such an attack wouldn’t be known for years. 

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan opines that “American politics is desperately in need of adult supervision”—her sideways suggestion that we currently lack great “statesmen” with sufficiently white hair.  Perhaps so.  With this great confluence of uncertainties we surely need more leaders who can confidently say, “I’ve seen it all before”—even if they haven’t.  Because one thing is for certain:  the combination of an unpopular president, a dysfunctionally partisan Congress, and a reluctant business community is no way to move forward.


The "technocracy boom" reflects a more complex era

NYT’s David Brooks on what he’s calling the “technocracy boom,” or the double-whammy intrusion of government in national security beyond the normal boundaries (the whole Priest-Arkin series in WAPO) since 9/11 (blame it on Bush-Cheney) and in the economy since the financial crisis began (blame it on Obama-Biden). In sum, just a ginormous growth in government activity that assumes all this expertise is usefully applied and not a similarly huge waste of resources.

Yes, it’s unfair for Obama to take the bulk of the heat for the twin developments, but politics is all about timing and timing is often a matter of luck—good and bad.

Still, hard to argue against our government getting smarter in this increasingly complicated age.


Score one for Obama's talking strategy?


Moscow Times op-ed by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

The argument is simple enough: Obama spoke and Moscow actually listened.

During his visit to Moscow one year ago, U.S. President Barack Obama announced what was essentially a new policy toward Russia. After listening to his speech at the New Economic School, the Russian elite, who are accustomed to viewing the world in black-and-white terms, were at a loss. What did Obama propose? A deep and lasting friendship or another Cold War? It seemed obvious that he was offering neither. The most common reaction to Obama’s speech was bewilderment.

Nonetheless, now that one year has passed it is possible to state with some caution that Russia’s political leadership has not only listened to Obama’s suggestions for a new relationship but also accepted some of them in practice.

Above all, Obama gave a broad description of the U.S. position regarding such questions as NATO, international terrorism and economic cooperation. He also said Washington would choose its course independently of Moscow, and that if Russia desired closer relations with the United States, it would get them. If, however, it wanted a new Cold War, it would get that instead. Everything, Obama said, depends on Russia.

That is why it was so difficult for the Russian elite to formulate a reaction to Obama’s speech. They are not accustomed to assuming so much responsibility. Russian policy toward the United States has always been purely reactive. The United States sets the course, and Russia responds to it. Now Washington has offered Moscow a full menu of options, along with full responsibility for its choice.

It was no great surprise that Obama took that position. His choice of Michael McFaul as his top Russia adviser was a sign that there would be neither warm hugs nor a new Cold War. The greatest surprise for me was that the Russian leadership apparently took Obama’s message seriously.

Credit where credit is due, yes?

Old point of mine:  no one acts responsibly until you give them responsibility.


Obama's Machiavelli? Does "guard dog" McDonough qualify?

David Ignatius worries in WAPO that Obama has no Machiavelli on par with Kissinger or Brzezinski:

But if ever there were a moment when a battle-fatigued United States needs a wily strategist to explore options, this is it.

Just who could play this role among the administration's current cast of characters isn't obvious, and that's a problem President Obama should address.

 The closest thing offered so far is Denis McDonough, chief of staff at NSC, but the WAPO profile makes him sound more like a classic, make-the-trains-run-on-time XO than serious thinker:

Mr. McDonough is intensively protective of the president, and is well known for picking up the phone — or his BlackBerry — to take people to task, from reporters to Washington talking heads to other Obama officials who go off message. He spent the entirety of his bike ride home to Takoma Park, Md., from the White House late one recent night arguing on the cellphone with a reporter who he believed had mischaracterized an internal administration debate over Iraq policy.

He has berated some of the Democratic Party’s most distinguished foreign policy dignitaries when they have dared to critique Mr. Obama publicly, leaving a miffed Washington establishment in his wake muttering — off the record, of course — about just who this guy thinks he is.

His e-mail messages are legendary across Washington, and usually appear right after a critique hits the Web. When David Rothkopf, a national security expert and Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration, wrote a column for The Washington Post last August that praised Mrs. Clinton — and notably, not Mr. Obama — as overseeing “profound changes” to American foreign policy, the first e-mail message Mr. Rothkopf received came from you-know-who.

“Interesting choice for a profile,” Mr. McDonough wrote.

“Political figures like to have people who are watching their back,” Mr. Rothkopf said in an interview. “I understand why people are bugged by McDonough; they’re jealous of his access to the president. But the president deserves to have someone like him.”

We're told he's the real go-to, trusted mind on foreign policy, but the profile offers nothing on his thinking and concentrates totally on his pit-bull role of protecting the president.  Can anybody provide any evidence of this guy's vision--anywhere?  I'm not being accusatory; I'm just curious if this guy has ever projected any agenda other than protecting his principal, which is laudatory but not exactly comforting given his perceived gatekeeper role.

The piece is not comforting in this regard, proclaiming that one can forget about Clinton or Gates or anybody else making similar "closeness to the president" claims, because McDonough is the be-all and end-all in this regard--the first and last to be consulted, the one brain hard-wired to Obama's blackberry.

In the end, we are still left with the suspicion that Obama is such the control freak on the subject that he remains his own foreign policy guru--a brain trust of one, protected by Rahm Emannuel's foreign policy double.

And that disturbs me somewhat.  I mean, shouldn't this guy have more to him than "legendary" crack-the-whip emails?


Finding the exit from Afghanistan

NYT Week-in-Review analysis by Rob Nordland.


There’s no way we can kill our way out of Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American commander, has said. By now, that’s become a mantra.

“One thing we are all hearing, especially between now and next year, is that there is no military solution to this conflict,” said Staffan de Mistura, the new special representative of the United Nations secretary general to Afghanistan. “The Taliban will never win the war, and on the other side, they’ll never win either.”

So everyone talks about peace, but so far no one is actually talking peace. The obstacles to doing so are profound and in many ways as daunting as the prospect of a military solution.

The recent, three-day jirga disappointed:  no insurgents invited and Karzai supporters stuffed in.

Bigger problems:

Both sides have red lines that make talks seemingly impossible. The Taliban’s official position is that all foreign forces must leave before any talks can begin, and constitutional change must be on the table. The government insists that the Afghan Taliban must first renounce connections with Al Qaeda and agree to accept the constitution. (By “constitution,” read women’s rights — anathema to the Taliban, and a prerequisite for Afghanistan’s Western supporters.)

The fear is that the situation only grows more hardline on the other side: aging Taliban leaders replaced by the nastier, less-prone-to-negotiate younger cadre.

More and more, officials and officers are describing Obama's summer 2011 deadline to start withdraws as fungible.

Good to hear.


Obama popular abroad where it really counts: New Core pillars

NYT story on global poll (Pew) that indicates Obama is popular abroad, with a particular strength in New Core pillars like Russia and China but a growing weakness in the Middle East.

Frankly, this is more than enough improvement in US standing abroad. Given what is going on in the Middle East and will continue to go on there for years as globalization's embrace deepens, we will never be popular there because of our bodyguarding role (to include our support for Israel). 

But it's absolutely crucial that the image-mending and bridge-building continue with the rising great powers--China especially as its own arrogance and hubris balloons in coming years (an inevitable cost of all that success).  I know it's not easy to play the humble card right now, but it will pay off over time in ways that our own past assertiveness never could.

So no complaints on this score.

I continue to give Obama high grades on the realignment--my theme in "Great Powers."  I nonetheless remain ambivalent if we need 4 or 8 years of this.  His success works against a second term, in my mind, even as I appreciate it greatly.


The Politics Blog: 10 Essential Truths of the Petraeus-McChrystal Switch

Well, well, well — where have we seen this before? The indiscreet U.S. commander whose tongue digs his own grave. The stunning resignation submitted within hours of the magazine's online posting of the story. And General David Petraeus — yet again — as the go-to choice as America's turnaround specialist. Amidst all the nonstop chatter from punditspoliticians, and former ambassadors, allow me to distance myself from the familiar situation I was in with Admiral William Fallon and sift through the tea leaves to look ahead at Petraeus's new gig. Because there are magazine stories, and then there is war. And because — who knows? — Afghanistan may be a lot better off, and Obama may have picked his replacement in more ways than one.

Read the full post at's The Politics Blog.


"Runaway general"? Hardly. Runaway mouths?  Definitely

I just read the Rolling Stone piece and found the tone of disrespect somewhat stunning.  The media immediately references my piece on Fox Fallon from 2008, but I'm more impressed with the differences than similarities-- as in, Fallon disagreed with the president on substance while McChrystal's gripes strike me as stylistic (e.g., Obama struck him as uncomfortable before brass) and superficial.

Fallon never said anything disrespectful of his superiors in front of me, nor did his staff.  The admiral just fundamentally disagreed on the possibility of going to war with Iran and wasn't shy about sharing that opinion in the press, which he did repeatedly prior to my piece (which he later said misrepresented his views while quoting him accurately--to the tune of over 1,500 words).

Here, McChrystal does just the opposite:  never really disagreeing with his superiors while openly disrespecting them.  I say "openly" because he and his staff did it repeatedly in front of a reporter they knew was there to report on what he saw and heard--just like I did.  

Is that enough to get him fired?  That's Obama's call.  The fact that McChrystal is quoted both directly and in a secondary manner (through his staff) making truly derogatory remarks about so many principals (VP, NS adviser, our AMB in-country, Holbrooke) is problematic going forward, but firing the right guy for the right job when he agrees with your policy is likewise a hard choice for the president.

In the end, it all comes down to the relationship itself.  A magazine story can damage such a relationship but it cannot define it. Fallon was on thin ice with the White House when my story appeared, making it the final nail in the coffin. If Obama's relationship with McChrystal is solid, the Rolling Stone story won't be enough to trigger his sacking. But if it was already fragile/strained, then it may become the excuse.  But my guess is that McChrystal and Obama-Biden are on an entirely different trajectory over Af-Pak than Fallon and Bush-Cheney were over Iran.


By virtue of Obama's vigorous use of drones, he needs to establish the rule-set cover for their operators

WAPO story by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

The essential danger/challenge:

On The Post's op-ed page Sunday, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey called the killing of Yazid a "major blow" to al-Qaeda because "Yazid has essentially served as al-Qaeda's 'chief financial officer,' coordinating the group's fundraising and overseeing the distribution of money essential to its survival." By the ACLU's reasoning, this would make the strike that killed Yazid illegal. Does the ACLU want to see the Predator operator who took out al-Qaeda's third in command prosecuted for murder? The ACLU has already gone after CIA interrogators -- surreptitiously photographing these covert operatives and sharing the images with al-Qaeda terrorists in Guantanamo. CIA drone operators may soon be in for similar treatment.

The Obama administration has put the Predator operators at greater risk by dramatically narrowing the legal underpinnings for their actions. State Department legal adviser Harold Koh -- a harsh critic of the Bush administration -- explained in a March 25 speech that the Obama administration was no longer invoking the president's Article II authority as commander in chief to justify many of its policies in the war on terrorism. But Koh said that drone attacks were lawful because "Congress authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force through the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF)."

The problem -- as Koh's predecessor, John Bellinger, told The Post last week -- is that Congress authorized the use of force against those who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And many of those currently targeted -- particularly outside Afghanistan -- had nothing to do with those attacks.

You have to think that if Obama lays out his case, however classified the presentation, to the Congress and says, "I'm taking the fight to them where they hide and I need this legality question settled for the long haul of this Long War," that he'd get the fix the CIA needs and deserves.

The longer the administration delays this inevitable step, the more jeopardy to which operators will be subjected.

Pretending this fight can be prosecuted in a neat, country-by-country basis, with all i's dotted in advance by Congress, is dangerous.  Better to clear the air and incentivize the operators. No reason to be mealy-mouthed about it or hide behind "interpretations."  Most Americans will see this as a very reasonable extension of Executive Branch writ.


How much has Obama preserved America's connectivity?

Last piece by outgoing Lexington at The Economist.

In it, Lex provides summarizing judgment on Obama's success to date in keeping America an open and connected society/economy.

The record is decidedly mixed:  no progress on an immigration bill combined with politically-insipid shows of military force along the border (the 1,200 guardsmen just sent); no great trade barriers but also no serious efforts to move free trade pacts on the books (Colombia, South Korea).  A Cato expert is quoted as saying the Obama administration seems to view trade policy as a way to advance environmental and social goals and nothing more. Our border bureaucracy is described as the worst in the advanced world (I guess I would agree).

Larger downstream argument advanced: US military dominance is waning in the sense that we can no longer play Leviathan to everyone and assume all the SysAdmin jobs that result. Suggestion is that we need to recalibrate alliances to account for rising great powers.

Good news is that US soft-power exports remain world-class.

China is contrasted:  one-fifth of college grads say they want to emigrate, but few peasants do.

Piece ends with call for Obama to stand up more for openness.

Kind of a sad finale for this Lexington.  He doesn't seem to be finding much improvement on this score from Obama.

I think we're going to see a lot more such arguments from big-thinking types regarding the importance of America standing up for its cherished ideals.  Obama's too-lawyerly approach does not inspire like his speeches, and the gap is becoming noticeable.


First rule of commitment: if you have to say it, it ain't there

Wash Times piece by way of WPR's Media Roundup.

The gist:

The Obama administration is deeply committed to its relationship with India despite concerns to the contrary, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday.

William J. Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, tackled a prevalent belief in India that the Obama administration is less committed to a relationship with India than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Mr. Burns, who previously served in the Bush administration, said there was bipartisan commitment in Washington to the U.S.-India relationship.

My, what a vessel and what a message.  You just know it has to be true.


Word count on Obama's national security strategy

WPR piece by Miles E. Taylor that does the usual word count, but does it well.

First off:

More-astute observers have had a difficult time characterizing the strategy document, mainly because it is quite long compared to past national security policy declarations and, in many regards, appears similar to them in substance. But when you drill down into the text, word by word, it becomes clear that the NSS reveals a lot both in what it doesn't say on important subjects, as well as in what it does say on others.

Agreed.  Most such docs are gloriously collections of nouns and modifiers like "interests" and "vital."  This one has all the usual boilerplate in spades, to a mind-numbing degree really.  It has the lawyer's feel all over it.

Now for the what's up and what's down:  American values and democracy and terrorism and actual enemies are down, cyber and education and healthcare are up.

Predominate signal in my mind?  We are healing our nation.  The rest of you please go about your business.

Honest, I guess, but perhaps too much so.


The Obama mistake is choosing Pakistan over India

Reuters wire piece via Our Man in Kabul.

The gist:

The Obama administration is grappling with how to balance India's role in Afghanistan as arch-rival Pakistan also jostles for influence there ahead of Washington's planned troop withdrawal to start in mid-2011.

U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is set to be included on the agenda in U.S.-India talks this week in Washington -- with Delhi seeking clarity over rival Pakistan's role, particularly in reconciliation plans with the Taliban.

The Obama administration has so far sent mixed signals over the kind of role it wants India to play in Afghanistan, leaving an impression at times, say experts, that Pakistan's strategic interests could have more weight.

"I don't think this (U.S.) administration or the previous one knows how to balance our legitimate interests in both Pakistan and India effectively," said Christine Fair, assistant professor at Georgetown University and a South Asia expert.

While U.S. diplomats have praised the $1.3 billion India has pumped into reconstruction work in Afghanistan since 2001, military commanders have voiced concern that muscle-flexing by India could provoke Pakistan and stir up regional tensions.

"Increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India," wrote U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who is in charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in a leaked assessment of the war last September.

The implication of McChrystal's view, said expert Lisa Curtis, was that India's approach was not viewed as helpful and Pakistan's strategic interests were more in play.

"That sent the wrong signal," said Curtis. "The U.S. should instead positively reinforce the political and economic activities of engagement by India (in Afghanistan)," added Curtis, who is with the Heritage Foundation.

"The idea that we would somehow ask India ... to draw back from Afghanistan to placate Pakistan which is still harboring Afghan Taliban leadership is very short-sighted and frankly makes no strategic sense," said Curtis.

Couldn't agree more with the Heritage Foundation:  our long-term bet has to be on India, because it will fuel globalization's advance and consolidation in South Asia--pure and simple.  You dance with them that brung ya.

Giving into Pakistan on the Taliban/Pashtun role in/control over Afghanistan is to buy yourself repeat visits. India represents a more dangerous path, no doubt, and a harder one.

But it's a permanent fix because it includes some solution on Kashmir.

We need India going forward.  Do not forget that under any circumstances.


Chart of the day: Obama and the oil spill

From the Economist.

Approval/disapproval poll on Obama WRT the oil spill.

Does Obama really have much to do with that?  Not really, but the perceived passiveness has hurt.

About a quarter see no connection.

About 30% say he's doing a decent job.

About 45% say otherwise.

Maureen Dowd, quoted in the piece, sees this as part of a "pattern of passivity, detachment, acquiescence and compromise."

You get this sense of the defendant yelling at his counsel, "You're my lawyer, damn it, do something!" 


WPR's The New Rules: Obama's Strategic Patience

A lot of national security experts would like a lot more fire -- and firepower -- from our president. Op-ed columnists across America worry that our friends no longer trust us and that our enemies no longer fear us. President Barack Obama's quest for more-equitable burden-sharing among great powers seems to be getting us nowhere, so why bother with more-equitable benefit-sharing?
Read the column in full at World Politics Review.
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