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Entries in US foreign policy (197)

8:34AM

WPR's The New Rules: The Rise of the Rest Spells U.S. Strategic Victory

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has garnered America almost as much schadenfreude from the world as the original events did. Back in 2001, the line was that we had it coming to us for lording it over the world since the Cold War's end. Today, it takes the form of writing off our alleged "hegemony" in light of the shifts in global power over the intervening decade, a claim that is as absurd the previous one was insulting. Naturally, the Chinese are celebrated as our presumed replacement. So, as always throughout our history as a superpower, we're being treated to "sophisticated" analysis that says America fought the war, but they -- our next security obsession -- won the peace.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

11:21AM

Time's Battleland: Defining the floor and ceiling of US interventions post-Bush

Qaddafi's handiwork

NOTE: No World Politics Review column this week as journal shuts down for its summer break.

Nice NYT analytic piece (already cited by Mark Thompson) by Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Myers regarding the downstream legacy of the US involvement in Libya to date. Starts off by saying the Obama White House seeks no doctrine definition because it fears being pulled into inappropriate situations, but, of course, that's what a doctrine is supposed to do - delineate those cases. Bad doctrines tend to be too vague and open-ended (George W. Bush's WRT terror), while better ones tend to be fairly specific (Jimmy Carter's WRT the Persian Gulf).

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

9:27AM

Time's Battleland: Globalization at the barrel of a gun

Careful where you aim that weapon, buddy!

That phrase, with its powerful imagery, was often tossed at me following the publication of my 2004 book, The Pentagon's New Map. In it, I argued that globalization's expansion was, and would continue to be, the primary cause of unrest and conflict in the world, as connectivity - in all its forms - extended itself into the non-integrated regions and triggered rising expectations (as in, "If the Indians and Chinese are getting richer, then why do we continue to submit to this incompetent government that keeps us unduly disconnected from all that opportunity?").

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

12:44PM

Time's Battleland: Our silent partner everywhere we intervene - China

Soon to be re-joined by their Chinese comrades!

That's how I like to describe it. Whether we like it or not - much less admit it, every time we show up somewhere in tumult, the Chinese are already there or soon to show up. They will be making the big investments (like that $3-4B on a copper mine in Afghanistan) and they will be winning the big extractive contracts (like with both the Kurdish Regional Government and Baghdad in Iraq). Paraphrasing Buckaroo Banzai, "No matter where we go, there they are." You can call it free-riding and label it clever competition, but it's more complimentary than we in the West care to admit, because after the bombs stop, somebody has to rebuild and who are more incentivized than those resource-ravenous Chinese?

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

9:34AM

WPR's The New Rules: Debunking the 'Russia Threat' Hype 

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I was completing my doctoral dissertation on Warsaw Pact-Third World relations. I immediately understood that my time in Soviet studies was done. Why? Because I knew that Russia was full of brilliant political scientists who, once free to pursue their craft free of ideological constraints, would do a better job explaining things there than outsiders could. 

The generation of Russian scholars that emerged in the post-Soviet era proved me right, and none has consistently impressed more than Dmitri Trenin, who heads up the Moscow office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace . . . 

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

1:10PM

Time's Battleland: Might al-Zawahiri's al-Qa'ida come to view future nuclear power Iran as THE perfect sanctuary?

This post was co-generated with Michael S. Smith II of the strategic advisory firm Kronos

As al-Qa'ida leaders the world over signal their intent to stay the course — challenging assumptions that the integrity of their network has been perhaps irreversibly jeopardized by the death of bin Laden — national security managers must remain focused on denying its core leaders a safe base of operations. Meanwhile, due to growing ties between al-Qa'ida's regional network and defense officials in Iran, the strategic dimension of the West's counter-terrorism efforts is likely to grow significantly in the years ahead. Unless Washington is prepared to confront Iran directly on this issue, al-Qa'ida may logically seek to achieve an untouchable strategic sanctuary within a nuclearized Iran.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


10:33AM

WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Counterterror Stance Ain't Broke, So Don't Fix It  

Despite the rush right now to declare important milestones or turning points in the fight against terrorism, the best handle we can get on the situation seems to be that al-Qaida is near dead, but its franchises have quite a bit of life in them. The implied situational uncertainty is to be expected following Osama Bin Laden's assassination, as he was our familiar "handle" on the issue for more than a decade. But although it is normal that we now seek a new, widely accepted paradigm, it is also misguided: In global terms we are, for lack of a better term, in a good place right now on terrorism, meaning we don't need to unduly demote or elevate it in our collective threat priorities. Instead, we need to recognize the "sine wave" we're riding right now and seek no profound rebalancing in our security capabilities -- other than to continue protecting the "small wars" assets that we spent the last decade redeveloping.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

8:46AM

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

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

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

11:40AM

Time's Battleland: As you approach #1, the catch-up tactics need to cease

NYT story on how the Defense Department suffered a massive loss of data during a hack last March.  Pentagon won't say which country is to blame, which makes it either China or Russia. Why tell us now?  The cleared version of the new US cyber strategy is being released, as Mark just noted.

Read more at Time's Battleland.

11:38AM

Time's Battleland: As China rises militarily, eventually the golden rule should be applied

 

Wash Times piece on Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen's counterpart in China (Chen Bingde) saying that US naval ex's in regional waters with local friends (Vietnam, Philippines, etc.) are "inappropriate." Mullen replies that they're not directed at China, which, of course, is the whitest of lies. The US sells beaucoup arms to all the same players and exercises with them to give them confidence vis-a-vis "rising China."  Fair enough . . .

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


10:13AM

Time's Battleland: Think outside the defense budget: the real cost of keeping China our enemy

Mark Thompson picks up on Chins's cheeky advice to visiting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen regarding our coupling of world-class defense spending with our world-class national debt/faltering economy.  We can brush it aside, of course, seeing that it's coming from our #1 excuse for defense spending (Mustn't let those Chinese . . . ).

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

The other two charts described in the post:


10:49AM

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

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

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

6:15AM

Time's Battleland: Future grand strategists speak: Why US withdrawal from Afghanistan would stabilize Pakistan

In my continuing role as Head Judge  for the online strategy community Wikistrat's month-long International Grand Strategy Competition featuring roughly 30 teams from top-flight universities and think tanks around the world, I get to peruse all manner of provocative thought from some of tomorrow's best and brightest thinkers.  And yeah, full disclosure, I get paid to judge as the firm's chief analyst.

Well, this last week, our participating teams drew up elaborate national trajectories and regional trajectories for their 13 countries (Brazil, China, EU, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and US), and the two entries that really jumped out at me in their immediate dueling were the two Pakistani teams populated with grad students from Claremont Graduate University (CA) and Yale (CT).  Let me tell you why.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


12:39PM

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

Waiting on the Obama speech explaining this one.

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

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

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

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

6:00AM

Time's Battleland: "Kissinger on the sad strategic reality of US engagement in Afghanistan"

Henry Kissinger had a sobering op-ed in the Washington Post Tuesday that laid out the reality of the US position in Afghanistan.

First, the fundamental conundrum of "nation building" in a fake state:

But nation-building ran up against the irony that the Afghan nation comes into being primarily in opposition to occupying forces. When foreign forces are withdrawn, Afghan politics revert to a contest over territory and population by various essentially tribal groups.

He then goes on to say he supported the surge engineered by President Obama, an effort that had the unfortunate effect of giving lie to the notion that insufficient resources was the primary reason why nation-building has failed. That effort, he states, has "reached its limit."

So the essential question becomes, according to Kissinger, How to create an regional security structure to oversee that "contest" cited above?

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

11:18AM

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

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

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:01AM

Transcript from Morning Edition appearance (1 June 2011)

Originally here.

In full for my records:

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Osama bin Laden's death has put more pressure on the U.S.'s strategic partnership with Pakistan and its ongoing commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Our next guest believes those relationships aren't worth all the effort.

Thomas P.M. Barnett is chief analyst of Wikistrat, an online community for global strategists. He recently wrote in World Politics Review that the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan - and I'm quoting the article here - encourages enmities far more important than that of al-Qaida and denies us partnerships far more important than that of Pakistan. And he joined us to talk about that.

Good morning.

Mr. THOMAS BARNETT (Wikistrat): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: When you speak about missing out on partnerships, what precise partnerships is the U.S. missing out on there?

Mr. BARNETT: Well, the United States' pursuit of success in Afghanistan has been by my definition amazingly unilateralist. And we really haven't gone the path of encouraging regional neighbors to step in and become the great nation builders in this effort. We want to somehow make Afghanistan work, somehow integrate it with the global economy, while not letting the Iranians in on the process at all, while not letting the Indians in on the process at all, and while really trying to hedge against rising Russian or Chinese influence in the region. And that's just highly unrealistic. In geostrategic terms, it doesn't really get any dumber than that.

MONTAGNE: Well, though, you argue in your writing that Afghanistan's neighbors are highly, as you put it, highly incentivized to see Afghanistan stabilized. But in recent history, to accomplish that stability Afghanistan's neighbors have invaded - in the case of the Soviets - or backed a repressive government -as Pakistan did with the Taliban. I mean, that does not seem a very desirable outcome.

Mr. BARNETT: You have a huge market in India and a huge market in China. They want access northward and westward through Afghanistan to energy sources. Then you have major players on the other side of that equation - Russia, Turkey, Iran, so on, that want access to that major markets. And in the middle you have this dead zone called Afghanistan.

So it's a natural situation for network building. It hasn't been up to now, primarily because it's next door neighbor, Pakistan, using a rather antiquated mode of thinking looks at Afghanistan as its strategic depth in a conventional or even nuclear conflict with India to its south. For Pakistan to consider itself safe, it has to keep Afghanistan basically under its thumb.

And it's odd that America comes in, tries to do nation building, has all these incentivized local players that are interested in coming in and making things happen, and we pick out of that constellation of players the one player that's interested in keeping Afghanistan disconnected from the world, which is Pakistan.

MONTAGNE: China looms large in your thinking here. What does China stand to gain in the region both from Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Mr. BARNETT: Well, China has already made the largest foreign direct investment in Afghanistan's history - about $3 billion to $4 billion it's pursuing in terms of a copper mine there. So if you look at Afghanistan's mineral riches, there's the Chinese motivation to lock in access to resources.

With Pakistan, there's not so much the resource equation but the access to water equation, their logic being if they can make railroads happen down to the Port of Gwadar, which is a small kind of underutilized situation not that far from Karachi, the Chinese will have access to the waterways that connect them to their resources, their energy resources coming increasingly out of the Persian Gulf.

MONTAGNE: Where should, in your opinion, the U.S. focus its attention?

Mr. BARNETT: Well, if you project 10, 15, 20 years into the future and ask where are our resources going to be best employed in the near term to have the maximum impact, I think the argument is the Arab Spring presents more of a strategic opportunity - much more than the resources being employed today and potentially down the road in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which logically falls into the Chinese orbit and is more logically pawned off to the Chinese as a burden that they should naturally assume.

MONTAGNE: Thomas Barnett writes a weekly column for World Politics Review, an online service for foreign policy professionals.

Thanks very much.

Mr. BARNETT: Thank you.

12:08PM

Audio from Morning Edition appearance (1 June 2011)

From the NPR Morning Edition site:

June 1, 2011

Osama bin Laden's death has put more pressure on the United States' strategic partnership with Pakistan, and its ongoing commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Thomas Barnett, chief analyst of Wikistrat, an online community for global strategists, explains to Renee Montagne why the relationships with Pakistan and Afghanistan aren't worth the effort.

Listen to the almost five-minute segment here.

1:30PM

On NPR's Morning Edition with Renee Montagne 1 June

Taped remotely this morning at WFYI here in Indy.

She said it would run near front of program, so EST at about 5:10-15, then 7:10-15, then again at 9:10-15.

Even hours on the West Coast.  All very confusing, but you know what I mean.

Subject is Af-Pak and America's choices.

Spoke for close to half-hour, but they will edit down to best bits, which should make my pollen-addled brain sound smarter.

8:51AM

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

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

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

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

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

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

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

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