Obama acquits himself well during the whole interview, but this part about Israel and Palestine stood out for me:
Israel has an interest not just in bunkering down. They've got to recognize that their long-term viability as a Jewish state is going to depend on their ability to create peace with their neighbors.
The Palestinian leadership has to acknowledge that the battles that they've been fighting, and the direction that they've been going in and the rhetoric they've been employing, has not delivered for their people. And it is very hard, given the history of that region and the sense of grievance on both sides, to step back and say, let's be practical and figure out what works.
But I think that's what the people of Israel and the people in the West Bank and Gaza are desperate for, is just some practical, commonsense approaches that would result in them feeling safe, secure and able to live their lives and educate their children.
I'm in complete agreement that this is what the parties in the region should do. It's become increasingly clear, however, that none of the salient actors in the region possess anything like the willingness to acknowledge these facts of life.
As Jonathan Chait, Todd Gitlin and Michael Cohen observe, Hamas really is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. And Israel has long been unwilling to moderate its behavior on housing settlements in the ocupied territories.
My point here is that while Obama's rough outline of a solution makes perfect sense to me, I have no idea how we get from point A (the current moment) to point B (a moment when the relevant actors in Israel and Palestine agree with Obama).
Way back in 2007, the blogosphere had a rocking debate over whether the Bush administration was gearing up to bomb Iran. During that debate, a lot of netroots bloggers basically argued that the Bush administration was perfectly capable of executing a replay of its Iraq rollout.
Today's New York Times front-pager by David Sanger suggests that what actually happened was a wee bit different:
President Bush deflected a secret request by Israel last year for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex and told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials.
White House officials never conclusively determined whether Israel had decided to go ahead with the strike before the United States protested, or whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel was trying to goad the White House into more decisive action before Mr. Bush left office. But the Bush administration was particularly alarmed by an Israeli request to fly over Iraq to reach Iran’s major nuclear complex at Natanz, where the country’s only known uranium enrichment plant is located.
The White House denied that request outright, American officials said, and the Israelis backed off their plans, at least temporarily. But the tense exchanges also prompted the White House to step up intelligence-sharing with Israel and brief Israeli officials on new American efforts to subtly sabotage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, a major covert program that Mr. Bush is about to hand off to President-elect Barack Obama....
The interviews also suggest that while Mr. Bush was extensively briefed on options for an overt American attack on Iran’s facilities, he never instructed the Pentagon to move beyond contingency planning, even during the final year of his presidency, contrary to what some critics have suggested.
The interviews also indicate that Mr. Bush was convinced by top administration officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran’s nuclear effort further out of view. Mr. Bush and his aides also discussed the possibility that an airstrike could ignite a broad Middle East war in which America’s 140,000 troops in Iraq would inevitably become involved.
Read the whole thing -- there's a lot to digest.
Steve Benen asks what would have happened if Don Rumsfeld had been SecDef rather than Gates. I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that, in all likelihood, the outcome would have been the same. I suspect even Don Rumsfeld would have been hesitant of making life harder for U.S. troops in Iraq.*
The reason I say this goes back to a bugaboo of mine. An awful lot of bloggers and IR scholars developed arguments about the nature of U.S. foreign policy based primarily on the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And, to be sure, it's an important data point. It was also, however, an extreme outlier on several dimensions. The political and strategic lay of the land in 2007 was radically different from 2002, and therefore imposed more serious constraints on the Bush administration. It is also possible, maybe, that some learning took place among U.S. policymakers.
*One Machiavellian exception -- perhaps Rumsfeld would have been OK with the bombing precisely because it would have made life difficult for U.S. troops in Iraq, thus necessitating their withdrawal -- which I suspect he wanted.
Laura Rozen's latest Cable post suggests that the Obama administration might be falling into the same trap that befell the Clinton and Bush administrations:
[There are] only a dozen or so positions to be filled [at the NSC] immediately, given that much of the NSC staff is seconded from other federal agencies who will hold over in the new administration's early months. Not only that, but the Obama team reportedly plans to scale back the NSC from its Bush/Cheney days. Under Bush, the NSC had six deputy national security advisor positions; the Obamans are looking to a more traditional, flatter model, my sources tell me, with as few as one deputy national security advisor and senior directors for different regional and functional areas below that (Europe, etc.).
Now, a flatter model may or may not be a good idea. If "scaling back" includes cutting the NSC staff more generally, however, it would be a boneheaded move. Worse, it would replicate the exact same boneheaded move made by the previous two administrations. When Condi Rice came to the NSC, she pruned the staff by a third. Similarly, the NSC was cut in the first years of the Clinton administration to honor candidate Clinton's pledge to cut White House staff by 25%.
In the end, the NSC has no resources except access to the president and staff. To actually coordinate or implement foreign policy, the NSC needs to be on top of what other agencies are doing. A smaller staff makes that task much more difficult. Indeed, after policy coordination miscues in the early years of their administrations, both Clinton and Bush wound up reversing course on the NSC.
Hopefully, Obama will learn from their mistakes -- because nobody likes shrinkage.
QUESTION: Do you regret your role in the Iraq war? SECRETARY RICE: I absolutely am so proud that we liberated Iraq. QUESTION: Really? SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. And I’m especially, as a political scientist, not as Secretary of State, not as National Security Advisor, but as somebody who knows that structurally it matters that a geostrategically important country like Iraq is not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, that this different Iraq under democratic leadership (emphasis added).Both Matt and Ryan make the argument that since most political scientists opposed the war in Iraq -- and they did -- Rice is out of bounds here. The CAP boys have half a point, but let's not go overboard. First, their half-a-point --I agree with Matt and Ryan that Iraq was not a geostrategic threat. It is worth remembering, however, that Iraq was causing some major strategic headaches at the time of the invasion. That said, I also think Matt and Ryan are misreading Rice a little here. In the follow-up to the excerpted portion above, Rice says, "we are at a place now where because of difficult decisions that the President took we have an Iraq that is well on its way to being a multiethnic, multiconfessional democracy." So what Rice is talking about is the potential benefits of having a democracy spanning the Tigris and Euphrates. And on this point, Rice is correct to assert that there were/are political science-y reasons for thinking that a stable, democratic Iraq was a Good Thing for the United States and the rest of the world. Don't just take my word on this -- let's go to Shadi Hamid:
Middle Eastern states, almost all of them dictatorships, constantly bicker amongst themselves and enter into relatively childish diplomatic rows over perceived and personal slights. There is no common Arab policy to any regional or international problem, because there seem to be little structural incentives to induce Arab leaders to make an effort to agree on big issues. Part of the problem is when foreign policy is largely determined by either one person, or a very small coterie of elites around the royal court, then foreign policy initiatives have less force of legitimacy and are less sustainable because they can always be reversed fairly easily. One could posit - as I will right now - that if Middle Eastern countries were relative democracies, they would be much more willing to cooperate with each other, and would be more willing to play strong, confident leadership roles in tacking difficult regional issues. Turkey, of course, is a good example of how this might look in practice.Now, let me stress that the political science consensus on this point is hardly uniform. Most realists would dismiss the notion that regime type matters all that much. And even some democratic peace proponents would point out that while consolidated democracies are just peachy, consolidating democracies are often more trouble than they are worth. That said, however, based on these comments Condi Rice does not need to turn in her APSA card anytime soon.
No one has a f@#$ing clue who is going where.Seriously, I've heard conflicting accounts about particular names and positions. The two things all my sources agree on is:
President-elect Barack Obama is still mulling over whom to appoint to his intelligence cabinet.... Published reports say Obama is considering Adm. Dennis Blair (ret)., for the supervisory post of Director of National Intelligence; As of last week, Blair's nomination was not a fait accompli, although he was still in the running, sources said; some human rights activists have transmitted their disapproval to Obama's team. Intelligence types who don't have transition connections or insider information noted that the name leaked out at the same time as Obama was said to be considering Gen. James Jones (Ret.) for the post of national security adviser and Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State; when those two announcements were formalized, Blair was not introduced as a member of Obama's national security team.... Sources say that Obama's team is having trouble finding a potential CIA director who lacks politically incriminating links to controversial Bush Administration policies and yet commands the respect of the agency's rank and file.Another problem with Blair in particular might be that he's landed on Foreign Policy's "10 Worst Predictions for 2008" list:
“[In] reality the risks to maritime flows of oil are far smaller than is commonly assumed. First, tankers are much less vulnerable than conventional wisdom holds. Second, limited regional conflicts would be unlikely to seriously upset traffic, and terrorist attacks against shipping would have even less of an economic effect. Third, only a naval power of the United States’ strength could seriously disrupt oil shipments.” —Dennis Blair and Kenneth Lieberthal, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2007
On Nov. 15, 2008 a group of Somali pirates in inflatable rafts hijacked a Saudi oil tanker carrying 2 million barrels of crude in the Indian Ocean. The daring raid was part of a rash of attacks by Somali pirates, which have primarily occurred in the Gulf of Aden. Pirates operating in the waterway have hijacked more than 50 ships this year, up from only 13 in all of last year, according to the Piracy Reporting Center. The Gulf of Aden, where nearly 4 percent of the world’s oil demand passes every day, was not on the list of strategic “chokepoints” where oil shipments could potentially be disrupted that Blair and Lieberthal included in their essay, “Smooth Sailing: The World’s Shipping Lanes Are Safe.” Hopefully, Blair will show a bit more foresight if, as some expect, he is selected as Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence.
The maxim that the national security adviser should act as a traffic cop, not a participant in the policy process, is more theoretical than practical.Really, Henry? Whatever do you base this on? In all fairness, it's not a bad op-ed, and includes this insightful point: "Geopolitical and strategic considerations have no organic constituency. Though a Policy Planning Council exists, its activities are often shunted off into non-operational, semi-academic sideshows or, most frequently, into speechwriting." I'll have more to say about that in the coming year. UPDATE: Swampland's Karen Tumulty offers some further context with regard to Kissinger and Obama.
Perhaps Obama really can persuade European public opinion. But since, as matters stand, no-one thinks there's a military solution to the Afghan problem I'm not quite sure what Obama can offer to make the mission any more appealling. Put yourself in Danish or Portuguese or Italian shoes: what's in it for you? Why would you join a mission no-one thinks is winnable? (Maybe a new strategy can change that, but that too is something that remains to be seen.) It isn't simply Iraq; it's the growing perception that many people feel they have little to know idea why, nearly seven years later, we're still in Afghanistan. What are we actually doing there? What can we actually realistically hope to achieve?.... It would be lovely to think that Obama can bring a new period of transatlantic harmony. But it just isn't the case that American interests are necessarily the same as European interests. The Security Card trumped everything during the Cold War but these are changed times. And there were, in any case, always more differences than seemed the case then too, these days they're much clearer to see. A new President may find it difficult to change that. Or, to put it another way, he may need to give something up himself to advance American interests in other areas.Alex is right to point out the centrality of common security interests to transatlantic security cooperation. I don't think the divergence of interests is as great as he thinks, however, in part because Obama's strategy allows his to display credible commitments that Bush could not. On Afghanistan, for example, the problem the Bush administration always had with getting more allied support was the perception among many allies that the U.S. wanted NATO help in that theatre so they could focus on Iraq. If Obama pursues his graduated withdrawal strategy and expanded soft power capabilities, however, he's going to be able to ask for European help while simultaneously augmenting U.S. forces and resources in the Afghan theater. States are much more willing to cooperate when they sense a serious commitment by the lead actor. Contra Alex, I think a lot of European foreign policy elites do see the security and foreign policy benefits of doubling down in Afghanistan -- if anything, events in Mumbai merely reinforce that belief. Their concern has always been with the lack of U.S. focus and resources in the region. By committing greater resources -- which has been Obama's message for some time now -- I think he can square the circle with the Europeans. [Of course, note that this is all highly dependent on the stability of Iraq. Either Iraq maintains its current level of stability, or Obama must be willing to reallocate troops away from Iraq despite a worsening security situation there.] I tried to make some of these points last night in a discussion of this topic on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin, but I was blinded by Jeff Kopstein's hearty California glow. Nevertheless, true groupies can watch it below:
So there are logical reasons why lawyers might be getting the top foreign-policy posts. Are these substantively good reasons, however? As a professor with an interest in seeing his graduates thrive in the public sector, I think attending a public-policy school should send an even stronger signal. It should say that the person in question is well-trained and has the other traits necessary for a leadership position. Perhaps the next step should be to make the first year of a public-policy degree more like the first year of law school. After all, why should one-Ls have all the fun?[Cue Satanic cackle here!!--ed.]
Another failing of the Bush administration was that neither the president nor his two secretaries of state were “closers” who could set a foreign-policy goal (Israeli-Palestinian peace, for instance) and then develop and execute a strategy to achieve it. We have more faith that the Obama-Clinton duo will do so.Look, there's a lot of fault to find in the current administration, but if the bar for success is closing the deal on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, well, then every administration in American history has failed. I have marginally greater confidence that an Obama-Clinton team can move the ball forward on a peace deal. I have no faith in any American administration to actually achieve real peace in the region anytime soon. There's a difference between having an ideological affinity for a politician and consuming multiple shots of Kool-Aid within a single minute. I think this editorial falls under the latter category. As Anton Ego would say, the NYT editorial team could use some perspective. They should go read this Robert D. Kaplan essay.
all three of his choices — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the rival turned secretary of state; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, as national security adviser, and Robert M. Gates, the current and future defense secretary — have embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena.... The [Obama] adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the three have all embraced “a rebalancing of America’s national security portfolio” after a huge investment in new combat capabilities during the Bush years.... A year ago, to studied silence from the Bush White House, Mr. Gates began giving a series of speeches about the limits of military power in wars in which no military victory is possible. He made popular the statistic, quoted by Mr. Obama, that the United States has more members of military marching bands than foreign service officers. He also denounced “the gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist and communicate with other parts of the world — the ‘soft power’ which had been so important throughout the cold war.” He blamed both the Clinton and Bush administrations and said later in an interview that “it is almost like we forgot everything we learned in Vietnam.” Mr. Obama’s choice for national security adviser, General Jones, took the critique a step further in a searing report this year on what he called the Bush administration’s failed strategy in Afghanistan, where Mr. Obama has vowed to intensify the fight as American troops depart from Iraq. When the report came out, General Jones was widely quoted as saying, “Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan,” a comment that directly contradicted the White House. But he went on to describe why the United States and its allies were not winning: After nearly seven years of fighting, they had failed to develop a strategy that could dependably bring reconstruction projects and other assistance into areas from which the Taliban had been routed — making each victory a temporary one, reversed as soon as the forces departed. Several times during his presidency, Mr. Bush promised to alter that strategy, even creating a “civilian reserve corps” of nation-builders under State Department auspices, but the administration never committed serious funds or personnel to the effort. If Mr. Obama and his team can bring about that kind of shift, it could mark one of the most significant changes in national security strategy in decades and greatly enhance the powers of Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state.In related news, Kevin Drum eats his hat. UPDATE: In another related story, I'm quoted at length in this Erika Niedowski story in The National about the Obama-Clinton pairing. My favorite quip was about their attitudes towards Bill Clinton:
"I'm pretty sure the one thing that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have in common is they don’t want Bill Clinton to open his mouth very much."
If you are bright and are contemplating a potential career in American politics, you go to a top law school--not a public policy school. This does not seem to have changed much in recent decades despite everything [Harvard's Kennedy School of Government] has done to make itself visible and relevant.While I'm glad that the Fletcher School can claim at least one cabinet appointment, Rodrik raises an interesting question -- why do law school grads get the foreign policy jobs coveted by public policy school grads? I can think of a couple of reasons. The first is really simple -- if you're going to be writing laws, it helps to be a lawyer. The second reason is simple path dependence. The original gangsters of the foreign policy community were lawyers. The best way to get a top policymaking job is to made your mark by serving as a loyal deputy to past top policymakers. Since people are more likely to hire their own, it's not surprising that lawyers would hire other lawyers. The second reason is signaling. Follow this logic:
Of the first 15 cabinet and White House appointments announced by president-elect Barack Obama... three earned degrees from the nondescript buildings off the Strand that house the London School of Economics. The selections of Peter Orszag as budget director and Pete Rouse and Mona Sutphen to the senior White House staff means the LSE only has two less graduates than Harvard in team Obama. LSE currently has one more than traditional American powerhouse universities Princeton (Michelle Obama’s alma mater); Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Michigan Law School. Mighty Yale can boast only one graduate, Gregory Craig, the next presidential legal counsel, though Hillary Clinton and James Steinberg will triple the score if they end up at the state department.
To understand the context for this, it’s important to recall that the ideological spectrum around foreign policy elites isn’t sorted all that well. On economic issues, moderate Republicans are almost all still to the right of moderate Democrats. But on foreign policy, traditional Republican realists have a lot more in common with liberal Democrats than either do with Democratic hawks. Both are likely to have opposed the Iraq War or soured on it early. Both are likely to be skeptical of the idea that we should base our foreign policy on self-righteousness. Both are likely to appreciate the importance of taking a balanced approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. And both are likely to be skeptical of the idea that the highest expresion of humanitarian impulses is launching unilateral wars surrounded by high-minded rhetoric.This sounds about right, but Yglesias omits a key driver behind this policy confluence. The performance of the Bush administration has eliminated the two largest points of disagreement between these two groups. Liberal Democrats used to place a much higher premium on human rights questions than realists -- but the Bush administration soured the idea of putting this issue front and center. Similarly, realists were much more willing to act unilaterally than those on the left. The intense blowback from the Bush administration's unilateralist policies, however, have blunted that impulse to some degree. So now realists are saying that we need to work closely with allies and liberals saying the U.S. should perfect its own human rights regime before looking for foreign causes.
Some progressive Obama supporters think the arrival of Clinton at the State Dept. will mean they’ll be frozen out. That would have implications for their advancement in subsequent Democratic administrations. “Basically, you have all of these young, next-generation and mid-career people who took a chance on Obama” during the primaries, said one Democratic foreign-policy expert included in that cohort. “They were many times the ones who were courageous enough to stand up early against Iraq, which is why many of them supported Obama in the first place. And many of them would likely get shut out of the mid-career and assistant-secretary type jobs that you need, so that they can one day be the top people running a future Democratic administration.” In the foreign-policy bureaucracy, these middle-tier jobs — assistant secretary and principal-deputy-assistant and deputy-assistant — are stepping stones to bigger, more important jobs, because they’re where much of the actual policy-making is hashed out. Those positions flesh out strategic decisions made by the president and cabinet secretaries; implement those policies; and use their expertise to both inform decisions and propose targeted or specific solutions to particular crises. The responsibility conferred on those offices, and the expertise developed and deepened by their occupants, shape the future luminaries of U.S. foreign policy. Susan Rice, for example, served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in Bill Clinton’s second term and is now a leading contender for a top job in the Obama administration. “These are your foreign-policy change agents,” said the Democratic foreign-policy expert.Sargent names names:
Among the Hillary people you can imagine going with her to the State Department are old-guard types such as Richard Holbrooke, Jamie Rubin, and Michael O'Hanlon. While some of Obama's foreign policy advisers had served under Bill Clinton, Obama had plenty of fresher faces, such as Samantha Power, who during the campaign strongly condemned the Hillary "conventional wisdom" foreign policy mindset that might dominate should she be elected president.... The question is whether Hillary people at State will muddle what is arguably Obama's overarching foreign policy ambition: Fundamental change in the way national security is discussed in this country and a true and enduring transformation of our own views of what constitutes just and practical uses of our military power abroad. The dynamic bears watching.As an outsider to this whole process, these concerns strike me as massively overlown, for a few reasons. First, as I said before, I'm not sure how much of a gap there is between Clinton and Obama on policy substance. This public but anonymous fretting has more to do with jobs than with policy positions. [UPDATE: See this Thomas P.M. Barnett post to get a sense of the inside-the-Beltway anxiety on this point -- or, click on this TNI online essay of mine from earlier in the month.] Second, I'm not sure how large Clinton's coterie will be. One of the problems her campaign had on the foreign policy side was an overreliance on senior policy advisors -- Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger, to name two of them. They aren't going into the Obama administration. Clinton had fewer people attached to her to staff Assistant Secretary of State positions, so I don't think there would be a large crowding out effect (Holbrooke might go in as Deputy SoS -- but I'm not completely convinced that such an arrangement would work for either him or Clinton). Maybe Lee Feinstein will displace Samantha Power as Policy Planning director, but other than that there won't be much difference. Third, my hunch is that a lot of Obama's 300 will be headed to the National Security Council staff. Now, whether they have influence there depends largely on the relationship between Clinton and Obama, but the NSC is another place where future bigfeet start cutting their teeth. Disgruntled Obama-ites should feel free to comment/e-mail me if they think I misreading the lay of the land.
The drive for dwindling resources, including energy and water, combined with the spread of nuclear weapons technology could make large swaths of the globe ripe for regional conflicts, some of them potentially devastating, according to a report released by the National Intelligence Council yesterday.The prognosticating is not all bad -- as Scott Shane's NYT writeup observes, Al Qaeda is likely on the wane. The NIC report sound awfully similar to some of my more saturnine moments, but I'd have a lot more faith in it if online access to the NIC's report did not appear to be on the fritz.The report, Global Trends 2025, covers a range of strategic issues, including great-power rivalry, demographics, climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, energy and natural resources. It makes for sometimes grim reading in imagining a world of weak states bristling with weapons of mass destruction and unable to cope with burgeoning populations without adequate water and food. "Those states most susceptible to conflict are in a great arc of instability stretching from Sub-Saharan Africa through North Africa, into the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and South and Central Asia, and parts of Southeast Asia," the quadrennial report says. At the heart of its deepest pessimism is the Middle East, which it suggests could tip into a nuclear arms race if Iran goes ahead with such weapons.... Among the visible contours of the world in 2025 is a United States experiencing the relative decline of its economic and military power, driven both by the rise of new behemoths such as China and India and domestic constraints on its global leadership. The United States "will have less power in a multipolar world than it has enjoyed for many decades," according to the report's authors, who consulted policy- and opinion-makers in America and abroad over the past 12 months. ". . . We believe that U.S. interest and willingness to play a leadership role also may be more constrained as the economic, military, and opportunity costs of being the world's leader are reassessed by American voters."
[T]he trend line is disturbing. The distribution of power is shifting away from the United States. The distribution of preferences is also shifting away from America. The Washington Consensus is a dead letter, and American values seem less enticing than they did a decade ago. Simply put, at the end of 2008 the United States generated less respect, less influence, less goodwill, less standing, and less relative power in world politics than it did at any time during the post-Cold War era. It is difficult for a single administration to beat back these kind of gale-wind structural forces. It is worth remembering, however, that five years ago the foreign policy discourse was all about the unprecedented agglomeration of American power. The best thing an Obama administration can do is avoid further overextension – with luck, the “soft power” bump that Obama’s election might generate will provide cover the retrenchment of hard power resources. These resources should be devoted to boosting America’s economic productivity, innovation, and infrastructure. Historically, America’s comparative advantage has been its ability to respond more nimbly to crises than other countries in the world. We’ll see if that historical generality holds for the near future as well.Be sure to check out Dan Nexon's take as well. And, if you want some escape from international relations, Kyle Smith has a sharp essay explaining why 30 Rock is such a subversive and effective takedown of Sex and the City.
Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader used a racial epithet to insult Barack Obama in a message posted Wednesday, describing the president-elect in demeaning terms that imply he does the bidding of whites. The message appeared chiefly aimed at persuading Muslims and Arabs that Obama does not represent a change in U.S. policies. Ayman al-Zawahri said in the message, which appeared on militant Web sites, that Obama is "the direct opposite of honorable black Americans" like Malcolm X, the 1960s African-American rights leader. In al-Qaida's first response to Obama's victory, al-Zawahri also called the president-elect — along with secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — "house Negroes." Speaking in Arabic, al-Zawahri uses the term "abeed al-beit," which literally translates as "house slaves." But al-Qaida supplied English subtitles of his speech that included the translation as "house Negroes."This report observes that, "The audio plays over still pictures of al-Zawahri, Malcolm X praying, and Obama with Jewish leaders." For some reason, this whole "Obama is the tool of the Jews" line put forward by Al Qaeda does remind me of this:
Also, to those people who insisted during the campaign that Obama was actually a secret radical Muslim -- does this refute that charge or does it simply show the cunning, complex web weaved by radical Islam? Question to readers: to Americans, this kind of rhetorical thrust will seem pretty laughable. Will it also play that way abroad?
If President-elect Barack Obama taps Senator Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state, he would be giving her oversight of an area where the two former rivals diverged sharply during their prolonged primary battle: foreign policy. From their first clashes in the summer of 2007 through spring this year, Obama and Clinton fought bitterly over who had a deeper understanding of the world, exchanging sharp words over their international experience and their views on diplomacy, military strikes against terrorists, the right approach toward Iran, and the genesis of the Iraq war. It is the one arena in which Obama and Clinton articulated significantly different visions. On a host of other issues - taxes, healthcare, jobs, free trade, investments in renewable energy - their positions were often indistinguishable.And here's my quote:
Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, however, disputes the notion that Obama and Clinton differed significantly during the primary race on foreign affairs, arguing that on issues such as diplomacy, their heated rhetoric belied a broad similarity in approach. "A lot of the foreign policy skirmishes between the two were more about style than anything else," he said.Looking over Helman's evidence, I stand by my quote. In my memory, Obama and Clinton bickered more over health care than foreign policy (though they clearly bickered about both), and their sharpest disagreement was about the Iraq decision in 2002/3. They had to disagree on something because it was a primary and they needed to differentiate themselves. That does not mean there is a lot of daylight between them on substantive policy questions. Readers are encouraged to tell me if they think my assessment is wrong. I have two additional thoughts abut Hillary as SoS:
This is good for the Iraqis, who really do need the U.S. presence for a little while longer; good for George Bush, who's getting a slightly longer timetable than Barack Obama would have negotiated; and good for Obama, since this essentially makes his decision to withdraw into a bipartisan agreement.
Check out the whole conversation. Longtime readers of danieldrezner.com, who have served in political appointments in the executive branch, are encouaged to proffer their own advice in the comments.
Election Day profoundly affects the lives, hopes and dreams of D.C. policy people—in the form of what they might be doing for the next four years. For foreign-policy analysts, there are really only two states of being—being in charge of American foreign policy and desperately wanting to be in charge of American foreign policy.Read the whole thing. [So does this mean you're lobbying for an administration position? Is this why you decided to vote for Obama?--ed.] No and no. Like the president-elect, I have young children that are quite comfortable where they are. Unlike the president-elect, the government wouldn't be providing us swanky public housing if we moved to DC.
I’d probably advise the president to read the uber-source for international relations, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Too many people only read portions like the Melian Dialogue, which leads to a badly distorted view of world politics (the dialogue represents the high-water mark of Athenian power — it all goes downhill after that). The entire text demonstrates the complex and tragic features of international politics, the folly of populism, the occasional necessity of forceful action, the temptations and dangers of empire, and, most importantly, the ways in which external wars can transform domestic politics in unhealthy ways.I was torn between Thucydides and Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, but I figured -- correctly -- that Obama was already familiar with that work. I'll put the same question to you that Scott put to me: what one book would you recommend to the president-elect?
Apparently Gen. David Petraeus does not agree with the Bush administration that the road to Damascus is a dead end. ABC News has learned, Petraeus proposed visiting Syria shortly after taking over as the top U.S. commander for the Middle East. The idea was swiftly rejected by Bush administration officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon. Petraeus, who becomes the commander of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) Friday, had hoped to meet in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Petraeus proposed the trip, and senior officials objected, before the covert U.S. strike earlier this week on a target inside Syria's border with Iraq. Officials familiar with Petraeus' thinking on the subject say he wants to engage Syria in part because he believes that U.S. diplomacy can be used to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran. He plans to continue pushing the idea. "When the timing is right, we ought to go in there and have a good discussion with the Syrians," said a Defense Department official close to Petraeus. "It's a meaningful dialogue to have." Petraeus would likely find a more receptive audience for his approach in an Obama administration, given Barack Obama's views on the need to engage America's enemies.Steve Benen makes an interesting observation about the timing of this story:
Not only is Petraeus at odds with Bush, but people close to him are leaking this information just a few days before the presidential election. What's more, it reinforces the dynamic that's been apparent for a while -- when it comes to a national security strategy predicated on diplomacy, Obama and Petraeus are on one side, while McCain and Bush are on the other.That might be ascibing intent to Petraeus when none existed -- leaks happen for all kinds of reasons -- but it is an interesting development. Developing.... P.S. In other news about foreign policy realists, it sure seems like those supporting McCain are doing so in a very passive-aggressive fashion.
One of the sharpest and most telling differences on foreign policy between Barack Obama and John McCain is whether the United States should talk to difficult and disreputable leaders like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. In each of the three presidential debates, McCain belittled Obama as naive for arguing that America should be willing to negotiate with such adversaries. In the vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin went even further, accusing Obama of "bad judgment … that is dangerous," an ironic charge given her own very modest foreign-policy credentials. Are McCain and Palin correct that America should stonewall its foes? I lived this issue for 27 years as a career diplomat.... maybe that's why I've been struggling to find the real wisdom and logic in this Republican assault against Obama. I'll bet that a poll of senior diplomats who have served presidents from Carter to Bush would reveal an overwhelming majority who agree with the following position: of course we should talk to difficult adversaries—when it is in our interest and at a time of our choosing. The more challenging and pertinent question, especially for the McCain-Palin ticket, is the reverse: Is it really smart to declare we will never talk to such leaders? Is it really in our long-term national interest to shut ourselves off from one of the most important and powerful states in the Middle East—Iran—or one of our major suppliers of oil, Venezuela?So, who do you think wrote this?
[Q] …Should we be talking to the Taliban? I don’t mean you. [BO] You know, I think that this is one useful lesson that is applicable from Iraq. The Great Awakening, the Sunni Awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally. It could not have occurred unless there were some contacts and intermediaries to peel off those who are tribal leaders, regional leaders, Sunni nationalists, from a more radical Messianic brand of insurgency. Well whether there are those same opportunities in Afghanistan I think should be explored.Now, what's interesting about this is that Jane Perlez and Jane Zubair Shah have a fascinating piece in the New York Times on Pakistani efforts to trigger this kind of tribal awakening in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier:
The tribal militias, known as lashkars, have quickly become a crucial tool of Pakistan’s strategy in the tribal belt, where the army has been fighting the Taliban for more than two months in what army generals acknowledge is a tougher and more protracted slog than they anticipated. And, indeed, the lashkars’ early efforts have been far from promising. As the strength of the militants in the tribal areas grows, and as the war across the border in Afghanistan worsens, the Pakistanis are casting about for new tactics. The emergence of the lashkars is a sign of the tribesmen’s rising frustration with the ruthlessness of the Taliban, but also of their traditional desire to run their own affairs and keep the Pakistani Army at bay, Pakistani officers and law enforcement officials say. Some in Washington have pointed to the emergence of the lashkars as a hopeful parallel to the largely successful Sunni Awakening movement in Iraq, which drew on tribes’ frustration with militant jihadis to build an alliance with American troops that helped lessen violence in Iraq. But there are significant differences, a senior American government official acknowledged. In Anbar Province, he said, the Iraqi tribes “woke up to millions of dollars in government assistance, and the support of the Third Infantry division.” But the support by the Pakistani Army and civilian government for the tribal militias has been “episodic” and so far “unsustained,” he said. In addition, tribal structures in Pakistan have been weakened in recent years by the Taliban, unlike the situation in Iraq. The tribesmen, armed with antiquated weaponry from the 1980s Afghan war, are facing better equipped, highly motivated Taliban who have intimidated and crushed some of the militia.... Even in the best of times, there are basic unwritten rules about the tribal militia in Pakistan that limit their impact. The Pakistani military, for example, can lend moral support but not initiate a tribal militia, the generals said. The lashkars come with their own weapons, food, and ammunition. They have their own fixed area of responsibility, and are not permanent. Indeed great care is taken to make sure the lashkars do not become a threat to the military itself. “We do not want a lashkar to become an offensive force,” said one of the generals, who spoke frankly about the lashkars on condition of anonymity. For that reason, the military was willing to lend fire support artillery and helicopters but would not give the militias heavy weapons, he said.Here's a question that should be asked of both John McCain and Barack Obama -- should the United States be providing direct support to these lashkars as a way to squeeze the Taliban?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.