This week, there's been a rash of articles on the state of GOP foreign policy thinking, as well as some interesting and constructive responses to my Foreign Affairs essay on the same subject. I will try to respond to some of these over the weekend -- but first I think it would be useful to talk more precisely about the claimed benefits of military power.
One of the points I made in my essay was that Republicans need to take economic statecraft more seriously, but to be fair, this holds for the foreign policy community more generally. The relationship between military power and economic influence is often talked about in general terms, with a lot of casual assertions getting tossed around. But I think a lot of these assertions are wrong.
For example, prominent American foreign policy commentators often trump the benefits of America's overseas military presence. Danielle Pletka gets at this in her Foreign Policy essay when she says, "Americans have benefited tremendously from their involvement abroad," though she stays in generalities. To talk specifically, how exactly does the U.S. gain economically from its outsized military footprint?
Fortunately, we do have an attempt at an answer. In the latest Foreign Affairs, Stephen Brooks, John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth argue strongly in favor of "deep engagement." They proffer a number of reasons why the U.S. benefits from current grand strategy -- but one of the more intriguing ones is that the U.S. receives direct economic benefits from its security arrangements:
A global role also lets the United States structure the world economy in ways that serve its particular economic interests. During the Cold War, Washington used its overseas security commitments to get allies to embrace the economic policies it preferred -- convincing West Germany in the 1960s, for example, to take costly steps to support the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency. U.S. defense agreements work the same way today. For example, when negotiating the 2011 free-trade agreement with South Korea [KORUS], U.S. officials took advantage of Seoul's desire to use the agreement as a means of tightening its security relations with Washington. As one diplomat explained to us privately, "We asked for changes in labor and environment clauses, in auto clauses, and the Koreans took it all." Why? Because they feared a failed agreement would be "a setback to the political and security relationship."
Now, this gets specific!! According to this paragraph, reliance on U.S. security means that Washington can obtain better economic terms. Sounds great!!
Except that I don't think it's true.
With respect to West Germany, it's certainly true that Washington was able to get Berlin to accommodate to U.S. preferences -- but only for a few years. The Bretton Woods system ended in 1971 because the Germans finally said "Nein!!" to U.S. inflation. So the economic benefit wasn't that great.
The South Korea case is more intriguing, because it's present-day and there's a real, live policymaker quote there. If a U.S. administration official asserts that the security relationship mattered, then it mattered, right?
Well.... no. We need to compare KORUS with something equivalent to provide a frame of reference. If security really mattered that much, then the Korea-United States free trade agreement should contain terms that are appreciably more favorable to the United States than those contained in, say, the Korea-European Union free trade agreement, which was negotiated at the same time. This is a great test. After all, the U.S. is the most important security partner for South Korea, whereas the only thing the European Union could offer to Seoul was its large market. So if Brooks, Ikenberry and Wohlforth are correct, the U.S. should have bargained for much better terms than the E.U. Right?
A Korean analysis of the two agreements, however, do not reveal that result:
[T]he United States has more favorable treatment in meat and vegetable products and transportation, while the EU has better treatment in processed foods, chemicals, and machinery. The large difference in outcomes in animal and animal products between the KORUS FTA and the Korea-EU FTA can be ascribed to the the reflection of greater sensitivity of the Korean market in this sector in the Korea-EU FTA compared with the KORUS FTA. Therefore the EU received a less favorable tariff reduction schedule than the United States in this area. This is true in the areas of raw hides, skins, leather, and furs, and transportation.
We have the opposite case, however, in the foodstuff sector: the many differences in Korean tariff liberalization schedules in the U.S. and European FTAs could be a result of the reflection of the EU positions, which preferred earlier tariff eliminations on many items in the Korea-EU FTA. This is also true in the manufacturing sectors such as hemicals and allied industries, plastics and rubber, textiles, and machinery and electrical products.
In (slightly) plainer English, the U.S. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more, and the E.U. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more. Both agreements are comprehensive in scope and contain roughly similar terms across most other sectors. Indeed, both the Congressional Research Service and U.S. Trade Representative's office acknowledge the basic similaritry between the deals, as well as the areas where the Europeans did better. So, in other words, America's ongoing security relationship with South Korea did not lead to any asymmetric economic gains.
Now, this is not to say that there are no economic benefits to America's forward military presence. There are other arguments out there, and they should also be evaluated. My point here is simply to cast a skeptical eye on claims that America's overseas military presence pays for itself in the form of geopolitical favoritism. Because I don't think that's true.
I have a shocking confession to make: it's possible that maybe, just maybe, professors and graduate students don't always finish tasks on time. Once in a blue moon, a project will sneak up on us that is due the next day, at which point the academic or aspiring academic is faced with the following menu of options:
1) Pull an all-nighter, throw every crazy idea onto the page, and pray something sticks;
2) Email whomever is waiting for your written work and explain that illness/unforseeen circumstances/preparations for the zombie apocalypse mean you need another week or so to finish;
3) Go dark on all social media, refuse to answer email queries, and hope that everything works out for the best.
You'd be surprised how many people opt for (3), but there it is.
I bring this up because of Mali. Now let me confess that I am about as far from an Africa expert as one can be. Let me further confess that I haven't paid too much attention to Mali over the past year. My sum knowledge of the stituation there boils down to "there's some trouble in the north," "the government ain't that stable," and "gosh, people seem to be saying, 'Al Qaeda!! There's Al Qaeda in them thar hills!!' an awful lot."
Still, reading this Financial Times story by Xan Rice on the United Nations' latest plan of action for Mali, it doesn't seem like the Security Council knows that much more than I do:
The UN Security Council has approved the deployment of an African force to retake northern Mali from al-Qaeda-linked insurgents.
The council also authorised the EU and individual countries to help equip and train Mali’s army, which is meant to work alongside the 3,300-strong international force. The proposed military operation is not expected to start before September 2013 to allow for proper planning and political progress in Mali....
The French-drafted text stresses the need for a twin track military and political plan. Deployment of the intervention force, known as the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, or AFISMA, was authorised for an initial one-year period to take “all necessary measures, in compliance with applicable international humanitarian law and human rights law”. Working alongside Mali’s armed forces, the goal is to retake northern Mali from “terrorist, extremist and armed groups”....
The UN resolution did not specify how the international mission will be funded. Nor is it clear how the force will be composed. The west African regional block Ecowas has pledged to supply the 3,300 troops, with Nigeria taking the lead. But US military officials believe that the desert conditions in northern Mali will be more suited to armies from non-Ecowas countries, such as Chad and Mauritania.
There are also questions about how Mali’s army will work with an outside force. Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who retains significant influence in Bamako and forced the prime minister to resignthis month, is wary of allowing in foreign troops, fearing his power will be diminished.
The resolution stressed that more military planning was needed, and the security council asked Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, to report on the readiness of AFISMA troops before the start of any combat operations.
So, to sum up: the Security Council has pledged to send peacekeepers on a timetable that makes academic publishing seem speedy, without any idea of how it will be funded, staffed, or operate with indigenous forces, married to vague calls for political action to lay the groundwork for said peacekeepers.
So in this case, it appears that the Security Council has followed multiple academic routes -- they scrambled to put something together at thre last minute, but still managed to kick the can down the road a great deal.
Again, let me confess that this could very well be the right thing to do -- I'm no Mali expert. I do know something about procrastination and last-minute hackwork, however, and man, this reeks of it.
I hereby plead and beg Mali-watchers to correct my misperceptions in the comments. Cause from the outside, this whole thing seems damn peculiar.
One of this blog's minor keys over the years has been the creeping militarization of U.S. foreign policy. I don't mean this in the "all the U.S. does is bomb! Bomb!! BOMB!!!" way. Rather, as the bulk of the U.S. international affairs budget has shifted towards the defense department, so has the operational control of American foreign policy. This extends to cabinet-level appointments, as ex-generals wind up occupying too many foreign policy principal positions.
Last week, I speculated that the Petraeus scandal might cause a reassessment of trust in the military. To my pleasant surprise, this appears to be happening, but in a targeted and focused manner. That is to say, what's being questioned is the behavior, ethics and massive perks of the military's top brass.
At the same time, perhaps it's beginning to dawn on some foreign policy commentators that America's diplomatic corps has been undervalued. The Wikleaks cables, for example, revealed U.S. diplomats to be extremely acute in their assessments of foreign counterparts. The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens has regrettably highlighted the risks that the diplomatic corps faces in some of their postings. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made economic statecraft a priority during her tenure at Foggy Bottom. As her speech in Singapore a few days ago suggested, the ball is rolling on quite a few significant agreements -- a point that has been raised here recently.
So this could be a moment when U.S. diplomats can wrest just a wee bit of influence back from the generals. Which is great -- unless one reads this Robert Worth story from yesterday's New York Times Magazine:
[Ambassador Chris Stevens'] death was treated as a scandal, and it set off a political storm that seems likely to tie the hands of American diplomats around the world for some time to come. Congressmen and Washington pundits accused the administration of concealing the dangers Americans face abroad and of failing Stevens by providing inadequate security. Threats had been ignored, the critics said, seemingly unaware that a background noise of threats is constant at embassies across the greater Middle East. The death of an ambassador would not be seen as the occasional price of a noble but risky profession; someone had to be blamed.
Lost in all this partisan wrangling was the fact that American diplomacy has already undergone vast changes in the past few decades and is now so heavily encumbered by fortresslike embassies, body armor and motorcades that it is almost unrecognizable. In 1985 there were about 150 security officers in U.S. embassies abroad, and now there are about 900. That does not include the military officers and advisers, whose presence in many embassies — especially in the Middle East — can change the atmosphere. Security has gone from a marginal concern to the very heart of American interactions with other countries.
The barriers are there for a reason: Stevens’s death attests to that, as do those of Americans in Beirut, Baghdad and other violent places. But the reaction to the attack in Benghazi crystallized a sense among many diplomats that risks are less acceptable in Washington than they once were, that the mantra of “security” will only grow louder. As a result, some of the country’s most distinguished former ambassadors are now asking anew what diplomacy can achieve at such a remove.
“No one has sat back to say, ‘What are our objectives?’ ” said Prudence Bushnell, who was ambassador to Kenya when the Qaeda bombing took place there in 1998, killing more than 200 people and injuring 4,000. “The model has become, we will go to dangerous places and transform them, and we will do it from secure fortresses. And it doesn’t work.”
If U.S. diplomats have to do the bulk of their work behind fortresses, then pretty soon there will be no difference between their worldview and those of the four-star generals. The more a foreign policy official lives in a protective bubble, the less nimble they will be with rapidly shifting circumstances on the ground. And if there is any lesson from 21st century diplomacy, it's that things shift on the ground really fast.
In a world of real-time diplomacy, a fundamental truth has to be acknowledged in Washington: being a foreign service officer carries risks with it. While, all else equal, those risks should be minimized, the U.S. needs to live with some degree of risk rather than sacrifice the ability of its diplomats to interact and engage with counterparts and locals in foreign countries.
Rather than the simple mantra of "never again" when reacting to the death of Ambassador Stevens, the life and mission he desired should be valorized a bit more. Stevens knew that the best way to advance U.S. interests in Libya was to be on the ground. Doing that from embassies that resemble Orwell's Ministry of Truth is a difficult task.
There is a tradeoff between protecting U.S. officials overseas and promoting their ability to advance the national interest. I fear the pendulum has swung way too far towards the protection side, and Stevens' death will only exacerbate that shift. The cruel irony is that Stevens, of all people, would have abhorred that shift. Better that we openly acknowledge the risk that foreign service officers face in overseas postings, recognize the bravery and loyalty that their service entails, and let them do their f***king jobs.
Am I missing anything?
The latest issue of The Washington Quarterly is just lousy with China essays -- it's like there's a theme or something. Andrew Scobell and Andrew Nathan tackle China's (apparently overstretched) military, and Guoyou Song and Wen Jin Yuan review China's response to the burgeoning Trans-Pacific Partnership.
James Reilly has an essay on China's use of unilateral economic sanctions that really caught my eye, however. The overwhelming bulk of economic sanctions that have been threatened and used during the past century have been from the United States. From a scholarly perspective this is somewhat disturbing, as general theories about economic statecraft become tough to distinguish from theories of U.S. foreign policy. If another great power starts being profligate with its economic statecraft, there's the promise of a lot of new data.
China has deplored the use of economic sanctions in the past, but as Reilly notes, "Over the past few years, Chinese experts have begun to clear some of the legal, moral, ideological, and practical hurdles to Beijing’s use of unilateral sanctions."
So... how effective are they? Well, at best, it's a mixed bag. Here's Reilly's key paragraph:
Ultimately, China uses sanctions for the same reasons other countries do: they are a relatively low-cost, low-risk way to signal dissatisfaction, increase the costs to those who take undesired actions, and satisfy domestic demands to respond to those actions. Sanctions can assuage domestic criticism while not undermining broader economic and diplomatic interests. For all these reasons, China has increasingly resorted to unilateral sanctions in recent years on issues like Taiwan, Tibet, human rights, and maritime disputes.
If you read the article, it's pretty clear that any concessions made by other countries have been pretty modest --more modest than Reilly seems willing to admit (compare Reilly's take on the 2010 Nobel Prize sanctions with, for example, Erik Voeten's).
But there are three caveats to this observation. First, if China views the sanctions as mostly symbolic and for domestic consumption, then it wouldn't be surprising that they're ineffective. Symbolic sanctions aren't supposed to work, they're supposed to be for show. Second, Reilly notes that China likes threatening sanctions more than using them, and sanctions threats are more likely to work as a form of pre-emptive coercion and deterrence than actually compelling the actor in this particular case.
Third, as with its economic statecraft more generally, China is just beginning to understand this foreign policy tool. Indeed, as Reilly observes, the problem with issuing empty threats is that "the credibility of Beijing’s bluffs risk eroding over time." It will be veeeery interesting to see how China's approach to economic statecraft evolves over time.
I know that Daniel Klaidman's Newsweek cover story on the Navy SEALs is supposed to make me feel all warm and safe because of the uber-competence of SEAL Team Six and President Obama's comfort with using them adroitly:
This is a Special Ops moment. The Navy SEALs, in particular, have never appeared so heroic and effective. They killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year, and just last month rescued two aid workers held hostage in Somalia. At a time when many Americans think their government is incompetent, the SEALs are public employees who often get the job done. They’re a morale booster, and they know it.
The thing is, one of Klaidman's more detailed anecdotes actually gives me great pause about the decision-making process within the Obama administration about the use of force:
The CIA and military had been hunting Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan for years. He was a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and had been directly implicated in other deadly terrorist attacks in East Africa, including a suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned resort in Mombasa. He was an important link between al Qaeda and its Somalia-based affiliate, and a potential wealth of information on how the jihadist networks operate. Killing him would have been a significant victory, but capturing him alive could have been even better.
After months of patiently watching him, American intelligence officers suddenly learned that Nabhan was preparing to travel along a remote desert road in southern Somalia....
McRaven told the group that Nabhan’s convoy would soon be setting out from the capital, Mogadishu, on its way to a meeting of Islamic militants in the coastal town of Baraawe. The square-jawed Texan and former Navy SEAL crisply laid out the “Concepts of Operation” that had been developed in anticipation of this moment. Several options were spelled out, along with the military hardware that would be required for each, as well as collateral-damage estimates:
The military could fire Tomahawk cruise missiles from a warship off the Somali coast. This was the least dangerous option in terms of U.S. casualties but not the most precise. (Missiles have gone astray, hitting civilians, and even when they strike their target, they don’t always take it out.) Such missile strikes had been a hallmark of the Bush administration. For all of its “dead or alive” rhetoric, the Bush White House was generally cautious when it came to antiterrorist operations in anarchic areas like Somalia. The second option was a helicopter-borne assault on Nabhan’s convoy. There was less chance of error there: small attack helicopters would allow the commandos to “look the target in the eye and make sure it was the right guy,” according to one military planner. The final option was a “snatch and grab,” a daring attempt to take Nabhan alive. From a purely tactical standpoint, this was the most attractive alternative. Intelligence from high-value targets was the coin of the realm in the terror wars. But it was also the riskiest option.
Unstated but hanging heavily over the group that evening was the memory of another attempted capture in Somalia. Many on the call had been in key national-security posts in October 1993 during the ill-fated attempt to capture a Somali warlord that became known as “Black Hawk Down,” after a book of the same name. That debacle left 18 dead Army Rangers on the streets of Mogadishu, and inspired al Qaeda leaders to think they could defeat the American superpower. As Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said during the meeting: “Somalia, helicopters, capture. I just don’t like the sound of this.”
As everyone left the meeting late that evening, it was clear that the only viable plan was the lethal one (emphasis added).
The mission was a success, and I'm sure that there's more to this decision than is in Klaidman's story. That said, based on the story, this decison-making process seems flawed. The deciding factor appears to have been that the more aggressive option had echoes of the 1993 Black Hawk Down fiasco. Because the situations seemed analagous ("Somalia, helicopters") the worst-case outcome -- a botched raid -- also seemed likely.
Here's the thing though -- as analogies go, this one seems somewhat ill-suited. The most obvious difference was that this raid wasn't going to take place in a city but a remote desert road. It was extremely difficult and bloody for U.S. forces to battle their adversaries in the urban anarchy of Mogadishu. In the open, with no civilians to use as shields, I would think JSOC has the advantage. Even if the snatch-and-grab option was the riskiest option, it does not seem as risky as U.S. efforts to rescue the downed Black Hawk crew back in 1993. In this instance, the worst-case scenario would have been some JSOC soldiers killed -- but given the terrain, the lack of civilians and cover, and the likely firepower advantage held by the Americans, a Black Hawk Down II outcome sounds unlikely.
Despite these differences, analogical reasong triumphed. The mission succeeded in taking out Nabhan, but it sounds like the slightly riskier option would have yielded greater rewards.
Let me stress, yet again, that I'm not an expert on special ops. I'd welcome commenters explaining to me why I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Still, based on this story, the guiding factor in this case appears to have been a poor analogy. I hope this is the exception and not the rule for the current administration.
Am I missing anything?
The New Republic wouldn’t be soliciting my take if there was an easy solution to this policy conundrum. Indeed, Syria is such a tough nut to crack that I fear the best approach to the problem is to apply a Sherlock Holmes-style logic to it. When all of the impossible policy choices have been eliminated, only the improbable ones—however unpalatable they might be—are left to mull over.
Read the whole thing: I confess to not being happy with either of my suggested policies (buy off the Russians; arm the Free Syrian Army), but as I conclude, "the sad truth is that there is no good outcome, only different shades of terrible."
For some other policy suggestions, see Daniel Serwer and Caitlin Fitzgerald on the reverting-to-nonviolence option. This argument does have some support in the academic literature -- but I also think this option has been overtaken by events.
On the opposite side of the spectrum. I'd also recommend reading Dan Trombly's extended realpolitik cost-benefit analysis of myriad options and policy contingencies for Syria. His key paragraph:
The much more unpleasant strategic reality is that, whether foreign forces intervene or not, the U.S. receives little reward from hastening Assad’s downfall. An embattled Assad imposes just the same limitations on Syrian and Iranian threats to U.S. interests. Resources will have to be diverted from the proxies Iran supports through Syria to Syria itself as Iran tries to maintain its host’s viability. The loss of Assad’s regime would mean a rapid retrenchment in Iranian support, for sure, but this would likely be replaced by a proxy campaign against Syria’s new government and its foreign backers, or a redeployment of IRGC/QF assets to other theaters, probably against the U.S (if not both). Given that rapidly overthrowing Assad without major overt military action from a broad coalition of forces is a pipe dream anyway, the United States should consider contingency plans in which it works through, rather than against, the specter of protracted civil war. To be able to bleed Iran in Syria would, relative to the risks involved, be a far more significant strategic opportunity against Iranian power relative to the investment and risk than would be a major overt campaign to overthrow Assad outright. The more blood and treasure Iran loses in Syria – even if Assad stays in power longer – the weaker Iran will be.
This is cold -- but in the absence of rapid regime change, it's also spot-on. My only point of disagreement with Trombly is that he thinks supporting/arming/training the FSA is a bad idea, while I think it's a surefire way to achieve his preferred outcome. This wasn't the logic I used in my TNR essay, and it's one I'm reluctant to voice, but there it is.
What do you think?
Based on his prior scholarly and advocacy work, it's safe to say that Bob Pape has not been a huge fan of U.S. military interventions. In Bombing to Win, he argued that the coercive effect of air power had been wildly overstated. In Dying to Win, he argued that the presence of foreign troops and bases are most likely to inspire suicide terrorism. Pape was a foreign policy advisor to Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign, which evinced a foreign policy based on non-interventionism. There's been some more-than-mild disagreements with Pape's scholarly conclusions, but to date he's articulated a very clear and consistent message warning about the risks of foreign interventions.
Which is why his New York Times op-ed today is so damn surprising. His basic argument:
A new standard for humanitarian intervention is needed. If a continuing government-sponsored campaign of mass homicide — in which thousands have died and many thousands more are likely to die — is occurring, a coalition of countries, sanctioned by major international and regional institutions, should intervene to stop it, as long as they have a viable plan, with minimal risk of casualties for the interveners....
Limited military force to stop campaigns of state-sanctioned homicide is more pragmatic than waiting for irrefutable evidence of “genocide.” It will not work in every case, but it will save large numbers of lives. It also promotes restraint in cases where humanitarian intervention would be high-risk or used as a pretext for imperial designs.
As the world’s sole military superpower, the United States will be at the center of many future debates over humanitarian action. Rather than hewing to the old standard of intervening only after genocide has been proved, the emerging new standard would allow for meaningful and low-risk military action before the killing gets out of control.
This is quite the conclusion coming from Pape, and, at a minimum, is hard to square with some of his prior work (though, it should be noted, it is consistent with what he wrote in April 2011). I wonder how it applies to Syria.... oh, here's the relevant paragraphs:
Syria is, I admit, a tough case. It is a borderline example of a government’s engaging in mass killings of its citizens. The main obstacle to intervention is the absence of a viable, low-casualty military solution. Unlike Libya, where much of the coastal core of the population lived under rebel control, the opposition to Syria’s dictatorial president Bashar al-Assad, has not achieved sustained control of any major population area. So air power alone would probably not be sufficient to blunt the Assad loyalists entrenched in cities, and a heavy ground campaign would probably face stiff and bloody resistance.
If a large region broke away from the regime en masse, international humanitarian intervention could well become viable. Until then, sadly, Syria is not another Libya. A mass-homicide campaign is under way there, but a means to stop it without unacceptable loss of life is not yet available.
I'm not sure how keen I am on military intervention into Syria right now, but if one employs Pape's own criteria, then these paragraphs seem like some serious hand-waving. First, it's not a "borderline example" of atrocities. The UN estimated more than 5000 dead back in December -- that meets the "thousands have died" criteria, and if the status quo persists, thousands more are going to die.
Second, one could argue that Assad's ability to repress has been severely compromised. If it's really true that Assad's forces no longer control half the country -- and that's a big if -- then creating an enclave would be easier than Pape suggests.
Again, I'm not suggesting that the United States should do this -- there would be a lot of policy externalities and second-order effects to consider. What I'm suggesting is that Pape's sudden embrace of humanitarian intervention -- and subsequent rejection of that option in Syria -- is just damn puzzling.
What do you think?
As I noted previously, compared to his GOP rivals, Mitt Romney has some actual foreign policy thinking going on. On the other hand, as Dan Trombly points out, doing better than Herman Cain or Rick Perry is a really low bar. So, looked at objectively, what's my assessment of Romney's foreign policy white paper?
I could go through it line by line, but James Joyner already did that for The Atlantic. As it turns out, I'm reaching a course called The Art and Science of Statecraft that will require students to write a grand strategy document. Sooo.... if Mitt Romney was one of my students, how would I grade him? See below:
You and your study team have clearly put a lot of work into "An American Century." It's cogently written and organized. Your basic statement of purpose -- "advance an international system that is congenial to the institutions of open markets, representative government, and respect for human rights (p. 7)" -- fits perfectly within the mainstream of American foreign policy thinking. You've done an excellent job of demonstrating an awareness of the complexity of threats that face the United States in the 21st century. I liked it on p. 6 when you noted that:
In the highly dynamic realm of national security and foreign policy there are seldom easy answers. Discrete circumstances in disparate regions of the world demand different kinds of approaches. There is no silver bullet for the problem of securing the United States and protecting our interests around the world.
You've also demonstrated an appropriate awareness that American power rests on more than a strong military. When you note that a Romney administration would "apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict (p. 8)," I caught myself nodding along.
Some of the details are intriguing as well. I need to look more into these "Reagan economic zones" that you mention a lot, but applying them to Latin America and the Pacific Rim make a great deal of strategic and economic sense. I'm not fully persuaded that your notion of creating regional envoys to organize all "soft power resources" is all that different from the foreign policy czars or special envoys of administrations past, but this kind of argument fits well with your management background.
That said, there are some logical flaws and major gaps in this draft that will have to be corrected if you want to earn a better grade. The first problem is the style. I recognize that you've written this as a campaign document, so you're never going to completely eliminate the
unadulterated horsheshit allegations about the current president going on an apology tour. Maybe you could do it a bit more subtly in the future, however?
Secondly, there's a lack of historical awareness in some parts of the document. For example, on page 7 the paper says:
[A] Romney foreign policy will proceed with clarity and resolve. The United States will clearly enunciate its interests and values. Our friends and allies will not have doubts about where we stand and what we will do to safeguard our interests and theirs; neither will our rivals, competitors, and adversaries.
Now, reading this, I kept thinking back to the Bush administration and its repeated assetions that that there would be no hypocrisy in foreign affairs. Much like Bush, reality turned out to be trickier. I suspect you know this, from the other excerpts noted earlier. So get rid of this fluff: I'm sure statements like this play well in a management consulting boardroom, but it's not going to cut it in the real world.
Similarly, for someone who says that, the Obama administration is "undermining one’s allies (p. 3)" in contrast to you, who will "reassure our allies (p. 13)", you don't actually talk about America's treaty allies much at all. True, you do talk about expanding America's alliance system to include India and Indonesia. Mexico gets some face time. Israel gets a lot of face time. On the other hand, NATO is not mentioned once in this entire document. Neither is the European Union. Japan and South Korea get perfunctory treamtment at best. Turkey is a major treaty ally but you treat it like a pariah state. For someone who's claiming that the U.S. will reassure its major allies, you didn't seem to give them much attention at all. This is a really important problem, because Japan and Europe have been crucial allies in a lot of major American initiatives -- and they're getting weaker. Even in discussing new possible allies, I'm kind of gobsmacked that Brazil is never mentioned.
Another big problem is that your approach to China is so shot full of contradictions that I don't know where to begin. Do you seriously believe what you wrote on p. 3:
The easiest way... to become embroiled in a clash with China over Taiwan, or because of China’s ambitions in the South or East China Seas, will be to leave Beijing in doubt about the depth of our commitment to longstanding allies in the region.
Really? See, I'd say the easiest way to get embroiled in a clash with China is to write Taiwan a blank check on their defense needs. The second easiest would be to publicly bluster on about Taiwan to a Chinese leadership that feels increasingly insecure and will be tempted to stoke the fires of Chinese nationalism by creating another Quemoy and Matsu crisis.
Furthermore, you talk explicitly about supplying Taiwan with "adequate aircraft and other military platforms (p. 18)" in supposed contrast to the Obama administration. You also talk about strengthening relationships with other countries that neighbor China in an effort to preserve American dominance. Now, this might be a bit provocative, but I get the rationale. Here's the thing, though -- you can't simultaneously do this and assert that you will "work to persuade China to commit to North Korea’s disarmament (p. 29)." Really? How exactly are you gonna persuade them on this point? Do you really think that arming Taiwan to the teeth and blasting its human rights record will do the trick?
If the section on China is contradictory, then your discussion of Pakistan is worse. You state on p. 31-32:
It is in the interests of all three nations to see that Afghanistan and the Afghanistan/ Pakistan border region are rid of the Taliban and other insurgent groups.... Pakistan should understand that any connection between insurgent forces and Pakistan’s security and intelligence forces must be severed. The United States enjoys significant leverage over both of these nations. We should not be shy about using it.
There are at least two assertions in the quoted section that are highly dubious -- I'll let you find them on your own.
One final point, should you choose to revise this draft strategy -- you need to prioritize the threats you discuss in the paper. You list a whole bunch of them -- rising authoritarian states, transnational violence, failing states, and rogue states. If you have to prioritize, which threats merit greater attention? This should actually be pretty easy, since you absurdly overhype the threats posed by some of these countries (Venezuela, Cuba and Russia in particular).
I look forward to reviewing your later work.
As the 20-hour assault by Taliban insurgents on Kabul's diplomatic and military enclave drew to a close on Wednesday, insurgents and coalition forces decided to prolong the battle the modern way: on Twitter.
If the continued insurgency in Afghanistan represents a failure of dialogue, the spat between the Taliban and the press office of the international security assistance force (Isaf) on Wednesday proved that they are ready to exchange words directly, even if their comments offered little hope of peace being forged anytime soon.
The argument began when @ISAFmedia, which generally provides dry updates in military speak of the security situation in Afghanistan, took exception to comments from a Taliban spokesman, tweeting: "Re: Taliban spox on #Kabul attack: the outcome is inevitable. Question is how much longer will terrorist put innocent Afghans in harm's way?"
The Taliban – who, when in power, eschewed most modern technology, including television and music players – decided to point the finger of blame back at the international forces for endangering Afghan civilians. Showing an affinity with textspeak, Taliban tweeter Abdulqahar Balk (@ABalkhi) wrote: "@ISAFmedia i dnt knw.u hve bn pttng thm n 'harm's way' fr da pst 10 yrs.Razd whole vllgs n mrkts.n stil hv da nrve to tlk bout 'harm's way'"
@ISAFmedia was moved to respond by providing statistical backing for its case. "Really, @abalkhi? Unama reported 80% of civilians causalities are caused by insurgent (your) activities http://goo.gl/FylwU"
But @ABalkhi questioned the value of the quoted statistics, pointing outin somewhat sarcastic tones that Isaf, an organisation established by the UN security council, was using figures from another UN body (the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan) to try to win the argument: "@ISAFmedia Unama is an entity of whom? mine or yours?"
Naturally, this led to many Twitter responses. Counterterrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross got off the best quip: "And then... ISAF and the Taliban unfollowed each other."
OK, seriously, what is the takeaway from this sort of exchange? Is this kind of interaction a uniquely 21st century form of statecraft, or just old wine in new, snarker bottles?
It's very tempting to roll one's eyes and say that we've seen this sort of thing before. CNAS' Andrew Exum argues that this exchange is similar to the "cross-trench trash-talking" of the Spanish Civil War. Which would be true... if the majority of the rest of the world had the option of witnessing the trash-talking in real time.
No, this is something different, something that I suspect is activating Anne-Marie Slaughter's sixth sense of detecting "modern social-liberal" trends. And as more and more international affairs heavyweights go on Twitter, it might be a harbinger of a whole new arena of the world politics sandbox.
What I'm not sure is whether this kind of Twitter exchange is terrifically meaningful. As the Guardian story observes, it came about in response to real-world events in Kabul, so in some ways the Twitter engagement between public spokespeple is simply an extension of traditional global public relations. PR has been a part of world politics since the days of E.H. Carr, so I'm not sure this is really all that new and different.
That said, I'll close with two questions for which I do not have easy answers. The first is whether this kind of engagement on Twitter is a legitimating act or not. Does ISAF, by engaging the Taliban on Twitter, elevate the latter group somehow in the global public sphere? This was an argument that the Bush administration used to make for why it would not negotiate with Iran or North Korea. The Bushies posited that the very act of sitting down to talk with these odious regimes conferred legitimacy on them that they otherwise would not have earned. That was a somewhat dubious proposition when dealing with governments of sovereign states. What about non-state actors, however? What about cranks on Twitter? I'm not sure.
The second question is.... is it even possible to win at Twitter fight club? In an exchange with Exum, former debate champion Gartenstein-Ross made an trenchant point about online debate:
[I]t’s generally hard to win a name-calling contest. If I call someone an America-hating pinko, they can fire back that I’m a right-wing tool of the military industrial complex. Those two insults seem essentially to cancel each other out: why give someone an area that can end up a draw if I believe that I can prove all of my other arguments to be correct? Second, I find that if I’m civil, I can actually (sometimes) persuade people I’m arguing against that they’re wrong about an issue. In contrast, if I begin a debate by insulting someone, it only further entrenches him in his initial position, thus making it more difficult to talk sense into him.
Twitter tends to bring out the
ass snark in me, and I suspect I'm not the only one, so I wonder if, in the end, Twitter exchanges in world politics will all wind up as stalemates (unless either Dave Weigel or Keith Law take an interest in international relations). That said, the ISAF/Taliban exchange did seem pretty civil by Twitter standards -- so maybe PR professionals will live up to Gartenstein-Ross' standards.
What do you think?
Fareed Zakaria thinks that the Libya intervention signals "a new era in U.S. foreign policy":
The United States decided that it was only going to intervene in Libya if it could establish several conditions:
1) A local group that was willing to fight and die for change; in other words, "indigenous capacity".
2) Locally recognized legitimacy in the form of the Arab League's request for intervention.
3) International legitimacy in the form of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.
4) Genuine burden sharing with the British and French spelling out precisely how many sorties they would be willing to man and precisely what level of commitment they would be willing to provide.…
The new model does two things:
First, it ensures that there's genuinely a local alliance committed to the same goals as the external coalition. This way, there is more legitimacy on the ground. And if there is anything Afghanistan and Iraq have taught us, it is that local legitimacy is key.
Second, this model ensures that there is genuine burden sharing so that the United States is not left owning the country as has happened so often in the past.…
In the future, we will again have to follow this limited model of intervention.
This sounds great, except that the set of criteria that Zakaria lists is so stringent that I seriously doubt that they will be satisfied again in my lifetime. Russia and China regretted the U.N. support the minute after it passed, and the president of the Arab League had buyer's remorse almost immediately after NATO started bombing. Even if the Libya operation looks like a success from here on out, there's no way that list of criteria will be satisfied. Ever.
Now, for those readers worried about the creeping militarization of American foreign policy, this might sound like a great idea, as it creates a ridiculously high barrier for military intervention. And, indeed, so long as these criteria are only used to satisfy humanitarian military interventions, it sounds good. Except that most military interventions aren't strictly humanitarian. The moment core national interests kick in, these criteria get downgraded from prerequisites to luxuries.
So Zakaria is wildly inflating the importance of the sui generis nature of the Libya intervention. But that's OK; he's a pundit, not an actual policymaker. There's no way anyone working in the White House, say, would make such a simplistic, facile -- hey, what's in this Josh Rogin FP interview with Ben Rhodes?
This week's toppling of the Qaddafi regime in Libya shows that the Obama administration's multilateral and light-footprint approach to regime change is more effective than the troop-heavy occupation-style approach used by the George W. Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, a top White House official told today in a wide-ranging interview.
"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with . "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."…
"There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it's far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers," said Rhodes. "Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn't bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions."
Rhodes said that the United States is not going to be able to replicate the exact same approach to intervention in other countries, but identified the two core principles of relying on indigenous forces and burden sharing as "characteristics of how the president approaches foreign policy and military intervention."
Excuse me for a second; I have to go do this.
Look, ceteris paribus, burden-sharing and local support are obviously nifty things to have. I guarantee you, however, that the time will come when an urgent foreign-policy priority will require some kind of military statecraft, and these criteria will not be met. The Obama administration should know this, since its greatest success in military statecraft to date did not satisfy either of these criteria.
There is always a danger, after a perceived policy success, to declare it as a template for all future policies in that arena. Pundits make this mistake all the time. Policymakers should know better.
So the big Middle East news this AM is that the Obama administration has explicitly called for Syrian leader Bashir Assad to leave power. The White House blog has the full text of Obama's statement. On Assad:
The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.
The United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria. It is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders, and we have heard their strong desire that there not be foreign intervention in their movement. What the United States will support is an effort to bring about a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive for all Syrians. We will support this outcome by pressuring President Assad to get out of the way of this transition, and standing up for the universal rights of the Syrian people along with others in the international community.
As to what the administraion is going to do to, well, you can check out the executive order, or you can believe me when I say that it amounts to a tightening of economic sanctions.
Now, conservatives have been calling for this move for quite some time, while Middle East analysts like FP's Marc Lynch, have been far more pessimistic. Two months ago, Lynch argued:
[T]here's "Expellus Assadum": the magic words by which Obama might declare that Asad must go and somehow make it so. While there's every reason for the U.S. to ratchet up its rhetorical criticism of an increasingly violent and brutal regime, tougher rhetoric isn't going to change the game. The entire course of the Arab upheavals this year demonstrates the limits of American influence and control over events or other regional actors. It most certainly proves that firm Presidential rhetoric is not enough to tip either the internal or the international diplomatic balance.
Libya should be enough to demonstrate this hard reality. I'm actually optimistic about Libya -- the diplomatic and military trends all clearly favor the rebels, the NTC has come together into an impressive government-in-waiting, and international consensus has remained reasonably strong. But even if Libya ends well, the reality is that it has taken months under nearly the best possible conditions. It isn't just that the President used his magic words. The Libya operation had widespread regional and international support, UN authorization, direct military involvement in a favorable environment for airpower, and an organized and effective opposition on the ground with a viable political leadership. And it has ground on for months.
The idea that invoking "Expellus Assadum" would quickly lead to an endgame in Syria just doesn't make sense. Demanding that Obama say "Assad must go" seems less about Assad and more about either moral posturing or about creating a rhetorical lever for pressuring Washington -- not Damascus -- to do more to deliver on that new commitment. By putting the President's -- and America's -- credibility on the line, however, it might force unwanted escalation into more concrete actions in order to deliver on the demand. So tougher and sharper rhetoric, with constant condemnations of violence, is not just appropriate but essential... but escalating to "Assad must go" at this point is not.
I've already revealed my sober assessment of this kind of policy step on Twitter. That said, I'm a bit more sanguine about this kind of call than Lynch. This strikes me as your classic gut-level foreign policy pronouncement, which, as I argued last month, accomplishes nothing of substance but, "just the acknowledgment of frustration can be politically useful, a venting of pressure that might otherwise lead to hopelessly misguided or absurdly risky policy options."
I suspect Marc is still haunted by the ways in which this sort of rhetoric about Saddam Hussein in the 1990s laid the political groundwork for Operation Iraqi Freedom. But it's not the 1990's anymore. The United States has three active military operations in the Middle East. There is no public clamor or enthusiasm for yet another military engagement, nor do I see any genuine policy appetite for such a move. Sanctions are already in place. Covert action might be taking place, but that policy option can never be publicly acknowledged. As the New York Times story notes, in calling for Assad to leave the United States is now moving towards the consensus in the region.
When the rest of the policy quiver has been exhausted, sure, why not call for Assad to leave? As a general rule, all else equal, I see no reason why the U.S. government should not express its actual preferences rather than hide behind diplomatese. Or, as Douglas Adams would put it, this rhetorical move counts as "harmless."
What do you think?
FP's Josh Rogin ably summarizes the State Department's rollout of the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), an exercise that was clearly inspired by the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review. This was Anne-Marie Slaughter's signal achievement during her tenure as Director of Policy Planning,* which leads to the obvious question of whether it really matters.
The QDDR is dedicated to Rickard Holbrooke, who passed away earlier this week. In a revealing Financial Times article, Brain Katulis of the Center for American Progress makes a particularly telling point about the arc of Holbrooke's career:
"If you compare Holbrooke's tenure in his job as representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he was able to do in the 1990s on Bosnia, you really see that the balance of power in the interim had shifted from the state department to the Pentagon," said Brian Katulis at the Centre for American Progress in Washington.
Katulis hits upon a theme that has been a source of concern here at this blog for a good long while. For at least a decade, there's been a vicious feedback loop: State loses operational authority and capabilities because of poor funding, which leads to more tasks for Defense, which leads to even more lopsided funding between the two bureaucracies, which leads to an even greater disparity in responsibilities, and so forth.
Will the QDDR change that? That's sorta the point of the whole exercise -- the phrase "civilian power" appears 281 times in the QDDR. I'm dubious -- the only way this works is through greater staffing and greater funding for U.S. foreign aid, and in this Age of Austerity, the first things that get cut are.... diplomats and foreign aid funding.
I'd love to see Hillary Clinton make the case to Congress than an extra $50 billion for State would improve American foreign policy enough to cut, say, $100 billion for DoD. I'd love a free pony too, for all the likelihood that this will happen.
I'm not the only one who's dubious. The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi ends his story on the QDDR as follows:
[E]xperts, as well as some military officials, have pointed out that the concept of "civilian power" sounds good, but that the US diplomatic corps is not prepared and doesn't have the numbers to take over many tasks from the military.
Clinton acknowledges that the shift in priorities and organization is "a work in progress," but she also emphasizes that someone will be designated at both the State Department and at USAID to oversee implementation. "I am determined that this report will not merely gather dust, like so many others," she said. And she wants Congress to approve making the QDDR a regular and required State Department policy-review process.
Slaughter echoed those words in a humorous sum-up with reporters. "I'm pretty sure you're thinking, 'I've heard this before,' " she said - a big plan to change the way a government agency works. "But this is different."
The big difference, she insisted, is that Clinton has given the reorganization top priority: "She knows ... we can't afford to continue working in the way we have been."
Reading the QDDR, it's clear that there's a hope that Foggy Bottom will scrape together more resources through wringing greater efficiencies out of the current budget. This is certainly possible -- no one is going to label the State Department a lean, mean fighting bureaucratic machine -- but color me skeptical that there's all that much savings of "government waste" in them thar hills.
To be fair, however, one report is not going to change a dynamic that's been building for more than a decade. It's only a first step. Still first steps are better than no steps. We'll see if this remains Clinton's top priority.
*I have no inside knowledge about this, but am simply assuming that Slaughter will be returning to her academic haunts after the standard two-year leave has expired -- in other words, in early 2011.
Sorry, students -- Erik Voeten at The Monkey Cage took up my challenge earlier this week to explain "what were the key factors that determined a country's decision not to attend Lu's Nobel [Peace Prize] ceremony?" Click here and then here -- there are cool graphs.
[Then why not replicate them here?--ed. Because more of my readers should be reading The Monkey Cage anyway.]
What's interesting is that, in the end, a few countries that originally signaled their intention to abide by China's wishes reversed course in the end. In particular, some of the anomalous countries -- Colombia and the Philippines, for example -- reversed course and sent representatives.
In doing so, Voeten found a pretty straightforward correlation between domestic press freedoms and attendance. That is to say, the countries that declined to send a representative were the countries that censored their domestic press the most. Foreign policy alignment, as represented by UN votes, does not appear to play a role.
Voeten cautions that this does not mean that China's political and implicit economic pressure played no role, however:
All of this does not mean that international pressure is irrelevant to the story. China can probably credibly threaten small punishments to most countries for attending but not big ones. So, the cost of attending may be pretty similar across states. There is much greater variation in the domestic cost for giving in to Chinese pressure. So, press freedom does a pretty good job in accounting for the variation in who attends and who does not. Yet, without China's ability to credibly threaten repercussions, the whole thing would not have been an issue.
Voeten is correct that China's power was in some ways a necessary condition for them to even consider organizing a boycott. Looking again at the list of attendees and non-attendees, however, I'd mildly disagree with Voeten on China's ability to pressure others. Voeten assumes that Beijing's ability to apply "small punishments" was constant across countries. Looking at the list of target countries, however, there were quite a few with significant export dependence on the Middle Kingdom. China is either the largest or second-largest export market for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Iran, Japan, and Kazakhstan. One would expect both Thailand and the Philippines to also have a pretty strong desire not to ruffle China's feathers.
In the end, however, the only countries that complied with China's request were the countries that already shared China's domestic policy preferences on this issue. Strictly in terms of assessing Chinese power, it is to Beijing's credit that it was able to get these countries to comply. The country's inability to use implicit and explicit threats to compel other countries well within its power orbit to change their minds, however, is... let's say interesting.
Pssst… international relations majors and masters students. Having a hard time coming up with a BA or MA thesis topic? Worried that too many of your friends are writing about Wikileaks?
Here's a fun little project, courtesy of the Financial Times' Andrew Ward and Geoff Dyer:
China's campaign to boycott this year's Nobel Peace Prize was shown to have had some success after 18 countries joined Beijing in declining invitations to Friday's award ceremony for Liu Xiaobo, a jailed democracy activist.
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Pakistan are among 19 countries, including China, that have declined invitations to the prize-giving.
The Norwegian Nobel committee has accused Beijing of applying "unprecedented" pressure on countries to boycott the Oslo ceremony, amid Chinese anger over the award to the jailed dissident.
The other absentees are expected to be Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco, according to the Norwegian Nobel Institute, which is organizing the ceremony....
Ambassadors from all countries with embassies in Oslo are invited to the ceremony each year. As of Tuesday, 44 countries had indicated they would be represented on Friday.
Two countries - Algeria and Sri Lanka - had not replied.
It was not clear that all 19 absentees were staying away because of China but the Nobel Institute said the number of expected no-shows was higher than usual.
In 2008, for example, when the prize was won by Martti Ahtisaari, a relatively uncontroversial Finnish politician, 10 embassies were not represented at the ceremony for various reasons (emphases added).
OK, here's your thesis topic: what were the key factors that determined a country's decision not to attend Lu's Nobel ceremony? How much of this was due to Chinese pressure, how much was due to ideological affinity with the Chinese regime, and how much was due to the ambassador's spouse renting The Expendables on Netflix and absolutely needing to watch it that night?
The obvious variables to consider are alliance patterns, regime type, trade with/aid from China, proximity to Beijing, and maybe a corruption measure. That said, if you look at the list of all foreign embassies in Oslo, there are some interesting questions to ask. Why is Thailand attending but not the Philippines? Why is Colombia joining Venezuela in not attending? Why is Vietnam, an enduring rival of China, allying with China on this issue?
Go to it, students! And check out the lively comments that I'm sure will be posted down below that provide additional hypotheses. And remember, "A day without social science is like a day without sunshine."
UPDATE: Reuters does some preliminary field work. The most interesting and candid admission:
Embassies are not required to explain why they accept or decline a Nobel invitation, but a senior Filipino diplomat spoke candidly, underlining China's growing power, especially in Asia.
"We do not want to further annoy China," he said.
I have an essay in the latest issue of Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Why WikiLeaks is Bad for Scholars." My thesis is a bit more sophisticated than that -- I argue that WikiLeaks will be a short-term boom and a long-term drag for international relations scholars and diplomatic historians. You'll have to read the essay to find out why, but I do open with one of my all-time favorite academic nightmares:
Let me share one of my recurring nightmares with you. I'm delivering a paper on why the United States pursued a particular strategy during an international negotiation. Suddenly a former policy principal, groaning with gravitas, emerges from the shadows and declares, "You lie! We did that for another reason entirely." Then, with a dramatic flourish, the person raises a wadded piece of paper and shouts triumphantly, "And I have the document to prove it!" The audience gasps; my shoulders slump. My career in ruins, I wake up in a sweat.
Go read the whole thing, but I want to make one addendum here. I expect that many who read it will immediately e-mail me this Julian Assange essay and this interpretation of Assange's essay to demonstrate that the political theory of action behind WikiLeaks is not absurdly utopian but in fact quite sophisticated and far-reaching in scope.
Let me save you the trouble -- I've read them and remain unimpressed with Assange's strategy. According to these documents, Assange expects the U.S. government to become more insular and secretive, and therefore contribute to its own downfall. Glenn Greenwald is correct to observe that Assange and Osama bin Laden really do have the same political strategy -- goad the United States into overreacting, expose the U.S. government as an imperial authoritarian power, and then watch the hegemon rot from within.
Where Greenwald and I might disagree is in how effective this strategy will be. I certainly think expect that there
have will be overreactions -- I just don't think that these will really and truly cripple the U.S. government. Furthermore, the people and groups who embrace this kind of strategy also tend to overreact a lot themselves, alienating potential sympathizers and allies in the process. Assange seems like the perfect personality type to fall into that trap as well.
What do you think?
There's going to be a lot of scholars, policy analysts and enthused amateurs who are going to drink up the Wikileaks documents as a great new empirical resource. So they should -- they did nothing to cause their release, and these are documents that ordinarily would have taken 25 years minimum to be declassified.
That said, there's going to be a natural inclination to think that any Wikileaks document will endow it with the totemic value of Absolute Truth. "If it was secret, then it must be true," goes this logic. That's a more serious problem. For Exhibit A, let's go to Simon Tisdall of The Guardian's interpreting what the Wikileaks documents reveal about how China views North Korea:
China has signaled its readiness to accept Korean reunification and is privately distancing itself from the North Korean regime, according to leaked US embassy cables that reveal senior Beijing figures regard their official ally as a "spoiled child"....
The leaked North Korea dispatches detail how:
In highly sensitive discussions in February this year, the-then South Korean vice-foreign minister, Chun Yung-woo, told a US ambassador, Kathleen Stephens, that younger generation Chinese Communist party leaders no longer regarded North Korea as a useful or reliable ally and would not risk renewed armed conflict on the peninsula, according to a secret cable to Washington.
Ah, OK, this explains why China has slowly distanced itself from North Korea's recent actions. Oh, wait, I'm sorry, China has done nothing of the sort.
I don't doubt that Chinese officials said everything reported in the documents. I do doubt that those statements mean that China is willing to walk away from North Korea. It means that Chinese diplomats are... er.... diplomatic. They will tell U.S. and South Korean officials some of what they want to hear. I'm sure that they will say somewhat different things to their North Korean counterparts.
The key is to determine whether China's actions reflect their words. And over the past six months, China has not acted in a manner consistent with Tisdall's claims.
This is not to imply that China is acting in a particularly perfidious or underhanded manner, by the way. They're acting like any great power would -- stall for time while trying to figure out the best way to handle a troublesome ally. The point is, just because someone says something in a Wikileaks memo doesn't make it so.
Like others at FP who shall go unnamed, I can't resist having some fun at Vice President Joe Biden's expense when he does something silly like say something that's true but terribly stupid to say in public.
In the interest of fairness, therefore, let's take a look at how a Biden trip in which he's the diplomatic guy in room -- his sojourn to Israel. True, Biden hasn't been shy about opening his mouth -- although this qualifies more as "tough-minded diplomacy" rather than gaffe.
As for the Israelis.... well, let's take a look at Barak Ravid's Ha'aretz report, shall we?
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Jerusalem yesterday was not free of embarrassing moments.
The first occurred at the President's Residence, at the start of a meeting between Biden and President Shimon Peres. The plan called for brief remarks, which usually means a few minutes. But Peres spoke for no less than 25 minutes.
Throughout the speech, the vice president sat in his chair waiting for his turn to say something. American reporters and others present at the scene said the whole thing was very embarrassing, because, as one put it, Peres "gave a whole speech, going from one subject to another."
Many of those present were shifting uncomfortably in their chairs, the sources said, while Peres' aides exchanged worried looks and passed notes to each other.
In the end, his aides whispered to Peres that time was short, and he should hand the floor over to Biden - who did confine his remarks to a few minutes. The two then held their meeting, accompanied by their aides.
UPDATE: Well, it's good to know the Israelis aren't the only ones making gaffes.
The Christian Science Monitor's Yigal Schliefer reports on a less-than-productive meeting between Israel and Turkey:
A diplomatic spat is threatening to worsen Israel’s strained relations with Turkey, traditionally one of its most important allies in the region. The rift exposes growing Israeli frustration with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in a bid to increase Turkey’s regional standing has increasingly spoken out against Israel.
This latest crisis included a showdown at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, where Turkey’s ambassador was summoned to explain Mr. Erdogan’s recent harsh criticism, as well as a TV show that portrayed Israeli intelligence agents holding a woman and her baby hostage.
Breaking with diplomatic protocol, Israeli officials failed to include the customary Turkish flag on the table between them and the Turkish ambassador, whom they seated on a low couch. To rub it in, they instructed the press members in attendance to note that they were sitting in higher chairs and the usual diplomatic niceties were conspicuously absent.
“The message was, ‘We’ve had enough,’” says Ephraim Inbar, an expert on Turkey-Israel relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. “Erdogan has taken things too far. It might have not been the best treatment for an ambassador, but it came from the gut. The signal is that we’re not going to take it anymore.” (emphasis added)
Yes, because heaping petty humiliations on another country will always shift their attitude in a more favorable direction.
Beyond Erdogan's statements -- which, from the Israeli perspective, are probably infuriating -- the proximate motivation for the meeting appears to be the depiction of Israelis on a 24-style show broadcast in Turkey. Let me repeat that -- the Israeli Foreign Ministry is cheesed off about a Turkish television show.
So, is this just Israeli overreaction? Stupidity? According to Ha'aretz's Barak Ravid, it's a bit more complicated than that:
Senior officials in his own ministry say Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is trying to foil the scheduled visit of Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Ankara following renewed tensions in relations between the two countries. Barak is scheduled to travel to Turkey on Sunday for an official visit in which he will meet with Turkey's defense and foreign ministers....
"There's a feeling Lieberman wants to heat things up before Barak's visit to Turkey," a senior Foreign Ministry official said. "Everything that took place yesterday was part of Lieberman's political agenda."
This raises a very troubling question: what does it say about the state of Israel's body politic that Avigdor Lieberman thinks he can enhance his political position by snubbing one of the few semi-friendly countries in the region?
UPDATE: This was such a picayune slight that I'm sure it will all blow over. Oh, wait....
Andrew Sullivan has been blogging about Iran juuuust a wee bit the past 48 hours. Now he asks a question:
The Green Movement has strongly resisted all sanctions against Iran, and even more passionately opposes any military strikes. If Israel strikes, it will effectively kill the Iranian opposition movement, and set off a global wave of Jihadism which will kill many American soldiers and civilians. So how to respond to the Revolutionary Guards' continuing and mounting brutality?
He also links to some useful Spencer Ackerman posts, which contains the following two points of interest:
What to do? I think two big questions need to be asked. First, how are the sanctions supposed to work? Is the idea to squeeze the elite coalition ruling Iran just hard enough to get the current leadership to cut a deal? Or is the idea to cause enough discontent with the regime such that it collapses, and then a deal can be struck with the next regime?
The process by which sanctions are supposed to work matters. If the hope is to still do business with the current regime, then targeted or "smart" sanctions make more sense. They're less likely to impact the broader Iranian population -- though, like precision-guided munitions, there will always be collateral damage.
If the goal is regime change, well, then broad-based sanctions might make more sense. If these reports are any indication, then it appears that the Khamenei regime is alienating an ever-larger swath of the population. Obviously, the regime could try to use the prospect and implementation of broad-based sanctions as a way to rally around the flag. If the regime's popular support is badly eroding, however, and that erosion is partly explained by economic hardship, then you want sanctions to target a somewhat larger segment of the populace.
Of course, as I've said before, this is all sophistry unless you get Iran's major trading partners on board. And my hunch is they won't go for the "heavy" sanctions option. This is a shame, because at this point, I think it's the option that's somewhat more likely to work.
Let's not kid ourselves, however: we're talking about policy options that will change the probabilities by a few percentage points either way. There is no magic bullet -- or bomb, for that matter -- on this policy quiestion.
Am I missing anything?
My FP colleague Marc Lynch has dissected Alan Kuperman's New York Times op-ed on the wisdom of bombing Iran. Lynch takes great pains (more on that in a moment) to rip apart Kuperman's argument so I don't have to, but I can't resist pointing out the most tendentious point in the essay:
As for the risk of military strikes undermining Iran’s opposition, history suggests that the effect would be temporary. For example, NATO’s 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia briefly bolstered support for President Slobodan Milosevic, but a democratic opposition ousted him the next year.
Now, this assertion contains facts, but is so radically incomplete as to be f***ing insane.
To add a bit of detail: maybe, just maybe, the reason Slobodan Milosevic was ousted had less to do with the bombing itself, but because the Serbian leader completely capitulated to NATO's demands on Kosovo after eight weeks of airstrikes. The bombing angered those already on the outs with Milosevic; the acquiescence after costly punishment angered Serbian nationalists and technocrats. So it wasn't just the bombing that affected Serbian politics -- it was Milosevic's decision to alter Serbian policy in a manner favorable to NATO.
So, yes, if the Iranian leadership does what Kuperman wants them to do after being bombed -- acquiesce on the nuclear program -- then yes, they'll be gone. Now, raise your hand if you think the current Iranian leadership will respond to a bombing campaign by shifting their position closer to the U.S. position.
So, yes, this is a pretty silly op-ed, and the New York Times wasted an awful lot of column inches on it. Go ahead, heap some calumny on them. *
The Obama administration almost certainly doesn't want to make such a wrong-headed move --- but, then, there are a lot of things which the Obama administration doesn't want to do but has been forced into by political realities (Gitmo, the public option, escalation in Afghanistan) and intentions aren't enough. Many people may have assumed that the legacy of Iraq would have raised the bar on such arguments for war, that someone making such all too familiar claims would simply be laughed out of the public square. The NYT today shows that they aren't. I suspect that one of the great foreign policy challenges of 2010 is going to be to push back on this mad campaign for another pointless, counter-productive war for the sake of war.
I would interpret things differently. Changing the policy status quo is really, really hard, and it's normally pretty easy to gin up significant political opposition to any proposed change. The status quo on Iran is that we're not bombing them , so I expect that to continue for a good long while.
Indeed, the reactions to this op-ed remind me of the panic among progressives in 2007 that the Bush administration was gearing up to bomb Iran. The truth was somewhat different.
By all means, critique Kuperman's argument. But let's not pretend that Dick Cheney is still vice president, or that Bill Kristol can start a war with a Weekly Standard column. The world really has changed a bit.
*UPDATE: The more I think about the massive flaws in this op-ed, the more I'm beginning to wonder if this wasn't a strategic move by the New York Times op-ed page editors to subtly undercut the neoconservative argument for war. Indeed, I would not describe the GOP links to the essay as terribly enthusiastic. I do love Tom Gross' characterization of it as, "dry and academic and long (it runs to two pages online)." Yes, because if you can't make the case for military action in under 400 words, there's just no point in bothering.
Last night, the Indianapolis Colts stormed back from 17 points down against the New England Patriots to win a gripping game by the score of 35-34. After the game, the most talked-about play was the Patriots' decision to go for it on a fourth down play with two yards to go at their own 28 yard line with a little more than two minutes remaining and the Colts down by 6 points.
Rather than punt the ball, Patriots coach Bill Belichick defied coventional wisdom and decided to go for it. Had they converted the down, the game would have effectively been over. Instead, they fell a yard short. The Colts therefore gained possession about 35-40 yards closer to the Patriots' end zone than if the Pats had punted.
The Boston press and national press have raked Belichick over the coals for this play call. You know, stuff like, "Everyone knows by now he should have played the percentages and punted the ball from his own 28-yard line with just two minutes left in regulation against the Colts." Are they right to do so? Over at his Freakonomics blog, Steve Levitt defends Belichick:
Here is why I respect Belichick so much. The data suggest that he actually probably did the right thing if his objective was to win the game. Economist David Romer studied years worth of data and found that, contrary to conventional wisdom, teams seem to punt way too much. Going for a first down on fourth and short yardage in your end zone is likely to increase the chance your team wins (albeit slightly). But Belichick had to know that if it failed, he would be subjected to endless criticism.
If his team had gotten the first down and the Patriots won, he would have gotten far less credit than he got blame for failing.... What Belichick proved by going for it last night is that 1) he understands the data, and 2) he cares more about winning than anything else.
Is Leavitt correct? Thanks to Football Outsiders, you can fill out your own percentages and see which decision maximizes your expected utility. Or you can read the Boston Globe's Adam Kilgore and appreciate the historical percentages:
According to [AdvancedNFLStats.com Brian] Burke’s tabulation, going for the first down gave the Patriots a 79 percent chance of winning. Punting gave them a 70-percent chance to win. Even after Burke made tweaks, the win probability never dipped in favor of the punt. If anything, factoring in how explosive the Colts’ offense is, the team-specific adjustments only made going for it more favorable.
“A lot of criticism is probably way over the top,’’ Burke said. “At the very least, it’s defensible. It’s not crazy. It’s not reckless.’’
Of course, the problem with football -- and politics -- is that decision-makers are usually judged by the quality of the outcomes rather than the quality of the processes. So, the result in both worlds is often excessive risk-aversion.
And so this blog post might end with absolution for Bill Belichick and a plea for a stronger appreciation for expected-utility analysis. Except life is not that simple.
On that play, it appears that Belichick made the right call. Except that Belichick also did the following things before making that call:
Sooooo... it's possible to defend Belichick's call on fourth down as the rational, utility-maximizing decision, but conclude that he committed a series of small blunders that got the Patriots to the point where they had to convert a high-risk, high-reward play. In other words, sometimes the criticized decision might be the right one to make, but the decisions that structured the controversial choice might not have been.
Question to readers: Looking at the Obama administration's foreign policy, which move echoes Belichick's play-calling?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.