Archive for the 'Policy' Category



A Middle East Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 5 months ago

After watching the third and final presidential debate on Monday night, I was disturbed to hear the two candidates talk about foreign policy with such lack of focus or context.   Admittedly, Obama was intent on baiting Romney into a game-changing gaffe and Romney was intent on not committing any, such error.   Presidential debates, ironically enough, are the last place to hear what a candidate actually thinks about any particular subject.

Both candidates, for example, endorsed the comic notion that the Afghan Army will be able to take over the fight against the Taliban by 2014 as the precursor to an American retreat.  Both candidates vowed that Iran will not be allowed to field a nuclear weapon (Romney actually drew the line at “nuclear capability” which is better), but neither one mentioned that the deeper problem with Iran is its current, Islamist government and not their pursuit of nuclear weapons per se.    So, for instance, Romney seemed to accept the continuation of the Iranian Regime so long as it did not have nukes.

Reflecting on this event further I am reminded of  a post by Walter Russel Mead which is an excellent springboard, summarizing all that is wrong with the current American approach to the Middle East:

The anti-American riots that have been rocking the Muslim world since 9/11 have shaken the establishment out of its complacency. Increasingly, even those who sympathize with the basic elements of the administration’s Middle East policy are connecting the dots. What they are seeing isn’t pretty. It’s not just that the US remains widely disliked and distrusted in the region. It’s not just that the radicals and the jihadis have demonstrated more political sophistication and a greater ability to organize and strike than expected and that the struggle against radical terror looks longer lasting and more dangerous than thought; it’s that the strategic underpinnings of the administration’s Middle East policy seem to be falling apart. A series of crises is sweeping through the region, and the US does not—at least not yet—seem to have a clue what to do.

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The Israeli-Palestinian problem, for example, cannot be settled quickly; the consequence of the region’s lack of democratic traditions and liberal institutions cannot be overcome in four or eight years; the underdevelopment and mass unemployment afflicting so many countries has no known cure; the ethnic and sectarian hatreds that poison the region will not soon be tamed; the deep sense of grievance and injustice that shapes the attitudes of so many toward the Christian or post-Christian West will not soon fade away; the radical and terror groups now roaming the region cannot be easily stopped or mollified; the resource curse will continue to corrupt and poison large parts of the region; the resurgence of Islam, even in less radical forms, inevitably heightens a sense of confrontation with the US and its western allies; and Iran’s ambitions are hard to tame and impossible to accept.

Mr. Mead challenged both Obama and Mitt Romney to articulate a policy or at least initiatives that might address these problems.  Neither has done so.

At the risk of being what Mr. Mead terms “an armchair strategist” offering simple solutions, I believe that the U.S. needs to fundamentally reconsider its approach to foreign policy and the methods and tools used to pursue that policy.

First, it is not enough, unfortunately, for the United States to be in favor of “democracy” or “freedom” for those around the world.  These terms are simply too amorphous and chameleon to be useful in building a coherent foreign policy.   Instead, the U.S. should be an ardent advocate for the foundations of civil society:  respect for individual rights;  free exercise of religion; freedom of speech; respect for the rule of law rather than resort to rioting and violence; the orderly transition of political power free from intimidation.   This is a sampling of the bedrock, Anglo-American traditions that are prerequisites  for a democratic republic.    As Mark Levin argues in his latest book, Ameritopia, you cannot hope to have a real democracy without the foundations of a civil society.

The Middle East is bereft of genuine democracies (with the notable exception of Israel) because it is bereft of the foundational traditions of a civil society.   That is why it was unforgivably foolish of George W. Bush to insist on the hasty installation of a “democracy” in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Neither of these societies had the foundations needed for democracy to take root.   Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan may have the outer trappings of democracy with parliaments and elections, but form is not substance.  Iraq is headed back towards civil war as the ethnic and sectarian factions escalate violence against one another.   Afghanistan is a cardboard cut-out of democracy propped up with billions of dollars of U.S. aid and military assistance.   Once the props are removed in 2014 (or sooner), the facade will collapse.

So then, it is a tragic and self-defeating mistake for the U.S. to blindly push for elections.   In Gaza, for example, such elections mean nothing.    They mean less than nothing since they serve to legitimate blood-thirsty ideologues, putting the U.S. in the untenable position of undermining what we previously declared to be a “freely elected” government.    No matter that said government throws its political opponents off of rooftops.

Rather, the U.S. must be very specific, unapologetic and insistent about the type of democracy and “freedom” we are talking about– an Anglo-American civil society that can support the pressures of representative government and tolerate religious diversity and dissenting opinions.

Furthermore, the U.S. must take a hard look at the nations as they are and not how we wish them to be.   It took hundreds of years for civil traditions to develop in the West.   It may take much longer in the Middle East, burdened as it is with Islamic notions of subjugation, subservience and nihilism.

As an example of this, consider this piece by Robert Kagan in The Washington Post.   Kagan argues in favor of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt mainly because it was “democratically” elected:

The Obama administration has not been wrong to reach out to the popularly elected government in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood won that election, and no one doubts that it did so fairly. We either support democracy or we don’t. But the administration has not been forthright enough in making clear, publicly as well as privately, what it expects of that government.  (Emphasis added)

First, it is not beyond dispute that the Muslim Brotherhood won the election “fairly” when it is essentially the only, organized political party in the country.   There is evidence that a sizable number of Egyptians do not support the Muslim Brotherhood but no, unified opposition party could be organized in the relatively short time allowed before the vote.    In any event, to say that an Islamist party received the most number of votes in an election does not lead ineluctably to the conclusion that it is a “democracy” that we are obligated to support.   In fact, Kagan goes on to point out that the U.S. must make it clear what a “democracy” entails:

Out of fear of making the United States the issue in Egyptian politics, the Obama administration, like past administrations, has been too reticent about stating clearly the expectations that we and the democratic world have for Egyptian democracy: a sound constitution that protects the rights of all individuals, an open press, a free and vital opposition, an independent judiciary and a thriving civil society. President Obama owes it to the Egyptian people to stand up for these principles. Congress needs to support democracy in Egypt by providing aid that ensures it advances those principles and, therefore, U.S. interests.

I would differ with Kagan to the extent that U.S. aid money is provided directly and up front to an Egyptian government that is showing every indication that it intends to implement its Islamist beliefs.  Egyptians must see that voting in an Islamist government will have certain and severe consequences.   In any event, the United States cannot be in the business of funding our enemies and, regardless of Kagan’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is not clearly against us, a weak or failing Islamist regime in Egypt is better than one that is buying up the latest weapons systems (e.g., German submarines for example) with U.S. tax dollars.   Kagan and those like him are desperate to see a civil society where none exists and, so, are easily taken in by democratic happy talk that Egyptian President Morsi (and other Islamists in the region) are all too adept at feeding to willing dupes.

The second, radical change to U.S. foreign policy must be to view everything in terms of U.S. national interests and the tactics and lines of effort that best advance those interests.

For example, for the better part of four years, the Obama Administration has confused the agenda of the United Nations with that of the United States of America.   While it would be hoped that the international body that the U.S. founded at the end of World War II and funds disproportionately would be at least sympathetic to U.S. national interests, this is decidedly not the case.  The U.N. has largely been subverted and overrun by authoritarian member states with interests that directly conflict with those of the U.S.   In an ideal world, the U.S. would explicitly repudiate the U.N., evict it from its expensive quarters in Manhattan and rent out the space to a new organization made up of democratic U.S. allies.   Alas, the best we can hope for is to limit the damage of the U.N. by ignoring it, working around it and forging coalitions of allies to negate the U.N.’s malign influence in the world.

In the Middle East and around the globe, the U.S. needs to re-evaluate its position in the light of our national interest.  We must, for example, reconsider our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of their unrelenting funding of Salafist and Wahhabist ideologies directly hostile to the U.S. and the West in general.   We cannot elevate the Saudis to the high status of ally or even “friend” when they are bankrolling our enemies.   This need not mean open conflict with them, but it surely must mean a reduction in relations.  (The fact that the U.S. is set to soon surpass the Saudis as the world’s largest oil producer should translate into tangible, state leverage).

Syria is another example where the U.S. must evaluate the opportunities and risks for involvement based primarily upon national interest rather than the threat of a “humanitarian crisis” or “instability.”  Even a Syria riven by civil war and instability will stalemate Iran’s ability to fund and support Hezbollah and bring greater opportunities for U.S. influence in the region as a whole.   The U.S. has been at war with Iran since 1979 and rarely have we had an opportunity to deal the regime in Tehran such a critical blow as exists in Syria.

Throughout the Middle East U.S. policy is plagued by a lack of a driving force.  The U.S. intervened in Libya under the pretext of potential civilian casualties but recoils from Syria with actual casualties.    The U.S. dithers over supporting former President Mubarak in Egypt while supporting the  no-less tyrannical Saudi royal family.   The U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars on a corrupt government in Kabul but argues whether to pull funding from Israel if it does not halt new housing settlements or show enough “flexibility” on Arab demands for land.   It is high time to clarify who our friends and enemies are and why.  Israel is not merely a kindred democracy, for example.   They are a vital ally because they directly serve U.S. interests in the region as a bulwark against Islamists.  There is, perhaps, no greater return on U.S. investments than Israel given the plethora of hostile, Islamist states in the region.   But here again, the U.S. policy is to adopt the hectoring, self-righteous tone of the international community, treating Israel and the Palestinians on equal terms for no good reason.

It is my hope that Mitt Romney wins the election and does so in convincing fashion.   The next four years could be pivotal as a showdown with Iran cannot be delayed beyond the next term in office.  War is everywhere in the Middle East and the next President will need to have a clear-eyed view of what America’s interests are and how to achieve them.   The last 11 years have certainly taught us that “nation building” and “elections” are not effective tools of American power.   May President Romney absorb the lessons and chart a better course in 2013.

Presidential Apologies: A Contrast in Religious Sensitivities

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 1 month ago

There is something strange about the uproar over the apparently accidental burning of Korans at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

This article from the Associated Press is headlined for Newt Gingrich’s criticism of President Obama’s apologies to Hamid Karzai over the Koran burnings.   Whether you agree or disagree with Gingrich’s points, the defense offered up by White House is thought-provoking:

Even before Gingrich’s comments, White House spokesman Jay Carney sought to counter any criticism of the president’s apology.

“It is wholly appropriate, given the sensitivities to this issue, the understandable sensitivities,” Carney told reporters traveling to Miami with the president on Air Force One. “His primary concern as commander in chief is the safety of the American men and women in Afghanistan, of our military and civilian personnel there. And it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

There are at least two, underlying assumptions in the White House messaging on this.

Muslim Sensitivities

First, Obama’s apology to Karzai was “wholly appropriate” due to “the understandable sensitivities” of the Afghanis.   Presumably Carney is really referring to the Afghani’s muslim sensitivities.   In Obama’s view, then, Islamic “sensitivities” are to be given such respect that any offense– even an indisputably unintentional and accidental one– demands contrition and a grave apology from a United States President.

What is this sensitivity that requires an American President to bend the knee and humbly seek forgiveness?  It is the apparent veneration of a book by muslims that forbids any act of disrespect or dishonor.   This is medieval thinking and, while we can comprehend that Afghanis inhabit a culture and religion that is largely mired in the 7th Century, it is not incumbent on Americans or America’s President to cater to or endorse such magical thinking.

We feel no need, for instance, to apologize to muslims for the dogs that American soldiers often use for bomb detection or even companionship on bases in Afghanistan despite the fact that dogs offend many muslims’ “sensitivities.”    Admittedly, there is no need to go out of our way to unnecessarily offend, but it would seem that we give validity to magical thinking when we apologize for inadvertent offenses to that thinking to which we, ourselves do not subscribe and even hold, privately, in contempt.

Note, too, the contrast in the way Obama treats Islamic beliefs about a book and his treatment of the Roman Catholic beliefs about contraception.  He is frankly not concerned about the Catholic sensitivities when it conflicts with his agenda and, most disturbing, is willing to ride roughshod over important First Amendment rights in the process.

Rewarding Violence

The second rationale provided by the White House is that the apology emanated from the need to protect our military forces in Afghanistan (and probably elsewhere in the Middle East).  The underlying assumption is that muslims will resort to random and not-so-random violence against Americans if they are not placated and appeased.

Comparing the treatment accorded the Afghan government and the Roman Catholic Church, the lesson here seems to be that if you are a religious group that respects the law and addresses its grievances through debate and political action, then your sensitivities– even ones protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution— can be abused and violated by Obama and his myrmidons on the Left.   But if you happen to belong to a religious group that will readily and predictably resort to violence at any unintentional or even accidental slight to your sensitivities, then you are pursued like a wounded child, begged for forgiveness and placated.

This incident should be yet another clear marker for all of us that the West, so far, is on the losing side of the war with Militant Islam as we are willing cede our own cultural beliefs to them simply because they readily resort to violence.    This is like parents who defer and pander to their 17 year-old because they fear his violent temper and unpredictable tendency to violence.   Such a scenario never ends well.

It will not end well for America, either, if we persist in these behaviors.

UPDATE: An interesting contrast to the U.S. position on the accidental burning of the Koran and the intentional burning of the Bible by U.S. forces in 2009.   I do not subscribe to the notion that the Bible– as a collection of paper and ink bound with a cover of some sort is invested with mystical qualities that render the book itself as inviolate.   To do so would be to engage in the same sort of magical thinking that muslims have toward the Koran.   At the same time, the article makes good points about the perception of Afghans who see Americans falling over themselves to seek forgiveness for a few, mistakenly burned Korans while holding their own sacred book, the Bible, in apparent contempt.

U.S. Foreign Policy Triumphs Again! Turkey Fills the Vacuum In Iraq

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 5 months ago

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the U.S. could not figure out how to negotiate an extension of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, leading to the “premature evacuation” of our forces in two months time, the Turks have decided to make it clear to the world (and, more importantly, the regional powers that matter) the decidedly unmanly U.S. foreign policy.

Turkey has apparently decided that it is really just too inconvenient to keep dodging back and forth across the northern Iraqi border in pursuit of Kurdish militants.  Instead, according to this news item from August (which seems to have slipped under the collective radar), the Turks are fortifying bases in northern Iraq and settling in for a seemingly long stay.

ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 19 (UPI) — Turkey targeted Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq for a second day, broadening the reach of its fight against the rebels, officials said.

The attacks Thursday came as Turkey said it’s turning intelligence outposts into operations garrisons to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as PKK, to northern Iraq, where Turkey has 2,500 troops.

Turkey, which has had intelligence outposts in the region since 1995, will transform a Bamerni garrison into a logistics center for supporting major operations against PKK, Today’s Zaman reported.

The publication, citing sources, said fortification of outposts would enable Turkish troops in Iraq to stay there longer to search for members of the outlawed PKK. Bombings are to continue and units from Sirnak province will be deployed in the region, officials said.

Today’s Zaman did not give casualty figures in the latest attacks.

The 25 cross-border operations Turkey has conducted so far have been short because of pressure from allies and regional governments, but sources told Today’s Zaman Turkey would now continue operations as long as necessary to end the threat of terrorism in northern Iraq.

After a regular meeting Thursday, led by President Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s National Security Council said it’s embarking on “more effective and decisive strategy in the fight against terrorism.”

About 20 million of Turkey’s 74 million residents are Kurds, living mainly in the southeast near the country’s borders with Iraq and Iran, and the PKK’s fight for Kurdish independence has claimed 40,000 lives in the past three decades.

There are so many knife wounds in such a short story.  The actions of Turkey here could not present a stronger contrast with U.S. actions if Hollywood wanted to script it.

First off, the Turks do not seem to have learned that Iraq is a sovereign state and that any bases in Iraq used to pursue Turkey’s enemies must be subject to arduous and infinite negotiations, full of lavish offers of foreign aid and support.    How long did Turkey negotiate with Nouri al-Maliki in order to get these basing rights in a supposedly sovereign Iraq?  The article is silent but it is a safe bet that there were no negotiations.   Turkey essentially told the Iraqis, “We’re doing this.  Get used to it.”

Next, what about immunity for Turkish soldiers from prosecution under Iraqi laws?   Obama has told us that those Iraqis are absolute sticklers about this sort of thing.  Why the Iraqi people would never allow foreign soldiers on their soil who can violate Iraqi law with impunity.   The U.S. just couldn’t get that point resolved, so time to pack up in a hurry and get out of Dodge.    Somehow, though, it doesn’t look like the Turks are at all worried about Iraqi prosecutors putting Turkish soldiers in jail.

And how about that nasty Turkish attitude about a few, measly PKK fighters taking shelter in Iraq?  Kurds make up over 25% of Turkey’s population and have historic claims to parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran.   Arguably, the Kurds were robbed of their own state when the victors of World War I split up the Ottoman Empire.   Unlike the U.S. in Pakistan, Turkey seems to have no problem treating the Iraqi border as purely optional and, now, it seems that part of Iraq itself will become effectively Turkish until the PKK is sorted out.   If that ever happens.

And what to make of Turkey’s methods for defeating the PKK?  It sure does not sound like Turkey is establishing these bases in Iraq in order to win the hearts and minds of PKK guerillas.   I sure hope that Turkish forces are going to be culturally sensitive and not commit any grievous offenses like flatulence in the presence of Iraqi Kurds, but we cannot expect that Turkish leaders will be nearly as enlightened as American leadership in this regard.  Instead, it appears that the Turks are intent on finding and killing as many of the PKK militants as possible, hence the talk by President Gul about “effective and decisive strategy in the fight against terrorism.”   Sounds way too warlike.   Not at all a COIN-centric policy.

Nonetheless, these actions by Turkey should not diminish the crowning achievement announced by President Obama that U.S. forces will be completely withdrawn from Iraq by January 1, 2012 and the war officially “over.”

Funny.  Wasn’t there a time in U.S. history when a war was not “over,” it was “won” ?

UPDATE: Michael Rubin has just posted this damning bit of information that relates how the once openly-pro American Kurds of Iraq have now (correctly) read the complete collapse of American foreign policy in the Middle East and are embracing the Iranian Regime:

The Iraqi Kurds have prided themselves on being America’s allies throughout the Iraq war and its aftermath. Repeatedly, regional leader Masud Barzani​ told visiting American generals and dignitaries that the Kurdish region was the most pro-American in Iraq.

The Kurdish authorities, however, have never made ideological alliances, but are the ultimate realists: Barzani forms partnerships with whomever he believes can most fulfill his own interests. With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, it is clear that anyone with an ounce of self-preservation is rushing to cut deals with the Iran. After all, the most common Iranian influence theme, Iraqi politicians say, is that “You may like the Americans better, but we will always be your neighbors.” Hence, on October 29, Barzani traveled to Iran where, on Sunday, he warmly embraced both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. According to press reports, Barzani declared, “We will not forget the assistance of the Iranian people and government during the hard times passed by Iraq. To preserve our victory we need Iranian assistance and guidance….”

Everyone in the region knows that the way Iraqis negotiate is to state extreme positions as a deadline approaches, and then go behind closed doors in a smoke-filled room to hash out agreements. The Iranians often quip that they play chess while the Americans play checkers. No one expected Obama to forfeit before the game actually began. But, alas, now that he has done so, he will discover just how deeply he has lost Iraq and Iraqis.

The only consolation I can take from this is that Obama’s replacement in 2013 may be able to undo some of the terrific damage done U.S. interests in the world.   The Kurds and Iraqis at large may quickly come to regret making any deals with the Iranian Regime and may be looking for help in 2013 once the U.S. regains its senses.

Democrat Response to Rep. Ryan Spending Cuts: Burn The Witches!

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years ago

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan went on the Sunday news shows last weekend to preview Republican plans for the 2012 Federal Budget (not to be confused with the current combat over the 2011 Budget that Democrats refused to pass last year).

Ryan made it clear that the 2012 Budget sets out on a very ambitious path to cut over $4 Trillion from Federal spending over the next 10 years in an effort to reduce the size of the Federal government and get spending back in line with revenue.

My concern here is not to talk about the specifics of Ryan’s budget ideas.  Afterall, the proposed budget is not expected to be released until later this week.  Instead, I want to highlight the preliminary salvos being fired by Democrats attempting to “prepare the ground” for the Budget Battle of 2012.

Here is the Associated Press reporting on Rep. Ryan’s remarks as well as the Democrat response:

In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Ryan said budget writers are working out the 2012 numbers with the Congressional Budget Office, but he said the overall spending reductions would come to “a lot more” than $4 trillion. The debt commission appointed by President Barack Obama recommended a plan that it said would achieve nearly $4 trillion in deficit reduction.

Ryan said Obama’s call for freezing nondefense discretionary spending actually locks in spending at high levels. Under the forthcoming GOP plan, Ryan said spending would return to 2008 levels and thus cut an additional $400 billion over 10 years.

Ryan tells the interviewer, in general terms, that the proposed budget will include things like premium supports for Medicare and Medicaid, a bifurcation of treatment for those 55 and older who would continue under the present approach and those younger who would be put under a new, cost-savings approach.   Ryan previewed ideas such as block grants to the States for Medicare/Medicaid to allow each State to decide how to deal with their citizens on a local level;  a statutory cap on discretionary federal spending;  a revision of the tax code to broaden and simplify its implementation; no new tax increases.

The reaction by Democrats?  About what you would expect:

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, slammed Ryan’s plan in a press release Sunday. “It is not courageous to protect tax breaks for millionaires, oil companies and other big-money special interests while slashing our investment in education, ending the current health care guarantees for seniors on Medicare, and denying health care coverage to tens of millions of Americans,” Van Hollen said.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia was skeptical that Ryan’s proposal could achieve its targets without damaging social programs. He also questioned whether reductions in defense spending and seeking more revenue through tax reform would be part of the plan.

“I don’t know how you get there without taking basically a meat ax to those programs who protect the most vulnerable in the country,” Warner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I’ll give anybody the benefit of a doubt until I get a chance to look at the details,” he said, “but I think the only way you’re going to really get there is if you put all of these things, including defense spending, including tax reform, as part of the overall package.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., part of a six-member group of Republicans and Democrats forging their own budget proposal, said that the lawmakers would be looking for “real balance” in Ryan’s plan and wanting all options considered.

“I think we’ll come at it differently,” Durbin said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “The idea of sparing the Pentagon from any savings, not imposing any new sacrifice on the wealthiest Americans, I think goes way too far. We have got to make certain that it’s a balanced approach and one that can be sustained over the next 10 years.”

This knee-jerk reaction by Democrats– that “the Rich” are not paying their “fair share” and must be subject to “new sacrifice” — puts me in mind of that classic scene from Monty Python And The Holy Grail:

Democrats have the very same kind of medieval thinking when it comes to economics and tax policy.  Just as the villagers in The Holy Grail are determined to have their “witch” to burn, even if it means dressing someone up to look like a witch and making the most absurd claims of the woman’s evil deeds, Democrats in Congress are determined to burn the Rich regardless of the efficacy or, indeed, the great harm that it causes to the economy.

In this video by The Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Dan Mitchell explains how this type of witch hunting is so wrong-headed and, ultimately, damaging to our economy:

One thing to highlight in this excellent video is the fact that we live in a global economy that will always favor those who can move their capital elsewhere.   Professor Paul Rahe, in volume 1 of his book series, Republics Ancient & Modern, he notes that eighteenth century writers recognized that, “the invention of the bill of exchange [was] a turning point in world history.” (page 47).  The French philosopher, Montesquieu, noted that the effect of the bill of exchange was to allow the merchant class to avoid the arbitrary and confiscatory policies of the monarchical rulers of Europe by sending their assets to other, less oppressive states.  As a result, a veritable revolution in politics occurred because, for the first time, rulers’ decisions were checked by the ability of these merchants to vote with their movable assets.  (Ibid).

The same phenomenon applies today, but Democrats (and protectionist Republicans) just don’t get it.   They look at factories and jobs moving overseas and, rather than look squarely in the mirror at our anti-business, anti-manufacturing policies fomented by left-wingers still living in the 19th Century as the cause, they vilify the owners as “un-American” or unpatriotic or just evil.   The reality is that America will continue to shed jobs and capital until we stop demonizing “the rich” and start implementing policies that make it easier for businesses to stay in the U.S. and thrive.

Democrats in Congress, if the AP article is any indication, seem prepared to continue on their idiotic quest to “burn the witches” of our economy, not because there are witches, but because they know it offers a grotesque but satisfying spectacle to a constituency that they have carefully cultivated to feed upon envy, hatred, resentment and victim-status.

Congressmen like Paul Ryan and his colleagues in the Senate must not for one moment give in to this vile practice when it comes to hammering out the 2012 Budget and beyond.

U.S. Agrees to Divulge British Nuclear Secrets to Russia

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

From The Telegraph:

Information about every Trident missile the US supplies to Britain will be given to Russia as part of an arms control deal signed by President Barack Obama next week.

Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, said: “They want to find out whether Britain has more missiles than we say we have, and having the unique identifiers might help them.”

Professor Malcolm Chalmers said: “This appears to be significant because while the UK has announced how many missiles it possesses, there has been no way for the Russians to verify this. Over time, the unique identifiers will provide them with another data point to gauge the size of the British arsenal.”

Defence analysts claim the agreement risks undermining Britain’s policy of refusing to confirm the exact size of its nuclear arsenal.

The fact that the Americans used British nuclear secrets as a bargaining chip also sheds new light on the so-called “special relationship”, which is shown often to be a one-sided affair by US diplomatic communications obtained by the WikiLeaks website.

Details of the behind-the-scenes talks are contained in more than 1,400 US embassy cables published to date by the Telegraph, including almost 800 sent from the London Embassy, which are published online today.

Although the treaty was not supposed to have any impact on Britain, the leaked cables show that Russia used the talks to demand more information about the UK’s Trident missiles, which are manufactured and maintained in the US.

Washington lobbied London in 2009 for permission to supply Moscow with detailed data about the performance of UK missiles. The UK refused, but the US agreed to hand over the serial numbers of Trident missiles it transfers to Britain.

The Telegraph is referring to the New START treaty already ratified by the U.S. Senate, and for which Secretary Gates lobbied.  I had previously argued that the treaty was one-sided and brought the U.S. no discernible advantage in any area of weapons or nuclear technology, or foreign policy.  When Ronald Reagan advocated for the initial START treaty, even Time Magazine noted that it was one-sided in favor of the U.S., a fact which caused Time incorrectly to predict its failure.  Reagan negotiated from a position of strength.

But what we’ve learned now goes past a bad treaty – and it was a bad treaty.  It goes to reputation, to status, to honoring allies and friendships, to standing.  It makes this administration out to be pusillanimous weasels willing to sell out even our closest friends to enemies and criminals for a mere smattering of success on the world stage.

We pressed the reset button in foreign policy with Russia, but Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev viewed this as having made us sniveling lackeys.  Our enemies think we are fools and clowns, while our allies cannot trust us.  So much for success on the world stage.  Mr. Obama, we all knew Ronald Reagan, and you sir are no Ronald Reagan.

Egypt And A Third Way In American Foreign Policy

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 2 months ago

Today’s post gets its launching point from an article by Barry Rubin in which Mr. Rubin sounds a very dire note for the prospects of anything like a pro-Western democracy emerging from the unrest in Egypt.

There is no good policy for the United States regarding the uprising in Egypt but the Obama Administration may be adopting something close to the worst option. This is its first real international crisis. And it seems to be adopting a policy that, while somewhat balanced, is pushing the Egyptian regime out of power. The situation could not be more dangerous and might be the biggest disaster for the region and Western interests since the Iranian revolution three decades ago.

All this may very well be the case and there is no good reason that, with this President, the worst will come to pass.

But this observation is particularly instructive, if true:

Look at Tunisia. The elite stepped in with the support of the army and put in a coalition of leadership, including both old elements and oppositionists. We don’t know what will happen but there is a reasonable hope of stability and democracy. This is not the situation in Egypt where the elite seems to have lost confidence and the army seems passive.

Add to this Mr. Rubin’s observation that

There is no organized moderate group in Egypt. Even the most important past such organization, the Kifaya movement, has already been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader until recently was Abdel Wahhab al-Messiri, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a virulent antisemite.

****

That is not to say that there aren’t good, moderate, pro-democratic people in Egypt but they have little power, money, or organization. Indeed, Egypt is the only Arab country where many of the reformers went over to the Islamists believing-I think quite wrongly-that they could control the Islamists and dominate them once the alliance got into power.

Nothing would make me happier than to say that the United States should give full support for reform, to cheer on the insurgents without reservation. But unfortunately that is neither the most honest analysis nor the one required by U.S. interests. In my book, The Long War for Freedom, I expressed my strong sympathy for the liberal reformers but also the many reasons why they are unlikely to win and cannot compete very well with the Islamists.

In all of the justified gloom over the prospects of Islamofascists coming to power in Egypt, the situation need not be as hopeless as Mr. Rubin and others fear.  As Mr. Rubin notes, the biggest difference between the unrest in Egypt and that in Tunisia is an “elite [that] seems to have lost confidence” and an army that “seems passive.”

Furthermore, there are pro-democracy groups and moderates in Egypt.  The problem is that they are weak, underfunded and disorganized.

Do you think this is something that the U.S., with its vast resources and connections to the Egyptian military might be able to remedy?

The urgent need for the people of Egypt and for U.S. interests is an all-out effort, behind the scenes and out of the public eye, to rally the moderate, non-Islamofascist groups in Egypt, with quick infusions of money and communications equipment, while making the necessary connections to the Egyptian military.

Publicly, the U.S. does seem rather limited.  Despite Obama’s naive speeches to the “ummah,” the Egyptian people have no significantly better opinion of the U.S. in 2011 than it did in 2008.  Privately, however, there is still great potential for the U.S. to aid in transitioning power away from the widely-hated Mubarak regime and toward some form of less-authoritarian leadership, backed by the military, that will promise free and fair elections.   Of course, the Islamofascists will no doubt contend for elections.  The U.S. must be prepared to back those parties that hold out the best hope of resisting the radical Islamists.   There is no reason for the U.S. to be passive, a grave mistake we made in Iraq and in Gaza.   Again, it need not be public but we should ensure that pro-democracy groups not be at any disadvantage to the Islamofascists.

The Third Way

To hear pundits such as Barry Rubin and others talk there appears to be only two options: full support for authoritarians friendly to the U.S. or support for popular uprisings regardless of the potentially disastrous consequences.

The dearth of strong, pro-democracy groups and leaders in Egypt points to a far more disturbing problem: the United States’ abject neglect of democracy in the Middle East.   As discussed in an earlier post, our neglect of democracy is a national disgrace.   It is inconceivable that over 60 years could have passed by without the development of credible pro-democracy groups in Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

This suggests a “third way” for U.S. foreign policy:  a two-track strategy that both recognizes the necessity for dealing with authoritarian regimes while also taking positive action to change those very regimes, preferably from the inside out.

The first track is to acknowledge– though not necessarily approve– the existing, authoritarian governments that are not openly hostile to the U.S.  There is an important distinction here that no authoritarian government, Middle East or no, can truly be counted as “friendly” to the U.S.   Authoritarianism, in whatever form, is antithetical to American values and to U.S. interests, even when it takes the guise of regimes that offer cooperation with some U.S. objectives in the world.

A true ally is a nation sharing our core beliefs in human rights, free expression and free exercise of religion– basic Western Democracy.   Excluding Obama’s disgraceful and curious treatment, Great Britain has historically been our closest ally — ignoring those, minor  spats in 1776 and 1812.   Nations with these common values are natural and easy allies:  Canada, Australia and Israel, for example.

Even nations new to the family of freedom–what Donald Rumsfeld termed the “New Europe” of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic– share a great affinity despite cultural differences.  These newly freed nations of Eastern Europe were all too familiar with the high price of freedom and its precious nature.

In this first track of foreign policy, the U.S. can justifiably acknowledge Middle East regimes that are not openly hostile to the U.S. without counting them “allies” and certainly without bowing to them (as Obama did with the Saudis in 2009).   Most importantly, to the extent that we provide military or other aid, it must come with clear strings attached.  Which brings us to the second track of U.S. policy.

The second track insists that any U.S. aid is accompanied by the development of democratic foundations.  This may take different forms in different places, but, in general, the U.S. should act on the firm conviction that every nation is either moving in the direction of greater freedom and human rights or in the direction of greater oppression and tyranny.

The U.S. will do all that it can to nurture leaders and institutions that subscribe to the core values of Western Democracy, for the day that will inevitably come when the authoritarian regime passes away.   In an ideal world, the authoritarians peacefully relinquish control and a transition is made to a democratic republic.   In a less than ideal world, the regime is pushed out and the U.S. will do all that it can to ensure that the new government is established with core, democratic values.

To be sure, we have to take the world as we now find it and not as we would wish it to be.  The U.S. has squandered decades in “stability operations.”   In football parlance, we call that “playing not to lose.”  It is not a winning strategy in football and it is surely not a winning strategy in global politics.   When we look at Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan and Gaza, maintaining the status quo is simply not an option.

Turning to Egypt, the U.S. should be doing everything it can right now to identify every, plausible democratic leader in Egypt– scattered and disorganized as they may be– and pour every helpful resource into them.   At the same time, the U.S. should be using every contact and channel it has with member of the Egyptian military to forge effective alliances with the democratic groups to serve as a bulwark against the Islamofascists.

Assure the military that they will have full U.S. support if they back the pro-democracy groups.   Sponsor public information campaigns by these democratic groups that blankets Egypt with the message that only an open and free society with full human rights for all– men and women — will make any real, lasting difference for Egypt.   Link these messages with one or more parties or coalitions that people will be able to readily identify and associate with these messages of freedom.   Once the message has achieved a certain “market penetration,” the military can then announce, however subtly, that it would support a national referendum to elect an assembly to begin drafting a constitution.   In the meantime, the military will keep order.   If possible, one or more of the democratic leaders will be appointed to lead the government on an interim basis.

It’s not perfect.  Much could go wrong, but this is the kind of fight that America needs to be about.  Unlike the passive stance adopted by Obama and other Realists, we cannot sit on the sidelines and hope that genuine democracy will somehow spring up.   It won’t.   The Islamofascists are too well organized and too ruthless to fail to take advantage of a chaotic situation.

The U.S. must do all that it can– by necessity behind the scenes given our poor public image in the Middle East– to promote genuine voices of democracy that can truly eventually be called allies.

Why bother?  What is the urgency?  Simply this: the freedom that we know in America is a revolutionary concept in this dark world, and it is under assault everywhere.  If we value our own freedom, we must have the courage to export the American Revolution everywhere we can.   Not at the point of a gun, that is a sign of failure (though, as in Iraq, a sad necessity).   We are not conquerors, we are liberators.   We need not be ashamed.   People want freedom.  It may take much longer in some places, but we should never yield the stage to the dark doctrines of oppression as our default posture.

UPDATE:  Michael Totten recently posted his interview with Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution.

In response to the a question about the development of Iran during the 1960′s and 70′s and the rise of radicalism in Iran, Milani elaborates:

We had a class of brilliant Iranian technocrats, many of them educated in the United States, including right here at Stanford. They put into effect a remarkable process of industrialization that by 1970 was bearing fruit. These people demanded political rights, and the Shah, instead of opening the country, clamped down with the one-party system.

I am absolutely convinced that in 1975, when he was at the height of his power, if the Shah had made just a third of the concessions he later made in 1978, we would be looking at a very different Iran today.

MJT: It was too late in 1978.

Abbas Milani: What Mubarak and the Shah both failed to understand is that if you make concessions when you’re weak it just increases the appetite for more concessions. If they would have made concessions when they were in a position of power, they could have negotiated a smooth transition to a less authoritarian government.

In Egypt, when the US pressured Mubarak to announce that he would not run again, that he should come out publicly and say he has cancer and that there will be a free election soon, he instead tried to create a monarchy.

MJT: He wants his son to succeed him.

Abbas Milani: The reverse happened to the Shah. He also had cancer, but he hid it from everybody. He had a son who was then eighteen years old. If he had given up the throne and created a regency in 1977, as some had advised him to do, instead of making concessions under pressure in 1978 when all hell was breaking loose, I could easily imagine a different Iran.

What could America have done differently? Milani discusses the long-term mistakes that the U.S. made in dealing with Iran and the Shah in particular:

MJT: Jimmy Carter often gets blamed for Khomeini coming to power in Iran. Do you think that’s fair? What could he have done to stop it?

Abbas Milani: I don’t blame the revolution on Jimmy Carter, but I think he does bear some responsibility. He could not develop a cohesive policy. He wasn’t paying attention to Iran. He was preoccupied with Camp David. He couldn’t bring Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski into a cohesive position. He kept vacillating from one extreme to another. This only exacerbated the American inability to understand what was going on.

The failure to understand what was going on dates back to the Lyndon Johnson years. The Johnson administration succumbed to pressure from the Shah to cease all contact with the opposition inside Iran. The US remarkably even agreed not to contact a former prime minister because the Shah didn’t trust him. The Shah even created a diplomatic row when a former Iranian ambassador was invited to a party. Not to a secret meeting, but to a party.

Because the US was involved in Vietnam and had listening centers in Iran monitoring Soviet activities, and because Iran was flush with cash in 1972 and was willing to sign contracts with American companies, the US agreed to cease contact. Yet the CIA predicted an Iranian revolution as early as 1958. And what they said would happen is almost exactly what happened. They said Iran’s rising technocratic class, the teachers, and the new urbanites are all disgruntled and that if the government doesn’t open up the system they’ll find any leader they can and topple the Shah.

The Kennedy administration pressured the Shah to make changes that were based on the standard modernization theory. You modernize the infrastructure, you educate the people, you create a better economy, and you open up the system politically. Kennedy pushed the Shah toward this and the Shah complied. He himself wanted to make changes. He wanted to make Iran a better place. The Kennedys hated the Shah. Bobby Kennedy absolutely despised him. John Kennedy disliked him, if not outright hated him.

But just as the economic changes were bearing fruit, making political change more necessary, the oil price shot up. Nixon came in and made the decision to cease pressuring the Shah. The Shah had stopped listening anyway because he had all the money he needed.

Carter came in and renewed the pressure for democratization, but he renewed it at the worst possible time, when the economy was diving. Iran was borrowing money that year. The Shah went from giving away a billion and a half dollars to borrowing 700 million from Chase Manhattan. So the economy was diving, the Shah’s health was deteriorating, and suddenly the suppressed opposition felt that the Shah was fair game because Carter was talking about human rights.

MJT: But what should Carter have done instead? Are you saying he was he wrong to talk about human rights?

Abbas Milani: No, he should have talked about human rights, but he also should have understood that you have to go step by step. Concessions need to be made in a timely fashion from a position of power. Carter should have made it clear that he was for change, but not for change at any price. Brzezinski understood this much better than anyone else in the administration but didn’t get his way. And on the other side we had the Shah undergoing chemotherapy and his endogenous paranoia, depression, indecisiveness and vacillation. The result was disaster.

When asked by Totten what Milani would advise Obama to do in the current crisis in Egypt, he had this to say:

Abbas Milani:

I would say to President Obama that he must make it clear to Mr. Mubarak that he must clearly and categorically say he won’t run again and that his son won’t run, that he will turn over the daily affairs of the state to a coalition of opposition parties. There might be a chance for a gradual transition and the absorption of the elements of the Muslim Brotherhood that really are moderate.

If this doesn’t happen, if Egypt goes into a protracted period of lawlessness, or if there is a Balkanization of the society, Mubarak will do a tremendous disservice to Egypt, to democracy, and to the United States. He’s going to put the United States in a very difficult situation.

The most important lesson that needs to be learned is that the United States must push its allies to make concessions when they are in a position of power, not when they are in peril.

The majority in Turkey, Egypt, and Iran once accepted the notion that enlightenment, democracy, modernity, reason, and the rule of law were good things, that the West has used these things to good purpose, and that we in the Muslim world should find our own iteration of them and catch up. Now the radical fringe is much stronger and directly challenges this. They say they do not want reason, they want revolution. They don’t want laws, they have the Koran. They don’t want equality because the Koran says there is inequality and they abide by the Koran. They say they don’t want democracy, that it’s a trick of the colonial Crusaders.

Thirty years ago people laughed at these ideas. Now they’re being said more and more often and openly. If the Muslim Brotherhood wins, or if Egypt becomes democratic…

MJT: It’s a big deal either way, isn’t it?

Abbas Milani: It is. Because it is Egypt.

(Emphasis Added)

This interview clearly shows why the U.S. cannot afford to take a passive approach with authoritarian “allies.”  In the end, we lose the “ally” to extremists, lose all credibility we should have as democratic revolutionaries and, perhaps, lose a bit our soul as well.

The Bienart Approach: Spreading Democracy By Neglect

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 3 months ago

In a Daily Beast article yesterday, Peter Beinhart takes a measure of relief in the fact the United States seemingly has nothing to do with the apparent uprising in Tunisia that has (for the time being) tossed out the autocrat, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

What a great country we have. Where else would you find opinion leaders applauding evidence of their own country’s irrelevance to international affairs?

The critical thing to understand about the movements stirring against tyranny in Tunisia, and throughout the Arab world, is this: They aren’t about us. And that might be a good thing.

Beinhart’s point, in essence, seems to follow along these lines:  Tunisians rose up against the oppressor-thugocracy without American help, therefore American support for oppressed peoples– particularly in the Middle East– is not only unnecessary but actually counterproductive.   Furthermore, he seems to argue, the Tunisian experience validates the view he terms “optimist” that freedom/democracy is an irresistible force that will, eventually, prevail.   (This he contrasts with the straw-man “militarist” view that democracy can only spread along with American power and influence).

To be fair, Beinhart does concede eventually that it is a “good thing for the U.S. government to want democracy in the Middle East.”  This is a nice concession that, afterall, we should not feel guilty about wanting democratic governments in the Middle East. It’s just that we shouldn’t want to do anything about it.

This allergy to the use of American power in the world is, however, disturbing on two levels.

First, it is incredibly naive.  We can all agree that the Tunisians have shown incredible bravery while, at the same time, acknowledging that the prospects for a democratic government taking hold there are slim to none without some type of external assistance.  The chances, moreover, that the autocratic governments in the Middle East will somehow fall to a rising tide of purely indigenous democracy without external aid is equally fanciful.

Second, and perhaps most disturbing, Beinhart’s approach is incredibly wrong.  Immoral.  How can we, as Americans, stand idly by while unarmed, peaceful protesters are clubbed, raped or gunned down by the security forces of pariah regimes?

It is simply not in our national character to refuse aid to any people that is willing to put their lives on the line to gain their freedom from oppression.

Does this require that the U.S. send in the tanks every time there is a political protest put down by government violence?  No.   Rather, there should be a sliding scale of involvement that begins, at the very least, with persistent and public expressions of condemnation toward the regime, followed by economic and/or diplomatic sanctions, followed (where appropriate) by tangible aid to the democratic movement (covert if necessary) and, at the extreme end of the scale, open, military assistance.    This approach leaves plenty of time and opportunity for public debate over the merits and extent of support.  But there can be no argument, such as the one Beinhart hints at, that the U.S. do nothing.

We have already seen the consequences of Beinhart’s approach.  In 1991, tens of thousands of Iraqi shia in Basra were killed by Saddam Hussein’s thugs when they revolted in 1991.   The U.S. did nothing and paid the price 12 years later when radical Islam had taken root in the region, making pacification infinitely more costly. The democracy movement in Iran is another example of ordinary citizens giving up their lives for a chance at freedom.  Obama, clearly favoring the Beinhart approach, has left them helpless against determined torture and murder by the regime.   Sudan and the Congo stand out as well.  Oppressed people of the world have rightly looked to the U.S. and we did nothing, absolutely nothing to help.  These are blots on our national honor.

In the end, Peter Beinhart may be right on one point:  democracy and freedom may (somehow) break out in the Middle East without meaningful U.S. support.  Anything is possible.

The real question, however, is this: why should we ever want that kind of world?

CNAS Report: America’s Extended Hand

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

The Center for a New American Security has issued a report (h/t Blackfive) entitled America’s Extended Hand: Assessing the Obama Administration’s Global Engagement Strategy.  More on that shortly.

Recall the ineptitude, blunders and poor judgment we have discussed recently regarding the Obama administration and its foreign policy.  The administration has chosen to work with criminal and gangster Ahmed Wali Karzai in Kandahar in the belief that they can change him.  In Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy Part II we discussed how Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and even the UAE are so certain that our “diplomatic” efforts with Iran will fail to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons that they have all begun pursuing nuclear power programs in earnest (as predecessors to a nuclear weapons program).  Iran is increasingly aggressive in the region.  An Iranian aircraft buzzed the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower as reported by the Navy Times, and I reported that “During the 2008 deployment of the 26th MEU, an Iranian helicopter all but landed on the deck of the USS Iwo Jima.  The Marines could almost touch it from a standing position on the deck, but no actions were taken.  The Navy refused to allow the Marines to fire on the aircraft.”

In spite of recommendations to seriously engage the Caucasus region, we have snubbed our allies in Georgia (in spite of their having sent the Georgian 31st Infantry Battalion to assist us in Afghanistan)  and most recently it appears that we are losing Azerbaijan.  “Azerbaijan’s long-standing alignment with the United States is rapidly unraveling in the wake of Washington’s recent policy initiatives. As perceived from Baku, those US initiatives fly in the face of Azerbaijan’s staunch support over the years to US strategic interests and policies in the South Caucasus-Caspian region.”  Read the entire sad and depressing Jamestown report.

Just today it was reported that:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, said Wednesday that if Israel attacked Iran it would be destroyed within a week.

Speaking at a political conference of ultra-conservatives in Iran’s north, Mashaei said, “If the Zionist regime attacks Iran, the Zionists will have no longer than a week to live.”

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted him as saying that the Islamic Republic would destroy Israel “in less than 10 days”.

On his visit to Saudi Arabia he then claimed that “the annihilation of Israel should be a global goal.”  The additional instances are too difficult and time consuming to catalog – from our “ally” Russia attempting to undermine our presence at the Manas air base (ending this fiasco cost us a fortune) to Obama’s ghastly and dreadful West Point speech on Afghanistan, to the refusal to fund the reliable replacement warhead program, to the decision to grant Russian inspectors full access to our nuclear weapons sites, to the idea that we can find moderate elements of Hezbollah.  Exhaustion prevents me from completing the matrix of all of the gaffes, blunders, screw-ups, ill-conceived notions, and failed policies.

Now to the CNAS report.  The money quotes are given below.

We conclude that, in many ways, the Obama administration has achieved its initial objective of “re-starting” America’s relationship with the world. The administration clearly understands the importance of dialogue and of listening to foreign publics, and it is attempting to incor­porate a sensitivity to public opinion into its foreign policy decision making and translate public support into political leverage …

America’s global standing was in tatters due to an unpopular war in Iraq, a perception of unbridled American unilateralism and charges that the United States hypocritically advanced democ­racy abroad while compromising democratic values at home.

The folks at CNAS aren’t stupid; they just comprehend the world differently than do I.  But this comprehension is so ideologically skewed and out of touch with reality it makes their work literally unusable.  Time will be brutal to “scholarship” such as this.  When Iran goes nuclear, reports like this will be trumpeted to show how naive this kind of research is.  When Israel has to go it alone and war comes to the Middle East, my (and Michael Ledeen’s) advocacy for regime change (and my advocacy for fomenting an internal insurgency) will look like a cake walk compared to the mess we are left with, and much less violent and convulsive.  When Russia invades Georgia again on their way to relieve their bases in Armenia, we will look stupid and weak in our alliance with the mobster Putin (and even more ignorant if we award the tanker contract to EADS, a company in which Vladimir Putin owns a significant part).

With scholarship like this, CNAS is simply irrelevant.  They will have neither a positive nor a negative impact on policy.  The studies they are producing lack seriousness and gravitas.

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy Part II

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

Iran is attempting to move to higher Uranium enrichment, and Ambassador John Bolton is warning us to get ready for a nuclear Iran.  The CIA has already warned us.  Unless Israel acts unilaterally, the Obama administration will be in the difficult position of trying to explain why so much energy was invested in the prevention of a nuclear Iran, when it was acceptable all along for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.  In other words, it must explain why containment would have worked all along, thus making fools of those who tried to forestall that otherwise acceptable condition.

In a stark testimony to the fact that the Middle East has no confidence in our stomach for doing whatever is necessary to contain Persian hegemony, Kuwait and France have signed agreements on nuclear cooperation, and Saudi Arabia has established a new national agency to take the lead role in nuclear activities.  These countries do not need commercial nuclear power for purposes of energy infrastructure.  Commercial nuclear power is the first step to having the infrastructure, QA, training and protocols to control a weapons program.  Even the UAE is planning a nuclear site with four reactors.

Iran has made no attempt to hide its lack of fear of U.S. presence in the region.  Iran has been at war with us in Iraq since the inception of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and there are dead U.S. servicemen whose lives were sacrificed to the altar of avoiding the necessity of addressing the regional conflict.  Just recently an Iranian reconnaissance aircraft buzzed the U.S. aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, coming within 1000 yards of the ship.  This kind of aggression has become fairly routine.  During the 2008 deployment of the 26th MEU, an Iranian helicopter all but landed on the deck of the USS Iwo Jima.  The Marines could almost touch it from a standing position on the deck, but no actions were taken.  The Navy refused to allow the Marines to fire on the aircraft.  Iran has made its presence known in the recent Iraqi elections, and Moqtada al Sadr is trying to emerge as a legitimate political power after having been trained in Iran for the last several years.

Things don’t look much better to the North.  In spite of recommendations to seriously engage the Caucasus region, we have snubbed our allies in Georgia (in spite of their having sent the Georgian 31st Infantry Battalion to assist us in Afghanistan)  and most recently it appears that we are losing Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s long-standing alignment with the United States is rapidly unraveling in the wake of Washington’s recent policy initiatives. As perceived from Baku, those US initiatives fly in the face of Azerbaijan’s staunch support over the years to US strategic interests and policies in the South Caucasus-Caspian region.

Current US policies, however, are seen to favor Armenia in the Karabakh conflict resolution negotiations, curry favor with Armenian advocacy groups in domestic US politics, split Turkey and Azerbaijan from one another over the Karabakh issue, isolate Azerbaijan in the region, and pressure Baku into silent acquiescence with these policies.

Key actors in the region tend to share Azerbaijan’s perceptions in this regard. During last week’s nuclear safety summit in Washington, Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, and Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke frankly in this regard. They told US interlocutors at every step that the refusal to invite Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, to the summit was a mistake, counterproductive to US interests in the region, and confirming perceptions that Washington was attempting to isolate Baku.

US President, Barack Obama’s, meeting with his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan during the Washington summit (while failing to invite the Azerbaijani president) confirmed perceptions that Armenian issues in US domestic politics distort Washington’s policy on the Karabakh conflict and toward Azerbaijan.

Ankara had cautioned Washington against such moves ever since Erdogan’s December 2009 visit to the US. At least from that point onward, Turkey has closed ranks with Azerbaijan, instead of distancing from it and opening the Turkish-Armenian border promptly and unconditionally at the Obama administration’s urging. The administration insists on de-linking the border opening from the continuing Armenian military occupation of seven districts beyond Karabakh, deep inside Azerbaijan. The administration had, instead, hoped to link the border opening with the April 24 US anniversary of the 1915-1918 Armenian events in Ottoman Turkey.

Washington’s summit miscalculation is the latest in a year-long series of blows to US-Azeri relations. This trend continues amid an apparent US strategic disengagement from the wider region (rationalized as a “strategic pause” to assuage pro-US governments there). In Azerbaijan’s case, Washington seems unable even to fill the long-vacant post of US ambassador in Baku. The vacancy deprives the United States of steady high-level access to Azerbaijan’s leaders (which had never been a problem previously), while making it more difficult for Washington to grasp the crisis in US-Azerbaijan relations and its region-wide implications.

Addressing an April 14 cabinet meeting in front of TV cameras, President Aliyev criticized the US policy of pushing Turkey to open the border with Armenia, despite the latter’s occupation of seven Azeri districts beyond Karabakh. This move pulls the rug from under Azerbaijan’s carefully constructed negotiating position for a stage-by-stage peaceful solution to the conflict. It also seems designed to separate Turkey from Azerbaijan. Accordingly, Aliyev complained about “certain countries that believe that they can meddle in everything…by exerting pressure and blackmailing. This is how we see it. This policy clearly runs against Azerbaijan’s interests, and the Azeri state is taking appropriate steps.”

It isn’t clear if the U.S. policy regarding Azerbaijan is malicious or merely inept.  What is clear is that we are still witnessing the collapse of U.S. foreign policy, a fact both easy and sad to catalog.

Prior: Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

Concerning Military Contractors

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

So I spent most of the weekend with several Marines (not an uncommon occurrence), one of whom isn’t re-enlisting and has been trained extensively as Scout Sniper and Force Recon.  What are his intentions, you ask?  Military contractor.  It doesn’t matter which one, DynCorp, Aegis, or what was once Blackwater.  They’re all the same, in my estimation.  They pay more for services, they issue better body armor, they issue better weapons, and they do little to no real training of their hires.  They rely on the training done by the U.S. military.

Regardless of what one might think, the use of military contractors is still ongoing in Iraq, and increasing in Afghanistan to the point that they are being used to conduct force protection at some Forward Operating Bases.  This all raises several important observations.

The Captain’s Journal isn’t opposed to the use of military contractors for the normal reasons.  We have no moral objection to their existence, and similar to their pay scale and outfitting, we believe that the U.S. military should be given the best weapons and gear.

But the cost of recruiting and training Marines (who have deployed multiple times) is astronomical, and the military contractors get the benefit of that investment.  So the U.S. pays to recruit them, pays to train them, pays to deploy them and gain combat experience, and then pays a much higher rate to hire them as military contractors when they leave the service because we refuse to fund the U.S. military so that they can retain its own warriors because of budgetary constraints within the Congress.

It is stupid in the superlative degree, and much more costly in the long run.  It is also very destructive of morale in the U.S. military.  Is my life not worth it, they ask?  Larger pay raises are being called for in 2010, but even these pay raises are a pittance compared to what is required to retain the best, and what – in the long run – would make the U.S. military more cost effective.

The very existence of military contractors is evidence against the decision-making in Washington and in favor of larger pay increases for the military.  The bean-counters be damned, there is a better way to do things.


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