U.S.-Pakistan Policy after Bhutto

by Raj Purohit | December 29th, 2007 | |Subscribe

After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the one individual seemingly capable of ensuring a course correction in Pakistan, U.S. policy elites need to determine the direction for U.S.-Pakistan relations in a post-Bhutto world. While British Foreign Secretary Miliband is correct in noting that the “assassination lays bare the responsibilities of the politicians, community and faith leaders, businesspeople and military chiefs who will now be key to Pakistan’s future,” he is also correct in noting that the likes of the U.K. and the U.S. need to continue “to engage to back strong systems not just strong people.”

I agree with Mr. Miliband and believe that the appropriate U.S. approach over the short term should be three fold:

First, it should urge Mr. Musharraf to agree to a UN Security Council sponsored special investigation into the death of Benazir Bhutto. Detlev Mehlis, the former Commissioner of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, would be a suitable candidate if partnered with a prominent Pakistani lawyer such as Mohammad Yaqoob Khan (the President District Bar Association Lakki Marwat North West Frontier Province). This is necessary to ensure that the Pakistani people can begin to regain faith in their institutions and government.

Second, the U.S. should form a contact group with the U.K. and the office of the UN Secretary General. This group should announce that its objective is to assist Pakistan with a smooth and rapid transition to democracy and to that end it will meet regularly with Mr. Musharraf and senior opposition figures such as Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and potential Pakistani People’s Party leaders such as Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan (who currently serves as the president of the Pakistani Supreme Court Bar Association).

Third, the U.S. should commit to both bridging economic assistance for Pakistan and to a far larger block of economic funds that will be delivered after a democratic government takes office. This second block of funds should be used to support the strengthening of Pakistani institutions such as a modern education system and a Parliamentary oversight system capable of supervising entities such as the Pakistani intelligence apparatus (the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI).

These short term moves will start to reshape the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and more significantly will begin the critically important process of ensuring that Pakistan moves away from Talibanization and towards its founding roots as a member of the democratic community of nations.

The Homer Simpson Energy Policy

by David Isenberg | December 26th, 2007 | |Subscribe

One of the classic rules of propaganda is that if you say something enough times, regardless of whether or not it is true some people will come to believe it.  With that in mind let us look at the newest conventional wisdom that has been increasingly circulating the past few years; especially in the aftermath of the recent climate change conference in Bali; namely, that the need to curb carbon emissions in order to prevent global warming means the world must rely more on nuclear power.

Yes, nice, clean, safe, nuclear power, as an advertisement from the Nuclear Energy Institute or the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, or even the International Atomic Energy Agency might put it. And no, I’m not picking on them. Like a character out of a Cecil B. Demille movie they are is just three of uncounted thousands –hmmm, in an internet age we better make that millions– parroting this new orthodoxy.

But before we think that advances in technology have made nuclear power so safe that even Homer Simpson can run a nuclear power plant perhaps we should pause to consider the world of reality, and not the one where Montgomery Burn’s Springfield nuclear power plant supplies our energy needs.

(more…)

Are Sovereign Funds Threatening Our Sovereignty?

by Seth Green | December 24th, 2007 | |Subscribe

America has suffered a profound loss of international influence and respect over the course of the Bush administration. While most of the attention has focused on the administration’s flawed security strategy, recent events demonstrate that Bush’s economic agenda has been similarly disastrous for America’s role in the world. The administration’s tax cutting for the wealthy combined with big spending has left us with dangerous levels of debt and the highest level of inequality since the 1920s. And the administration’s failure to impose even basic regulations on the subprime industry has encouraged (although not caused) turmoil on Wall Street.

What is most alarming about Bush’s economic blunders is that he appears to be clueless to the threat our economic vulnerability poses to our sovereignty. Over the last few weeks, sovereign wealth funds (i.e. foreign governments by another name) bought up major stakes (i.e. 5 to 9.9 percent) in the some of the biggest banks on Wall Street such as Citigroup, UBS, Morgan Stanley, and now Merrill Lynch. Bush’s response to foreign governments (and primarily non-democratic governments at that) buying up huge shares of our biggest banks was hardly a response at all. “I’m fine with capital coming in from overseas to help bolster financial institutions,” he said. “What would be a problem is to say we’re not going to accept foreign capital, or we’re not going to open markets, or we’ve become protectionists.”

I just frankly do not understand Bush’s thinking here. It seems to me one of the few times protectionism is appropriate is when a non-democratic government is buying up major ownership rights of companies that a huge number of Americans depend on. The reason is simple: capitalism depends on individuals seeking profit and we cannot be sure of the motives of foreign governments, who may eventually use their stake for political interests. The possibility of political motives at least merits some basic review process, rather than a blind endorsement from the President.

On a broader level, it is striking that Bush does not see a sovereignty issue here considering he sees sovereignty threats in so many other areas. In Bush’s mind, joining a basic international environmental agreement or even abiding by the clear language of the Geneva Conventions is a major impediment to our sovereignty. Yet, having non-democratic countries buying influence in our banking system is a no-brainer for him. I think he should reverse his thinking. Working with other countries to solve common challenges like climate change and human rights makes us stronger as a country. Running budget deficits and encouraging economic turmoil makes us weaker. It is ironic that a President who campaigned on strength may be remembered as the leader who most contributed to our country’s weakness.

Kosovo Muddle

by Eugene Gholz | December 24th, 2007 | |Subscribe

One of the well-known books published after the Kosovo War almost ten years ago was called “Winning Ugly” — and it was written by two analysts who more or less supported the war (Ivo Daalder and Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution). The alleged victory was “ugly” not only because of operational and alliance management questions during the war but also because NATO only sort-of achieved its goals in the war: we chased the Serb military and police out of a part of Serbia, but we had to recognize that Kosovo should remain part of Serbia over the long term — that is, we gave in to a key Serbian war aim. Since then, though, the U.S. has encouraged the UN and the international community to work for Kosovar independence, despite the text of the postwar UN resolution on Kosovo that guarantees Serbian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Going into talks on Kosovo’s “final status,” the U.S. announced that the outcome would include independence before the beginning of the talks — leaving the Kosovars with little incentive to negotiate on any Serb concerns. Not surprisingly, no agreement was reached by the end of the talks in early December. Today, the world is stumbling along towards a unilateral declaration of Kosovar independence that is unliklely to respect any aspect of Serbian interests, which seems quite liklely to lead to foreseeable trouble.

But foresight is not a trait generally associated with American foreign policy these days. We often attribute weakness in the American foreign policy process to shrill partisan debates or intense ideological beliefs. Indeed, part of the resistance to working towards a negotiated outcome in Kosovo today does seem ideological: the U.S. wants to impose a “multiethnic democracy” as a solution on Serbia rather than recognizing that in some parts of the world, multiethnic democracy can be highly provocative. Federalism and regional autonomy might work better (that is, even if Kosovo becomes independent, the region of Kosovo where many Serbs live might be offered real autonomy as a way to placate their concerns about Albanian domination of their government and their private lives).

But where do the American ideological blinders come from in this case? It is certainly not intense public pressure or debate. Almost no one is paying attention to Kosovo. It is not partisanship or acrimony in Washington this time. Our policy on Kosovo is just quietly making mistakes. Someone should start paying attention.

The Council on Foreign Relations has posted several short articles recently on Kosovo, most of which quietly reinforce the “normal” view: Kosovo deserves independence, and Russia is somehow America’s adversary, because the Russians irrationally are holding Kosovar aspirations back. But the Council also often promotes civilized public debate, providing a real service to anyone who happens to pay attention. There’s an interesting blog exchange on the CFR site in which Alan Kuperman raises reasoned questions about America’s unbalanced, under-considered position. Check it out.

A Charade in the Senate

by Brian Vogt | December 20th, 2007 | |Subscribe

I was struck the other day by a story about Senator Jim Webb’s Christmas break assignment that requires him to walk into the Senate, call the session to order, and then immediately close the session with a swift thud of his gavel.  Webb will probably be the only one in the chamber.  His Senate colleagues will be home with their families. Apparently he, and several other assigned Senators, will go through these motions 11 times over the holiday break.  You ask, why would Webb spend his holiday break in such an odd manner?  Unfortunately, this behavior is simply another symptom of the dysfunction of our democratic system.  Our elected leaders (both Democrats and Republicans) have chosen to play politics rather than address the pressing problems of our country.  This whole charade boils down to one thing – recess appointments. 

You may remember that throughout the first half of 2005, President Bush tried to push through the Senate confirmation process an extremist nominee for the position of UN Ambassador, John Bolton.  This struck many people as quite a ridiculous choice considering Bolton’s obvious contempt for the institution for which he was nominated. This, however, has been the modus operandi of the adminstration:  insert people who express a clear disdain for government into leadership positions in the very government agencies they had spent years attacking. 

After an arduous review process it became clear that Bolton didn’t have enough votes to secure a nomination.  So, rather than accepting that his nominee didn’t have broad support and finding a less extreme candidate, Bush decided to use a political “trick” to appoint his nominee using a constitutional loophole that allows presidents to appoint nominees when Congress is out of session.  This tactic that was originally designed for vacancies that came about abruptly during a recess, has been used by many presidents as a way to get around the Senate confirmation process.  Bush certainly wasn’t the first to use this tactic.  Both Democrat and Republican presidents have been guilty of subverting the confirmation process.  However, Bush took this to another level in his usage of this tactic for such a high profile and controversial nomination.  (more…)

Don’t Forget About Iraq

by Jonathan Wallace | December 18th, 2007 | |Subscribe

With the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, everyone is breathlessly following the presidential candidates. Nearly every aspect of the race has been covered ad nauseam. However, one vital issue is in the process of being crowded out by the general mania of presidential election politics, the War in Iraq. In the final debates in Iowa, only one Republican (John McCain) mentioned Iraq at all and the national front-runner on the Democratic side (Hillary Clinton) only mentioned it once. Commentators have been quick in putting the war on the back burner as new issues come up, particularly in foreign policy. However, tactical factors on the ground in Iraq and political factors in the United States ensure that Iraq will still be the number one foreign policy issue heading into the general election in November. (more…)

Calculated Risk

by Matthew Rojansky | December 18th, 2007 | |Subscribe

In a piece in today’s New York Times, Steven Erlanger offers the following observation on Israeli strikes intended to suppress rocket attacks from Palestinian militants based in Gaza:

So long as rockets are fired toward Israelis from Gaza, Israelis will be very reluctant, even unwilling, to make a political deal for a Palestinian state that cannot provide them security. And if the Israelis reinvade Gaza in a serious way, killing many Palestinians, it will put Mr. Abbas and moderate Arab countries in their own dilemma, making it very difficult for them to sanction a political deal with Israel. (more…)

$7.4 Billion in Hope

by Matthew Rojansky | December 17th, 2007 | |Subscribe

According to the New York Times, a donors’ conference in Paris today pledged a record $7.4 billion of aid for the embattled Palestinian Authority over the next three years. That’s a big number, and it is intended to support critical government functions in the Palestinian territories, while jump-starting economic growth to help provide Palestinians with a tangible “peace dividend.”

As observers of the conflict have learned by now, there is a direct and critical correlation between political stability and economic growth, so that neither can last long without the other. I hope, in particular, that the latest infusion of charity to the Palestinian territories will be quickly followed by for-profit investment, especially from wealthy Arab states, demonstrating the concrete benefits of stability to Palestinians, and helping to deflate the bloated state bureaucracy by offering attractive private sector employment. (more…)

Bipartisan House Action on CIA Torture Tapes

by Raj Purohit | December 17th, 2007 | |Subscribe

As the first session of the 110th Congress winds to a close, it is good to see that there are increased signs of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans on a issues that are critical to the well being of the country.

In particular, I was encouraged by comments from Rep. Hoekstra (the top Republican on the House Intel Committee) and Rep. Harman (D-CA) over the weekend. Hoekstra stated that “We want to hold the (intelligence) community accountable for what has happened with these tapes” and Harman echoed the sentiment when she suggested that Congress should resist the Department of Justice request for Congress to delay the investigation. As Harman noted, that request should be rejected by Congress because it “…smells like the cover-up of the cover-up.”

Readers of this blog know that I have supported an Independent Bipartisan Commission on Torture and U.S. Interrogation for some time. The destruction of these torture tapes confirms that such a Commission is needed. When it returns from the holiday recess, Congress should move quickly to create an Independent Bipartisan Commission on Torture and U.S. Interrogation Policy; it is past time that the U.S. comprehensively address the scandals of Abu Gharib and beyond.

An Independent Bipartisan Commission would bring together a broad range of experts able to collectively comprehend the totality of the issue, its consequences and necessary policy prescriptions. The experts would be drawn from the intelligence, foreign policy, law enforcement, military, veterans, legal and human rights community. Additional members could include representatives of the faith community, theologians, cultural specialists and historians. They could look holistically at an issue that grows increasingly complicated and multifaceted.

Let’s Not Breathe a Sigh of Relief Just Yet

by David Isenberg | December 11th, 2007 | |Subscribe

Dash it all! One goes away for a quick business trip to Geneva and returns to find that holy geopolitical heck has broken lose in one’s absence, what with the publication of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program.

Doubtlessly interested PSA readers have been inundated with commentary, including excellent posts by Chris Preble and Brian Vogt.

But at the risk of appearing self-serving I think there are still some useful things to be said. Namely, that it is premature to rejoice.  Let’s remember that there are still many unanswered questions. As the NIE itself stated:

This Estimate focuses on the following key questions:

What are Iran’s intentions toward developing nuclear weapons?

What domestic factors affect Iran’s decisionmaking on whether to develop nuclear weapons?

What external factors affect Iran’s decisionmaking on whether to develop nuclear weapons?

What is the range of potential Iranian actions concerning the development of nuclear weapons, and the decisive factors that would lead Iran to choose one course of action over another?

What is Iran’s current and projected capability to develop nuclear weapons? What are our key assumptions, and Iran’s key chokepoints/vulnerabilities?More...

The truth is that the NIE did not answer those questions. As Anthony Cordesman, the Mr. Net Assessment of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote, “it is very important for anyone using or making judgments about the document to actually read the full text of the judgments the NIE makes about Iran’s nuclear program. Press summaries and outside commentary are not a substitute for responsible literacy and attentions to details.”  Or as George Orwelll once wrote, “sloppy language breeds sloppy thinking.”

Cordesman notes that the “summary does not address what the US intelligence community does and does not know about Iran’s efforts in each of the five areas the NIE addressed.” (more…)

Next Page »

All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.