In the space of 10 days, two terrorist actions in South Asia highlighted why President-elect Obama’s desire to adopt a regional approach to the interlinked crises of Afghanistan, India and Pakistan may ultimately rank among the most strategically significant decisions of his administration.
Last month, the world watched in horror as militants brought the thriving metropolis of Mumbai to a halt with a multi-faceted attack on its hotel, entertainment and transportation system. The attacks, dubbed India’s 9-11, saw 188 civilians killed and hundreds more injured. A few days later militants in Pakistan attacked a market place killing dozens of civilians. Although the attack in Peshawar had a devastating impact on the local populace, it drew less media attention than those in Mumbai, in part due to the lack of international media in that city and also because the Peshawar bombing was one in a long line of attacks in Pakistan in recent months.
Despite the variation in media attention and the way in which they were reported as two distinct stories, it is important that the new U.S. administration looks at the two attacks and the related foreign policy questions holistically. A careful appraisal of the situation suggests that, once in office, President Obama’s administration must adopt a regional approach to the instability in South Asia and also recognize that Pakistan is at the heart of both the crisis and any resolution. (more…)
In a speech at the Brookings Institution yesterday, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel spoke eloquently about the challenges that will be faced by the victor of this year’s presidential election. The speech, entitled “Memo to the Candidates”, was essentially Senator Hagel’s laundry list of problems the new president must deal with, and advice on how to do so.
The oration was both clear and comprehensive, addressing most of the major issues of the day and providing unambiguous opinions and recommendations. The speech came across in the way its title would suggest, like a general memo summarizing Hagel’s positions on the main points of the election. The senator from Nebraska renewed his call for phased troop withdrawal from Iraq, insisted that we work in closer consultation with our allies, supported negotiation with Iran, highlighted the potential dangers of climate change, and noted that Doha remains important as well.
On the whole, however, there was little to distinguish Hagel’s speech from those of the many politicians, pundits, and think-tankers who focus on the same issues and advocate similar measures. That lack of originality gave the otherwise interesting and well-delivered address a decidedly mundane aftertaste.
The real breath of fresh air in the speech, and the part making headlines, was Hagel’s insistence that the candidates must avoid intensifying the partisanship of the election. (more…)
Bipartisanship has its advantages. A bipartisan process is more likely to get policy based on values that Americans broadly agree on, and a bipartisan process is less likely to accept mistaken evidence because many eyes will have examined the evidence from different perspectives.
But we need to remember, especially at Across the Aisle, that bipartisanship should rarely, if ever, be a goal for its own sake. The United States in recent years has made all sorts of “bipartisan” foreign policy errors.
And we’re on our way to another one, if the House-led effort to crack down on oil market speculators makes it into law.
In recent years as a New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman has often opined based on his values, and his columns can sometimes seem partisan and shrill. But when he writes as an economist, he is almost always sharp and clear and insightful (who am I to offer broad criticism of one of the leading international economists of our time? I once tried to get him to join my committee of advisors on my Ph.D. dissertation, but since I studied graduate international economics at MIT when he was on leave, meaning that I took the class with another great contemporary international economist, Avinash Dixit, Krugman demurred. Bottom line: I have my personal views about Krugman’s economics writings, but a dispassionate observer would be perfectly justified in taking his views much more seriously than mine.).
Krugman’s column in today’s Times about speculation in the oil market seems solidly on point, based on well-argued economics. And he offers much more detailed analysis on his blog (here is the most recent post in a series, which started here). Blaming “speculators” for the run-up in oil prices and passing bipartisan legislation to crack down on speculators in hopes of driving down the price of gas in the U.S. is misguided.
It was just over twenty years ago, on June 23 1988, that Dr. James Hansen, who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told a U.S. Senate committee that the year’s record temperatures were not the result of natural variation. As a result global warming irrevocably became part of official political discourse.
Last year Hansen said that a global tipping point will be reached by 2016 if the human population is unable to reduce greenhouse gases. He said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios for future sea level rise do not take into account ice sheet disintegration, which could cause several meters of sea level rise during the next century.
It is important to remember that even before his 1988 testimony Hansen was sounding the alarm. In 1981 he and a team of scientists at Goddard had reached the conclusion that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to global warming sooner than previously predicted. While other climatologists had already predicted that a trend would be apparent by 2020, Hansen predicted, in a paper published in Science, that the change was already occurring and that there would be record high temperatures as early as 1990. He also predicted that it would be difficult to convince politicians and the public to react.
The history of Hansen is instructive for what it says about the American government’s ability to deal with a real global threat. After decades of even acknowledging there could be a problem it then switched to minimizing the dangers. When even that became impossible it switched to suppressing information about it.
Senator McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate for President, has, over the years, made a virtue out of inconsistency when the logic of consistency has not always been a virtue. This has been part of his appeal to independents and to others who gaze at the political world not from partisan eyes but through analytical lenses. What some observers may interpret as an inconsistency or paradox, others view as logical and well-formulated understanding. In this context, it is difficult to separate campaign rhetoric from serious policy, to differentiate politics from policy.
One apparent inconsistency in the campaign that involves U.S.-Russian relations is worth exploring. Earlier this year, the Senator surprised some observers by proposing that Russia be excluded from the G-8 group of industrial democracies. Then, on May 27th, in a speech outlining a comprehensive U.S. approach to foreign policy and proliferation that revealed clearly his internationalist mind-set, he urged continuation of cooperation with Russia on programs of mutual interest such as cooperative threat reduction (aka Nunn-Lugar or “loose nukes” program) and a host of related nonproliferation and anti-terrorist programs. How punitive action depriving Russia of the status among the G-8 would advance cooperation on nonproliferation has puzzled more than one observer. Senator McCain has since distanced himself from his G-8 statement on Russia, but the motive underlying his initial thinking merits some analysis and can shed light on his national security thinking.
The Bush administration’s unilateralism and incompetence, typified by its reckless invasion of Iraq, have damaged perceptions of the United States in much of the world. By many accounts, China has taken advantage of this lapse in U.S. leadership by bolstering its own influence across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. But a new study of perceptions in Asia suggests that favorable opinions of the U.S. will outlast the Bush years and that China still has a long way to go before it can match America’s soft power. This offers grounds for optimism that forecasts of America’s global decline are premature and that a new U.S. president with a more multilateral foreign policy will find many overseas partners who seek and support his leadership.
The new study is a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the East Asia Institute of more than 6,000 people in China, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and the United States. The survey, conducted before this year’s unrest in Tibet and the devastating Sichuan earthquake, asked ordinary citizens questions about how they view each country’s culture, economy, politics, and influence. The findings are striking: majorities in every country except Indonesia see U.S. influence in Asia as positive, and Asians have more positive perceptions of America’s diplomatic, political, and human capital power than they do of China’s. Even Chinese views of America’s soft power are quite favorable: 44% of Chinese would pick the U.S. as their first choice for their children’s higher education. What’s more, pluralities or majorities in most countries state that U.S. influence in Asia has increased over the last 10 years. All of this suggests that, despite the many failings of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, the underpinnings of America’s standing in Asia remain strong.
This morning, we got Ambassador Tom Pickering, Bud Mcfarlan, and Rick Barton in a room together to see what they had to say about the kinds of foreign policy our next president could enact with support from both sides of the aisle.
Actually, it’s tahadiya, as opposed to hudna, which means calm or cease fire (sometimes spoken of as a truce). It’s interesting that in the Middle East, even a temporary, grudging condition-laden cessation in the fighting has to be negotiated. For the amount of time Israelis and Arabs (not to mention a host of other intermediaries, including US presidents) have spent at the negotiating table, they could have gotten through a lull, a calm, a cease fire, a truce, an armistice, a treaty, and moved on to solving world hunger, the energy crisis, and working out deals for Brad Pitt’s next dozen movies. They could have, that is, if it were anywhere other than the Middle East. But at least the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiation (this time under Egyptian auspices) has given rise to what experts are calling a “lull” in the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Inshala.
I’m not just writing this to highlight the absurdity of drawn out negotiations over something as pessimistically titled as a “lull”—it almost invites speculation about who’ll manufacture a violation first, and take advantage of it to catch the other side off guard—but rather to offer you, dear reader, a bit of detail about the nature of this agreement that I find infinitely more revealing than the reams of colorful descriptions coming from the mainstream press. So, here goes. (These details, by the way, are courtesy of the loosely IDF affiliated Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Tel Aviv—hardly an impartial source, but their information is generally solid.)
In a recent article published by the New York Times, David Kirkpatrick traces John McCain’s views about foreign conflicts all the way back to 1974. During that year, McCain submitted an essay to the National War College in which he argued that the American soldiers held captive in prison camps during the Vietnam conflict often collaborated with the North Vietnamese because of the antiwar movement in the United States. Fidelity to one’s country, no matter how strong at the commencement of a military campaign, can quickly disintegrate when soldiers perceive that there is little or no public support for a war effort. In McCain’s own words, detainees stuck in these camps “were easy marks for Communist propaganda” because large portions of the American public did not support the conflict in Vietnam.
McCain doesn’t seem to be saying that the antiwar movement was the sole cause of the traitorous collaboration he experienced as a P.O.W. Rather, the antiwar movement enhanced the emotional appeal of collaboration in the minds of captured American soldiers by making the war seem pointless and immoral. How did the antiwar movement accomplish this exactly? Well, that’s where the fundamental premises of McCain’s argument get a bit difficult to articulate and disentangle. It seems that the underlying logic goes like this: Where a conflict like Vietnam comes to seem pointless and counterproductive, it becomes natural and reasonable for the soldiers captured during battle to change sides and support the social and political institutions seeking a quick end to the conflict. And, if you can convince these soldiers that the war has no sound moral or political justification, ceteris paribus their loyalties and sympathies will naturally tend to shift as they increasingly come to identify with the enemy. As a result they will begin to proactively collaborate with their sworn enemy, despite the fact that doing so makes them traitors.
Next Page »
Barry Posen has a very insightful and clear analysis of Iraqi politics in today’s Boston Globe. For me, perhaps the best sentence comes near the end:
Predictions about the likely course of politics and violence in Iraq are difficult; there are too many variables.
Too many proposals for what the U.S. should do in Iraq rely on detailed understanding of the status of the political (and military) strength of various factions. We should be skeptical; even Posen’s astute analysis relies on major simplifications — for example, we know that the frequent division of Iraqi Shiite interests into two groups (the Supreme Council and the Sadrists) is a big simplification, because both of those groups are fractured within on some issues, and other groups also contest power (the most frequently mentioned is the Fadila party, called a splinter from the Sadrists). Perhaps the best way to judge predictions about the future of Iraq — and American policy options — is to think about how much they rely on getting the subtleties of Iraqi politics and the intra-Iraq military balance exactly right.
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.