Final Thoughts from Moscow

by Matthew Rojansky | November 28th, 2008 | |Subscribe

(This is Part III in a series of posts from Moscow)

Where Next?
 
If the history of US-Russia relations proves anything, it is that things could always get worse.  But how can we at least try to improve the situation?  Here are a few discreet lessons and proposals for US policymakers distilled from my latest round of conversations with top Russian thinkers:
 
1)  The ball is in America’s court.  Russians believe they’ve tried and tried again to reach agreement with the Bush administration to at least enshrine the balance of the status quo in the US-Russia relationship, and yet the US keeps taking steps (Georgia, NATO expansion, missile defense) to unsettle that balance.  If Medvedev’s post-election saber-rattling shows anything, it is that Moscow is not prepared to take the first conciliatory step, even if it does not necessarily profit from escalating tension (for the past several weeks, Medvedev and Putin have been trying to minimize ripple effects from Medvedev’s ungracious reaction to Obama’s victory, and have suggested the new presidents could make progress).
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From Russia with Policy Analysis

by Matthew Rojansky | November 27th, 2008 | |Subscribe

(This is Part II in a series of posts from Moscow)

A look at two more key themes emerging from the comments of a wide range of Russian experts and ordinary folks I’ve heard from this week:

Growing Indifference to Economic Relationship
There is no doubt that Russia has been struck every bit as hard by the global financial crisis as the US has.  The Russian stock market has tanked, and companies are cutting back jobs and wages to a degree not seen here since the crash of 1998, although average working Muscovites still say that the crash a decade ago was far more sudden, and for that reason scarier.  In part, the latest crash has reminded Russians that they are not insulated from the global economy, and that participation in a global rescue strategy would be very much in their interests.  At the same time, the crisis has fueled resentment, and growing indifference to the perceived unfairness of US-led western economic institutions, which continue to exclude Russia, despite its huge share of the global energy market.  In fact, as a natural resource supplier, Russia is no longer particularly desirous of accession to western clubs like the WTO (which would not impact energy trade), and most experts I spoke with said the window of opportunity had passed to curry favor or gain leverage with Moscow through serious steps toward WTO accession. 

That said, multinational and US companies operating in Russia still strongly support WTO accession, and there’s no doubt that progress on that front would be welcome.  Some called it nice to have, but not necessary, or “too little and too late, but not altogether unwelcome.”  Likewise, if the US were to at long last drop the Cold War era (1974) “Jackson Vanick” Amendment, which imposed restrictions on US-USSR trade as punishment for Soviet persecution of Jews seeking immigration to Israel, it would be considered a “necessary but not sufficient” positive step to restoring trust and goodwill in the US-Russia commercial relationship.  Keeping this measure on the books in the US is increasingly absurd, especially since Russia just signed a visa-free travel agreement with Israel, and is merely a reflection of successive US administrations’ unwillingness to invest even minimal political capital in the relationship with Russia.
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Happy Thanksgiving From Mother Russia

by Matthew Rojansky | November 27th, 2008 | |Subscribe

(This is Part I in a series I will post from Moscow over the next few days)

Earlier this week, Russia dispatched a powerful naval fleet to Caracas Venezuela, as a show of force in support of President Dmitry Medvedev’s highly successful Latin American tour, which included arms deals with Venezuela and trade and diplomatic deals with Brazil, among other accomplishments trumpeted in the Russian press.  A US State Department spokesman derided the events, suggesting the Russian ships might need tugboats, and insisting that the region still looks to the US first for political, economic, diplomatic and military power.  But de facto American hegemony in Latin America—and for that matter outside the western hemisphere—may no longer be either feasible or desirable for the United States.  That’s what Russians tell me, anyway.  And I’m inclined to listen.
 
I am in Moscow this week, engaging in some interesting (let’s call them “track 3″) conversations with leading Russian international relations scholars, average citizens, and the occasional disgruntled goverment type.  The conversations have dealt with a wide range of topics, including everyone’s favorite game in Moscow, like in Washington, of guessing Obama’s appointees for key national security and economic posts.  But in each case, I have pursued the same basic line of inquiry: how can the incoming Obama administration create and then maximize an opportunity to restore positive, productive relations between the US and Russia, resulting if possible in a lasting strategic partnership?  The answers have been fascinating as they were varied.  Here’s Part I of my snapshot of Russian perspectives on the US-Russia relationship:

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Make the UN Ambassador a Cabinet Level Position

by Raj Purohit | November 25th, 2008 | |Subscribe

A short post from me this morning but I have noticed a few commentators asking whether the U.S. Ambassador to the UN will be a cabinet level position (see here and here). I must say that this is an idea I support. I really hope that the President-elect and his team chooses to strengthen the position of UN Ambassador and elevate its profile by making it a cabinet level position. After eight years of eroding U.S. credibility at the UN, we need a public signal that the country is returning to multilateralism and if President Obama were to make a move of this type, it would be noted at the various country missions in NYC. Additionally, I think that there is a case to be made for giving the next Ambassador a portfolio of critical issues to manage and really own – in times such as these we need to have an active and agenda setting posture at the UN and an “all-hands-on deck” approach to foreign policy.

As an aside, I also like the idea of Dr. Susan Rice filling the position.

Afghanistan: Obama’s Iraq?

by David Isenberg | November 25th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Future historians will inevitably link George W. Bush with Iraq, and probably not in a very flattering way. Will they do something similar with Barack Obama and Afghanistan?

Of course it is too soon to say. But as Afghanistan wavers towards, if not on the brink, of disaster, one can’t help but wonder what Obama’s future national security team will be thinking and recommending.

Despite all the U.S. has done in Afghanistan or tried to do things are far from good. A recent UNICEF report found that violations of children’s rights are increasing in Afghanistan with more attacks against schools, more children killed and more evidence of child sexual abuse.

On the one hand Obama pledged to withdraw forces from Iraq and increase them in Afghanistan. So he may be pleased that Marine Corps leaders are devising a plan to send more than 15,000 additional combat troops to Afghanistan to wage aggressive warfare against the Taliban that they expect could take years, assuming they receive approval from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David H. Petraeus.

That would be in addition to the more than 30,000 American troops, mostly from the Army, already in Afghanistan and the additional 30,000 troops from other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries and allies also there to combat the Taliban and other Islamist insurgent forces.

But finding more Marines to send won’t be easy unless there is a significant drawdown in Iraq, where they have been, west of Baghdad, since 2004. The Marines have about 22,000 there, assigned mostly to back up Iraqi security forces. So that might provide an additional incentive for Obama to make good on his pledge to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 16 months.

On the other hand U.S. military officials have already started talking about how they can’t possibly meet that schedule, so Obama could face significant opposition to trying to redeploy troops quickly. Would he be willing to spend the political capital?

Sending more troops could be a replay of the significant international opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said he has doubts about U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s plans. Kouchner said plans that increase troop numbers would only work “in precise areas with a precise task.” He said France thinks military power alone won’t stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. (more…)

Renewing the U.S.-UN Relationship

by Michael Landweber | November 20th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Today, PSA and the UN Foundation released a bipartisan statement signed by more than three dozen former high-level foreign policy officials encouraging the incoming Obama Administration to fully engage with the United Nations.  The signatories include four former Cabinet Secretaries, eight former Senators, four former UN Ambassadors, three former National Security Advisors and two former Governors, who all believe the U.S.-UN relationship needs to be revitalized.

The statement makes an important case for action on key issues of strategic importance to the UN and the U.S.  You can read about the nine specific recommendations for the Obama Administration here.  However, I want to draw attention to two things that the statement does not do.

First, it does not deliver faint praise for the United Nations as an institution.  There are flaws that will always be inherent in a multilateral mechanism that brings all the countries in the world together under one roof.  Any U.S. engagement with the UN must include strong leadership on reform efforts.  To paper over these flaws with blind admiration prevents us from understanding the limitations and possibilities of the UN.

However, this statement also does not condemn the institution for those flaws.  Too often, the unwieldy structure and contradictory actions of the UN make easy targets for those who would like to turn their backs on multilateral processes.  But to focus only on the negative aspects of the UN backs the U.S. into a corner where nothing can be accomplished without first smoothing ruffled feathers.

If there is one thing that this bipartisan statement pinpoints, it is that the U.S. cannot let our rhetoric get in the way of our ability to effectively utilize the opportunities and tools provided by the UN for achieving our foreign policy and international security goals.

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re: Drones in Pakistan

by Raj Purohit | November 20th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Simon Cameron-Moore writing for Reuters notes that the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan was summoned to Islamabad to protest over recent drone attacks. Moore notes that:

“Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called the missile attacks “intolerable” and voiced hope President-elect Barack Obama’s government would show more restraint.”These kinds of acts are counter-productive … it adds to our problems,” Gilani said, adding he was sure when “Obama’s government is formed, these attacks will be controlled.”

There can be little doubt that use of these drones are harming U.S.-Pakistani relations and weakening the democratic government of that troubled country. Again, I am not suggesting an absolute ban on the strike drones but there needs to be a recognition that their use for anything other than the top 2-3 Al Qaeda targets is proving to be highly problematic. The use of these strike drones is causing instability in Pakistan – that is a fact we must address.

Drones in Pakistan

by Raj Purohit | November 18th, 2008 | |Subscribe

William S thinks that they have been been tacitly accepted:

The U.S. and Pakistan “reached tacit agreement in September on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy that allows unmanned Predator aircraft to attack suspected terrorist targets in rugged western Pakistan, according to senior officials in both countries.”

And I think that Andrew is, at least, considering this point.

I have to disagree – my sources suggest they are a huge problem and Bloomberg carries news of Pakistani push back:

Pakistan denied giving the U.S. approval to target suspected militants on its territory, after the Washington Post said the nations had reached an agreement on allowing missile strikes by unmanned Predator drones.

“There is no tacit understanding,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshitold lawmakers yesterday when asked about the report, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan said.

My feeling is that we need to reduce the use of these drones and seriously consider whether the cost of using them is worth paying. The fact is that they are killing civilians. It is one thing to use them to target those at the very top of the Al Qaeda tree, it is another to use them as the weapon of choice. Better options are available. Some analysts are calling for increased intelligence gathering and placing additional resources behind multifaceted effort to snatch targets instead of striking them from the air. That is something I cannot speak to but I will say that the drones are causing us real problems in Pakistan and harming the democratic government we should be supporting.

Of Detention and Punishment

by Edwina Chin and John Eden | November 18th, 2008 | |Subscribe

The U.S. Government has submitted its opposition brief in the Al-Marri case, and the central message is clear:

  • The President has the constitutional authority to decide whether an individual should be detained as an enemy combatant and detained indefinitely or charged with a crime and afforded ordinary due process protections.
  • Where the President decides that an individual should be classified as an enemy combatant, that judgment cannot be modified or nullified by a court.

The Government’s argument is grounded in an impressive array of legal materials, including landmark Supreme Court Cases (including Milligan and Quirin), the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) and the Patriot Act. Moreover, the Government’s message is buttressed by very appealing vision of the President’s responsibility to his constituents: He must, to whatever extent he can, short-circuit terrorist plans before they’re carried out.

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No shortage of good advice

by Matthew Rojansky | November 12th, 2008 | |Subscribe

On Sunday, the Washington Post published a series of short comments on what Barack Obama’s “first job” as President should be.  Most were from distinguished global leaders.  Some were from … um … others, like a former Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman.  Not surprisingly, the comments evinced a broad range of priorities, from keeping Americans safe from WMD terror, to addressing the failing economy and global climate crisis, to reclaiming America’s mantle of moral leadership in the world.  I particularly appreciated Zbigniew Brzezinski’s focus on the “conflict-ridden” zone from Egypt to India.  He calls for a comprehensive approach to include 3 major priorities in that region:

1. A readiness to negotiate directly with Iran about its nuclear ambitions and both sides’ regional security concerns, without preconditions and without counterproductive threats of war (though we should keep the option of much more severe sanctions on the table).

2. A revised strategy for Afghanistan that would explore the possibility of local arrangements with various Taliban forces. If local Taliban leaders agree to expel al-Qaeda remnants, consider the possibility of a NATO drawdown in those regions.

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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.