Tag: Bush Administration (page 1 of 2)

The Difference Parties Don’t Make?

To the best of my knowledge, no prominent peer-reviewed article in political science has reported a difference in the frequency with which the United States enters into conflict under Democratic presidents relative to Republican presidents.  That’s not because no one has looked for such a difference (I know I have).  It’s because, to date, no one has found one.  This is the file drawer problem in action.

Now, we want to be careful not to over-interpret that.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  There could be lots of reasons why we might fail to observe such a difference even if it was true that one party was significantly more hawkish than the other.  But when we look at other democracies, we DO find clear evidence that left-leaning governments involve their nations in conflict less often than do right-leaning governments.

As we head into the third presidential debate, it’s worth keeping this in mind.  I am reluctant to say that there’s  not much difference between what US foreign policy would look like under a second Obama administration and what it would look like under a Romney administration.  I can’t know that for a certainty.  But the past provides relatively little clear evidence that those who believe it will can point to.

But wait, you say.  What about Bush?  How can I believe that a Gore administration would have taken the US to war in Iraq?

Well, for starters, Clinton may have selected Gore to be his running mate in 1992 in part because he voted to authorize the Gulf War whereas most prominent Democrats had not.  In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Gore essentially accused Bush of appeasing Saddam, suggesting that there’d have been no need for war if Bush hadn’t tried so hard to befriend him.  Soft on Iraq, Al Gore was not.  Or you might consider all the statements made by Democrats in the late nineties up through 2002 about Iraq and WMD (seriously, go click on that link), or the international town hall meeting the Clinton administration held in February of 1998 to communicate the administration’s dedication to destroying Iraq’s stockpile of WMD, or the bill passed with bipartisan support in the same year calling for regime change.  And, again, there’s the fact that the US has not involved itself in conflict more often under Republicans than Democrats since 1945.  But if you’re still convinced that the 2000 presidential election proved to be very consequential for foreign policy — and I’m willing to entertain such arguments, even if I’m less willing than most to accept them on face value — that doesn’t tell us whether the same will hold in 2012.

There are two important points here.  First, what candidates say they will do in terms of foreign policy is not exactly a perfect predictor of what they’ll actually do in office, any more than opposition to policies enacted by someone else after the fact proves that one would not have pursued the same policy.  Note that Obama’s primary victory over Clinton may well have been driven by the perception of him as an anti-war candidate.  Granted, those who were surprised when he escalated US involvement in Afghanistan clearly didn’t pay close enough attention to what he actually said on the campaign trail.  But neither did he position himself as the type of person who would conduct more drone strikes than Bush (by a considerable margin), nor was it clear that Obama would keep Gitmo open, declare it legal to kill US citizens without first trying and convicting them of crimes, and so forth.

Second, note that Romney’s foreign policy platform to date can be summarized as “I’ll do what Obama would do, but I’ll do it with more swagger.”  Even setting aside concerns about how well campaign rhetoric predicts policy choices made in office (has anyone looked at this systematically?), there’s relatively little difference between the policies these two candidates are currently telling us that they would pursue.

There may not even be much of a puzzle here.  Studies that have found systematic differences in the frequency with which democratic states enter into conflict under left-leaning governments relative to right-leaning governments, such as the one I linked to above, largely focus on minor powers who are allied with the US.  In such countries, foreign policy is largely a luxury good.  By that, I mean that these states look to the US to address their greatest security threats.  A left-leaning government in such a state can refrain from responding to minor incidents in a hostile manner without much affecting their security.  Similarly, a right-leaning government can behave a bit more aggressively when dealing with minor incidents, content in the knowledge that their actions will have little impact on the nation’s security.  Put differently, when you outsource large part of your security policy to a superpower, you can afford to treat the areas you retain control over as a venue for symbolic politics.  The smaller you are, the more you can afford to cater to your base without compromising your security.  Superpowers might be playing by different rules though.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that we know for a certainty that there’s no difference between US foreign policy under Democratic and Republican presidents.  What I’m saying is that we have some theoretical reason to expect that there might not be much difference, and an absence of persuasive evidence that there is much of a difference.  There’s always the possibility that existing attempts to establish a difference between the parties have overlooked something important, or that this time will be different.  And I haven’t said a word about the impact of the party of the president on domestic policy (nor shall I, since that’s a subject that’s well outside my area of expertise).  But it’s at least plausible that the difference between how Democratic and Republican presidents behave in office, with respect to foreign policy, is far smaller than many realize.


Social Science and Bush Policy Towards Iraq

 I have already posted at the Duck and also at my blog on the spat between Tom Ricks and Peter Feaver.  Today, Feaver responded to Ricks.  I don’t want to get into the he said/he said debate.  I just want to raise one point and then develop it a bit:

Feaver is not really doing social science here.  He is seeking to explain why a particular decision happened, but he is missing a huge opportunity to develop a general understanding of Presidential behavior about the deployment of troops.  He is only focused on the surge, and his narrative suggests that Bush was making some good, tough decisions to push the surge even when some (not all) of the senior military leadership opposed it.  The problem here is that Feaver could have asked a slightly different question, which would have been more interesting and more relevant beyond who gets credit for the surge: what explains the variations in Bush behavior from genial, go along, let Rummy mismanage the war to the tough decider?  In the Feaver story, Bush is pretty sharp especially with the implicit comparison to the doofus who got the US into a land war in Asia (at least Obama is getting us into an air war in Africa–no wise aphorisms about that).  So what explains that?

Let me suggest a comparison across cases: Clinton in 1995, Bush in 2006/7, Obama in 2009: all three Presidents faced roughly the same decision: to expend significant political capital to pull out troops (European for Clinton, US for Bush, US and essentially NATO+ for Obama) in a questionable, somewhat failing war effort OR reinvest with additional Americans and effort.  Once Bill Clinton committed to his European pals that he would use US forces to extract them from Bosnia if necessary, the choice of using US troops to enforce a peace became much more palatable.  With Bush facing a huge defeat in Iraq, the choice to invest just a bit further with some new generals (Petraeus and Odierno) and a new SecDef Gates and more troops, the decision was easier.  Obama did not want to send more troops into Afghanistan, but ultimately chose to do so as a last chance to find some success.

What does this scream?  Prospect theory, baby.  Gambling to avoid losses is a basic tendency according to the cognitive psychologists.  We are more risk acceptant when it comes to avoiding losses and more risk averse when it comes to gambling for gains (Jack Levy has several good pieces on this stuff including this one).  I am no expert on psychological approaches to foreign policy and international relations (that’s Brian’s gig), but it seems to me that we have a fairly simple (dare I say parsimonious?) explanation of Presidents making decisions about the deployment of force that is consistent across continents, economic times (good or bad), uni- or multi-lateral efforts, and so on.

The key is to think about the variation within the Bush Administration (a most similar comparison) or perhaps the similarities across Administrations (most different, more or less).  The spat between Ricks and Feaver is on the details of one case, but we can learn far more by comparing.

A Truth Commission for Iraq

Back in 2003, the name Ricardo Sanchez appeared in several posts on my personal blog. At the time, the now-retired General was “the top U.S. military official in Iraq.”

Over the years, Sanchez provided honest and forthright assessments of the Iraq war. Even though I didn’t always agree with his analysis of what should be done, I respected his contributions to the political debate. Lately, he’s been pushing a “truth commission” for Iraq and I think that the U.S. should pursue something like that to document the course of the Iraq war.

Sanchez’s evolving views of the Iraq war are worth outlining.

In October 2003, Sanchez pointed out that violence in Iraq was increasing, despite political figures at home bragging about improved life without Saddam Hussein. In November of that year, Sanchez used the word “war” to describe the post-“mission accomplished” environment in Iraq.

In October 2007, Sanchez gave a fairly prominent speech that was very critical of the Bush administration’s prosecution of the Iraq war.

From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the Administration’s latest surge strategy, this Administration has failed to employ and — and synchronize its political, economic, and military power. The latest revised strategy is a desperate attempt by the Administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war and they have definitely not been able to communicate effectively that reality to the American people.

He continued by adding, “There has been a glaring, unfortunate, display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders.” In his view, too many decisions about the war reflected partisanship rather than the needed cooperation and bipartisanship needed to achieve success.

He criticized, for instance, “inept coalition management” and all-around “failure” by the National Security Council. The speech was a little short on detail, but Sanchez clearly thought that there was plenty of blame to go around. The “greatest failures in this war can be linked to America’s lack of commitment, priority, and moral courage in this war effort.” Specifically, “America must hold all national agencies accountable for developing and executing the political and economic initiatives that will bring about stability, security, political, and economic hope for all Iraqis.”

In his memoir, published a few years ago, Sanchez said that the Bush administration “led America into a strategic blunder of historic proportions.”

Most recently, Sanchez has been calling for a “truth commission” to investigate the torture and other abuses that occurred in Iraq. “If we do not find out what happened,” he says “then we are doomed to repeat it.”

I’ve been thinking about Sanchez’s “truth commission” a great deal lately because of the fact that the Obama administration, pro-war Republicans (not the Ron Paul wing, small as it is) and the Army have together embraced a narrative crediting “the surge” with making Iraq a success story after all. Obama’s own “surge” in Afghanistan commits his administration to the Iraq example. Republicans get to pretend that the Iraq war wasn’t a horrible mistake from the planning stages and the Army saves face and avoids a Vietnam-like diminution of its relevance and credibility.

I’ve blogged about the flaws in this logic previously. Additionally, Andrew Bacevich’s latest book deftly explains why this narrative is inaccurate — though he acknowledges its prominence.

What could correct the narrative? Maybe only Sanchez’s imagined truth commission. Unfortunately, while the UK conducted a war inquiry, I do not expect to see anything like it in the USA.

The “drug war” is over?

Over the years, the so-called global “war on terror” (or “war on terrorism”) has had its ups and downs as a foreign policy framing device. The George W. Bush administration, of course, relied upon the frame to sell virtually all its major foreign policies over a period of many years — even though the Pentagon at one point preferred “struggle against violent extremists.” Britain stopped using the phrase some years ago (at least in the Labor government).

Barack Obama’s administration allegedly abandoned the phrase very early in his term — in favor of alternatives like “overseas contingency operations.” However, with a little searching, it’s not difficult to find official spokespersons (like Robert Gibbs)  — or even the President himself — continuing to use those words after announcing that they wouldn’t.

Somehow, I missed the Obama administration’s similar early announcement that it was also going to stop using the phrase “war on drugs.” The Wall Street Journal reported this story May 14, 2009:

The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

We haven’t discussed the “war on drugs” very much here at the Duck of Minerva, but it has long had a significant effect on public policy — especially domestic policy as recently demonstrated in a drug-themed issue of The Nation. This is an excellent summary of the costs from Ohio State Law Professor Michelle Alexander’s piece in that issue:

More than 30 million people have been arrested since 1982, when President Reagan turned Nixon’s rhetorical “war against drugs” into a literal war against poor people of color. During the past few decades, African-American men, in particular, have been arrested at stunning rates, primarily for nonviolent, relatively minor drug offenses—despite data indicating that people of all races use and sell drugs at remarkably similar rates. In some states, 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders admitted to prison have been African-American, and when released they find themselves ushered into a parallel universe where they are stripped of many of the rights supposedly won during the civil rights movement. People labeled felons are often denied the right to vote and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits—relegated to a second-class status for life simply because they were once caught with drugs.

She put the economic cost of the war at “more than $1 trillion in the past few decades.”

Clearly, America’s “carceral state,” which Charli recently mentioned, reflects the outcome of the drug war. Of course “contact with the criminal justice system” is going to be a “significant predictor of civic and political disengagement and mistrust of government.” Felons are frequently denied the freedom to vote.

I recall more than 20 years ago thinking about writing a rhetorical analysis about George H.W. Bush’s use of the phrase “war on drugs” to rally support for his domestic and foreign initiatives. But I didn’t. The cold war was still raging, my dissertation concerned strategic defense — and I needed to find a tenure track job. Members of the IR Copenhagen School have long discussed the securitization of this issue, but few American IR scholars have taken it very seriously — even when it occasionally spilled over into “hot” rather than merely metaphorical war.

The Obama administration doesn’t use the phrase “war on terror,” but has escalated American intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The “war in Iraq” has ended, but 50,000 American troops remain to help provide security.

I suspect the decision to stop using the phrase “war on drug” will have similar policy consequences. Indeed, that recent issue of The Nation demonstrates the continued failings of U.S. policy in this area.


During any Presidential Administration, there are heated debates, accusations of horrible mismanagement, and political intrigue, but they are actively papered over and downplayed by a powerful White House communications operation dedicated to protecting the image of the President. Once everyone leaves office, however…..

It seems the floodgates of insider accounts that “make news” and tell heretofore unknown details about the good old days of the Bush Administration are opening, and the stream of details might be more interesting than most.

Tom Ridge, the first secretary of Homeland Security, has a memoir coming out September 1, and the tease of salacious material is the revelation that the Administration did in fact manipulate the color-coded threat level with political considerations in mind.

Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is also working on his memoir, and there are sure to be others (I’m not going to do the exhaustive list, you get the idea…)

The most interesting of course are those from the principles themselves. Former President Bush is working on a memoir where he revisits the 10 most important decisions from his presidency, focusing on terrorism and how it dominated his presidency.

And of course there’s the revelation that former VP Cheney is also at work, penning a memoir (the old fashion way, on legal pads that someone else can type up for him…) where he breaks with Bush on some key issues. Cheney, of course, was famous for deriding those who wrote tell-all books, right up until he started writing one.

With all these memoirs, there will be the obligatory book tour and media appearances on all the major cable TV outlets. These guys need to sell books, so they will lay out some hints of juicy gossip and brilliant insight.

As interesting, I think, is methodological question of how to use these documents as sources for the upcoming article on decision-making in the Bush White House (what–you don’t have that started yet?). On the one hand, these are valuable, primary source documents, the recollections of decision-makers and participants (or at least recollections as told to their ghost-writers/assistants). For scholars writing about the massive shifts in US foreign policy of the first Bush term, it might be useful to include both Bush’s and Cheney’s views on a key decision–information that can easily be gleaned from memoirs.

However, its important to be careful how one uses memoirs. I’m reminded of the exchange between Brooks and Wholforth and English about the end of the Cold War. In arguing over competing arguments over the same events using much of the same evidence, they pick a fight over how to interpret the memoirs of Gorbachev and other high party officials. Each claims that the memoirs support the argument.

Today, memoirs are about selling books and continuing the image-making process. That said, they still reveal interesting details about a situation that won’t appear in any contemporaneous journalism or even archived memos.

What I’d really like to see–once all the “good” memoirs come out–is a discourse analysis of Bush Administration memoirs. Viewing these books as part of the construction of history rather than attempts at more accurate reconstructions of historic events would be quite the interesting project. Something to file away under the to-do list….

Have pitchfork — will storm castle

I’ve been buried under a lot of work, but I want to surface long enough to say:


At least we’re drawing the line at the UAW. Can’t have those guys pulling in an extra few bucks at taxpayer expense.

You’re no Harry Truman!

Charles Krauthammer is wrong, and I think Matt misses the point as to just how wrong Krauthammer is.

Shorter Krauthammer: Bush is like Truman. Unpopular at the end of his term but history will vindicate him as a pretty good president.

The fundamental flaw with this argument is that it overlooks the actual history of why this is so. Truman was unpopular largely due to the Korean War, which, by the end of his term, was not going well. Ike won, in part, on his famous pledge “I will go to Korea” capitalizing on public dissatisfaction with the stalemate in the war.

Truman is remembered as a great President due to all of the actual accomplishments he achieved while President. The important thing to remember is that these were recognized as significant and historic at the time, well regarded by contemporaries as well as historians. Bretton Woods, the UN, NATO, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, integrating the Armed Forces. All of these accomplishments built a positive, lasting legacy for the United States as a global leader, and these efforts had significant support when they were undertaken.

Once Truman left office, wrote his memoirs, and the Korean War ended, people could then return to the numerous accomplishments of his administration and place him in his proper place as one of America’s better Presidents.

Bush has no such record to reflect upon. Have you seen the things that Barton Gellman is saying on TV everywhere this past week?

Amy Zegart has a more detailed version of this here.

Georgia: retaliatory violence confirmed, US sends military forces as part of relief effort (and as a signal of US commitment) – updated

I ended my last post with the words:

While I think it is far too soon for those of us reading media accounts to pass judgment, many of these accusations are extremely troubling. The Europeans and the US need to continue to make clear that both Russia and Georgia must immediately comply with the letter and spirit of the truce.

President Bush, in fact, made a very strong statement earlier today:

President Bush said Wednesday he is skeptical that Moscow is honoring a cease-fire in neighboring Georgia, demanding that Russia end all military activities in the former Soviet republic and withdraw all its forces.

“The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected,” Bush said sternly during brief remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

“To demonstrate our solidarity with the Georgian people,” the president announced that he was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Paris to assist the West’s diplomatic efforts on the crisis, and then to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

He also announced that a massive U.S. humanitarian effort was already in progress, and would involve U.S. aircraft as well as naval forces. A U.S. C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies is already on the way, and Bush said that Russia must ensure that “all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports,” remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.

“To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe and other nations and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis,” Bush said.

The decision to send military forces into Georgia as the main element of the reconstruction efforts definitely sends a strong signal that the US is willing to assume some risks in order to end the violence. My initial impression is that this is a smart move, despite the lingering dangers involved [except it turns out to be less than “token” so far… largely in-and-out flights and a hospital ship].

And it is becoming all too clear that the Russians and their irregular allies have been engaging in some last-chance retaliation for the Georgian offensive.

The BBC confirms that Ossetian irregulars are looting and pillaging in Gori, as Russian troops look on. While Al Jazeera reports that the Russians have, indeed. sunk several Georgian vessels in Poti.

“We have seen more and more Russian troops coming into the area all day – a continuous build up of forces including columns of tanks and truck all along the roads here.

“They came into this area and destroyed six Georgian vessels.

“From what we understand, they came with the specific task of destroying all the military facilities of the Georgians,” she said.

But this final push to humiliate and cripple the Georgians even further may be ending, at least according to Georgian officials who report that the Russians are now pulling back from Zugdidi and will leave Gori soon. The Russians, for their part, describe their actions as “enforcing” the cease fire.

Russia said its forces had dismantled and destroyed military hardware and ammunition at an undefended Georgian military base near Gori on Wednesday.

A Russian military statement said the action was taken in the interest of demilitarising the conflict zone.

… On a different note: John Roberts, writing for the BBC, paints an interesting picture of the effect of the conflict on future investment in Georgia.

… Saakashvili, shockingly enough, says that Georgia will leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

… EU member-states agree to play a role in monitoring the peace agreement.

… The Russians are claiming violations of the ceasefire agreement by the Georgians. They say they’ve shot down two drones in the last day or so and that Georgian forces have not actually withdrawn from the area around South Ossetia.

… Rob Farley has a nice piece with preliminary thoughts about comparative military effectiveness in the conflict.

Georgia: Thoughts on what it might mean

With the Confrontation in the Caucasus seemingly over, I wanted to try to think through some of the implications for US foreign policy. Although it was a short conflagration, these past 5 days have the feeling of an important turning point. I don’t think that the Confrontation itself has fundamentally altered the nature of International Politics, but rather it seems endemic of a slow shift that had been underway for some time. Though the past order may have eroded gradually, Russia’s stark exploitation of the situation reveals the full extent of the shift.

First, US credibility and influence has taken a severe blow. Georgia had been a “darling” of the US, sending troops to Iraq, a model of democracy and liberalism in the Caucasus, and potential NATO member. There are clearly mixed signals as to who knew what when. Georgia seems to think that it had either implicit US backing for its moves in South Ossetia or a tacit promise of support should Russia retaliate. Russia seems to have at least thought it had a free hand to intervene within South Ossetia. Its possible the US signaled all of this, just as its possible that the US didn’t intend to signal any of this. As Rob points out, mixed signals happen all the time in IR and we have no shortage of theories to explain it. (Update: The NYT does some reporting on the mixed messages sent by the US).

Regardless of who may have said what to whom, what matters now is who is affixing what meaning to who’s actions. Importantly, Russia’s ability to escalate with relative impunity against a Western ally coupled with such a tepid US, European, NATO, and Western response certainly sends a message. First and foremost: Sending troops to Iraq doesn’t buy you much, get the Article V guarantee first. In other words, aligning with the US doesn’t buy you much in terms of real security because there really isn’t much the US can do in a situation like this. No one (rather I should say no credible and sane person) has suggested that the US intervene to support Georgia and take in Russia.

In a sense, it sounds like the opening chapter of some of the novels on my table for beach reading on my upcoming vacation: A set of covert and suspicious circumstances halfway around the world from two leaders determined to advance their own power agendas leads to a conflict that soon spirals out of control. Pressure builds, and the US is on the verge of intervention, which would mean war between nuclear superpowers, the nightmare of nuclear World War III everyone thought had died in 1991. Only Jack Ryan / Mitch Rapp / Austin Powers can stop nuclear Armageddon…

That’s fiction. The reality is that the limits of US influence have been exposed. Russia had a relatively free hand to do what it did in Georgia and there was nothing that the US (or anyone else for that matter) was going to do about it. If you’re Poland, do you think twice about hosting a missile defense site? If you’re Estonia, do you think twice about your statues? Now, these are NATO allies, but they will now require reassurance, a complex intra-Alliance game. More to the point, what of the rest of the Caucuses and central Asia? What does China think about Taiwan or Mongolia?

It also forces a re-thinking of Bush’s foreign policy legacy. Now, the Administration itself has already completed this process, moving far away from its first term international activism to a more traditional second term pragmatism. The greatest element of Bush’s policy was its promotion of democracy. The multi-colored revolutions, including the Rose in Georgia, were seen, in part, as a successful demonstration effect of Bush’s democratization agenda. This agenda was threatening to Russia and China (and Iran…), where democracy promotion is seen as a form of US imperialism. From a US perspective, the success of Democracy in the Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and such pressures Russia, China, Iran, and such. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian Russia was able to spank Georgia’s Rose Revolution, again setting a marker limiting the influence of US-backed democratization movements.

While democracy promotion may be a normatively preferred plank in US strategy, it suffered a blow here. The pleadings of neoconservatives, still committed to the original Bush project, for intervention on behalf of Georgia drives the agenda to its logical end, a reduction-ad-absurdum that somehow bolsters the appeal of a more traditional realpolitik.

Finally, it shows the end of the unipolar moment. While the US may still enjoy its position of hegemony (and probably will for some time), the end of US Unipolarity has come. Dan’s insight here is prescient and bears repeating:

Russia wants status, wealth, and predominance in what it considers its sphere of influence. Only the last goal brings it into conflict with the US, and perhaps it is time that a less subtle, and more credible, discussion of precisely what that sphere of influence entails needs to happen. It obviously cannot include the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania–and this is one reason why NATO cohesion must be at the top of the US agenda. But there’s something odd in claims that “sphere of influence” are somehow inherently immoral; the real issue seems to be that, in a “unipolar world,” a bid for a sphere of influence means relatively less influence for the US.

In a unipolar world, there is only one sphere of influence—the whole world is the US’s sphere of influence. Russia’s ability to carve any sphere of influence effectively ends Unipolarity (if there ever was such a moment).

The significance of the Confrontation in the Caucasus is not that it ended the Unipolar moment, but that it signaled the end of a unipolar order. Russia has taken an aggressive step in the art of the possible, pushing the boundaries of what a great power can do in this new age of multipolar / non-polar US hegemony.

Edited to correct my spelling mistakes.

A major lapse in judgment?

We all know that Saakashvili made a major miscalculation when he ordered the assault on South Ossetia. Perhaps someday the public will find out what he was really thinking. Did he think, for examples that, he was acting preemptively?

But if Adrian Bloomfield’s report is correct, then he had better reasons than one might think to misjudge the situation–and the Bush administration has yet another terrible foreign-policy mistake to answer for:

Mr Saakashvilli may also have banked on support from his closest ally, US president George W Bush, whose administration is said to have given tacit support for a Georgian assault on South Ossetia in the believe that the territory could be recaptured within 48 hours.

But as events have unfolded differently, Washington has offered Georgia – one of the largest contributors of troops in Iraq – little more than lukewarm vocal support.

In a demonstration of the fact that Georgia could be abandoned by its chief ally, President Bush warmly embraced Mr Putin at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing on Friday.

With the West apparently unwilling to participate in a proxy war with Russia at a time when relations with Moscow are already highly strained, Georgia now faces potential isolation in its conflict with its giant neighbour.

Note, however, Bloomfield’s use of the passive construction? Said by whom? Is this merely the zeitgeist in a Georgia facing a devastating present and an uncertain future, another instance of calculated disinformation, or a reliable indication of what some observers already suspect?

The Eight Year Itch

Eight years later, and we’re back to the same spot with North Korea.

Lets review:

After a nuclear crisis that nearly results in war, the Clinton Administration reaches a nuclear deal with North Korea. After up and down implementation, North Korea lashes out with an ICBM test. Negotiations eventually resume, resulting in a more robust deal and further cooperation by North Korea. Things go so well that Secretary of State Madeline Albright visits North Korea at the end of the administration.

The Bush Administration enters office determined to take a different line on North Korea. Bush famously says he “loathes” Kim Jong Il, and includes the DPRK in the Axis of Evil. North Korea, frustrated with the lack of progress in its attempts to win / extort concessions from the US, presses ahead with both its missile and bomb programs, provocatively testing both. After the nuclear test, negotiations resume, resulting in an agreement to disarm and the high-profile destruction of a cooling tower at the Yongbyong reactor site. And now, the Secretary of State is again meeting the North Koreans.

Yes, an overly-simplified history. But still, one is left to wonder what, if any, good came of the past 8 years, as it sure looks we’re right back where we started, playing the same game again, hoping that somehow this time will be different. You wonder what might have been if we had just stayed the course after the first visit.

Fish out of water?

The figure at right is borrowed from a U.S. government website of Dennis A Wolf, a statistician with Oak Ridge National Lab. This particular image relates to a short article: “Assessing Fish Susceptibility to Predation.

As anyone can clearly see, fish exposed “to a startling stimulus” do not flop. Rather, they exhibit “the characteristic C-shape (see figure)… behavioral response.” They start swimming in a completely different direction.

Perhaps foreign policy observers should apply this knowledge when analyzing the Bush administration’s latest policies towards the axis of evil:

This morning, the Washington Post features this headline: “U.S., Iraq Agree To ‘Time Horizon’“:

President Bush and Iraq’s prime minister have agreed to set a “time horizon” for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq as part of a long-term security accord they are trying to negotiate by the end of the month, White House officials said yesterday.

The decision, reached during a videoconference Thursday between Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, marks the culmination of a gradual but significant shift for the president, who has adamantly fought — and even ridiculed — efforts by congressional Democrats to impose what he described as artificial timetables for withdrawing U.S. forces.

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an op-ed by Graham Allison about the latest U.S. policy towards Iran: “Bush’s U-turn toward common sense.” The subheading explains Allison’s argument: “Talks with Iran signify that the administration has finally abandoned a failed part of its foreign policy.” Professor Allison:

Anyone with doubts about the extent of the shift in the U.S. approach to Iran should look no further than the howls from the architect of the first-term non-engagement policy toward North Korea and Iran, John Bolton. The administration is guilty of yet another “U-turn,” he argues now, which is “further evidence of the administration’s complete intellectual collapse.” Most reasonable people, however, will applaud this flip-flop toward reality.

In his op-ed, Allison mentions the recent, um, shift, in U.S. policy toward North Korea. The June 27 AP headline in the International Herald Tribune was fairly subtle: “Bush administration lifts North Korea sanctions.” The article’s text identified the dramatic policy reversal, complete with obligatory quote from John Bolton:

President Bush stepped into the Rose Garden to announce plans to remove North Korea from the U.S. terrorism blacklist and ease sanctions against a country he once branded as part of his “axis of evil.”

…”It’s shameful,” said John Bolton, Bush’s former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “This represents the final collapse of Bush’s foreign policy.”

I guess Bolton doesn’t recognize the need for the “characteristic C-shape behavioral response” to a “startling stimulus.”

John Stewart provides a constructivist analysis of Bush Administration policies

“With this administration, if a passenger blows up a plane, it’s a failure in the war on terror. But if the plane just blows up on its own — eh, it’s the market self-regulating.”

Click here to stream the full bit.

I watched this on my DVR and thought, gee, I ought to post it. But Kevin Drum beat me too it, hat tip to him.

Strike in the Dark

For the past 5 months, I’ve been following the strange story of Israel’s bombing of a mysterious site in Syria. In this month’s New Yorker, Seymour Hersh has an excellent look into the subject. Hersh takes a round-up of the major media stories of the event, analyzing how they advance the narrative of the episode, and adds some first-rate reporting from Israel, Syria, and Washington. While his article sheds new and important light on the subject, at its core, it remains a mystery:

Morton Abramowitz, a former Assistant Secretary of State for intelligence and research, told me that he was astonished by the lack of response. “Anytime you bomb another state, that’s a big deal,” he said. “But where’s the outcry, particularly from the concerned states and the U.N.? Something’s amiss.”

Israel could, of course, have damning evidence that it refuses to disclose. But there are serious and unexamined contradictions in the various published accounts of the September 6th bombing.

Hersh reviews the assertions–some questionable, some reasonable–that it was a nuclear site and leaves the distinct impression that at best, this was highly educated guessing. The Israeli officials he interviewed insisted that “something” was there, but offer no more. Even if one is willing to concede that the target was questionable in its nuclear status, the central mystery remains:

If the Israelis’ target in Syria was not a nuclear site, why didn’t the Syrians respond more forcefully? Syria complained at the United Nations but did little to press the issue. And, if the site wasn’t a partially built reactor, what was it?

After extensive research in Syria and elsewhere, the best he can offer is

Whatever was under construction, with North Korean help, it apparently had little to do with agriculture—or with nuclear reactors—but much to do with Syria’s defense posture, and its military relationship with North Korea. And that, perhaps, was enough to silence the Syrian government after the September 6th bombing.

Hersh raises the parallel of Kumchang-Ri, a North Korean site that the US suspected of housing a nuclear reactor. After considerable controversy, the US pressed the issue and cut a deal to inspect the site. The result? A big, empty hole in the ground. Might it be possible that Israeli intelligence analysts were simply wrong about the Syrian site? Perhaps, but if they were wrong, why didn’t Syria say anything? The theme that constantly came up among Israelis was the re-establishment of their deterrent. Following the failures of the IDF against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hezbollah, Syria (and possibly Iran) seemed to think that they had finally achieved an advantage over Israeli military might. This raid did, if anything, point out that Israel can still pack a very powerful punch.

That notion was echoed by the ambassador of an Israeli ally who is posted in Tel Aviv. “The truth is not important,” the ambassador told me. “Israel was able to restore its credibility as a deterrent. That is the whole thing. No one will know what the real story is.”

Oh Dana…

From today’s Post: White House spokeswoman Dana Perino revealed on NPR this weekend that

During a White House briefing, a reporter referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis — and she didn’t know what it was.

“I was panicked a bit because I really don’t know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”

So she consulted her best source. “I came home and I asked my husband,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Wasn’t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dana.’ “

…Shows the relevance of IR theory– had she been in my class, she would have read Essence of Decision!

…I guess she’s not a fan of Kevin Costner movies…

…Don’t know much about History. Don’t know much about Science Books, don’t like the French I took…

…How do you think they got Pigs in space? One of the missiles went horribly awry…

Readers are invited to come up with more “Oh Dana’s” in the comment section.

Elections, Democracy, and USFP

Last week there were two major elections, in Venezuela and Russia, and looking back on them together offers a moment to discuss democracy and US foreign policy of democracy promotion.

This allows us to ask the question—are Russia and Venezuela really democracies? The US has been highly critical of Hugo Chavez and his political revolution in Venezuela, and somewhat less critical of Vladimir Putin and his power grab in Russia. Both purport to be democracies, but the US is challenging that assertion in each case. The elections mark a chance to interrogate our notions about the definition and status of democracy.

In some respects, the mere having of elections might be sufficient to label them democracies. One thing that I’ve noticed of late is the tendency to dumb-down democracy to the mere holding of elections. If you are elected, then you are the legitimate leader, and therefore anything you do is legitimate. As an illustration, recall the declaration of emergency rule in Pakistan. It was roundly condemned in the US, but differently by various people. I had my class do a short discourse analysis assignment on this, and one thing that came up was the difference in how the democrats vs. Bush called for a return to the status-quo ante. Bush simply said: take off the uniform and be elected as a civilian president. Others, however, called for the restoration of the constitution, the restoration of the Supreme Court, and the freeing of jailed opposition leaders. Bush did not. Likewise, think back a few years to Iraq, the purple finger day as they voted in the present government. Iraq had an election and that secured US victory. They voted for a government, and that was all that mattered. Bush, and thus the US, seems to be saying that so long as you are elected, you are a legitimate democratic leader.

This inclination by the Bush Administration has emerged in domestic politics as well, as Bush says don’t question my methods on anti-terrorism, torture, or domestic spying. Don’t oppose my appointments or my war. I won the election, I get to do what I want, end of story. This assertion of executive power has been a stated agenda of VP Cheney, and has served to annoy many a member of Congress.

What is lost in all this is the more nuanced, complex, and messy definition of democracy that includes representative government, rule of law, separation of powers, individual rights, and fairness and equality of all before the law. Bush certainly doesn’t talk about any of this in Iraq. We talk about security, violence, and the elected government. Not discussed is the status of the rule of Iraqi law or the development of national political institutions. These elements are important constitutive elements of a functioning democracy. Democracy is not just about how one attains power (election) but also how one exercises power (laws, institutions) and the limits of that power (laws, rights, checks and balances). Most importantly, democracy locates the source of power within the people, not the leader, allowing the people to transfer power to an opposition without compromising the integrity of the state.

It seems that we’re learning that Chavez’s Venezuela some important parts of this—much more so than Putin’s Russia. Both Chavez and Putin had turned the respective elections into mechanisms that would allow them to hold onto power longer then they are currently allowed under the present rules. Chavez offering constitutional amendments that would permit him an additional term, Putin offering his name at the head of his party’s list such that he might become prime minister after his presidential term is through.

One of the most important moments in a democracy is allowing power to flow back and forth between opposing factions vying for power. It is why George Washington is deservedly an American hero and icon—he set the tone of voluntary giving up the office to a successor, of peacefully passing power from one leader to the next. With his acceptance of the legitimacy of the No vote on the current round of constitutional ‘reforms,’ Chavez has allowed the opposition to win. That’s a positive signal. Putin, on the other hand, bullied and harassed opposition parties he was already poised to trounce.

The real question about the status of democracy in both countries can only be answered at the end of each presidential term. Does each man give up power and pass it on to a successor? Can you really see Chavez handing over power to an opposing government after losing an election. Putin? As much as many didn’t like it (and I’d imagine he really didn’t like it), Clinton gave power to Bush, just as Bush will give power to Clinton or Obama or whoever wins the upcoming US presidential election. Genuine democracies recognize the value of the system and the rights of others to play fairly within the system.

The great failing of the US which occupies so much of the discussion here and elsewhere on this front, is to extol so much of the virtues of democracy, like Bush’s second inaugural, and then abandon those principles in the face of immediate gain or need.

But, I think its valid to ask, so what? Is the US the only country, is Bush the only leader, who offers platitudes of freedom and democracy and then turns on those statements the next day? Why do people get more upset when the US fails to live up to its words than any other country in the world?

I think there are 2 reasons for this.

The first is US Hegemony. The US is not like other nations, its the one that set up this system where Democracy is the preferred system of government, and only the can really change it. The US, as an agent of a liberal hegemony, has made it so that all major international institutions, forums and agendas advance the banner of democracy. Consequently, the US version and views and statements of democracy matter more than others.

The second is disappointment. Despite the fact that so many people don’t like the US (check any global opinion survey) many still want to move here or send their kids to school here. Why? Because, I think, people know that many Americans are largely good folks, and that in daily life, these principles of democracy are better expressed here, by the average American, on a routine basis than just about anywhere in the world. Despite all the structural impediments to advancement often discussed, it is still possible for anyone here to succeed in a way that simply isn’t possible nearly anywhere else in the world. I think people are more disappointed in US failures to live up to those foreign policy platitudes because they know we can, and sometimes do, when others just cannot. Its not all idle talk from the US, and hence the disappointment and betrayal when it can’t live up to the standards it sets for itself and others.

In other words, lots of nations are hypocritical in foreign policy statements, but few to the degree that Americans are. The US always criticizes in the name of such democratic ideals, the US calls for action in the name of such ideals, and much more so than other states who are much more comfortable talking about interests instead of ideals. So, the US talks an idealistic game, but then shirks away in the face of criticism that it violates its own ideals by alliances with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the like.

Or, perhaps there’s a third reason—people really do believe in these American principles of democracy and are deeply pained and hurt to see them thrown under the bus in the name of interest and stability. It certainly could lead if we, as a nation, truly believe those principles, or if those who do are simply fools and patsies for taking them seriously. Indeed, if more Americans were genuinely troubled by compromises in our democracy principles, perhaps the US wouldn’t violate them so much.*

Which brings us back to Chavez and Putin. In both cases, the US will criticize the general direction of the government of each country—probably more heavily Venezuela than Russia. And yet, Chavez, for all the criticism by Bush, is probably the more democratic of the two (or three, if you want to toss in Pakistan—really, more than a lot of US allies) while Putin is the more authoritarian, and taking his country down a more authoritarian path. But, really, what can the US do to Russia? What can the US do in Pakistan? Iraq? Iran?

Democracy is more than just holding elections. Its messy, its hard, and it takes a while to figure out and put into practice. In that time, polities can and do develop the institutions, structures, and processes that make a genuine democracy feel democratic, even in non-election years. Its not something that one can adequately judge moment to moment, it requires a close look nuance and the chain of unfolding events. Perhaps its time to put some of that nuance back into US foreign policy.

*significant debt owed to anonymous friend for inspiring this discussion

MEPP take 2

A US President, needing a signature policy victory, faced with a hostile Congress controlled by the opposing party, nearing the end of his term, seeks ensure his legacy and make a major foreign affairs statement by brokering a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. He brings them together for a big meeting here in the US, hoping to put together the structure of a deal to bring peace to the region.

Sounds familiar. It could be George Bush, presiding over the Mid East Peace conference in Annapolis that starts today. Or, it could be Bill Clinton, making one last push for peace at Camp David back in 2000. You could even argue that it might apply to the senior George Bush and his Madrid conference in 1991. In short, we’ve seen this show before, and I’m not convinced that the current production will have an ending that is in any way markedly different.

Granted, there are a few thing new about Bush’s current conference that make it substantively different than previous peace process attempts. The first is that this is Bush’s first real foray into personal diplomacy for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Entering office in 2001, the administration disengaged from the Mid-East Peace Process that the Clinton Administration was so heavily invested in. Instead, the Bush Administration offered its ‘Roadmap’ for peace, largely removing the US from the daily push for peace talks. The current summit marks the most significant US foray into the issue in over 7 years. A lot has happened in that time.

First and foremost, there is different leadership leading different nations. Yassir Arafat, long the face of the Palestinians, has passed from the scene. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, presides over half a quasi-state, significantly weaker than his predecessor, having essentially lost Gaza to Hamas. Ehud Olmert comes from a secular, pragmatic centrist coalition that broke from the right and picked up some of the left, having up-ended Israeli politics and reduced the influence of certain right-wing religious factions.

Then, there’s the small matter of the Us invasion of Iraq. On the one hand, this makes the US a much bigger player in the Middle East, as it occupies an enormous country in the middle of the map, with hundreds of thousands of troops in the region engaged in active combat. On the other hand, it has significantly weakened and skewed US policy in the region, as everything has been filtered through the lens of Iraq, leaving the core Israeli-Palestinian issues on the sidelines until now. It has also reshaped the role and identity of the US in the region, providing new burdens to public legitimation of any US-brokered deal.

And, there’s the shift in regional power to Iran. Iran’s rise and growing influence (aided in part by the US invasion of Iraq) has troubled both the Israelis as well as some Arab states suspicious of Iran’s bid for regional hegemony. Shi’ia Iran’s ability to appeal to Islamisist groups potentially threatens the secular and Sunni regimes such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, there are another 7 years of fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces and people. Its been a long 7 years, with many on both sides tired of the fighting and eager for some sort of settlement.

So, you might think that these changes would make the conditions ripe for a peace agreement. Perhaps. But, I remain skeptical that this summit and the Bush Administration’s current push will achieve any significant and tangibile results (other than the obligatory joint statement and promise of future negotiations).

Part of the problem lies with the Bush Administration itself. To date, it hasn’t shown itself to be all that concerned with policy implementation and follow-through. It, has succumbed to the classic liberal fallacy that once compromises are made, interests satisfied, and an agreement is reached, the deal is done. The fallacy is that such agreements don’t implement themselves–someone has to take a compromise and legitimize the new set of interests it represents to the group required to make the deal work. The Administration thought that if it simply removed Saddam that the Iraqis would suddenly emerge from their shells, a civil society and market economy would spring up from the people, and everyone would realize that they are all better off in a democracy. Except that it didn’t happen that way–the removal of Saddam’s government removed what little order there was in Iraq, and with no alternative legitimate social order, chaos followed. The terms of the deal that Olmert and Abbas will strike are rather obvious to anyone who has followed this issue over the years. They, and their advisers know what that eventual compromise is. The issue isn’t reaching that compromise, the issue is politically legitimating that compromise to the respective societies in a way that both Olmert and Abbas can be seen as having achieved a victory and not having sold out their people. I haven’t seen any of that rhetorical groundwork in any major form. For such a deal to work, the Administration will need to sell it, legitimize it, and implement it with a concerted Presidential effort far more strenuous than that which was given to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Someone will need to take ownership of this process, in the way Chris Hill has taken responsibility for sheparding the North Korean nuclear deal to fruition.

And, part of the problem lies with the participants. As I mentioned above, the real key to any peace deal is the legitimation of a compromise to both societies. Each group has, over the years, incorporated into its national identity indivisible items that must be cut up in any deal. Israelis hold Jerusalem as the center of the Jewish state in which they live. Palestinians hold as central the right to return to their former homes. In practice, both must be compromised to reach a deal. But woe is the leader who sells out his people’s core identity. What Palestinian leader can go back to his people, having sold out the right to return? What Israeli leader can go back to his people having given away half of Jerusalem? Under the current conditions, its a political death sentence, and why there will be no real progress on a peace deal. (And not just these 2 issues–there are clearly more, but those serve to illustrate the point sufficiently).

What is needed is a reshaping of the rhetorical-identity topography. Someone, perhaps a US president (though perhaps not), needs to offer the Israelis a vision of an Israeli identity with a shared Jerusalem. Someone needs to offer the Palestinians a vision of a Palestinian identity without a right of return. Someone on each side needs to enact such an identity, producing the interests that support a peace deal. Then, and only then, is the potential for compromise possible.

Extended rant on Bush, Pakistan, and total hypocrisy

(Kaplan and Arkin make pretty much the same point, but I’m rather exercised about this whole deal, and hence the following)

I’m not really angry with Musharraf for his crackdown–he’s a barely legitimate dictator who took power in a coup trying to hold on to power and keep his fractured country together. Like so many in his position before him, he sees his country in danger and thinks that only he can hold it together, so he holds onto power and takes what steps he can to eliminate the most pressing threats to his power. In this case, the threat is the Law, in the form of lawyers and the Supreme Court. Crack down on the secular opposition, eliminate any real challenge to power, stay in office, its all good. Any self-respecting authoritarian would do / is doing the same (Chavez, Putin, Mugabe…)

The thing that has me really exercised is the US reaction to it–no, strike that, the Bush Administration’s reaction to it and the sheer hypocrisy it embodies. Its symptomatic of the fundamental failures of US foreign policy over the past I don’t know how many years, and it is “why the terrorists hate us.” No, its not that they “hate our freedoms,” its because we betray those freedoms and those who desire those freedoms in the name of security and interest.

Specifically, its stuff like this. Bush, speaking Monday, at a press conference, when asked about Pakistan:

And finally, I briefed the Prime Minister on Secretary Rice’s recent phone call with President Musharraf. I asked the Secretary to call him to convey this message: that we expect there to be elections as soon as possible, and that the President should remove his military uniform. Previous to his decision we made it clear that these emergency measures were — would undermine democracy. Having said that, I did remind the Prime Minister that President Musharraf has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals, that he understands the dangers posed by radicals and extremists. After all, they tried to kill him three or four times. And our hope is that he will restore democracy as quickly as possible….

We made it clear to the President that we would hope he wouldn’t have declared the emergency powers he declared. Now that he’s made that decision, I hope now that he hurry back to elections. And at the same time, we want to continue working with him to fight these terrorists and extremists, who not only have tried to kill him, but have used parts of his country from which to launch attacks into Afghanistan, and/or are plotting attacks on America….

In other words, Yeah, its not ideal, but fighting terrorists is more important, so we’ll essentially look the other way. On top of this, the US won’t cancel any military aid to Pakistan, now the 3rd largest recipient of US military aid.

Pop Quiz! Who said:

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

Of course, that’s Bush’s Second Inaugural Address. Sure reads like an empty promise now.

Bush has said before that:

the United States and Pakistan understand that in the long run, the only way to defeat the terrorists is through democracy.

Pakistan is the central front in the War on Terrorism. The Northwest territories are home to Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. It produces a number terrorists that are fighting US troops in Afghanistan. No country faces a greater threat of a revolt or coup by extremists Islamists than Pakistan. So, of course you’d want to work hard to promote democracy there, in a country that once was a democracy, as “the only way to defeat the terrorists is through democracy.” Instead, you get into bed with a guy who overthrew an elected leader. Corrupt, sure, but nevertheless elected through a democratic process. And, you stand idly by as he guts the very institutions that a Democracy needs to survive–the courts and the rule of law–and jails those who would be the vanguard of a secular Pakistani democracy, lawyers committed above all to the rule of law.

Bush just lets Musharraf off the hook. Sure, its not what we say we want, but hey, he’s got terrorists to fight. Yes, everyone is stuck between a rock and a hard place, but come on! You say you’re all about freedom, that democracy and freedom are the only way to defeat the terrorists, and here you go selling out the last thread of commitment to freedom and democracy in Pakistan in the name of self interest and security.

And, just to rub it in, Musharraf is moving faster and quicker and more effectively against his secular, organized political opposition than he was ever able to do against the radical Al Qaeda forces in his Northwest provinces.

So, yes, I heap scorn on the Bush Administration for their response to Pakistan. The condemnations ring hollow–worse, they are duplicitous, deceitful, and devoid of any meaning. Bush is doing irreparable harm US national security with this act. Musharraf is already seen as a tool of US influence by his own people, and now each and every one he jails and harasses, every family member of someone killed or disappeared in a crackdown will blame Bush and the USA just as much as Musharraf. We’ve seen that before, and now we’re going to see it again. It doesn’t matter that we “officially” condemn the action, or that its Musharraf, not Bush doing the imprisoning of dissidents. What matters is what the people of Pakistan see in their government, and what they see now is a military thug holding onto power, backed full force by the US government. Take away the US military support, and Musharraf must play domestic politics and legitimize his rule and make the necessary compromises to govern. Prop him up with aid, offer international cover for his actions and he can eliminate the opposition and stay in power.

And thus the US loses any credibility that it had left for moral leadership in a global war on terror. Gone are any principles, any faith and commitment that a people, when given a free and democratic choice, will choose to live in peace with others and reject terrorism.

This is why they hate us, because we betray the promise that the principles that we enjoy at home can be enjoyed by others. Bush is selling out the people of Pakistan for one last grasp at what they and we and everyone else recognizes as a failed and morally bankrupt policy.

Bush: still alone on climate change

Secretary of State Condi Rice and President George Bush made news this week by calling for global action to prevent global warming. However, neither one even really hinted at caps, limits, or mandatory cuts in so-called greenhouse gases.

Secretary Rice kicked off the White House’s climate summit by declaring “it is our responsibility as global leaders to forge a new international consensus on how to address climate change.” In the end, however, Rice sounded like a confirmed libertarian — or maybe an “artiste”, or gnarly surfer dude — unwilling to be bound by any rules, man:

“Every country will make its own decisions, reflecting its own needs and its own interests…all nations should tackle climate change in the ways that they deem best.”

Righteous, girl.

In his speech, Bush embraced the pollyanna principle to explain how unilateral voluntary approach would solve the problem:

We will set a long-term goal for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem. And by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it.

Something about that sounded familiar to me….hmmm.

In any event, the President has arguably advanced a long way from 2001. He’s now confident that some concerted effort can bring the world all the way up to the status quo, 1992.

The Europeans are quite openly fed up with the US on this issue. From the Washington Post September 29:

“This here was a great step for the Americans and a small step for mankind,” Germany’s environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said after Bush’s speech at the State Department before representatives of the nations that are the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. “In substance, we are still far apart.”

The anonymous complaints were far more critical. This is from The Guardian from the 29th:

“It was a total charade and has been exposed as a charade,” the [senior European] diplomat said. “I have never heard a more humiliating speech by a major leader. He [Mr Bush] was trying to present himself as a leader while showing no sign of leadership. It was a total failure.”

The diplomat, as they say, was “speaking on condition of anonymity.”

Even the British, with whom the United States has a “special relationship,” are quite angry at Bush. The Post story again:

John Ashton, a special representative on climate change for the British foreign secretary, said: “One of the striking features of this meeting is how isolated this administration has become. There is absolutely no support that I can see in the international community that we can drive this effort on the basis of voluntary efforts.”

C. Boyden Gray, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. had the audacity to say in response that “The British might be isolating themselves.”

One concrete policy measure Bush touted — though it too is a voluntary “coalition of the willing” — was the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. The GNEP promotes nuclear energy and has been framed as an anti-proliferation measure by the administration.

The Plot Thickens…

The controversy over the Israeli raid into Syria rages on. The Sunday Times has peeled back another layer of the onion, one that only deepens the mystery as to what Israel actually bombed in northern Syria. This latest tidbit seems to support the notion that it was in fact a North Korean supplied nuclear site in Syria. If true, it is perhaps only the tip of a much larger iceberg, and per Landis:

“If this story is true,” a Syrian friend of mine just told me, “Asad should fire his top generals, instantly.”

The Times reports:

ISRAELI commandos from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit – almost certainly dressed in Syrian uniforms – made their way stealthily towards a secret military compound near Dayr az-Zawr in northern Syria. They were looking for proof that Syria and North Korea were collaborating on a nuclear programme.

Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources. President George W Bush was told during the summer that Israeli intelligence suggested North Korean personnel and nuclear-related material were at the Syrian site.

Israel was determined not to take any chances with its neighbour. Following the example set by its raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak 1981, it drew up plans to bomb the Syrian compound.

But Washington was not satisfied. It demanded clear evidence of nuclear-related activities before giving the operation its blessing. The task of the commandos was to provide it.

Today the site near Dayr az-Zawr lies in ruins after it was pounded by Israeli F15Is on September 6. Before the Israelis issued the order to strike, the commandos had secretly seized samples of nuclear material and taken them back into Israel for examination by scientists, the sources say. A laboratory confirmed that the unspecified material was North Korean in origin. America approved an attack.

Now that’s a bold move, to say the least. It also means that 1) There is much more, and more tangible, evidence behind this raid–evidence that could be revealed in the future with diligent reporting; 2) US involvement is much more significant than previously thought–it seems the US had to green-light the raid, it didn’t just get a courtesy notice; and 3) this maybe part of a much larger problem for both the US and Israel, namely much more aggressive North Korean nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

The extent of North Korea’s involvement remains unclear, but indirect evidence seems to be emerging that it was more than just cursory. The Times reported:

The growing assumption that North Korea suffered direct casualties in the raid appears to be based largely on the regime’s unusually strident propaganda on an issue far from home. But there were also indications of conversations between Chinese and North Korean officials and intelligence reports reaching Asian governments that supported the same conclusion, diplomats said.

How solid this is, who knows…. But, it appears more credible than former Bush Administration officials with an ax to grind. It also suggests that this is not a neo-con fantasy story to drive policy or launch a war. Rather, its indicative of a very very serious problem–not just for the US, but for Asia, the Middle East, and any other countries concerned about Nuclear Proliferation.

Still, as the Times report notes, there remain far more questions than answers.

But details of the raid are still tantalisingly incomplete. Some analysts in America are perplexed by photographs of a fuel tank said to have been dropped from an Israeli jet on its return journey over Turkey. It appears to be relatively undamaged. Could it have been planted to sow confusion about the route taken by the Israeli F-15I pilots?

More importantly, questions remain about the precise nature of the material seized and about Syria’s intentions. Was Syria hiding North Korean nuclear equipment while Pyongyang prepared for six-party talks aimed at securing an end to its nuclear weapons programme in return for security guarantees and aid? Did Syria want to arm its own Scuds with a nuclear device?

Or could the material have been destined for Iran as John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, has suggested? And just how deep is Syrian and North Korean nuclear cooperation anyway?

And, if it is actual proliferating, which crosses a clear Red Line the Bush Administration has put in place for North Korea, how does the US respond? Its a critical question of US credibility in this case–this kind of proliferation is the thing the US fears most from a North Korean nuclear program, the kind of thing the Agreed Framework, Six Party Talks, and recent nuclear deal are meant to avoid.

With juicy nuggets like the one reported by the Times, this story and its political and policy fall-out certainly aren’t going away any time soon.

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