Tag Archives: Foreign Policy

So, No Reset Then?-A Saturday Link

Putin announced the re-opening of an old base in Cuba, where the rotten Communist regime keeps chugging along, its people still immiserated.

Of course, Putin is an old KGB guy, who learned a lot of tricks on how to keep power in the waning days of the Soviet empire.  More recently, he’s been aggressively carving-up old satellites when it suits Moscow’s interests, as in Georgia and Ukraine, playing off of Russian ethno-nationalist sentiment and the fear and pride of lost empire as much as he can.

Here’s Putin, back in the 80′s, meeting Reagan.  Ho hum, just a tourist, snapping some photos and meeting, how do you say, your premier.

From The Atlantic Photo: Vladimir Putin-Action Man

‘Russia needs a strong state power and must have it. But I am not calling for totalitarianism.’

-Vladimir Putin

No, there may not be a brilliant long-game at work, and yes, there’s always a ‘seed of aggression’ when you’re dealing with Moscow, especially Putin. I’d say many Americans (too many in the media) are choosing to see the world through current rose-colored glasses of vague, one-world liberalization and democracy for all (Guantanamo, for all its faults, is probably a more pressing issue for the current administration when it comes to Cuba, which says a lot).

A harsher, more realist turn could serve us well right now. We need strategy: to be fluid and clever, while building alliances and recognizing interests and promoting them to contain these kinds of shenanigans.

More here:

‘After Putin visited Cuba on Friday, the Kremlin press service said the president had forgiven 90% of Cuba’s unpaid Soviet-era debts, which totalled $32bn (£18.6bn) – a concession that now appears to be tied to the agreement to reopen the base’

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Maybe we could bring-in Rocky for some consultation, you know, just to have him around:

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Some related links on this site:

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

Michael Moynihan reviewed Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ which praised the Cuban Health Care System.

Vladimir just wants to be friends, America: Remember that appeal in NY Times?

***Bonus-Putin and Bush’s love affair in a GAZ M-21 Volga caught on tape.  Putin sends Medvedev out to keep the flame alive with Obama on missile defense.

Are we headed toward 19th century geo-politics? I get a sorely needed refresher on the Cold War:  Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’

Two Thursday Links-Michael Totten On Western Sahara & A Possible Kurdistan?

Full piece here.

Totten visits Western Sahara, ‘administered’ by Morocco, parts of it run by the renegade communist Polisario. The region’s become a sort-of proxy for tension between Morocco and the deeply repressive, authoritarian regime in Algeria and various conflicting interests:

“The Polisario wanted to impose a communist structure on nomadic populations,” she said. “I don’t believe that has changed. The same people are the leaders today as when I was young. There are still Sahrawi children in Cuba right now.”

Imagine going to Cuba for ‘education’…

.The entire Sahara-Sahel region is unstable. Egypt is ruled again by a military dictatorship. Libya is on the verge of total disintegration a la Somalia. Algeria is mired in a Soviet time warp. Northern Mali was recently taken over by Taliban-style terrorists so vicious they prompted the French to invade. At the time of this writing, US troops are hunting Nigeria’s Al Qaeda-linked Boko Haram across the border in Chad.

This blog thinks Totten’s at his best while travel-writing, weaving observation, journalism, politics and his experiences together.

Has the spread of Western liberal democracy involved socialist, communist, ‘social democratic,’ and even broadly humanist influences within a larger Western spectrum? You bet, and some of these influences have produced repressive and totalitarian hybrids still hanging-on.

On This Site See: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …The End Of History?: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

‘But it isn’t clear that Washington can rely on either the Turkish or Israeli governments to rebuff the Kurds. Officials from both countries argue that events are fast overtaking the Obama administration.’

Vice is embedding a reporter with the Kurds, because that’s probably the only semi-safe option amidst such instability:

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Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests?

In his book Where The West Ends, Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

Related On This Site: Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

From Foreign Affairs: ‘Kurds To The Rescue’

Full piece here (published 06/17/14)

Not so fast.

Why would ISIS fight against the Peshmerga (Kurdish military forces) and the fleeing Maliki troops, and any opposition they face on the way to Baghdad?

As for the Kurds, why not just defend your land and interests, lay low and angle for the best, especially without provoking Turkey:

‘The Kurds have drawn their battle lines north of Mosul, across the south of Kirkuk province, and through northern Diyala province. So long as ISIS respects that line, Kurdistan would have very little reason to invite war.’

Why support American forces now when you’ve been burned in the past and America has so little influence?

Another VICE dispatch, talking to an Iraqi Army member having fled to Erbil, in Kurdish-controlled territory:

We could do much worse.  This blog is generally sympathetic to Kurdish aims: Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests?

In his book Where The West EndsMichael Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

Related On This Site: Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

Some Wednesday Links-Iraq No More?

The threat Turkey faces from the chaos in Syria and Iraq, taken advantage of by ISIS and others, would have to be greater than the threat an independent Kurdistan could pose, least of all by Kurds in Turkey…to Turkish national sovereignty and security.  Erdogan has incentive to ride his own authoritarian impulses along and have some identity with the Islamic resurgence going on, if not for an ISIS-controlled Islamist State/Caliphate.

I’m guessing part of this hinges on whether or not ISIS can hold together, and if so, conceivably put the FATA region of Pakistan to shame in terms of harboring all kinds of terrorists and malcontents.

I always feel put to shame (even as a lowly blogger, no less) when Adam Garfinkle brings out some of his knowledge: ‘Iraq: What A Way To Go

‘We should therefore not attack ISIS formations, either stationary or in motion—at least not yet. We should, on the other hand, rapidly and boldly move to support Jordan, which is dealing with a backbreaking refugee crisis. We should reaffirm our commitments to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait; we should let the nasty Bahraini and mischievous Qatari regimes guess our attitudes toward them.

Above all, we should further tighten relations with the Kurds in what used to be northern Iraq but is now an independent state in everything but name. We probably should try to get on the same sheet of music with them, offering support but counseling prudence—in other words, collecting some leverage so we can influence the behavior of Barzani et al. in future. Personally, I’m fine with the Kurds in Kirkuk, their traditional capital city, so long as they occupy and eventually stabilize the city with genuine justice for all of the city’s communities.’

I’ve got to give counter-culture VICE credit, they are offering dispatches from Iraq:

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The U.S. is seriously lacking in strategy, and that probably won’t change for a few more years, at least.  We helped break it, we can’t buy it, and so many interests are at stake that we ought to come up with a strategy, and soon.

Addition: Via Blackfive: The stability gained in Iraq was lost during the last three years of leaving it to its own devices?

Walter Russell Mead: ‘Kurdistan Exists: Now What?’

Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests?

This blog is thinking yes on many fronts. After Operation Desert Storm, as Saddam’s forces were driven from Kuwait, the U.S. government encouraged many Kurds in the north to finally have their comeuppance against the brutal Ba’ath party’s control over their lives through Saddam and his regime (Sunni-led, fascistic, brutally authoritarian and tribal/clannish…full of Saddam loyalists…using chemical weapons against the Kurds towards the end of the Iran/Iraq war).

Many did stand up, but Saddam was not ousted from power, and thus began a campaign of violent retaliation and consolidation which included the use of chemical weapons again. It got ugly. The No-Fly zone could only do so much after the fact. Some guilt about the Kurdish plight arguably affected some of the thinking during the Iraq invasion on the American side.

PBS Frontline has a timeline.

The Kurds are their own ethnic and linguistic group, and live in northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southwestern Turkey. They’ve been around for a long time and while the dominant religion is Islam, there are a lot of other faiths besides. It’s complicated, from what my sources say.

Sympathy does not a strategy make, but out of the current chaos, the utter failure of Syria spilling over into Iraq and the gains of ISIS/ISIL, an independent Kurdistan isn’t a bad option for many American interests. Frankly, the Kurds are managing themselves well amidst a tremendous amount of chaos.  Many want more commerce, opportunity, oil revenue, and are willing to stand up to forces like those active in defense of their homes and the idea of an ancestral homeland, families and a broader ethnic family, livelihoods and broader commerce and contact. They’re organized enough and America could do a lot worse.

We have the Turks to consider, and the Iranian regime to counterbalance as well as a complex patchwork of interests to pursue, but given the falling apart of the boundaries that held Syria and Iraq together, the rise of Islamism and Islamic militias recently, they may be people we can do business with amidst many we cannot.

Article from Slate here.

Ofra Benagio piece here from a while ago.

‘Moreover, the rise of Kurdish issues in all four states has changed the internal dynamics of Kurdish nationalism. An evolving trans-border current has produced a de facto Kurdish regional subsystem whose manifestations are several. First, the Kurds now imagine themselves to be one nation deserving to live on one united territory; this is new. Thus, the new mind’s-eye Kurdistan is portrayed as one unit divided into four parts: north Kurdistan (bakur) corresponding to the Kurdish region in Turkey, south Kurdistan (bashur) to that in Iraq, east Kurdistan (rojhelat) to that in Iran, and west Kurdistan (rojava) to that in Syria. No one should discount the power of having a common geopolitical language in a nationalist ambition.’

See Also:  Dexter Filkins ‘From Kurdistan To New York’

Check out Sons Of Devils from the Atlantic a while back.  Very interesting long-form piece on the Kurds.

During Christopher Hitchens’ 2009 appearance on Australia’s Q & A, he wore a Kurdish flag pin in solidarity and fielded a question from a Kurd (starts at minute 1:30…mentioned as the rest of the debate may be worth your time):

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In his new book Where The West EndsMichael Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

Related On This Site: Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

Repost-From Michael Yon: ‘The Battle For Kandahar’Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

Two Tuesday Quotes

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

A quote from this piece over at the Atlantic: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”

What about an unadventurous foreign policy, but still very risky nonetheless?

Obama’s West Point Speech-Rhodes Scholarship?

Dan Drezner is now at the Washington Post: ‘The Two Things That Need To Be In Obama’s West Point Speech:’

Transcript of the speech here.

Drezner on Rhodes, Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser:

‘I’m not going to lie — whenever Ben Rhodes starts talking to the press, I get worried about the Obama administration’s foreign policy trajectory.  Rhodes tends to have a few simple international relations memes that he likes to get out into the public square’

He finishes with:

‘So if this speech says: a) military action is risky; but b) we have no positive economic agenda; and c) no plan for what to do if matters get even worse — then this is not going to be a very good speech at all.

Am I missing anything?’

Well, having read Obama’s speech, I don’t think he’s missed much.

As for the economic agenda, I’m guessing when you’re far enough Left and ideologically rigid as Obama often appears to be, not much is going to change.  He’s consistently brought the concerns of peace activists, environmentalists and labor unions to the fore at home, while investing in some of the dysfunction of the U.N. and hashtag diplomacy abroad.

Obama:

‘You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else. We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it is taking place’

Does leading by example involve waiting on the U.N in Syria, emboldening Putin and Tehran’s interests by hedging on a redline, and sitting back while terrorists fill in the opposition? Does leading by example involve avoiding hard decisions and watching a long, protracted Civil War unfold, with Assad still hunkered down in power, using chemical weapons, while over a hundred thousands Syrian are dead? Does leading by example involve a humanitarian crisis in full bloom, destabilizing the region many times over, and posing new security threats for all of us?

Is that the kind example we want to set, even for ourselves?

Adam Garfinkle offered the Rhodes hypothesis‘ a little while back:

Rhodes is the main one, I believe, who either convinced or strongly reinforced the President’s intuition that the United States is vastly overinvested in the Middle East, that we need to pivot to Asia at the expense of our investments in the Middle East and Europe, that in the absence of traditional American “Cold War-era” leadership benign regional balances will form to keep the peace, and that the world is deep in normative liberalism and well beyond the grubby power politics of earlier eras.

All of this is very trendy and sounds “progressive” and smart, but, of course, it is mostly wrong.

What am I missing?

Addition: More from David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy here.

‘Further, as Obama has shown, the problems we face today cannot simply be addressed by undoing the mistakes of past American presidents. Genuine new thinking is needed. Precious little, unfortunately, was offered in the president’s West Point remarks.’

I’ve been referred to Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech to show the framework upon which he hangs his foreign policy. He’s been called a realist, or one who generally deals with the world as it is, not as he’d like it to be.  In the speech, Obama sets an expectation of using force against evil in the world if necessary. He’s willing to part company with Gandhi and MLK in the face of a genuine possible evil and the grim choices events may require.

Naive foreign policy is naive foreign policy.

I don’t believe that we can appease Islamic extremists, which is the whole premise of this administration’s approach…blunt American power and incentivize Muslim societies to drive the extreme elements out through international cooperation: Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

Just how far Left is this administration anyways? Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

#Hashtag Diplomacy-Two Tuesday Links

From CSIS: ‘Video-Afghanistan After The Drawdown: U.S. Civilian Engagement Post 2014‘ (approx 1 hr 30 min).

‘Jerry Hyman argues that the strategy should be based on three possible scenarios (optimistic, pessimistic, and muddling-through)…’

I still think announcing a withdrawal date makes a difficult situation more difficult, and gives people leverage to whom we really shouldn’t give leverage.

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From Michael Yon: ‘Are Thai Protestors Violent?’

Click through for some ground-level coverage of what’s going on in Thailand.

I wonder how deftly the U.S. has ever handled nuanced and tense situations like these, where primary interests aren’t necessarily at stake, but good diplomacy is always welcome. Yon offers a bit of a rant against our current ambassador’s handling of the situation.

I don’t really want to get involved, but apparently, she did the moonwalk on live T.V. in the Philippines as a farewell during her ambassadorship there.  I’m just hoping for competence.

My guess is that it’s tougher to appear competent while defending the many contradictions of #hashtag diplomacy.

Yeah, Thailand, you’re just like Ukraine, so get those activists out in the streets.

Redlines and deadlines.  More speeches.

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From the comments:

‘Does the Thai military depend on US made parts for its F16s, Bells, and UH-1s, not to mention almost all of their A2A, A2G, S2A missiles and radars? (The 12 Gripens in the 701st are not going to cut it on their own)

Or does the US need Thailand as a bulwark of regional stability (in addition to South Korea and Japan), a base for forward storage of material, potential air bases and as a source of human and signals intelligence? Does the Asian pivot mean we need them more? Or does the humble foreign policy mean we need them less?

If Thailand comes under the thumb of the Chinese who will lose more? The Thai military and its elites? Or the US? It would weaken us, but we would still have other regional options.’

Modi & The Middle-East-Some Saturday Links

Adam Garfinkle-‘Our Storyteller In Chief

Garfinkle offers consistently good analysis of conditions on the ground in the Middle-East.  Really worth a read.

Also, he offers an hypothesis for the current administration’s approach:

Rhodes is the main one, I believe, who either convinced or strongly reinforced the President’s intuition that the United States is vastly overinvested in the Middle East, that we need to pivot to Asia at the expense of our investments in the Middle East and Europe, that in the absence of traditional American “Cold War-era” leadership benign regional balances will form to keep the peace, and that the world is deep in normative liberalism and well beyond the grubby power politics of earlier eras.

All of this is very trendy and sounds “progressive” and smart, but, of course, it is mostly wrong.

A lot of words and a lot of speechifying.  How much of that they actually believe, evidence to the contrary, still is worth asking.

From Political Baba: ‘The Tamasha Of Exit Polls

The old Gandhi political dynasty gets trounced at the polls, and a center-right Narendra Modi, with connections to Hindu nationalism which kept Obama’s State Department at bay for a while, will become the next Indian Prime Minister.

Let’s hope he can stay ahead of corruption and lead many sectors of the Indian economy towards sustained growth. I’m hoping he is pragmatic enough to go with what works and also has enough character and political ability to develop broader trust across swathes of Indian society, strengthening institutions for the long haul.

Relations with neighbors, especially elements in Pakistan and Beijing will be worth keeping an eye on.

Exit polls at the link.

Art & War-Detroit & Homs: Two Links

From The Detroit Free Press:

Notice the argument is still over how to divvy up the remains:

‘But others, including David Skeel, author of “Debt’s Dominion: A History of Bankruptcy Law in America,” argue that Orr’s plan so clearly favors pensioners over other groups of creditors that it qualifies as unfair discrimination. “Giving pension beneficiaries nearly 100% of what they are owed, and bondholders less than 20%, is obvious discrimination,” Skeel wrote in this week’s edition of the Weekly Standard magazine’

A great nation deserves great art, and great unions, and public pension pay-outs, and more money and top-down solutions for schools, and more fairness and equality, and new New Deal programs, and more discussions about race, and a higher military budget, and more farm subsidies, and immigration reform, and more Clintons and Bushes and…

Your interest here:  _____________

Poor Detroit:

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It looks like that Syrian Civil War is tipping back in Assad’s favor at the moment.  It’s a good thing we allowed Assad to buy himself some time, emboldened Putin, and sat back while  Islamists from all over the Muslim World and even from the West have filled-in.

From The Washington Post:

‘Syrian rebels began to evacuate their last footholds in the central city of Homs on Wednesday, departing under a deal loaded with poignancy for the opposition.

Hundreds of rebels boarded buses for the countryside north of the city after being allowed safe exit in a deal confirmed by both sides. Each fighter was allowed to carry one weapon and a bag of belongings.’

***A pretty damned good overview of Syria for the non-initiated, including what’s been going on since 2011 and the backstory at the thehowardbealeshow. Recommended. Really.

Related On This SiteMore Syria-From Via Media: ‘Congress on Syria: Going In On A Wing and A Prayer’From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

From the Daily, ‘cheap’ paper: How did Detroit get here?

Very comprehensive and easy to navigate.

More from Megan McArdle on the behavior that comes with pension bonuses.Charlie LeDuff, Detroit’s populist, citizen journalist’s youtube channel here.  At least he’s sticking around.

Are you looking at beautiful photos and feeling sorry for Detroit, and yourself?  See Time Magazine’s photo essay by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre (less porn-like, more thoughtful).

Hipster hope, artists, collectivists and small business types can’t save it either:  A Short Culture Wars Essay-Two Links On Detroit & ‘Ruin Porn’

GM is not a municipality, but good money got put in, probably after bad and it reeks of politics: From The Detroit News: ‘How The Treasury, GM Stock Deal Got Done’

 

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